Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quality pictures

Historical subjects need illustrations just like any other subjects. I was looking at the word "front" and I learned that for the Russian military it has a specific meaning. I looked up the corresponding article and found this picture.

It shows soldiers marching, a bridge and a tower in the background. It is probably the best picture that we have and it will be replaced once we have a better version of this photo or when we have an alternative.

The question is where do we get a better alternative. Who has access to the original picture and can create a quality scan. There are likely enough alternatives to this picture.Who can help us improve our illustrations of this article ?

User interface

Recently I have been using the PuTTY software a lot. My computer came with Windows XP and I have been using this ever since PuTTY however provides me with a Window onto a Linux server and what I have been thinking about is what do I expect of the software.

It is obvious that the command I type in are to be interpreted remotely. I do a mv when I copy, and I rm a file when I delete it. Copying and pasting is less obvious. What tripped me is how to copy text. I highlight a text and then I press CNTRL C This gets me at least a carriage return and in Windows I can paste the text.

What is nasty is that it also kills the program I am in... Now I have learned that highlighting the text is what allows me to paste it. CNTRL C is there to provide me with a KeyboardInterrupt so everything works as designed, the only problem left is knowing what the design is.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The localisation of Veps and Estonian

Veps is a language spoken in Russia and it is related to Estonian and maybe Finnish. Now that Veps has been added as a language in, there is a discussion what to use as its fall back language.
  • People do speak Russian but Russian is not related to Veps, it uses a different script, it does not help the localisers.
  • Estonian is closest but the localisation of Estonian is far from complete
  • Finnish is quite different and this brings its own problems
Veps has a project in the incubator, it is a language that is struggling and this makes it extra important to help people with a user interface in their own language. One of the big problems is the lack of computer terminology in Veps. It is really important for the localisers to agree on what words to use.

It will be really interesting to watch how the localisation of Veps will work out and what fall back language will be implemented when the project goes life.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Commons or Flickr

There have been several collections of museums and archives that found their way to Flickr. The latest I know off was a collection of medical images. There was a discussion about this and I have been thinking about this for some time. I would like to see more collections going into Commons. So what do we have to offer to the archives and museums when they collaborate with us (as well).
  • The images are actually used, Commons is not like a stamp collection
  • Researching things like copyright is something that we do
  • Providing updates to the meta data was important to the Bundesarchiv
  • The material is used in projects in many languages
Many archives have collections that reflect the history of multiple countries. When the paintings, the gravures, etches and photos that are part of such collections are digitally available in Commons, it will be shared and this gives the collection even more relevance.

The arguments why Commons should be an obvious partner are easy to make. The benefits to Commons and our projects are equally obvious. We have to figure out how to be inclusive and how to reach out to the archives and museums of countries where we are thin on the ground. This is important because this is how we prevent systemic bias.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Things that make me happy

Today a new person came to He came to us to localise a language that has been consistently dormant. We did not even support his language in our Babel extension. Now we do.

Peter Suber wrote on his blog about the Library of Congress, they have scanned over 25.000 public domain books. The Sloan Foundation, the Internet Archive are all involved. They do a marvelous job.

Today I received an e-mail from a Dutch museum that they want to talk with us to share their material with us. I am going to meet them in April.

A few days ago, I read that when you share your hapiness, you make other people happy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The usability project has it wrong

The Wikipedia Usability Initiative has posted on its website criteria for WYSWYG and markup editors. I take it that the criteria posted are the alpha version of what the criteria will be because they are fundamentally flawed.

They say "Compatibility with current 1.15alpha is required to pass". I do not understand this. The point of this phase of the project is to evaluate functionality that improved on the usability of MediaWiki. When this usability is better that the one on offer in the 1.15alpha and when testing proves it to be best of breed, this is the functionality that is to pass.

The Stanton project has given a grant of $890.000,-- to bring improved usability to the English Wikipedia. I know that the project team consists of capable people, what I expect them to do is look at the functionality, learn what it is that makes it tick, compare what is on offer and make a best of breed implementation based on what they have learned. They can and should upgrade software to run on 1.15alpha when needed but the real trick is to make it good enough to get Brion's approval.

One other aspect is that these WYSWYG and markup editors are developed by organisations for their own need. When you look at the list, you realise that there are quite a number of them.What I am hoping for is that the WMF will collaborate with these organisations, that they work together so that the new usability will fit them all.

