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Not Holding My Breath

Haven’t blogged in a while. At least not here. Which kind of makes it harder.

Obviously, a lot has happened in the meantime. That full-time position discussed in the previous post has come and gone (amicably). My life has taken some interesting turns. And, just recently, these turns have started to lead me to a fitting place.

Which is my reason to blog, today. Been feeling a rather deep sense of calm. As though my life were complete.

Yes, it sounds like hyperbole. But the feeling is real. And it’s not just a fleeting moment of serenity. It’s something deeper. Related, in part, to an object.

Got a new musical instrument and it is, quite literally, a dream come true.

For quite a while, now, been (day/night)dreaming about a very expressive digital wind instrument.

Rather recently, this dreaming became the source of both “pie in the sky” and more practical projects. Part of my dabbling ways with different microcontrollers and microcomputers was oriented towards this dream of this highly expressive digital wind instrument. It almost became an obsession and may have sounded like one to people around me. Things were getting “crazy enough” that the Gear Acquisition Syndrome affecting many digital musickers was beginning to infect me. Wasn’t purchase that much “gear” and remained reasonable in terms of expenses, all things considered. But part of my mind was preoccupied with this notion of my ideal instrument.

Some of it came from my experiences with the Yamaha WX11 wind controller. Purchased that digital wind instrument in the mid-1990s but only appropriated it much more recently, thanks to some simple but key ideas about its affordances. For a sax player like me, a digital wind instrument always felt more appropriate than any kind of keyboard. It even made me think through the reigning pianoentrism of the electronic music sphere.

But the WX11 was limited, in many ways. For one thing, just like the type of acoustic wind instrument it uses as an influence (and, in many ways, tries to emulate: saxophone, clarinet, flute, trumpet, etc.), just about any digital wind instrument on the market is monophonic, playing only one note at a time. There are workarounds, including a very neat one used by Michael Brecker, the best-known practitioner of the type of instrument. But you can’t really use the WX11 to play multiple notes at a time in a very flexible way.

Enters my dream instrument. Not only is it a polyphonic wind instrument (like the harmonica, organ, melodica, accordion, etc.) but it allows one to apply very sensitive and very expressive control to each note. There’s an emerging standard for digital instruments achieving this kind of thing: Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression, based on MIDI (the main protocol for musical communication between digital instruments). Most devices using this emerging standards are very costly and, in some cases, rather cumbersome. To my knowledge, only one series of those instruments can fully integrate the key principles of a wind instrument: the Eigenharps from Eigenlabs.

And this one exceptional instrument is central to my current feeling of calm and completeness. By getting my hands on such an instrument, was able to get something like closure.

Which enables me to get in the next phase through my musicking ways.

Will possibly post about this phase. Don’t really have much music to share from that phase, yet, in part because a new instrument implies a new learning process. Received my Eigenharp Pico on Monday and been spending some quality time with it. It does feel remarkably similar to my first moments with a saxophone, over thirty years ago. But, obviously, the process of learning the instrument is much faster, in part because of my prior proficiency on the saxophone but also because of the way the instrument is designed.

At the beginning of this learning phase, playing a lot of scales and simple patterns. Thankfully, because the instrument can be played with headphones, flubbing my way through scales doesn’t really make me feel selfconscious since nobody else hears me. And while it could be perceived as boring, there’s something rather therapeutic about practicing instrumental technique, something which was really obvious to me during my years of intensive music training. So, part of my serenity may relate to the relaxing aspect of going through scale patterns.

Speaking of scales, something about the Eigenharp which was also part of my dream is support for alternative scales, including alternative tuning systems. Haven’t played that extensively with this but it already feels nice to have access to an instrument which can easily play outside of the (pianocentric) “twelve-tone equal temperament” (12TET/12-EDO) which dominates popular music genres in hyperindustrialized contexts. Given my training in ethnomusicology, there’s something very fitting and quite powerful in there.

All this to say that, on this Summer Solstice 2017, my key feeling is that there’s no need for me to hold my breath, anymore. Can finally breathe more easily. 

ZoYo: Zombie Yogurt

My latest kitchen experiment. Homemade ricemilk, homemade oatmilk, a bit of commercial soymilk, and Yogourmet yogurt culture.

