Category Archives: Anthropology

Multifaceted Living

On the sliding scale of time that gradiently builds and ebbs and recedes I am perpetually being re-context-ed and being iteratively re-inserted into particular frames of reference and spheres of existence.  I am simultaneously (at this point in time) (in no particular order) physically framed: a mortal, a human, and a male; overlapping-ly framed: a man, a child, a son, a husband, a friend, an ex-boyfriend, an occasional ass, but most of the time decent; functionally framed:an employee, a husband (again), a neighbor, a citizen, a representative, a cook, a linguist, and a discourse analyst; and characteristically framed: creative, a reader, obstinate, sour-faced when I am actually quite contented and happy, a driven individual, annoying, entertaining, friendly, unconcerned with things some people think I ought to be concerned about, temperate, calm, chaotic, paradoxical, slimy, ambiguous, wrong, right, and indifferent.

As individuals we have many types of roles and expectations.

These roles and expectations have a place in community.

Let’s assume that individuality exists because there is community.  Let’s agree that community on a macro-level means relationship.  Community defines the application of our roles, defines the way that we relate to the community at large.  Throughout life we have the option to naturally accept or naturally decline participation in any given role.

Our descriptive and identifying labels probably exists because of some micro-role played out in some micro-plot-line of thought or action or interaction or relation.

For me, like any other human, each particular facet of my being carries a whole set of relationships and contexts that also need to be understood if I am to be understood in full.  For instance, being a husband suggests a living spouse, which at one point meant a new marriage, which meant in-laws, which meant new grandparents, most likely new siblings, and new aunts and uncles.  If the actual relationships were not so big of a factor in defining that new portion of my identity, then certainly, the way in which those relatives perceived me in context of how they perceived my spouse certainly carried some sort of value and created expectations for me (including the way I was to interact as a new and extended member of the family).  Furthermore, if family isn’t enough, there were new friends with whom I also entered into relationship, including their sets of expectations, ad nausea.  And this is only the external relations in marriage – I have left aside any relations and expectations that I shared with my spouse.

What about the rest of the roles?  It starts getting crazy when you try to make sense of it all.

In addition to holding a variety of roles I also have sets of attributes that are either activated or deactivated depending on which role I am satisfying.  These attributes are features that define and differentiate so that you can determine who I am and what I am supposed to be doing and why, and how, and when, and where.  I am tour staff, I am the person who knows how to get to Pittsburgh, I am short so I am not the person to change the lightbulb, I am quick so I am the person to run down the street and catch the delivery driver because he forgot a package, I am whatever I am, in terms of attributes, in terms of adjectives.

This is not compartmentalizing; this is maximizing self-awareness to harness it as a tool to leverage the options placed before me.  This reminds me of that Aboriginal saying:  The more you know the less you need.  I know myself.  If we do not know our capabilities, our roles, our nature, then we cannot expect to market those skills to the people who find them valuable in employees, in dates, in spouses, in friends, it voters, et cetera.  Although I am not an objectivist, Ayn Rand tells us that absolutely the writer must know the essentials if they are to write anything of value at all.

You as a multi-hat wearing individual absolutely must know your essence if you are to accomplish anything at all.

As we grow older and accumulate hats we learn that roles do the things they are able to do because of gained experience and knowledge.  Time changes student into teacher, child into adult.  But some roles can overlap and occur simultaneously, such as child, student, pitcher, class clown, et cetera.  Holding a particular role does not necessarily preclude an individual from holding other particular roles.  It may preclude, but it does not necessarily preclude.

Roles overlap and occur simultaneously, some precede, some follow, some preclude at particular times, and others are instances of roles filled immaturely in more mature ways; iterations of roles that continue perpetually until our bones petrify, (skeleton is a meronym of body…that means skeleton is a part of body), or roles that we chose to turn on and off, but irrespective of the time slots that the roles fill they occur between the womb and the tomb, riga tiga tum tum.

I am not your friend until you meet me.

Without being my friend, you can still know the intimate fact based on my usage of “womb” and “tomb” with that nonsensical four word sequence in the prior paragraph that I am culturally literate enough in some particular culture to be able to reference West Side Story.

And we all know so much.

We can’t be satisfied to know that we have an identity or a personality, or that we belong to any particular culture or collection of cultures.  We need to want to know what to do with that knowledge.  We need something more here.  But we operate on a daily basis with the awareness that we need to know our materials and our tools in order to do anything productively creative with our skills and resources.  Accordingly, we need to investigate the nature of our identities, how our identities converge to belong to cultures, how those cultural memberships alter our identities, and then how to use that knowledge in our chaotically complex lives; we need to practice multifaceted learning for this multifaceted living.

Real Life Applications of Cognitive Linguistics

Shopping's Goat...

Image by ImAges ImprObables via Flickr

I have said it before and I will say it again: ANYTHING that requires thought benefits from a cognitive linguistic perspective.

We use language to help in making sense of the world, this goes for broad and general topics as well as specific expert domains; language is the medium of meaning, wherever that meaning occurs.

The idea I use in my professional life as an organizational culture planner is to use cognitive science to make sense out of the systems of thought expressed in the routine tasks of the organization and to see how they are described through culture in the form of business practices and personnel behaviors.  If I can see how thought and culture relate via language structures (i.e., conceptual metaphors, conceptual blends, force-dynamics, attention, figure-ground relations, et cetera), then I can help grow organizational culture from an informed perspective.


If you take the communication produced in an average business meeting, break it up into sections that identify the underlying conceptual metaphors, see who communicates what message, and trace the outcomes of the meeting, you can start to get a feel for what drives the organization.


Because design is an artifact of human creativity, it reflects the processes of perception.  Pick up any art criticism, architecture and landscape writing, or pulp design magazine, and you will see a range of conceptual structures at play in the terms of the movement of a visual scene, the oscillation of figure and ground (which in many cases roughly correlate to grammatical subject and object), the directing of attention, and the general semiotic structure of the actual design or the commentary; each aspect of the design reflects conception and perception.


Since technology is used in every aspect of life, we can start to see how it becomes a part of culture and cognition; in fact, technology in many respects helps us to distribute our cognitive load across a piece of technology. Pieces of technology are like material anchors that helps us escape from merely thinking with our minds and instead enable us to think with our environment.  This is a matter of conceptual blending, and it plays out in the decisions we make using thought and language, since technology is a tool that helps us learn, decide, and act on collected knowledge.  This is as relevant for super-computers as it is for using a wooden ruler; technology of all forms enables us to actually have something to say about the sensed environment.


When people want to relate to each other, they use language and other models of symbolization to communicate.  One of the most frustrating and most interesting aspects of communication situations is knowing whether communication is actually happening, or if it is in fact failing.  A lot of this depends on negotiating the common ground to see what each party shares.  Since the language we use for communicating relies so heavily on metaphors, it is often interesting to look at which metaphors people use to communicate, and whether or not those metaphors are understood by the other conversation partners. This holds true for relationship counseling, for customer service relations, and for friendships.  Any time people get together, they use meaningful structures to communicate, and cognitive science offers a suite of tools to analyze that communication.

The idea I use in my work is to exploit the nuances in language and behavior to gain insight into what problems the organization is facing.  I use a three-pronged approach to collect, analyze, and present that data.  I then help the organization to see how to use the results in a meaningful way to produce actionable solutions.  What this does for me is invaluable; I get to have a good time working on different problems, and I get to see how different people work together to help me find solutions that work for them.

I welcome opportunities to participate in translating ideas into cultural practices and love to engage in productive collaboration with people who are open and curious.

Let me know if you want to talk. DM me: @SportLinguist, or leave a comment on the contact page.

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Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere

Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long ...

