Monday, March 31, 2008

Attacking the noise...

A Screenshot of Xchat, an IRC client.Xchat IRC client
Image from Wikimedia Commons signal to noise ratio.

I forgot about this, and I'm glad I remembered. It seems that there are IRC channels where fans of xkcd hang out and chat. ( xkcd is a webcomic. If you don't know what that means, follow the links.) Oddly enough, (or maybe not, see my post about obsession) this is popular enough that the channels were suffering from a surfeit of inane comments. Channel regulars were apparently not amused.

Turns out my fellow LEGO fan Dan Boger, alias zigdon (I have no idea why) a wizard Perl coder, and creator of the boffo LEGO set database coded up a bot... what sort of a bot, you say? Well, go read the source code and figure it out!

OK done? Figured it out? Your perl-foo is strong.

Everyone else: It's a bot to enforce originality. Say something in the channel that has been said before, and you get devoiced for 4 seconds. Say another something that has been said before, and the devoice quadruples. Not just something that YOU said before, something that ANYONE said before.
Read more about how this came to pass, and then laugh with me. Note, others have blogged about this as well...

I actually got to try this out, and it's surprisingly difficult to not get zapped by the bot. Think you can do better (warning, theoretically, it gets harder as time goes by, all the obvious things to say have been used up)? Try it and see, assuming you have an IRC nickname set up.

Wikimedia IRC channels need this! Well, some of them do. Maybe not all of them :) I suspect that the stewards channel needs people to be able to say !steward more than just the one time. But #wikipedia REALLY needs this! You know it does.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Church signs

I can't take credit for finding this. It's not even new. But it's fun to play with. The guy has a fair few other good generators too. You can get some fairly realistic signs and tickets using them.

My favorite church sign I've come up with so far is
(you'll have to cut and paste it yourself to see it, understandably he doesn't want people embedding his images into their blogs and costing him bandwidth)

Along the same line, but not made up, is this commentary site.

Most of this stuff is funny in small doses but a bit much in larger ones, I suppose.

And no, there is no significance to publishing this on Sunday, we're all atheists in this house. It was just a filler I had lying around so I used it today :)

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Wikipedia, "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit", allows anonymous editing. It also allows pseudonymous editing. (yes, there's a difference)

Andrew Keen, a reporter for The Independent, makes the case that anonymity is bad for civil discourse, calling it "the last refuge for cowards and scoundrels". I can see some case for anonymity but I myself have never really hid who I was. My online identity is "Lar" wherever I can get it, and it's fairly tightly linked to my real identity, and has been for 25 years. I tend to find myself thinking that a fair few number of the problems that Wikipedia encounters would be reduced if a verifiable connnection to a real person was required.

I made a decision from the get go that this little blog would not allow anonymous posters in replies, only posts from blogger accounts. Some people have remarked on that, complaining a bit, at least in passing. Turns out since Blogger allows you to hide the account details, it's more or less the same thing, really, I still have no idea who some of these people are, even pseudonymously. This isn't the same thing as Wikipedia, to be sure, so perhaps some of Keen's arguments don't apply. Still, it is instructive.

What do you think of anonymity?

Friday, March 28, 2008

How to tell users about needed changes

(or, how not to do customer service)

So my outbound email has been giving me fits lately. Why? Seems Comcast changed something. But Comcast didn't bother to tell anyone...

They changed from allowing port 25 for outbound SMTP traffic quite a while ago., demanding that users use a non standard port instead. What they seem to forget is that not all of their customers use email accounts. Many of us like to have ISP independent accounts (for example I use an account which uses my hobby website domain address, Miltontrainworks. ) so that if we ever move, we don't have to change email addresses.

Comcast expected every other mail provider to switch to their non standard port... not really realistic. Finally I found a workaround, which was to continue to get inbound mail from the pop server I was using before, but to point outbound mail, over this non standard port, at their smtp server. This was something dragged out of them (the chat logs are amusing, at best)...

That worked fine, for quite a while. Earlier this week, it stopped. No idea why yet. Color me frustrated. Comcast support is pretty non helpful, they insist they never said to change to their outgoing for non comcast email addresses.

So color me frustrated till I figure out what to do.

Update. (29 march) It just started working again. Apparently the thing that wasn't broke got fixed.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Enough about the darn boat, already...

By now all (3 of) my readers must be thoroughly sick of hearing about SS Christopher Columbus and her adventures as a Featured Article Candidate. After all, I wrote about this topic not once before, but twice...

Never fear, this is the last post on that article for a while, I would think, because the article has made it to Featured Article status... Yaay!

I had thought that every comment had to be resolved, but as it turns out, she was promoted with some remaining unresolved minor comments. Still, the article never actually got an oppose, and in a great display of collaborativeness, many of the commenters pitched in and fixed their own or other people's comments.

In fact the article even made the Wikirage top 100 list by edits over a 3 day period.. check out the graph of activity.

So I guess I don't know what all the whining is about? Or did I get lucky? The Featured Article process was exacting and demanding, yes, but ultimately the article's a lot tighter now than it was when we started. (and it was a lot smoother than getting the article to Good Article status, that took two tries!) And now I am trying to decide what other articles I should think about nominating! But why aren't I on this list yet? I demand answers. (obviously an evil bot!) Oh well, a topic for another blog post. What, you thought I was done with this topic???

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

well well...

Hmph... maybe this FA thing isn't so bad after all. Hopefully I won't jinx things by saying that I think maybe the old girl is going to make it!

