Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Stemming the rise of the machines?

Wikipedia Checkuser Icon Use Wikipedia Logo and :Image:Gnome-searchtool.svg(upload by User:Seahen)The machines are reading
(c) Wikimedia Foundation
Sometimes events move faster than we plan.

Another tidbit of my visit to the Wikimedia Foundation office Monday was that I got a preview of this post by Cary Bass, which addresses robots.txt, the bit of magic that controls what is searched and what is not. (more specifically, well behaved robots/spiders honor what it says and do not scan pages it names off... Less well behaved robots/spiders eventually get blocked completely once their bad behaviour is discovered.) Specifically, it makes the case that non articlespace pages ought not to be quite as visible in searches as articles, because unlike articlespace pages, which were designed to be read by the intended audience of the encyclopedia itself, they often contain bickering, name calling, or even worse, "userified" pages that contain clear BLP violations, fringe theories given undue weight or all sorts of other problematic content.

Unbeknownst to Cary, after Cary had written that blog post but before it published (the wonders of delayed publishing) Newyorkbrad posted this to the english wikipedia and foundation mailing lists. In it, he advances a remarkably similar thesis, that we should act to avoid giving undue weight to material that really isn't intended for the readership.

BugzillaBugzilla mascot, Image
via Wikimedia Commons

Partially in support of this, I entered an enhancement request in Bugzilla for code changes to make it easier to control what is and isn't in robots.txt... your thoughts or comments on that bug would be appreciated.

See also this mailing list post by Jimmy Wales in which he expresses agreement with the general idea that we should use this as a way to avoid doing unnecessary harm. Bravo!

As it turns out, this topic (among others) has been getting considerable discussion at the dreaded Wikipedia Review, but I believe Brad advanced the idea because it's a good idea, not because of the pressure that some were trying to exert. More on that topic later, but for a taste of it you can review this thread.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

governance uproar?

wikipedia pencilsI did not steal any pencils.
Image by kaurjmeb via Flickr
Ironically (or not) I'm writing this from the Wikimedia Foundation office... (although since I'm using Blogger's draft mode, I can queue it up for posting tomorrow morning, I hope they promote that from draft to production soon...) I happen to be in San Francisco on business and popped in to visit. There is a certain cachet to doing so, I guess

The announcement of the board's restructuring seems to have caused a bit of an uproar in some circles... Danny posted, and then referenced Durova's "community petition" part II post... maybe it's fashionable to express ... concern? dismay? outrage? what?

Myself, I think I'll just hang back and let others comment further, because I'm not sure I'm concerned... or dismayed, or outraged, or whatever... the structure doesn't seem completely unreasonable to me... some allocation to the chapters, which are growing in importance, some to the community, and some internal. If I had any concern it would be about the notion of experts being seated rather than being consulted but I'm fairly sure things will sort out on their own soon enough.

So call me unfashionable I guess. I'm more worried about the more immediate things like BLPs and the Checkuser policy churn that's been manifesting itself lately than I am about board structure.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Would you vote for this man?

My cousin, Jerry Swartz, is a long time educator and labor activist, is running (or I should say, recently ran, by the time you read this, the election will be over) for MEA Secretary Treasurer of the MEA, the Michigan chapter of the National Education Association.

Jerry is one of four candidates running. I'd like to tell you who the other three are but I haven't sussed that out yet. The MEA website has a search capability but I wasn't able to find that information.

Jerry and I are, you could say, diametrically opposed on a lot of matters... (He's a union organizer, after all) but he's a very hard working and well meaning person who has done a lot of good for his local and who is not afraid of keeping those in power honest.

The state MEA would do a lot worse than Jerry Swartz as Secretary Treasurer...

Besides, I don't have any other relatives who have had their picture taken with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Governance Reform for Wikipedia?

This image is a captured version of Wikimedia logo mosaic. In its history you may see other versions captured daily. Note that the original mosaic contains some animations, so this is not exactly how it looked/looks like.WMF logo as a mosaic of images
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Previously, I wrote about a Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) wide Wikicouncil. That idea continues to spark discussion (whether I think it's a good idea or not is another matter :) ) ... it has been the subject of discussion by the WMF board, but it appears that the idea is shelved, at least for now.

There is another initiative brewing, perhaps somewhat more grass roots, to foster "governance reform" on the English Wikipedia. The proposal and the talk page make interesting reading.

The argument put forth by proponents is that there has been a failure to get many proposals for reform enacted using the existing (consensus based) processes, and very few reform proposals imposed by fiat either, and that therefore a new process is needed.

Wikimedia Foundation wikis tend to operate using policy that is "descriptive", that is, policy lags behind practice and is written to describe how things are actually done, and as practice changes, policy changes to follow it, or lags practice. By contrast, "prescriptive" policy is written to describe how things ought to be done, and it is changed to force a change in actual practice, that is, policy leads practice.

If this proposal were adopted it would be a major change away from descriptive policy, and, some argue, away from the "wiki way".

