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The Longest Now

Snow Use’s Kitchen: dishes fit to make hearts melt and mouths water…
Monday April 14th 2014, 4:13 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,gustatory,SJ

In Snow Use’s kitchen there stood a large stove,
And what she cooked on it she cooked with much love.

She used chunks of chocolate, melted in steam,
And sugar and egg-whites and oodles of cream.
(And, for effect, an occasional scream!)

She stirred it and mashed itinto a thick paste,
And added some cognac to give it more taste.
(As to the calories: they went to waist)

She poured the concoction into a strange mold;
Then into the freezer until it got cold.
(With a note saying: Please do not spindle or fold)

And when it was frozen so-o-o pleased was Snow Use,
For she had made Thidwick, the chocolate mousse

“BRB singularity” : A comic on love, death, and robots
Monday February 24th 2014, 12:36 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,SJ

XBRB – stories from the Singularity.

A Blue/Red/Brown production.

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Ad Entrevista: ArchDaily draws meaning from arch Sebastian Gray
Saturday July 20th 2013, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,poetic justice,SJ

Via Vimeo: on national style, the role of architecture in society, and the future of architecture education in Chile.

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Colegio De Arquitectos De Chile
Thursday June 06th 2013, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,poetic justice,SJ

El presidente siguiente (2013-2015)… será mi hermano.  Felicitaciones, Sebastian!


Budgets, Releases, Annual plans and more pools of collective angst
Tuesday April 23rd 2013, 2:55 pm
Filed under: international,Not so popular,Rogue content editor,SJ,unfinished draft,wikipedia

A recent discussion thread on the Wikimedia mailing list led to a somewhat emotional exchange about the pros and cons of publishing budgets and annual plans.

I have worked in organizations that avoided writing annual plans, and did so only when required by a partner. Why? Because it was easier to “get work done” without wasting time producing a summary of our work to show to outsiders. Time invested in summarizing the work of the past year was unnecessary overhead; and time invested in projecting the work of the coming year was unnecessarily binding our hands — what if we wanted to make a sudden change? These orgs also tend to make it very difficult to get a copy of their Form 990s.

I have also worked with organizations that publish everything – their current burn rate, income, future goals, what money will be spent on until it all ran out (and exactly when it will run out!). Most stick to a yearly report and analysis, though some are more flexible.

Wikimedia is firmly in the latter group. We publish our 990s as soon as they are approved; we make our fundraising totals visible in real-time; we produce thoughtful annual plans, and complement them with wonderfully thorough monthly summaries of all of our activities, following monthly metrics meetings which anyone in the world can dial into.

And we develop both our strategic plans and our individual project plans in public — anyone can comment on and make suggestions to each individual project we have ever run. For the most part, this is a warm collaboration: people leave comments, feedback, and suggestions; point to bugs and feature requests filed; and generally track the progress of their favorite projects. Sometimes people share concerns when they don’t like how a project is affecting their editing or reading. And sometimes they are critical of projects they don’t think should be there in the first place.

Across our movement, we have steadily moved towards more and more transparency in our operations and planning. Starting this past year, most Wikimedia chapters publish their annual plans before they are approved. The largest chapters have those plans vetted by an international community body, which oversees distribution of a shared pool of funds. During this process their plans, like most things involving our Projects, are publicly displayed on the Meta-wiki – along with discussion and review of them.

However the Foundation itself remains reluctant to share its plans and particularly drafts of its budget in this fashion. There is perhaps a fear that a public community discussion will lead to (unspecified) bad results, or will be distracting for WMF staff, who will feel compelled to respond to every comment. This does not seem directly tied to any past barrage of comments on plans or budgets – each year this is the source of a fairly small number of comments overall, and most of them are not negative.

The one area in which there is an explicit “call for public comments” followed by a thorough public discussion is in the area of software feature rollouts.


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The benefit of passion, focus, poise & wit. For Sebastian.
Tuesday November 20th 2012, 12:53 pm
Filed under: international,meta,poetic justice,SJ

:A pinch of poise, a twist of wit,
:    Suffice to foil the darkest fit of  pique –
:      or set the mind  at  ease when seeking
:              ancient   remedies   for  tweaking  the   e t e r n a l    drive
:                                              to make, sing, see, feel, learn, & thrive.

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Every mortal thing now flame, dwell, be, tell, tumble, sing: For this I came
Monday October 29th 2012, 11:02 am
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,poetic justice,SJ


As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself, myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for this I came.

