Sunday, December 31, 2006


Not about Wikipedia, part V

I've been busy with other things (for some reason, Yvette believes that because she took my birthday off work, I should spend that day and more with her), so I haven't written as much as I'd like for Wikipedia -- and almost nothing on this blog. And I'm aware that many people read this blog primarily for updates on my health: which I appreciate, but surprises me, because my intention was to write about contirubting to Wikipedia.

So here's what happened when I visited the specialist.

Thursday I stopped at the hospital where I picked up my X-rays and the MRI images. I was surprised to see that it was all stored on a single CD; I later learned that film hasn't been used to make X-rays in perhaps as many as ten years. Yvette and I put the CD in her computer, using the included program to view the images; I had expected them to be a series of jpeg or tiff format files, but they were stored in some format I had never seen, which included features that not only allowed the user to cary the size of the image, but to cycle thru the individual images, moving the cross section of the MRI back and forth.

I went in Friday, expecting to be strapped down to a table and a long needle like an ice pick drilled thru the muscles of my arm into the bone, then spending a long weekend waiting for the result. Instead, this was a preliminary consultation. Yvette and I arrived for the appointment at OHSU on time, waited an hour, then was brought to the exam room where I answered questions. (Yvette had to help her start the program on the CD to bring up the diagnostic images.) A few minutes later, the specialist entered the room with an associate and they studied the images, and discussed them with us. Then explained that he wanted to let his radiology technician (whom he described as his "best person", but not as a technologist) examine the information and offer his opinion. However, this technician did not work Fridays, so it would not be until late next week when I would learn even if a biopsy would be done. After I asked a few more questions, my visit to OHSU was over for the day.

Let me state that this visit was not a waste of time for me. I learned that the lesion was not outside the bone (and thus clearly was not a cyst), but also that the outcome of my condition might not be as seriouis as I had worred about. The possible treatments he mentioned ranged from operating on the bone -- to doing nothing. That means I don't have to worry about losing my right arm -- or my life.

It may not sound like much, but at least now I can eliminate the two outcomes I had most dreaded. That I might die from this, that thing alone, was never not one of them; I'm not afraid of dying because we all die eventually, and sometimes it may be easier to die than to confront the complexity of our lives. My anxiety were about two other, perhaps less important things. One was the intense pain that accompanies this: I'll admit it -- I'm a coward when it comes to pain. The other was that either of these two outcomes could keep me from doing a number of things: raise children and watch them grow to become adults; to be with Yvette; or even to write. I may be embarassing myself by writing this, but the possiblity that I could find it difficult to type competently with only my left hand has led me to wonder sometimes if death might not be the better outcome.



Friday, December 29, 2006


Another Wikipedia milestone

Daveydweeb scoops me again: "Wikipedia passes one hundred million edits".

And to answer his question: if it took us 6 years to reach the first hundred million, I'd bet on 3 years to reach the second hundred million.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Some user feedback

Finished about 12 more articles on the woredas of Ethiopia and put them up on Wikipedia. Now only the woredas of seven more Zones in the Oromia Region -- about 80 in number. What makes this last leg of this project so slow is integrating the information from the Oromia Regional government website.

Yvette and I went down to Salem to have dinner with my sister and her daughters. At the end of the visit I mentioned to her youngest, who will be 15 in a few days, that I had been contributing for four years to Wikipedia -- something that she found cool. Then again, this may not be a typical teenager reaction, seeing how she's not a typical teenager. She's big into Star Wars, and even had her own light saber -- an impressive artifact that she bought on the Internet for US$ 120.

Perhaps a little more typical is the reaction of her sister's boyfriend. He didn't know of my relationship to Wikipedia at the time, but commented that Wikipedia can be pretty useful -- "unless you encounter an article that was written by someone who thinks he knows everything." I have a pretty good idea of the type of person he means, having encountered a few who have exhibited that trait in the course of making my contributions. I only hope I'm not another of that type, although I sincerely believe that I do know a great deal about certain subjects I've contributed to.


Thursday, December 21, 2006


Thinking about the last Internet Revolution

I finished watching (I got a free copy through a source I've promised not to reveal), and it captures much of the flavor of that era.