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The Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere is a unpublished model of cognition that I began developing in the late ninety’s and early years of 2000 as a result of my training in linguistics and anthropology.  I worked on it before I knew what Cognitive Linguistics actually was and, in fact, it was part of my conversion to CogLing.  With a nod to remix culture and assemblage theory, this model tried to blend together several validated models of discourse and culture in a super feeble attempt to bridge the epistemological gulf between realism and relativism and explain the complete communication picture in a systematic and procedurally elegant way (read: quasi-arbitrary).  This was the early days of my interest in systems theory, but I was really naive about the complexity of complexity.  Basically, the more that I worked on the model the more I came to see that Cognitive Linguistics already had working solutions to a lot of the questions I was addressing.  In fact, when I read back through my notes now, I see that it is actually a model of attention and dynamic construal.  I won’t tell you anything more about the mechanics right now, but I expect that one day I will pull it back off the shelf and show it to the world; in the mean time, here is an analogy from my original manuscript (part of which is in this book) for you to chew on:

“Pick the white puff of seeds on a dandelion clock, pick the stem and hold it in your hand, and meticulously and decidedly, remove every single floating seed, one-by-one until there is only one remaining.  This is what the first thought does when it moves to the second thought.  You have deselected every seed, ignored them all but one, the one you highlighted, the one you lit up – the one you selected.  This, the lone seed on the stem, a sphere at the base, the rod line of the seed body, and the end of the seed a circle of tiny white hairs that extend radially from the stem in many many directions, this seed is a snapshot. You are holding in your hand the most natural visible representation of how your thoughts live and travel.  Now put that last seed up to your mouth and do the wind’s job and send that seed floating.  Where it lands it either develops or dies, just like your thought.”

“If you can take a line of thought and follow it to every dead-end, out every open door and window, to every destination – and catch it resting – you will see simply and plain how lawless and unruly even simple thoughts are in their brief lives.”

You can view images from my portfolio that were inspired through this process at:

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On walking and mediated embodied experience in ethnographic map making

Girl walking in a beach. Porto Covo, Portugal.

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I’ve been thinking about my spatial experience of my contextual environment and about what I have learned over the years in consciously encountering space as a user of space, a creator of space, and a participant in community through space.  I am thinking about this as I am getting ready to do some tutoring on domain mapping in ethnographic research.  Here is a summary of my spatial experience.

As a child most of my experience with space was either moving through it on foot or by being driven around in a car.  Toss in the stroller, occasional plane ride, boating, crutches, sledding, riding a bicycle, but by and large WALKING and RIDING dominated my childhood experience of space.

As an adult I would live in cities like Chicago and Honolulu, places where the infrastructure encouraged walking.  This changed my understanding of terrain, and walking became my primary vantage point for my movement through space, although each place did have new modes of movement; Chicago had a train, Honolulu had surf boards.

Doing fieldwork in West Africa I would never drive; I saw most of sub-Saharan Africa in a van, or a Volkswagen, or a Renault, but I was always the passenger.  At least I could stare out the window and imagine what it was like at a walking pace.

Where I live now has a walkability score of 25 out of 100.  Where I lived in Chicago had a score of 98, Hawai’i had a score of 78; clearly my current 25 is pitiful in comparison.

To be fair, where I live now there are some residents with a score of 82, so, it is not like walking is precluded by living here, just that it is not easy for everyone (like me).  I walked home from work once and it took me three hours.

This has restricted my daily routine movement to driving.  These days I experience my landscape from a vehicle (much like my Africa passenger days), but this time I don’t even get to look around and pay attention to what zooms past my face; no, I only pay attention to that which is necessary to avoid collisions.

Driving has seriously hindered my sense of place.  I used to spend a lot of time walking, exploring, noticing things at street level, at a pace that let me participate and observe; being a car driver has forced me to give up participation with a place in favor of being a consumer of that place, the road is just a conduit.

Instead of participating with the place I now participate with my driving peers as we consume the street on our way to our various destinations.  The interactive dynamic is not with the people who reside in a place, but with people who routinely pass through the place.  This is like the boat that is moored to the riverbank, the boat might not move but the river has certainly changed.

Compared to the speed with which I now drive through my neighborhoods, walking is practically standing still.  Walking is being the boat moored to the bank; driving is the rushing river.  And the places I drive through do not really change either, but I have nothing to do with the neighborhoods which I zoom through, not the shops, not the landscape, not the people.

I need to stop driving so much.

I need to learn to walk, again.

I need to experience the physical crust of earth and to encounter a place with my feet, unmediated by round rubber tires and a gas pedal.

Being a driver has abstracted my encounter with a place by removing the minutia and patient tiny details made visible to the walking man.  I say “man” because I speak of myself; I was a walking man, like James Taylor, but now, where I live, if you walk expect to be stared at, honked at, yelled at by crazy fun-loving child-drivers, and occasionally the target of someone’s empty sodacan/coffeecup/waterbottle hurled out the window with an insult.  I am serious; walking is stigmatizing, and dangerous.

This is partly why I drive places.

My level of attention to place as a driver does not decompose into lower level experiences with place like it does on a stroll where those small experiences gradiently build up to become a walking journey, instead I pay more attention to how many red lights have impeded my progress.

Walking for me does more than serve the function of travel between places; I walk to know a place.

When I move somewhere new (or even visit from out of town), the first thing I do is walk around a place, in an ever widening gyre, a scroll stroll uncurling through a city emanating away from my apartment or hotel room.  I walk around and I get a feel for what surrounds me.  I don’t even look at a map until I have learned the map through my feet.  By doing this I start to learn my place in the broader context, and this is where you encounter the joys of a place, its people, its vitality, its curiosities; by walking you learn the identity of a place.

This afternoon I thought about how walking is natural for me as an ethnographer; in fact, walking is essential.  And one of the reasons it is so important is that it helps in making maps of a place, in mapping the domains and the various spatial relations found in that place.  Sure, you can sit somewhere and draw a map of everything you see, but I promise you, if you walk around a place and look first with your feet, your map will be more detailed, more accurate, and more relevant as you come to capture the reality which each participant experiences as they use that space.

I might have seen a lot of sub-Saharan West Africa, but it doesn’t mean too much to me, and I certainly could only attempt to map it out from an approximation of the various landmarks I happened to have noticed from the window.  This is because the dynamic and progressive movement of a vehicle is that your sense of figure-ground organization is constantly shifting, and it goes as fast as the driver feels is necessary.  But when you walk around, if something becomes figural in your field of vision, and you feel it is important, you get to pause for a moment and reflect on the significance of what you have seen.  This kind of intentional embodied experience is vital for making sense of a place.

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Why I Care About Ontology

Staircase perspective.

Image via Wikipedia

In a broad sense of the term, any particular ontology serves as a framework against which we interpret information; think of it like an organized perspective that we use as a lens to view and understand the world.

When you study a culture you are concerned with figuring out how they understand the world and how they make sense of the world.  This study of sense-making follows the concept that people do what seems logical and rational to their perspective.  I am interested in mapping these sense-making resources and translating them into a format that reveals the internal consistency and relationships between the rationale and the external context and stimuli.

If you look back through the histories of science & philosophy you will see the pendulum swing between two extremes in regard to ontology, one extreme believes that there is a unified and complete ontological structure to the world, the other extreme believes that there are many unified and complete ontological structures.  This is the debate between whether we can know truth objectively, or whether it is known as a perspective.

In my work I explore how we construct global formal ontologies as well as how we generate idiosyncratic folk-ontologies; this is the both/and response – I want to know how we engage in thinking when it is shaped by public beliefs and private beliefs and what it takes to reconcile the disjunctions.

One of the ideas that has kept my attention the longest is that the structure of a thought represents the choices that have been made to arrive at that thought, and that structure also shows us what has been ignored as the thought is being formed.  I want to know how the external world interacts with the internal world.  I want to know how it directs our thinking.  This is the foundational riddle that makes me want to do linguistics.