Given the number of abortive attempts to change BLP policy that there have been lately, and the frustration I and others have expressed, this proposal has a certain attraction. Heck, it's a siren song... to think that if this were passed, 50 (or however many) reasonable people would now be able to change policy to be as I think it should be, regardless of "consensus" not being for the change. (we have seen things get 65% support and then be declared as dead, lacking consensus)

But there's the rub... who's to say that the 50 (or however many) people selected to be on this thing will be "reasonable", "thoughtful", "bold", etc? If the process used to select them is anything like the Request for Adminship process of late, it's just as likely that they will be popular, non controversial people who have never annoyed anyone or taken a stand on anything... and how do we know if they've never taken a stand what their stand will be on matters going forward? We won't know.

So I don't see this as a good idea, even if we wanted to change away from the wiki way of descriptive policy.

What do you think? Do you think the English Wikipedia has a problem with getting policy to change? If so, do you think the way to solve it is to change to prescriptive policy? And if so, do you think this governance reform is the way to achieve that?

I'd like to know! Tell me! Put your comments in on the talk page as well!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bauer Power

Solar cells, Image
Wikimedia Commons

Previously I wrote about SolarCity and Sungevity, two California based companies. I've been searching hard to see if there was anyone local, because I would rather give less money to the power company if at all possible.

I have found an outfit called Bauer Power (hey, rhymes with flower power!) local to me, in Wayland... They also offer the turn key solution I crave but time will tell whether it's what I want. Unlike the two Cali companies I profiled, Bauer charges you for the initial design. This may be to keep people serious. But it's worth it to me to find out if I'm right that our house would be ideal, and to see what they propose. So I've scheduled them to come out in mid May and evaluate things.

I'm not totally clear on what our utility, Consumers Energy, actually provides for customers that want to be bidirectional. Their net metering page is a big vague (and hard to find), but this PDF brochure gives a bit more information. Time will tell.

How easy or hard is it to use renemable energy where you live?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Britannica free access... gotcha?

Encyclopaedia BritannicaEB building name plate with thistle
Image by Robert Brook via Flickr
Previously, I wrote about Encyclopaedia Britannica's free access offer. I may have more to say later but I thought I'd update you a bit with a couple of things I ran into

First, it seems I can't edit my previous post! I'm very used to just going into already published posts and tweaking them (I always find typos after I publish them! Why is that???, er, don't answer....).

For whatever reason, an attempt to edit that post blanks it out. I'm not sure if this is a glitch at my end or what (further testing is needed) but the only think that is different about that post is the widget I embedded. If in fact I can't edit posts that have those widgets that's a strong disincentive to embed them. Hopefully just a glitch that will be sorted out.

A somewhat more serious matter was blogged about by the author of Pattern Recognition, who sat down and analyzed the Terms and Conditions of use. It seems that the T&C has that dreaded "non commercial use" clause... (I was going to put a link to it about here, but Jason Griffey is a better searcher than I am, I can't find the page that has the Ts and Cs!... silly me...)

Now, on my blog, if you look over to the left, and if you look between every second posting, you're going to find ads... so far I think I've raked in a total of 24 cents or so from them but it's commercial use, technically. So if you come back one day and find that first posting gone and any and all links to Britannica content gone, that's why...

For now, though, I'm going to assume they don't really mean exactly what they seem to say by that, since (thanks again, Jason) their next paragraph says:

If you want to post, publish, or use content from (or contained within) the Services on your Web site or in any other Internet activity, you will need permission from Britannica, even though your Web site or Internet activity is free of charge.

Well hmm... wasn't that what I just signed up for the ability to link to EB articles? Color me confused I guess.

What do you think? Does EB really mean that?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Doc quits

The Ostrich Struthio camelus is now farmed, primarily for the low fat meat. The Ostrichs are contained by a 2m high fence with an electrified wire running along the top - perhaps contributing to this bird's contemplation of the fence.An Ostrich, although not one
with its head in the sand. Image
via Wikimedia Commons
Doc Glasgow, one of the leading voices in the effort to improve Wikipedia's handling of Biographies of Living Persons (BLPs) has apparently quit the project. (his goodbye statement, ironically enough, was first posted at Wikipedia Review!)

This is unfortunate. It's tempting to just dismiss this departure as one of many, point to UseMod's GoodBye essay, and say it doesn't matter, the project has thousands of contributors. And in fact that's what I usually do. But Doc's voice was a good one and an important one.

Consider this page on the BLP problem and why it's important, and the outpouring of discussion around it.

Or consider this proposal, for allowing marginally notable biography subjects to "opt out", now marked as rejected, and the discussion around it.

Or consider this proposal, for reversing the default outcome of BLP Article for Deletion (AfD) discussions to delete. It has led to this thread at the BLP page itself, in which SlimVirgin proposes adoption. (the straw poll shows it running at least 65% in favor of adopting it so that's something anyway)

Every one of those is from Doc or had Doc pushing hard for it. And those are just the ones I thought of offhand, there are others. Doc was one of the hardest workers on the BLP mess for quite some time.

Perhaps he just got disheartened at the apparent unwillingness of some in the community to admit that there is a BLP problem and that the current approach isn't handling it. Can't say as I blame him, the level of ostrich in the sand -ism seems quite high there.

