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Monday, August 7

Monday the conference started to wrap up, and the journalism unconference began to unfold. They only took up one first-floor room, but they managed almost 100 people and a great deal of discussion afterwards.

Meanwhile, Wikimaniacs were gathering and lounging about under the portico outside the Harkness Commons, talking much of the day through. By evening, many day-trips had been completed, and all broke for low-key dinners and trips to the airport. As the dorms cleared out, there was still a hint of Wikimania in the air, with shirts floating down the street, and people saying "oh, were you at that Wiki conference? I heard about that..."

Sunday, August 6

Dror Kamir, embedded reporter

The international and optimistic atmosphere of last evening's party at the MIT Museum ended as I landed on the hard terrain of Hebrew Wikipedia this morning. I check the recent changes there regularly, but I find it a bit hard to respond or edit, since I cannot type in Hebrew. Today I read another of those Village Pomp's discussion (Miznon in Hebrew), in which one of the Wikipedians cries: "We are not good enough, let us kill ourself before we get humiliated in public". Well, let's get things straight:

  1. We are not good enough.
  2. We are good.
  3. There is nothing too bad of being humiliated if it happens in the course of doing good.
  4. Killing ourself (i.e. stranding the Hebrew Wikipedia) is not an option.

This is not what you would call in Hebrew "motivation talk" (sikhat motivatsya), i.e. the kind of talk a general gives to his soldiers before sending them to battle. This is really the case. Wikipedia is something different. It is a different concept of exchanging knowledge and knowledge distribution, and we'd better start thinking differently, because it just might be considerably better than what we have had so far.

It is really not my nature to preach, quite the contrary - I tend to be overcritical, but one thing I cannot stand - it is people whose thinking is so rigid, that they wouldn't recognize a basket of goodies had it been served to them in a plastic bag.

I see those repeated complaints about not having enough contributors from academic staffs, and complaints about having too many articles describing soap opera stars, and all this is actually beside the point. People can decide to read and write only materials which comply with academic standards, people can decide to read only about important issues, but they cannot expect Wikipedia to conform with these criteria. Had it been the case, Wikipedia would have been useless.

People who regard academic standards as the only standards for knowledge distribution, can indeed do without Wikipedia, but I think they are the minority. People who think they cannot live with articles about less-important or unimportant issues (even though nobody forces them to actually read them) should indeed refrain from using Wikipedia. Perhaps it is the term Encyclopedia that confuses people. There is this famous saying about the Holy Roman Empire - "not holy, not roman, not an empire" (indeed it was a loose union of German countries during the Middle Ages). Wikipedia, "the free Wikipedia" is not entirely free and not an encyclopedia in the sense we've been used to. There are rules for writing and editing, but they are different from the academic rules, because they are meant to serve a different purpose. It is not encyclopedia in the sense that you cannot cite it as an authoritative reference book. Any piece of information in Wikipedia must be verified and cited with regard to its original source. Actually one should do the same with any piece of information, but the good thing about Wikipedia is that it forces you to do it, simply because it is not meant to be an authority.


Winding up

We had visitors yesterday afternoon, and we took the heater off its normal timings and set it to the thermostat so we'd feel warm and comfortable as we took our tea and bikkies. Winter here in Canberra, you know.

So I woke up in bed later on as the heater comes on - the fan unit is located just outside the bedroom - and I'm feeling a bit groggy, thinking, wow, I must have slept through the night and it's six in the morning already. But the clock beside me said 0130 and after a bit of trying to reconcile my dream and real-life experiences, I realised that I was going to have to get up to switch the heater back to the timer, so I might as well see what was happening with Wikimania.

I caught the last segment of the board meeting on the video stream, made myself a stovetop espresso, opened up the IRC window and just sort of hung out. After a while it was time for one of my regular Monday morning activities, BBC Radio Shropshire's Sunday night rock show, and I tuned in to the internet stream. This is a regular favorite with the BookCrossing.com community, and we all hang out on the site's "Chit-Chat" forum, so I opened that up as well.

And there I was, monitoring a video stream from the U.S. on one computer, an audio stream from the UK (via my Skype headset) on the other, a couple of chat windows open, and my normal flow of email proceeding merrily. Another reason why I have more than the usual feel for timezones around the world, I guess.

One of the after lunch sessions was on Africa, and while some of the other sessions sounded more interesting, this one seemed pretty important to me. The camera didn't show how many people were listening in the room itself, but I got the idea from something the presenter said that it wasn't a real lot. Never mind, I was listening online, and I dare say there were enough of us to fill the auditorium.

What I know of African languages is sketchy indeed, and my knowledge of African access to the internet largely revolves around whatever scams the clever but unschooled folk in Nigeria are trying to hit me with (I loved the one about the Nigerian astronaut, left alone on some Soviet space station since the 1980s and his back pay now amounts to zillions of dollars, just sitting in a bank account...), but anyway it seems to me that middle class kids in Los Angeles are one thing, but when the kids living in grass huts deep in Botswana (or whatever) are able to get online, that'll really be something.

Will they want to talk about Star Trek and British steam engines of the 1930s, or will they have other interests. What can we learn from them about global warming and individual freedoms?

When you get right down to it, we're all in this together, and there are any number of things we should be thinking about on a global basis. Not necessarily the thoughts of millionaire UN ambassadors, neither.

So that was interesting for me, and I'm grateful for learning a bit about things in Africa.

The next session was about visualising information, something I have an especial interest in, having long been a fan of maps and charts of all types. Minard's famous graphical chart of Napoleon's Moscow campaign stands out strongly in my mind. With computers we have any number of ways to assemble information into a form where it is easy to spot patterns. Or breaks in patterns. Speedier identification of persistent vandals, articles that may need work, community trends; find the key variables and a way to present them, and the human eye can grasp what's going on.

An example is the timestamps attached to every WP contribution. Sure, they are all available in User Contributions, but it's hard to gain a feel for them. The Editcount tool graphs them by time of day and time of week, and at a glance you can see who is spending their time at work editing Wikipedia.

Anyway, that was more fun, and about then I began to pay more attention to the IRC channel as preparations for the final session began, Wikimaniacs assembling in various degrees of geekitude and apparent disorder.

Jtkiefer showed up:

* Jtkiefer is cursing at the media stream that's not working
<Skyring> Quit and restart it
<Skyring> might need a few goes
<Jtkiefer> wow Skyring, that's a nick I haven't seen in a long time

How many remember me, I wonder? A year is a long time on WP. See my talk page.

By this time the rock show on the BBC had ended and Genevieve Tudor's folk program just wasn't keeping me occupied. I'd had breakfast and dawn was fast approaching. My attention was on spotting the various wikidenties as they fiddled with microphones and displayed a kind of Brownian motion. sj finally kicked off things and I wondered how such a slight frame could accommodate such a booming voice. He ran us through the various text and media awards, along with a noticable interruption to the feed when the best media clip was announced and untold thousands of people decided to download the file all at once.

Jimbo came on, thanked various people, and really it was pretty much backslapping all round from that point on. Well deserved, I thought. Organising something like this and making it go well cannot be easy. A lot of thought and a lot of effort is involved. This is the positive side of the wikipedia community, and despite all the squabbles and arguments and edit wars, when you take a step back and look at what has been achieved, it's an amazing thing.

So, as Wikimania comes to an end and the attendees disperse to hotels and cars and planes, I'd like to add my own voice of thanks to the organisers, the attendees and to the community in general. It's been a hoot!

I also see, from various corners of the wikisphere, that next year's Wikimania is being planned already, despite the lack of a host city. Who knows, maybe I'll attend in person.

Now, I'm off to the Archives to catch up with some of the sessions I missed.


Memorable quotes from Conference day #3

"Garbage! Total garbage! This Wikimedia Foundation discussion... it's all politics, not science." -- Elan Pavlov, leaving Ames

"...just as with japanese toilets, we need to understand the role and mission" -- Florence Devouard, during a morning presentation.