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How I became a Linguist: Characteristics of Intelligent Behavior

Systems thinking about the society

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Sometime in the early nineties my mother gave me a list of Arthur Costa’s twelve characteristics of intelligent behavior.  This list actually had a lot of influence in my life as I stumbled upon the trajectory toward anthropology and linguistics.  It taught me that I could actually organize observations and thoughts and cause them to not only make sense out of reality, but to blend the sense-making process with the process of describing reality.

I wanted to summarize Costa’s 1988 list here and to provide a link to a full article by Costa that explains the rationale behind each of the list items.

  1. Persistence, persevering when the solution to a problem is not immediately apparent
  2. Decreasing Impulsivity
  3. Listening to Others – with Empathy and Understanding
  4. Flexibility in Thinking
  5. Metacognition: Awareness of Our Own Thinking
  6. Checking for Accuracy and Precision
  7. Questioning and Problem Posing
  8. Drawing on Past Knowledge and Applying it to New Situations
  9. Precision of Language and Thought
  10. Using All the Senses
  11. Ingenuity, Originality, Insightfulness: Creativity
  12. Wonderment, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and the enjoyment of problem solving – a sense of efficacy as a thinker [Costa: 1988]

What strikes me as important in this list, is the correlation to the task of conducting both anthropological and linguistic fieldwork.  Wherever one is a stranger this list equips with the basic attitude necessary to learn to fit it, or at least to be welcomed in to a community.

This list is also manifest in anyone doing any kind of systems science.  All twelve of these skills make it possible for you to collect data, analyze it, and turn it into some kind of presentable report that describes the system.  This three activity cycle: collect, analyze, present is what I feel is at the core of being any kind of productively observational person.

Since this original list was published in the 80’s, Costa has revised it under the label “Habits of Mind” and expanded it to include 16 habits.  Since this revised list was not a part of my path to linguistics I chose instead to list the original.  However, the revised list is great and can be found here.


Costa, Arthur, L. (1988). Teaching for Intelligence: recognizing and encouraging skillful thinking and behavior. (p.22) in Transforming Education (IC #8), Context Institute. Stable URL:

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On Failure & Resilience in Optimization of Human Systems, Ecological Systems, and Networked Systems of Systems

I was recently watching Eleanor Saitta’s talk called “Your Infrastructure Will Kill You“.  Part of her talk outlined how optimization equals fragility (more or less).  That to the degree that something is cleaner, more elegant, or more efficient, it is fragile, and a break in the system can be potentially catastrophic.

In thinking about her comments I thought of a few examples where I have observed optimization creating a state of fragility, here are a few of my thoughts:

  • This has interesting considerations for general principles of design, specifically the form/function aspect of design. Probably the point at which form begins to extend beyond the needs of function the focus on form becomes gratuitous and potentially even hazardous (depending on the type of system).  Ironically, optimization in this case is not absolute optimization, but only optimization considering a specific set of requirements: when things are running smoothly then the system is optimized.
  • Another place for failure is when relationships are optimized; when the dispersal of information through a system relies on optimized relationships it only takes the breaking of one of the nodes in a network to create a chain reaction of subsequent nodes being uninformed.We think about how a well-connected network effectively distributes information, specifically in recent thought this informed an analysis of William Dawes vs. Paul Revere – showing how Revere’s relationship of network brokers enabled him to broadcast more extensively than Dawes’ impoverished closed network.  This is good thinking, except that it misses the point of threat: Revere was a weak link in that optimized chain of information; had he been eliminated his message would have been eliminated.  Revere and his network, although connected and optimized, were fragile.
  • In generative linguistics there is an optimization of the lexicon. Economy in space is valued above economy in processing; if this is opaque to you, I mean that generative linguistics tries to minimize the amount of information that it stores as unique units.  It is called “generative” because it generates complex utterances from values stored in the lexicon through recursion, instead of storing those values as wholes.  But there is a weakness; in optimizing the lexicon the generative power of the spell-out rules of Universal Grammar are fragile when it comes to dealing with actual language usage (which is the test of a linguistic theory, is it not?), and the rules fail to account for some foundational constructions of language (like idioms for example).

Ok, so there are lots of places where optimization leads to failure, but what are some ways in which optimization leads to resilience?  What are some solutions to these problems?

Redundancy is a great solution, but it is bulky.

  • When function is optimized it allows you to work backwards in the process of making things have better forms. This is actually how a lot of design progresses.  Think about how every piece of electronic technology that we have today had a larger predecessor.  Think about those clunky mobile phones from the eighties with the handset, base and cord in a leather bag, now look at the mobile phone you carry in your pocket.  Functionality was concept proven in the clunky design, and the form was optimized to enhance the function.
  • It seems to me that the optimization weakness in the Revere incident was that Revere was the weak link.  Instead of depending on the optimization of Revere’s relationships, perhaps the message itself needed optimization. One possible way to optimize the information load of a message is to abstract it (as was done with the signal of the hanging lanterns to indicate the route of attack), and another way is to reduce dependence upon a single messenger exploiting a network (In 1775 the sexton who hung the lanterns was a single messenger, Revere was a single messenger, et cetera).  Flooding a network with messengers bearing an abstracted signal would have been less fragile (put aside for the moment the need for secrecy in the 1775 incident).  In situations where secrecy is not vital, consider how this kind of network flooding would communicate the coherence of the message; when you hear the same thing from five people you at least start giving some credence to the constancy of the message.  In such cases what may have been unknown or even background information becomes salient and foregrounded through repeated exposure. Also, consider other types of signals that can be exploited to prompt a response of crowd mobilization, noises work particularly well.  Sirens and loud noises alert and orient people’s attentional systems toward the source of the signal, and that source becomes figural in the contextual noise of that signal.
  • Optimization can lead to resilience in online processing, like in a maximized lexicon that places the task of optimization on the processing skills required in the selection and extraction of form-meaning elements from the inventory.  Cognitive approaches to the lexicon seek to preserve economy in processing; instead of having a minimal lexicon with lots of processing rules, the cognitive approach has an ordered inventory of form-meaning pairings (including monomorphemic elements, constructions, and phrases that are learned whole), with an optimized processing system of constraints, schemas, and other elements of cognitive processing (see this week’s post on emergentist vs. universalist view for understanding the contrast in general cognitive processing vs. modular mind).
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Doing Strategic Planning #4: Adapting Existing Organization-External Materials for Internal Use

GDP Composition By Sector and Labour Force By ...

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This is part of the continuing series about Strategic Planning and outlines the process I am using with a particular organization.  I wanted to briefly explain something that I think is a viable pattern for learning from others, namely, looking at their work and seeing how you need to shape your own work in order to be considered a participating member of the industry.

The organization I am working for is trying to draft a strategic plan that also accounts for decision-making policies in how they invest in different causes.  Many of those causes include development work in places that have the shared features of extreme poverty, drastically different cultural values, and non-Western perspectives (i.e., post-colonial environments).  After listening to the organization talk about their vision and mission and seeing the history of their work and recognizing their place of respect in the development community I felt that it was important to make sure that they were at least in line with the ethical standards of similar industries (especially anthropology).  After looking through different industry codes of ethics I decided that the American Anthropological Association had a superb code of ethics and that without violating copyrights I would use it as a research tool to identify the major domains of concern for ethical conduct.  This is an ongoing process and it will be a few weeks before I am completely content with the results.  My approach will include working with my organization to help them see how the AAA code of ethics can inform their own tactics and methods that emerge to meet the strategic goals.  Basically, I hope that the organization can use this code of ethics to continue to drive their own policy and decision-making.

This is following my personal learning strategy: Collect, Analyze, Present.  And I am teaching the organization to collect the views of others, to analyze how they might apply to their own work, and present them in a format that suits the strategic goals of the organization.

