Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Happy Birthday Amnesty International

1986 Faroe postage stamp celebrating AI's 25th anniversary - Painting by Rannvá KunoyImage via WikipediaFreedom comes in many flavors. While the Wikimedia Foundation projects are primarily concerned with free content and free access to knowledge, that freedom goes hand in hand with other sorts. Freedom from oppression, freedom to speak and believe, freedom from injust political imprisonment are in some ways more important (although the entire basket of freedoms go hand in hand) and that's what Amnesty International is most concerned with.

Today is Amnesty International's birthday. Founded in 1961, it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. Happy birthday!

Here's a Wikipedia link. Here's a Britannia link too.

I work hardest on wiki projects but the fight for freedom takes many forms. Let us not forget...

Monday, May 26, 2008

The sophisticated landing system on Phoenix allows the spacecraft to touch down within 10 km (6.2 miles) of the targeted landing area. Thrusters are started when the lander is 570 m (1900 feet) above the surface. The navigation system is capable of detecting and avoiding hazards on the surface of Mars. This rendition of the Phoenix lander was created by artist Corby Waste of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As the Mars program artist, Mr. Waste has created artwork for several Mars missions.Artist's depiction of
Phoenix landing
Image via Wikimedia Commons
The Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars. We watched.

My son said "this is my generation's moon landing..." That may have been hyperbolic on his part but it WAS exciting... and a bit freaky to realise that the "now" was actually "10 minutes ago" due to transmission delay.

That another spacecraft managed to get a picture of Phoenix's parachute during the descent is ragingly cool.

So why did we need a Canadian network to bring it to us? ... seems it was too uncool/geeky for US networks.

Well I'm just glad someone was carrying it.

Did you watch? What did you think?Phoenix (spacecraft)Artist's depiction of
Phoenix on Mars
Image via Wikimedia Common

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cleveland rocks?

Except when it doesn't.

I had a bit of a fright on Thursday trying to get to the CLE airport from my client, who is somewhat to the east of the airport. Seems 480 westbound got stuck somehow and of course I was running late. So I took surface streets, counting on my GPS to steer me right, but in this case, surface was also backed up.

Cleveland, which claims to be where the traffic light was invented, hasn't quite figured out light timing... I would get a green, go the limit, and get ot the next light just after it turned red. This continuned for 10 miles, with more traffic streaming onto the surface road at every cross, until all of a sudden, it was like a cork was let out of something, and it was completely empty roadways for the last 5 miles. It was due to a light that was way too long in the other direction and too short in ours.

Fortunately I had a Mazda CX7 so I was able to out accelerate all the laggards whenever there was a break in traffic.

I just made it, but next week I'm leaving earlier!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

BrickWorld is coming

Some of us in the LEGO fan community have to ration how many fests we go to each year. While I used to go to BrickFest pretty regularly, this year I'm going to attend BrickWorld. This regional fest will be in Chicago, Illinois from June 19 to 22.

The BrickWorld site is at (that's right, a us domain... seems squatters have both the com and org domains already...)

There will be a large train layout on display with multiple clubs participating. I think Jo and I will be the only MichLTC representatives participating in the train display, which will be interesting... the display is being coordinated by Jeramy Spurgeon of IndyLUG and RailBricks fame.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

From the "read the fine print" department

Chrysler NewportIf Chrysler still made this
maybe I'd buy it!
Image via Wikipedia
In case anyone hasn't noticed, we in the US are now paying 4.00 USD or close to it per gallon for our gas... (yes, I know, the one European in my readership has been paying way more than that for years... we get it, we were lucky)

The US auto industry has been hit hard (and that means Michigan has been hit very hard) by this. Automakers are scrambling to compensate for the lost sales.

Seems Chrysler has come up with a gimmick to move some metal languishing on their dealer lots... 2.99 gas! The basic idea is that you buy a new car, they give you a passthrough credit card that you buy gas with, and they don't charge you more than 2.99 for it, up to a certain number of gallons per year, for 3 years.

Seems like a not too shabby gimmick, as far as gimmicks go. Until you read the fine print. This only counts for 87 octane gas. But Chrysler's own owners manuals suggest 89 for most vehicles and there are a few that require 91, no less. Chrysler will subsidise your gas, but only if you buy the kind that violates your warranty. If you want 89, that's 15 cents extra. If you want 91, it's 30 cents extra. Since the markup usually is 10 or 11 cents per grade step, that's a bit less of a deal.