If you agree maybe you would consider taking the Responsible Editing pledge? Those undersigned are either:
* already using accounts identifying their real identity (and will not use sock puppets on BLPs)
* OR pledging not to add content concerning living people
* OR intending creating separate accounts, linked to their real identities, for this purpose
I signed it. If you edit Wikipedia, you should consider doing so too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Life

Purple Heart medalA Purple Heart
via Wikimedia Commons
Richard A. Lockwood passed away on Friday April 19, somewhat suddenly, but not unexpectedly. "Grandpa Lockwood" was the patriarch of the clan, with 5 children, 14 grandchildren, thirty some great grandchildren (including my two children) and 3 great great grandchildren. He was 89. He is survived, but surely not for very long, by his wife Helen, a stroke victim who is no longer quite aware of what goes on around her.

Dick was a member of the "Greatest Generation", that generation that lived through and took part in World War II. A recepient of the Purple Heart, he never liked to talk about his part in the war. He joined late (he had several children by the time the war started for the US) But he was there, as part of General Patton's 3rd Army. His service was marked at his funeral services by inclusion of "Patton's Prayer" in the memorial program and by the things members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post did, saluting at the beginning and end of the service, firing a salute, and presenting a service flag to Helen. She was oddly quiet... perhaps she had some awareness of what it all meant.

Ever since I married into the Lockwood clan, Grandpa Lockwood was an important part of my family life. The family would come to the old Lockwood farmhouse on Ingalls road, in Smyrna, just about every Sunday to sit around, eat Grandma's cooking, (made with food bought by Grandpa as he had once complained about what Helen bought... she vowed never to ever set foot in a grocery store again, and she stuck to it) trade wild stories, and watch sports. (you had better not have had anything bad to say about the University of Michigan teams, or good to say about The Ohio State University teams, though)Photo #: SC 320901How one gets one of them
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Richard was born in that farmhouse, and grew up there, and lived there for 72 years of marriage, raising his 5 children, who dispersed to far corners of the US, and raised their own families, had their own careers, their own triumphs and sadnesses.

It is not everyone who is lucky enough to live to see great great grandchildren, to be sure. But it's also not everyone who has to help bury his own great great granddaughter, as Dick also did. It is not everyone who is lucky enough to live a full life. But it's also not everyone who outlives his own son by over 20 years. His son Gary died of AIDS in the mid 1980s, and was cremated at his own request, with his ashes scattered on Lake Waramaug, which he loved. We were able to finally bring some closure there when we placed a bottle of the lake water (with some tiny part of his ashes in it), which we had been saving all this time, in the casket.

It was a good life. He will be missed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sungevity, another easy route to solar power?

Ecology Flag (American) displaying ThetaEarth Day ecology flag
Image via Wikimedia Commons
I previously wrote about SolarCity, the California outfit trying to make it easy to get greener electricity.

It seems fitting, for Earth Day, to talk about another vendor who's trying to make it easy, Sungevity. These guys, like SolarCity, offers pretty much a turn key solution. Contract with them, and they handle the planning, paperwork, financing, and installation. There is major motivation to make a go of it, because California has put 3.3 Billion USD worth of incentives in place. (why I think that's not necessarily a good idea would be the topic for a different post... the point is, the money's out there for California residents to get, so if they can, they should)

The twist in the business model here is that the folk at Sungevity think they can reduce costs by using satellite imagery to understand your house's layout, south facing roof configuration, and so forth, allowing them to design an installation without ever actually doing a site visit. I'm somewhat dubious, but they are claiming a 10% price advantage over the competition. Basically their process has you enter your address, choose what you want in a system, and they generate a plan and quote from the imagry

It's good to see competition and different ideas being tried, it will be interesting to see how things turn out. But I have my doubts.

Meanwhile I'm continuing my search for a vendor that's local... stay tuned on that, I may have found someone, we'll see...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Britannica free access?

Encyclopædia Britannica International Chinese Edition, of 20 volumes of which the 19th and 20th volume are index, is published by Encyclopedia of China Publishing House.A print Encyclopaedia Britannica
Image via Wikimedia Commons
The Encyclopaedia Britannica recently announced "free" access to some of their content. The basic scheme is that if you are one of the "people who publish with some regularity on the Internet, be they bloggers, Webmasters, or writers," you can register for the ability to share access. Their reason?

"Britannica covers a wide range of topics with thousands of articles and multimedia features. They’re relevant and useful, and we’d like more people to be able to take advantage of them." (quoted for review purposes)

Many have said the real reason is more obviously commercial... that Wikipedia is eating into their online market share (and the web in general eating into print encylopedia share, c.f. the recent announcement by a German print encyclopedia that they were publishing their last edition) and that this was an attempt to win market and mind share (as well as Google ranking because there would be more inbound links to their content) TechCrunch observed something somewhat similar.

What's on offer are widgets as well as direct links.

I decided to sign up and see for myself. The sign up process was simple enough, fill out a form, give a link to your blog, and wait. Shortly thereafter I received a mail with another link, I filled that out and now I have access to content. Here's an example widget:

(I haven't sussed out how exactly to specify what I want to display so gosh knows what topic you're seeing.... the help page wants me to watch a video... I'd rather just read directions) and here's an example link (to the Britannia article on Wikipedia).