Stay tuned for updates.

Post Script: WordPress has a feature that suggests related articles and before I published this article it suggested this interesting link:

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Stone Soup, Bouillon Cubes, and Innovation

In my childhood I think it was the fable about Stone Soup that made me start to think about innovation.  As I learned to cook and came further into the world of soup-lore I realized that good soups rely on a reduction of some sort, some kind of richly delicious liquid broth.  In the food world reducing things to something rich and dense is worthy of gustatorial praise.  A brief tour of cookery terms reveal that we have many aspirations to reductions (I am thinking about words like reduction, concentration, syrup, et cetera) and our food science inventions reveal something similar: the bouillon cube.  I think beyond a soup stock, the bouillon cube is the pinnacle achievement of reduction.  It is an abstraction of flavor from the specificity of the ingredients.  But anyway, getting to the point, I don’t like to use bouillon cubes; instead, I make my own soup stocks from scratch in much the same manner as the man who first made stone soup.

For a while now I have been finding myself throwing my vegetable scraps in the freezer so that I can use them to make soup stocks from scratch.  I have recently started cycling through the process on a weekly basis.  Take a look at this week’s table-scraps: Continue reading

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Ham Radio was the original Twitter

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI

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So I was driving home last night and saw an old man in his station wagon, I happened to notice that his license plate was his amateur radio call sign.  This promptly reminded me of a recent occurrence at the Linguistic Society of America’s annual meeting where some of my Twitter friends had a “TweetUp” (for the uninitiated, it is akin to a “Meet Up”). In the lobby of the hotel we started to introduce ourselves by our Twitter profile names.  In fact, most people had their profile name on the back of their conference name badge printed like this: “@SportLinguist” (go ahead, follow me).

As my first exposure to this kind of behavior it was an interesting moment for me.  But this is certainly not the first time this has happened for Twitter users, and it is certainly not the firs time it has happened in technological history.  Pre-internet days had people using Citizen Band (CB) radios where everyone had a “Handle” (aka: radio name), and this was the tool that truckers and road-trippers used to stay connected on the lonely highway.  Before the CB was the Amateur Radio and the “Hams” that used them.  In fact, so as not to mislead you, Amateur Radio still has a strong presence and user base, even recently being used in OUTER SPACE at the International Space Station. Continue reading

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Doing Strategic Planning #2: Decision Making and Identifying Policy Material through Discourse Analysis

,., decision making

Image by nerovivo via Flickr

Continuing on the posts about strategic planning, today I want to share how I encourage people to develop policy.  The organization that I am helping had a baseline report drafted by a committee member.  In the baseline report all of the areas of involvement were catalogued and this person identified several gaps in the way that the organization operated.  This person also organized all of the decision-making processes that the organization (a small foundation) uses to conduct day-to-day business and to make decisions about monetary investments & expenditures.

The organization has a long history of successful functioning and I am only a recent player in the story, but the organization is in a state of transformation and part of my role is to bring consistency to the process of adaptation.  Basically this project is sort of the development of a change-management strategy.  This means that a lot of policies will need to be rewritten.  In fact, decision-making is the prime goal of this particular strategic planning project.

Because the organization already had several documents and had recently drafted the baseline report I was able to compare the report to the historical documents and identify statements that would drive the prospective policy.  I borrow a common industry standard called “requirements” that are basically active-voice, single-proposition statements that elucidate a concept that is vital to be considered in the system (the decision-making process in our case).  Another feature of these statements is that they usually contain an auxiliary modal to indicate a degree of forcefulness behind the statement.  Again, the idea is to get at what things are vital to be considered in the decision-making process.

I took the baseline report and identified what the committee member found as criteria for decision-making.  I made a list of these items.  Next, I took the historical decision-making documents and identified where those criteria came from in the historical document and made a list of those locations.  This is like the process of making a concordance of references and is similar to the data management strategies that field linguists and anthropologists use in constructing data tables and dictionaries.

I asked the organization members to look through the documents and draft their own list of these vital statements so that through the process of this shared discourse experience they would become increasingly familiar with the actual textual material that we will be using to draft the strategy and goals in subsequent meetings.  The idea was to get people thinking about what their real needs actually are before they start looking to the future and to do this with an eye toward using policy to keep their strategy planning in line with their vision and mission statement and other relevant brand documentation.

Stay tuned for further updates.

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Inherent Narratives in Ad Hoc Collections

Part of my portfolio includes this project called Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies, it is an exploration into how any ad hoc grouping of objects has some kind of inherent narrative, albeit a selected and limited narrative; but it is a narrative nonetheless.

When I was a boy I remember my father keeping a box of items that meant a lot to him.  I keep a box like this too.  The Italian blacksmith that I apprenticed under also kept boxes of items, but on a different scale; when he died I got one of those boxes: we call it a storage unit in American English. Continue reading

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Sample Sentences Using Spradley’s Nine Semantic Relations from The Ethnographic Interview

Cover of "The Ethnographic Interview"

Cover of The Ethnographic Interview

I love James Spradley’s work on ethnographic interviews, componential analysis, taxonomic analysis, and participant observation, but Spradley’s work on semantic analysis has been the most thought-provoking for me theoretically.  Here I list out his nine semantic relationships and give some sample descriptive sentences to show you how the semantic relation describes the two elements in the relationship.  I have to say, however, that none of these sentences are very natural in a natural language kind of way.  In fact, the one concern that I have with Spradley’s view of semantics (from my usage-based cognitive view of language) is that it does not adequately lend itself to a straightforward modeling of the semantics of a natural language sentence.  Instead, if you want to use this for natural language, it has to be on a propositional level.

These semantics are best for modeling culture and the dynamics of a culture.  After all, they were drawn up in a methodology for ethnography.  In the sentences I present below you will find that they have a rigid and non-human sound to them; in fact, I think (and this is my opinion), that if you want to use Spradley’s semantics for anything other than modeling culture, that they are best used in formal system modeling, such as an expert system. Continue reading

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Ad hoc Categorization and the “Virtual City” in Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies”

2 Many DJs (Stephen and David Dewaele / Soulwa...

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I started watching one of my all-time-favorite documentaries again, Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies“; I was struck by a particular film sequence that captured the essence of what I would call a “virtual city” that embodies part of the notion of ad hoc categorization. Continue reading

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Reflexivity and Recursion in Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies”

Cover of "Nite Versions"

Cover of Nite Versions

Since I am posting a lot about Soulwax this month, I thought I should include this clarifying snippet about the differences between the various acts which the Dewaele brothers lead.  In “Part of the Weekend Never Dies” Stephen explains these acts to a Mexican female presenter who is interviewing him about the show:

[00:03:50] Presenter: “First of all, what’s the, can you tell the audience like what’s the difference between 2ManyDJs, Soulwax, or Radio Soulwax?” Continue reading

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Why I Believe in Cut & Paste as a Design Strategy


Image via Wikipedia

Cut & Paste is not just a keyboard function.  In fact, R.G. Collingwood coined the term in the mid 1940’s in his book The Idea of History, but being a more formal speaker of a more formal ancestor of colloquial English he called it the “scissors and paste” method and was critical of it as a tool in historical method (33, Collingwood: 1946).

Nonetheless he did use the term and since then it has come to be used rather frequently as a tool in questionable secondary research, or as a way to validate and situate a claim in a historical context.  I think Collingwood’s problem with scissors and paste was that it was just a patchwork manipulation of existing work by people who were not historical eyewitnesses, and therefore outside of the bounds of science.  In essence, what was cut out and pasted lacked appropriate context and proper lineage, in fact, that has become a problem: it is called plagiarism. Continue reading

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Guest Post: The Digital Polis – Nicholas Carson Miller

I invited Nicholas Carson Miller to guest post on the shape of a particular internet culture…I hope you enjoy his work -SportLinguist

I. The New Prehistory

We can’t go ask ancient peoples what was going on when they decided to get together and start building cities. Frustratingly, none of the folks involved in the development of prehistoric communities are still around to ask and weren’t kind enough to leave detailed ethnographic and historical accounts of their experiences. Shame on them. We can, however, connect to the internet and observe the development of a new kind of community.