Collaboration will help the $890.000,-- achieve that much more because it is not only this money but also the money spend on usability by these organisations.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Update on the Uniwiki extensions

It has been some time since I posted last about the Uniwiki extensions. Things have changed. There is much better information about the Uniwiki project available on the UNICEF innovation website. The focus of UNICEF has been to make MediaWiki usable for the youth online. They mention that the extensions are localised on translatewiki and while this has been a success, it is sad that the African languages have so far not attracted the people to localise their language.

Technically a lot of work has been done. Kennisnet has a programmer working on the software. I received a report from him about it.
  • the software now uses classes
  • several exceptions are now handled in the correct way
  • all the originally reported bugs have been fixed and have been verified as fixed
  • testing uncovered more bugs
  • there are still nine bug open
As I mentioned before, the Uniwiki extensions are based on genuine user tests done in English in Tanzania. The tapes are available to the people of the WMF usability project, there is continued development and testing to make the software Brion ready. Our aim is to make the funding from the Stanton foundation go as far as it can get because we really need better usability for our MediaWiki software.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Appreciating Semantic MediaWiki

I am spending a considerable amount of time working on the "Wikiation Extension Testing Environment" (WETE). This is software that is designed to test MediaWiki and its extensions in many configurations. Wikiation is a Dutch company that provides hosting and value added services in the Dutch language and with MediaWik as its platform. It is of extreme importance for Wikiation that the software just works. The customers of Wikiation rely on a quality service, they expect that the systems are running.

One of the customers of Wikiation is interested in Semantic MediaWiki. Installing SMW is complicated, there are many extensions, these extensions have their prerequisites and it is easy to get it wrong. All of SMW is under constant development and consequently the latest is not necessarily the greatest.

As I am working together with Wikiation to develop WETE, SMW is an obvious target to test. I blogged about the lessons learned and several people got into contact with me. I learned that SMW is used for a wide variety of topics, it is used for genomics and for chicks, it is used for contact information and for a science fiction MMO... There is even a hosting company who specialises in SMW.

What SMW helped me to appreciate even more is the great number of people and organisations that have their MediaWiki installation. SMW is great software and it deserves the best support. I am happy that WETE is starting to play a part in this.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tim Berners-Lee at TED

I love TED. Their presentations are awesome. They make them available on the web for everybody to see. I use Google Reader to learn when something new appears and today I was given the treat of Tim Berners-Lee.

Sir Tim talked about Linked Data, in it he mentioned Wikipedia; but it was not Wikipedia that was relevant but DBpedia, the project that extracts data from the info boxes of Wikipedia articles. In the vision of Sir Tim, it is data that is of importance, Wikipedia is connected throught DBpedia and this is how Wikipedia gets much added value.

DBpedia is not the only project that links to Wikipedia. When you look at the Wikipedia article on malaria in this way, you find another.

From a data point of view, Wikipedia is very much an end-point. You refer to it, you data mine it and it is really fortunate that this has always been allowed. Wikipedia currently does not produce data, that is apparantly something that is reserved for its future.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nikerabbit's thinkpad

At Fosdem Nikerabbit's laptop was stolen. To Nikerabbit and to, this was quite a blow.

We did ask on and on this blog for a way to help. It is with gratitude that I can post this photo of Nikerabbit reading the fine manual of his new thinkpad.

Thank you Wikimedia Foundation for helping out. This was most welcome :)

The Cologne archive

Cologne had an important archive. Its material was not digitised. Because of a mishap during the building of a new underground route, the archive was destroyed.

The archive of Cologne was important. Several scientist are now stuck. The collection is deemed to be destroyed beyond repair.


No more libraries of Alexandria

Monday, March 09, 2009

About dykes

I have been reading the articles relating to dykes on the English Wikipedia. For me it is an amazing article because so many things in this article are problematic. I live in a polder, effectively below the sea level and understanding how dykes works is important in the Netherlands.

When I read that willows are used to strengthen a dyke, I am utterly amazed, my grandfather had his sheep on a dyke because they ensured that there would not be any willows as trees undermine the very structure of a dyke. It is suggested that in Dutch the ditch on the inside of a dyke is part of the dyke. This ditch is to drain away the water seeping from under a dyke and aims to prevent saturation of the ground because this is a precursor to a breach. But it is not at all considered to be part of the dyke.