I think it's instructive to compare that article (go read it, I'll wait) with the Wikipedia article on Britannica... (again, go read it, I'll wait)

While it is true that Britannica has been around longer... and therefore there is more to say, I find it odd how much of the Britannica article seems to focus on Wikipedia's flaws. While I do not fool myself that Wikipedia is perfect, and I have criticised the project for its flaws, it's not quite as dire as EB seems to paint matters. Perhaps they have fallen into the trap of not exactly having a neutral point of view about their competition?

I'll no doubt have more to say about this later but it's an intereesting development. What do you think? Why did EB do this? Will it be useful to folk? Will this experiment work for EB?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

House Flags

Merritt-Chapman & Scott corporate ad, 1938The trigger: MC&S ad
Image via Wikipedia
(fair use to illustrate blog)
In one of those chains of odd connections, it turns out I want to write an article about "house flags"... these are the flags that civil shipping companies fly on their ships to show what line the ship belongs to. The same scheme is often used to decorate the smokestack(s) on more modern ships, which can be seen from farther away

Why do I want to write that article? Well you can thank Rettetast, I guess. He, or his bot, left me a message that a magazine ad image I uploaded (conforming to the then current Fair Use standards) long long ago (mid May 2006, and 2 years is a long time in wiki time) to illustrate the Merritt-Chapman & Scott article was no longer in compliance with current practice, and I needed to write a better justification. Perfectly legitimate and an important thing to fix, since the WMF has mandated all wikis be in compliance with fair use.

In reviewing the article I thought to myself it would be nice, since the MC&S house flag featured in the logo (and in the bottom of the ad) if I could find a house flag image to use that was better than the very grainy one in the ad. So I searched, only to find this page. It has a better house flag all right, drawn by Eugene Ipavec... but the irony of it alll! It's a recreation, based on the very Wikipedia article and image I myself uploaded!

This spurred me to search, and I found that the term "house flag" is used over 30 times in articles but has no article of its own. Doing the research is problematic though, as the term is very common and thus you get a lot of false returns. But I thing I may have found some few tidbits and if i can tear myself away from drama I will take a crack at changing the redirect I put in to become a real article. It may not end up very large but it would be better than the tidbit in the Maritime flags article (which itself is better than nothing)

What serendipitous connections, or even self referential ones, have you found that spurred you? And do you have any leads for good sources for a House flag article? (grin)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Getting off Hivemind

If you're on Hivemind (the site, not the Hivemind OS software) and you want to get off, all you have to do is publish your real name on your Wikipedia page... simple right?

Except my real name's been there all along. Very first edit to the page, in fact.

But I got added to Hivemind recently. No. I'm not giving you the link to Hivemind, it gets enough inbound links as it is. Trying to ask Brandt why gets zero reply.

Maybe it's more like you have to also not annoy Daniel Brandt by calling him a weenie (or worse, see this blog post). Or maybe you have to get behind whatever his latest hobby horse is... delete whatever he is hot about, sign whatever petition he is keen on, etc. Or maybe ??? Who knows?

Point is, if you want to be seen as acting on principle, as Brandt claims to be doing, you have to actually act on principle, and not act based on personal grudges.

That's what I try to stick to, and "acting on principle" is precisely what I was arguing in defending the redirect deletions... the principle of deleting them was correct even if Daniel Brandt himself was not a nice person.

Else, if you consistently don't act on principle, you're just a bully. As Moulton pointed out, Brandt's actions fit the description.

Kato justified Brandt's tactics here. I suspect that there is some validity to the claim that you have to fight unfairly if you have been treated unfairly. But on the other hand, is attacking those who most want to help the most reasonable way to effect change?

I don't think so. Do you?

Friday, April 18, 2008

David Koudys' LEGO Animation

Dave Koudys has been working on animating a LEGO classic space vehicle. His work has come to fruition...

First he shared some of the preliminary mechanization with us... going in a circle is hard enough...

but he's managed to do a dogbone covering 3 Classic Space grey baseplates.

Here it is in action:

And here is the mechanism that does the magic:

Dave is also working on a crane/gantry/repair bay:

Animation is a great way to make displays more exciting and keep crowds interested.

Dave's work, like that of many other hobbyists, no doubt takes inspiration from and builds upon earlier work, like that of the GMLTC (members animated a mine truck) and Steve Ringe of MichLTC, who has animated cars in a street, including two way traffic. Both of these earlier works used the general principle of a magnet moving beneath the baseplate that "couples" to a magnet on the vehicle being animated, but the drive mechanisms differ.

What have you done in your displays to improve crowd interest? Or if you're not a LEGO builder, what sorts of animation do you enjoy the most?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Money can't buy happiness?

Sometimes following tangents finds you interesting things. Danny's "White Fathers" blog post yesterday on what really would help folk in Africa, whether the WMF's mission of knowledge sharing was the most needful thing started the wheels turning for me.

Those wheels got a push from this thread on Wikipedia Review, and from Danny's "Congo" response to it here. I think maybe sometimes we lose track, in our situations, of how things really are and aren't, and what we can do about them. What I'm about to say should in no way be taken as diminishing how tough things are in places like the sub Sahara, the Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the like. They're tough, make no mistake, way tougher than in the rich world...