No thanks. I think I'll stick with my 11 year old Stratus a bit longer.

(OK, two car posts in a row, what's up with that?)

Have you seen any silly gimmicks that make you scratch your head lately?

Monday, May 19, 2008


1995-2000 Dodge Stratus photographed in USA.My car is a bit more silver
and has better wheels :) ... ]
but it's rustier too!
Image via Wikipedia
So my 11 year old Stratus (don't laugh, it's paid for and it gets 34 mpg on the highway... keeping a car for 11 years is actually a rather green thing to do compared to buying a new one every 2 or 3) started having electrical problems... first the tach would randomly cut out, then the odometer too.

Took it to the local dealer, Grand Chrysler in Lowell, (who has been very good to us over the years) and they said it was electronics behind the dash... 500 USD to fix. Meh.

I decided I could live with a tach that cuts out, I shift by ear anyway. But last week, enroute to Holland to my client I noticed the idiot battery light on, and random other dash lights too. Fortunately the battery had a good charge, I was able to make it back to the dealer in the afternoon, just barely (by not running anything, it got hot and stuffy in there) on what the battery had in it.

They took another look, and reported... "you have a mouse problem"... apparently something had chewed the ground wire enough to make things erratic. So no circuit board replacement, yaay! When I told my wife we had mice, she laughed and said she had seen chipmunks exiting the hood area of the car several times.

So you darn chipmunks, that's the last time I say you're cute, you almost left me stranded. I'll be putting mothballs in the engine compartment, find somewhere else to stay warm.

Can you top that one? What's the strangest car repair story you've got?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Her first GA, can FA be far behind?

Engraving of Ann Eliza Bleecker, a socialite and noted poet of New York, United States during the 18th centuryAnn Eliza Bleecker,
Image via
Wikimedia Commons

Forgive me for being a bit proud!

Background: While I tend to get involved in the meta aspects of Wikimedia Foundation projects (sometimes perhaps too much so) as well as write articles, my wife has instead concentrated on editing.

She has stated that she has no interest in becoming an administrator at any of the wikis she frequents. Can't say as I blame her, although she would be a good administrator, I am sure.

Except for occasionally voting in support or (rarely) opposition of various candidates, she stays out of the internal political discussions and controversies of Wikipedia (and other wikis), editing is all she does.

And when she edits, she's rather good. (I admit bias, mind you) I consider myself lucky to have a wife who enjoys many of the same hobbies I do (she's a skilled LEGO builder as well). She has built up a solid record of contributions.

She focuses on relatively obscure female historical figures, primarily Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries, who have been underserved by Wikipedia articles. It's not as glamorous as writing about major contemporary figures, and not nearly as easy, the sources can be hard to track down. But she writes good stuff! Her articles usually make "Did You Know" after they are created.

Case in point, her first Good Article (GA), which I used in my Britannica comparison, and then nominated for GA a few days ago. Yesterday it got reviewed, put on hold, and then, in a flurry of cooperative editing by her, Giggy (the reviewer), and myself, (all coordinated on IRC) had all the faults Giggy identified corrected in under 2 hours (maybe not a record, but quite rapid time for an article to come off hold) and was promoted. Here's an excerpt from the lede:

Saratoga campaign, Tomhannock is just north of Albany and south of Saratoga, New YorkSaratoga campaign,
Image via
Wikimedia Commons

Ann Eliza Bleecker (1752November 23, 1783) was an American poet and correspondent. Following a New York upbringing, Bleecker married John James Bleecker, a New Rochelle lawyer, in 1769. He encouraged her writings, and helped her publish a periodical containing her works.

The American Revolution saw John join the New York Militia, while Ann fled with their two daughters. She continued to write, and what remained of the family returned to Tomhannock following Burgoyne's surrender. She was saddened and affected by the deaths of numerous family members over the years, and died in 1783.

Bleecker's pastoral poetry is studied by historians to gain perspective of life on the front lines of the revolution, and her novel Maria Kittle, the first known Captivity narrative,[1] set the form for subsequent Indian Capture novels which saw great popularity after her death.

Bleecker was an important, if somewhat obscure figure in the American Revolution, and Wikipedia now has a good article about her, where previously it had none at all, thanks to the efforts of one editor. Wikisource also has a considerable portion of Bleecker's existing writings, mostly again thanks to my wife.

