Friday, August 29, 2008

Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you

Truisms like this are taken as being true. However such assumtions are sometimes proved to be wrong. Words do hurt is what I read on the BBC news website.

This provides a really powerfull argument why we should not allow for all the baiting, the insults that are sadly part of many of the discussions on Wikipedia. The argument why unfettered abuse should be allowed is either freedom of speech or that nobody is really hurt. The last argument is patently untrue and with this new research it should even more clear. Freedom of speech does not mean that you are free to hurt others. Freedom is limited by the extend where your freedom meets the freedom of others.

Obviously there is a need to express unpopular points of view, what is at stake is particularly the manner in which an opinion is expressed.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Learning to use a computer

A friend who I love dearly, got a new computer. She got her computer because she needs computing skills for a job. Given that she is completely new to computers, training is included. I have looked at the training material and it is like many others that I have seen before. You first learn basis skills like using the mouse, the key board and to start and stop the computer.
The classic method of teaching people to point and click, drag and drop is to use a game like Solitaire. It is not the first time that I found this to be a complete disaster. You cannot assume that people play cards, even know cards. It takes more effort to teach the game then the skill it is supposed to teach...

I really like that the course provides a typing tutor. Typing is an essential skill for computing. Typing with ten fingers really helps. The course provided is for the "International" keyboard, I am now looking for a typing tutor for the Farsi keyboard.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An anonymous coward asks for a Wikipedia to be closed

On Meta, an anonymous coward started a proposal for the deletion of a Wikipedia. I was asked for my opinion. I hate it when people think they start something controversial like the closure of a Wikipedia anonymously. In my opinion such a person deserves to be banned globally for at least a week or alternatively find a special place in hell.

There have been many such requests and I will not take them seriously. These cowards are not man enough to argue their case. Consequently I feel that we should close them on principle. I am really happy that Spacebirdy is a person who thinks like me in these terms. I am really happy with her closing this proposal.

Now if someone wants to close a project like the "Tarantino" Wikipedia, there may be all kinds of good reasons for it. I do not mind this discussion but these requests are highly political and it is extremely painful when such a request is made for your language. Anonimity is just not acceptable.

The sound of a tit

I love tits, I love their sounds in spring, I love it when they fly endlessly to and from my house bringing grubs to their young. For me, spring starts when I hear my tits calling.
When you record their call, you can propose them as a featured sound candidate because it is "encyclopaedic". A lot of research has been done on the calling of tits, and tits sound differently in the city then in the country site. There are dialects, so just a call of a tit may be alluring but it is just that.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is the secretary general of the NATO. He is encyclopaedic and sure enough, he has his Wikipedia article in nineteen Wikipedias. His article is most often written in the Latin script, but there is also Яп де Хоп Схефер, იაპ დე ჰოოპ სხეფერი, ヤープ・デ・ホープ・スヘッフェル, Хооп Схеффер, Яап деХооп Схеффер, Яап де, Яап де Ҳуп Схефер, Хооп Схеффер Яап де and 亚普·德霍普·斯海费.

When I hear how people pronounce his name, it often does not sound like anything his mother would recognise him by. Mr de Hoop Scheffer was born and raised in the Netherlands and consequently his name should be pronounced in the Dutch way. This is relevant encyclopaedic information. There are services that help newscasters pronounce the news by making recordings like this available.

According to some, it is not encyclopaedic at all.  " It's just one person talking & then done." or "For the same reason that voiced articles are not featurable." I can say "It is just a tit sounding off" or "It is just another recording of the four seasons by Vivaldi by a minor artist", why would these be more encyclopaedic ? The case for a good recording of the pronunciation of the name of a famous person or place is easy to make; it is the difference between being understood or not.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bias in stock photography

I learned that Getty Images and Flickr have joined in an exclusive partnership. Both organisations represent some of the biggest resources of images of the world. Getty Images sells them to people and organisations that need illustrations. Flickr is a website where you can share your images with the rest of the world. As photographers retain their copyright, this partnership is to allow Getty to sell images of Flickr on behalf of the Flickr participants.

What is most notable, is the reason for this collaboration. Getty's stock has a bias towards what is photographed by typically Western photographers. As a result there is a bias towards Western subjects and more importantly, a lack of material that illustrates far flung places and events.

This same bias both Wikipedia and Commons suffer from. Given that Commons' user interface is in English, many people who are not able to communicate in English find it a hostile environment and consequently many Wikipedias in languages other then en.wikipedia do not contribute to Commons as a result. This in term leads to a bias in Commons as the material that is represented in the languages and cultures of those projects is missing; it is at best uploaded locally.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Captcha with a twist

In the Wikimedia Foundation we use captchas. They are a tool against spam bots and vandals. They do their job and they can be annoying as hell when you do not get it right the first time. As they serve an important purpose I am happy that we use them anyway.

