Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar header image 2

Entries Tagged as 'wikipedia'

Reinventing what it means to be human

May 3rd, 2009 · Comments Off on Reinventing what it means to be human

Sky treehouse at sunrise

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Let’s be more ambitious than Freud: What do Humans want? I am putting together a college-level course on the ways that Utopia is being multiply re-imagined in digital worlds.

Second Life is well-known as a place that sets people free to imagine new faces, bodies, histories, and futures. But Wikipedia is also a second life to many of its participants. If Second Life has multiple sexual genders, including a wide range of Furry and Gorean and scientific data visualization options, Wikipedia too has “genders”; people who come there to work out different desires.

Wikipedian fulfillment may involve some very strange couplings (wrong word, since far more than two people often become involved), quite often accompanied by virtual cat-on-roof yowling. Consider, for example, the passionate encounter of article-writer with article-editor. Or of somebody who just loves enforcing the RULES with a prankster who loves to break those rules.

Agenda-pushers for any agenda X would get no satisfaction were there not advocates for agenda not-X also eager to engage in back-and-forth pushing.

Yes, I am (mostly) joking. But the part of my course on “Gratified desire” will consider material well beyond Second Life.

Tags: geeky · language · Metablogging · Reputation systems · Wide wonderful world · wikipedia

Thumbs up for Nambu, big thumbs down to Reuters

October 8th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Frank Wilczek and Yoichiro Nambu

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

What wonderful news that Yoichiro Nambu finally got a Nobel Prize! Frank and I were just beaming at each other when the announcement came. It felt like having the Red Sox win the World Series, although minus the cars honking and people screaming in Harvard Square.

Frank is a big admirer of Nambu, whose work he praised in in a postcript to his own 2004 Nobel Lecture (pdf):

I’d like to mention specifically a trio of physicists whose work was particularly important in leading to ours, and who have not (yet?) received a Nobel Prize for it. These are Yoichiro Nambu, Stephen Adler, and James Bjorken. Those heroes advanced the cause of trying to understand hadronic physics by taking the concepts of quantum field theory seriously, and embodying them in specific mechanistic models, when doing so was difficult and unfashionable.

In fact, Nambu won the prize yesterday for a different part of his work, which just goes to show how brilliant and creative he is. I hope he will have as lovely a time in Stockholm as we did; it is a wonderful party.
Meanwhile, I quickly uploaded my own snapshot of Nambu to Wikipedia. And that photo soon went to the front page of Wikipedia, which delighted me. But it also soon went up all over the Google News with a credit to Reuters instead of to Betsy Devine and/or Wikipedia. That is a violation of the photo’s license, and I think that Reuters should be ashamed of itself.

Tags: Nobel · Wide wonderful world · wikipedia

Some of Wikipedia baddest bits and pieces

May 27th, 2008 · Comments Off on Some of Wikipedia baddest bits and pieces

Caution: Wikipedia trolls at play

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Is Hillary Clinton a giant shape-shifting reptile? Do ghosts use cellphones? Does Smithville, Iowa have a “quaint little library”? And how should Wikipedia reflect (or not) each of these sincere, not trolling, beliefs. (Trolls create a whole new set of wiki-problems.)

A veteran of some of the most hood-filled neighborhoods of Wikipedia, “Filll” has created a Wikipedia quiz-cum-learning-tool, the AGF Challenge Exercises. The challenges, based on real Wikipedia problems, include all three of the above. “AGF” stands for the Wikipedia policy “Assume Good Faith.”

He explains it to Durova:

When Wikipedia is criticized externally or internally over its handling of assorted situations, they are often extremely highly charged and emotional affairs, and often ongoing. This [the AGF Challenge Exercises] is a way to see a sanitized collection of problems in abbreviated and sanitized form, where critics inside and outside Wikipedia can offer their advice and suggestions.

In surprisingly-closely-related news, Harvard’s librarian Robert Darnton has a great essay in the June 12, 2008 issue of the NYRB. Most relevant bit:

Information has never been stable. That may be a truism, but it bears pondering. It could serve as a corrective to the belief that the speedup in technological change has catapulted us into a new age, in which information has spun completely out of control. I would argue that the new information technology should force us to rethink the notion of information itself. It should not be understood as if it took the form of hard facts or nuggets of reality ready to be quarried out of newspapers, archives, and libraries, but rather as messages that are constantly being reshaped in the process of transmission. Instead of firmly fixed documents, we must deal with multiple, mutable texts. By studying them skeptically on our computer screens, we can learn how to read our daily newspaper more effectively‚ and even how to appreciate old books.

And with help from Wikipedians like Filll, we can learn our own ways to make bad bits better.

Tags: Learn to write good · wikipedia · writing

“Yours now sort-of expertly”: Blogging from my email outbox

July 30th, 2007 · 2 Comments

Hey, I made yesterday’s Concord Monitor!