And she had fun doing the work. That's the idea. When Wikipedia fosters this sort of thing, it works, and works well. Reading about the issues and things that need fixing can leave you with the impression of a complete disaster, but that's not the case. Imperfect, yes? but darn good. Remember that, please. And go write something!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Wikback, RIP?

A Quieter TimeThings are quieter at
Wikback these days
Image from Flickr
One of my earliest postings was about UninvitedCompany's Wikback which is a forum designed to be a place where folk with an interest in Wikipedia and WMF projects could discuss things. (and one that would be run somewhat differently than Wikipedia Review)

At the time, I opined that there might be some inhibitory effects from some of the actions taken and rules in place, and that sparked 11 comments from various folk. I think that may have been my all time high, or pretty close! (Hi to all 3 of you readers still with me!) Some predicted it would fail, while others defended the idea.

Well, two months have went by since then, and it would appear that the activity levels at the Wikback have died down to very low levels. Apparently, in the past 7 days, there have been just 4 active topics, if this list is to be believed.

Not every forum that is started ends up a success. Sometimes it's just random chance as to whether something clicks. But sometimes it's the rules, the people or whatever. Is that the case here?

Could Wikback still spring to lively life? Or is the current activity level likely to be where things stay indefinitely? Or is it over? What do you think?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Couplers revealed

One section of a massive Lego train layout at the National Train Show in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 9 2005.LEGO Trains at NMRA
(one of mine is in the pic!)
Image via Wikimedia Commons
A while back, I posted about the apparent change in the LEGO train coupler design, in which it seemed likely the old style coupler which consisted of a 3 part assembly (buffer, magnet holder, magnet) was going to be replaced with a single piece.

Railbricks, the fan generated LEGO Train online magazine had a piece about it at the time as well. It was discussed on quite a few venues, including LUGNET.

The LEGO Company has announced the new design, via a release to several fan sites, including Railbricks, which has this copy, and it confirms the speculation of fans, it was done for safety reasons.

I think the old design is more flexible, but the reasons given for the change (safety) do seem fairly irrefutable and they have put some thought into interoperability.

It's nice to see that the fans speculating got it right, and nice to see that LEGO announced the change well in advance via fan media. LEGO is getting better at working with fans.

What do you think? Good change or bad? Well publicized or not?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Anatomy of a BLP

The Michigan state seal.Seal of Michigan,
NOT a seal of approval!
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Two days ago, I wrote about the recent Supreme Court case involving the "Defense of Marriage" amendment. I mentioned our Attorney General, Mike Cox. On a whim, I decided to go actually look at the Wikipedia article that my post linked.

What a mess I found!

This article is a textbook definition of an unacceptable Biography of a Living Person (BLP) article. Take a look at this revision. It contains word for word text taken from his biography on the State of Michigan Attorney General site, text which is quite flatteringly written (no doubt lifted from his campaign 2006 site, which although now a bad link, is still linked from the article), and which is copyrighted by the State of Michigan.

To "balance" this it also contains text from an attack site, again lifted in large part without change.

No inline citations, just a lot of text. And the article has a long history of (mostly IP user) edits warring over various aspects of the content. You may want to look at the Wikiscanner results too, they are interesting.

Sorry, you don't write a neutral balanced well sourced article by lifting text from puff and attack sites in about equal measure. That gives undue weight to the wrong things. Two coatracks don't make a good article.

So I stubbed it out. This revision shows what it looks like now. Mike Cox deserves a better article than that, but at least it wasn't the mess it was before.

How many other articles like this one on second rank politicians, midsized company CEOs, B list movie stars and the like are there? Those that say there is no BLP problem miss the point.

What do you think? Any horrors you've seen that really need stubbing?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The 3RR exemption

Egyptian hieroglyphics from the Ptolemaic Temple of Kom Ombo preserve written norms that date from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, a thousand years earlier.Warning, esoteric topic!
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Warning, this is an esoteric topic. Those not steeped in the lore (and lingo) of WP may have no idea what I am talking about :)

The English Wikipedia Biography of Living Persons (BLP) policy includes an exemption to the normal prohibition on edit warring beyond three reverts (3RR) stating that reversion of edits that introduce problematic material (or which interfere with attempts to correct problematic BLP articles in general) are not subject to this rule, that is, reverts can be carried out indefinitely, if it becomes necessary.