"Let me try to translate software engineer to Muppet." -Gil, Wikia CEO, talking to the founder of Muppet wiki
"And if you mix them, you get furries!" - GreenReaper, founder of WikiFur

Brad Patrick: "And I freely admit that I have absolutely no idea what my life is going to be like over the next six months"

Brad (on being asked a copyright question, writes WP:FU on the board) "That means fair use"

"I am not fact based." David Weinberger

David Weinberger: "Wikipedia's willingness to admit its own fallibilities makes it more credible"

David Weinberger: (On referencing Martin Heidegger) "Now I understand that [Ludwig] Wittgenstein is a much cooler philosopher to reference, because he was not a Nazi son of a bitch."

SJ - "If you submit a bunch of question marks, you can win"

Mark Pellegrini: Kat, I volunteered you for something
Kat Walsh: Oh god
Mark Pellegrini: You're an American citizen, right?


Saturday, August 5

20060805 Evening Edition of the Yoblog

The party at the MIT Museum after hours was super-terrific-wowie! The antisocial nerd that I am, had I not googled up the MIT Museum website and found out that they rent out full access to the museum to host special events, I wouldn’t have gone. I went there purely for the museum artifacts—and to touch them, as I might not have been able to during the daytime surveillance. However, the Web 1.0 VC gathering turned out to be a surprise blast. I heard vaguely about the Web 1.0 theme, and I had expected a bunch of people attempting to relive the “glory” (in the derogatory sense) of the “old days,” where basically all .COM’s were guaranteed funding (which is no longer the case now, alas). That was actually the case, except I’d expected serious presentations of old ideas. So, dressed in the 3/4 sleeves of the Web 1.0 era, I’d planned on giving a brief spiel of my old MetastaXis—if the economy hadn’t changed in 2000, this would have been the second company I’d be founder of in high school, and the first multimillion dollar company I could have started in high school. (These were different days, and I was a teenager in California—back then, every other Cal teen ran a web dev company.) The problem was that our angel died, as apparently all its other investments crashed and they went into paranoia halt-all mode, etc., etc. But anyway, the Web 1.0 theme at the party was more a parody than regretful reminiscence. People went full out wild and crazy with their wacked out ideas, and had there been more time, I would have given the following spiel:

Me: (Hands the VC’s NDA’s; in an affected Pakistani-accent:) Please sign these NDA’s. I cannot start until you assure me of your omerta—it is the wish of my godfather. You must sign the NDA, or my godfather, the good Don, will… make an offer you can’t refuse.
Me: (heavily affected Pakistani-accent; like Abu in The Simpsons) My name is Priya Varicatena, and although I look Chinese, I’m actually Pakistani. I am associate professor of quantum bioengineering at Stanford University, and this is my colleague (points to an invisible presence next to me) Dr. Adrian Grey. Adrian is a transparent clairvoyant—he’s invisible and he sees the future. The history of my lab, as you may know, is filled with success after success—with no intermittent failure. Adrian’s foresight has ensured us this fortuity. My lab’s findings have been a tremendous source of funding for Stanford, and only a fraction of our capital has made Stanford the richest university in the world. I own Stanford University.
Me: (heavy Pakistani accent) It is 1998, but we see the year 2020 with absolute clarity. There is something called Internet 5.0, and it is very good. It interconnects the multiverses, so that you can email or even instant message your parallel universe self to discover “what could have been.”
Me: We call our project Multiversality, and the goal is to bring Internet 5.0, the multiverse, to the present reality. We have gone far on the project, and we now only need funding for globalization. Adrian has transcribed from his clairvoyances the technical details of the Internet 5.0 infrastructures, and I have simulated a local incarnation via the molecular computer ADA-42. (Hands the VC’s an invisible box.) Here is a working model that has access to the four adjacent quasi-layers of the multiverse. You may try it. You can ask your “possible potential self” in another parallel universe a question.
Me: (Affected Pakistani accent) You may wonder why I’m appealing to you—or why I am betraying Stanford. You see, it is really a very big matter. Stanford—the bastardic llama goat!—is refusing me tenure. Perhaps they believe this is a strategic move of theirs—perhaps they believe I will stop producing these revolutionary results once tenured. But, whatever, with your support, I will no longer need them. You see, this project will make all of us richer than Vishnu—this is the future, available now. I, the Pakistani, give you Multiversality!

Except some of the punchlines in there might be too obscurely academic, (quantum bioengineering being a discipline is a joke, currently, at least, btw). I decided to be Pakistani for a while since I get inspired into whole spiel based on my first thought of the last line. Having a punny name like Priya Varicatena for this fake business presentation was also a necessity.

Oh, and I also got to meet Dr. S. Wolfram---he was one of the fake VC's! His response to my Fredkin question proves my original assumption, and in a way, justifies the criticism against him. I probably would have gone crazy and asked for a signed photograph otherwise. (Then again, I should have done that just to resell to Mathematica-fanatical friends.)


Flipping the Bird

Crimson Rosellas.jpg

There's a couple of Crimson Rosellas outside my window. It's around noon here in Canberra and I've enticed them down with some sunflower seeds. I also get Eastern Rosellas, Cockatoos and Galahs, among others.

A galah showed up on Wikimania about an hour ago, replacing various pages with an offensive image and text. Anyone who's been around WP for a while will recognise the trademarks of the GNAA vandal.

I reverted as fast as I could, but he was gettinga way from me. Fewer keystrokes required to paste in his text, you see, and he didn't have to go through that validation routine if there were hyperlinks in the page text, as there usually was. Luckily there were a few folk lounging around on the IRC channel, and after a bit we managed to trim him back. He gave up, maybe he'll return in the dead of night, but it's daylight for a long while yet here. Anyway, check the history of some of the pages for an idea of what was going on.

Gotta wonder about some people...

Anyway, almost as soon as I posted my last entry, noting that archives and transcripts weren't appearing, they started to do so in greater numbers. Obviously Wikimania was coming alive and attendees flipping open their laptops with their morning coffee.

I tuned in on a live feed, enjoying a couple of presentations. The session I was particularly interested in (at least of those I could access via the video stream, anyway) turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The presenter was talking about on-line communities and I wanted to hear what she had to say about WP, which I regard as well worth a study. As the psychiatrist said about Basil Fawlty, "There’s enough material here for an entire conference!".

Unfortunately, she'd only spent enough time on the site to be able to spot a few of the "touchy-feely" areas, such as the Village Pump. An indepth analysis of the peculiar behaviour to be found on WP awaits a later event.

In the meantime, there's another episode of the galah to be dealt with. ***SIGH*** --Skyring


20060805's Yoblog

I woke up late today; even though I might have woken up like twenty times this morning/night (thanks to the many things that go boom in the dark), this might be the first night which I’ve slept consecutively for more than an hour. The second floor of Dane, albeit with a female-only restroom, has a much higher population of males than female, and, as I venture off to my morning toilet, I notice that the toilet seat is up! Since there were still the same pattern of toilet paper scraps on the floor and the waste basket was yet to be dumped, I’m pretty sure this wasn’t from the maid. It appears that this restroom has experienced its first(?) male intruder. I don’t really mind that gender-confused males might surreptitiously use this designated female-only restroom. (I admit to doing something like this myself, whenever I’m on the wrong floor in a physics department building.) However, I do request that they put the toilet seat down after they finish!

Finding edible breakfast at this hour proved to be more difficult than I expected; the dining halls were closed and those preparing lunch wouldn’t let me take any early, or “else there wouldn’t be any left for lunch.” I did manage to beg a Harknesss cafeteria worker for a piece of dried hot dog bread, though; with a furtive glance, she went behind the counters and found a piece of bread, then handed it to me through the holes in the barred gate. Ah, the shameless urchin that I am.