Most of the editing to [potential US Senate candidate Jeanne] Shaheen’s Wikipedia profile has related to Iraq: Either adding or removing tidbits about her support for the war in 2002 or adding information about her criticism of the war since then.

Among the more notable edits: Someone working from a D.C.-area computer posted a link of the Shaheen YouTube clip to Wikipedia. (We checked – it appears not to have come from a Senate computer. The other Wikipedia editing conducted from that computer involved touching up the definition of “APR.”)

Then liberal blogger Betsy Devine got involved and snuffed out some of the newer additions to Shaheen’s profile, including the video link.

A sort of wiki-expert who has spoken at conferences and the like, Devine explained her doings this way: “Statements from right-wing think tanks or right-wing newspaper editorials denouncing Shaheen are not appropriate news sources. If they are introduced as examples of opinion or controversy, the opposing POV must get equal exposure. Campaign puffery is of course also inappropriate.”

Heh–well, when I rough-drafted that into a Wikipedia discussion page, I didn’t expect it to end up in dead-tree newsprint.

Yours now sort-of expertly,

p.s. The new Simpsons Movie is really fun and funny–Frank and I are now baffled by its lukewarm reviews.

p.p.s. Thanks to Dean Barker at Blue Hampshire— without whom I would never have seen this story.

Tags: Editorial · New Hampshire! · wikipedia

McJob makeover: Treating the OED like Wikipedia

May 24th, 2007 · Comments Off on McJob makeover: Treating the OED like Wikipedia

Oxford lovely building, part 2

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

What’s a “McJob”?

  • “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service -sector” (From the OED)
  • “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition)
  • “a low-paying, low-prestige job that requires few skills and offers very little chance of intracompany advancement” (Wikipedia)
  • “a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression and skills that last a lifetime” ( McDonald’s)

The last of these definitions may soon be coming to a dictionary near you.

Anybody can edit Wikipedia–for example on April 5, 2007, one contributor blanked its entire McJobs entry, replacing it with “‘This is unfair and disgusting. Not everybody is unsatisfied with the service industry.”

Such claims crop up often in Wikipedia. Some article should stop describing what *is* (the way a term is actually used) and instead make some objector a happier person.

You or I can edit Wikipedia–giant corporations are more ambitious. McDonald’s has launched a massive PR campaign (with backing from other service-sector employers) to force printed dictionaries to redefine “McJobs.”

Will the OED become a McDictionary? If so, what next? Maybe “health food” defined as “Big Mac with a Diet Coke”?

Tags: Editorial · Wide wonderful world · wikipedia

Warning: this book review may be “miscellaneous”…

May 7th, 2007 · 1 Comment

David Weinberger's book in Betsy Devine's very messy kitchen tool drawer …though that’s a good thing, says David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous — the info-pop page-turner (think Blink or Freakonomics) seen here in my kitchen’s miscellaneous drawer.

What is miscellanous, when we mean that in a good way? Big heaps of information, spread out all over the Internet so that its different bits get tagged by many people for many different reasons. Anything that puts more information into that huge heap of (virtual) mess is good–hyperlinks! playlists! statistics! messy folksonomies! The book (much less miscellanous than this review of it) does a fine job of whacking a much-needed path for a human brain into the hugely intertwingled confusion of modern possiblities for organizing and understanding reality.

Now I must warn you about this book’s bad side-effect. It is full of “aha!” moments that you’ll start quoting to other people. And explaining to them. And since you will probably not explain these ideas with as much humor and clarity as David, their eyes may glaze over when you are just getting warmed up. But will you bear with me for just a few of my favorite bits, just some really short ones?

  • “Information is easy. Space, time, and atoms are hard.” p. 5
  • “Discovering what you want is at least as important as finding what you know you want.” p.9
  • “Metadata is what you already know and data is what you’re trying to find.” p. 104
  • “Printing requires documents to be declared to be finished at some point.” p. 145
  • “Humans have purposes because we have needs because we’re not gods.” p 170

But even if your friends will stand still for your explanation of David’s “Three orders of order,” they will probably run when you threaten to read to them out loud the quotes and anecdotes that make the book so lively. Really, just tell your friends to go buy their own copies.

Disclosure–I am a blogfriend of David Weinberger, and his publisher sent me a free review copy. But I’ve also blog-argued with David about some of his other writings, so I think you can consider my praise for this book as sincere. Especially since David is such a sweet guy that he even links to the only bad review that I think his book’s gotten.

Tags: everythingismiscellaneous · Wide wonderful world · wikipedia

George Washington Carver: The Dave Winer of peanut butter

February 23rd, 2007 · Comments Off on George Washington Carver: The Dave Winer of peanut butter

Movable School
Originally uploaded by jessamyn.

George Washington Carver (1861(?) – 1943 ) has been both praised and debunked at great length by many people in Wikipedia (and elsewhere of course).