I can't really take all the credit, or even much of it, frankly. The collaborative editing on this article is nothing short of remarkable. Compare the difference (121 edits so far, and counting) before and after and see the edits by everyone using this nifty tool. (1)

So, no question for you today. Just happiness. The old girl deserves a great article. She got a raw deal, scrapped after 44 years of faithful service and nothing much saved from her.

1 - Another great tool is the external link checker, which is a very sophisticated tool, good for spotting and fixing all sorts of problems!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More whining about images

Remember the other day when I was telling you about my old pictures? So I uploaded a bunch of them. In particular I found some loco photos. No, not crazy people, locomotives...

Turns out I had some good pics (or at least detailed pics) of the locos that Union Pacific had on display in Omaha, Nebraska, their DDA40X, 6900, and their 4-8-8-4 Big Boy 4023.

So I uploaded some. See? Well I am fairly... um... fussy, about getting them described just so. Including giving good names, which actually is pretty important. See the problem yet? Well, because I am also lazy, I start uploading by doing one pic, then backspace to get to the same upload form to reuse most of the stuff I entered, just changing the shot description. Soo.... because I was reusing the 6900 images upload form, my Big Boy images are all named "UP BigBoy 6023.......jpg" ... I remembered to change (in 6900) the 9 to a 0, and the 00 to a 23 but I forgot to change the 6 to a 4!...


So now I have to rename all those Big Boy images (every single one has the wrong number), or suffer my sense of order being off.

But renaming images in MediaWiki isn't easy, yet. (maybe someday, there are bugs in the bug tracker about it, in fact bug 709 is one of the oldest bugs extant, we are well over 10,000 now and it has ... 66!!! comments... wow. But I digress.)... to rename, you have to upload a new version and then delete (or tag for deletion) the old image. That's a pain. Probably someone has a bot but I forget.

What to do? Find someone with a bot? do it myself by hand, just say to heck with it? What would YOU do?

Update: (3/30/08) I fixed them by hand. Supposedly someone's working on a bot to do it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Losing my temper.

Well, this edit in the Daniel Brandt redirect deletion review was not my finest hour, It actually got me a No Personal Attacks warning from FT2... I stand behind what I said, and I said so... I think FT2 and I are square now. More or less anyway. I surprised myself at my vehemence. I hardly ever swear on Wikipedia.

Subsequently Daniel himself opined I'm a bad person. ... well, so's your old man.

I'd give you a link to our article on Daniel Brandt, but we don't have one. :)

Like I said, not my finest hour, I can't recall the last time I was warned like that.

So, over the top or justified? What do you think?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Next blog...

I'm still bemused by all the blogs out there...

Just now, I found this one... quite the record of presumably famous people there. Pretty amazing, in an odd way. People use these things for so many different uses it sort of boggles the mind... (another blog by the same party animal is this one, which highlights real estate to rent or buy, and another one is this one, which promotes carpet steamers... apparently if you party a lot in rented real estate, you'll be glad you're in the carpet steamer biz!).

The other day I found this one, which has recipes that look yummy but a lot of work.

So... try hitting "next blog" some time, you never know what you'll find.

What do you use your blog for, besides opining?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Throwing myself to the wolves?

Some time ago Giano opined that any Wikipedia administrator worth listening to should have at least one Featured Article (FA ... "Wikipedia's Best Work" ) under his or her belt, if not actually produce one per year. That suggestion was not met with universal acclaim. :) But there's some merit to it, nonetheless... or at least to the notion that everyone seeking any extra permissions, should have at least some experience with actually writing the encyclopedia.

While I have written some 25+ DYKs 3 of which are Good Articles, I don't yet have a Featured Article to my credit, and I've been maneuvering to get one to the state where it might be a candidate for some time.

So, armed with a lot of help, including the sage advice given here, I've launched a Featured Article Candidacy for SS Christopher Columbus, which is of all the articles I've written, perhaps my all time favorite. There are those that deride the FA process as overly "fussy" or bureaucratic, but I am not sure that's so... so far the suggestions I've gotten have almost all been actionable and were, for the most part, things I'd missed that really did need sorting. Extra eyes do wonders at spotting things needing fixing.

We shall see how it goes. I'm hoping for smooth sailing. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rooting around in old pictures

More on the topic of images... as I said in "bad pictures" a bad pic is better than none. (1)

I happened to be rooting around in my old Brickshelf (2) folders and I realised I have a bunch of pictures from 2001 and even earlier that I really need to go through and see if there is anything of value in them.

In particular, I was fortunate enough to get a "backstage" tour of NASA's Johnson Space Center in August 2001. Since this was before 9/11, it was a fair bit easier to wangle one's way in than nowadays. I was in Houston, trying to sell stuff to Enron (!!) (3) and a friend of a friend gave us a tour. Sure enough, I have a big folder full of stuff... related to the X-38, to moon rocks, and to shuttle and ISS simulation. Much of it is really bad, blurry and out of focus, but I think I found a few goodies to upload.

Tell me what you think... did I miss any good ones? Any I really shouldn't have bothered with? Got any good stories of neat images you managed to score?


1 - yes this is another one of these backdated posts, I have to get out of that habit!
2 - Brickshelf is a free resource for hosting (mostly) LEGO related images. The interface is mid 90s' to be sure, but back then we didn't have Flickr, et al.
3 - I still joke that if Enron had bought our stuff back then maybe they wouldn't have went bankrupt.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More on notability and the BLP

Dave Winer, in his blog piece "Whats Wrong with Wikipedia" opines (after pointing out what is good about the project) that his bio entry on Wikipedia is in bad shape. His thesis is that it doesn't give him enough credit for things he was involved in, and moreover, that articles which should mention him, don't.