Boiled and chilled the milks, added the culture, let ferment overnight in our oven’s bread-proofing mode.

Not that interesting on its own, maybe, but pretty good with maple syrup and should work well in smoothies. The yogurt acidity is there (so are the good bacteria) and it tastes like nondairy yogurt. More liquid than my usual cowmilk yogurt, and a bit lumpy (part of the ricemilk had gelled, so I’m not surprised). But I deem it successful.

Why do I call it “Zombie Yogurt” (“ZoYo” for short)?

Is it because of the lumpiness, making it less appetising?

Is it because it’s making a live product out of dead rice, oat, and soy?

Nah… it’s because of what a vegan zombie might say:

Graaaaaaains!

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Projets de réappropriation technologique

Quelques projets qui illustrent la réappropriation technologique ou comment passer au-delà de la «fracture numérique».

Description

Fabriquer ses propres objets, c’est un peu court-circuiter les chaînes de production, les rapports inégaux à travers le globe et la notion de propriété. On va parler d’exemples concrets de FabLabs et d’innovation citoyenne, au Québec comme en Afrique pour réfléchir ensemble sur les implications sociales de ces mouvements technologiques.

Liens

Bio

Alexandre Enkerli s’est intéressé aux dimensions sociales de la technologie dès l’achat de son premier ordinateur, un Commodore VIC-20, au début des années 1980. Depuis, il a été à la fois acteur et observateur au sein de ce que l’on appelle maintenant la « culture geek ». Outre son travail de recherche en ethnographie de la technologie, il enseigne l’anthropologie et la sociologie à l’Université Concordia.

Twenty Years Online

This month marks the 20th anniversary of my first Internet account. I don’t remember the exact date but I know it was in late summer 1993, right before what became known as “Eternal September”. The Internet wasn’t new, but it still wasn’t on most people’s proverbial “radars”.

Had heard one of my professors, Kevin Tuite, talk about the Internet as a system through which people from all over the World were communicating. Among the examples Tuite gave of possibilities offered by the ‘Net were conversations among people from former Soviet Republics, during this period of broad transitions. As a specialist of Svaneti, in present-day Georgia, Kevin was particularly interested in these conversations.

During that fated Summer of ‘93, I was getting ready to begin the last year of my B.Sc. in anthropology, specializing in linguistic anthropology and ethnomusicology. As I had done during previous summers, I was working BOH at a French restaurant. But, in my free time, I was exploring a brand new world.

In retrospect, it might not be a complete coincidence that my then-girlfriend of four years left me during that Fall 1993 semester.

It started with a local BBS, WAJU (“We Are Joining You”). I’m not exactly sure when I got started, but I remember being on WAJU in July. Had first been lent a 300 baud modem but I quickly switched to a 2400 baud one. My current ISP plan is 15Mbps, literally 50,000 times faster than my original connection.

By August 1993, thanks to the aforementioned Kevin Tuite, I was able to get an account on UdeM’s ERE network, meant for teaching and research (it stood for «Environnement de recherche et d’enseignement»). That network was running on SGI machines which weren’t really meant to handle large numbers of external connections. But it worked for my purpose of processing email (through Pine), Usenet newsgroups, FTP downloads (sometimes through Archie), IRC sessions, individual chats (though Talk), Gopher sites, and other things via Telnet. As much as possible, I did all of these things from campus, through one of the computer rooms, which offered amazingly fast connections (especially compared to my 2.4kbps modem). I spent enough time in those computer rooms that I still remember a distinct smell from them.

However, at some point during that period, I was able to hack a PPP connection going through my ERE account. In fact, I ended up helping some other people (including a few professors) do the same. It then meant we could use native applications to access the ’Net from home and, eventually, browse the Web graphically.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

By the time I got online, NCSA Mosaic hadn’t been released. In fact, it took a little while before I even heard of the “World Wide Web”. I seem to remember that I only started browsing the Web in 1994. At the same time, I’m pretty sure one of my most online-savvy friends (likely Alex Burton or Martin Dupras) had told me about the Web as soon as version 1.0 of Mosaic was out, or even before.