Early humans, tiring of wandering and hunting alone, began living around one another, trying their hands at farming, trading necessities and surpluses, and finding increasingly productive and complex ways to protect and govern the communities that developed. Early internet users logged on alone, visiting web pages and sending limited communications—but then a need for specialized communal activities lead to email lists, chat rooms, social networks, and, most interestingly, forums.

These internet communities, especially certain infamous and influential forums such as 4chan, Gaia Online, and Something Awful, are beginning to exhibit fascinating cultural trends that are to me reminiscent of early city-states. The development of the culture of these communities should be taken as a possible reflection of the development of real-world communities and is conveniently occurring right before our eyes at a highly accelerated rate. Continue reading

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Doing Strategic Planning #1: Vision & Mission Statements


Image via Wikipedia

One of the services that I provide is to help small organizations and groups do strategic planning.  My approach is to shepherd the group through the process and get them thinking about how the different elements of a strategic plan actually work together to drive decision-making policy.  I don’t like to get caught up in mechanistic template driven planning, but really try to understand (with ethnographic insight) the soul of the organization and let the strategy emerge through a process of self-identification.  If you know anything about my research or my art, narrative is a key element in my beliefs about identity.  I like to bring that into the planning process.

All that to say, this morning I was helping a committee define a 5 year strategic plan that will account for a variety of goals and investments.  After I walked away from the first meeting I thought that this might be an appropriate thing to blog about since I feel that it relates to just about any organization whether it is individual as enterprise, research programs, community development organizations, et cetera.  In fact, it possibly even relates to the ways in which we manage ad hoc committees. Continue reading

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Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies

I recently created a short interview about my art project “Weaving Narratives” where I describe the process of reading objects that people own.  I hope you check it out and let me know what you think in the comment section [click the picture to view the film].

Also, weave your own narrative using the photo-documentation for this project [a free download to use in your own creative process].

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Overcoming Self-Consciousness Around Linguists

[NB: I have told this story before, but this time I have a better understanding that I think is worth sharing.]

I had an experience a few years ago, a woman stood in my kitchen and told me that I didn’t know how to pronounce “adjective” correctly.

She insisted that my pronunciation was incorrect, in fact, she became quasi-belligerent trying to display how my pronunciation of adjective was so ludicrous that it was inconceivable that I would try to assert that I knew how to pronounce it. Continue reading

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beware of the neuromarketers…?

Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...

Image via Wikipedia

While many of us like neuroscience as a discipline, many other people do not. Accordingly, I try to give session to both sides of the neuroscience fan club.  Here is a link that works to inform people about the dangers of exploiting the study of the mind and the brain.

I love this fMRI image sequence from Wikipedia, it starts at the base of the brain and builds upwards toward the crown…it is a fascinating look at something you don’t always get to see, and/or think about…

Anyway, back to that link, read what Commercial Alert has to say about Neuromarketing:

Neuromarketing is a controversial new field of marketing which uses medical technologies such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) — not to heal, but to sell products.

We see three big potential problems with neuromarketing: (1) increased incidence of marketing-related diseases; (2) more effective political propaganda; and, (3) more effective promotion of degraded values.

We oppose the use of neuromarketing for corporate or political advertising.

While I don’t take political sides on this blog, I should mention that I like science for the sake of science and that I don’t like the exploitation of science by non-scientists.  What are your thoughts about this?

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What I got for Christmas…

Integrantes de Daft Punk, banda francesa de mú...

Image via Wikipedia

  1. Daft Punk’s film “Electroma”
  2. Daft Punk’s album “Human After All”
  3. Gilles Fauconnier’s & Mark Turner’s “The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities”
  4. Stephen C. Levinson’s “Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity”
  5. Stephen C. Levinson & David Wilkin’s “Grammars of Space: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity”


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Epenthesis, Truncation, and Phonetic Exploitation in Graffiti

Ridl und Crow

Image by liquidnight via Flickr

While riding the train to school last week I noticed that a lot of the graffiti contains allusions to a sort of folk-phonological understanding of phonemics.

This is not a criticism at all, in fact, from my usage-based perspective I find this to be a delightful exploitation of the English phonemic system…if you think about it, these tags reflect more of an understanding of the phonetic structure of language than do their “proper” & “grammatically correct” (ugh, I hate that concept) representations.

Take these into consideration: Ridl, HEK, HEDAKE, ACERT, from a linguistic perspective, these are pretty clever…even if you hate graffiti, you have to acknowledge that they are clever abstractions.

Anyway, I thought I would point it out…

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Una chiste para ti….

Pollitos de colores!!

Image by YoSeLiN via Flickr

Una dia el pollito va a la casa blanca y toca la puerta

hay una persona abre la puerta y dice: “¿que queirres?”

y el pollito respondon, “necesito hablar con el presidente por favor”

y la persona que abre la puerta dice “el presidente no esta aqui, seran en Ohio”

y el pollito respondon “¿esta enojado? ¿con migo?”

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Cognitive Mindfulness # 18

If Aristotle had spoken Chinese or Dakota, his logic and his categories would have been different. – Fritz Mauthner

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What Is a Digital City? It is Interconnected Collaboration and Flexibility

When you hear the words “Digital City” what comes to mind?  Is it a virtual city created from ad hoc groups of people converging in an electronic marketplace?  Is it an actual physical city boasting all the amenities of technology? Or is it a combination of the two?  For me, when I hear “Digital City” I usually find myself thinking about the third option, an actual place that sustains a physical population but who are networked to conduct virtual lives that interface with physical lives on a perpetual basis. Continue reading

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Think Like a Bacterium: OSMOS, Naïve Quorum Sensing, & the iPad

I was recently sucked into playing OSMOS on my iPad.  I never play video games (usually I am too busy: wife, art, school, work) but I did happen to spend four hours straight playing this game over winter break.  This game synthesizes math, physics, biology, conceptualization and human enhancement.   Continue reading

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“Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness”

I remember reading a book about Germans that an anthropologist I knew in England let me borrow for the day. The most striking part of the book, at the time, was the recount of the author’s experience of seeing a dusty car in a parking lot on which some witty passer-by had written in the dirt that the condition of the car was the condition of that person’s inner life; filthy, unkempt, and disorganized.

The state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

My wife recently found a box of her childhood belongings at her mother’s house in the back of the storage room. She opened the box and looked at her cherished childhood possessions – doll clothes from when she lived in Thailand…still clean and folded. She told me that she took care of the few things she owned because she had so little. I love how my wife reflects her inner self onto her outer belongings. She really cares about things.

The state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

This past Sunday, my wife and I were out for brunch, and at the table behind us there was a woman talking about a recent trip to somewhere in Europe – noting how a storage bin like a rubbermaid cost 35 euros. The woman kept going on an on about how expensive it was to buy a box, how she gets them here for 5 dollars. And all I could think about was how much more neat and tidy Europeans are because of how expensive it really is to by crappy stuff. Who really needs the things that they plan to keep in a box?

I will say it again, the state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

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finally a post remotely related to sports…

I admit it, the “Sport” in “SportLinguist” might lead you to believe that I write about sports.  Well, I don’t…but this automated software does write about sports.  In fact, all you have to do is type in some stats and out pops a sports story/narrative.  “Robo-Journalism” (as they call it) still has some glitches, apparently it has problems tracking reference: “…In one passage, the software lost track of who had beaten whom…” The article doesn’t say explicitly, but I would guess the problem lies in figuring out anaphora and cataphora as concepts.  Anyway, check it out, it is a good read and who doesn’t like robots?…functionally that’s what this is after all.