This is, of course, kind of the opposite of the beef Don Murphy has, as I described in Notability and the BLP policy... Don wants less said about him, not more.

It is easy to dismiss both of these complaints as meaningless, or to say that they balance each other out. But the WikBack threads (among them "removing marginally notable BLPs" and others), the discussions elsewhere, the activity on new proposals (among them SirFozzie's latest, "BLP-Lock") suggest that while the project may have come a ways from Siegenthaler, it still has farther to go. Consider the biographies of Ashley Alexandra Dupré (of client #9 fame... hopefully that won't mean anything in 3 months), or of Abigail and Brittany Hensel... Does Wikipedia have too much detail in those?

I won't be so full of hubris to say that I know the answer. Heck, I am not sure I even know the right question... But my unease that Wikipedia is not doing right by living persons remains.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


When I started this blog I had set myself a goal of doing a post every day. Well guess what, I blew that little self imposed deadline... yesterday went by and I didn't do a post. (too much other drama I guess)

What's that, you say: "I can see darn well that there was one yesterday, Wednesday March 19th... just look at the date"... er wait, that's this post isn't it? Yep!

Blogger lets you cheat. On the post options screen, you can set the post date and time to any value you like. So I did. I backdated this post to yesterday. It means I'm still behind for today, but the day is young yet, I may catch up.

So do you hate me for cheating? Hate me for revealing the secret? Think I'm lame that I did a meta post and it still counts against my average? Or not care a whit?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Notability and the BLP policy

Given the name of my blog, you'd think I'd have written about notability before this... The issue of how to judge notability has arisen at Wikipedia again, as it does from time to time.

This time, the person in question is Don Murphy, producer of Natural Born Killers and the Transformers movie, who had an article that survived 2 previous deletion discussions (1) (2), and who has been agitating all along that he wants his article gone, and using socks and an army of meatpuppets he raised at his site, to try to effect his will. Administrator Viridae, perhaps influenced by this discussion at Wikipedia Review, deleted it without any prior process and was promptly reverted, sparking charges of wheel warring. The article matter is now at Deletion Review.

As I said there, I'm conflicted. I am very sympathetic to the notion that Wikipedia should do no harm. For non notable individuals we should have no article, for individuals who are notable because of a single event we should mention them in the context of the event, if at all. Clearly, notable people (George W. Bush, Steven Spielberg, et al) need articles. But the borderline area is where it's hard.

Don Murphy contends that despite being a producer, he's not notable. Directors are usually more famous than producers, it seems, generally speaking, and he contends he's no more notable than any of the other 300 credited people in a film.

Others contend that yes, producers of big grossing films are indeed notable.

Me, I don't know. We need to solve the problem though, It's been suggested that if someone living doesn't already have an article in at least 2 other printed encylopedias they are either not notable, or at least marginally notable and thus can ask that their bio be deleted.

What do you think?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bad pictures?

While some say that too many pictures can detract, a picture, any picture, can really add a lot to a Wikipedia article, I think. Compare this version of "Walker (machine)" with this version ... (actually finding where the article on this topic (legged vehicles) was located in the first place may be the subject of a different post, it was a chore). False modesty aside, the picture adds a fair bit of interest to the reader, I think, as well as giving illustration to some of the points made in the article.

I've been sitting on that picture for the better part of two years. It was taken in April 2006 when I visited the U.S. Army Transportation Museum ... see "procrastination" for part of why I sat on it... the other part of why? It's just not a very good picture.. it's blurry, the machine is out of focus, there are distracting elements in the background, the entire machine is not in the picture, the angle is bad, and so on. In fact, it hits most of the reasons why pictures fail to become rated as Quality Images (much less Featured Pictures, which has much stricter standards) at Commons. So that held me back, I was embarrassed.

However, I've realized that I believe what many probably already knew to be true... A bad picture is better than no picture. If you have a free image that would illustrate a previously unillustrated article, use it. The article will be better, and perhaps someone else will be spurred to add a better one to replace it. Another case in point, the U.S. Army Transportation Museum article itself. Compare this version (no pictures) with this version (bad pictures)... a noticable improvement (I added a lot of other stuff as well, to be sure). But that's not the end of the story. Someone else found and uploaded a better picture of the Liberty truck to produce this version. Now, the reason they saw the article is probably the Did You Know process (another blog post topic!) but the point is, they saw my crappy picture, and improved on it.

So then, if you have freely licensed pictures, don't be bashful. Add them to articles that have no pictures, and either they will improve the article, or they will be replaced by a BETTER picture, also improving the article. You can keep your fair use ones, Wikipedia has enough of those as it is. :)


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Don't blog... write!

Gee, I hope Robin Hobb is wrong. She makes the case that there is a fixed amount of writing within ones self to be had, and that if one has a blog, that means less actual writing. (1)

But I fear she is correct.

Writing is something I do for a living, in part... most IT consultants have to deliver documentation to a greater or lesser degree, and system architects like me tend to have to deliver quite a lot of it.

I've long noticed that I procrastinate on deliverables by writing articles... I procrastinate on writing the articles I mean to write (see "procrastination") by getting involved in various admin things, reading newsgroups and mailing lists, writing posts, writing stuff on talk pages, posting on AN/I, RFARs, chatting away on IRC, posting to Wikback, to Wikipedia Review, other people's blogs, etc. etc. etc! Namespace shift at its finest!