After some prolonged digestive problems, I went about trying to find the Ames Courtroom. When I finally found it, I was fifteen minutes late, and the place was jam-packed. Snaking through the side and back aisle, I finally found an empty space on top of some heaters in the back. The lecture was… well, what had I expected? It would have been interesting if the guy were to go into the details of his Kahle supreme court(?) case, but, instead, he spent a lot of time talking about random trivialities. (Honestly, though, he reminds me of those not-yet-tenured “interdisciplinary-humanities” prof’s at UCSD doomed never to get tenured.) Interestingly, though, he talked about bookwarez, though he did not directly utter that particular forbidden word. He also implicated that the fate of all successful non-profits ended in purchase by a company; the corollary question would be—which corporation would MW be taken by? And, if MW is purchased, would all its millions of contributors be monetarily compensated? He didn’t broach up such interesting questions, and instead went on to rambling in some wacked stream of consciousness like an ill-fit humanities prof; I left at noon, half an hour before the talk’s planned ending.

Food was already being served. One of the servers took a look at me, and declared that I was sick. True, my usual pallor might have evolved into a more ghastly white due to my unplanned-for fasting. I let her mommy me, accepting her declaration that my blood sugar was low and accepting her offer to get me some orange juice. She then sent me straight to bed, packing up my food for me, albeit, this was against the catering rules (according to another server who objected to this). The whole event was all quite cute, and I did do as she told me to do.

I arrived at the Lighting Talks #2 about ten minutes late… and, apparently, a bunch of people signed up on the barcamp-styled paper-based-whiteboard already. Though the moderator claimed that half the people who signed up on the board weren’t here (how did they sign up with the big black sharpie then?), I sacrificed my online-reserved spot deferring to the impromptu third talk tomorrow, which meant I could go to the PLoS/Open Access academic journals thing (though tomorrow, I’d definitely attend the Schrodinger Multiverse imp’s thing at 2).

The Open Access talk in the Ames Room turned out to be a broad overview of PLoS (Public Library of Science), thus-far a biology-only scientific journal, which supposedly gives the public open access, eliminating the usual subscription-based fees of journals such as Nature or AJP. It appears to be the Biology-version of the Math/Physics Arxiv. The speaker went overtime, and the Q/A session was eliminated in favor of the second invited speaker. The speaker did not mention anything about Philica, a new online journal system with an eBay-like peer-review scheme—which has actually been recommended as an alternative journal source by Nature! He did mention that it’d be convenient for the general public to be able to view a “linked version” of a scientific article, where certain keywords are linked to their respective Wikipedia articles, and the references properly linked. However, he also failed to mention that reference-linking is already done on e-prints of major journals like Phys Rev, which any university student can access through their library proxy.

The second invited speaker in the mid-afternoon session at Ames was… um… well… someone who did research with um… empathy and the Internet. She “researched,” quote, “Mexican children” (who were really just Hispanic or mulatto children who lived in Maryland) and their Internet experiences. These children appear normal, and I find it detrimental to her so-called research on empathy that she did not plan to talk about socially-disabled children—kids with Asperger’s syndrome—developing social skills via immersive multiuser online systems. Overall, I’m sorry to say that her talk was painfully contentless—literally, I ended up with a horrible migraine in the middle of it.

I went back to Lightning Talks #2, thinking that I might get to squeeze into the remainder of the session, if indeed, they’d depleted their source of speakers… only to find that people were still talking.

For the late afternoon session, I went to the presentation on WikiWizard, a clever implementation of a WikiWYG. Although Java-based (thus bulky, ewww), the idea of the system seems solid. Experienced wiki users would want to have full control of syntax, and this WikiWizard applet gives the user just that—and more. For example, a user can use the usual quote-marks to bolden or italicize words, but WikiWizard will display, while editing, the marked words in ether bold or italics. Alternatively, there’s also a GUI for less-adept users. But, the key idea is that the syntax is displayed along-side—‘’so that as the less-adept user uses the applet more and more, the user will eventually learn the syntax through familiarity and multiple occurrences.’’ Discussion was made of multiple-modes being offered so that the truly phobic user might be sheltered from syntax completely, but, on second thought, multiple modes might be detrimental—most users will eventually want to get to know the syntax, and learning it through this gentle hybrid exposure is perhaps the most natural way to learn it. (Incidentally, I should mention that I may be biased based on personal experience. I learned HTML via Homesite’s hybrid HTML/visual output system back in seventh grade, a few years before Homesite was to be absorbed by the late Macromedia. Thus, I’m an adamant believer in this idea of learning through repeated exposure, since that was apparently what happened to me.)

I tried staying for the Disambiguation talk afterwards, though I had to leave, since again, the too-often-repeated common sense points spurned yet another migraine. The guy did have one interesting and amusing point—European cities with the same name are often disambiguated with the river they’re closest to, rather than the country they’re a part of, “since in Europe, country names are never stable.”


Dror Kamir, embedded reporter

A very loseable piece of paper, that schedule. Luckily it is distributed abundantly, and it doesn't cause global warming (well, maybe it does, but I can stop using it whenever I want). I know I promised to continue yesterday's blog. I wonder if I should keep this promise. The events happen so fast here, that continuing yesterday's blog is like telling last year's news. I was busy yesterday, honestly. When I finally spotted an unmanned computer, I was suddenly pied-piped by Gerard the living spirit behind the WiktionaryZ program. Enthusiasm is his middle name, and the love of lexicography is mine, so it was perfect. We can now tell that we met at WiktionaryZ and our song is the quite tune of the computer's ventilator.

As I wrote before, I speak Hebrew here more than I could have imagined. Strangely I don't hear much French, Arabic, and most surprisingly not a single word of Finnish. It is not that I speak Finnish, but I always compare the Hebrew Wiki community to the Finnish one in the sense that both have a unique language spoken predominately in one country, but with people who are enthusiastic about computers, Internet and gadgets. I did met people from India, Nepal, Indonesia and Iceland.

The highlight of the day was Brewster Kahle's introduction to his Universal Access to All Knowledge (You have the link in the blog beneath mine). Bibhusan, a Wikipedian from Nepal, told me he was not entirely pleased with the concept. A considerable amount of the Nepali knowledge, he says, is orally transmitted, hence, it won't appear in Kahle's large archive. I didn't think about it during the talk, but when he told me that, it stroke me, because I heard such a claim before. All that remained of orally transmitted cultures is usually what Christian missionaries thought that should be written down in the alphabet they brought with them from Europe. Nepali culture is in better condition because it already has its own alphabet and a litterate tradition. The problem is probably to encourage litteracy, or perhaps realizing that passive recording of all texts and other media is not enough. Some cultural material must be reached out for, otherwise it will disappear.

Another interesting question that was raised at the last moments of the talk was: what's the use of all this infomation, and why aren't we better off letting it disappear. Knowledge can indeed be a dangerous thing. I believe it was the American anthropologist Jared Diamond who questioned such inventions or revolutions as agriculture and writing, listing all of their horrible disadvantages. One could indeed say - well, these inventions are here to stay, but let's not get too enthusiastic about them. I believe it is a matter of values. If you think that distributing information is a value that should be adhered to, then you must acknowledge its possible damage and be willing to deal with it. I think that was also implied in Kahle's answer.

One interesting talk was the use of Wikimedia in education, particularly in high-schools and universities. My father has made a small research about community schools in Israel, and I must direct him to the recording of that talk. The examples for the use of Wiki in university courses were from Israel, so he cannot use the language barrier as an excuse - he should contact the speaker (unless he became interested in some other subject by now - I inherited this character from him). One phrase to memorize from that talk is Dewey's: "Education is not a preparation to life, it is life". Don't give me that look - I like cynisism, but one should take a break from time to time.

Speaking of Cynisism - I don't see much of it here. Actually I don't see it here at all. It is amazing how people can get enthisiast once they have the tools and the resources they need. If we are bound to clash with an astroid, we might as well clash with a great deal of enthusiasm (yes, the cynicism break is over).


Out of Phase

I'm not always out of step with everyone else, you know. But here I am, it's two thirty in the Canberra morning, everyone in Boston is breaking for lunch, it's winter cold and I've got the heater on, and I can see on the video feed that people there are dressed quite differently (well, they aren't in their pyjamas, for one thing). I'm also in a different hemisphere in just about every way.