So when I hear people saying "Money can't buy happiness?" I want to call BS. First, take a look at this classic essay by John Scalzi, "Being Poor" It's a rich world essay to be sure, but it drives home the point... being poor really really sucks.

Then take a look at this New York Times article... Maybe Money Does Buy Happiness After All ... Granted, its a study of the rich world, and of the well off people within it, but (quoting)

The fact remains that economic growth doesn’t just make countries richer in superficially materialistic ways.

Economic growth can also pay for investments in scientific research that lead to longer, healthier lives. It can allow trips to see relatives not seen in years or places never visited. When you’re richer, you can decide to work less — and spend more time with your friends.

That's rich world stuff... but the same thing is true in the less rich world. As Ben Yates cited in a "White Fathers" reply, cellphones can make a difference, and that says to me that aid isn't the solution. Changing society is the solution. Economic growth is the solution. Knowledge is the solution. Danny's right when he says an encyclopedia per se isn't the answer, that more thought is required, it has to deliver the things that are needed. But those who decry encyclopedias and economic and societal change in favour of direct aid? They miss the mark.

Money can't buy happiness? Tell it the the lady in Alabama with the 800 dollar car. Tell it to the mother in Gambia without the money to buy a sack of maize.

Money CAN buy happiness.... but the best kind of money is money you control because you earned it, because your society enabled it, not money that dropped in your lap.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The times, they are a changing

A Brickshelf folder Originally
uploaded to
Flickr by Repoort
The net of 10 or so years ago was a far different place. Things were much more primitive. If you wanted to present content, you had to arrange for your own page and image hosting (or use a free site, remember GeoCities?).

In particular, the nascent online LEGO hobby community had few or no options for hosting pictures. And how could one share one's creations without pictures?

Enter Brickshelf. (site description at Brickwiki)

Kevin Loch, an AFOL living in the DC area, set up the Brickshelf site to allow for fan hosting of images. The user interface was fairly rudimentary. Log in, select or create a folder, and upload images. Fixed thumbnail sizes, no description text, and simple keywords. Uploading multiple images required placing them in zip files. No slideshows, no user groups, tagging, communities, user profiles, etc. Just images. Moderation of images occurred by hand. Copyright of the images was retained by the owner (unlike, say, Commons which requires a free license of some sort) and the subject could be anything (as long as it was LEGO related).

Brickshelf was a huge hit. Everyone in the LEGO community kept their images there. People linked to images from their LUGNET posts, from their personal web pages, and so forth. Kevin even added a repository of instruction scans (with the tacit approval of LEGO themselves, as the scans hosted were for sets already out of production) Fortunately, Kevin worked somewhere that bandwidth was inexpensive and the millions of images hosted in the scheme were not a huge drag. Or so everyone thought.

Kevin introduced some ads, and accepted donations. People urged him to update the interface, broaden the appeal and try to monetize the site. But after the initial spurt of development, the site underwent little or no change for years. In 2002, the instruction scans were removed (eventually to be moved to Peeron, another fan operated site), as part of setting up an LLC, and some ads were added but little else changed.

Fast forward to the summer of 2007. Brickshelf, now 10 years old, was struggling to keep the lights on., and no one knew. One day, visitors saw a discontinuance message and the topic was widely discussed on LUGNET and many other sites and blogs., an image hosting service also run by Kevin Loch, but with a more general focus, stayed up. The outage turned out to be a warning, the next day it was back up, but with a notice that it would go down by the end of the month, which Kevin explained on LUGNET.

Welcome to Flickr - Photo Sharing (20080414)Flickr page originally
uploaded to Flickr by camflan
A huge amount of discussion ensued. People vowed to help save it, complained bitterly at the loss of a free service, stated they were going to host elsewhere and loads of other things. Eventually the discontinuance was rescinded and a membership scheme introduced. But the dominant position of Brickshelf as the most widely used image site was at an end. There has subsequently been a large upsurge in use of Flickr and at other sites, with new groups forming there and the like.

So earlier this year, when Maj, com went away for a day or two, and then come back again, it was with far less fanfare. It seemed like almost no one noticed. After the temporary disappearance of Brickshelf last year, in which many fans expressed dismay, sadness, or even outrage, this seems to have elicted little comment.

That may well be because it no longer matters as much. To stay dominant, first mover isn't always enough. Sometimes you have to change with the times. There are so many well capitalized hosting solutions now, and people have learned to use them instead of Brickshelf, that the loss may not be as missed.

Do you have things you rely on that you would miss if they were gone? Are they the same things as they were 1o years ago?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More on the BLP policy

Cover of Gissurarson’s biography of Prime Minister Jón Þorláksson (1992)A biography, although
not of a living person :)
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Yes, this is the 4th time I've written about the topic of Biographies of Living Persons (or BLP for short) , and unfortunately, I expect it won't be the last. (here are screeds one, two, and three)

Wikipedia user Doc Glasgow has written an excellent summation of the problem on a user subpage The_BLP_problem. It also includes analysis of several of the possible solutions that have been offered in various places lately. Those who say there is no problem really really need to read this page, it's very well done.