GMH, SJ Cowbird

Y-Worlds: At last! A fellow pattern-seeking collaborative
Tuesday July 10th 2012, 10:34 am
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,meta,SJ

Still in its infancy: “A collaborative platform to organize complex knowledge, visualize systems that propel our lives and build a universal exchange for knowledge, wealth and value.

I love it when one of the seventeen pillars of society starts to emerge anew.

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Google’s Knowledge Graph: connecting structured knowledge from diverse sources
Tuesday May 22nd 2012, 2:12 pm
Filed under: citation needed,Glory, glory, glory,metrics,SJ

Stefano Mazzochi and other former MetaWebbers now at Google have turned out another beautiful structure in the garden of human knowledge: the Knowledge Graph.

This helps visualize one key aspect of information meshes, though it has many limitations still. (It is only a graph, as the name suggests; as defined within Google it is only the part of the universal knowledge graph that they choose to bless as ‘clean’; it doesn’t include any data that they choose not to make publicly visible; and there is no higher level of structure to support a metric, or a multi-dimensional space).


Copyright failure: terms are much much much too long; solution needed
Monday May 21st 2012, 6:28 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,international,meta,SJ,wikipedia

David Gerard recently pointed out that despite recent expansion of the global commons of “freely-licensed knowledge”, all license terms still last for much too long. “Free licenses” still rely on copyright laws which impose restrictions on reuse for unreasonably long term lengths: currently “Life of the author + 70 years” in most countries — roughly 10-50x as long as the average commercial lifespan of a new work.

Economists and researchers studying copyright have often noted that copyright terms have been extended with little justification, always on the request of the publishing industry, since the first copyright term (14 years) was set centuries ago.  And that there is no data to suggest that longer copyright terms are good for society or useful in encouraging creative work.

The social memes of “free culture” and “free knowledge” have been shaped in large part by a community that bought into the idea of copyleft in the past decades: a derivative of copyright law which defines the copyrights the author wishes to exercise in a way that lets people reuse their work, as long as they release the result under the same license.

We should figure out a reasonable maximum term for the sort of rights that are currently covered by copyright – say, something no more than 14 years – and embed that term into the most-recommended free culture licenses. That includes all Creative Commons and free-culture and other FOSS licenses. All of these licenses should explicitly transition to the Public Domain before the ultralong default term enshrined in international law.

(In practice this could mean automatically switching to a CC0 license at the end of the shorter term.)

Related discussions about license reform

David’s comments started a recent discussion on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, about whether Wikimedians should help push for a saner copyright term.  Mike Linksvayer noted similar discussions on the Creative Commons licenses list from last December – part of brainstorming how to improve those licenses.

Two people made comments along these lines: “Shortening the copyright term is totally infeasible in the near term; instead we should encourage people to switch to free licenses.

This misses two key points. Firstly, free culture groups are now some of the largest around; they include major content providers and platforms; and Creative Commons itself is a powerful global brand. Secondly, while convincing slow, conservative national governments to change their laws is hard, almost everyone who is not working/lobying for content publishers — including the vast majority of content creators — feels copyright terms are too long.  So this is an obvious place for citizen innovation to come first, and legislation second.

A few publishers are already adopting limited terms.  O’Reilly Books uses a license that switches to CC-BY after 14 years.
Some free culture groups have taken a position here as well: Sweden’s Pirate Party advocates for a maximum term of 5 years.  Richard Stallman of the FSF recommends a maximum of 5 or 10 years (though only for society as a whole; and only if it comes with open source requirements for proprietary software).

What can we do?  Won’t this make free licenses harder to use?

Adding an explicit term after which works become PD should not complicate the “opt-in commons”, to use Mike’s term. This could be implemented with a few simple changes (I am imagining how CC could implement this; as they have great authority to recommend licensing norms):

  • Define “PD-friendly” licenses as those which become PD in at most N years.
  • Define the PD-date of a composite work as the latest of its component sources.
  • Ask people to use a PD-friendly license.

Within that framework, people can use terms that make sense to them; some may want a license with a fixed PD date, so that a large group can collaborate on a shared work which is set to become PD in 2020.  Ongoing collaborations like Wikipedia could use a license set to become PD after 8 years – so the latest version of a project would always be under a CC-SA license, but one from today would become PD in 2020.