But short of actually being there, the online coverage is cool. My wife says my travel budget for the year is pretty well used up, so I'm not there. It's more convenient than squeezing myself into a seat in the back of the airbus and crossing the Pacific, I guess. Not as much fun.

I'm listening to the question period of Brewster Kahle's "Universal Access to All Knowledge" now. And watching Brewster in a little window in the corner as he dances with cameramen and gives incredibly literate and inspiring answers to deep and heartfelt questions.

That's cool. I'm also able to spot a few wikidentities, especially if I blow the window up.

I came in yesterday, Canberra's Saturday morning to Boston's Friday afternoon, and discovered that I'd missed all the live streams for the day. Guess maybe I shouldn't have had breakfast and answered my emails and stuff. I hunted around and found Jimbo's keynote address on the Archives page and listened to that. Inspiring words, and there was even a bit that I found especially interesting, which I carefully transcribed. Everyone should listen to the entire hour-long speech, by the way. Jimbo's a great speaker and sorta fills you up with enthusiasm for whatever he happens to be talking about, which always seems to be some amazing project for the good of humanity in general.

The bit I was interested in had to do with making Wikipedia a better experience for non-Wikipedians, because I've found that there's often an abrasive interface between the old hands who know all the guidelines and policies because they basically wrote the book, and "outsiders" who try to help but get thrown off balance by all the jargon and wikiways. Some punk nerd kid with a wikiyear and admin status under his belt gives them a hard time because they aren't doing things the right way and throws them a block to shut them up while they learn how to do things according to the MoS. Yeah, way to attract normal people.

I looked at Recent Changes and was uh, impressed. On WP, it's Niagara Falls, and no one person can possibly keep up. Here, it's slow as treacle dripping from the can, and there's not a lot happening. This may be an artifact of the phenomenom I mentioned in my previous entry, where all the people who are supposed to be updating and transcribing and commentating are busy doing other things, like actually running the show, making sure people get to the right places, have lunch, have wireless access and so on, and they just don't have time to sit down and update. Maybe there's a team of transcribers hard at work somewhere and it's just not filtering onto the wiki.

But what's appearing is all good.

I thought this blog section would be running hot. I guess it is, in a way, because there are any number of bloggers who are posting links, and so I can go cruise external blogsites and share the experience that way.

I hung around on the IRC channel for a while in my afternoon/Boston's early morning. A bit of action, including a Sydneysider who was, like me, wishing he was there. Brion came on and posted links to his funny photos collection. Others talked about drugstores and dorms and hotel rooms (You at the marriot? Ooooh lovely, you go to all the swanky hotels) and all the usual IRC banter.

In a way, this site is more than I can handle. When things are happening, there are two video streams, not to mention all the other stuff, and there's no way I can keep up with everything. On the other hand, there's a lag in updates because the updaters are busy doing actual real-life things. I guess that after the event finishes all the transcripts and archived video will be put up.

Anyway, I'm grateful for what is being made available. And I get to keep all the comforts of home and my high speed internet and ready availability of coffee. On the other hand, as I know from my frenzied attendance at BookCrossing.com conventions around the globe, it's nothing like the same as actually being there and sharing space with some famous names.

Maybe next year... -- Skyring


Saturday's quotes of the day

Danny Horn: (Answering questions after talks at Wikimania) "All these hands go up, and you realize, oh, these people are used to having a talk page for everything!"

Brewster Kahle: "So we have this problem with orphan works. And the question is: are librarians allowed to index old out-of-print books? In the United States, the way you ask a question is that you file a lawsuit."

Brewster Kahle: "Channeling my inner Jack Valenti, I came up with the term 'orphaned works'. Who doesn't want to help the orphans?!"

Alex Schenck: "Raise your hand here if you have edited Wikipedia"
Larry Pieniazek: "Does that include vandalizing?"

Larry Pieniazek: "Stop taking pictures of me, dammit"

James Forrester: (on separating enforcement of arbitration committee decisions) "The judges don't actually go hang people"


Blog/Saturday observations

Friday, August 4


Links to online photos of Wikimaniacs, August 4, 2006

  • SJ and Phoebe in volunteer Tshirts, front [1] and back [2]
  • Birthday cake with [3] and without [4] Jimmy Wales

20060804 A More objective Yoblog on Mania Day #1

(10:25 AM: Amazingly, it’s currently pouring right now—the weather forecast for rain is actually right, this time! But, I’m too lazy and unprepared-with-poncho to go back to close my window—which had been my room’s only source of quasi-salvation from the 100+ degree F heat for the last few days.)

Wikimania started with a somewhat incoherent speech from a stammering S.J.. The Jimbo Wales plenary followed afterwards. With good humor and a bit of bravery, Wales started his talk with the showing of a Colbert Report video clip denouncing the “truthiness” of a crowdsourced encyclopedia.

The new word, according to Colbert, is “wikiality,” a reality you can create—if enough people believe in the same thing. Despite the fact that Colbert’s clip is, as always, mostly carefully-edited punchlines that sum up to a bunch of laugh, low on content, Colbert does have a point; knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, has always been possibly incorrect orthodox vs. possibly correct hereticalism. Recall Galileo and his then radical proposition that the solar system was heliocentric, rather than geocentric; back then, though this idea was already backed by facts, virtually no one believed him, and he was denounced by the “scientific authority” of the time, i.e., the Catholic church. Similarly, nowadays, although the view of seeing the universe as a bunch of parallel universes, viz., multiverses, is indirectly backed by implications from quantum computing, this view is not widely accepted among physicists. In fact, not even all quantum computing in-groupers believe in this. This view is a modern version of an unorthodox view, yet in many respects, this multiverse theory is one of the best ways to make sense of reality (c.f. T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). The point is that despite the triteness of Colburn’s words, he’s right about common knowledge sometimes being wrong, but believed right, by virtue of the numbers who believe in it. However, Wales stopped the clip right after Colbert defined “wikiality,” leaving out Colbert’s reference to Galileo. Interestingly, he also did not bother to show those present who haven’t seen the full clip that Colbert actually directly invited (gasps) open vandalism for humanitarian means—starting with the entry on African elephants. (The idea is that the world is messed up, but if enough people believe that it isn’t, we’d create a “better” wikiality that’d supercede our current dystopia.)

(Incidentally, I initially found this particular Colbert clip on Wired’s Monkey Bites blog entry. Today, a Wired reporter present at the event has posted an article that, in part, atones for that particular blog entry.)

Wales announced that Wikimedia is now hiring a group of paid individuals, somewhat like a company now; he also introduced WM’s eight-month old official lawyer. He’s hoping to gather an advisory board or whatever of famous people to help affirm WM (I’d be vague on this, since I need to stay out of wikipolitics for ‘’’your’’’ own good). Wikipedia’s goal now, according to Wales, is quality, not quantity—it’s time to edit the million of entries. He went through some of the 10 impossible things from last year, then thanked the sponsors.

Afterwards, the gathering of several hundred attendees broke up into their respective program tracks.

Each track had its own pull of intrigue, as do all presentations with vague abstracts. While each attendee was given a schedule, we were not given a copy of the abstracts. Because of this, some attendees chose their lectures based solely on name, and only those who had access to the Internet could pull up the respective abstracts.

For the morning session, I went to the Barcamp/Semapedia Workshop. Barcamp is an online in-person [w:unconference] planning system based on pbwiki, a free password-protected wiki solution. Barcamp meetings are ad hoc and informal. The emphasis is on the second bit, since Bar Camp’s “Rules,” which help make each barcamp gathering a timely matter, tend to favor the theme of chaos. .

I was particularly interested in how the organization started, particularly the funding bit. The barcamp guy got lucky—the timing was right. He got his first sponsor in the era of the advent of google’s dominion metastasis, when, for a brief period, funding for such things might have been as easy as it was in the early days of Web 2.0 (pre-2000); and, as always, after one money guy joins the club, the rest spill in. Group think.