Wikipedia Review folk thought so highly of it that they reproduced it, verbatim (as of when it was copied) as one of their editorials. This topic is now getting more and more attention so I'm hopeful that some progress will be made. As I've said before, the stakes are too high, and the injuries possible to those affected by BLP too risky, not to do something.

To see the magnitude of the problem, take a look at the Some Statistics section in the WR editorial (reproduced from somewhere else I can't find at the moment):

Maintenance category Articles Percent
Total BLP articles
(Category:Living people)
259210 100.00%
Cat:Articles lacking sources 13908 5.37%
Cat:Articles with unsourced statements 13740 5.30%
Cat:Articles needing additional references 5475 2.11%
Cat:Orphaned articles 3157 1.22%
Cat:Articles to be expanded 2511 0.97%
Cat:Articles with topics of unclear notability 1971 0.76%
Cat:Articles lacking reliable references 1918 0.74%
Cat:Articles with trivia sections 1510 0.58%
Cat:Wikipedia articles needing style editing 1420 0.55%
Cat:Articles lacking in-text citations 860 0.33%

Data from March 12 2008

5% lacking sources, 5% unsourced statements, 2% needing references (some overlap there to be sure)... that doesn't even track the articles that are coatracks or hatchet jobs. 5% isn't bad, you say??? except that is 13 THOUSAND articles that may well have problems.

There have been a fair few proposals to address this recently... semi-protection, BLP-Lock, (by SirFozzie, et al) Opt Out (by PrivateMusings, et al) AfD rejiggering (by Doc Glasgow) , dead tree standard, (by many folk) and some I've forgotten.

Some ideas are more radical than others of course... perhaps one of the more interesting offers related to this was Daniel Brandt wagering Hivemind. Probably nothing will come of it. (I made Hivemind myself recently, but that's probably the topic for another posting)

So what do you think? Has the tide turned and we are going to see change in this area at last? Or do you think there's no problem at all?

Monday, April 14, 2008

From the what were they thinking department

Red 2 × 4 LEGO brick from the LDraw parts library. Rendered with POV-Ray by the author. Intended to identify articles relating to LEGO.The iconic LEGO brick.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
The LEGO company continues to confound and confuse adult train fans.

Their latest move, apparently, is to replace the current magnetic coupling scheme, which uses magnets free to rotate around a horizontal axis, in a way that finesses which end is which polarity issues, mounted in a holder that is free to swivel from side to side (to allow the train cars to go around curves) and then mounted on a buffer, with a new scheme in which the magnet is apparently encased inside the buffer.


No one yet knows for sure. Speculation in the online LEGO community has it that this is to address safety concerns that might arise if young children swallow magnets... there have been reports in the media of children suffering problems when two magnets join adjacent stomach or intestinal walls and cause blockages.

How do we know this?

Seems that the new part libraries just refreshed into LDD show some new parts. You can see the images at this LUGNET post.

All in one and presumably harder to swallow by kids.

Oddly, these will probably be harder to swallow by adults too, as they make it harder to build things compared to what they replace.

Well, one more old style part to hoard, I guess, along with 9V motors and track.

PS: don't mind this Technorati Profile ... it won't hurt a bit.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

FSM and gumption

Logo of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on a car bumper in Tallahassee, Florida.FSM car thingie.
Image from Commons

So I got a Flying Spaghetti Monster thingie to stick on the back of one of our vehicles. Amazon has them but I am sure they are elsewhere as well.

But I don't have the guts to actually put it on. Grand Rapids, as you may know, is a big time part of the Bible Belt... and I'm not sure how well received such, um... blasphemy would be received.

We got a hard time for having a "No W" sticker (a W with a line through it, which of course shows that we are not the biggest fans of our dearly beloved George W. Bush...) on the back of our car a few years ago, and nothing has changed since.

No WNo W!
Image from Commons
Still, it does seem a good way to show where our beliefs lie. I'll have to find the gumption to actually get it on there sometime soon.

Do you have any beliefs you're not quite willing to share with the world by displaying them on the back of your car?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

SolarCity, making it easier to be green?

Polycrystaline PV cells laminated to backing material in a PV moduleSolar Cells.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Being green isn't easy, just as Kermit said. We are not the most green household, far from it. But it is not for lack of desire, or even for lack of motivation, it's that it is hard work and there is little incentive. I suspect we are not the only Americans that feel that way.

Why is that?

I won't speak to why recycling is so hard, other than to mention that something that you have to spend more time doing, and pay extra for (as is the case in many munincipalities), isn't likely to win a lot of converts in the US, that's just how we Americans are.

I won't speak to why fuel efficient cars and hybrids don't have a larger share of the US market already (although this is growing) except to mention that at present, most vehicles of this type don't make economic sense yet. (note, my current vacation is the first chance I've had to drive a Prius and I think I'm in love... it just needs a way bigger battery. But I digress)

No, those are large topics and I'll leave further discussion of them out of this post except to say that they are hard problems. Make them easy, anyone, and people will change habits. However some people (those more concerned with economics and practicality instead of ideology) there will be no change in habit before they're easy.