The Web was a huge improvement, to be sure. But it was neither the beginning nor the end of the ‘Net, for those of us who had been there a little while. Yes, even a few months. Keep in mind that, at the time, there weren’t that many sites, on the Web. Sure, most universities had a Web presence and many people with accounts on university networks had opportunities to create homepages. But there’s a reason there could be Web directories (strongly associated with Yahoo!, now, but quite common at the time). Pages were “static” and there wasn’t much which was “social” on the Web, at the time.

But the ’Net as a whole was very social. At least, for the budding ethnographer that I was, the rest of the ‘Net was a much more interesting context for observation than the Web. Especially newsgroups and mailinglists.

Especially since the ‘Net was going through one of its first demographic explosions. Some AOLers were flooding the ‘Net. Perhaps more importantly, newbie bashing was peaking and comments against AOL or other inexperienced “Netizens” were frequently heard. I personally heard a lot more from people complaining about AOL than from anyone accessing the ’Net through AOL.

Something about the influx which was clear, though, is that the “democratization” was being accompanied by commercialization. A culture of open sharing was being replaced by corporate culture. Free culture was being preempted by a culture of advertising. The first .com domains were almost a novelty, in a ‘Net full of country-specific domains along with lots of .edu, .net, .org, .gov, and even .mil servers.

The ‘Net wasn’t yet about “paying for content”. That would come a few years later, when media properties pushed “user-generated content” into its own category (instead of representing most of what was available online). The ‘Net of the mid-1990s was about gaining as much attention as possible. We’re still in that mode, of course. But the contrast was striking. Casual conversations were in danger of getting drowned by megaphones. The billboard overtook the café. With the shift, a strong sense of antagonism emerged. The sense of belonging to a community of early adopters increased with the sense of being attacked by old “media types”. People less interested in sharing knowledge and more interested in conveying their own corporate messages. Not that individuals had been agenda-free until that point. But there was a big difference between geeks arguing about strongly-held opinions and “brands” being pushed onto the scene.

Early on, the thing I thought the Internet would most likely disrupt was journalism. I had a problem with journalism so, when I saw how the ‘Net could provide increased access to information, I was sure it’d imply a reappropriation of news by people themselves, with everything this means in the spread of critical thinking skills. Some of this has happened, to an extent. But media consolidation had probably a more critical role to play in journalism’s current crisis than online communication. Although, I like to think of these things as complex systems of interrelated trends and tendencies instead of straightforward causal scenarios.

In such a situation, the ‘Net becoming more like a set of conventional mass media channels was bad news. More specifically, the logic of “getting your corporate message across” was quite offputting to a crowd used to more casual (though often heated and loud) conversations. What comes to mind is a large agora with thousands of people having thousands of separate conversations being taken over by a massive PA system. Regardless of the content of the message being broadcast by this PA system, the effect is beyond annoying.

Through all of this, I distinctly remember mid-April, 1994. At that time, the Internet changed.  One might say it never recovered.

At that time, two unscrupulous lawyers sent the first commercial spam on Usenet newsgroups. They apparently made a rather large sum of money from their action but, more importantly, they ended the “Netiquette” era. From this point on, a conflict has emerged between those who use and those who abuse the ‘Net. Yes, strong words. But I sincerely think they’re fitting. Spammers are like Internet’s cancer. They may “serve a function” and may inspire awe. Mostly, though, they’re “cells gone rogue”. Not that I’m saying the ‘Net was free of disease before this “Green Card lottery” moment. For one thing, it’s possible (though unlikely) that flamewars were somewhat more virulent then than they are now. It’s just that the list of known online woes expanded quickly with the addition of cancer-like diseases. From annoying Usenet spam, we went rather rapidly to all sorts of malevolent large-scale actions. Whatever we end up doing online, we carry the shadow of such actions.

Despite how it may sound, my stance isn’t primarily moral. It’s really about a shift from a “conversational” mode to a “mass media” one. Spammers exploited Usenet by using it as a “mass media” channel, at a time when most people online were using it as a large set of “many-to-many” channels.

The distinction between Usenet spam and legitimate advertising may be extremely important, to a very large number of people. But the gates spammers opened were the same ones advertisers have been using ever since.