Recently, Kim Bruning, who I generally admire strongly, attempted to edit the policy page to remove this exemption. A massive discussion ensued, starting at the section in the link, and going on for many subsequent sections over many screens (and spilling into various other pages as well, including the talk pages of most of the major participants, including myself)

Reading all this is instructive, as it shows that sometimes the Bold Revert Discuss (BRD) model breaks down in the face of trying to modify policy. There were a fair number of bones of contention, among them whether the BLP policy is prescriptive (it is written to be enforced as written, and changes when there is agreement it needs to change) or descriptive (it is written and updated to reflect actual practice, and changes as practice changes). Almost all policy at Wikipedia is descriptive but there are a few exceptions. Another bone of contention was whether there was a problem that needs remediating or not, and how did we measure it.

I am not going to in this post ascribe too much, as I was involved and the discussion got rather heated. It was a rather lame discussion in some respects.

What do you think? Should the 3RR policy have a BLP exemption? If so, is it properly being used/enforced? Was how Kim went at this the proper approach? Or did he mishandle things (it was for the most part him against a fair contingent of folk saying he had things all wrong)? Was my assessment after the fact too harsh?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Be careful what you ask for, you might get it!

no original descriptionRed badge of shame
Image via Wikipedia
The Michigan Supreme Court recently issued a ruling (pdf format) that upholds a fairly rigorous interpretation of the 2004 Michigan constitutional amendment popularly known as the "marriage amendment" which reads:

"To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose."

It seems that the things proponents said at the time about this amendment only banning same sex marriages and NOT affecting things like benefits ... things said to reassure dubious voters (the amendment passed 59 to 41%)... these things are patently false.

The Supreme Court, rather unsurprisingly, by a vote of 5-2, affirmed that "similar union for any purpose", means exactly what it says... state and local governmental units can't take anything into account other than actual marriages when determining benefits eligibility for employees (the specific target of the suit) or anything else. (The opinion makes good reading... some of the twists, such as the AG and the Governor taking opposite sides on the matter, may surprise you)

Fortunately, private employers are not bound by this, at least not yet.

The Attorney General, in a press release commenting that the SC had affirmed the opinion given by the office at the time that this would be the outcome, said "[T]he people of this state could hardly have made their intentions clearer." ... tell that to the voters that got bamboozled by the propaganda at the time.

This is a very unfortunate decision, but it is, as the Grand Rapids Press opines, a correct one on the face of it. We cannot expect the Supreme Court to read our minds and should not expect it to fix mistakes we made. Perhaps now this amendment will be seen for what it is, repression, and will be repealed. Or perhaps that's too much to hope for.

What do you think?

Monday, May 12, 2008

The answer wasn't blowing in the wind

MLCadMLCad, a popular modeler

(fair use claimed)

Image via

I found a nifty gadget, and I have a rather intractable problem to thank.

Many LEGO fans do it virtually, and have since 1995 when James Jessiman released the first software and parts library for LDraw. Since that time the LEGO Community has modeled almost all the parts LEGO has ever developed as part of the LEGO System, and there have been quite a few freeware or shareware tools developed, addressing parts modeling/authoring, model capture and development, rendering, instruction generation, animation and other aspects of virtual LEGO. The parts themselves are licensed under an open license (although getting there has been a bit of a struggle, perhaps a story for another blog post)

The LEGO company was a bit late to the game with their offering, Lego Digital Designer (or LDD), designed to be more kid friendly but widely derided as far harder to use by most serious modelers. It has the very significant advantage of being tied to official parts, and of being tied to the sales apparatus, things designed in it, if designed using a subset, can be bought from the factory.

So anyway... LDraw is great at modeling LEGO elements and constructions. These tend to be rigid or at least solid for the most part, and amorphous elements are rare... While there is a string generator out there, one thing that hasn't been addressed by this community is cloth. String at least is essentially a two dimensional problem, as most strings can be modeled as combinations of shape adhering sections, and catenary or parabolic curves that lie in a plane. But cloth has no such strictures.

Recently, there was a thread about modeling cloth. Don Heyse, long involeved in the LDraw community, was writing about the difficulties of modeling cloth in the LUGNET newsgroup lugnet.cad ... as part of explaining why it was so hard to model cloth he presented this little gadget. It lets you model cloth, and see the effect of wind and gravity on drapings, in real time. I found it quite enjoyable, and educational. Just a nifty little time waster. Hope you like it too!

So that is my serendipity story of the day, I guess.