Also mentioned was a similar idea called TeqUps, which is like barcamp, except it seems to be a local gathering of people interested in tech. MashupCamp, a gathering of those into ajax-ly MashUp’s and the like, was also mentioned.

Semapedia turned out to be one of those interesting commodities that are essentially useless, but cool—it’s a bit like having a pencil with both its tip and eraser on one end: convenient, but we’re not that lazy yet... Through a unique symbol-based barcode called Semacode, Semapedia.com uniquely creates a one-to-one relation between the barcode and a Wikipedia article. Using the software from Semapedia, this code can be scanned up by a photo-capable cell phone to load its corresponding Wikipedia page on the same Internet-capable cell phone. This has been used in Japan for advertisements, e.g., a poster about orange juice might have a Semapedia symbol on it, so that anyone interested in finding out more about orange juice can, with the click of a phone-camera-button, find out more about it through its corresponding Wikipedia page.

Semapedia is essentially dependent on Wikipedia’s accuracy. Semacode, which was something I’d only heard of but didn’t get to know before this, however, seems to have some interesting applications in the arena of quas-digital gaming. One example, off the top of my head: Suppose you have a physical world scavenger hunt. The various items are hidden in a certain part of the city, for example, and they’re tagged with semacodes. As ultimate proof that they’ve found a particular item, the scavengers can just scan up the find, perhaps using a variant of the Semacode DataMatrix software. Also, maybe semacodes can be used in a form of “laser-tag” (technically, cell-phone-camera tag). Players merely place semacode stickers on their bodies to get tagged.

Unlike the Lightning Talks at Hacking Days, the Lightning Talks at the Mania session turned out to be a verbal message board, where basically anything and anyone goes—though each talk was strictly limited by the five-minute time set by a monitor (déjà vu: student presentations for a course.) No use of mike, so in order to hear anything, you had to crowd close to hear the speaker. Many of the talks were really just announcements, and the Chinese Firewall talk turned out to be as censored as if the talk were bound by some airborne version of the same firewall. I attempted to do my usual lecture hopping, anyway, except, I hopped out too late to catch the Diplopedia talk.

Come to the birthday party

Everyone please come to a birthday party for Angela and me (Jimbo) tonight, 6-7:30PM in the poster hall area--Jimbo Wales 17:45, 4 August 2006 (UTC)

Memorable quotes from Conference day #1

Jimbo Wales (during his keynote):

"If we don't get [stable versions] done and rolled out in English Wikipedia by the time I do my keynote next year, this will be a real mistake."
"Mission accomplished. " -­about the English and German editions of Wikipedia. (He was being ironic.)
"Is there anybody in charge of this conference?"

Alexander Halavais: (About Wikipedia's authoritativeness) "The problem is that librarians say - it's not reliable because it's on the web. Oh no wait, there are authoritative sources on the web. We don't like it because it's not peer reviewed. Oh wait, no, it is peer reviewed, but we don't like it because they're not peers we like."

Unidentified onlooker, watching attendees return to Pound after Lessig's talk in the Ames moot courtroom: "Who are all of you people?"
Unidentified Wikipedian: "We're the world's largest Easter egg hunt."

Jim Giles: (On doing a study of Wikipedia's accuracy) "And this was important because I looked around the Nature office and noticed that so many people were using Wikipedia"

Andre Engels: "I think the reactions [to the Nature study] are interesting - Britannica takes three months to criticize you, and Wikipedia takes one week to fix all the errors"

Jim Giles: (On the Nature study about Wikipedia) "I do remember quite a few reviewers saying - 'What is Wikipedia?'"

Joel West: (To Meeks) "You're a philosophy major, I'm a management professor. I actually believe there's a reality out there."

Paul Kobasa: (One librarian describing Wikipedia to another librarian) "... And he had a wonderful phrase to describe people like him and me - he said we're like the scriptorium monks who are meeting [Johann] Gutenberg for the first time"

Paul Kobasa: "Someone asked me why, as an employee of Worldbook, I was going to Wikimania. And I said that we were jealous of all the press that Encyclopedia Britannica is getting"

Alex Halavais: (On using PhDs to do article validation) "The PhD thing bothers me - I have one, so they hand them out to anybody"

A random radio journalist: "So this is like Woodstock?"

Dror Kamir, embedded reporter

The weather had become much more welcoming as we aproached the big day. The heat broke yesterday around 18:00 and left us with a gracious cool breeze. Today it has even rained during the morning. Yesterday was the most intensive and interesting day so far. It began with a chat over breakfast with a New York Times reporter. Later on, a German reporter joined him and asked me some questions. The first subject of interest in such talks, is the very possibility of using Hebrew for an on-line encyclopedia, with its special alphabet and the unique right-to-left direction of writing. Mentioning that I speak Arabic, and edited some Israel-related articles in the Arabic Wikipedia, threw the discussion into another direction, more interesting for a journalist, I suppose.

I told the reporters how I edited the article Al-Quds (i.e. Jerusalem) in the Arabic Wikipedia. I told her how it described the city as a Palestinian capital, while the actual situation in the city suggests otherwise. There should not be a problem with mentioning and elaborating about the Palestinian aspiration to make it a Palestinian capital, yet one cannot turn aspirations into facts when writing a Wikipedia article. I used this example several times when talking about facts vs. views and when discussing the issue of translating articles vs. writing them from scratch from the native speake's point of view. It seems to be a good example, and it attracts the listners.The reporters themselves found this example interesting - it is probably the spicy politics-related story that attracts people more than a debate about the accurate height of a mountain, or how to transform Simplified Chinese characters into Traditional ones. I am willing to supply such spicy examples - geopolitics is indeed one of my favorite fields of interest.

The preparations for the big day (i.e. today) intensified, and since I had nothing more important to do, I joined the staff in preparing folders and arranging documents. This has given me another chance to mingle with both organizers and participants. It is a very unique experience meeting intelligent and enthusiastic persons from all around the world. It may sound like a cliche, but as I am not fond of cliches, you can take my word for it.

At 13:00 I stood prepared at the front door of Berkley Center, waiting to the Boston sight-seeing tour. Apparently I was the only one who remembered the exact time. Nicholas (from Mumbai) joined me a few minutes later, and the guide, Oscar from the Netherlands, came shortly after him. There were only three of us, so the tour turned to be more intimate and flexible. We decided to walk along The Liberty Trail. Oscar and I gave up in the middle of the 4km track. Nicholas was more sportive and courageous and went all the way to the last historical station. Boston has an interesting jigzaw architecture of old European buildings interrupted by modern sky-scrapper. The historical buildings and monuments are numerous and well preserved. You don't have to guess how they looked back then, you actually see them in their original shape. Sitting at one of Boston's cafes gave Oscar and me the opportunity to develope a long and interesting talk about the nature of Wikipedia, especially the roles of bureaucrats and sys-admins. Oscar talked a lot about the their role as authoritative figures that can minimize the cases of endless arguments, editing fights and low-quality contributions. I told him this view resembles too much Plato's views of a philosopher-ruler. I was wondering whether you have to rely on the bureaucrat or sys-admin's personality, or whether it is better to devise a set of rules, that would maintain peace among Wikpedians. A similar question was raised during today's talks, where the suggestion was to create a flexible system of precedents, i.e. previous cases and solutions that should not be obligatory for future cases but could be a good authoritative resource.


To Be Continued

Rich Hoeg: Honeywell Technology Manager

Knowledge should be paid for! While I don't really believe that, given that I am a technology manager for a large Fortune 100 company, I need a few nickels occasionally for the intellectual property my firm creates. This is a fascinating conference so far, and if you want to see a "corporate perspective", please link to my eContent Blog.


Thursday, August 3

Memorable quotes from Hacking Day #3

Wayne Saewyc: (To Jimbo) "I was mistaken for you earlier today"

Pat Gunn: "Dianetics? I thought they were advertising diuretics"

Alex Schenck: "Is there any way I can plus-M all of you?"