I'll admit that the documentary has its flaws: it focuses too much on getting venture capital financing, on the relationship of two twenty-somethings at the top, and never reveals just why the company failed -- although there are hints, if you read between the frames. (I was amazed that they tried to offer services to local governments, yet failed to show they had any strong contacts in that area. Kaleil at one point spends more time being an Internet expert than paying attention to his company. And then there is the brief allusion -- you have to be alert to catch it -- that the website depended heavily on using Microsoft Windows; label me a UNIX bigot, but I consider running an enterprise application on Windows the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.) And yet this movie captures one essential feeling that comes with every failed startup: that had we paid just a little more attention, known just a little bit more, we could have made it work. I've had a couple of jobs in startups, down in the trenches, where the employees always felt that they were out of the loop, and wished that we could have been watching what the people at the top were doing. This documentary shows that even if we knew what our boses knew, we wouldn't be any better off. Unless knowing when to start looking for a new job is a good thing.

If you've been in one of these startups, you know this surprise and the need afterwards to cry, "But if I had paid more attention ..." Sheesh, if you are devoting every waking minute to a company, yet it still fails, doesn't that suggest that the original business plan was flawed to begin with? Given any number of bright and energetic people, you can make a business idea work for a little while, just as with enough thrust any pig can fly. Accepting that you failed doesn't mean you accept that most things aren't doable: it just means that you are learning, and that you won't make the same mistake twice.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Different kinds of feedback

I saw the articles in the latest Time magazine, about how users create content on the Internet. Despite all of the praise for volunteers like yours truly, the features didn't reach me. I felt my contributions were overlooked -- but then so did probably several million other people, who have been busy creating new things on the Internet.

Today I received in the mail a Christmas Card from my cousin Janice, who lives in California. She wrote a note inside, part of which read:

I refer to Wikipedia to build some of my lessons for my 22 4th graders. It is very helpful. A few months ago I read about themen who helped set up our US government. Even thought they weren't given the title of President, their contributions are noteworthy. Good luck with your contributions to Wikipedia, Geoff!

Even though I contributed little if anything to those articles, I found her handwritten words more meaningful than those printed in Time. Some kinds of feedback are better in a interactive environment than others.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Another link worth checking out

Kathy Sierra posted her first post in a series on building user communities a couple of weeks ago, but I still found it worth reading. (I shouldn't be surprised: good insights don't age that fast.)

I wonder when the rest of her related posts will appear.



I guess I was wrong about about Warren Buffet

Reading Steve Duin's Tuesday column made me reconsider my opinion of Warren Buffet and his famously profitable MidAmerican subsidiary. Because The Oregonian website tends to remove material more than 90 days old, I'll quote some of the key passages from Duin's column:

A little paranoia is understandable. MidAmerican wasted no time unleashing the famous "Starbucks memo" -- brusquely informing employees to forgo the leisurely morning latte runs -- and there's been a significant purge of corporate staff under the new ownership. Some in the first cut were PacifiCorp's best volunteers.

What I've been told is that middle managers are making it clear there's so much work to be done that employees can't afford to leave their desks, even if it's to serve lunch to a diabetic senior on that infamous "LC" route. What I'm hearing is that MidAmerican celebrates volunteer activities . . . as long as they're done on personal time.

Most people work to live: they intend to work their 40, sometimes as many as 50, hours then go home where their lives are. This is not to say that all of these workers have no interest in doing the best work that they can for their employer: an intelligent and reasonably paid worker will do this, out of personal pride and knowledge that the company has to survive for them to have a job tomorrow. It's just that some of us have other important things to do that benefit society, like contribute to Wikipedia.

An employer needs to remember that people want lives, and that people need incentives to consider their workplace part of their lives, and not only a means to support it. That what they are doing is part of a career, not simply a job anyone can do. Telling employees that "there's so much work to be done that employees can't afford to leave their desks, even if it's to serve lunch to a diabetic senior", MidAmerican is telling its people that their lives start after quitting time -- they are serfs, not professionals.

I'm a little surprised that someone who thinks this message works is also smart enough to be a billionare -- but then I'm not rich, so maybe I'm the one who's not smart.


