Saturday, June 28, 2008

Norwegian Sign Language

Today I learned from a mailing list that Norwegian Sign Language is recognised as an official language of Norway. This is good news. I understand it to mean that there is now a legal recognition for the fact that sign language is a legal method of communication between a state and its citizens.

In the e-mail thread, the question was raised if there is a list of sign languages that have an official status. I found this list on the English Wikipedia, it already included the Norwegian Sign Language as it was already recognised in the Norwegian education.

Reading the article, I found that as I personally do not have a link to the official Norwegian announcement or to a press release in English I will not change the list of sign languages nor the article on the Norwegian Sign Language. It is funny to find myself not changing a Wikipedia article; I feel restricted by the English language Wikipedia policies...

I am sure that someone else, someone who is also happy with this development will either provide me with a source or better, will update the article for all of us :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Too darn hot

I am in Maiori Italy. It is hot. It is 38 °C. In the Netherlands where I live the weather is a more comfortable 21 °C. When I get home it is not unlikely that I will find it cold.

When summer temperatures are constantly above 30 °C, many things are different. This shapes the culture, the people, yesterday we had a pizza in the lemon garden of the "Bar Pineta". Today we went swimming in the sea; school children were there with their teachers, Dominican nuns, because as it is too warm in summer, the curriculum is condensed in the more moderate months of the year; kids do go to school on Saturday...

When you hang your clothes out to dry, you have to take into account the power of the sun; it bleaches your clothes so you hang them inside out. It is quite nice to have a siesta .. so you work some more hours in the evening or at night, but in this way you do not suffer the heat that much.

Kids like their chocolate, you do not buy it in summer as it melts. Oh, and Sabine paints her hair in winter; this is when it gets its original colour; everybody has a "coup de soleil" in summer :)

There are many small things like this, but all in all it is too darn hot ... for me :)

Why SignWriting

Adam Frost created a wonderful video, this video was originally created for the Cherasco conference and has now found a home on the SignWriting website as well.

Adam's presents a compelling case for being able to write in your native language. Adam's mother tongue is American Sign Language. SignWriting allows him to do this. Have a look and I am sure that you will agree with me that the point is well made.

The ability to write in a mother tongue has been proven to be of benefit for the whole of the academic career of a person. Even when the career perspectives are better in another language, this is however another issue :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Internet privacy is something to get over with; it does not exist we have been repeatedly told. This means that whatever you do on the Internet should be considered as if it is done in the full view of the world. Today I was surprised when my mother told me that she had googled me; she told me that she had enjoyed my blog entry about swimming in Maiori.

When you write on the Internet, it is your mother that may read you. When whatever you write is sane / safe enough for your mother to read it, you have a proper idea of your Internet privacy and Internet dealings.

This lack of privacy does not give any excuse to those people that want to snoop beyond what is available. I am staying with Sabine at the moment and am staying in the privacy of her home, her family. When I comment publicly, I have to ensure that I show proper respect, I have to be aware of Sabine's privacy and I want to find myself as friendly a welcome a next time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

WOTD: spiaggia

"Spiaggia" is the word of the day. I have been to the beach in Maiori, and as you may have learned from a blog entry from Sabine I am in Naples. As I was a day "early", I have been privy to one of the delights of Sabine's hometown, the beach. Sabine loves to excercise by swimming. As it was a really nice sunny day, I went with her, I had a nice swim and afterwards enjoyed the sun a little bit too much, making my upper right leg turn a nice shade of red. The lower right leg is fine because that is used to the sun because my running clothes gave it the exposure that prevented a sunburn.

When you read Sabine's blog entry, you can imagine that I spend considerable time waiting for her to arrive at the Naples airport. The worry if she was ok, was the worst bit. Eventually I decided to send her an e-mail that I would come to her by bus. The cost of Internet at the Naples airport is a rip off.

Travelling can be nice, I met nice people underway, a really helpful American lady who helped a stranded guy find the right bus at the Naples central station; it was going by train to Sorento, on the train I met a guy who was happy to excercise his English on me and once in Sorento I met two ladies who were with the Irish office in Spain.. The bus took me along some of the most beautiful stretches of the Italian coast and I was really happy to find Sabine waiting for me at the bus stop :)

When you work as intensively with someone like Sabine, it is really helpful when you occasionaly meet. We had to meet in Bamberg anyway and as Sabine was driving, she invited me to come and prepare the meeting together. Given that a train ticket to Germany is almost as expensive as the cost of plane ticket it makes great sense.

It drives home the fact how much my "office" is in being able to connect to the Internet and have my data available to me. It is only the personal and private stuff that I miss here ... like teaching someone to cycle and a dear friend.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A book to read

In the definition of stalking: "The crime of following or harassing another person, causing him or her to fear death or injury" it seems clear that we are talking about dangers in the physical world. Injury comes however in many forms; damage to a reputation is a form of injury that can have a lasting impact to a person.