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HighLevel Issues in EthnoBotany; Interdisciplinary Cross-Pollination

My Shrunken Head - 2008 -

I started getting interested in botany during my undergraduate years when I wanted to complement the technical linguistics training with a tempered understanding of some practical skills.  I have always planned on doing anthropological linguistics and in most locations people grow their own food; learning about botany and horticulture would be good for my survival.  And since talking with people about plants is a great way to collect data I wanted to at least have the competency to grow plants and have some familiarity with the lives of plants.  I took a job working summers and breaks at a 100-year-old tropical aquatics greenhouse where I learned to cultivate Lotus, Victoria Regina, Water lilies, marginal plants, and how to raise fish and maintain healthy ecological systems.  This got me interested in algae, protists, lichens, mosses, ferns, et cetera…

Even earlier in life, during primary school I took part in a Naturalist Aid program which taught me about the medicinal uses of plants, biodiversity, and ecology.  I guess my first encounters with plants was really from a pedagogical perspective on ethnobotany. Continue reading

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Infants Prefer Animacy that Exhibits Intentionality

My wife and I were at an extended family party last night and as the night wore on we found ourselves sitting at a table and she was holding my cousin’s newborn girl.  I always try to amaze my wife with my knowledge of babies, mostly because she doesn’t expect me to know anything about them (I only really experienced one baby entering my nuclear family) and she is the one with actual solid experience with babies (she has been a part of 10 or so births and knows a lot about babies in general, and comes from a large Irish-Catholic family).  So anytime I have something intelligent to say about infants it always comes as a surprise. Continue reading

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How I know it is finals week around the world

I have been laughing to myself each time that I go into the dashboard for this blog because I am noticing some fantastic trends.

Over this past week the viewing patterns for particular posts has been fascinating.

These are so noticeable to me because typically (the default/ground) these particular posts do not get viewed, so when they are viewed, it is a marked instance, and the page load becomes figural in the figure-ground distinction sense.  The page load is attended to as figure.

For instance:

  • I have received about 25 hits from the same city in India all of which came through a Google query for something like: “symbolic function of language” and they all view the same blog post about the communicative and symbolic functions of language.
  • I have received a handful of hits from another city in the United States, (again, all from the same city) looking for “Dialogue in Stoppard” which takes them to my page on “Ground-before-Figure in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia”.
  • Et cetera…

This is the benefit of good SEO…but that is not my point.

My point is that I know that students around the world are doing their homework and are Googling topics that they find in the questions hoping to get an answer from the web; hopefully I get credit in their bibliographies.

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Delicious Holiday Recipe: Nut & Poppy Seed Roll (Found Text)

I wanted to share this recipe that I got from my great-grandmother (from Zagreb, Republic of Croatia)…I grew up eating this deliciousness and consequently I have become a smart scientist.

Do you like food?

Then you might like an upcoming post series that I am doing in 2011. Subscribe to my updates.

A taste of what is to come:

  • Recipes that I have collected living in the South Pacific, West Africa, and other exciting places
  • A series of posts that deal with the cognitive science in cookery, and
  • Posts looking at how attention works in gustatory domains.
  • Anthropological perspectives on the tools and processes of bread-making
  • SUPER SUPER COOL!  Subscribe!
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Timecard For My Future

I am going through the planning process for blog posts for 2011 and as a foreshadowing to a couple of guest posts (one on astrosociology and another on the singularity) I thought I would post a link to the Timecard For My Future which is a list of timers set to remind me of things I need to do over then next several thousand years…if Aubrey de Grey gets his way.  Enjoy!

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Post-Colonial Thought in Literature, Ethics, and Project Design

I wanted to let you know about an online ejournal about Post-Colonial Literature and Culture, here it is:

Post-Colonial Studies in Literature & Culture eJournal

Having formerly worked in two former colonies (one in Africa and the other in the South Pacific), and having lived in Hawai’i which was also colonized, I am interested pragmatically in the ideas of Post-Colonialism.

While I am on the topic, I want to address post-colonial thought not only in literature, but also in project design for development and similar enterprises.

Furthermore, I am interested in how this model informs the ethics of project design and local ownership in situations of development.

I think it is great that development has gained currency with non-development workers, but I don’t want to see industries like micro-finance become another tool of Colonialism for the lay-person.  Avoiding a ‘savior complex’ is part of ensuring the stability of a project in a post-colonial context.

More to come….

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Borrowing Tools Across Disciplines: Blacksmithing to Linguistics

I am going to be exploring what it means to incorporate accrued extralinguistic experiences into professional practice as a cognitive linguist and to start it off I wanted to post an introductory post on my experiences as a blacksmith.

Some of you might know that I spent some time working as an apprentice to an old Italian blacksmith and that much of what I learned from him has been a guiding framework for thinking about problems through the lens of an orthogonal discipline.

For now, I want you to think about something that occurs in all professions, the development of professional wisdom which is reduced into phrasal algorithms that are like bullion-cubes for making meaning.  In other words, the way a discipline perpetuates its knowledge is through building either the recipes or the ingredients for how to do things.  From my experience in blacksmithing, these recipes have been captured in Italian proverbs and English literary metaphors.

Think about those metaphors: “too many irons in the fire”, “lose your temper”, et cetera, I guess these blacksmithing metaphors probably emerged from failures to adhere to the two Italian phrases I heard repeated most in my shop:

pian piano vai lontano

slowly slowly you go far


Il monici dicono in questo mondo di via vera multa paciencia

In this world, the monks say that you have to have a lot of patience

If you don’t have patience you forge ahead, ignoring the fact that you have too many irons in the fire to work them in a reasonable amount of time.

If instead of trying to rush through a process (like tempering a knife blade or a chisel) take it easy, go slowly, it will get you farther that rushing (working too quickly could cause a tool to lose its temper).

I spent a lot of my time writing during the evenings while I was a blacksmith.  During that time I wrote this procedural essay describing the process of forging steel (in this case it is using an acetylene torch instead of my blacksmith’s hearth…but forging is forging.  It is actually the prologue to a book about how the creative process of artists and scientists are parallel.  Anyway, read the prologue.

One of my favorite aspects of blacksmithing is the act of harnessing fire to work metal into a desired shape, I am going to explore this further and describe in future posts how this is similar to the cognitive processes of dynamic construal.  Stay tuned.

Post Script for Metalworkers:

If you got to this page because you are looking for advice about blacksmithing or are interested in toolmaking check out The Complete Modern Blacksmith…and take a look at my Amazon book list for metalworking.

Post Post Script for people interested in other people’s blacksmithing experiences:

Here is a woman who wanted to learn blacksmithing to “keep making history live” [I love it!]. Check out her blog about history and blacksmithing.

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Medicine in the underdeveloped world

In line with this post (My Jungle Medical Kit) I wanted to pass this link regarding establishing expedient medical clinics in remote locations.

These resources come from the Hesperian Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing healthcare related books and documents.

Go to their webpage and check out some of these titles:

  • “Where There Is No Doctor”
  • “Where There Is No Dentist” 
  • ”A Book for Midwives”
  • “Water for Life”
  • “A Community Guide for Environmental Health”
  • “Where Women Have No Doctor”
  • “The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard”

There is even a section on resources for Cholera in Haiti.  Beyond Haitian Creole, many of these resources are available in Urdu, Sindhi and Spanish.

And they are all FREE. 100%.  You can buy paper copies of the books, but these can all be downloaded with ease.

Every document is high quality.  In fact, I have used these with development workers I have helped equip.  These are real world, real genuine content resources.  Some of these are 500 page books on how to establish a medical clinics (et cetera) and train indigenous leadership with the skills necessary to replicate the model.