Sunday, December 17, 2006


Someone else already understands

For a few months, I've wrestled with just how to explain to outsiders how to work with Wikipedia. Not so much about what to say, but how: how to explain the culture of this project in words that make sense. And now I find that I have been beaten to the punch.

I stumbled across Citizen Agency, and found that a lot of what I could explain to anyone who saw Wikipedia as a business opportunity they had already written. If you follow their statement of ethics -- specificly numbers 3,4 and 5 -- you can't go wrong participating in Wikipedia.

There are only two more things I could add to what the people behind Citizen Agency wrote:

1. Make your information Wikipedia-friendly. Offer materials like images, sound bites, written materials under licenses that are compatible with the Creative commons or Gnu Public Licenses. That does not mean, if you are a film maker or a musician, that you have to release all of your work under these licenses. (Although that would be nice.) It means that if you release promotional materials like publicity stills or head shots, release them under one of those two licenses. And you should do this anyway: the easier it is to distribute (or redistribute) your writings, the more people you will reach.

2. Remember, sometimes Wikipedia is not the best way to spread the word about yourself or what you have to offer to other people. If you want to get your company website noticed, for example, I would recommend Aboutus as a better alternate: a businessperson can can build an audience there far more easily than arguing over notability with skeptical Wikipedians.


Friday, December 15, 2006


A brief caveat

If given the choice between blogging or working on Wikipedia articles, I'll always choose Wikipedia.

So far, all I've done is add a note about the severe windstorm that struck oregon & Washington last night. And no one has noticed that I have gotten the dates wrong. I blame my mistake on the default setting for time on Wikipedia -- UTC -- so I put this under yesterday's date.

Maybe no one in Seattle has electricity, so they can't get online and see my mistake and fix it.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Wikipedian-in-residence, a proposal

(Warning: long post, but no hyperlinks were harmed in its creation.)

For many years, a "Artist in residence" or "Writer in residence" position has been used as a means to provide financial support to creative types. These positions last anywhere from a few months to a lifetime, and the financial support ranges from the obviously minimal (for example, a desk and a phone, or studio space) to providing access to necessary resources (studio space is one example, but the equipment that a printmaker needs to practice her/his art can be prohibitively expensive) to something close to a living wage.

At the same time, dedicated Wikipedians find that it's difficult to balance the need to make a living with the demands of contributing to Wikipedia. Further, access to the resources we need to make useful improvements to Wikipedia can be expensive: my alma mater's library offers an alumni card (I'm allowed to check out five books at a time), but they raised the cost from $25.00 to $50.00 a year; and there is the cost of internet access -- in effect we are paying someone to contribute to Wikipedia. These needs leads me to wonder: why shouldn't we create a "Wikipedian-in-residence" program, and at least receive some form of subsidy for our work?

I have though long about this (admittedly with the goal of understanding out how I could pitch this to my university's library and avoid that $50.00 charge, and perhaps even gain access to their database of periodicals in electronic format), and have developed a plan that lists the groups involved and the problems that need to be handled.

First, the Wikimedia Foundation would need to be involved because they own the Wikipedia trademark and have an interest in its use: the reputation of anyone who called himself a "Wikipedian-in-residence" would reflect on the reputation of the entire project. They would need to establish the basic guidelines of this project, which include qualifications, and administration. Let me address the problem of administration first: I don't think that the Foundation itself should administer the program itself, it should be one of the local or national chapters. However, there are several nations -- most promently the United States -- which does not yet have a national chapter. This lack of infrastructure means either the Foundation determines the minimal qualifications and administration needed to create or obtain a "Wikipedian-in-residence" when there is no national chapter, or that these positions cannot exist without the existence of a national chapter. (This may be just the prod to get a US chapter created.)