In a mail thread, there was talk about being "streetwise", this may be good advise but what is streetwise, how do we still maintain our NPOV, how do we still prevent pov pushing, how do we deal with cranks? If streetwise means that we leave the rougher areas of our project, would our Wikipedia still be NPOV ?

A book by Daniel J Solove was recommended to me. This book, the future of reputation is recent, 2007, it's subtitle is: "gossip, rumor and privacy on the Internet" and is available under a CC-by-nc license.

With the recommendation came the comment: "The solution is going to have to involve auto-criticism, from all sides and accepting that hostility will always exist, so the problem becomes drawing proper boundries." The person who gave the recommendation wished me good luck, he indicated that he does not want to become a victim of cyber stalking.

PS So now I need to find time to read a book :)

Why not join "Durova and friends"

Yesterday I started a Facebook group called "Durova and friends". This group is to get more attention to the stalking phenomena and the victims of stalking. Stalking as a phenomena is quite something... Just look at the Wikipedia article; its neutrality is disputed, it is in need of an expert sociologist, an expert psychologist, it needs additional citations and it even may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.

I am happy to find currently 36 members of this group. Two people have written on the group wall about Wiki related stalking. I informed a person on another project about the group, I was pointed to this website and was told in the strongest terms that he would stay away from Wikipedia and its phenomena after past experiences. Names of other victims and stalkers were given... There is a self help group of Wikistalking victims... People are still rubishing the idea, people are suggesting that you should be street wise ...

I have not been stalked. The closest I come is by being asked to reconsider friendship because of me being outed as a friend of Durova. I am angry and I use my anger to get attention for this phenomena. Anger however is not how to help, it needs cool expertise, it needs a protocol that expresses how to deal with stalking incidents, it needs compassionate people that help victims with the stress of being stalked and it needs an overall understanding of how it affects the Wikimedia Foundation and its projects.

As I am not an expert in this field and as stalking is belittled and ignored, I feel that we indeed need, like the Wikipedia article suggests, experts with a sociologist and psychologist background to help us understand stalking in all its gradations. Once stalking has been identified as happening in real time, we need a protocol that allows us to help victims in their dealings with the authorities. When we KNOW that stalking is happening, the protocol should allow us to invoke the name of the Wikimedia Foundation, name its multi million budget and its multi billion worth. It should be a protocol because we cannot be seen to be the boy who cries wolf.

To answer the question, you should not join "Durova and friends" when you are afraid of the stalkers. You may be outed as a friend of Durova. Then again, I think she is a wonderful person so you could do worse. When you are a victim of stalkers, there are other places where you can get some comfort and support. When you feel like me, you may choose to defy the stalkers and become a "friend".

For Durova and myself the action of Mr Brandt has been good; we have many more Facebook friends now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Durova is my friend

Today it gets personal. I have been informed that Mr Daniel Brandt, a person with a dubious reputation when it comes to on-line privacy decided to "out" all Facebook friends of Durova.

Durova informed me about this and suggested that given the new circumstances, I might like to reconsider my Facebook connection. I have reconsidered and as a consequence I am writing this post. I am happy to acknowledge my friendship of Durova. I find that she is a spirited lady who has an enviable stack of ackomplishments. The work that she does for restoring pictures is such that I have commented about this in the past. This example is just to prove my appreciation for her.

Mr Daniel Brandt, has the kind of reputation that is hard to shake. By acting like this, by telling the world the real name of Durova, someone who Mr Brandt knows to be stalked by the type of people that go to jail as a result, he demonstrates how irresponsible he is.

Until now I have had no interest in Mr Brandt, I have since learned that he runs a website, that a visit to his website will have him harvest cookies. That as a result it is better to stay away from such a creepy site.

Mr Brandt, for the record, my name is Gerard Meijssen and I am happy to be a friend of Durova.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


"Researchers at the Meraka Institute have released a spelling game in all 11 official South African languages. The game, OpenSpell, can also be localised for additional languages."

This is interesting news; the software is GPL, the game can be localised and it is the kind of software that would be usefull in addition to the vocabulary trainer at OmegaWiki. It would be an ideal tool to localise it in as many languages as possible.

I learned about it from Friedel from; he is another who would love to see a tool like this available in as many languages as possible...

I will send them an e-mail; it will be interesting to learn what the possibilities are :)

Monday, June 09, 2008

We lost the fuzzy ones

In the Betawiki statistics, a message was localised when it was localised. However, once a message changes, it gets fuzzied, indicating that the message needs some more work.

So far the statistics included these fuzzied messages. Today I noticed that Siebrand changed the way the statistics are compiled; no more fuzzies, we now only count the localised messages that completely serve their purpose..

This puts downward pressure on Siebrand's goals for the MediaWiki localisation for 2008. Luckily there is another half a year to go :)

Saturday, June 07, 2008


When you write a language like Dutch, the orthography is prescribed. Its orthography changes over time but it is easily understood how to spell. When you write English, there are several ways of writing your words, English and American spelling for instance differ but it is quite clear what spelling is acceptable and what is not.

