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Eric Raymond: Science Fiction & Anthropology

June 16th, 2007

Self-described hacker anthropologist Eric Raymond (ESR) explains that science fiction was the source of his interest in anthropology, citing the example of the anthropologist character in Robert Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy. If this clip were a dish, I’d pair it with Chris Kelty’s ruminations on Raymond’s hacker anthropology.

Where’s the metadata, the anthropology?

February 13th, 2007

Though I joined the lovefest over this video at Savage Minds; shared it with dozens of people last week; and am genuinely grateful it was produced and posted; I have some problems with the representation of Web 2.0 it makes.

Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

The focus on form and content a bit misleading. Sure, XML, enables you to separate abstract data (i.e. the so-called “content”) from rendition information (form, or better, formatting), but that’s hardly the heart of Web 2.0. Metadata, middleware, an interchange format that makes document processing and data processing one and the same, that’s the heart of it. Though the video emphasizes that XML facilitates automatic data exchange, and talks about tagging as teaching the machine, metadata is never mentioned by name.

Mostly, I find the video problematic as a work of cultural anthropology because it so readily serves up the party line of the Web 2.0 initiative in the native tongue of marketing: “Digital text can do better,” XML leaves us “free from formatting constraints,” no need to “know complicated code,” “no longer just linking information, Web 2.0 is linking people.” This last one strikes me as particularly odd coming from an anthropologist. Were people not connected by the Web in 1994? A lot of complicated codes are required to blog and use social networking tools, the fact that most of them aren’t machine-readable shouldn’t keep a social scientist from recognizing them as code.

Thursday Night Dinner (TND), September 1994

February 5th, 2007

For a while, TND was the place to be for San Francisco’s up-and-coming Web workers. Generation X author Douglas Coupland was a regular at the apartment. Rolling Stone chronicled the scene, as did a German documentary crew.
— Paul Boutin, “One More Thursday Night Dinner,” Wired News, May, 02, 2002

Photograph of people at Thursday Night Dinner Sept 29, 1994
Thursday Night Dinners began in 59 Ramona where I lived with Graham (now Francis) Potter and Bagus Haig and moved with me when I moved to 65 Ramona in March 1995.

They started small as you can see from this weathered Polaroid. I can identify everyone except the woman in the middle back, and the two gentlemen at far right. Kudos and a toy surprise to anyone who can supply names, especially for the poor fellow defaced by an errant thumb. The rest, from left to right, are: First Row: Ken Goldberg, Jenny Cool, Jonathan Steuer, ??. Middle Row: Safi Bahcall, Bagus Haig, Anne Francis. Back Row: Ovid Jacob, ??, Graham Potter, ??

Comments on original post (that got munged in Oz crash):

From: Nick Matelli <nick14@gmail.com>
You should really bullet-point these posts. It’ll make them easier to skim while at work.

From: Francis Potter
It’s possible that the woman in the back row is Amber Luttrell, who was a friend of mine at the time. Although it’s really hard to tell. In fact, I could barely even identify myself! What’s the fuzzy thing in the top right corner?’

From: Justin Hall <justin@bud.com>
I believe that sitting next to Jonathan Steuer might be one Jonathan Wells, who helped start RES magazine and the RESfest film festivals.

From: Jenny Cool <jenny@cool.org>
Thanks, Francis, I think you’re right, that is Amber, I remember now that I hear the name again. Thanks, Justin, but how sure are you? Somehow your note sounds tentative. Meanwhile, kudos to you both and, if you email me your postal addys, a toy surprise will be dispatched from my vast collection of dotcom era schwag.

Bell System Beauty

January 15th, 2007

Bell System Beauty the participant observer’s Bell System Beauty photoset