You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

The Longest Now

Shards of beauty, Mk. 15
Friday July 31st 2009, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Friday linkfest — I ran across an old collection of beautiful things, published here for your delectation.

Update: thanks to Avi for pointing out that Farley is rebooting his site at .

    My Wikimedia platform
    Thursday July 30th 2009, 6:34 am
    Filed under: chain-gang,international,popular demand,wikipedia

    I’ve organized my thoughts about being a good Board member in my platform for the Wikimedia Board.

    The most common questions I have heard since this year’s elections began are, what does the Foundation do? and what is the Board of Trustees for? I posted answers to these questions and a few more.

    People also ask, how do I qualify to vote? To be eligible to vote,

    • You must have 600 edits as of June 1, and 50 within the past 6 months.
    • You may need to create a Unified Login to count edits on more than one project; or to vote from your main wiki.
    • If you are not eligible, you can still encourage fellow Wikimedians to vote, or leave suggestions for future elections

    I am more intent on this year’s election than I have been in any year past – in part because the Board’s role has been shifting away from one that actively engages and challenges the community, something valuable Agnela and Anthere brought to the Board that I miss.  I am deeply concerned by the lack of community growth for the past two years, and the complete stagnation of new project development (despite the growth of new independent educational free knowledge projects that requested Wikimedia hosting). And I was just talking to my friend Bibhusan Bista, who said that there is definite interest in the Foundation in Nepal, and in contributing to Wikipedia’s spirit of openness; but of course few editors there feel they can engage in related discussions (and none, for instance, would be eligible to vote).

    So I have two goals for my campaign beyond getting elected: to inspire people to vote and remind them why a good foundation matters, and to encourage them to raise community priorities and requests of the foundation, while attention is on governance over the next two weeks (and while you can get an immediate response from at least three future Board members, something often hard to come by).

    My request to you, if you appreciate Wikipedia and want to see it thrive, whether or not you have the edit count needed to vote: please leave suggestions about how Wikimedia should grow, blog about the election and your reasons for caring about it, and help support the election in smaller languages and projects.

    a platform and a request
    Thursday July 30th 2009, 5:05 am
    Filed under: Uncategorized

    I have written recently about my campaign for the Wikimedia Board.   I updated my platform, and am posting a few essays about what it means to me to be a Wikimedian – the sense of openness and collaboration towards a shared public goal that active contributors often hope to inspire in others.

    I am looking for other good descriptions of what it means to identify with similar global collaborative projects; not only in the world of free software and knowledge but also education, health, language, art, science, peace…  and would appreciate links to any gems.

    Comments Off on a platform and a request

    What it means to be a Wikipedian
    Wednesday July 29th 2009, 10:38 pm
    Filed under: chain-gang,international

    Part 1 in a series about being a Wikimedian.

    When people ask me about myself, I often say I am a Wikipedian and a physicist.   A physicist in that I want to know how things work at different scales, and to estimate specifics from first principles, limiting factors, conserved properties.  And a Wikipedian in that I want to understand what large groups of people can do to fix what needs fixing while learning and enjoying themselves.

    I regularly have to explain what I mean by this last bit – not a desire to add to Wikipedia itself, or to contribute tidbits of knowledge to something, but the quick check for the edit button when you find a mistake in any environment, the urge to improve things on the spot – the sense of turning to someone next to you and saying, “let’s fix this”.


    Let me give you an example from recent memory.  Last week I was visiting my local clinic in Cambridge.  It is a quiet building, competently staffed, with more security and information desk staff than is absolutely necessary.  Noone would say they were struggling to make ends meet.  They have a few vending machines throughout the clinic – offering drinks and snacks that are decidedly unhealthy.  I couldn’t find a single healthy product in them, aside from bottled water (and there are water fountains on every floor).

    Clearly a fine idea gone wrong.  This didn’t sit well with me, so I started asking the staff about it.  Noone could say for sure how they were chosen; and all agreed that while the convenience was nice, they should at least be limited to healthy foods.  I asked if there was anyone I could talk to about it (not really), and left a request card suggesting a replacement.

    This was deeply unsatisfying.  I wanted to fix this right away… it seemed clear this would make everyone better off,  and I had an idea of what to do.   I could imagine a process of replacement running like this:

    Offline reading and editing of the world’s knowledge
    Sunday July 26th 2009, 4:29 pm
    Filed under: international,popular demand,wikipedia

    Offline wikireaders have been around for over a decade in various forms, but still it seems few of them are really excellent.  (If you’re interested in such things, I have a mailing list for you…) At OLPC I’ve worked on various ways of sharing content with groups of students who are offline, and last year Chris Ball and Wade Brainerd built a WikiBrowse application, based on Patrick Collison’s iPhone Wikipedia app, that has been downloaded by 400,000 children and teachers in English and Spanish.  This was the first reader to store a compressed dump, expanding pages as they are read, and including a few images.  But it still doesn’t allow you to easily compile your own version of WikiBrowse based on your preferred title list, and it doesn’t support full-text search or offline editing.