Green electricity is another hard problem. So, let me tell you about a nifty outfit I learned about called SolarCity. (as with anything I mention, disclaimers apply, my opinion only, do your homework, don't take my word for it, etc. etc.) This company, one of several started by Elon Musk, of PayPal fame and fortune, is trying to make solar electricity easy, especially for residences.

Putting aside the engineering and efficiency problems that need improving (and which are being addressed by many researchers), a very big problem with solar is how daunting of a project it is. As their website outlines, there are permits to obtain, construction to oversee, financing concerns, agreements with the power company to worry about, ongoing maintenance, and eventual replacement of parts, and a host of other concerns. Much hassle.

SolarCity's approach is to be a bundled provider, their PowerStation product is more or less turnkey, as it includes all the componentry, the photovoltaic solar panels, inverters, electric interconnects and metering, and ancillary hardware, and more importantly, all the paperwork, needed for a residential installation. They offer a purchaseable installation in PowerStation, as well as a leasable option in SolarLease which reduces the upfront cost. The only problem I have? They're not yet in our area, so far it's a California only operation.

There is a significant fraction of the population that will only go green when offered this sort of turnkey approach, in my view.

Does that include you? Are you green already? What's holding you back?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Addicted to GPS

The Angeles Crest Highway (highlighted in red)The Angeles Crest Highway
Image via Wikipedia
Some technologies are transformative. Cell phones are one example. (seen many payphones lately?)

I think GPS is another. Right now, I'm in LA, coastering... We have a part year exchange student (he was a switchout from another family) and I decided it might be fun to go coastering somewhere with him (and my son) during spring break. We're Cedar Fair season pass holders, so Knotts Berry Farm was an obvious choice. (most of the other CF parks aren't even open yet)

We arrived Wednesday around noon and decided to spend the half day sightseeing. I love the Angeles Crest Highway drive into the mountains, I try to drive there every time I'm in LA (it's a thrilling, curvy, steep, narrow drive) and wanted to share it. So up we went.
Mount Wilson (California)Antennas atop Mount Wilson
Observatory at left
Image via Wikipedia

I'd not been to Mount Wilson (which hosts the Palomar Observatory as well as a lot of transmitters) before, so we decided to take a drive up there on the way back. It's a very impressive outcropping. Circling "Video Drive" we went past one transmitter after another. As we passed a particularly large and impressive stone blockhouse-like base structure, the audio system in the rental Prius buzzed. Thinking nothing of it, we got some pics and started back.

On the way back down the mountain I noticed the GPS wasn't updating, it showed us still on the Angeles Crest Highway even after we got back to Glendale. A power cycle or two didn't seem to have any effect. The unit was receiving signals from the satellites, and could route to saved locations, it just thought it hadn't moved.

It dawned on me that we had no idea exactly how to get back to the hotel in Buena Vista, and LA freeways are not exactly trivial to navigate if you're confused. Fortunately my Blackberry also has GPS and integrates in with Google Maps nicely, so we were able to get turn by turn directions and limp back.

Magellan customer support is notorious for how bad it is. So I was a bit concerned about how to recover from that. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I connected the data cable, and tried to read some of the logs on the device. This caused it to display some error popup windows and lock up... this time, after power on, it went through a hard reboot and the GPS seems to be working again. Whew!

But the thought of doing the next few days without GPS was positively scary to me. Apparently I'm addicted. I've gotten very used to being able to blithely go where I want to go and have the GPS straighten me out if I take a wrong turn.

Agree that GPS is transformative? Disagree? What technologies are you addicted to?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Get Satisfaction!

listen to your customers! Listen to your customers!
Image from Wikimedia Commons
So I just started using Zemanta, which I intend to talk about further, as a way to enhance my blog posts. I'm sure you've noticed the logo at the bottom of some posts. No doubt you'll hear more about it elsewhere too, I think a fair few number of people are using it. (the early reactions seem good, but that's not what I am writing about... oh no... this is just a segue to something else entirely! )

I can't actually remember how I found out about Zemanta, but I soon went to their website and discovered how they plan to give support and foster community.

They're using a tool called "Get Satisfaction" ... I'm obviously behind the curve on this and there are shedfuls of people that knew about it already, I suppose, but I'm impressed. Get Satisfaction seems a pretty robust tool for support. Many companies use forums (phpBB based and the like) but this tool seems to take things a bit farther. You can watch the problems and suggestions put in by others and rate comments, help, suggestions and the like as useful. You also can sign up as someone that works for a particular company.

I've reported a few problems I've encountered with Zemanta and so far it's going well. There are a fair few popular companies and products there already (Twitter, Facebook, etc) but oddly, I didn't see IBM there... I was not going to sign up as an IBMer, probably not a good idea from a volume of activity perspective. :)

If you haven't tried Get Satisfaction, you might want to check it out.

What do you use for getting support? Or for giving it?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Blog till you drop?

wikipedia pencilsI've got to get me some of these pencils!
Image by kaurjmeb via Flickr
I know that people make money from blogging. (not me, unless you count the 34 cents in AdSense revenue (or whatever it is, I try not to look) I've gotten so far) But I had no idea that there were "blogger sweatshops"...

The New York Times reports that people are burning out, and other outlets are also talking about how some blogges have actually died.

