Category Archives: Ethnography

Coffee in Norway

Nice! An elaborate description of coffee-drinking habits in Norway, within a forum thread on Turkish-style coffee brewing:

CoffeeGeek – Articles: How-To Article Feedback, Brewing Turkish Coffee

coffee is very much a national drink in Norway, and that would have travelled with Norwegians immigrants going to Minnesota, North Dakota, Washinton state in the US and Manitoba and Alberta in Canada.  Until Norway discovered oil in the late 70’ies, Norway was in fact a very poor country and the weak coffee was more a result of economics than of taste.  However, maybe the weak coffee instead inspired higher consumption?  All I know is that my Norwegian family are all big coffee drinkers and Norwegians seem to be awfully fond of coffee.  These days boiled traditional cofee is giving way to stronger imported types though, and Costa (Starbucks copy) is already established in Norway, so are other similar chains.

I grew up in Sweden and remember well coming to my father’s work when I was kid.  On the coffee machine on his floor, they had a board with names where the employees would make a tick at their name for every coffee they’d take.  At the end of the month, they would charge the employess their monthly consumption at approx 5 cents a cup.  My father was without comparation light years ahead of his colleagues.  The only challenger he would have to win the “coffee league” was another Norwegian employee!!!  He never beat my dad though.

I also remember going with my grandparents during my summer holidays to visit aunts and uncles in the family.  Often these visits would take place very late – you’d arrive at 10PM and leave at 1 or 2AM.  You have to understand that this far north, the sun never drops below the horizon during summer – the land of midnight sun.  Going on family visits like this was and is still called in our tounge: going for coffees.  And that’s what you’d do.  You’d talk, drink numerous cups of coffee and eat cakes, like lefsa and chocolate cakes.

Mind you, I was never allowed to taste coffee until 14 years old.  I know it used to be tradition to give coffee mixed with water or milk to kids in the old days, but so was giving them a rag soaked in vodka to suck on.  In the end, having kinds myself, I believe the latter is more realistic than the former: why would you want to give your little terrorists a kick?  Let’s sedate is probably or more logical but equally desparate reaction.  But I do have friends who started drinking coffee before they were 10.

As a coffee-drinker, I’d surely love to do coffee ethnography in Norway…

Individualism, Freedom, and Food

A surprisingly superficial podcast episode on what could have been a very deep subject.

Open Source » Blog Archive » The End of Free Will?

start a conversation about manipulation, persuasion and freedom from choice

To summarize the main issue of that episode: is marketing and "upselling" by restaurant chains undermining the individual freedom to choose quality food? Apparently simple a question, but billed as much more than that.

Maybe they refrained from delving deeper into any of those issues because philosophical discussions, perhaps aesthetic ones especially, are off limits in "polite company" in U.S. media. Too bad.

Actually, I’m genuinely disappointed. Not necessarily because restaurant chains are very important an issue for me (in Montreal, they don’t seem to have the exact same type of impact and I love to cook). But because the show’s participants all came very close to saying very important things about individualism, food, and freedom. The first two are too rarely discussed, IMHO, and the third could have been the "hook" to discuss the other two.

Ah, well…

If you want to know more about my thoughts on this podcast episode, check out some of the tags below.

African Ingenuity

Via BoingBoing.

Who says Africans lack business acumen?

(Actually, such methods of empowerment are quite common, throughout Africa. And many Africans are rightfully proud of being able to manage by themselves. When will people from OECD “nations” get this?)

Sizing Up the Geek Crowd

Rocketboom interview with Steve Rubel

Like Delagrave and Bergeron, Rubel got it. And it goes much beyond marketing, brands, or even economy. Geeks are at the forefront of something. They have an impact. Not a direct impact on sales of a specific product. But geeks are trailblazers and, sometimes, trendsetters in the social changes which are already happening. They’re not causing the change. But they’re riding the waves of social change. Some waves will die quickly, others will carry many people to an interesting place. As in STF, creating windmills, not shelters.

This is also connected to a recent discussion I had, at a nice brewpub, with a member of Siebel Institute’s faculty. We were talking about beer geeks and their impact on craft beer sales. Not only are beer geeks like computer geeks but it turns out that there might be a clear historical relation between the Pacific Coast computer industry, the rise of latte drinking, and the craft beer revolution. As beer and coffee are among my passions, I find this link fascinating.

At any rate, this faculty member’s point was that large breweries shouldn’t care much about beer geeks as they (we) don’t drive sales of specific products. One of the main arguments here is that geeks aren’t faithful to a brand. Geeks want diversity. Beer geeks want as many different beers as possible.