There is also an argument in the article that an authority that enforces the maintenance of a dyke is not needed. The problem is that the lack of enforcement is quite deadly. When a dyke breaks everybody may drown, not just the people who are living next to where there is a breach. It would be folly to rely on people's individual responsibility; it is a shared responsibility and there is little room for error. Pre dynastic Egypt may have been less centrally organised, but there is in my mind no doubt that (local) enforceable arrangements existed.

The Dutch dykes have to be effective because half our country depends on them. As we do expect the sea level to rise, we are working on improving out dykes and the ability to drain the Rhine and the Meuse to prevent a catastrophe.

My problem with writing on the English Wikipedia is that I am acutely aware of the existence of all kinds of rules. The articles about the dyke is merged with levee because it is considered the same. There is a Wikipedia project involved... I find I have to invest serious time in order to argue why I think the article is wrong. Time that I do not have spare.

Simple Wikipedia

The Simple Wikipedia is a Wikipedia in the English language. It uses easy words and simple sentences. This will help people who are learning English.

When a request for a "simple" Wikipedia in another language is made, it will be denied. The current language policy does not allow for "simple" projects. This has its own problems. Regularly people request the closure of this project because the current policy does not allow for it.

Pathoschild wrote that there are two ways in which new simple Wikipedias might come about:
  • formulate criteria so that the policy can be changed
  • convince the WMF board to accept new "simple" projects
In my opinion the hardest thing to do is convince; convince people either to accept changes to the policy or to convince the board to accept new "simple" projects.  The best way to convince me would be to show how the simple English language Wikipedia makes a difference, how it is used. When it becomes obvious what good the "simple" Wikipedia does, it will also be more obvious how to formulate the criteria that allow for "simple" projects in other languages.

Aphaia mentioned that she successfully "simple" promoted in Japan. David Gerard wondered why "simple" is not better known. David Goodman argued that a "simple" may help people who speak English only, to learn other languages. I say, get all the testimonies and research about "simple" in one place and the least it will do is help stop the unending stream of requests for the closure of the English language "simple" Wikipedia.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Pontic Wikipedia

I am really happy with the creation of the Pontic Wikipedia. I wish the Pontic community a great future with their Wikipedia.

Monday, March 02, 2009

On the monthly information had a good month. When you look at the group statistics in time, you will find that the MediaWiki core messages, the messages of the WMF used extensions and of all the extensions have gone up. The "most used" messages made a tumble from 113 to 82 languages covering 98% of the messages, but when you compare it with the number of languages on February fifth, you will find that only 45 languages had this status. So it is actually not at all bad.

Februari was the first month that we could add "gender" to messages. As I do not hear much of it, I can only assume that its implementation is happening quietly.

This month the 1.14 release of MediaWiki was planned and Siebrand asked our localisers for a final rally. According toTim Starling: "MediaWiki 1.14.0 now has 311,000 localised interface text fragments spread across 298 languages, that's 17% more than in 1.13.0".

Wouter Hamel for Amsterdam 2010

Rob, a friend of mine celebrated his birthday by inviting friends for a concert. I had the pleasure to enjoy Wouter Hamel and his band.
It was a great concert, the guy can sing, his band can play and it sounded suberb. I could wish for nothing better then having a class act like this for Amsterdam 2010. I am however afraid that Wouter will be world famous outside the Netherlands as well by then.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Predation in the Oostvaardersplassen

The Oostvaardersplassen is a nature reserve near my home. It is a nature reserve that happened by accident. It was in a low laying area and water aggregated there, it became a marsh area loved by water fowl and in a relatively short period it became one of the more important nature reserves in Northern Europe.

As geese were rare in the Netherlands, people were really happy to find that geese could actually breed in the Netherlands. A large area was reserved and it was optimised so that geese would have a home. Geese need short grass, so Heck cattle, koniks, and deer  were introduced to keep the grasslands open.

There are only so many animals that can live in a certain area and the deer, horse and cattle population has reached its upper limit. Consequently when winter comes early, animals die. It is particularly the young and the old that do. The Netherlands do not have predators that could regulate these animals. So it is for the forrester to fulfill the role of predator.

When an animal starts to isolate itself, when it no longer flees, the animal gets shot. Depending on the law, the law in this is an arse, the cadaver is removed or left in place. Dead dear may be left in place but there is one problem. Scavengers price a skull with antlers and consequently these people tresspass in this closed wildlife sanctuary.

So in order to maintain peace and quiet, the dead deer are decapitated, and it is left to nature to do away with corpses. This is an opportunity for eagles, raven, crows and foxes. They are doing really well. The only thing is, there could be many more in the Oostvaardersplassen.