The question of what orthography to use is not a trivial one. Politics plays an important role; we learned to the consternation of many, that people on the Belarus Wikipedia were enforcing an orthography that precluded the changes that happened while the communists were in power. This even led to a rename and this is what is now the Sadly the Belarussians could not find it in themselves to work together..

In less and least resourced languages it is not always clear how to spell. Some languages have a written tradition that has fallen in disuse, some languages have multiple dialects that sound distinct. When there is no orthography taught, when not many people write a language, it is hard to get agreement on how to spell.

There are several possible competing arguments for a specific choice and when they are considered together, it is hard to decide what to do. When you maintain an old orthography, you keep the connection with the existing literature. When you create a unifying orthography and prescribe its use, there will be resistance from the people that do not spell in this way. When you write what you hear, the different dialects of a language sound different and consequently it fragments the language.

I do not know what the right way to approach this problem is. I would approach it by keeping people together; leading by example, discussing the issues and keeping the conversation going. One thing is for sure; languages change so the spelling of a language will change in time with it.

When languages are to survive, it all depends on having as many people as possible communicate in a language by talking, listening, signing, watching, reading and writing.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Not invented here ...

Most of the best ideas around are the ideas of other people. Some of the best ideas you learn of your parents, your family, the people around you. Adopting these shared ideas ensure that you are part of a culture, that you share a language.

At the Go Piedmonte conference on Wikipedia, some of the best people around discussed less and least languages. Also some great presentations were made available for the conference including a workshop by Erik Moeller on licenses, a presentation by Adam Frost why SignWriting is such a wonderful thing to him..

Raoul Weiler presented both at the conference and provided a video. We discussed the continuation of Raoul's quest to have ethnonological artefacts photographed and documented. The cultural heritage of Africa is mostly available in Western musea and most of the artefacts exist in depots away from the public eye. Much of Africa's history is unknown to Africa.

Much of the background, the culture, the language that is associated with these artifacts is lost or about to be lost. This is what gives Raoul the drive to persue his quest. Much of the material in these musea has some annotation, sometimes even pictures. Raoul's quest is to make all of this available digitally and in this way make non western history available to the whole of the world.

Of all the imagery on Commons, the pictures that have been restored are really special. Many of these pictures are testimony to a time, to events that have passed. The pictures taken in Africa are so important because they provide a rare glance in a past that is often more distant then the ancient past of the Romans, the Greek, the Hittite.

I would love to see pictures restored in Commons about Africa, I echo the need for high resolution scans. I would love to see the photos of the artifacts in Commons, the annotation in Wikisource, articles about these cultures, the histories in all Wikipedias because the history of Africa is our history and the languages of Africa are our languages. There is no NPOV without them.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Statistics are one of the more important tools to inform about how things develop. The Wikipedia statistics are wonderful they are informative, they show trends. Sadly the numbers for the English Wikipedia are out of date because the number crunching requires bigger hardware..

The problem with statistics is in their interpretation. When numbers are given an implication that is not warranted, the consequences are proverbially based on lies even damned lies. The number of articles is often seen as all important; even the Wikipedia portal is based on these numbers.

What the Wikimedia Foundation is about is providing people with information; encyclopaedic information for Wikipedia. So when you want to rate the relevance of the wikipedias, it is much more relevant to know how many people actually use a Wikipedia and rate the projects accordingly.

Once it is decided that the relevance of a Wikipedia is in the number of people actually reading a Wikipedia, the fight for a high ranking becomes the kind of fight that we welcome. In this way the number of articles becomes only a factor in attracting more people. When the current emphasis on raw numbers of articles changes in the numbers of visitors, the current energy in improving the statistics will take a change for the better. People will want to understand what factors help gain more visitors, things like relevance of articles, quality of localisation. These two factors can be quantified as well. They are respectively the number of articles read and the articles that are not available and the localisation statistics.

We have had some bad fights as a consequence of the way the current statistics are understood. When we can agree that the current numbers are not really relevant for achieving our goals, we should turn to the numbers that do matter.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What happened to the "Extensions WMF 90%" ??

The Betawiki "group statistics in time" show how the localisation of MediaWiki is doing. The statistics show the number of "Languages" in a given month, the number of languages with the "Most often used 98%", the "Core 90%", the "Extensions WMF 90%" and the "Extensions 65%".

The numbers have been growing every month. We are really proud by the achievement of our localisers.. but how can it be that the "Extensions WMF 90%" have halved ?

It has everything to do with Single User Logon and Stable Versions. Both are big new extensions that are now used by the Wikimedia Foundation's projects. Both bring with them a large number of messages that need translating. The number of languages that reach 90% messages localised has now dropped considerably.

When you compare the statistics of the MediaWiki core messages and the extensions, you will notice that with 66 languages, MediaWiki is well covered. The extensions are providing an increasingly important function. Given that the number of languages covering the WMF extensions was only half the number of the MediaWiki core, it becomes clear how important it is to cover the extensions well.

Given the importance of Single User Logon and Stable Versions, I hope that many people will help us localise them and that within a month or two we will be at the same number of languages that support the extensions used by the Wikimedia Foundation as we had them at the end of April.