And now apparently I have yet another way to procrastinate, this blog. Well maybe I should at least try to be brief, and stop now, then...

Do you find one kind of writing saps your will to do another kind?

1 - Note, I found her writing via a post at the blog of Cydeweys, which was in turn a reference to a post at the blog of John Scalzi, one of my favorite currently active SF authors.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Many systems of governance/management/administration (although not all) rely on elections to select, or partly select leaders/administrators/adjudicators. The English Wikipedia is no different, in that it has a system of elections for administrators, for bureaucrats, and for arbitrators. Some may quibble whether these are pure elections, but there is an aspect of community popular voting to all of them, to be sure.

It is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that because one won a popular vote that one is somehow more qualified on various matters than those that did not. This is an easy trap to fall into, and unfortunately, sometimes, some members of our ArbCom fall into it. The Mantanmoreland case provides some instances of this, in my view.

Here, Uninvited Company opines that the statistical analysis used in the Mantanmoreland case, developed and vetted by many other community members, lacks rigor.

Here, and here, Jpgordon opines that statistical analysis cannot (yet?) be relied upon, but that textual analysis by arbitrators can, and well should, be.

Here, FT2 is giving us a bit of "I know it when I see it..." which should give us pause.

There are many more examples but these suffice. The arbitrators, at least some of them, at least some of the time, think they know more than others about some rather esoteric topics.

Well, I don't agree... not to give the arbitrators too much of a hard time, but no, not always, not by default.

As I said here ... there is absolutely no reason to believe that arbitrators start out knowing any more about anything in particular (just because they won a modified popularity contest) than anyone else about things like evaluating checkuser results, performing and validating statistical analysis, patterns of speech analysis, jurisprudence, or even arbitration, the process, itself.

I suspect I am not the only person that feels this way. For example Alanyst answers Univited Company's opining with some vigor here, saying, in part:

The point is, for those of us who tried to do this the right way -- methodical, objective, transparent, public, open to either conclusion, willing to go where the evidence led -- the message we got back is that such attributes are not desirable in a sockpuppet investigation, and such matters ought to be handled by those with the experience and judgment to make subjective evaluations of private evidence, discuss them in opaque deliberations, and report unattributed findings of inexplicable inconclusiveness. To get that message back from people we generally trust and admire -- the several skeptical arbitrators -- is what remains so difficult to understand.

That is quite strongly worded, if you ask me. But it points to a real problem, but one that's easily fixed if people keep in mind their own limitations. We are all of us human, after all. No one should take offense at being reminded of this.

Friday, March 14, 2008

ArbCom confusion?

This request for clarification of a recent request by Everyking for changes in his remedies makes interesting reading... but only if you're sober!

If it seems very tangled, that's because it is. (Thatcher is usually pretty good at sorting things out but even he pointed out the contradiction of two motions that conflicted... ) But one good thing is that apparently some clarification on what to do in the case of conflicting motions will result.

Being an arbitrator is not easy. And there is definitely a tension there. On one hand it is good to avoid making the process and procedures too rigorous, too much like a court. But on the other hand, some structure is unavoidable if you want to avoid confusion. This is likely to see more discussion, see this possible Request for Comment.

Note to self: NEVER stand for ArbCom. It's too much like work. If anyone thinks I'm criticising ArbCom as a concept, or ArbCom members specifically, they would be reading this wrong.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why wording matters

"Who cares what the article says, it's just a Wikipedia article, after all, and everyone knows those aren't very reliable. The exact wording doesn't really matter."

Jonathan Hochman (User:Jehochman on the English Wikipedia) writes about a number of topics, including why that's not a good view to hold in Using Wikipedia To Reveal Web Traffic Data, a posting on He is coming at this from the angle of using WP search/hit results to help determine how to optimize one's own website, and so forth, but the numbers revealed are telling.

Quoting the section about Waterboarding, a highly contentious article (and focus of its own ArbCom case as well as extensive checkuser investigations):

The article on waterboarding, ranking first, ran between 2.8k and 74.6k visitors per day during February 2008.

A total of 465k people viewed the article that month. Since the United States presidential election season began, editors have been fighting over the article lead that says, "Waterboarding is a form of torture." The phrase appears on the search engine results pages in a way that creates severe negative publicity for the Bush Administration. Several conservative editors have tried every which way to remove the incriminating phrase from Wikipedia. They finally became such nuisances that they were banned from editing.

What this tells us is that there ARE people out there who will try to use WP to further their own ends. We knew that already, but it's good to be reminded. Further, those of us that are active editors and care about the project really should try very hard to keep the project principles in mind, especially the Neutral Point of View. It's not easy, but it's critically important.

Wording does matter. The entire Waterboarding conflict, in essence, turned on one word, "torture", and whether that word was or wasn't an accurate thing to use in describing waterboarding. Removing that word was considered so vital that much skullduggery ensued.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Danny Wool's post about a Volunteer Council reminded me of the proposed Wikicouncil. I'm not sure whether these are the same thing or different ideas, but the idea of a Wikicouncil leaves me kind of confused as to what problem it is actually trying to solve. I'm not sure a new layer of governance without a clear mission is a good idea, we may have enough of those already.

That idea has been kicking around apparently since 2005 and still seems not quite fully formed.

What do you think?

(edit: Wikicouncil is indeed what is being referred to, see this mail from Effeiet Sanders, thanks to Danny for linking this up for me... my view hasn't changed, I am not sure this is a good idea, see this talk page to discuss pros and cons... )

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The WikBack

Wikipedia has harsh critics. Some of them are not welcome on Wikipedia itself for one reason or another.

