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Question of the day

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How many anthropologists suffer from dromomania?

I just received my new copy of MacSpeech Dictate, version 1.5. I have to say that I'm impressed. Although I was not happy about the $50 upgrade fee, the accuracy of the speech recognition is much improved. You can guess of course, that I am typing this using the speech recognition software. So far there have been no errors in recognition.

Yes, this is how it should have been from the very beginning. Now, you can spell out names using the international radio alphabet (foxtrot alpha!). However, I found that this doesn't work perfectly, for example I have to type f-o-x-t-r-o-t a-l-p-h-a because I could not get MacSpeech to recognize when I wanted letters and when I wanted words.

Also, training new words,isn't as easy as Dragon Naturally Speaking. You can't just say "correct that." You have to train new words individually in a separate panel. Also because there is no "correct that" command, it can be frustrating when the speech recognition does actually make a mistake.

The overall verdict so far after my short time testing it is that the basic speech recognition is improved greatly. The ability to add the words is fantastic, although he should have been in the original release. However the inability to correct words on the fly is a huge impediment and limits the ultimate usability of this program.

Overall, I'm glad to see some improvement being made in it, and I hope that they continue to work on further. Perhaps one more release and it will be at the level where Dragon Naturally Speaking was five years ago.

My partner and I watched in disbelief reports of 3-7 hour waits at early voting polling stations -- with estimates that the lines will be even longer on Tuesday itself.

My partner asked me if Tuesday was a national holiday so that people could go vote. She was doubly astonished that it wasn't a holiday, so that people would have to take off work in order to vote.

Rachel Maddow is right on target when she calls the long lines at Southern polling stations a new form of the racist system of poll-taxes. The only people who can afford to take off an entire day to go vote are those in white collar professional jobs.

Obligatory Japan content: In Japan, I've never had to wait more than 5 minutes to vote. And this was for a country where we don't use electronic voting machines but good old paper and pen.

My moped-EV decided to toss me. Ouch. Photos after the jump. A bit gory, so NSFW.

Ask vs. Aks / Ax

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On March 1, I gave a talk on deaf identity and language ideologies at Swarthmore college. During the talk, I discussed the language politics behind the pronunciation of the word "ask" in spoken American English.

The contemporary African American Vernacular English pronunciation of "ask" as "aks" or "ax" is often used as an example of bad pronunciation by prescriptive language critics. However, the "aks/ax" form of "ask" is just as old -- if not older, than the "ask" form -- and dates back to Old English.

People have e-mailed me asking for a citation. The best source is the Oxford English Dictionary (second edition 1989) which gives these usages:

I. 1. trans. To call for, call upon (a person or thing personified) to come. Obs.

a1000 Cædmon's Gen. (Gr.) 2453 [Hi] comon cor{th}rum miclum cuman acsian. 1205 LAY. 19967 He lette axien anan Men {th}at cu{edh}en hæuwen stan.

2. without mention of the person asked: a. with the thing asked as an object sentence or clause (in indirect, or, less commonly, direct oration).

c1000 Ags. Ps. xiv. [2] Ic ahsi{asg}e, Hwa {th}ær earda{edh}? a1038 Charter of Eanwene in Cod. Dipl. IV. 54 {Edh}á ácsode {edh}e bis~ceop hwá sceólde andswerian for his módor. c1200 ORMIN Te{ygh}{ygh} sholldenn..asskenn what he wære. a1300 Cursor M. 7887 He askes, quat was {th}at leuedi? c1305 St. Crist. 149 in E.E.P. (1862) 63 {Th}is gode man..eschte what hi wolde. c1386 CHAUCER Wife's Prol. 21, I axe, why the fyfte man Was nought housbond to the Samaritan? c1420 Avow. Arth. xxiv, Gauan asshes, ‘Is hit soe?’ 1455 E. CLERE in Four C. Eng. Lett. 5 He askid what the Princes name was. 1549 COVERDALE Erasm. Par. Rom. Prol., He axeth not whether good workes are to be done or not. 1597 SHAKES. 2 Hen. IV, III. ii. 71 May I aske, how my Lady his Wife doth? 1711 STEELE Spect. No. 454 {page}6 To ask what I wanted. Mod. Ask who it is. He asks if you are ready. I merely ask, ‘Is it true?’

b. with the question expressed by a n. or pronoun: To ask a question, this, something. to ask (a horse) the question: to call upon him for a special effort.

c1320 R. BRUNNE Medit. 430 Some axen questyons to do hym wrong. 1387 TREVISA Higden (1865) I. 67 {Th}re questiouns bee{th} i-axed. 1803 PEGGE Anecd. Eng. Lang. 114 A true born Londoner, Sir, of either sex, always axes question, axes pardon, and at quadrille axes leave. 1850 TENNYSON In Mem. xiv, And ask a thousand things of home. 1894 H. CUSTANCE Riding Recoll. vi. 88 Until the last ten strides, when I really asked ‘King Lud’ the question.