One of the features of these documents that impressed me (from the vantage point of a professional student of cultures) is that they are not books that ignore the differences in cultural practices around medicine and social attitudes toward the illness and healing process.

Considering that in Western medicine we view disease as a pathological category, illness as an individual category, and sickness as a social category, these books skillfully navigate the ways in which different societies interpret these cultural experiences.

Check it out, especially if you work/live somewhere that medical resources are limited.

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Tome vs. Tablet: How the iPad Facilitated My Move From Digital Immigrant to Digital Native

So there was a time, not too long ago, that I couldn’t stand reading .pdfs on a monitor.  It didn’t matter if it was on a desktop or a laptop; I hated reading electronic files.  I bought my wife a Kindle about a year ago, it did nothing for me since I don’t get into personal gadgetry.  Lest you think me a Luddite, I am a fan of technology – I love electronic music, I routinely oscillate between Daft Punk and Bjork for my robot music fix; I love the internet; I love the hopes of AI, NBIC, and have my own space odyssey from time to time. And I have an archive of obsolete technology, less from nostalgia than from a fascination with how “artifactual” (yes, I made that word up) things die. My point is this, I consider myself to be pretty open to technology, but I have one tiny little problem:

I have a little too thick of a digital immigrant accent.

My wife was complaining about how much paper I had around the house because I was always printing articles that I had to read…and, well, if they are good articles I felt compelled to save them…(hint, my accent: I STILL print!)  Ugh.

Something happened though…

  1. One of the courses in my MA program had a 871 page “Introduction” text-book.
  2. I got sick of carrying it on the train.
  3. I bought an iPad 2 weeks into the semester and got the e-book version.

INSTANTLY my ability to comprehend electronic text increased by a factor of probably 800,000 or so.


Do you have any idea why?

I do.

I was able to INSTANTLY increase my text comprehension in electronic documents because of ideas in theoretical frameworks like EMBODIED COGNITION and ENACTIVISM.  Heard of them?

Essentially, for me, a life-long reader of books in a particular orientation to my ocular path, namely flat on a table or holding it on my lap with the spine of the book resting perpendicular to the spine of my back.  I was so used to reading “important” text in a particular orientation that when I had to read electronic text which was in front of my face (LCD & laptop screens) I was not retaining the information with the same level of quality.  Hence, my electronic reading skills were relatively poor despite the fact that most books that I read are denser and more complex than what most people conceive of when they think of abstract math.

Buying an iPad changed everything.

Now, I know I am going to get a bunch of SPAM comments because of this post, and I will probably also get some flak for my endorsement of the iPad…I am not making any claims about whether or not it is useful for anything else…(actually, I do have 3 complaints: printing is near impossible, the version of Pages is a light version that doesn’t retain formating when synced with the desktop, &  the file tree is your iTunes file structure on your desktop)…I don’t really care about this stuff; over time it will improve.

All I care about is that I am able to read electronic text with complete fluency and have increased my reading speed in the process.

I even do my remote work through the iPad, it is completely flexible for some of the stuff I have to do and I have increased my productivity by a margin of 28-33% depending on the wi-fi strength.

If I had to do it over again I would certainly buy it again.




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Francophilia, Phoenix’s 1901 & Daft Punk… Why I Hate Not Living in New York

ugh.  This makes my heart hurt because I wish I could have been there.

This is a fine French thing to do… seeing Thomas Mars perform reminds me of the French Fauvist painter Henri Matisse who said:

“I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have a light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me.”

Mars is so carefree and effortlessly cool.

[So is his girlfriend (Sofia Coppola), by the way, who graces Elle’s upcoming November cover]

And what is more, Daft Punk show up on stage and reinforce the joie de vivre of utter French-ness.  If this surprise visit means nothing to you, consider this: Daft Punk has not toured since 2007.

I could not stop weeping when I watched this clip.


[Clip from:




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Ethno-Architecture, the Built Environment & Its Role in Conceptualization

While this is outside of the scope of cognitive linguistics, I wanted to share this link because it relates to the types of daily living experiences that people have within the built environment. As a facet of experience in which our bodies interact, the built environment shapes how we think about what we experience, in fact it becomes a stimulus that triggers conceptualization.

What is more, this is the situated context of experience which is the discursive platform for our interaction with the principles of perception. Continue reading

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A Brief Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Summary…

A reasonable summary of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in its tractable form is that different cultures interpret the same world differently and this has an impact on how they both think and construct meaning in language; in fact, language shapes or influences thought to some degree.  The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis combines linguistic relativity and linguistic determinism.  Adherents of the hypothesis follow these two principles to varying degrees producing gradient interpretations from weak to strong versions of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.  Cognitive linguists are among the only linguists to take this “mentalist” position seriously, and most linguists of any orientation reject a strong version of the hypothesis.  Continue reading

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Ala Moana and Makiki

Image via Wikipedia

I recently had a visit to my site from Oahu, where I lived for a while…  I thought I would choose four samples from my memories of Hawai’i and illustrate Talmy’s Reference frames…
Anyway, here they are:

a. Ground Based

“The musubi is next to the register”

This example accesses a single reference point and elaborates on the position of one object in relation to the other by indicating its intrinsic geometric location in space.

b. Field Based

“Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is just south of the North Shore.”

This accesses an encompassing secondary reference point (Earth) which is implied in the use of “just south of”, by using the cardinal direction on the earth in relation to the other landmark “the North Shore” the speaker is providing the listener with a way to navigate to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice.  (I recommend getting the red beans and vanilla ice cream with your shave ice if you ever go.

c. Guidepost Based (in a Hawai’ian and Pidgin English code switch)

“Wea you stay? Makai side?”

“No, mauka side.”

[Makai approximately means “on the side of the ocean”]

[Mauka approximately means “on the side of the mountains”]

In this example, the primary reference point is the respondent’s house (the place where the respondent stay (lives)). In the question makai (the ocean) represents and encompassing reference point.  In the answer mauka (the mountains) represent the external reference point.

On an island the ocean is encompassing and all surrounding, but the mountains are a physical landmark that in this kind of usage are not considered encompassing.  Because the most people live between the ocean and the mountains on Oahu they represent boundaries rather than expanses.

I was thinking that perhaps the makai/mauka distinction might reflect a kind of physical center-periphery schema that is habitually understood on Oahu since the mountains are (more or less) in the middle/center of the island and the ocean is the periphery.

Also, most houses are contained within a taurus-shaped belt of land that is conceptually gradient in terms of being closer to the ocean or closer to the mountains.  Consequently you understand your house in relation to these landmarks; your house is either more characteristically mauka side or more characteristically makai side.

d. Projector Based

The tennis courts are to the right of Waikiki Yacht Club and to the left of The Bus at Ala Moana.

In this situation, the speaker (who is the secondary reference point) is projecting a left/right orientation from the speaker’s perspective) onto benchmark locations in a city (the Waikiki Yacht Club & The Bus).

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Mashing Ray Jackendoff’s Ontological Categories with James Spradley’s Cultural Dimensions & Wh- Question Words

While I don’t necessarily agree with Jackendoff’s use of the semantic primitives, and while I recognize that this comes from a book that is from the early 80’s, I still want to present these ontological categories because they represent one way that the world is sliced, and they have interesting correlations to wh– question words.

Frankly, they are a little too close to Aristotalian categories for me to have much use for them in the stuff I am doing, but still, this represents an interesting perspective that ties in with ethnographic inquiry [specifically James Spradley’s work in Participant Observation].

Jackendoff proposes categories like THING, PLACE, DIRECTION, ACTION, EVENT, MANNER, AMOUNT and proposes a correlate question word which would access this category.