Mark Pellegrini: (On taking a particularly bad picture of another Wikipedian) "He's got that pedophile look to him"


Wikimanians join with Boston blogging group

A photo of the meeting

A number of Wikimanians attended a meeting of the Boston bloggers group on Thursday (August 3) night. Hiawatha Bray, of the Boston Globe (who has Wikipedia previously written about Wikipedia) was also in attendance. The talk was lively, and touched on a number of topics, including discussions about Wikipedia's trustworthyness, a review of what was said at hacking days and upcoming Mediawiki features.


Pete, cold and distant

I'm a member of an online community about the same size as Wikipedia. A very different community in many ways, and we tend not to get television comedians urging viewers to vandalise our site. We have gatherings now and then, usually local meetings on a monthly basis, but national conventions are held annually in an increasing number of countries. I've attended seven of these things so far, the most recent last month in Birmingham, where 128 of us gathered to do the things BookCrossers do.

It is an extraordinary and delightful experience, to meet face to face the people with whom you have shared your online life. Each nametag lists two names - the screen-name and the real-life name. We tend to think of each other by our screen names, real names being something best kept for family, credit cards and jobs, things that don't have much bearing on the online world except as interruptions.

As with any other real-life gathering of netizens, there are a large number of folk who cannot make it to the venue, and their plaintive voices resound in the forums, begging to be able to share in the fun. Blog reports, pictures, audio or video streams - anything is seized upon.

And a curious thing happens. The real-life participants, severed from their comfort zones of high-speed internet and large chunks of free time, suddenly dry up. Internet access becomes scarce and expensive, and time to go online vanishes, literally eaten up in rounds of dinners and drinks with the other attendees. Not to mention time spent in actually participating in the conference sessions. The attendees try to scrape together time and access late at night or early in the morning, but coverage is kind of spotty.

And then the convention breaks up, the attendees are busy with luggage and shuttles and planes, catching up on the backlog at home, and often it's weeks before pictures are posted and backdated blogs written and video streams made available.

So, at least for BookCrossing.com, trying to participate remotely is an exercise in frustration.

Wikimania looks to be a very different online experience, and I shall observe with interest the proceedings of a group of very special and dedicated people gathering in summer heat. But here in Canberra, winter reigns and there is snow on the Brindabellas. --Skyring


Heavy working day at Wikimania...

Danny,Improv and Thomas, working on currencies...


Dror Kamir, embedded reporter

My third Wikimania day started with a kind of apocaliptic concern that the world has come to its end. The night was so hot that I thought it was finally happening, and sinners like me are going to pay the price. It's my first time in Massachusets, but I presume this kind of weather is not typical, considering that The Boston Globe had a weather report on its front page. At one point during the night I tried to lie outside on the grass, but I was bitten by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes here are as stoic and polite as the people. They do their job quickly and go away without leaving much damage. The itches didn't last long, and yet I decided not to take any more chances. I went back to my room and went to sleep with the door wide open and the ventilator at full speed. The sweet sleep took over me, but not for long - at 3am I woke up to the voice of two policemen who wanted to know who I was. I believe Yosofun has already described this incident in his blog, and I have to confess - I'm the one who caused this problem. Seeing a stranger lying in the dorms with the door open made the policemen wonder who I was. I cooperated fully and explained the whole issue to their full stisfaction. They were very polite and efficient, and suggested that coming from Tel Aviv I must be used to this kind of weather. "Not to this kind of weather", I said, "It rarely gets so hot and humid even in Tel Aviv". They sighed, and said that at least it was safer here than in Tel Aviv. I nodded my head in order to avoid a long talk about the Middle East (it is important, but there was nothing they could do about it, nor could I).

As the grand event approaches more and more people are gathering in the dorms and around Harvard Law School. Today I have met two guys from Seatle and a girl from Hong Kong. SJ introduced Nicholas and I to a New York Times reporter who came to cover the event. That was during breakfast and I tried to eat quietly without interrupting SJ's interview - I was a bit afraid that I was still affected by the heat and might say nonsence. Eventually he turned to Nicholas and to me and asked a few questions. I hope we did okay, but then again, any publicity is a good publicity... Hopefully.

I was tempted to go to the Hacking Days, but eventually gave it up as I wished to join the sight seeing tour of Boston at 13:00. I will have plenty of Wikimania activity tomorrow anyway. Actually, I have already had quite a lot of what I was hoping for. The best part of such a gathering is meeting the people behind the keyboards. A virtual community, such as Wikipedia writers, editors and programmers, has a lot of advantages: it discards the bias of physical appearance and limitations, it crosses political boundaries, it allows you to phrase ideas and messages more carfully using online resources, yet to get immediate responses. Nevertheless, meeting the people in flesh is irreplaceable, and discussing ideas face to face has an impact that on-line messages can never have. To be honest, this face-to-face talks were my main motivation for coming here.

Wednesday, August 2

20060802, Yosofun's Blog (YoBlog)

4:23 AM. There are people frolicking about in the field adjacent to Dane, screaming like they’re jumping off the Grand Canyon… so I write to pass the time, in hopes of staying sane—that through writing I might somehow replenish the precious REM sleep that I’ve lost. Again and again.

After about three hours of discontinuous sleep, I forced myself to wake up at 9 AM. Although I’d been totally exhausted from forcing myself to stay awake most of the day to adjust to the schedule here, I didn’t really get to fall asleep until much later.

The living conditions at Dane Hall are… ghetto, in the purest of sense. It’s dorm life, but then again, it’s 0.25-star-rated dorm life. Once upon a time, I believed my term in a dumpy dorm with a splintered-broken table and a perpetually leaking roof was bad, but... Living in a monk cell that’s perpetually above 100 degrees Fahrenheit with only an open window and an old dusty fan to battle the impending heatstroke is definitely worse. The package of “Bad,” however, is not yet complete. There’s also the fact that the springs of the stained mattress I’m typing this entry on are probably as old as the building itself—such that every time you have you back on it for more than twenty minutes, you’re sure to get up feeling like your spine’s about to break up or your neck’s about to decapitate. It’s never quiet for more than about twenty minutes—twenty, if you’re lucky—since by day, there’s ubiquitous drilling from construction, and by night, there are these aforementioned screaming idiots convulsing outside. The 0.25 star’s really more like a quarter of a pity-star; I’m sorry to say that the place just doesn’t honestly earn it.

Ah, complaints. How great it is to simmer down my fury through passive writing in the quasi-permanent medium of blog instead of furiously typing out ephemeral words to be lost on IRC. But, given the longevity of my words, I might as well attempt to be useful, now, and document something more objective. Here goes what I can remember:

I attempted to find the OLPC room in Wiesner at MIT, but apparently they’d long ago ditched the place. I met some tall hitchhiker guy who can speak Afrikanese, whose name I can’t remember, who provided me with the useful information that OLPC ran off campus to some business building labeled 1 Cambridge on the MIT map. After a bit more of getting lost, unable to find the exact location of OLPC in 1 Cambridge, the hitchhiker guy called up someone who informed us that the Days are to be held on the 10th floor. Almost there. But, there’s actually a reception-desk “guard” guarding the entrance to the elevators. The guard in the building had an emailed list of names, and apparently, neither hitchhiker guy nor I am on it. Status now stuck, no longer lost. I decided to haggle the guard, since the list didn’t look that legit, anyway. The guard called up some guy on the 10th floor, who attempted to shoo us away. I guess neither of us looked like techies; I really should have brought more summer clothing, especially my collection of t-shirts with such remarks as “EMACS ARE BIGGER THAN BIG MACS!” So, we were on the verge of getting kicked out. Trekking through the humid summer heat past-dew-point all the way here, then nowhere, then back, really didn’t seem the best itinerary. Moreover, at this point, it would have been back, but with a growing migraine—ah, the pangs of sleep loss. I wanted in, since my migraines tend to disappear under the right kind of technical discussion. We finally figure out to summon S.J., who somewhat inaccurately validated our identity to the guy, but, nevertheless, the end result being the guy letting us in.