Got any good serendipity stories?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yes Virginia, there realy is a (hospital in) Kalamazoo

Bronson Methodist Hospital, Kalamazoo. I created thisBronson campus, Kalamazoo
Image via Wikimedia Commons
West Michigan has a bit of a complex about Detroit, and the southeastern part of Michigan in general. There's a perception that "they" get "more than their fair share" of ... well, of everything. More revenue, more media attention, better roads, etc. More of everything, especially if it's provided by government. (There's a reason for that, it has to do with the relative longevity of southeast Michigan legislators in office, among other things).

Going along with that there is also a bit of "we're actually better than them" that goes on. You'll find it to be fairly pervasive, wherever in W MI you go, people will explain why that is... less reliance on the Auto industry, better government, better quality of life, and so forth (despite the fact that we don't have a good road S to Indiana :) )

We had occasion to visit Bronson Methodist Hospital, in Kalamazoo Michigan, this weekend. A fine facility and very competent at what they do. But I was rather amused to find that while we WMers all share a common chip on our shoulder about Detroit et al, that it turns out that Grand Rapids sometimes is the villain in these little set pieces.

See their spring magazine (a pdf). It's just a little puff piece about how generally wonderful the hospital is, and in amongst the other articles is one about a bariatric surgery candidate. Tucked in the copy was this little dig:

Balkema drove to Grand Rapids to meet with doctors to investigate his options and discuss bariatric surgery.

“I wasn’t thrilled with my experience there,” says Balkema.

So that shows that sometimes Detroit isn't the villain. Moral of the story? There isn't one. I just found it funny.

What about you? Do you have any local rivalries in your area that you find amusing?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Evaluating Britannica

Engraving of Ann Eliza Bleecker, a socialite and noted poet of New York, United States during the 18th centuryAnn Eliza Bleecker
via Wikimedia Commons
Some readers may recall that I was granted Encyclopedia Britannica access a while back, I described it here, and gave a possible gotcha (actually two, one relating to edit mechanics, and one relating to content licensing) here.

In the meantime I haven't been using it all that much, partly because it is not as well integrated in with Zemanta as referencing Wikipedia is, and partly because of the gotchas I describe.

On a whim, I decided to do a little test. Ann Eliza Bleecker was a writer and poet of the American Revolutionary era, who became famous after her death for the epistolary novel Maria Kittle, an important advancement of the then burgeoning captivity narrative genre.

"Historians today read Bleecker's stories and letters to gain a vivid perspective of war on the frontier, as recorded by an articulate, but terrified, young mother" (quoting from the Library Company site)

Presumably a fairly important person, right? Wikipedia until recently did not have an article on her at all. Now, Wikipedia does have a good one (I admit bias here, my wife did much of the work, starting from nothing to get the article to where it is now, and I helped a little... she also put up the text of Maria Kittle on Wikisource).

Britannica should have blown the doors off Wikipedia here, by having an article on her as well, right? And should have had it all along, right?

So I searched. (don't know if this link will work for you or not) Turns out, they do not have one.

At all.
Admiral Stephen B. Luce, United States Navy.Stephen Bleecker Luce
Wikimedia Commons

The only American figure named Bleecker I could find in Britannica was Stephen Bleecker Luce, an admiral, editor and founder of the Naval War College. Here's the Britannia link, and here's the Wikipedia link. To my eye, the Wikipedia article is a BIT more comprehensive but they are about the same quality level just judging on appearance.

But no Ann Eliza

So what does that prove? I don't know. It's just a random sample. But I was surprised. I figured I would find a great article in Britannica. I didn't. One or two articles prove nothing, but anecdotally, it does show that at least for this one article (and the other one I wasn't looking for), Wikipedia is at this point, about 6 or so years in, more comprehensive.

What do you think? Fluke? or does this bear out in your observations? If you suggest an article or two to compare, maybe in a future post I'll do another sampling.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ethnic Categories

The original architects of apartheid gathered around a map of a planned township.These are not Wikipedia Editors
deciding how to categorize people
... or are they? Image via Wikipedia
I've been writing about non Wikipedia subjects for a while. That's partly because there are a lot of things on the boil over there that haven't quite come to a clear resolution... and partly because some of those things kind of upset me.

One of those things is the very existence of "ethnic categories" (for those who don't know, the Wikipedia category mechanism lets you put things, such as articles or user pages, or even other categories in categories. For example I'm in the category of Wikipedia administrators open to recall (among others), and my favorite article, SS Christopher Columbus, is in Great Lakes ships, Whaleback ships, Victorian era passenger ships of the United States, 1893 in the United States , and History of Chicago ... whew! go check to see what I mean, I'll wait).

