Friday, July 30, 2010

Driven By Coffee: Creating a Culture of Productivity

Today's post is the last in a three-part series on coffee. Monday's post investigated how coffee came to be such an integral part of everyday life. Wednesday's post provided a history of the coffee bean's travels around the globe. And today's discussion considers the social place of coffee in our lives. Be sure to go back and read the others if you've missed them!

Happy Friday, folks. If you're on the East coast, I tried to time this post with your morning coffee—as I'm sure that many of you are just settling into your work day with your morning cup of java. And the truth is that you wouldn't be alone—the morning cup of coffee has become a regular ritual for many folks, who may believe they can't get started on the day's tasks without it. (Or they can, but prefer not to, and we'll get to why in a moment.) Coffee has attained tremendous importance among workers. Sidney Mintz, a renowned anthropologist who has written extensively about food, included it in a list for "proletarian hunger killers," which also includes sugar, tea, and chocolate (1979). Coffee is important to capitalism in many ways: it has spurred trade and the exchange of ideas, and like spices and other commodities, has served as leverage for controlling powers through the ages. It's a part of a larger global conversation, but have you stopped to consider it's role in your life? Yes, you've been told that there is a brand of coffee for you, but that still doesn't explain why you may buy it or why you permit yourself the indulgence of caffeine. Bring your coffee with you and let's peel back the layers a bit.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Trail of Coffee Beans

This week on AiP, I'm featuring a three-part series on coffee, with posts scheduled for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Monday's post investigated how coffee came to be such an integral part of everyday life. Today's post provides a history of the coffee bean. Be sure to stop by on Friday for the final followup discussion on the role of coffee today.

So guess who gave us the English word coffee? I'll give you a hint: they were integral to the founding of the New Amsterdam colony. That's right: our friends, the Dutch. The word coffee dates to the late 16th-century, and is derived from the Dutch word koffie. But both the word and the product are much older than this, although the Dutch are a big reason coffee found its way to America. We talked on Monday about how coffee was marketed into our lives, and I mentioned that its value was linked to its origin. But where does coffee come from? Where did it originate and how did it get here, to the bags and cans of roast on the shelves of supermarkets to the coffee shops around the world? Today we'll take a quick look at global travels of the bean and on Friday we'll consider the role of coffee in current times.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Manufacturing The Coffee Culture

This week on AiP, I'm featuring a three-part series on coffee. Today's post investigates how coffee came to be such an integral part of everyday life. Look for additional posts on Wednesday and Friday for followup discussions.

The idea of the morning person aside, morning commuters seem to fall into one of two categories: the Caffeinated and the Un-caffeinated [Edit 8/12: This category refers to people who intend to consume coffee, not those who do not drink coffee at all.] And they're easily recognizable as such. The Caffeinated are bright-eyed and engaged with the day's events already—they're reading their morning papers, or checking email, or reading for pleasure. They're sometimes armed with travel mugs or Ventis from their coffee shop of choice. They rattle the ice in the clear plastic beverage cups from mobile vendors on summer days. They walk a little faster in the early hours having long left last night behind. This is not the case for the Un-Caffeinated. This group sleeps through the AM commute both on the commuter trains and the subway.They're bleary eyed. Materials they intended to review lie unattended in their laps while they linger in the previous night. They walk more slowly up the stairs and are more irritable when you hurry them along—or hurry by them. They stroll, they trudge, they linger.

The line that runs out the door of the Starbucks across from my job never seems to shrink. Are the ranks of the Caffeinated growing? Will we soon be overrun by manufactured "morning people"? As the would-be Caffeinated stumble toward their favorite dispensaries, they have little sense of how they have been drawn to coffee-drinking. The categories of Caffeinated and Un-caffeinated are introduced in this discussion for ethnographic purposes. Though they exist in my mind, they may seem familiar to you because we're taught to look for these traits in connection with coffee. So though I may have taken some liberties in simplifying them, these identities and associations have been honed by the coffee industry over the last thirty years. The culture of coffee has been carefully cultivated to ensure maximum reach. [Line at Starbucks for morning coffee.]

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why Do Some Like It Hot?

Why do some like what hot? Well, peanuts, of course. What did you think I was talking about? Peanuts, and really, all sorts of spicy foods. Why do some people like and prefer spicy foods to the point where they consume mouth scorching dishes—and ask for more? This was the question posed to me by a coworker recently, as he reached helplessly for the can of spicy peanuts sitting in the communal kitchen area at work. The peanuts are roasted with Habanero peppers and then dusted with those scorchers for good measure. They're hot for my coworkers, except for the one who finds himself snacking throughout the day. I think they're tingly. But then again, I have a different cultural background when it comes to spicy foods than most of my coworkers. As a Trinidadian, spice is a part of my heritage. And yet, my peanut-eating coworker who posed the question is Irish. He did grow up in Texas, so perhaps that explains his tolerance for spice. But it strikes me that pepper has an unusual relationship with people around the world.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Farmville Making Us More Neighborly?