We can see that 'aks/ax' was a valid pronunciation from 1000 CE ("acsian") through at least 1549 CE ("He axeth"). If anyone axe, just say that no one lesser than Chaucer spelt it that way.

I recently wrote a short article for the Anthropology News titled: A Case against Giving Informants Cameras and Coming Back Weeks Later (. Vol. 49, No. 2: 20). Here is a snippet to whet your appetite:

A Case Against Giving Informants Cameras and Coming Back Weeks Later
By Karen Nakamura (Yale U)

Giving informants cameras and asking them to take photographs of their environment is a growing trend in anthropology. The resulting photos are later displayed, analyzed or exhibited as examples of a particularly internal, private or emic view of the world. Students love this technique, which is inexpensive and initially appears to be risk-free, with all of the hallmarks of reflexive anthropology. If not done carefully, however, it can be problematic both ethically and methodologically.


For those who choose to do photoethnographic work that involves providing informants with cameras or video equipment, it is essential to first critically examine the ethical and methodological implications of a project. The anthropologist must consider both the potential harms and benefits that a project might pose for an informant. Possible ways to address these concerns include giving informants high quality photographic equipment (to keep) as well as technical training, so that in the future they can use their new tools and skills for their own purposes, to address their own needs. Informants working for an anthropologists (i.e. completing assigned tasks) should be paid as field assistants. Prior to using an image an anthropologist should receive permission to do so from both the photographer and any people that appear in the photograph. Finally, photography should supplement, not replace, long-term fieldwork–it is time and labor intensive, but ultimately necessary for interpreting and contextualizing visual images from the field.

You can read the rest at the full text PDF.

Comments, criticism, and feedback on this article are more than welcome -- either here or by e-mail.

I recently took a trip to Awaji Island to visit the earthquake museum there (see other blog post) among other things. It's a 200 km round trip by car from Itami City in Hyogo Prefecture (where I'm staying this week) and I decided to rent a Toyoto Prius.


The rental cost ¥10,500 for the day; the tolls were ¥7800; and (drumroll) the gasoline only cost ¥1350 for 10 liters. That works out to 20 km / liter or about 47 mpg! According to the car's computer, the average mileage was 23 km/liter or 53 mpg. I think the discrepancy is because the tank may have been a little less than full when I picked it up (and reset the odometer/drive computer). **

** The exchange rate is ¥113 to US$1 and plummeting.

In any case, let's take the average to be: 50 mpg.

This was for mixed city / highway / island / mountain driving with four passengers. Wow.

Everything I had heard about the Prius: poor acceleration, poor visibility, little luggace space, jerky braking, mileage not as high as advertised, etc. proved not to be true. The acceleration was great, visibility is fantastic (especially with the back view LCD monitor/camera), there was more space in the back than I thought, and I couldn't tell when the car was using ICE, electric motors, or regenerative braking -- it was that smooth.

I'm totally in love.

Sign me up for one when I get back.

So I'm starting to get the first round of ding letters from the various film festivals that I applied to last year.* One of the things I hadn't realized going into this was just how competitive the film festival market is. One festival I applied to received 1700 films, and they could screen less than a hundred (including shorts).

*In the next few months, we're also sending ding/acceptance letters for job searches as well as applications to the PhD program.

This means that the chances of getting into a film festival (assuming random probability, which it isn't) is 1:17. That would mean it's harder to get into a competitive film festival than it is to get into Yale College! :-)

Here are some other acceptance to application ratios in my experience: Yale anthropology PhD program 1:20; academic journal ratio 1:5 (?roughly¿); anthro teaching job 1:150. So getting into a film festival isn't as hard as getting a job, but ranks up there!

