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A Personal Ethnographic Narrative

I have always viewed my being from philosophy. I do not believe that I have ever appreciated myself from an anthropological viewpoint. Though I have always been more interested in where did we come from, anthropology and ethnography certainly does help to answer how did we get here.

On December 7, 1975, at 4:48 a.m., I was born in Providence, Rhode Island. A healthy boy of healthy weight, I never suffered much in childhood. I do remember the chicken pox, however. My mother was sure to make me play with every child suffering from the chicken pox until it finally gripped me. This was my first experience in active inoculation. I was always well cared for, received all of my shots in timely fashion, and the doctor’s office remains a fond childhood memory. Medicine was just practiced differently in those days.

My early childhood was based primarily around my grandparents. My mother was a single parent, and though it irked her to do so, she relied heavily on State-sponsored welfare. My mother was a strong and determined woman, however. She continued her schooling, found a job with a sustainable wage, and made a great home for us. Until this time, though, I spent the majority of time with my grandfather. From a very young age, I was learning his trade as well as his life lessons. Today, I do not think many five-year-olds would be able to cut and wet sand glass in a licensed shop. Working with my grandfather, once a week when I attended school, framed my work ethic and provided an early education in engineering. This opportunity allowed me comfort in engineering at an early age. In fact, my interest in engineering was so pronounced that I was already considering California Institute of Technology at age ten. Massachusetts Institute of Technology was my second choice.

My family had it hard. My grandparents raised five children and helped to raise 13 grandchildren. We were not an affluent family by any means, but we lived comfortably if not rustic. Though my ancestry is primarily Italian, my mother’s parents are primarily Irish, English, and German, and this is how we ate. Meat and potatoes were the staples of dinner while fresh vegetables were cultivated in my grandfather’s garden. Simplicity did not end at the kitchen door. My grandfather’s first meaningful gift to me was a knife. Very simple with a fork and spoon on the sides, the knife was very utilitarian in nature. His belief was that you could not be a good steward of the environment without a knife: “How can you take a walk in the woods if you can’t even whittle a walking stick?” (personal communication with Malcolm Webb, n.d.). It was very important to him that I had honed my outdoor skills.

For leisure and sport, my grandfather would hunt rabbit with beagles. He belonged to a club in Rhode Island that held competition trials, and I was always made welcome. After a few years, I started to enter dogs that I helped to raise and train. Immediately, I began accumulating trophies that were taller than me. To be honest, the trophies might have had my name on them, but the dogs earned them more than I had. It was this foray into competition that introduced me to the team concept. Thinking back on this today, however, I find that this concept is alien to most people. Many people today, I find, want to do no work and take most of the credit. It is only when you stand up to these people that you hear comments about being a part of the team. It is a shame. It seems that yesterday’s definitions need to be defended today.

I have always been aloof and wondrous as a child. With translation assistance from the Native Languages of the Americas website (2009), my name might have been mautáubon tamóccon nemík kéesuck túppaco (morning fog sees the heavens by night or one with many questions) if I was Narragansett. Rhode Island has a rich Narragansett and Algonquin heritage and history, and this is transmitted to every inhabitant of Rhode Island. Many of our streets, villages, cities, and towns are named with Indian words and names, such as Apponaug, Chepatchet, Metacom, Misquamacut, Woonasquatucket, and Pawtucket. We are very proud of the relationship that Roger Williams, our State founder, had with the local tribes. This lasting relationship may be the reason why Rhode Islanders are typically naturalistic and prefer a rustic life proximate to water over city life.

During my formative years, my mother married and we moved to North Providence from Warwick. My step-father was Italian, and it was from his family that I learned of my Italian heritage and culture. Beyond the Mediterranean-style food, the most important lesson that I learned was loyalty. Many people have a misconception about Italian loyalty. Hollywood often depicts Italians as mafioso who shakedown store owners on a daily basis. In fact, we are very supportive of each other. So long as you are considered loyal, as an Italian, people will do you favors. It is expected that you return the favor. I have applied this lesson many times throughout my life. Again, this is a trait that many hold as one-sided, like teamwork.

After moving to North Providence, it seems that I did not much care for school. I always felt that I was being cheated out of an education. I am a reader, a learner, a student, and a teacher. I do not appreciate being taught incomplete and erroneous facts merely because it is written in the textbook. I began my own education from this point onward focusing on the arts and music, taking up drawing, poetry, and studying music theory and some of the classical languages. These, though, were hobbies and I made sure to keep them that way.

Aside from school, I remained focused on the outdoors. I would walk everywhere within the State. Distance was not a barrier. Rhode Islanders are known for staying local. If a Rhode Islander had to travel 10 miles or more, the joke was that they had to get a motel room for the night. As true as this held for most, it was not descriptive of me. I always took the road less traveled.

Throughout my high school years, I gave up on the engineering dream. I started to focus more on giving back to my community. A friend of mine introduced me to one of the local volunteer fire departments and I was hooked. After graduating from high school, I enlisted in the Marine Corps, but when I returned to civilian life, I focused on the fire service. This was the impetus for my attaining my emergency medical technician license and, ultimately, my paramedic and critical care credentials.

Though I have traveled extensively, I always seem to return to New England. I am currently living just beyond the Western border of Rhode Island in Connecticut (another Indian name).