Okay, here's the thing: I don't play Farmville. Anymore. I'm actually a pretty big fan of video games but Farmville presented a slew of privacy issues to consider. And I really don't have the time to harvest strawberries every four hours. Or shoo the crows away from my neighbor's farm every time I launch the application. So I deleted the game from my Facebook account a long time ago. Still, sometimes it seems that I might be the only one. While I've managed to block most game notifications from my Facebook feed, I still sometimes see that Mary* needs help raising a barn or that Jack* found a lost duckling who needs a home. So I have to wonder at the level of engagement that Farmville encourages and its impact on our social order.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hail Marys on the Subway

There is probably little that can happen on the NYC subway that would surprise commuters. My friend Wendy once saw Spiderman (his spidey-web thing must have not been working properly). What did she do? She took a picture, of course. As further proof of the unflappable nature of subway riders, let's take a look at this video [Update: For some reason the video does not appear in the on-the-site preview. Please click "Read more" to view the video. Apologies.]:

(I'm a big fan of Improv Everywhere—their Ghostbusters mission is a favorite of mine. This video was posted on Twitter by @fivedirections.)

Still, being able to affect an air of indifference or hilarity doesn't mean that subway riders don't notice unusual things. They just make—split second—decisions about how and if they should respond. And there isn't much they will respond to. For example, a few weeks ago I shared my morning ride on the 2/3 train with a man reciting the rosary. Now, it's definitely not unusual to see a few commuters carrying their religious texts with them in the morning. I have seen many well-worn and marked pocket copies of the Bible and the Torah. But this was the first instance of conspicuous prayer that I have seen on mass transit. I don't want to turn this into a discussion on free speech. I'm not debating the right of anyone to read the Bible or say the rosary to themselves in public. The issue I want to explore is this: while saying the rosary seemed like a rather private act, because we were in such a public setting the rest of the riders in the car seemed to become participants as well. Did we have a role as witnesses? And can we hypothesize as to other purposes for public prayer?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sourcing the Social Web

Crib sheets are archaic. They’ve long been replaced by camera phones, MP3 players, and scientific calculators. Cheating, which has always required some creativity, has gone high-tech. And though educators are taking steps to turn technology around on dishonest students, plagiarism remains a persistent problem. A few well chosen words typed into a search engine and that 15 page paper on Napoleon’s early expedition to Egypt has all but written itself. Are high-tech solutions the answer, or is it time to think about our relationship with information?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

NYC History Uncovered: The Discovery and Demolition of the Hudson Wall

There is no question that we build upon that which precedes us—quite literally, in some cases. Downtown Manhattan is littered with traces of our Dutch heritage. When opportunity arises to witness New York's past, it is a chance to reflect on how we have arrived at our present and the expansions that have been required to do so.

In 2008, construction at the World Trade Center site ran aground of a section of the Hudson River Wall dating to 1899. The sea wall, which took six decades to complete, is a historical resource. Though the uncovered section would have to be removed for construction of an underground walkway, the site was carefully studied by the Louis Berger Group, allowing researchers to understand more about New York's early waterfront—including earlier walls and piers as well as assorted symbols of life (e.g., ceramics, pipe, bone, etc.)

This week, a 40 foot section of the wall was visible to the public! Though portions of the wall currently exist along the shoreline, it was a real treat to see this bit of dry-docked maritime architecture. And so it is with immense pleasure that I share this bit of urban archaeology with you, Readers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Slow But Steady Return of the Half Shell

I come bearing news of the oyster. Once plentiful in the waters around New York City, the oyster fell victim to overfishing, pollution, and sewage as the city grew and all but disappeared. This modest shellfish is capable of filtering all the water in the Harbor over the course of a few days, and their beds provide homes to fish. They're crucial to marine ecosystems. It's a win-win situation—not to mention a tasty one—when oysters are present. For a long time, they weren't—the waters around New York City were simply too poisonous. But in recent years, thanks in part to work done by The River Project, the path has been opened for the oyster's return. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Psychology of Liking

We all know that person on Facebook. The one who Likes everything—let's call him Mike. Whether your cat got sick or you got a raise or went for a walk or had sushi for dinner, are feeling blue or just biked five miles, it's all Likable to Mike. How can we understand Mike's affability? As we use social media tools more frequently to connect with and communicate with others, the act of Liking is a means of creating alliances. But can Mike over-use this tool?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Put Down Your iPhone and Watch the Game: Notes on the Home Team Advantage

Baseball is not golf. Yes, in both sports players attempt to hit a ball with a stick, but that's essentially where the similarities end. Baseball, unlike golf, thrives on the noisy participation of the fans. Golf asks spectators to "remain still and quiet during a player's shot [and] crowds are strongly discouraged from cheering until after a player hits the ball." Baseball will have none of that. When the home team has the game riding on the final out, or the pitcher needs some help facing a key batter, or the umpire has—to put it delicately—something in his eye, the baseball ethos expects that spectators will be on their feet making as much noise as they possibly can. Why? Because noisy spectators can affect the outcome of the game.