That seems messed up to me. While I've gotten some comments about my update frequency and about the quality of my posts... I'm doing this blogging thing for me, not for pay. As soon as it's not fun any more, I will stop. That's as it should be I would think.

Does this frenzy to work, to make money at blogging have anything to do with WMF projects or with free content in general? Well, I'm not sure. Money? not so much... people shouldn't be creating content for the money... but obsession? I've talked about obsession before and how it ties into doing what we like to do. I am sure I'm not the only Wikipedia editor who has looked at the time in shock, wondering how it got so late! It is easy to lose track during a good work session on an article, a policy page, or what have you, but it's important to keep a sense of perspective. As with anything else, some rotation is good as well... don't JUST hang out at Requests for Adminship, or the Articles for Deletion pages or Featured Article Candidates or whatever... take some breaks.

That's one of the reasons I'm glad I have multiple hats to wear within Wikimedia Foundation projects... when I tired of the hurly burly of the English Wikipedia, there are always pictures to categorise or upload (after all, I've got plenty of old pictures!) over at Commons, or things to do at Meta, or the like. But I also have my other obsessions too. Oh, and a real life and a job and a family and bills to pay. That sharpens the perspective I think.

How about you? How do you keep a sense of perspective?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

So why would anyone spend 2000 USD for a chair?

Aeron Chair in an office.What I thought I was going to get!
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Charles and Ray Eames, famous 20th century designers, have done a lot of significant furniture design work. Herman Miller, a fairly well known office furniture company in Zeeland, Michigan, has had Eames furniture in their catalog for a long time. Here's an overview of items they did for Herman Miller.

But don't take my word about their niftyness, the Library of Congress recently put together a photo exhibition of their work and of the sorts of pictures they liked to take.

They have done some very iconic stuff... the "tandem sling" and row chairs are almost ubiquitous at airport gates, and the Eames Lounge chair is seen in many a high end home.

Well, we were in the market for some replacement office chairs for the computer room, the IKEA chairs we got were really at end of life, to be honest. (although you won't get me to admit it!)

So, on a whim, and because I am a fan of the Aeron chair, which Herman Miller makes, we decided to try Herman Miller's company store to see what they might have.

Lo and behold, we found a set of 4 Eames "management" chairs... as seen in this catalog page image. actually 3 aluminum group and 1 soft pad, all done up in the same fabric (which just happens to mostly match our color scheme!)

Now, these are good chairs, and we fell in love with them. We were a bit knocked back by the price for them, used... over 2000 USD for the set of 4. But on thinking about Aeron prices, and sitting in them, and thinking some more, it seemed a good thing to us to get them, so we did (impulsive creatures that we are)...

But imagine our shock when we did some research... If these were new, they would sell for over 2ooo USD each (don't believe me?? check the price list.. page 14) for the soft pad, and over 1400 USD each for the aluminum group (page 7) ...

I like the finer things in life, to be sure but I was knocked back.
Who would pay 2000 USD for a chair? Even an iconic, very cool, very comfortable one. Would you?

Edit: As of 5 May 2016 there is a nifty resource page about Charles and Ray Eames here: Charles and Ray Eames at Artsy

Monday, April 7, 2008

Information wants to be free

Some Pantone Universe products. Pantone Universe is a brand of everyday items featured in Pantone colors.Pantone colored products,
Image from Commons

So what is the nature of a copyright? What can be protected and what cannot? Consider Pantone... The Pantone Matching System is a proprietary color space used for specifying pigments and colors precisely. Pantone holds that the numbers given to particular shades are "intellectual property" and cannot be reproduced without permission.

So if you want to discuss colors using the Pantone scheme, you have to comply with the requirements. There are many examples elsewhere.

Consider chemical compounds. The nomenclature is very confusing, since there is such a great profusion of them, discovered by many many researchers over several centuries in many countries. Not having a standard will impede progress. The Chemical Abstracts Service, part of the ACS, provides standardized compound identification and nomenclature. But the ACS doesn't want Wikipedia using CAS Registry Numbers for licensing reasons as discussed here. The basic argument is that

"SciFinder and STN are provided to researchers under formal license agreements, under which the researchers agree to refrain from using these tools to build databases"

and that Wikipedia is a kind of database.
Chemical Abstracts Service headquarters in Columbus. Self made photo.CAS Headquarters,
Image from Commons

But, and this is a bigger problem here than it is with colors, these numbers are very standard. You'll find them in many contexts in academia and industry and you can't practically escape their use. Since chemical compounds are a sometime matter of life and death (few people have died from getting slightly the wrong shade of pink, but many have died from getting the wrong drug) standardization theoretically is a good thing to avoid confusion.

Wikipedia has a giant disclaimer that it's not to be relied upon, use at your own risk, etc... but people do rely on it anyway. So not being able to use these numbers will be a great hindrance

But there's hope, in this particular case, the ACS appears to be relenting. See the discussion at the WikiProject for Chemistry ... (as well as in the blogosphere) It now appears that the ACS has reversed position and will work with the project to enable accurate use of information.

Maybe it all will work out in the end. But I wonder if there are general principles to be had here. Is it possible to work with organizations that have proprietary, but vital, information and get to a good outcome in most cases? Have you seen this in other fields?