Considering the anthropological roles outlined in Omohundro (2008), I would have to align myself with all five roles. The reformer looks to make the world a better place, regardless of his or her motivations. The critic is necessary to use introspection to identify personal weaknesses ingrained in cultural learning so that he or she may contemplate self-improvement. This, I feel, is the best role to take on first. Only after seeking to improve one’s intrinsic nature should someone seek to change the extrinsic. The scientist role is important to really think about the factors relating to certain problems. Without this role, one could have lofty goals only to find failure in execution for a lack of understanding. The role of the humanist should be used as an umbrella. When considering anthropology, we need to have a certain understanding and tolerance. This role allows us be compassionate when considering cultural issues. Finally, the means to the end is the cosmopolite role. This role gives us more tools to further our understanding. Hand-in-hand with the humanist role, the cosmopolite has a truer understanding of origination and context when dealing with the various cultures of the world.

Personally, I take on more aspects of the critic and the scientist. I am not an anthropologist, and I do not consider myself as having a platform to affect cultural change, but I do like to identify and understand problems so that I do not contribute to them negatively. More so, being mindful of the critical and scientific anthropology roles leads me to understand that there is still much to learn about my own culture and heritage and how this identity relates to the world around me. Foremost, I want to know the effect that my ancestors have had on world. I want to understand the problems they faced and the means employed to overcome them. I want to know decisions that have been made and the fallout associated with these decisions. I have always found it important to learn from the past, and though the sins of the father shall not encumber the son, we should still strive to avoid repeating historical mistakes. Second, I want to find a means to assess my own life and better understand how my existence impacts my community. I have always believed that I should make positive contributions to my community, but there is no benchmark. As a critical care paramedic, I assume that alleviating suffering and saving lives positively contributes to my community, but how can I know the harm that I might be causing in other aspects of my life? We cannot only understand the good we impart, but we must know the bad in order to prevent it.


Native languages of the Americas website. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.native-languages.org

Omohundro, J. T. (2008). Thinking like an anthropologist: A practical introduction to cultural anthropology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Defining OS

The purpose of a computer operating system is purely to allow programs to run on the computer and utilize the faculties of the hardware installed. It is no less than the soul of the machine. While a calculator only requires a simple arithmetic engine with simplified inputs and outputs, a large research mainframe requires a much more complex system of input, output, storage, memory management, and busing to connect peripheral devices.

A Brief History

In the 1950’s and ’60’s, institutions that owned computers (at the time, machines that took up large rooms) were required to write the operating system for the machine based on their needs. This was not an efficient means of programming. Every computer upgrade required rewriting the software to run it. This was very costly. Additionally, the simplistic operating system only allowed one set of operations to run at any given time which wasted resources and kept the processor time expensive, itself.

During the 1960’s, a large multi-institutional group (lead by MIT) attempted to solve this problem by creating an efficient, multi-user, timesharing system. Though they made some breakthroughs, the operating system that they designed, Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service), was still bulky and inefficient. The project was soon abandoned.

A few die-hard users at Bell Labs, Inc. decided to continue the effort, and after a few years, UNIX was born. The name was an intended pun on the operating system that predated it.

UNIX is the first operating system to promote object-oriented programming and data pipes which set the standard for operating systems to come. The versatility of UNIX is apparent by its ability to command a range of devices from mainframes to microcomputers. Unix has been described as “of unusual simplicity, power, and elegance….” Its development and evolution led to a new philosophy of computing, and it has been a never-ending source of both challenges and joy to programmers around the world. (Bell Labs, n.d.)

The First UNIX Port

Just as UNIX was being tapped as a useful business tool, one of the developers on sabbatical took a teaching position at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) where he taught classes on UNIX. Professors and students at UCB continued the development of the operating system on their own and eventually, with funding from DARPA, created the BSD operating system, ported from Bell Labs’ UNIX.

UNIX is certainly the precursor to the contemporary operating system, and though it alone proved to be a reliable, efficient and usable operating system, it is responsible for the growth of computer technology in the last four decades. It is the definition of the contemporary operating system and the standard for comparison.

UNIX has been modified to be run on mainframes, supercomputers, and microcomputers to include desktop PC (Linux) and Apple (NEXTSTEP) computer systems.

The NEXTSTEP For Apple

Apple’s Mac OSX is derived from NEXTSTEP which uses two different flavors of UNIX, Mach and BSD, and relies heavily on open-source software packages, essentially free software programs with access to the source code for user-level modification. Apple attempts to use the security and efficiency of UNIX while competing directly with Microsoft for market-share. (Singh, 2003)

The Mainstay

Currently, Microsoft Windows XP is essentially the operating system of choice for many people when it comes to desktop computing. Microsoft also has a large market-share of the server-platform operating systems. Focused on streamlining usability, Microsoft trades efficiency and security for user-friendliness. Though Microsoft has been attempting to integrate UNIX philosophies into their operating systems, it has lacked the ability to do this successfully without sacrificing its business logic (UNIX and UNIX-based operating systems rely heavily on open-source programming and the consumer for fixing and reporting on bugs, or programming errors).

The closest Microsoft has come to the integration of these philosophies is Windows Longhorn. Unfortunately, while trying to get Longhorn to market, Microsoft cut many of the UNIX-friendly features and implemented a tighter security scheme that resembles XP. This release was called Microsoft Vista. (Greene, 2004)

With these trade-offs, Microsoft actually alienated many PC users because of Vista’s obtrusive security implementation. This is a direct result of the heavy integration of Microsoft’s web-browser, Internet Explorer, into the operating system. This practice seems to go against every contemporary philosophy of what an operating system is.


Bell Labs, Inc. (n.d.), The Creation of the UNIX* Operating System. Retrieved June 10, 2009, from http://www.bell-labs.com/history/unix/

Greene, J. (2004, April 19). How Microsoft Is Clipping Longhorn [Electronic version]. Business Week, p. A1.

Singh, A. (2003), What is Mac OS X? Retrieved June 10, 2009, from http://osxbook.com/book/bonus/ancient/whatismacosx/arch_xnu.html