As for the qualifications that a participant must meet, while I could throw out my own specific suggestions, I'd rather point out that any qualifications would embrace one of two approaches. One could be described as the "minimal" or "inclusive" approach: set a specific quantity of edits, a minimum of time as an active member, or other qualifications (perhaps having contributed to one or more Featured Articles) that any serious contributor can reach. The other approach could be described as the "maximal" or "excellence" approach: set standards that only Wikipedians who are the best active members can meet. Either approach has its benefits. The first set of standards would reach out to a large number of Wikipedians, and if combined with a requirement that the "Wikipedian-in-residence" make a reasonable effort to remain active for a period time after this position expired it would help fight the obvious brain-drain Wikipedia suffers from valuable contributors leaving. (This is a real problem on the English Wikipedia that has often discussed on various talk pages.) The Foundation may want to settle on this defintion, while allowing the local chapters to add requirements that would make their "Wikipedian-in-residence" programs more like the second approach. The second set of standards would be limited to a select few, and would benefit the Wikimedia Foundation by offering proof of the project's excellence.

Next item to consider is how this program (or programs) would be administered. At the very least, someone needs to keep track of which Wikipedians are resident in which organizations, and provide a minimal check on its potential abuses -- either by individuals or organizations. As I said above, ideally this should be the job of the local chapters, who have the knowledge and interest in local practices and laws. But if the Foundation permits a "Wikipedian-in-residence" program to be set up in countries where there is no local chapter, then they need to also establish guidelines for which Wikipedians could qualify, and how a motivated Wikipedian or benefactor could create a program for himself or another person -- and also the contractual understanding between the Wikipedian and his benefactor organization. The idea is to allow a Wikipedian to make the same kind and quality of contributions in this program that she or he would without it, only more: there would be no conflict of interests or coersion on the Wikipedian.

That last point is an important one. Even if only non-profits could participate in this program, there are enough political think tanks and industry marketing groups that would otherwise qualify to belong -- and the potential of abuse should be apparent. Yet I believe should not be a problem. There are enough active Wikipedians with a variety of points of view that (let's say) any industry group should be able to find a veteran editor who agrees with their goals. Being paid to edit Wikipedia in the manner one would edit otherwise should also not be a problem: many kinds of professionals (teachers, librarians, doctors) are paid for their work, and do so without violating commonly accepted ethical standards. Where this has become a problem on Wikipedia is when someone who does not understand the Wikipedia culture tries to advocate for a particular point of view, they far too often violate the community norms and expectations, and these people have managed to poison the well for those who want to advocate for their employer -- but in a way that benefits Wikipedia.

I can't help but believe the primary reason any organization would want to have a Wikipedian-in-residence program: to learn how Wikipedia works, and how they should work with it. (The prestige of being associated with Wikipedia is just not benefit enough.) While we proudly proclaim on our entry page that Wikipedia is "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit", some kinds of edits are more readily accepted than others -- and a Wikipedian-in-residence should make it her or his priority to explain why this is to another group of potential Wikipedians.



Tuesday, December 12, 2006


ArbCom elections, part II

Cast two votes today, hope to cast a few more soon. As I said in my earlier post, I'm not voting for every candidate I think is qualified, just for those where I think my vote might help get someone into the group from which Jimbo will make the final selection. And I'm not casting any votes against anyone because in theory I don't want to be divisive -- but in fact anyone I would consider voting against already is way out of contention.

Worked on a couple of existing woreda articles, adding resettlement information. I haven't made much progress on the articles still on my hard drive. Those are roughly 70 in number, and maybe one or two might be worth submiting to "Did you know" (better known on Wikipedia as DYK).

I wish I was more motivated today. I have ideas for 2 or 3 essays for the blog that I'd like to add.


Monday, December 11, 2006


Not about Wikipedia, part IV

After discussions with the involved individuals (I'm not quite sure whether they are nurses or administrative assistants -- or just underpaid and overstressed clerks), my bone biopsy won't take place until 29 December. This will take place at OHSU, which I guess is the best medical facility in Oregon. And I'll have to hand-deliver the X-Rays when I show up for the exam.

So everyone reading my blog will be spared further self-indulgent details about this for a few more weeks. I hope my comments on Wikipedia will prove better reading. (No sarcasm intended, just a self-indulgent wish about significance.)