It’s pretty much the same thing throughout the geek crowd. Talk about empowered “consumers”

iRiver H120 (Digital Audio Jukebox)

Recently purchased a brand new iRiver H120 with remote control on eBay from OutletMP3. Paid 132.50$ plus 18$ shipping. Also purchased a 3-year warranty through SquareTrade for 16$.
Item arrived as described, with both the European power adapter (in the original box) and a North American power adapter (in the shipping box). The remote control is included in the package but is outside of the original box. OutletMP3 sells those iRiver H120 devices with or without remote control (usually at about the same price).
Yes. “Would do business with OutletMP3 again.” (As it turns out, they sell iriver products quite frequently on eBay and they have an eBay store with “Buy It Now” iRiver H120 devices without remote for 150$ each.)
The best things about this device are its recording features. Those iRiver H1x0 models can record uncompressed sound in WAV format at 16bit with a sampling rate of 48 kHz (so-called “DAT quality”), 44.1 kHz (so-called “CD-quality”), or lower (“FM-quality,” “voice quality”). It also records directly to MP3 files (with the official firmware) in a variety of encoding settings (up to 320 kbps). It has an internal microphone for voice dictation as well as an input for external microphone, analog line in, or optical in.
The box includes a surprisingly decent lavaliere-style monophonic microphone. Not an excellent microphone in any way but clearly better than one might expect (though Laith Ulaby had told me that this microphone was decent).

In terms of operation, the unit has some strengths. The overall interface is much less convenient than that of the iPod, say, but the battery lasts longer than most iPods (for playback). The iRiver H120’s remote has a small LCD screen which shows enough information for most needs making it possible for me to keep the H120 in my pant pocket and operate the device with the remote. While, among portable players, only the iPod has native support for AAC and lossless formats, iRiver players support Ogg Vorbis and WMA. Haven’t done anything in Ogg format yet but it might be an interesting option (though it does make files less compatible with other players).

Apart from navigation and interface, the main differences with my previous iPod 2G have to do with iTunes integration. The iPod‘s synchronization with iTunes made it rather convenient to create and update playlists or to transfer podcasts. iRiver’s models may not be used in the same fashion. However, the iRiver H120 can in fact be used with iTunes through a plugin meant for Archos players. However, this plugin seems to have some problems with a few files (probably because of invalid characters like ‘/’ and ‘:’ in filenames), generates non-working playlists on Mac OS X, and puts all filed in an “Artist/Album” hierarchy which makes iRiver navigation more complicated.

What surprised me somewhat was that the H120, a USB 2.0 device, works perfectly well with my old iBook (Dual USB) which only has USB 1.1 ports. No need for special drivers and the device then works pretty much like a (20GB) USB drive. Since the iRiver H120 works as a USB drive, it’s easy to transfer files to and from the device (contrary to the iPod which makes somewhat more difficult). All audio files can be put at the root level on the iRiver and audio recordings made on the iRiver are in the “RECORD” folder at the root level of the drive. While the iBook’s USB 1.1 ports are much slower than USB 2.0 ones, they do the job well enough for my needs. (Will be going back to my entry-level emachines H3070 in a few days.) A 400 MB file recorded on the iRiver (about 40 minutes of 16 bit stereo sound at 44.1 kHz) transferred to the iBook through USB 1.1 in less than ten minutes. Slow, but bearable. My old iPod used a Firewire 400 (aka IEEE 1394 or i.Link) connection which is about the same speed as USB 2.0 in most conditions. My entry-level emachines desktop has both USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 ports (thanks to an inexpensive Firewire card).

Was thinking about putting Rockbox on the H120 but SquareTrade tells me that it may void their warranty, which would be an inconvenient. The Rockbox has some neat features and seems safe enough to use on “production machines,” but its features aren’t that compelling for me at this point.
The H120 has a radio (FM) tuner, which could be useful to some people but isn’t really a compelling feature for me. Haven’t listen to much radio in the past several years. Podcasts are soooo much better!

Speaking of podcasts… One of my reasons for purchasing this machine (instead of a more recent iPod) was the ease of recording. This is clearly not a professional recording device but the sound quality seems quite decent for my needs at this point. Should be using it to record lectures and distribute them as podcasts or “lecturecasts” (yeah, ugly name, sorry!). In my mind, educational podcasting can supplement lectures quite nicely. Have been to a few workshops and presentations on technology use in teaching and most people seem to agree that technology is no replacement for good pedagogy but that good pedagogy can be supplemented and complemented (if not complimented!) by interesting tools. Had been thinking about a recording iPod to integrate podcasts with course material. It would have been quite useful, especially in connection with iLife and iWork. But an iPod 5G (with video) is already much more expensive than my iRiver H120 and the add-ons to enable 44.1 kHz / 16 bit recording on the iPod are only now getting to market at a price almost half that of my brand new iRiver H120. Plus, though the iPod is well-integrated with iTunes on Windows, iLife and iWork applications are only available on Mac OS X 10.4 and, thus, will not run on the entry-level emachines H3070 which will become my primary machine again in a few days.
In other words, my ideal podcasting/lecturecasting solution is out of my reach at this point. And contrary to tenure-track faculty, lecturers and adjunct faculty get no technology budget for their own use.
Ah, well…