An ethnic category, oddly enough, places a person's article into a category by what ethnicity they are. For example, the article on Barak Obama is included in the category
Afro-Caucasian people among the many other categories it has been placed in. (again, go see, I'll wait)

So what's the harm in that, you ask and why am I upset? Well, because the BLP policy dictates, and good ethical behaviour requires, that editors do no harm. But the very act of categorizing someone is itself harmful. Especially if it is done "by eye". The project has seen editors who add someone to a category based on their appearance... if someone "looks a little bit black and a little bit white" they add them to Afro-Caucasian. We don't work that way, we need sources for things, not just eyeball identification. When challenged about this, some of these editors have resorted to calling those that challenge them, and remove the categories "racist", which is a bit of a stretch.

Further, in a fair number of cases there is little or no relevance to the categorization of someone as something. Consider Sydney Tamiia Poitier for example, you learn nothing from knowing she is in the category Afro-Caucasian, as the article at current does not touch on why it is significant that she is in that category. Yet we had edit wars over that category for some time.

The reader does not gain any understanding about the subject by seeing the category, and their ethnicity had no discernable effect on their career. The policy of undue weight says we should not be adding information to the article that doesn't advance the overall narrative, or that leaves false impressions.

I've been involved in some of these discussions with editors that resist removal of these categories and I find it highly frustrating. I wish the categories didn't exist at all. That's part of wishing we lived in a world where we are all color blind and don't care what a person looks like or where they came from, just what they bring to the marketplace of ideas. But if they must exist I want to see only people who have reliable sources documenting they belong there, and moreover, reliable sources documenting that it somehow matters. That it somehow is relevant to their biography.

So I'm frustrated with that.

What about you? Should we have ethnic categories at all? If we do, what should the criteria for inclusion in them be? Strict? Or not so much?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tulip time!

Sign welcoming visitorsTulips in Holland
Image via Wikipedia
The Holland, Michigan Tuliptime Festival, going on this week, celebrates the Dutch ways that run strong in the west Michigan area, in Holland and Zeeland in particular, but the influence extends to Grand Rapids as well. (Our local grocery chain was started by Fred Meijer, and you can buy a car from Van Andel and Flikkema, or from one of the DeVos family, just to pick a few examples)

Every third business you see, it seems, in Holland or Zeeland, is owned by Van Someoneoranother, and Holland certainly embraces its heritage. The city owns Windmill Island Gardens, which has a (what else?) windmill, iconic of the Netherlands.

De ZwaanDe Zwann Windmill
Image by jschneid via Flickr
From the tourist blurbage at the city's site:

A beautiful oasis within the city of Holland, Windmill Island features a 240 year old working Dutch windmill "De Zwaan" (meaning graceful bird). The windmill towers over 36 acres of manicured gardens, dikes, canals and picnic areas.

And of course, tulips are everywhere in town, especially this time of year. They feature in the flowerbeds, in shop window decorations, as architectural motifs, even in some of the food you can get at the festival.

A big part of the festival are the klompen (wooden shoe) dancers. They are out in force during the festival, performing in parades, in the street cleaning (yes, the festival features street cleaning with brooms and buckets and the whole 9 yards, it is traditional that the Governor of Michigan comes out for it, steps into a pair of shoes, and gets cleaning... our governor Jennifer Granholm missed out this year since she just had surgery, and we had to make do with Miss America instead ) and just roaming around being part of things.
Dutch DancersKlompen Dancers
Image by Mr. Mcgladdery via Flicker

What I found most interesting about them (and darn you, Zemanta, the image at right was the closest I could come to what I wanted to show) was not the shoes themselves (painful as those might be, you can see some here), but that so many of the dancers were girls. Even the boys. The dance itself was apparently traditionally performed by men and women. But it must be that Holland MICHIGAN men are too cool, because a lot of the "boys" dancing (in button vests and cloth caps instead of dresses) are girls, or more properly middle aged soccer moms 51 weeks of the year... and Klompen Dancers for one.

I found it amusing. And maybe telling, that us guys are too cool to dance. Or too cool to dance in uncomfortable wooden shoes.