Creative Commons and others could then promote the use of PD-friendly licenses.  Collaboratives like Wikimedia communities, and publishers like O’Reilly, could switch to those licenses for their projects and works.  Together we would return to building a true intellectual and artistic Commons — something which in the US has been starved of almost all works produced in the past 35 years.


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The Metamovement
Sunday October 02nd 2011, 4:22 pm
Filed under: international,meta,metrics,popular demand,SJ

Read this solid post by Umair Haque on the rise of the metamovement in our global society. This is a movement of movements that we are seeing develop unbidden, transcending national, cultural, and social norms across the world.

The opposite of a filter bubble, this directly taps into a universal need for agency and our newfound capacity to cooperate by the millions.

Hat tip to the perceptive Priya Parker.

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Tumblr test
Monday September 13th 2010, 11:19 am
Filed under: Blogroll,indescribable,metrics,SJ

Checking out what Tumblr does right and wrong: I posted a short series of meditations on joy, sharing and knowledge. Let me know what you think.

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New photos York style, and mesh completionism
Wednesday September 01st 2010, 1:40 am
Filed under: chain-gang,indescribable,metrics,Not so popular,SJ

While still recovering from a Rein’s Deli hangover, I found myself the subject of the Ragesoss lens last weekend.   Good energy, well captured.

@Ragesoss: It is a mathematical notion applied to ideas. A conceptual space around a theme is full of different concepts, each related to the theme in some way. Such a space can be described in terms of facets that can be used to describe a concept: for instance, you might describe ideas for laying out a garden in terms of their complexity, suitable climate, or total size… or many others. Complexity and size are sometimes linked. You can imagine the conceptual span of a set of facets, or their dependency on one another, as corrolaries of the span and independence of vectors being used as the basis for an abstract space.

A mesh is a limited set of elements that can be used to effectively describe an infinite space of ideas.  Human languages are full of concept meshes.  The easiest to discuss are one-dimensional meshes (ideas that span the spectrum of a single facet):

  • color words – the spectrum of visible colors is split into a set of common colors.  this set of names is a casual mesh for the visible color spectrum. (casual in that there is no explicit metric used to determine whether all parts of the visible spectrum are ‘equally’ represented by words)
  • shape words – shapes may be described as circular or oval, square or rectangular.  There is a humorous ‘proof’ that the only skew triangle has angles (45, 60, 75) – that all others are roughly equilateral, isoceles, or right.

Higher-dimensional meshes include texture words (smooth, rough, bumpy, prickly, soft, firm, sticky… – covering facets of friction, give, tangible local structure, and more).  Most higher-dimensional meshes in language are incomplete (we rarely form words for concepts whose realizations are not in common use).

If you define a metric for the distance between two points on a spectrum, you can construct an “equally-spaced” subdivision of the space, or a balanced mesh.  This splits a space into a set of characteristic elements (here, concepts) or nodes which can be used to describe anything elsewhere in the space.

Choosing a metric is important and difficult.   For instance, once we found a way to measure color by the wavelength of its light, we could ask for enough common color words such that every frequency of visible light is no more than 50nm from the wavelength of one of the characteristic colors.  In practice, humans see different parts of the color spectrum with differing degrees of sensitivity, and we become familiar with certain constant colors in our environment .  So while the rendered spectrum does not devote much space to Yellow or Orange (in contrast with green and red), we have many more characteristic words for yellows and blues than a straight “wavelength subdivision” would suggest.

It is also difficult to define facets that are independent of one another; but this is not necessary.  It is mainly important for each facet to be easy to observe and agree on.

For a given metric, you can describe the fineness of a mesh in terms of the maximum distance from any concept to the closest characteristic element.  (or sometimes twice that distance – as a description of the “largest” concept that could “slip through” the mesh without including any of the characteristic elements.)  If you have different metrics for each facet, a synthetic combined metric must be created that is consistent with each.

A balanced mesh is then one in which the fineness of the mesh is essentially the same for all subsets of the conceptual space — so, a set of color words that provides equal facility in describing perceived colors at all points on the color spectrum.   (Again, a suitable metric here might be one that stretches out the spectrum in regions perceived very well by the human eye, or colors that come up frequently in human life — the latter a metric that changes with social context.)