Wikipedia ArbCom member Uninvited Company has set up a discussion forum called The WikBack, at his own expense, to provide another place to discuss areas for improvement. (for various reasons, some Wikipedia editors prefer not to participate at Wikipedia Review).

This discussion forum has been a mixed success so far. Some lively discussion has ensued, but there also have been those who say it is not as successful a vehicle for discussion as Wikipedia Review. Others may feel that the posting rules at WikBack may tend to inhibit discussion, pointing to, for example, bans of a week for off topic posting (after warning) as being inhibitory.

Is the existence of WikBack good or bad? Acknowledging that since it is Uninvited Company's forum (he pays the bills) and thus UC has the right to set the rules as he chooses, are they too strict? Too lax? What do you think?

(edit: I spelt the forum name wrong, consistently. Now it's been changed :) )

Monday, March 10, 2008

Town planning and modular buildings

There's a neat (relatively) new fan magazine on the LEGO scene, called RailBricks. As with many fan magazines, output is irregular, with two issues so far. For some reason, the driving force behind it, Jeramy Spurgeon (that's not a typo) also a driving force of IndyLUG, has listed me as on the editorial board. Maybe because I bought him a beer once? Maybe because I DIDN'T buy him a beer one time and he's getting me back.

Anyway, the next issue has a theme, as did the last one. This one is "tips and tricks" and I've managed to let myself get roped into (possibly... see my post on procrastination!) writing an article for it, on town planning and modular buildings.

Being lazy, I thought maybe I'd rattle on about the topic here and see if I can later reuse some of what I say. Being a procrastinator, I'm writing this blog post now, instead of the real work I SHOULD be doing instead.... OK enough preface! :)

Frank Ellison, a very noted model railroader from its early days, said famously that a train layout is a stage and the trains are the actors. And you can see that's very true for most conventional model railroaders... when you see a layout, it's a series of scenes through which the trains run.

But I'm not sure that's as true for LEGO layouts. At least it seems to me that a certain number of clubs lately have had layouts where the buildings take center stage. I think you'd agree that a layout that features most of the major buildings of downtown Columbus, for example, or a layout with an 11 foot high building and several other very tall ones as well, is not a layout that's primarily about the trains.

Well that's OK, really, as long as you're having fun. But if you want the layout to be a crowd pleaser (and that's what generates repeat income for your club, the buzz a good layout generates with the show organizers, see my previous post on show mechanics) it helps to have some plan and to have your layout "hang together".

Layout planning is a very broad topic and I'm not going to go into it here except to note that it is helpful to have flexibility in your buildings. At MichLTC we find that each layout is different, Some are small, some medium sized, and some are large. We use a block based planning system in which the layout is divided into areas (usually blocks, for city areas) and each block assigned to a builder. (this works for us because the club owns enough road plates to pave all the streets on a typical layout... remember that "generating income bit"?)

Some builders enjoy building large set-piece blocks but I myself prefer to have a collection of buildings to draw from and to pick and choose which buildings I will use with which others.

I can do this because my buildings (and those of my building partner :) ) are modular, they all take up either a half or a full baseplate. Now, in real life, irregularly sized lots mean that real buildings tend to be irregular widths, but for the most part that hasn't been a major drawback for us, the use of full and half width buildings, mixed up, gives enough irregularity.

So I would advocate modularity to allow rearrangement.

But I'll go further. Height matters too. If you look at real city blocks there is a tendency for heights to be somewhat clustered... it is rare (but not unheard of, true) for a 1 story building to be in the same block as a 50 story building. This is a matter of economics, buildings go upwards when there is economic reason for them to do so (high land prices, desire to be near other workers/companies/services). So... if a block is in with other "tall blocks" it is helpful to have tall buildings. And if it's in with other "small blocks" it is helpful to have small buildings.

This argues for vertical modularity as well... the ability to add and remove stories is a useful attribute. it also means that a building can be "finished" and yet you still can add more to it.

So how do you achieve this? That's the subject for my next blog post on this topic area... Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


So... in what has to be an interesting twist, PrivateMusings, fresh off a 90 day ArbCom sanction, has started a podcast. In his first two shows he managed to have some very interesting guests. He's after me to participate. dangling that I'd be a guest with Michael Snow, who you may know was recently appointed to the expanded Wikimedia Foundation board. I'm not sure I run with that crowd, or if I have anything to say, really.

So what do you think? Should I? And if so, what would you want to hear me talk about? Let me know.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


I like to write Wikipedia articles. I highly recommend it, in fact. Namespace shift, the tendency of people as they get more involved in wiki projects, to move away from writing, means that like so many others, I write less articles than when I first started. But it's refreshing to do so, it is a reminder of why we are here, and after the sturm und drang of AN/I (the administrator's incident notice board), RfAr (the requests for arbitration page), etc., it's nice to create something. If you're down and burnt out a bit, you too should try it.

Now, I'm no SimonP, author of thousands of articles and subject of his own article, or even a Giano, with dozens of FAs (Featured Articles, considered by many as among Wikipedia's best work). But I do pride myself on article creation. I even keep a todo list of stuff I'm working on so I don't forget. I work on stuff in my user space so when it goes live, via move, it's fully fleshed out and not likely to get nominated for deletion... it also means that I can take my time to work on it, and then nominate it for DYK (Did you know, Wikipedia's newest articles), free of any worry it's not new enough.

But sometimes I don't go back to that list as often as I should. Ah, the dangers of procrastination...