Hacking Days #2:

So we finally made it in. It was the middle of some guy’s talk on WiktionaryZ/Wikidata. Overall, the guy led a great discussion, but somehow my migraine didn’t go away. He kept on stressing on “defined meaning,” which is actually as self-explanatory as it sounds, but apparently most people in the room thought the term ambiguous. It’s, in a way, like how most people befuddle the difference between the language and the metalanguage, to use terms from the Abstract Logic grad course I took as a psycho freshman. Specifically, a “defined meaning” has to do with the proper defining of the nuances of a particular meaning in a particular language (hence, defined meaning). They do have their own format for data entry, however, but that’s really just trivial referencing up of the format protocol.

To my disappointment, they skipped the Entropy flow talk and went on directly to lunch. If whomever was supposed to give that talk started writing up equations of state, and doing proofs and derivations from thermo, my migraine might have lessened. (Thermo was from junior year, and I might have forgotten more than I should have, but then again working recklessly through physics proofs is a great way to stifle any migraine. Multitasking like crazy also works.) Except, however, I’m guessing it has to do with entropy with regards to information, modern stat mech. Still physics, but still, that’s probably not what the talk would have been about—I don’t see a direct relationship between that and WikiMedia. Hmmm… perhaps “Entropy flow” doesn’t have anything to do with entropy, but is really just some misused but somewhat catchy name for some obscure code. Well, whatever the talk might have been about, we shall never know.

The pyWikipedia project has to do with python bots written to do automated tasks in Wikipedia, such as spell-checking and link verification. Some of the scripts are rather poorly written, especially one of the earlier spellcheck scripts, and I wonder what sort of havoc they might have caused. The presentation was straight-forward, and there was not much to discuss. Since few people present have contributed to this, this presentation might have spurned further collaboration on the project.

I was actually starving by the time lunch started about an hour late. Still, I managed to refrain from piling up on massive amounts of sandwiches and wraps. (This was fortunate, since the wraps were way too oily, a source of a slight bit of indigestion. Then again, what had I expected? This was presumably the usual catered food as done by a large university, often prepared by incumbent students.) With food and water, I went back to my laptop, attempting to do a bit of reading to abate the migraine. I probably should have left and holed out in some study carrel in one of the libraries somewhere to catch a few hours of quiet sleep, but still, I’d rather be here to be, at least, somewhat here. Anyway, it didn’t work.

After lunch, the guys at Days got to let out gastronomical gas on a poor girl slated to give a presentation on usability to an audience of coders who probably comment their code only as an afterthought (and with dread, the sense of precious code time being wasted). Fortunately, though, the final version of MediaWiki that’s publicly downloadable is pretty well documented. Anyway, my point is that the guys at Days aren’t really frontend interface designers, but they’re coders, the guys who make the pretty frontend things work—so, the presentation seemed for the wrong audience. Then again, I suppose MW isn’t yet as segregated as to have people who focus only on designing interface. Still, much of what she emphasized on was that manual documentation for features like adding/uploading an image should be made more clear—like said earlier, since most present probably dread commenting their code, writing user-friendly manuals wouldn’t have been fit for them either. The guys heckled her a bit, but again, this might have been avoided if the presentation were given for the Mania part instead of Days. Then again, given the fact that her study only involved ten users, whose background seem poorly described, I don’t believe it’s ready for publishing. (The background ought to have included other information—such as whether the users have prior experience with HTML or another basic ML.) The part I distinctly remember happened in the middle of it all. Just out of the blue she was like, “That’s why people like me exist...” At that point, I realized she reminded me of my high school counselor... I don’t really understand people like her; why do they refer to themselves as such and yet not change it?

Next, there were Lightning Talks.

As always, the stuff I come for gets truncated or omitted. The BlahTex talk was basically a 30-second blah, mostly inaudible to audiences in the back. I heard something about LaTeX, but I actually didn’t hear the guy utter the abomination, “MathML.” I had to retroactively find out what it BlahTeX is by googling it up; it’s a LaTeX2MathML parser for MW. In sum, I’m not sure how useful it would be, since MathML has usability issues, whereas LaTeX (or the lightweight version of it, MimeTeX) doesn’t—the equations in the latter are rendered into graphic files easily viewable by all browsers. (Also, to those who do not display images, LaTeX2HTML conveniently quotes the tex equation in the alt tag; any other LaTeX to HTML parser can be easily modified to do the same.) Even using Firefox, which is supposedly a MathML-compliant browser, I have to go out of my way to download certain fonts (which actually come with Mathematica, which I don’t have installed on my borrowed laptop) to make it work. And even then, the equations look (almost) Microsoft-Word-equations-editor-ugly. Ew. In the beginning, Knuth made LaTeX, and it was good, now, however…

I had to leave to deal with indigestion during the LiquidThreads Talk, so I don’t know the exact details of that. It appears to be your basic thread commenting snipplet applied to the MW Discussions page. Other than a basic move-feature, I don’t see why it’s necessary, since users can already nest with colon-syntax to create threaded-like replies. Since I’m on a roll shooting out complaints, I have to say that the little I’ve seen of it, it doesn’t merit enough to be a SOC project—threaded commenting isn’t that hard to do and doesn’t take that long to implement. Making a multibrowser-compliant AJAX frontend for the commenting options, though, might.

MW Video support was interesting. It featured a neat javascript player that embeds (apparently) seamlessly into MW pages; each embedded movie initializes with an automated screenshot of a particular frame of the movie. Someone raised the question on why FlashVideo wasn’t used. This was where it got interesting. Apparently Macradobe now charges a fee for access to the .swf SDK (this is ‘’’what happens’’’ when Adobe buys Macromedia). (Incidentally, if anyone wants to view an old version of the SDK “for educational purposes only,” I can probably dig it up from one of my many dislocated hard drives; will take some time, so only if you’re actually serious.) I immediately cited OpenSWF.org—and then I heard from some guy in the back the situation on Adobe’s destruction of Macromedia’s old Internet2 ideology. Mentally, I was like, “no, no, that caaan’t be the case,” so I attempted to access OpenSWF. I found out they’d died, a long while ago, and then I forced myself to read the updated status on the SDK. Sometimes, it feels like I’m Rumpelstiltskin. Being away from something for six years is really more like a few centuries Internet-time. I am so impossibly old.

Finally, there was something on quote-notation for bold and italics. I was on the verge of revealing a very simpleminded way of fixing that. Avoid regex, just use a flag counter and strstr() twice, the flag being used the second time to generate the closing HTML tag, flag unset after the closing tag count. It would have parsed the example the guy gave correctly. ("'hi"hello"'hi"'hello"hi"' as {b}hi{i}hello{b}hi{/b}hello{/i}hi{/b}) There was apparently a point I missed about nesting(?), so I didn’t bother going for clarifications. It didn’t matter; by this time, my migraine had proven that it was here to stay. And, moreover, there was Siggy next!

We got the Exhibits Plus pass, which is better than just an Expo pass, but isn’t the full conference. (Then again, all the good lectures have already happened, since we’re coming in on the last day of SIGGRAPH… so w/e) The thing also came with a tour given by names known only to graphics-in-groupers. The tourguides hyped up the event to the innocent hackers (believe it or not, basically no one’s been to S) and implicated the SIGGRAPH conference caste system to be much more than it’s worth. I wandered astray from the flock only to find that basically all the customized-souvenir options (2d/3d printing) from the Guerilla Studio have been signed-up for days before. They did have a pile of clay available, to be used for scanning a clay model into a 3d model. So, I took that home to play with to take back tomorrow.

