Pet Peeve: Tech Switching

I read a decent amount of tech media/press. Barely a day goes by when there isn't someone in my RSS feed explaining how they dropped application X for application Y. This seems to happen most often for frequently-used applications or workflows like scheduling/calendars or email.

I won't call out the specific blog post that set me writing this post, but suffice it to say that I wish there was a clause (in the contract of life) forcing tech writers or bloggers to state why the application they're singing the praises of is better than the one they were using up to now. Specifically, are there any new features, or does it just look shinier? Also, have you been using it for longer than a day or two?

I'm pretty solid and stable in the applications I use. It'll take something pretty seismic to rid me of DevonThink or Tinderbox or Mailmate. But if you catch me flip-flopping in my tech-related writing, please call me out on it.

Taliban public punishments, 1996–2001


Executions are a recurrent motif in how historians, journalists and analysts have chosen to write about the Afghan Taliban. See the opening to Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War as one example, or this Reuters piece from May 1999. I wanted to study the role of executions and public punishments in the Taliban’s government for a while, but lacked data to place the anecdotes into some sort of context.

This short overview is a compilation of sources relating to the Taliban’s public punishments, 1996–2001. It is compiled from publicly available sources as well as from the materials gathered as part of the Taliban Sources Project. I think it is as complete an overview as is possible to get from these public sources, given that the Taliban weren’t shy about publicising their ‘public justice project’ – indeed, for them, the publicity was the point – and that we have multiple complete newspaper runs for the time they were in power. This was collated and triangulated with sources from Associated Press, Agence France Presse, BBC Monitoring and the Afghan Islamic Press news agency.

As a brief summary, I was able to find 101 incidents in total that chronicled the deaths of 119 individuals. I included some instances of public punishment not resulting in death, but this wasn’t really the focus of my search so their numbers may be underrepresented in the list. As another caveat, I was of course only looking at public executions, not anything that went on in secret as part of intelligence or domestic security operations and so on. Kabul, Kandahar and Herat were the most prominent locations for incidents and executions, with over half the total numbers coming from those three provinces alone. (Note that this may reflect a bias in whether incidents were reported from the provinces or not).

In any case, I wanted to present the raw data here alongside a timeline and another chart or two in case this is useful for other researchers/analysts. If you find I’ve missed an event, please drop me a line via email or on twitter and I’ll be sure to add it to the database.

Now head over here for an interactive timeline, charts and the raw data...

Ecolinguism and the ethics of learning new languages


I was interviewed by Tammy Bjelland of the Business of Language podcast a few weeks ago, and the episode recently went live. Readers of this blog will know that I write about the study of language with some regularity – see the archives for some previous posts – but I don’t talk about it a great deal on my own podcast nor is it really the focus of my work. So it was nice to have a chance to talk through my background in learning languages and the challenges of learning languages with few materials available for self-study. There isn’t enough written about this.

It was also gratifying to find a forum to discuss Richard Benton’s ideas about ecolinguism. He wrote a blogpost summarising some of his ideas here:

I am an ecolinguist because I want my work to preserve the complexity of our world’s language and culture ecosystem. How do you create a strong community made up of hardened, poor refugees and rich, privileged natives? The privileged must work hard to create new connections. In middle school, the band geek or math nerd can’t simply decide to enter the “cool crowd.” Only those with strong social capital can invite in those on the outside.
The strength of our communities depends on the decisions of the privileged and the powerful. When insiders opt to forgo their comfort to commune with those who go without, they unite communities who would be isolated. When a well-educated privileged professional chooses to learn a language, for example, he forgoes his advantage in communicating in way where he feels most comfortable. The white Minnesotan, speaking elementary, broken Somali, puts the outsider, the refugee, in the position of power. Struggling to learn this difficult language allows new connections to grow.

The choices we make as to which language to learn next have a broader impact beyond our own lives. For the full discussion, visit Tammy’s website to listen to the full episode or subscribe via your preferred podcast client.

UPDATE: I now offer one-on-one language coaching. Read more about what it involves and what kinds of problems it's best suited to addressing.