Example in point. U.S. Army Transportation Museum ... I had a stub of an article on that in my user space for ... 2 years, just about! I visited the museum while on a family vacation (for some reason I could not persuade anyone else to go with me to spend an entire day looking at vehicles of various sorts, go figure!) in spring of 2006... I drew up a fancy map (with some help from TIGER ). I have shedfuls of pictures I need to upload (hey maybe I'll do that soon!) to commons and categorize. But one thing and another always seemed to interfere with finishing the article off. Procrastination at its finest.

Well, when I went back to work on this, I found that a real article has been there since November 2007.. my procrastination meant someone else did the article after all. I did improve it a bit (from 1 to 8.5K) but I shouldn't have procrastinated. The project could have had an article way sooner than it did.

There are other examples on my todo list ... guess I better get busy.

Hey you, stop reading blogs and go write an article!


Friday, March 7, 2008

Mantanmoreland: So it has come to this?

The talk page for the Mantamoreland arbitration case proposed decision has reached 265K. (To be fair, a not inconsiderable amount of that text is from me, but I think FT2 and NewYork While this is not a record, it's a lot.

As I said there, we may be approaching a decision by exhaustion. The community and ArbCom appear to be at least in part at cross purposes. (That this case has high focus on Wikipedia Review probably does not help matters)

Given that as of this writing, no new arbitrators have voted in several days, it may be time to push arbcom to get to closure... any closure, if only so that the community can move on, and moreover, that the community can impose the remedies that ArbCom chose not to.

ArbCom is supposed to be the dispute resolution place of last resort but that seems to not always be the case, at least lately. The ArbCom acted to desysop ArchTransit, (full disclosure, I was the steward that did it) but that wasn't the end of the matter, the community subsequently banned ArchTransit. That is likely to be the case here as well. (and admins who think they can stand in the way of a community ban, like Canute1 trying to stop the tide, might think again)

Is that a good thing? Or bad? Ultimately ArbCom serves at the pleasure of the community, and further, counts on the community itself (via the admins) to carry out the enforcement of remedies. If ArbCom gets in the habit of remanding things back, that's not bad as long as the problems spiral down to solution instead of spiraling outward and getting bigger.


1 - Note that actually Canute was proving to his courtiers that something could NOT be done, by showing that the tide would come regardless of his wishes. This is a good reminder to admins who might think they are all powerful... they are not.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Giano stands up for Jimbo

Many of you know who Giano is, but for those of you that don't, he is one of the English Wikipedia's more prolific writers, with many Featured Articles to his credit. Giano has always been unafraid to speak his mind.

Giano stood for ArbCom in the 2007 elections and I was a strong supporter. Although he garnered a lot of votes, he was not among the candidates selected by Jimbo.

Concurrently with the election, the ArbCom IRC case came up and Giano found himself sanctioned by ArbCom, placed on a civility parole for a year, and Giano said he would not be back.

Recently, Giano returned. What brought him back? The current (ongoing?) scandal involving Jimbo, Rachael Marsden, and allegations of impropriety. So did Giano take some potshots at Jimbo in retaliation for Jimbo's chiding him? No. Instead Giano posted a long and heartfelt defense of Jimbo.

What happened next is probably predictable... there was a lot of back and forth, someone tried to take it off the page before discussion finished, harsh words were exchanged, and so forth. But that's not the point.

The point is that Giano, the candidate who detractors said held grudges, acted like a child, would be a bad influence on the project, and on and on... that candidate had the strength of character to stand up on behalf of what he believed right. Not on behalf of a friend, which is admirable, but on behalf of someone who had done him few favours.

That's the sort of person ArbCom needs. That we did not choose him is our loss.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On the mechanics and economics of doing shows

My wife's corner at the NMRA showI'm a member of a local LEGO club, Michigan LEGO Users Group (or MichLUG, read more at Brickwiki). Aside from the cameraderie and sharing of techniques and resources, the club exists in part to do public shows. We do several a year (the image at left is from last year's NMRA National Train Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit, which was a multi club show organized by ILTCO, for more views, see this gallery on Brickshelf)

Doing shows is personally quite rewarding for me and I imagine for many other members. Part of the magic is how the display comes together using many different people's work. (I write more about this on my talk page at Brickwiki) In fact you could say that some members are in the club primarily for the fun of doing shows.

So then why wouldn't a club want to do a particular show? The club's mission clearly highlights doing shows as a key activity. We get a lot of requests for shows beyond those we actually do

There are several reasons:Michlug portion of 2007 NMRA layout

  • Schedule - We're all adults with busy lives. We have other stuff going on, and weekend time is precious. We need lead time to plan around things. A show is a big commitment, it usually chews up an entire weekend's free time. The weekends around the holidays are particularly precious. (this seems to be when many show organizers WANT shows, because of the association between toys, trains, LEGO, and the Christmas season)
  • Lead time - It takes effort to organise the layout. Every one is different (the NMRA layout, an outlier in size is at right) because the buildings that are available vary based on who is participating and what they want to show. We ask for 3 months lead time.
  • Focus - Some shows just don't have the right focus. I talk about trains and train shows because that's what I am interested in, but MichLUG is a general interest club and when there is a chance to do space related things we jump on it.
  • Economics - Shows have a cost. We have a trailer and hauling it places takes significant fuel. There is also the cost of staying overnight, meals, and the like. Some shows we do for free because they are good causes (we participated in the local Festival of Trees for several years) but most shows we look at are run by clubs (to raise money for themselves) or for profit organizations, feature dealers selling things, and clubs showing layouts. The public is drawn in by the club layouts but hopefully buys things from the dealers. The organisers get money from the gate, and from the dealers, and pay the other clubs to show up. Sometimes, as much as we might want to help, it doesn't make economic sense.