Still, my iRiver H120 will work fine as a recorder. Already did a few essays with voice and environmental sounds. The lavaliere microphone was quite convenient to record myself while taking a walk which sounds like an unusual activity but was in fact quite relaxing and rather pleasant. In terms of environmental sounds, the same microphone picked up a number of bird songs (as well as fan noises).
Among the things that distinguish the H120 from a professional recorder is the lack of a proper calibration mechanism. It’s not possible to adjust the recording levels of the two channels independently and it’s even not possible to adjust volume during recording. (There’s a guide offering some guidance on how to work within those constraints.) Quite unsurprisingly (for what is mostly an MP3 player) but also making the device less of a professional device, its jacks are 3.5 mm “stereo mini-plugs” (instead of, say, XLR jacks). For that matter, the iRiver H120 compares favourably to several comparably-priced MiniDisc recorders, even Hi-MD models. Did field research with a used ATRAC 4.0 MiniDisc recorder. That setup worked somewhat adequately but this iRiver H120 is much of an improvement for me.

Got a few pet peeves about the iRiver H120. For instance, it has no actual clock so recorded files do not carry a timestamp. A minor quibble, of course, but it would have been useful. The overall navigation is as awkward as that of my first MP3 device, the RioVolt (which also used iRiver firmware). One navigational issue is that navigating up and down in the folder hierarchy is done through the stop and play buttons instead of, say, using one of the three jog switches on the remote. Some functions only work when the device is stopped while others work while it’s playing. Switching from hard-disk playing to recording or to FM is a bit awkward and cumbersome. The unit takes a while to turn on and doesn’t really have a convenient sleep mode. While it is possible to resume playing on a track that has been stopped, this feature seems not to work every time. Fast forwarding rate (“scan speed”) is set in a menu instead of being dynamic as on the iPod. The device doesn’t support ratings or, really, descriptions (although Rockbox might be able to support those).

Also got a few well-appreciated features, apart from those stated above. The EQ and SRS presets are appropriate and relatively easy to use. Contrary to the iPod 2G it is possible to play files at a higher rate (increasing the “playback speed”) making it possible to listen to voice at a higher speech rate (and higher frequency). It’s also possible to delete files directly from the device.

At any rate, that’s already a long entry and experience with my H120 will probably push me to write more about the device.

Feel free to comment or send questions through email.


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(It’s me, a couple of months ago.)
Was editing some older entries with ecto to add categories and tags. Saw this old one (from late March, 2k5) which was meant as an introduction/blurb. Was teaching at IUSB then. Time for an update or three.
Since then, been teaching in Massachusetts (BSC and Tufts, during the Fall 2005 semester) and Montreal (Concordia during the Winter/Spring 2006 semester). Came back to Tufts to teach during the first summer session. Currently (06-06-14 13:19:34) in Cambridge, at a condo that belongs to some friends who are spending some time in Paris for academic reasons.
So, many of us, in academia, end up moving around quite a bit. Been moving more than twice a year for the last six years. Looking forward to a bit more stability. In fact, because my wife is in Northampton, MA (doing a post-doc at Smith), my time in Massachusetts has typically been divided between the Western part of the state and the Boston area.
Speaking of my brilliant wife, she’s in Montreal right now to defend her dissertation! Can’t go myself, because of my course, but it’ll very likely be an extremely good defence (Catherine knows her stuff in and out!).
Whew! It’s weird to post entries like these but it’s probably what people expect from blogs. Even wanted to start blogging while in Fredericton, NB, in 2003. Kept sending messages to my wife instead (she was in Moncton, NB at that time). Should eventually report back on some places where my semi-nomadic lifestyle has led me in the past (Somerville, Lausanne, Baguinéda, Bloomington, Sienna, Northampton, Kassela, Zinal, Bamako, Fredericton, Mandelieux, Markala, Edimburg, Moncton, South Bend, Brockton, Hyères, Montreal, and, of course, Poggibonsi).

Recording at 44.1 kHz, 16b with iPod 5G?

[UPDATE: These devices are now available in different places. Haven’t tried any of them myself.]

[UPDATE: Purchased an iRiver H120 jukebox/recorder.]
We’ve known for a while that the Fifth Generation iPod (with Video) could do “CD-quality” audio recording but there hasn’t been a compatible microphone for it. Actually, the Apple Store online still doesn’t seem to list a microphone compatible with the iPod 5G’s dock connector but the instruction on Recording voice memos from Apple do talk about such a microphone:

1. Connect a microphone to your iPod. On the Fifth Generation iPod, connect the microphone to the dock connector. For older iPod models that support recording voice memos, connect the microphone to the Headphones port on your iPod.
2. The Voice Memo screen appears.
3. On the Fifth Generation iPod, you can choose the recording quality by setting Quality to either Mono or Stereo. Select “Mono” quality (22 kHz, mono) to save space, or “Stereo” quality (44.1 kHz, stereo) for a better sound.
4. To begin recording, select Record.
5. Hold the microphone a few inches from your mouth and speak. To pause recording, select Pause.
6. When you finish, select Stop and Save. Your saved recording is listed by date and time.

The page has allegedly been created and changed in January. Been waiting for this…