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The Longest Now

Health care sumo
Monday March 22nd 2010, 3:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Congratulations, reformers.

The health care reform debates have been like a slow sumo wrestling match between two equally unlikely opponents who seem sure of some specific moves but unsure of the overall rules or goal of the match.   I believe this essential video sums it up.

Now we need better 10-year statistics and planning around how to make this sustainable for generations.

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Pi Diddy’s amazing song, Loving Pi
Sunday March 14th 2010, 9:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Happy Pi Day everyone! Pop, this one’s for you.

( so is all the pie I had today 8-d )

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Scoping human knowledge
Sunday March 14th 2010, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As Wikimedia moves through its movement-wide strategy process, I’ve been thinking a lot about the scope of human knowledge, how far we’ve come since we started passing on oral, then written, then digital knowledge.

A progression of awareness

Wiki project logos

Some changes have come naturally with the development of our understanding of the universe.  As we understood more about the Earth and Space, we had a framework within which to fill out detailed maps and charts and cross-sections. As we learned about the component parts of the body, we could come up with a layered anatomy.  As we improved our understanding of mathematics, music, and language, we could identify different types of each, with classes of similarity and building blocks, making more advanced knowledge possible and possible to describe succinctly.

Some knowledge (say, 3D models of the center of the Earth) consists of so many small individual pieces of information that it was hard to dream of holding it in one place, before we had computers for automation and digital databases for collation.  Other valuable knowledge has yet to be developed (say, models for the efficiency of groups of millions of people; models for a full society of physical production and industry for 15 billion people where inputs match outputs and there are no ‘externalities’ as fudge factors).

Some things which we do not currently know are hard to describe, because language about them has not yet been developed.  Some things that we know imperfectly (say, a comprehensive species survey of the planet) require millions of individual observations, but are only pursued by thousands of expert individuals.  And some things we ‘know‘ in some sense (say, the full text of every book in a nationally funded library in some country on the planet), but are unable to access that knowledge readily.  If your life depended on finding a sentence in any one of those books in a week, you probably could; but you could not [yet] discover how many of those books contain a specific string.

Divide, specialize, automate, and conquer

Now we have the power to draw on input from billions of people with little more than publicity about how to contribute.  Connection and creation are easy and enjoyable, and some aspects of organizing knowledge (search, tracking) are easy and cheap.  So: what aspects of knowledge should we improve first?

Wikipedia has done a reasonable job of capturing and providing ready access to editable summaries of notable topicsWiktionary, OmegaWiki, and now Wordnik in a different fashion, have done something similar for access to editable information about words (though of these, only Wiktionary is readily editable by anyone).  OpenStreetMap has organized a few % of the world’s road segments and features and inspired similar communities of practice.  Wikimedia Commons has organized some of the world’s best freely-licensed images, while smaller projects such as Fotopedia focus more keenly on beauty.

Freebase makes an effort to organize metadata about and links to over 10 million topics, on Wikipedia and in other publicly-readable databases, regardless of their underlying copyright.  And AboutUs has done a fair job of capturing information about internet domains. The Encyclopedia of Life and Wikispecies each aim to gather images and information about the almost 2 million known species, though neither comes close to comprehensive coverage yet.

Moving away from projects with comprehensive targets: Wikiquote offers an editable compendium of quotes, though it is less intent on being complete than some of the aforementioned projects.  Yelp efficiently covers services and businesses in a limited number of cities, and has inspired a new wave of amateur reviewers and critics.

Then there are public services that are not particularly editable or distributed; but use bots and scripts to draw from the work of millions of others; they could be the seeds of truly great collaborative efforts.   The Internet Archive specializes in these, from the Wayback Machine, which has a comprehensively amazing repository of webpages, to OpenLibrary, with metadata and basic information about a few % of the world’s published books.  And one could say that Google itself is based on the power of distributed organization of knowledge.

What comes next?

These projects cover only a small selection of the world’s knowledge, but a significant portion of the collaborative knowledge-gathering sites in the world. Shouldn’t there be hundreds or thousands of these projects?

Waray-Waray Wikipedia
Saturday March 06th 2010, 2:48 am
Filed under: international,metrics,Uncategorized

Waray-Waray Wikipedia, started in 2005, welcomed its 15,000th article recently. It had to do with Possibly The End of Life As We Know It.

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Amazing geographic feature OTD
Wednesday March 03rd 2010, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,indescribable

I can’t get over this amazing geographic feature of Quebec. The central km-high peak is now way up on my list of mountains to climb.

Chilean quakes and turmoil
Wednesday March 03rd 2010, 3:06 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

My brother is in Santiago at the moment, where he teaches architecture. The city has been shaken by the recent disastrous earthquake, but survived.

My brother just finished a survey of how to preserve important structures in Valparaiso, a city more damaged by the disaster. Of course the sorts of preservation that keep urban development from destroying important landmarks rarely covers protection from acts of God… which made me think about how we are preserving our major cultural artefacts in digital form, and through subtle synthesis of the elements that make them so inspiring and memorable.

I can think of few cases in which the exact original of a physical object is needed for most inspiration and transmission of culture and heritage… in an era of 3d printing, cheap fabrication materials, lifelike capture of image and acoustics, and lifelike digital rendering, what does this mean for curation of physical objects and spaces?

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