The BBC news webiste reported on a captcha scheme that is different. The idea is so compelling, that I want to seriously argue for the adoption of this scheme in the WMF
The idea is that people recognise words that have been scanned but cannot be recognised by optical character recognition software. As we have projects in so many languages, we can provide an even better service, our people can do this same work for other languages then English. I am sure when our Wikipedias become part of such an effort, it would help the digitisation effort for many languages..

The good news is that according to the Recaptcha website, there is already a "plugin" for MediaWiki. So for me it is clear why we should join this great endeavour. It makes filling out captchas useful in more ways then one :) .. PS why not have in the user preferences a place where you can recognise words.. just because you can ??

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Numbers, statistics and appreciation

When Tim Starling announced the release of MediaWiki version 1.13.0, he mentioned for the first time our localisation efforts: "59,000 new localised text messages have been added, taking the total to 266,000, spread across 281 languages". This is important because it is indicative of the importance that internationalisation and localisation has for the Wikimedia Foundation.

Having 29% more messages localised relative to what was localised at the 1.12.0 release is an impressive number. However, when you look at the "group statistics", you will see that there is a lot more work that needs to be done. There were 172 new core messages since the previous release, Betawiki actually supports 317 languages so on average each language gained 14,2 messages or 0,73%. Obviously some languages did well and others did not.

Tim's announcement is about the MediaWiki core software. Most MediaWiki installations use several of the more then 800 extensions. With the release of MediaWiki the extensions, the 300 that reside in the WMF subversion have also had their code branched. Several of these extensions are under active development and consequently it is not a given that these will function as designed. It is for this reason that an initiative is formed to provide an environment where extensions can be tested in a "plain vanilla" environment.

The Wikimedia Foundation always uses the "bleeding edge" software and consequently the releases provide an environment that is stable for the core. The localisation is ongoing and we can and do release language packs after the release. The extensions are not guaranteed to work on the new release, so we are getting this environment where we can test this and publish the results.

The whole idea is that MediaWiki is easy to use. We want to remove nasty surprises and, we want to create an environment where extensions are supported for the stable releases.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Keeping up

Even keeping up the localisation of MediaWiki is hard work. This is illustrated best by the languages that have full localisation and maintain their status. In the past ten days some 250 edits were needed just to keep up... These are the changes of the French Wikipedia, the changes of the Norwegian, Dutch, German and Arabic show a similar story.

In a way these are the lucky languages; for many languages it is a dream to get to the stage where all the messages are visible. In the last month a lot has happened for the Spanish and the Romanian language; Spanish is now approaching 100% of the MediaWiki core messages and Romanian has reached this milestone :)

In order to get to the stage of full localisation, the amount of maintenance increases as well. It is considered too much work for a single person to do and more people working on the localisation and proof reading will improve the quality the most.

A project proposed for restoring images

A new project has been proposed for the restoration of images at the English Wikipedia. This is a great idea; the restoration of pictures helps to properly illustrate the many articles that deal with subjects that happened in the past. Many of these illustrations, pictures, maps and manuscripts are becoming available digitally. Many of the originals have crumbled or faded or are stained. It is the aim of this project to find the illustrations that will improve the articles and restore them to a modern glory.

I love the proposal, but I would prefer to have such a project on Commons. Commons IS the best place to store restored images. Commons IS the place where people from many communities come together. Commons IS the place where we can best stimulate people from other languages, countries and communities to help restore pictures that they can get access to.

So what would it take to really make a multi lingual, multi cultural project on Commons ? Obviously people actively restoring images but also supporting texts in many languages.. This is why I am so interested in the deveopment of the "Translate" extension. This is an example of a long text on Betawiki.. and this is one part translated  into Dutch..
Now consider that this is an instructive text and it shows in your language when we have the translation... that is what "Translate" is supposed to do. The consequence is that as a language community becomes bigger, more of these texts are translated and it becomes in a way more autonomous as well.. 
So yes, let us have a Commons project as well and yes, PLEASE Nikerabbit make this a great little extension :)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sick or not well

After my return from Alexandria i have not been well. Some call it the "curse of the Pharaoh" but it is a fact that my digestion was not performing in its usual way. I also had this nasty cough that did not go away. Now so many weeks later, I was told in no uncertain terms by my family that I should go and consult my doctor.

I went to the doctor, she send me to the hospital for x-rays. I returned and the verdict was that i have a bronchitis. The doctor subscribed me medicines, as my diarrhea had returned, it was to be a strong medicine that should deal with that too. I was told the return of the diarrhea is most likely due to the fact that the bacteria in the gut need time to recover and consequently I was for the moment a little intollerant for lactose and fructose.I am not to drink milk for a week...