Sunday, December 10, 2006


Remembering Wayne

I was reminded this morning of Wayne Whitney, a person who once posted to alt.religion.scientology during the time I was a regular there. In those days when Usenet was far more popular than it is now, that medium was a place of flame wars, of people more interested in showing off their knowledge and debating skills -- & in some ways, alt.religion.scientology was the roughest battlefield of Usenet. Wayne clearly did not fit the profile of a verbal combatant: he wrote simply of his weekly pickets of the local Scientology offices in an unpretentious style.

Then one day, he apologetically posted about the death of his cat Gooby. There was a response of support and warmth, but none of us knew at the time that Wayne also had a fatal illness, one that forced him to cease his postings a few months later, then took his life. It was then that we learned that alt.religion.scientology was a major part of his support network. And yet, thinking back to that time, I feel that I had such a marginal effect on him, and wish that I had done more.

The Internet can be an unwelcoming place. And with its inherent competition and conflict, Wikipedia can be an unfriendly place. Many people come to Wikipedia to show off their knowledge, or to promote their beliefs; some manage to do it in ways that actually improve the content of Wikipedia, and despite their original intentions become valuable members of the community. But all the same, it is easy to simply make edits and never interact with the rest of the contributors. Or to actively act with hostility in order to promote one's opinion in every dispute. Doing either means that one misses out on the rewards of contact with people who share a love for learning and knowledge.

That Wikipedia can be an unfriendly place leads some contributors to adopting self-defeating or bizarre strategies. Wikipedia is simply a place where people interact; and some people behave in a more friendly manner more often than others.


Friday, December 08, 2006


Why you should never edit your biography on Wikipedia

Daveydweeb recounts how yet another ideologue insists on removing embarassing material in her Wikipedia article.

On one level, I agree with Judith Reisman. I wouldn't object if Bill Gates corrected something like a typo or a date in his Wikipedia biography, and it's been known to happen that an article on Wikipedia has incorrect information. (No, it doesn't link to that article -- but you can find that article from the link.)

But on a more important level, stunts like hers have poisoned the well for everyone else. If you're frustrated over the rule that people can't edit their Wikipedia biography, take it out on Reisman and her kind. We Wikipedians would rather spend our time on the project.



The Stranger: a novel of depression

A couple of months back I re-read Camus' The Stranger, the first time since college. I started because I heard president Bush Jr. had read it, but I finished it because I had seen something in this book I have never heard discussed: the presence of clinical depression in this novel.

Perhaps no one has seen it due to the scafolding of Existenitalism that usually is erected around this work. (Re-reading the novel, I found it hard to find any sign of Existentialism in it; it appeared to me to be a case of a meaning read into the work, much like a Christian message in Shakespeare's King Lear.) Yet from the opening page, its presence leaps out to any reader who has struggled with this disability: the flat affect, the hyperawareness of things around him, the growing boredom with the inactivity this condition imposes on the subject -- which far too often leads to an impulsive choice that, in the end, is harmful. A depressed person would not only more likely notice such things as Mersault's neighbor with the dog and the robotic woman at the restaurant. The first would only confirm the feeling that all relationships are ineffective and useless, while the second confirms the sense that we humans are burdened by our awareness and that we would not only be happier but more free if we could retreat from our humanity. If Mersault had believed that relationships have meaning, would he have so readily accepted the friendship of a shady character like Raymond?

The final scene, where Mersault is confronted by an incompetent priest who demands that he ask God for forgiveness, repeats those two common perceptions of a depressed mind. At this point what Mersault needs is not a banal evangelical speech, but someone to break through to him and explain his mental state. Then again, had someone communicated this information to Mersault far earlier in the book, it would have prevented its fatal outcomes. As the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates first observed, even the diagnosis of an illness alone can help the patient, for knowledge of the illness's course gives some control to the patient of what will happen to her or him.

Then again, perhaps the example of undiagnosed clinical depression is an example of Bad Faith: is it not the responsibility of a person to realize that something is wrong with him, and to understand its nature? Many mental illnesses, especially those which are not severe, remain undiagnosed due to willful denial, either by the individual who has the illness or by the people around him. Even in those days, before depression was recognized as a valid medical condition, it was known that the death of a parent would lead to a sadness that impared the child's abilities. And that we all express our sadness in our own, individual ways.