Consider a recent show request we turned down, one for a 2 day show in Toledo. We got the request on fairly short notice, and it was for a weekend only 2 weeks after our last show. For me to participate, it would be a 180 mile each way trip. If I wanted to bring more than just a few buildings, it would be a trip in an SUV. That would surely be 100 USD in gas. There would also be an overnight stay to defer. So it didn't make sense for me. Other club members who live in Metro Detroit would perhaps pay less but there would still be some cost. So on balance, the amount offered didn't make economic sense for the members, we might well have just donated what we were going to spend to the club. So we declined.

Still, we manage to do a half dozen or more shows a year. I hope this gives some insight. Comments and feedback welcomed of course.

Disclaimer: These are my words and are not official club positions. I was an officer a while back but am not now.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dilution of Critical Mass

This post combines two of my passions, wikis and the LEGO hobby. But not exactly in a complimentary way. :)

"Everyone knows" that Wikipedia is a huge success, and one of the reasons commonly given is due to the large body of articles there, and the large community of interested editors. But it doesn't always come out that way.

LEGO is a natural topic area for a wiki, or so many believe, as there is a lot of information out there to share. (consider the vast number of topics discussed at LUGNET, and the 7000+ set listings available at And yet, there isn't one wiki to discuss and share information the wiki way about this rich field.

Instead, there are many. Most, but not all, use MediaWiki software

  • Brickwiki, around since 2005 (full disclosure, I'm an admin there)
  • Brickipedia which is a Wikia wiki and seems to have been active since January 2006
  • Brickiwiki (note the one character name difference from Brickwiki, appears to have been started later, and uses Wetpaint wiki software)
These are all general interest. There are specialty wikis such as the LEGO Star Wars wiki (another Wikia wiki) as well.

Why so many? If you look at these wikis, you will find coverage gaps, topics that none of them adequately cover, as well as coverage overlaps, topics that have essentially the same material. None of them, apparently, have the critical mass to ensure vibrant growth. Some of these wikis have went days or even weeks between successive edits, not exactly what one would look for in an active wiki.

So wouldn't it make sense to combine forces? From the outside the answer would seem yes. And, it has been suggested. (as early as late 2005, in fact, and perhaps earlier) But nothing has ever come of it.

The answer why presumably can be found within human nature.
  • Better is the enemy of Good Enough. There is little or no incentive to change things if what you have works. And each of these wikis does have useful content and does have editors and does have readers. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • Actually combining these wikis would be a lot of work. Even the ones that are hosted on MediaWiki would require a lot more than just a dump and reenter, redundancies would need to be sorted, and categories reorganised, and so forth. Just tinkering around the edges is almost as satisfying, and far easier. And we're all too busy for such a large, focused task.
  • Big frog, little pond. Without casting aspersions on the founders/leaders of these wikis, who would be "in charge" after the merger? That seems an easy question but it has stood in the way of many larger and more critical mergers in the past.
So, probably, things will muddle along as they have. Too bad, really, because none of these wikis has critical mass. Me? I'm too busy too. Carping from the edges is about the best I can manage. Besides, there's all the Jimbo/Rachael Marsden drama to read about (or worse, get involved) in... (or whatever the current drama happens to be when you, dear reader, stumble on this)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Support your local Musicians!

I happened to see this comment on the passing of Jeff Healey on "STILLEYE", the blog "next to" mine (what does that "next blog" thing mean anyway?, it's always a different one) and it got me to thinking about music and musicians.

Music is a thing that enriches all of us. Jeff Healey, blinded at a very early age, obviously was enriched by it, and it became his life's passion. Not all of us can contribute the way he did, not all of us have the talent. But there's something we all can do, support our local musicians.

I live in the burbs of a midsized midwestern city, Grand Rapids and our local choices are not rich. But there are a few venues out there. Here are some I like... (Venues come and go so this isn't a list for the ages, or anything like that, just some I like)

  • Jukes Bar - This fun little hole in the wall venue, recently under new ownership, was started by a guy with a huge music collection who decided he wanted to have a place for bands to play. It's not big, and it can get quite crowded and smoky, but it's a fun place. Free popcorn. Has a wide variety of acts, a lot of alternative, but also some roots rock. Look for us perched in the corner watching South Park with the closed captioning on.
  • Crazy Horse - In Cedar Springs. A country venue. Big dance floor and good food. Can get a bit smoky but a very nice venue. We go there to catch Mane St. They really need to get a web site!
  • River City Slims - A new venue near downtown, focusing on Blues and Jazz (it fills the hole left by Rhythm Kitchen closing)
  • Driftwood Bar and Grille - In Croton, north of town, actually on the Croton Dam pond. Seasonal as it's a resorty sort of town. Another place that needs to get a website! In the summer you can sit out on the patio and watch the lake, while the band plays inside
  • Lena Lou's - Our local hole in the wall. Sometimes gets bands, including String Theory.
There are a few good bands too (I'm leaving scads out... and I really feel bad about leaving out all the good local Blues bands I found)
  • Mane St. - A fun country/roots rock band. Been around a long time and very high energy
  • String Theory - Roots rock, oldies, folk, stuff from the 70's
  • Junior Valentine - Roots rock and blues. Very engaging story teller
What's the point of this? It's not going to help you much if you're in Montana, or Cologne, or La Paz, or Kyoto... Simply this. Get out there and patronize your local venues. They need your business to stay in business. Listen to bands, and if you like their stuff, tell them. or better yet, buy their CDs.