My nostalgia of the early Internet has a lot to do with this shift. I know we gained a lot, in the meantime. I enjoy many benefits from the “democratization” of the ‘Net. I wouldn’t trade the current online services and tools for those I was using in August, 1993. But I do long for a cancer-free Internet.

Obligatory Nexus7 Test Post

Got my Nexus 7 a while ago,  but I wasn’t finding a use case for it. Thanks to a friend advising me to give Swiftkey a try,  I might actually make it work.
Something I might find especially useful about Swiftkey is the fact that I can mix languages,  quelque-chose que je fais assez souvent sur iOS mais qui demande un changement constant de clavier. Since I like Android’s speech recognition,  a combination of SwiftKey and speech might allow me to work efficiently.
Un truc que je remarque rapidement,  par contre,  c’est que le fait de passer d’un système à l’autre demande un certain temps de transfert de mots de passe. J’utilise des outils pour conserver des mots de passe sécuritaires,  et ils existent sur plusieurs plates-formes,  mais ça demande quand même un certain temps.
We’ll see how things go,  after a while. I do want to like Android’s and,  contrary to popular belief, I can be pretty open minded about such things. But I need appropriate contexts to try out different use cases. Otherwise,  having people yell at me because I’m yet to be sold on Android hasn’t been helpful.
Ok,  the test is enough for now. Having issues with the Swiftkey spacebar in landscape,  but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. Let’s post this and edit later.

Font Change

First time I change fonts in an existing theme. We’ll see how that works.

Just learnt about Adobe’s Source Sans Pro and thought it was particularly neat. I’m no “type geek” but I’m getting something from this font which I don’t get from other fonts. Been switching different desktop apps to it and it’s now the default font in my default browser. Now that Adobe has released the monospace Source Code Pro, I’m using that in text editors.

Using Google Web Fonts with WordPress

As these fonts are among Google Web Fonts, it’s particularly easy to use them with Web content.

There are plenty of methods to change fonts in a WordPress theme. The best one, most likely, is to create a child theme and change fonts there. Looks like the “@import” method isn’t recommended, but it probably works.

In my case, I’m using a simple plugin. There are plenty of Web fonts plugins available but this one seems to do the job and I don’t need the features other plugins are boasting. One thing I might want to change is the font for blockquotes.

Blockquotes can look quite different from the rest…

But that’s not really an issue, for now. Same thing with switching fixed-width to Source Code Pro.

This probably looks weird…

Given the popularity of Source Sans Pro, I’m assuming some WP themes will start adopting it as a font choice. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll probably switch to Source Sans Pro on other sites as well.

Some samples…

  1. Il était une fois…
  2. Affinités pour les ligatures subtiles, pour les afters.
  3. Dans le gras du vide.
  4. Ça marche comme à Çingleton, ça madame!
  5. À moins de 0ºC, Orville se les gèle.

Further iTextbook Thoughts

As happens frequently, for me, blogging about a topic makes me think even further about it. So I’m still thinking about learning content and what Apple’s announcement might have to do with it. However, I don’t really have time to write it as a “narrative” (gotta finish this ancillary material; plus, my brother-in-law just arrived in town). So I’ll post my notes as-is, to serve as a placeholder.

(Made easier by Brett Terpstra’s “Indented or Markdown to HTML Unordered List” Ruby script.)

  • Don’t call it content
    • Access to content
  • Allowing students to contribute content
  • Higher Ed
    • Less about backpack
    • Semi-autonomous learning
    • Self-learning
      • Autodidactic
  • Realities of markets
    • Sectors
      • Creation
      • Distribution
      • Consumtpion
  • But learning is different?
    • Material to make you think
  • Social media
  • Hopes for Moodle 2.0, Sakai 3
  • Lifelong learning
  • Apple-branded learning management system?
  • Not much hope for what it might represent
  • Gradebook
  • Beyond Numbers template
  • Portfolios
  • iWeb and beyond
  • Online/Offline
  • Flexibility
    • Updates
  • Index and search
  • Modular
  • Distraction-free learning
  • Minisites and encapsulation