Thursday, December 07, 2006


Not about Wikipedia, part III

My doctor doesn't work on Fridays, and the preliminary report failed to reach him before the end of business today. I doubt I'll hear about what the MRI found before Monday.

They say bad news travels quickly, but good news takes its time. I hope that's true in this case.

Update: I posted too quickly. The doctor called me an hour or two later, the MRI was inconclusive. Although he said that this is not necessarily a bad thing, he also talked about benign and malign tumors; I didn't know what to say, so I just listened. So now I look forward to experiencing my first bone biopsy.



Wednesday, December 06, 2006


ArbCom elections

This December is the fourth Arbitration Committee (more commonly referred to as the ArbCom) election I've participated in. By "participate" I mean as a Wikipedian casting a vote; I've never run for a seat, and I don't see any reason that I should. Being a successful member of the ArbCom requires a certain kind of person, and I'm not that kind of person.

And being a member of the ArbCom is not the measure of importance that some Wikipedians assign to it. Much of this misperception is due to the lack of a formal body of Wikipedians who manage the project. Yes, what Jimbo Wales says goes, but his power over the project -- since he resigned his position -- is very much one of prestige as the founder, and the very real fact that most Wikipedians accept his decisions as a means to end disputes so we can return to working on the encyclopedia. But the very real truth is that processes and decisions is made mostly by discussion and gathering consensus -- a process that for a great many people is hard to believe. (Sometimes I don't believe this.)

Another reason for this misperception is that some disgruntled fringe members think that if they could possibly stuff the ArbCom with enough of their friends and allies, that they could successfully push their own view of the world into Wikipedia. There are enough Wikipedians with common sense who can see through this partisanship, and these candidates have failed -- so far.

The ArbCom is, in simple terms, a panel of jurors selected in part by popular election, and partly by Jimbo's own choosing. It does not set or create policy, except in a very limited and minor way that it is incidental to its primary purpose. That purpose is to bring an end to chronic and otherwise irresolvable disputes that can not be solved in any other way. In bringing an end to these disputes, sometimes they express or confirm opinions that afterwards enter the ongoing discussions that actually will create those processes and guidelines Wikipedia follows.

The Wikipedia dispute resolution page makes this clear: it describes the ArbCom as the "last resort" in that process. As a result, anyone who seriously wants to be considered, needs to prove that they understand how to resolve disputes on Wikipedia. While being an Administrator is a useful responsibility to have, I don't think it is necessary. As long as a person has both been on Wikipedia for a long enough time, and has made enough edits on Wikipedia enough times to experience how it works (3 months and 1,000 edits is my rule of thumb), they meet the minimum qualifications; after passing these standards, one thing any potential ArbCom member needs is to show sufficient common sense. I can think of a few people who have respectfully declined becoming an Admin who have demonstrated to me sufficient common sense that I would seriously consider voting for them.

The other critereon is that the candidate is willing to devote the time to this job, and willing to serve the entire term. We've had too many people find that serving on the ArbCom has become too unpleasant of a chore, and quit after several months, and this is one reason why Jimbo makes the final selection.

So after all of this navel-gazing, who am I voting for? I'll be honest: I haven't made my decision.I'm a little miffed that JzG has already dropped out, because he was one candidate I was considering, but beyond him I haven't picked any names. A few are running for what appear to be partisan reasons, but they seem to be failing -- which is a good thing, because I think at least one is far more valuable to the project as an editor, not sifting through accusations and counter-accusations for hours just to determine who was the bad guy in a given incident. One thing I want to emphasize is that I won't be voting for every candidate who I think is qualified: some I would likely vote for -- like Paul August, Kirill Lokshin, and UninvitedCompany -- I may not vote for because they look as if they will win the election without my vote. (Not to say I'm not going to vote them; like I wrote above, I still have made up my mind.) One other thing I want to emphasize is that I'm more likely to vote for a candidate who looks like she or he is not polling well, because I want some people on the ArbCom who might not make the cut because they aren't well-enough known.