Spradley talks about 9 cultural dimensions: SPACE, OBJECT, ACT, ACTIVITY, EVENT, TIME, ACTOR, GOAL, FEELING, and looking at these nine dimensions in a matrix provides an ethnographer with 81 questions to keep their observations focused. But Jackendoff is more interested in seeing how these types of categories are manifest in linguistic structure, and less interested in modeling culture. Continue reading

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Disambiguate Me! #19 [Perspectives on Hierarchy in Society – Ongka’s Big Moka]

Coat of arms of Papua New Guinea

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Perspectives on Hierarchy in Society

There are societies which organize hierarchically, in which dominance may be held over an individual for a variety of reasons that relate to social status.  There are also many societies in which one individual may not dominate another individual.  These two approaches affect the way that we interpret identity and membership.

I recently viewed an ethnographic film called Ongka’s Big Moka that tells the story of a man called Ongka from the Kwelka people group in the highlands of Papua New Guinea where reciprocity and giving fill the role that social hierarchy fills in my own people group in my part of America.

Reciprocity enables social order. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #15

Schema for cognitive differenciation between c...

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Ronald Langacker is considered one of the founding fathers of the Cognitive Linguistics enterprise, his seminal work in Cognitive Grammar has influenced pretty much everyone who does anything at all in Cognitive Linguistics.  Anyway, here is a quote that talks about the conventional meaning of a lexical item, this grounds the notion of encyclopedic knowledge: Continue reading

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Disambiguate Me! #16 [Clues about Cultural Membership in Online Social Networks]

Description: Social Networking Source: own wor...

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Clues about Cultural Membership in Online Social Networks

We leak information about our various cultural memberships with each and every action that we take.  Locating that information is not difficult; a quick survey of your own information leakage will provide you with volumes of qualitative and quantitative data.

The quality of statements made in status updates can reflect or disguise the feelings that one identity has about a situation or individual, and can provide transparency during a trigger happy update which is left unchecked and uncensored by the immediacy of the posting.  These are self-revealing statements that enhance or detract from the perception of the individual. Continue reading

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Disambiguate Me! #15 [Life as a Consumer & Embedded Information in Consumer Data]

Life as a Consumer

Consider the range of simple and easily collated consumer data that currently exists which betrays some information about the relations that an individual has with the world:

  • Financial Data (taxes, loans, rate of settling loans, debt-to-income ratio, etc)
  • Possessions (deeds, titles, licenses for different equipment, receipts)
  • Media Consumption (bookmarks, cable bill, movie rental, internet speed, etc)
  • Consumption (shopper’s savings cards, marketing data, contents of recycle bins)
  • Movement (triangulation of credit cards at gas pumps, tolls and speed and time and distance calculated b y GPS chips in personal electronics, ATMs, airfare, visas and passport usage, type of bus pass (weekly, single use, monthly, student) Continue reading
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Ethnocentrism in Parenting

I just started reading an ethnomusicology book and I was struck by this definition of ethnocentrism.  Being an anthropologist I am conscious of the dangers of ethnocentrism in my practice and I can look at members in their context and not force my own values onto those members in my evaluation.  But still the clarity of this quote haunted me a little.

When the commonsense perspective dominates the attitude of anyone confronting new and strange experiences, it becomes ethnocentrism.  Ethnocentrism is the common tendency to view all human behavior from the value system of one’s own society, often including the tendency to consider other practices inferior and misguided.  The scholar must therefore avoid the commonsense perspective of his or her own society, and seek to understand other people’s practices from their point of view. Every society has its own commonsense perspective, and part of the task of understanding music in other societies is to understand the commonsense perspective commonly held in those societies.

[2-3, Kaemmer, 1993]

When I read this passage it reminded me of my own fears of ethnocentrism in my life.  My fear is that one day I will have a child who values a different type of creativity than I value.  Actually, it is not necessarily a different type of creativity as much as it is a preference for a different aesthetic in my child’s progression into self-expression.  I am embarrassed to even admit that fear. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #9(b)

Martin Creed 'Work No 850' at Tate Britain

Image by Loz Flowers via Flickr

This is part two of Cognitive Mindfulness #9, and continues the Evans & Green passage.

“The difference between the domains of TIME and SPACE is that while TIME has the property of progression, SPACE is static.  ‘Progression’ means that the quantity within this domain is made up of a sequence of distinct representations because it changes from one instance to the next.  By way of illustration, imagine photographing someone engaged in an activity like stroking a cat.  Each of the photographs you take will be different from the previous one, and together they portray the activity.  In contrast, change is not an inherent property of objects, although of course objects can be involved in processes of change.”  [515-516, Evans & Green, 2006]

Immediately this reminds me of Dave Eggers and his quote about relationships from his work “You Shall Know Our Velocity!” Continue reading

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Overcome Writer’s Block With Semiotics [Free Download]

I just posted a free download of an excerpt of my semiotics project which will be available as a paperback in September.  I encourage you to check it out and let me know what you think about it.

Most of the textual content is absent; I wanted this excerpt to be visceral and intuitive.

The backbone of the project actually came out of an art piece that I made a few years ago that was intended to question identity and the formulation of identity out of memories and possessions [You will read about it in the Disambiguate Me! series on this blog].

As I developed the art project I realized that it could stand in place for a generic narrative that depends on the ways in which the objects are combined and recombined along a plot line that suggestively emerges from the set of objects as a whole. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #8

The City of London

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Today’s quote comes from one of my favorite books about architectural design, Archetypes In Architecture. The book explores the functional grounding of the major elements of architecture.

“Shared experiences, like symbolic meanings, are based on recognition, but this time with reference to our bodily experiences… Continue reading

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Who I’d Like To Meet

  1. anyone who has a story to tell me.
  2. anyone who can see that they belong to numerous multidimensional plot lines.
  3. anyone who can see that they relate to society to solidify current culture.
  4. anyone who can see through self-deception.
  5. anyone who loves looking at things and relating those experiences to others.
  6. anyone who remembers what their childhood goals are.
  7. anyone who acts on their childhood goals.
  8. anyone who knows when to stop talking.
  9. anyone else.

Cognitive Mindfulness #7

Portrait photograph of Jack London

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Take this advice from Jack London:

“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped.  To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand.  This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.  It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.” [21]

London, J. (1982). To build a fire and other stories, Bantam Books (reprinted from Novels and Stories by Jack London)

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My Jungle Medical Kit

I haven’t been working overseas for a while, but I still have my medical kit for the tropics. Remarkably when I open up the box it still smells like the underdeveloped world.

Medical Kit Contents:

  • Surgeon’s latex gloves – 2 pair
  • Assorted gauze pads and combine dressings for major trauma
  • Instant cooling patches – 2
  • Cyalume lightsticks – 3
  • Curved forceps-1
  • Assorted scalpel blades -4
  • Absorbable suture kits -2 Continue reading
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birthday wishes from my sister in law’s boyfriend…

So today was my birthday.

I received this text message from my sister-in-law’s boyfriend:

“Upon quoting Homer’s famous Illiad, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus ended his rule by plunging a dagger into his own throat.  One thousand, nine hundred and eleven years later, Ryan Dewey was born.”

Apparently he likes history.

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How to Observe – Guidelines for an Open Mind

at the fish market

When we encounter unfamiliar situations or find ourselves in cultures which we do not understand, it is best to gather the facts before jumping to conclusions about what is going on.  Some ethnographers use Kohl’s three-stage process of Describe, Interpret, and Evaluate (DIE) as a rule of thumb to ensure the quality of information when engaging in cultural description.  These are crucially ordered activities; straying from the sequencing will eliminate the value of your observation by producing uninformed and biased data.  It is a little morbid, but if you remember that in order to learn about a new culture you have to DIE first, then you will approach the learning situation with an open mind and leave with new cultural understanding. Continue reading

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