The students in my Visual Anthropology course are busy in production on their ethnographic films about various aspects of life in New Haven. We talked on Monday about common pitfalls and guidelines when filming and editing an ethnographic film:

Rules when making an ethnographic film

  1. Don’t expect anything to go right. Don’t expect informants to get back to you. Informants will avoid you. Informants will get kidnapped or arrested.
  2. Sound is CRITICAL.
  3. Think about your storytelling. What is primary: the audio or visual channel? Choose a primary channel and then watch your film with the sound off or without any visuals and make sure that your primary channel works w/out backup.
  4. No one cares how difficult it was to get a particular shot/interview. If it sucks, it sucks and you shouldn’t include the vestiges of it in your film for sentimentality’s sake.
  5. Pacing is very important. Understand what beat your film is at and try to maintain it, or use change of pace/beat as a deliberate creative element.
  6. Short is good. Shorter is better.
  7. Storyboard. Storyboard. Storyboard.
  8. Think of your film in terms of shorter sequences that work to establish your story. No sequence/section should be more than 3-5 minutes long.
  9. You will run out of tapes/film/batteries/power cables at a critical moment.
  10. Talking heads suck. Sometimes it’s better to condense a 10 minute interview into three or four points that an overlay, intertitle, or VoG (voice-o-God) can summarize.

Thoughts? Comments? Please post!

Following up on my earlier blog entry on why to avoid photo sharing sites such as Picasa, a post on blog notes that Google's YouTube service also requires you to sign over distribution rights to them for free:

In short, when you upload a video to YouTube, you grant them a license that allows them to do with it as they please. They can sell it, license it, remix it, make t-shirts, put it in a movie or on a cereal box - whatever fits their business model, without even an email message letting you know.

Steve Borsch has an excellent blog entry on why using Picasa's web album is a particularly bad idea -- because posting your images on it gives away all of your photograph's duplication rights to Google, without compensation and in perpetuity:

Your Rights

Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Picasa Web Albums. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Picasa Web Albums and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Picasa Web Albums, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content through Picasa Web Albums, including RSS or other content feeds offered through Picasa Web Albums, and other Google services. In addition, by submitting, posting or displaying Content which is intended to be available to the general public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services

"Promoting Google services" is very vague. A coffee table book about Google could be construed this way. Definitely an advertising campaign -- how pissed would you be if Google used your photograph on billboards across America and didn't pay you a penny? They have every right to since you gave them that right.

Furthermore, this is hidden in the Terms of Service which no one reads. How many other photo sharing sites have similar rights grabs in their TOS? Previously, I've blogged about why you should never enter most photo contests, but now it appears you shouldn't ever post anything on the web unless you own your own server.

National Geographic is up to their usual tricks, running a contest that deprives all entrants of any rights to their own photographs:

By submitting a photograph for consideration... you grant to National Geographic Society and its subsidiaries and licensees (the "NGS") a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual license to display, distribute and reproduce the Photograph, in whole or in part, in any medium now existing or subsequently developed for editorial purposes without further review or participation from you.

For more info about other photo (and poetry) scams, see my previous blog entry on this topic. has a wonderful series titled Ask the Pilot where former pilot, Patrick Smith, ruminates on the airline industry. His most recent article touches upon photography at airports and how we are rapidly becoming much like pre-Glasnost Soviet Russia. Stopped numerous times by airport security who try to stop him from taking photos (but won't cite the law or regulation being broken), Smith manages to track down someone who can actually tell him the letter of the law:

"No, it's not against the law," says Anne Davis, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokeswoman. When asked about jurisdiction, Davis describes TSA as the overseer of all airport security matters, including the supervision of local law enforcement. "The buck stops with us," she says, adding that the agency has no specific policy with regard to picture taking, other than asking people not to tape or photograph screening apparatus.

Had any problems recently taking photographs at airports? Post a comment here!

Link: What is a Pro?

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Sam Longoria has a nice essay titled, "What is a Pro?" It's written for indy filmmakers, but I think it applies just as equally to still photographers. To quote: "While skill and/or talent certainly are important, the defining quality of a Professional is payment. Think 'paycheck.' May you earn many big ones."


AlterNet posts a disturbing story about a quadriplegic man who died in a Washington DC jail after a minor drug conviction. Sadly to say, this isn't news to any of us who study disability issues:
Thirteen months ago, Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin sentenced Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old quadriplegic, to a 10-day Washington D.C. jail sentence for marijuana possession, assuring attorneys she had checked with the jail and that it could handle someone in his condition. By the fourth day of Magbie's sentence, he was locked in a cell with no ability to communicate or call for help. His breathing tube had been improperly placed; his weight had plummeted since his arrival; his apparent pneumonia had gone untreated. That night, Sept. 24, 2004, he was taken to Greater Southeast Community Hospital, where he died. (Read the rest of the story).


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