And then there is the curious candidacy of Kelly Martin. This woman left the English Wikipedia back in September after a number of accusations, claiming that she will never return. However, anyone who reads her blog will see that she still thinks about Wikipedia, and obviously wants to make it succeed. (Her comments about the requirements and process to become an Admin is identical to what I believe.) What I don't understand is why, as one of her first acts after returning, she should run for a seat on the ArbCom. There are plenty of good people to vote for, and she should know that there is no special status associated with being an ArbCom member. There is so much more to be done to improve Wikipedia than to decide ArbCom cases.



Not about Wikipedia, part II

Arrived at the hospital at 7:45 this morning. Yvette was concerned, so she drove me there, and waited while they ran me through the MRI machine.

The high-tech examination was itself fairly uneventful. First I had to swap my pants for a pair of pyjama bottoms (the metal in the zipper might have a bad interaction with the magnetic imagining hardware). Then I was inserted head-first into the device as far as my knees, and had to remain perfectly still while the machine made semi-rhythmic squeals and percussions. The noise
reminded me of a Steve Reich composition with the occasional change in tone; I perceived that the sounds mostly followed 4/4 time -- except for one image when it followed 7/8 time.

Then Yvette drove me home. The technologist (not a technician, but she wasn't clear how those titles differed) told me that my doctor would have the results in a couple of days.



Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Not about Wikipedia

For a few weeks, I had this dull pain in my right arm, near the shoulder. The pain comes and goes, and it makes it hard for me to fall asleep at night. Because I've abused the tendons in my wrist and lower arm, I've just taken Ibuprofen and put off seeing the doctor. I was worried that it might seem as if I was whining about something unimportant.

I finally saw the doctor yesterday, and he sent me to have the arm and shoulder X-Rayed. Based on what he saw, I have an MRI scheduled early tomorrow for that arm. Now I wish that I had just been whining about something unimportant.


Monday, December 04, 2006


Another Wikipedia link

The Wisconsin State Journal published an article (datelined today), "Reliable sources?". This article starts out posing the usual question, "Is the information Wikipedia reliable?" then covers a lot of ground that has been covered before -- yet offers one insight I haven't seen in print before:

Meanwhile, [Greg] Downey [associate professor of journalism and library and information studies at UW-Madison] said Wikipedia users also get the chance to see collaboration in action.

"Often I'll tell my students the thing about Wikipedia that's fascinating is watching the battles, watching the arguments," Downey said. "It's that transparency of seeing 3 people or 10 people or 100 people arguing about what's important to say about this topic."

Not that I haven't heard this mentioned before: one participant at the first Seattle WikiMeetup shared that a friend of his enjoys reading these interactions on the Talk pages (and other meta pages) to see how people talk their way towards a consensus on a topic; in other words, how NPOV is achieved.

Still, as important as these discussions are, that's something that easy to forget when on is caught in Yet Another Raging Debate.



Sunday, December 03, 2006


Wikipedia and notability

Typically in any online discussion of Wikipedia, I've seen the following two complaints come up:

In response to the first point, I doubt you'll find any Wikipedian who would argue that there are no mistakes in Wikipedia. All non-fiction works have mistakes, but the more credible the author, the more promptly she or he will concede this fact. (I guess that's why experts rate Wikipedia articles higher in accuracy than nonexperts.) That being said, I've found a surprising correlation between the volume of the person claiming that "Wikipedia is inaccurate" and the likelihood that this person attempted to add suspect information. I'll leave it at that.

In response to the second point, too many people think that Wikipedia is an indescriminate dumping-ground of all information, a point raised by this
Washington Post article"
. (And my thanks to Tim Stahmer, who links to this article in his blog mentioned below.) This view is due partially to a tendentious interpretation of something Jimbo Wales once said, with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm, that the goal of Wikipedia was to contain "the sum of all human knowledge". Accordingly, they repeat this whenever someone points out that their contribution does not meet Wikipedia's foreeeable needs, nevermind any objections.

(A free bit of advice: if you find your contribution on the chopping block and can come up with any other argument to defend your contribution, use it and don't mention this quotation. This utterance has been quoted so many times by people with no other justification for their contributions that alluding to this quotation proves there is no good reason to keep the material.)