Since we came the hour before they closed, I didn’t get to see much, but I did get to find out in depth about realtime hologram generation using 6 standard web cams and a standard (though high-end) LCD screen with scrim. The only problem was that was that the software was probably written with a rather high-end language, since it took (ahem) 4 or was it 6 AMD 3.x GhZ’s to run. This totally deadens its commercial potential… unless Playstation4 turns out to be quadcore…

I wanted to basically hole out in the Boston Convention airconditioning until late night, but the guards and janitors basically kicked everyone out. (Never underestimate the janitor.) It’s always the same story; the janitors always kick you out at the end of the day. I got back and ended up in Pound Hall. I downloaded a few clay-modeling tutorials from the net and started playing with the piece of clay from the Guerilla Studio. (It’s always fun to try out new stuff, except I didn’t have the tools.) I did happen to model a piece of crap that looks vaguely like the bust of some demonic bald old man with a Neanderthal skull. I might fix it up if they have tools at the studio or then again I might just have that scanned up for sentimental value. After a few hours of that, another migraine came up, and I figured I ought to try to sleep.

Of course, you know how that ended up. Recall the 0.25 star rating of Dane Hall.

Envoi

The night ends with four armed campus policemen barging into Dane, 2nd floor at around 4 AM. Somehow, the artillery didn’t fit with the “Veritas,” patched on their sleeves; then again, truth is often the by-product of force and armed-threats. I thought I heard them knocking on my door, and in fact, I’d been lying awake for the past hour or so, stuck in indecision between trying to attempt to sleep or just waking up and risking the advent of some tremendous headache due to chronic sleep-loss. So, I let them force me into the latter decision.

I get up, and I open the door. The dorm doors of Dane are of a class with the campus police in that they stifle choice; they do not give the occupants the privilege of commanding the particular door to lock—instead, the doors lock automatically for you… such that if you take a leisurely but keyless 10-step walk to the kitchen and have your door open, a draft of wind can easily blow it shut, thus locking you out. (Observe, the brilliance of campus facilities.) So anyway, I find that the police are concerned about the guy down the hall who had been sleeping with his door open—a wise decision, especially in the arena of applied fluid dynamics, i.e., heat flow efficiency. Apparently, they thick he’s some vagabond who’d found his way in and wanted to kick him out.

The whole thing is just so outrageously stupid that I find myself yelling at the police. What surprises me is that I manage to yell at them without screaming and raising my voice to match the volume of the frolicking screamers outside. I tell them that what they ought to be concerned about is not about people having their doors open in a locked dorm floor, but rather, that there are these morons running around yodeling across the lawn for the past six hours or so. The police with the Hitler-mustache tells me that it’s hot and most people are outside (this is 4 AM), his voice sounding resigned, but then again he has on this pleading expression. It makes no sense to me why they’d be bothering some guy with his door open in the dorm but not caring about these screaming dorks outside. Who knows, these screaming dorks could be the very vagabonds they had feared and armed themselves to confront here at Dane Hall. (Then again, perhaps they are. And maybe the truth of these fool campus policemen prancing around with these false badges of “Veritas” is that they really wouldn’t know how to properly protect themselves if they’d tried confronting the real vagabonds outside.)

But, alas, there’s something wrong with my ability to convey my full point verbally these days. Instead of screaming my head out at how incredibly irrational and unjust they are in ignoring the grotesque H2O screams emanating from the field less than a long-jump away from the perimeters of Dane, I merely walk away passively, though not failing to glare in rage at them first, then shaking my fist at them like some aboriginal shaman casting a curse.


Memorable quotes from Hacking Day #2

Greg Maxwell: "The problem with that [conducting a formal study of what types of vandalism wikipedia receives] is that it's not easily machine detectable, because if it were easily machine detectable, we'd have machines detecting it"

Brion Vibber: "It's not a good solution, but it's the only one that's not actively evil" (on changing how the Mediawiki parser works and in the process possibly making older pages display incorrectly)

Ivan Krstic: (Replying to a complaint about his non-standard keyboard layout) "It's a normal english keyboard - don't look at it."


Dror Kamir, embedded reporter

Andrew Lih - Wikimania 2006 - Hacking Day 2 at OLPC.jpg

While my first day at the Wikimania venue was dedicated to recovering from a serious jet-lag and unexpected hot weather (it is hotter and more humid here than in Tel Aviv!), the second day started much more energetically with an improtant mission - finding a Hebrew enabled computer in Harvard Law School. While people here speak Hebrew more than I expected, the computers here are linguistic puritants, and insist on communicating in the local language. Maybe I'll try to trick them a bit, and write Hebrew in a Latin transcription, but first some words in English, to the benefit of the non-Israeli Wikipedians who read this post.

Asians were the first to come to the Wikimania venue at the Harvard Law School, due to the long flight, and Israel, though playing soccer in Europe and sending entries to the Eurovision, is still geographically an Asian country. I was therefore the second to settle down in the Harvard Law School dorms, just next to a talented Wikipedian from Mumbai, India. Nonetheless, it wasn't too long before the dorms' corridors were crowded with people from Japan, the US, Europe and other places. Most of the participants so far are computer enthusiasts who came to discuss the inner structure of Wikimedia's projects during the "Hacking Days". For me it is somewhat like an anatomists' consultation, i.e. something to let the experts do while you are in a deep sleep. There is a saying that people who like sausages and respect the law should not watch either of them being made. Judging from my conversations with the participants, this saying does not apply to the Hacking Days, and yet I chose to spend the day walking along the Massachusets Avenue, and enjoying the parks along the way.

Cambridge is a beautiful city with calm people who drive carefully and begin their day with a decent cup of coffee and a quite reading of the New York Times or the Boston Globe. An unexpected setback was a heat wave that drove me indoors to find air-conditioned activities. Despite the common myth, being an Asian does not mean being immuned against the heat. These weather conditions are taken here with a stoic acceptance. No one stops his course of life crying "I can't take it anymore, turn off the sun", as you might hear occasionally in Tel Aviv.

The preparations to the big all-Wikipedian gathering are at full speed, with the organizers stop every now and then to catch a deep breath, but only when they think no one sees them. So far, the "back-stage" conversations with other participants and with the organizers were very interesting, with a lot of culture exchange. So far I have met participants who write in the English Wikipedia. They come from all over the world, which explains the extent of the English Wikipedia in comparison to other languages.

I am being urged to come to another tour of the city, so I am going to leave you here, but I'll be back soon enough to share some more impressions with you. Next time I'll even try to write something in Hebrew.

Tuesday, August 1

Memorable quotes from Hacking Day #1

  • Ward Cunningham: "The Wiki[pedia] community has grown Wiki[pedia] and has done everything almost perfectly"
  • Ivan Krstic: "I want a Brion Vibber action figure - when you squeeze it, it says 'it's totally broken'"
  • Brion Vibber: (Extolling the virtues of downtime) "If you are up all the time, then you forget simple things like how to reboot the servers"
  • Brion Vibber: "And we have a lot of testers on Wikipedia, so [Mediawiki] bugs get identified pretty quick"


Hacking Days Begins

The MIT roof garden

Wikimania hacking days started today sharply at 10am, and ran through a few hours of discussion before regenerating into a flurry of hacking, sweating on garden rooftops, genetics discussions, chinese dinners, and more hacking. The OLPC offices that hosted the day were rather busy until 12:30 the next morning, when the last hardy souls left to catch the ultimate subway home. Kat took many many photos after hours, which will be uploaded Real Soon Now.

Monday, July 31

First Post!

First post! On the Wikimania '06 blog. Last year's action here.

External links

Blogs

If you've made a blog post about Wikimania, add a link to your post to the list below. We'll soon be adding a Wikimania blog that will trackback to all your posts so you can see the updates pouring in throughout the conference and beyond. Questions, comments, volunteering? Email Mel, the blogging and transcripts coordinator.

People blogging Wikimania

Name Blog Blogging about... contact (optional)
J. Example Hacker My Blog All the world's a wiki foo@bar.com


Press coverage

11 July

30 July

31 July

2 Aug

3 Aug

4 Aug

5 Aug

6 Aug

7 Aug

8 Aug

9 Aug

18 Aug

  • Podcast over the world service by Alex Gallafent]

20 Aug

26 Aug