With medicine you get a lengthy piece of paper explaining what it is that this medicine does. It is a lengthy list of things that I could be cured off, it includes things like venereal deseases, ear infections... I am now wondering how many things are cured as a result for a subscription for something completely different.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Philip Greenspun illustration project

I am really happy to echo that the Philip Greenspun illustration project is a go. Today Pfctdayelise send this message to the Foundation-l and the Commons-l. This first phase of the project is about creating new illustration for WMF projects. It consists of collecting requests for illustrations and the commissioning of selected requests.

I am really happy with this result, it means that the Free Content world is commissioning work that will help us illustrate those subjects where the proverbial picture paints a thousand words. As so many people are helped with good quality illustrations, it will help Wikipedia and other projects in their aim to bring information to the people of this world.


I read an article on the Time website. It reported about the consequence of the death of Abu Khabab al-Masr, a man who was the acknowledged expert on explosives and the use of poison gas of al-Qaeda. The article uses loaded phrases like "weapons of mass destruction" and is based on information provided by a former CIA officer.

I have a big problem with the information in the artice. I find that as a consequence of all the misinformation that has been provided by both US-American agencies and press agencies in the recent past, I no longer believe what is written. My first instinct is to suspect both sources as being too biased to be believable.

There has been ample proof that information as provided by the current American administration has been doctored to the point where it is a lie. The consequence is that I doubt almost all analysis that can be sourced to the US government and government agencies. I find it really sad because at some stage the US was the centre of the free world. I do not consider the world free when I find that we can no longer trust the information that is made available by our governments.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Jacob Zuma; mutually assured destruction

Jacob Zuma is a South African politician. To be politely about it, he is considered to be controversial. He has been accused of rape and corruption. He is to be the heir apparant of Thabo Mbeki, the current president of South Africa.

In news reported by the Volkskrant, it is said that Joseph Zuma is threatening to disclose corrupt practices of other politicians when he is charged with corruption in a process that is about to start. It is also reported that he will step down when he is found to be guilty as charged.

I do like to call Mr Zuma's bluff. I wish the judicial system in South Africa is strong enough to continue with the proceedings and I wish that Mr Zuma discloses the criminal and corrupt practices as he knows them. I am sure that this may be unsettling for the status quo. But I cannot envision that a corrupt status quo is one that is worth preserving.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Amsterdam for Wikimania 2010 ..

At this time several countries, cities are preparing their bid for Wikimania 2010. There are already 14 cities from four continents competing. Amsterdam is one of them.

As you can imagine, I have been talking with some people about this. It is easy to come up with reasons why Amsterdam will be able to host a great Wikimania experience;
  • There is an active chapter
  • Many WCN conferences have been organised over the years
  • A dynamic wikimedia crowd
  • The number of Wikipedia articles per head of the population is REALLY high
  • The Dutch invariably speak English
  • Five languages spoken in the Netherlands have their own Wikipedia
Typically I am in favour of having a Wikimania in a place where having a Wikimania will make a difference. When I look at the competion, Hong Kong is Chinese, Melbourne maybe if they do something for their Aboriginal languages, Seoul maybe but Korea has a well functioning project already, Rio de Janeiro we have just been to South America, North America, first get yourself a chapter, rest of Europe ... Stockholm seems to be the most serious competitor.. 

Sue Gardner interview on Wikipedia Weekly

The interview of Sue is all that episode 59 of the Wikipedia Weekly has to offer. I have listened to it, all of the 53 minutes and found it of real interest. You want to listen to it if you want to learn about the Wikimedia organisation, how the role of the board is being redefined, in what way the Wikimedia Foundation is truly a unique organisation..

Congratulations to Wikipedia Weekly and Liam Wyatt for a great episode of the Wikipedia Weekly.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Translate, a new extension is being developed

As part of his Summer of Code project, Nikerabbit is now developing the "Translate" extension. Translate is there to help with the translations of the many text that need ... translating. They are the press releases, the election statements and all the other texts.

This is an example of what it looks like; a legenda on top followed by the text in "your" language. When you want to translate, you click on the "Deze pagina vertalen" text in the top left corner.

At the moment the code is being developed, the documentation needs writing and I am sure that more testing will smooth the experience. In the mean time it is functionality that I think will prove to be really welcome.


On the monthly Betawiki info

This month's Betawiki statistics need just like last months numbers some explanation. The numbers look good, there is growth in all groupings. What is different is that we have taken Flagged Revisions out of the statistics of the WMF used extensions and is now registered separately. The reason for this is that it is optional. A project may decide to use it and in order to make it work, it needs to be localised.

One of the projects that considers to use Flagged Revisions is the Hungarian Wikipedia. They have started to localise locally. This is actually a very bad idea for several reasons.
  • Flagged revisions are used elsewhere and your localisation is not available as a consequence
  • A local effort does not benefit from the management of changed messages Betawiki provides
  • The messages explaining what a message is there for is not available
Betawiki does welcome any and all people working on localisation. We are particularly happy when the group for one language is big enough so that proof reading of the messages becomes feasible.