    Now Pascal Martin of Linterweb and Wikiwix fame has released a new product : Okawix, the engine behind a new DVD snapshot of wikipedia; it is now linked from  You can reads more about it on their Wikiwix blog.  This could be the foundation for a fully functional Wikipedia on a Stick project, with editing and commentary, as the WikiStick hackers from Taiwan envisioned a couple of years ago.  See for yourself!

    Saturday July 25th 2009, 7:38 am
    Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,indescribable

    For the record : I’ve found online a full set of photos of my favorite angelic work from the ^//. century – a masterfully illustrated treeware ‘pedia from a parallel dimension.  Now that I own a copy I should take proper photos, however…

    Book 1Book 2

    Comments Off on Codicility

    on the future of Wikipedia
    Wednesday July 22nd 2009, 12:45 pm
    Filed under: international,wikipedia

    A number of recent initiatives have been started to plan for the future of Wikimedia projects and of Wikipedia in particular. The Foundation has made a 12-month Strategic Planning initiative one of their top priorities for the coming year, and hired three staff and an outside consultancy for the purpose of organizing input from the communities.

    On the English Wikipedia, the Arbitration Committee tried to organize a community think tank to provide research and advice on community development and long-range plans, something which is generally wanted and needed by the community, but which people didn’t like having associated with the AC. (personally I think the idea will work fine once people get rid of application processes and acceptance metrics, and simply encourage everyone to take part in a focused sort of brainstorming, in a well-ordered way.)

    At the New York Wikiconference this coming weekend, a number of the talks are about planning for outreach and future chapter and project growth — something it would be good to see more of at local events and on-wiki.  And I am running for the Wikimedia Board in part to help vitalize and expand Wikipedia’s sister projects, which have never emerged from its shadow (while still promising the same sort of universal single-source for free knowledge that we would all love to see and use).

    So… what would you like to see in Wikipedia’s future?  What have you been waiting to happen for years that hasn’t yet come to pass?  What would you like to see from Wikibooks, Wikiversity, Wiktionary, Wikinews, or Wikisource?  Are you still secretly hoping that Wikispecies will merge with the Encyclopedia of Life?  Do you want Wikiquote to be as popular as LyricWiki, only legal? Are you happier with Enciclopedia Libre and WikiZnanie?  Let me know.  The best ideas will be thrown up on the whiteboard at the wikiconference.

    Monday July 20th 2009, 1:52 pm
    Filed under: SJ,Uncategorized,wikipedia

    I am running for the Board again this year, with the hope of bringing a stronger community voice to the Board, and organizing good and frequent open discussions between the Board and community about priorities, core services, new initiatives, and the like.  Angela organized a few open meetings long ago when she first joined the Board which I really appreciated, and which encouraged some previously invisible community members to come forward with good ideas.

    Meanwhile, my friend Kat Walsh has not yet stood for re-election to the Wikimedia Board of Trustees, though I hope she will!

    Update: she did, and she was reelected for another term!  Congratulations 🙂

    She is among the last of a certain breed of board members who have been strong advocates for community involvement in key decisions, and we could use more.  The current Wikimedia Foundation is strongly in support of openness even without nagging from the Board – for instance in framing the upcoming year-long strategic planning as a process to facilitate and crystalize plans from the many communities – but without active community trustees we might no longer be so lucky a few years from now.

    My official statement, and throwback to an earlier era, after the jump.


    Getting tweet
    Sunday July 19th 2009, 10:54 pm
    Filed under: Uncategorized

    Steve Gillmor puts it well with his hyperbolic streaming loquaciousness.

    And Tim and the new Web Ecology Project (‘researching the Internet so you don’t have to’) has their first whitepaper up on the subject — I look forward to more.

    Comments Off on Getting tweet

    Brilliant Apollo moonshot anniversary reenactment website
    Saturday July 18th 2009, 9:40 pm
    Filed under: Uncategorized

    This is a weekend of writing for me. I’m holed up in a quiet breezy room with two laptops and a stack of statements, letters, and essays to work through (currently: 2 of 12).

    I just ran across a fabulous moonshot website via SJv‘s photostream, however, that deserves immediate blogging.  In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, it is a multimedia site broadcasting a real-time reenactment of the launch, flight and landing.  Even the name of the site is a pleasure : we choose the moon.  They are currently in Stage 6, with almost 2 days to go before moon-landing.