That last bit bears repeating. I travel a lot, and I seek out bands wherever I am. My CD collection can't be duplicated, no one else could possibly have listened to the exact mix of local bands I have. So there's something to brag about right there. If a band is any good, buy the CD. This gives them a bit of cash, but moreover, it gives them some egoboo that yes, the fans care. Most people in the music biz are not going to ever make a living at it, they're doing it out of love.

So give them some love back.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wikipedia Review and my participation in same.

Given that I have a fair number of roles and responsibilities on WMF projects, (see my WikiMatrix ) I expect that posting at Wikipedia Review has raised some eyebrows among some. Heck, I know it has, some folks have written to me about it, and some folks have raised concerns with others which then came to my attention. There are other fairly "senior" people that post there, but I may be the only steward.

So I put together this explanation. I couldn't quite decide if it belongs on-wiki or not so I'm floating it here first. Maybe I'll rehash it there as a user subpage. Here goes.

I see it like this, as with anything, you have to analyze the benefits against the costs/risks... so what are the benefits?
  • I think that it's good to have someone paying attention to what goes on there. You have to be a member in order to see certain things. I admit I started participating at WR with some trepidation, and I continue to do so with a great deal of caution (and a great deal of taking everything written there with a large grain of salt).
  • I think WR, just like WP, is not monolithic. WP has a lot of good people at it and some that are not so good. At WR the proportion is rather different, rather the other way round, but there are some people there with things to say that I find worth listening to. A lot of chaff, and worse, but some wheat.
  • Since WR is not monolithic, not a thing, per se, but a collection of people, it's probably not accurate to say I am "pro WR", it is more accurate to say that I've found a few things here and there to agree with, (mostly not, but a few) and a few people here and there who, when they say things worthy of note or reflection, that it may be of benefit to say that they did. Perhaps some of them can be brought back in from the cold. Or if not, perhaps at least it's of benefit not to demonise them. Demonization is a very bad trap to fall into and I see it happening at WP a lot. Certainly a LOT of people at WR demonize too so maybe leading by example may help counter that.
  • I think it is important not to fall into the trap of "us vs. them" or of being blind to opportunities to gather information, even at places that have a lot of chaff (and worse...). I've been in various online communities for 25+ years now and my previous experiences with falling into the "us vs. them" trap (sometime I could talk more about if there was interest) suggest that it's not wise. The deeper plan, I guess, is to gather information there (about things that need fixing) that will make WP a better place, as I have already done more than once. And maybe to make the site's denizens in some tiny way more reasonable... not that I flatter myself that I have any great effect but I think I have a little.
  • It's important to have some people that stay engaged with those that do not mean the project well, if they are large enough and organized enough to be troublesome and prominent enough to be noticed outside of their world. And WR is large enough.
Those are the benefits.

What are the risks?

Well there are the technical risks:
  • That by posting there something might be discovered about me. But I'm already known by my real name, and I make no secret of my IPs really, so I don't see that as a big deal
  • That by posting there (or following some link from there) my machine will become infected with something that would compromise confidentiality. That's a risk but I take measures against it.
(did I miss any? Tell me about it in feedback)

and the social risks:
  • That I might inadvertently reveal something private or sensitive. I'm pretty careful about that, I don't discuss findings or cases or identities. It is a risk though but I really don't see it.
  • That I might be extortable in some way (like NSLE was) to do things deliberately. I don't see it... that risk is minimal and really isn't heightened by being there.
  • That by being there I give credibility to WR. That's a valid concern I suppose but not really a very major one. I think I'm very careful not to give approval to things not worthy of approving of... But the problem is, my not giving approval is not going to stop the tide from coming in. Wikipedia Review, whether anyone likes it or not, is becoming a source of information about Wikipedia. For editors, and more importantly, for the press. I think it's important to distinguish between engage and endorse. My engagement with the denizens of WR is not endorsement of their actions, not agreement with the things that some of them advocate, and does not grant them any more legitimacy than they had before.
  • That by spending time there I am neglecting other places where I could spend time. True, perhaps, but we all spend time as we choose, so that's all I am going to say to that.
  • That by being there over time I am going to become more sympathetic to what WR folk advocate. Finally we come to one I think has some merit... well, unfortunately, the more I learn about some things the more convinced I become that there are things within WMF that need correcting. WMF is not fatally flawed by any means (I believe strongly it's a great project with a great mission) but just circling the wagons won't work, it needs some fixing. The best way to fix it is from within, with knowledge of what the problems are, I think.
On that last point... I won't go into all the details but there are plenty of examples. Some of them are WR memes, some quite long running ones, to be sure. But that doesn't mean that there might not be some truth in them.

(did I miss any social risks? Tell me about it in feedback)

So those are the benefits as I see them and the risks/costs as well.

To the extent that my small efforts at correction and repositioning improve the accuracy of what a reader finds at Wikipedia Review I think my efforts are worthwhile.

I think my integrity is pretty much above reproach. I would never deliberately do something that I believed would cause harm to the project. But, I didn't sign a loyalty oath promising to back those currently in power no matter what. If I see issues I will raise them.

That was rather a long message, and a pretty serious one for a second post. Oh well. Tell me what you think.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

First Post!

Well duh.

I'm not sure anyone actually has any interest in what I have to say but hey, all the cool kids seem to have blogs so what the heck.