What about you? (if you're a boy...) Are you too cool to dance? Or just too cool to dance in the streets of a small midwestern town in horribly uncomfortable shoes wearing odd costumes?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The outlook for Vista

Bad Vista activists from BostonI feel like these guys...
Image via Wikipedia
Microsoft recently announced they are sunsetting XP as of 30 June. What is up with that? For quite some time now, people have been complaining about how bad Vista is. Anecdotally, I have to agree. The one machine we have purchased with it, we downgraded back to XP... just as others urged.

The list of things I don't like is long, but tops among them are its insistence on constantly asking me for permission to do mundane things. Oh, and its bloatedness, and unreliability (it managed to get itself reconfigured so we could not talk to the net at all, then eventually tore itself apart), which is not what we wanted in a machine that was for a non technical college student.

This OS isn't ready. It's not just me whining either. No amount of strong arming the manufacturers, threats to kill XP, or spin control can fix that.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Indiana Jones IV

The Lego Indiana Jones MinifigLEGO Indy
Image via Wikipedia
Fair use claimed
I got a chance to see the new LEGO sets for the Indiana Jones IV movie (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull) and I'm psyched. Nice designs, all in all.

LEGO brought out 4 sets earlier this year with scenes from earlier movies:

(links go to Peeron inventory)

Usually when LEGO does a new theme the sets are increasing in price as well as piece count, oddly this time two of the sets have almost the same piece count but one is 20 and the other 30 USD. Fans have been pretty complimentary of these.

When I was in California last week I got to see the new ones on display, all featuring scenes from the new movie:
  • Jungle Duel with 90 pieces
  • River Chase with 234 pieces
  • Jungle Cutter with 511 pieces
  • Temple of Akator with 929 pieces
(no links this time, the inventories aren't done by the fans yet.... but here's a link to the LEGO site's description of the new theme)

Anyway, I'm psyched. Great sets and great play value.

Oh ya, I'm excited about the movie too.

Monday, May 5, 2008

SpaceX, making it easier to get the heck out of Dodge?

The first Falcon 1 at Space Launch Complex—Three West (SLC-3W), Vandenberg Air Force Base.Falcon 1 at launch complex
Image via Wikimedia Commons
When I was growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut. I suspect I wasn't the only person who felt that way. Heck, I even wrote NASA for an application.

In a previous posting, I questioned the value of Constellation and wondered why NASA isn't just farming the job out to SpaceX. That reminded me that I haven't written about one of my favorite new companies yet.

SpaceX, one of several companies started by Elon Musk, of PayPal fame and fortune, is trying to make space travel cheaper. This is a non trivial task, and the first two launches did not achieve orbit, but the company insists they were successful in the sense that they learned and refined a lot.

They have a novel approach to PR, they seem to be willing to put a fair bit of stuff right out in public... in particular they had live feeds of their first two launches, which was pretty cool.

Profiles of Dragon Cargo and Dragon Crew (NASA)Dragon and Falcon 9
Image via Wikipedia
SpaceX has three different projects going... the Falcon 1, and the Falcon 9, two different sized mostly reusable launchers, and the Dragon vehicle, which is a crew and cargo vessel that can be launched atop a Falcon 9.

With the activity at Scaled Composites (including winning the X prize) going on, it really looked like the 2000s were going to be the decade where space travel really went commercial. But both Scaled and SpaceX have suffered some delays. Scaled Composites had a damaging accident and the first launch of the Falcon 9 has been pushed back. They've tried to put a good spin on it, but still.unNASAImage by jurvetson via Flickr
So I'm still hopeful, but maybe not quite as. Maybe it will take a bit longer. Maybe it can't be done at all and we're doomed to government space? I certainly hope not! Is the fact that SpaceX have won some NASA contracts a good sign? A bad one? What do you think?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Free content can make money!

Old Man's WarCover of
Old Man's War
Image via Wikipedia
Readers here (all 6 of you?) know I read John Scalzi's blog. A while back he talked about a new book by Scott Sigler, "Infected" and gave a link to get a free PDF of the book. (That link is no longer valid by the way...)

That's nice of John, to hook his readership up that way... but he himself is no stranger to it. You could say he got his start that way (as, arguably, Cory Doctorow did as well).

So now it comes out that it's possible to get a podcast of Infected if you follow this link.

I suspect that while there will be takers, and lots, it will also drive sales of the book. Why? because I'm sure I'm not the only person who got hooked on Scalzi by reading a free (unless you wanted to donate something, which I did) copy of "Old Man's War", or on Doctorow by reading a free copy of "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom". Although horror isn't my favorite subgenre of SF, the book was good and I plan to keep following the series

What about you? Do you read free books? Do you find yourself buying a copy of the book you got for free? If so, what motivates you?