    Take a look!  It’s a fantastic site to share with teachers and children as well, since links to the primary sources are all neatly integrated with artist’s renderings of the elements involved.

    Comments Off on Brilliant Apollo moonshot anniversary reenactment website

    sjmail : email that anyone can respond to
    Tuesday July 07th 2009, 1:15 pm
    Filed under: Uncategorized

    I’m working on the gmail-to-wiki idea, since I’m trying to minimize my use of private channels and want to be able to truthfully say “for fastest response time, please use my [public|wiki|shared] email address”.  (Note to linguists : we lack the right word to fit in those brackets.)

    How it might work:

    • you write to wikisj@gmail .  It posts to the sjmail wiki : subject becomes title [or dab], metadata gets put in a wiki-template (or sem wiki form) .
    • a mwiki extension adds a “reply” button at the top of main article namespace pages.  this appends the reply in its own section on the article page, and emails the result to the original sender and cc list [you get normal options of reply, reply-all, &c].
    • the response email that senders receive looks like a normal email, with a footer saying “sent by user:hill  at <site url> via sjmail”
    • senders who care can log into the sjmail site to set their preferences — they can opt to get aggregate updates rather than every email response, or just abbreviations of the response with a link to the full page.
    • repliers can use the system to send a private email as well : it would note a reply was sent with timestamp somehow in the thread flow of the page but not show or store the contents.  Of course if you know the email address of the original correspondent (which wouldn’t be directly visible on the site, only stored internally), you can write them out of band.  But that’s true too if you see an email printed out or read it over my shoulder.
    • wikilinks [between messages, to wp, &c] used in the reply gets converted to URLs when sent via email.

    Thoughts?  Naturally this idea came from the success and scalability of user talk: pages, which are nothing but a simplified public messaging system where anyone can come and modify, wikify, or reply to my message to you.

    If you’ve done gmail-to-site hacking and are interested in the project, let me know.

    I’d like to see this expand to be a useful service, with individual namespaces for any number of people.  I can see the resulting body of correspondence being an interesting store of public knowledge; perhaps individual user namespaces matched to target email address ‘recipients’, RC by user, and a shared common namespace not unlike everything2 in feel — everything one might want to say about “getting around Boston” might be linked from [[getting around Boston]] in someone’s reply.

    What do you think?  I’m also looking for better ideas for a name!

    Relying on non-specific reputation can be deadly
    Thursday July 02nd 2009, 7:03 pm
    Filed under: Uncategorized

    Openly peer-reviewed journals would never be able to mislead the way Elsevier can.  And there would be no slipspace for them to be tempted to misbehave.

    Publicly authored works, with public drafts showing the stages of development (appropriate for anything but creative art, where the illusion is part of the package, don’t you think?), would never be able to imply original research and fact-checking the way Chris Anderson can.

    Comments Off on Relying on non-specific reputation can be deadly

    Zeal is zeal is zeal
    Wednesday July 01st 2009, 9:44 am
    Filed under: Uncategorized

    Jeremy and I were discussing climate dynamics and related brinks claimed in countless debates around the globe – from academic journals to political and economic forecasts to doomsday prophecies.

    We disagreed about whether the truth of the importance of the matter was obvious.  As someone who still has no idea what the real fundamentals are, I don’t find this obvious.  Some clever scientists doubt the brinks.  Some dedicate their lives to explaining that this is the defining crisis of our times.  It offends me deeply as a scientist that the opinions of scientists fall strongly along political lines.  What the hell is wrong with our scientific community?

    Jeremy and I noted that some very smart people are convinced that human contributions to climate change will change and effectively destroy life on Earth within short order.  They put their careers on the line with projections of environmental and economic catastrophe with low error bars within 30 years, and work to convince everyone, in science, art, media, policy, business, and planning, that this is the essential crisis of our time.  Others put their careers on the line insisting that there is no such crisis and everyone should stop wasting effort even investigating it.

    Or do these zealots put their careers on the line?  It’s acceptable as a scientist to tilt at windmills, even drawing many others along with you, and then to end up having been wrong.  There are certainly scientists who are make a good living holding forth a minority theory, and I can’t think of any active mechanism to censure someone for mere ‘innocent’ deception and misguided analysis if they don’t stoop to plagiarism or data forgery.

    I reckon our society hasn’t moved passed the stage where playground challenges and antics are acceptable discourse, and where shouting “Fire!” on the global stage evokes more than a raised eyebrow.  Scientific disciplines should be the first to change this.


    Comments Off on Zeal is zeal is zeal

    Bad Behavior has blocked 238 access attempts in the last 7 days.