RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AT KENT
BICA Issue No. 2: February 1985
Mr. Michael J. Fischer has been appointed to the New Blood post in Social Anthropology and Computing. He will take up the post from January 1st 1985.
Michael Fischer is trained as an anthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin, and has done fieldwork in Pakistan. He has worked for the Pakistan Medical Research Centre, installing a computer system for clinical and epidemiological records, and training staff to us e it. He has worked as a computing consultant, has been a Partner of FSS Software, Chairman of Armadillo Valley Computers Inc. He has also written the documentation for computer programs, and holds copyrights in software for micro-computers.
An application by the UKC Computing Laboratory to the Computer Board for funds for a Teaching Initiative has been successful. Three projects are involved - in Mathematics, Electronics and Social Anthropology. They receive grants (matched to funds from the university) for equipment and personnel to undertake experimental use of computers in teaching, and for software development. Social Anthropology now has a series of micros (BBC ³B²s) linked to an Orion mini-computer, and we expect to acquire a high-quality printer shortly. The micros will have disc-drives and will thus be able to stand alone. The Orion, which can serve up to sixteen terminals at a time, provides UNIX facilities, large storage space and communication between the micros. The first stage of this system is now about half completed - most of the teachers have terminals in their rooms, and the Orion is about to be connected to our Cambridge Ring. Michael Fischer hopes to put on a first year course, Computing for Anthropologists, from next October.
The various computers which are linked by the Cambridge Ring each need a name, to distinguish them. We have decided to call ours Lucy, after Professor Mair who was an Honorary Professor at Kent for some years.
ESRC has made a grant to finance part of the costs of a summer school in Social Anthropology and computing. For details see the section ³Summer School² elsewhere in this issue of BICA.
We offer advice to anthropologists who contemplate using a computer in their research.
We do so because we think that computing centre advisers in the universities are not always aware of the range of problems which may preoccupy anthropologists. For example, it is fairly common for a computing centre adviser to ask you to specify your immediate problem as precisely as you can: he then searches his memory and experience for analogous problems for which procedures have been found, and applies these procedures to your problem. That will often work, but it may also require your data to be arranged in ways which require extra work when you think of your next problem. Or (as sometimes happens) requests for advice from inexpert new users are passed to relatively inexperienced advisers. When other computer persons see your research plan or results, they may be critical of the techniques you have used.
We think we ill often be able to give advice which will be both anthropologically and technically competent, with savings in time and frustration for all concerned.
If you would find it helpful to have such advice you are welcome to write to Michael Fischer or to John Davis, at the Eliot College address shown on the cove of this issue of BICA.