(Note, I mean free as in beer here, the content is not freely licensed... in particular the image cover is used as a claimed Fair Use for review/discussion purposes)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Is Constellation just a rehash of Apollo?

Artist's conception of the Orion Spacecraft in lunar orbitImage via WikipediaNASA has proposed "Project Constellation", which aims to put men back on the moon by 2020. Part of the project are the "Orion" manned vehicle, launched by the "Ares" (in versions I and V) rocket, and using the "Altair" lunar lander.

Some have evaluated the program and see it as another big expensive project that will compete for funding with science, and also will compete with the Commercial off the shelf (COTS) initiative.

While I've been a big fan of space exploration all my life, I have my doubts about this whole thing.

Except for some semi reuse at the beginning, it sure seems like the entire thing is more or less "Apollo, but bigger and better" ... Aries I and V (which use Shuttle SRB derived first stages) launch a crew module and lander separately, a rendezvous in orbit mates those and the crew module stays in orbit around the moon while the lander lands. The descent stage is left on the moon, just like the LEM.

Why do this at all? We already know how to do this. Instead of developing new government rockets, (and make work projects) why not just pay for launch capacity from SpaceX or whoever? Or better yet, how about actually building some industrial capacity on the lunar surface? I want the transformative activity in near earth space that science fiction promised us. It's 2008, where's my lunar catapult?

What do you think? Rehash or value add?

Friday, May 2, 2008

ArbCom Vacancy

Sculpture of Lady Justice on the Fountain of Justice (Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen) in Frankfurt, Germany.Wherefore "justice"?
(as if!) Image via
Wikimedia Commons
I think the little corner of the blogosphere that I (and presumably, many of my readers) hang out in has discussed the departure of Newyorkbrad from the English Wikipedia project, the events leading up to it, the events surrounding it, and so forth, quite a bit, so I'll skip the background.

But the departure leaves a hole in the English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee. Brad was widely regarded as a very good arbitrator.

So now what. As the picture says, wherefore justice? (recall please that I feel that Wikipedia is not a government or experiment in justice or social systems, and that arbcom is designed to solve things, not dispense justice)

Traditionally, Jimbo does sometimes appoint to fill vacancies.

And speculation about who he might or might not appoint is already running at a fever pitch. Some speculate that the next people in order from the 2007 election, Rebecca and Raul654, are the most likely appointees.

Well, while they might be the most likely, and while they might not be "bad" arbitrators (both have experience), I think a better idea is to make a radical pick, one that shows some new thinking.

So obviously, I'm stumping for Giano. (you saw that coming, right? grin!) He is 3rd on the list when sorted by percentage, but first, when sorted by number of supports received. (and he got a LOT!) My reasons given at the time
are just as valid as ever, in my view.

What do you think? Am I crazy? If so, tell me! Am I spot on? If so, tell Jimbo! :)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fun with statistics

Paying people to hold signs is one of the oldest forms of advertising, as with this Human directional pictured aboveA form of advertising not likely
to be directly seen on WMF!
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Advertising as a funding source for Wikimedia Foundation projects is a fairly controversial topic, and there has been much discussion in the past. Opinions on the matter are held quite strongly by some folk.

Apparently Jimmy Wales ran a poll on advertising via a facility on Facebook that lets you poll things. Some analysis of this poll was carried out and posted on Meta (and, to my chagrin, although I'm active on Meta, I didn't find out about it that way).

The analysis is quite interesting, if only to show what sort of fun can be had with statistics.

FacebookFacebook: Image via Wikipedia
(fair use claimed)
According to Techcrunch, Facebook demographics are somewhat skewed. this is not surprising when you think about it, but I did not realise it was apparently 2/3 female in make up. Lonely male geeks, take note!

So clearly the demographic of these polls is not necessarily representative of the entire population. That's OK and not necessarily a drawback if one is just trying to get some preliminary sense of matters and doesn't plan to use the findings for actual decision making, absent more study.

Personally, I think the thing I found most amusing, and significant, was the large number of people that were not sure what the project's current structure actually is, and were not aware that the project does not currently have ads on it.

This is something to remember... it's true that the english wikipedia is the 7th most visited site on the internet, but it's also true that many people don't know much at all about its project structure or funding sources. Or care, presumably.

What do you think?