The Science Blogosphere Scatters

It's been a rough few days over at ScienceBlogs. The short of it appears to be the PepsiCo purchased a blog to discuss food and nutrition and some of the bloggers on the site raised issues about transparency. I'm not going add my comments to the fray since so much as already been written:
There are many more posts and articles on the topic; I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding more info via Google if you're interested. 

As a result of this mess, several of the science bloggers on the site have decided to relocate. I understand, respect, and support their decisions and the purpose of this post is to help readers track them as they settle into new homes. Dr. Sky Skull and Carl Zimmer have lists on their sites to this effect, and I wanted to do my part in spreading the word. I admire many of the writers below and hope their transitions are relatively smooth:

[Individuals crossed off this list have confirmed their new home, which can be found at the bottom of this post.]
In addition, many other of the "sciblings" are on hiatus until they decide whether to stay with ScienceBlogs or not. Of this group, Sharon Astyk (Casaubon's Book) has taken up her old site again (The Chatelaine's Keys) while she decides on her future.

Here's hoping these folks can get back to writing quickly.

Update 7/8/10: It seems that ScienceBlogs has expelled the Pepsi blog. It remains to be seen how things will unfold. I'll try to keep you updated.

Update 7/16/10: The dust is settling some. Here are some updated links:
  • Culture Dish can be found on Rebecca Skloot's personal and business site.
  • Laelaps has moved back to Brian Switek's personal site. Though Brian may move it eventually, he has promised to post there when he does.
  • GrrlScientist has elected to keep Living the Scientific Life on Sb for now, but is considering other homes for her blog.
  • Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson have moved Highly Allochtonus to their own domain.
  • Alex Wild  and Myrmecos have gone back to Wordpress.
  • Scicurious  of Neurotopia is moving back to her Wordpress site, Are You Scicurious?
  • David Dobbs (Neuron Culture) moved back to his original home.
  • Eric Johnson has taken The Primate Diaries on tour. You can follow #PDEx on twitter to learn more.
  • David Bacon (The Quantum Pontiff) went back to his original site, but his move is only partly Pepsi-related.
  • Blake Stacey (Science After Sunclipse) is moving back to his original site.

Update July 23rd, 2010: The Sb dispersal involved so many Sciblings that I thought the best thing to do was to just add updated links to a blogroll on the right under the heading "Sb Diaspora." Please support these writers as they begin new ventures. And if there is someone I need to add, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Virtual Experience of Time: VR and Online Games

In an earlier post, I explored the conflicts that can result from an attempt to compress time and space (e.g., jet lag). The question I left you with, Readers, was whether the physical and social ripples that result from navigating space-time compression can be minimized online? Recently, I suggested that the Internet may be a timeless state. But does this argument hold in virtual reality? Once the body is transported into the digital realm, it brings with it the experiences of the real world—including Time. Does VR preserve a sense of Time?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Service in the City: City Beautification

If you've ever played Sim City, there's a place in the budget for city beautification. Sims like parks and playgrounds—it raises their happiness and the happier your residents, the more likely people will want to move to your city. But beautification doesn't come cheap. You have to make sure that enough funds are allocated to the expense or the effect isn't really noticeable. And then the Sims start to complain. Once you've budgeted enough, a crew of invisible workers keeps your parks and playground sparkling.

In real life, though they may not be a part of the mainstream consciousness, there is a fleet of workers responsible for keeping parts of the city clean. Neighborhood alliance groups have sprung up to preserve the environmental and cultural reputations of spaces. I spoke to 24 year-old Marcel, employed by the Downtown Alliance. Every morning, he scours the streets of the Financial District looking for errant trash.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chivalry and Confrontations

I was accosted by a homeless man this morning. I say accosted because he blocked my path and demanded that I turn out my pockets. He said, "You can help! You have money in your pocket. Show me!" He was stumbling a bit, so he may have been drunk—or tired, or just plain angry about his situation.

A fellow New Yorker—one that towered over me and looked like he played football at one point in his past—intervened. He stepped between me and the homeless man, and told him firmly to stop harassing women on the street. And then he told him where he could find a shelter. He didn't chastise the man or overtly embarrass him, but made it clear that he was being inappropriate.

I was impressed. it was oddly chivalrous. And I don't just mean that in terms of the accepted definition of rescuing a damsel in distress and all that jazz. When you consider the origins of the term, which also emphasizes honor, service, and courtesy, chivalry becomes a code that can be extended to anyone. 

Blog Notes - A New Look for AiP

I'm thrilled to unveil a new look for AiP. The header was designed by Andrew Borys. I'll also be unveiling more about that mysterious tab called Anthro Media Strategies in about a month or so, so sit tight.

So what's coming up for AiP?
  • A new installment to the Service in the City series.
  • A peek at life in a "summer town."
  • An exploration of how waterfronts shape cities.
What are you working on this summer?