Quite simply, some material is not notable. That is to say, there is no conceivable reason that anyone would want to read an article on that subject, except for a small group who have other reasons to find it there (i.e., vanity). This does not mean that a topic that is not important is not notable. For example, the command "ls" is not the most important command available in the UNIX toolbox; yet it has an interesting history, which predates the creation of UNIX, and it is conceivable that someone -- for example, a new computer user -- may need to read part of all of an article on this command.

In his post "The Myth and Reality of Wikipedia", Stahmer notes another good reason for this requirement: "this minimal level of quality control offers more confidence when discussing the use of Wikipedia with teachers and librarians." He concludes, "Basic standards for inclusion, combined with the ability of the general community to review and correct the information, makes Wikipedia an even more valuable learning tool."

Maybe it's not sublime wisdom, but Stahmer shows more common sense per 100 words in his post than in the Slashdot discussion about the Post article.


Saturday, December 02, 2006


Wikipedia Commons passes milestone

Just saw this over on Fuzheado's blog: Wikimedia commons now has one million media files. He links to Daveydweeb's own post announcing this milestone, something I should have caught at the time. However, I didn't even know his blog existed -- my loss, when you consider his insightfulness in discussing a subject like Sam Vaknin's disingenuous attack on Wikipedia. So, with an apology for having overlooked this blog, I'm adding a link to him in the left column.

As you might suspect, not too many people blog about Wikipedia -- or maybe I'm not working hard enough to find them. Perhaps it's the latter, and I defend my lack of drive to the fact many people who express an opinion about Wikipedia loudly are disgruntled ex-editors with an axe to grind. My first exhibit are two websites with "Wikipedia" in their domain names, who rant about Wikipedia like two unhappy but uninformed computer users ranting about Microsoft: yes, both Wikipedia and Microsoft have their flaws (I like to think Microsoft has more than Wikipedia), but anything they say only serves to show their dissatisfaction and their ignorance. Their rants grow predictable, repetative, and eventually boring. (I don't link to them here because they don't have anything to say; a Google search will be enough to lead the curious to them.)

I guess I need to remember that sometimes one simply has to persevere through the storm of criticism, no matter how distasteful or unpleasant it is. Otherwise one misses out on the rewards that often await on the other side.


Friday, December 01, 2006


Barcamp Portland

I should have posted about this the moment I got home, but Yvette wanted to play another round of Carcassonne, about the only thing I've found that is more powerful than Wikipediholism.

Last night was the November BarCamp Portland meeting, hosted at the Jive Software offices. Can "retro" be used to refer to a lifestyle not more than 10 years old? If so, the Jive offices were late-1990's retro, set to the height of the dot-com boom: a bicycle rack just off the lobby, high-end cubicles with the expensive chairs, & a lunchroom with a refrigerator full of soft drinks and a bar in the middle of the room with a beer tap. (The beer was microbrew, of course.)

I was once part of this; it only feels like a lifetime ago. Then again, a lot of people who've struggled under the preseidency of George W. Bush's misrule probably feel that the late nineties were a lifetime ago.

The meeting was supposed to run from 6:00pm to 9:00, but it wasn't until a few minutes before 9:00 that Dawn and Raven realized that the agenda for this monthly meeting -- to plan the Portland Barcamp -- had yet to be discussed. The rest of us there -- it felt like about 20 people -- had been busy swapping stories and business cards. I don't know about anyone else at this meeting, but for me chances to simply talk shop with other people who are part of the techie world yet aren't hardcore, "if you haven't coded 30 hours straight you're a poseur" techie are few and far between. I won't drop names, but I was left with two impressions:

This last point relates to the Wikipedia community on the grassroots level. For the first few years I contributed to Wikipedia, I didn't know any other Wikipedians in the Portland area; I had to go to the first Seattle Wikimeetup to meet one, who shortly afterwards moved away. About a year later I met GTBacchus, but within the year he moved to Seattle. (I'm not sure if that indicates something.) Only in the last year have I started to make an effort to connect with my fellow, local Wikipedians, and I'm honestly surprised at how many there are here.

As for the business part of the meeting? It ran for an hour. The consensus at the end was that we had two items to work on:



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