One can often have a clear definition of a mesh without having words for some of its characteristic elements.   This happens often with a multifaceted space, where the intersection of well-known values of each facet is an unknown combination that has no word to describe it.   One common way of constructing a balanced mesh involves creating a balanced mesh for each facet, and then defining a concept for every combination of those single-facet ideas.  Building a “complete” set of characteristic concepts can be thought of as mesh completion.  It is a way of thoroughly grokking a space of related concepts.  And the fineness of the resulting mesh is a measure of how effectively one has used language, imagery, or other methods to illustrate the limitless variety possible within the constraints of that conceptual space.

(More after the jump…) (more…)

Chile 8.8 : Soluciones modernas a la destruccion
Saturday July 31st 2010, 7:33 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,international,metrics,popular demand,SJ

One of my brother’s latest projects, Chile 8.8, is a reflection on the act and goals of architectural reconstruction of cities, for this year’s Architecture Biennale. If you are near Venice while the 2010 Biennale is on, stop by the Chilean Pavillion and take a look.

17 soluciones arquitectónicas fueron seleccionadas para participar del encuentro titulado “La gente se encuentra en la arquitectura”… Los proyectos, que ya fueron construidos o lo serán en el corto plazo y se expondrán en un gran biombo de 130 metros, siguen tres pilares de reconstrucción: patrimonio, prefabricación y organización social.

17 architectural solutions (to destruction) were chosen to participate in the Biennale, where this year’s subject is  “People Meet Architecture”.  The projects, which have been or will shortly be built, and displayed on a 130 meter screen, focus on one of three pillars of reconstruction:  heritage, prefabrication, and social structure.

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The Tower of Babel : normalizing language representation
Sunday August 23rd 2009, 3:27 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,popular demand,SJ,wikipedia

Part of a series on difficult topics from the Wikimedia community

There are some perennial projects that take more than a single barnraising to understand and plan for. One is the issue of supporting different languages equally — the world’s largest and smallest languages are both underrepresented among the projects.  While I would like to see Wikimedia become a model for the rest of the online world in this area, how a global community can provide support, bugfixes, and advice to different/new language groups is an issue for many multilingual projects.  So I offer these questions to all readers – feel free to answer them for the projects you are most familiar with.

  • What technical and other support do various language projects need to become awesome?
  • What variations are needed for projects whose main goal is language and cultural preservation?
  • What sharing of advice or practices would make starting new projects easier?
  • How can established projects help new projects with outreach, communication, and planning?

Let me offer one example of how this has been difficult to grasp within Wikimedia: discussions on the early international list were generally in English.  This led to a certain founder effect among participants, and in how the projects are today framed to the world, from elaborations of the vision to interface design.  And this has forked discussions of what language projects need – those in the language of the project, which can happen easily and fluidly among its participants and contributors, and those meta-discussions in one or two shared languages with the potential of setting Wikimedia-wide policy or affecting all projects.

As another example: non-Latin character sets, and cultural differences about editing and participation across different parts of the world, have always been part of discussions about how Wikipedia and its sister projects should advance.  Nevertheless, the early language communities drawn to the project were largely European, and issues that only affect non-Latin readers can still take a while to fix (for instance, replacements for Roman-alphabet captchas, or fixes to javascript and css layouts in corner cases).

What are your examples? What am I leaving out?  How can the global community and the Foundation better support small and underrepresented languages?  Feel free to leave links to current or historical discussions about problems and opportunities.

Wikimedia elections : thank you! and next steps
Friday August 14th 2009, 11:20 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,SJ

The elections results are out, and I will be serving the community as a Trustee for the next two years. I am looking forward to the challenge; thank you to those who trusted me with their vote, and congratulations to Ting and Kat – it is an honor to represent the community alongside them.

Thank you also to Philippe and the elections team, and to all candidates who took time to run.  I was particularly glad to see Góngora running, as a new face in meta-affairs, and I hope to see more participation in meta discussion by active es:wp contributors.

I will help the Board be more open.  I have revived the Wikimedia meetings page for suggested agenda items – please leave your ideas and comments there, in any language.  (I know this is a tough thing to request in a monolingual blog.  Suggestions for making this blog more accessible are welcome.)  I will post my own thoughts about agenda items there in advance of future Board meetings.  One of my first efforts will be getting all foundation resolutions and policies translated into Wikimedia’s core languages.

The next one is coming up in a few weeks, during Wikimania – I don’t officially become a Board member until we meet.  I am looking forward to Wikimania, and hope to see some of you there!

I have also updated the old Wikimedia Reports page, as one way to better coordinate organize information – please help add new reports to it, and translate it into other languages.

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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.


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