But did he invent peanut butter? Well, probably not–depending on how you define “invent” and how you define “peanut butter.”

The funny thing over in Wikipedia is how some people want to define and redefine peanut butter so that it means essentially “something that GW Carver could not have invented.”

For example, Carver could not have invented peanut butter because ground peanuts were well-known in Africa. So peanut butter was invented in Africa.

Also, ground-up peanuts appear in an 1885 cookbook. So peanut butter was invented in 1885. Not to mention that “nutmeal” was patented in 1897 by Dr. Kellogg. Er, did I say “nutmeal”? Sorry, Wikipedia calls that invention “peanut butter.” So, GW Carver didn’t invent it.

Yet another reason Carver didn’t invent peanut butter–his recipe just described some peanuts ground up, disgusting and oily. Real peanut butter is the modern stuff that somebody patented in 1922.

It reminds me so much of the Wikipedia ruckus over questions like “Did Dave Winer invent podcasting?” Of course nobody ever asks such silly questions except for the people who want to define the words “invented” and “podcasting” to make the answer come out that just about anyone, maybe your Aunt Lulu, might be the one who deserves every bit of the credit for podcasting, but it sure as heck is not Dave Winer.

No, whatever Dave Winer did in modifying RSS and blogware and aggregators so they could link audio files to RSS — or in promoting “audioblogging” including gathering all the major audiobloggers at Bloggercon in 2003, after which podcasting really took off–well, whatever he did deserves barely a mention because he really didn’t “invent” podcasting, and anybody can define “podcasting” to make sure that somebody else did “invent” it.

Now, most modern sources don’t claim that Carver “invented” peanut butter. Most of what he published about his research appeared in agricultural bulletins for poor farmers. There he extolled long lists of peanut recipes, urging farmers to rotate their cropland from soil-draining cotton to nitrogen-replenishing legumes like peanuts and soy. At the suggestion of Booker T Washington, Carver designed a mobile classroom on wheels to carry his message out to the desolate farmlands.

George Washington Carver was a big-picture guy, and his big picture was the desperation of ex-slave farmers bent low under the heavy load of King Cotton. The teaching, the research, the promotion of his findings–those were all little details in Carver’s big picture.

But no, Victoria, he didn’t invent peanut butter. Lots of Wikipedia readers can tell you that.

p.s. Clarification–my experience has been that *most* Wikipedia editors are sincerely trying to make articles better, more accurate and informative. But we do get some very persistent point-of-view pushers from time to time, and their antics are more fun to write about.

Tags: Metablogging · Reputation systems · Science · wikipedia

Hoverflies mating, two views of the moon, and SFO by night

February 18th, 2007 · Comments Off on Hoverflies mating, two views of the moon, and SFO by night

Nope, not one of my favorites made the finals. But check out the sheer variety of these finalists for Wikimedia’s Picture of the Year .

Then reflect that each image, with hundreds more besides, has been uploaded for free to the common domain.

  1. San Francisco Airport (SFO) at night. Taken by Flickr user Andrew Choy.
  2. Sans domicile fixe in Paris. Taken by Wikimedian Eric Pouhier
  3. Animation of Newton’s cradle, resting on a copy of Newton’s famous book Principia Mathematica (animated). Created by Wikimedian DemonDeLuxe.
  4. Lunar libration (animated) by Wikimedian Tomruen
  5. The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Taken by Senior Airman Joshua Strang.
  6. The wreck of the American Star (SS America) seen from land side, Fuerteventura. Taken by Wikimedian Wollex.
  7. A Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) in Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada. Taken by Wikimedian Mdf.
  8. Barred Owl (Strix varia) Whitby, Ontario (Canada). Taken by Wikimedian Mdf.
  9. Moon occluded by clouds over San Diego, California. Taken by Wikimedian Rufustelestrat.
  10. Hoverflies mating in midair. Taken by Wikimedian Fir0002.
  11. A paper match igniting. Taken by Wikimedian Sebastian Ritter.

Each one of these is inspiring. And so is the fact that they all exist.

Tags: Reputation systems · wikipedia

Kansas crops, nuclear waste, Dave Winer’s biography

February 1st, 2007 · 1 Comment

Something beautiful in Wikipedia today: All 321 images being considered for Picture of the Year (2006). A few of my favorites:

On a different battle front for the public domain, many Wikipedia editors stepped up last week to baffle multiple and diverse attacks on Wikipedia’s Dave Winer article, including several attempts to blank or delete the whole thing.

Wikipedians really are doing grand things for the future of information’s public availability.

Tags: Reputation systems · wikipedia

“Paris Hilton” quantum effects on the two-way web

August 13th, 2006 · Comments Off on “Paris Hilton” quantum effects on the two-way web

Summarizing my talk at Wikimania

Parishilton: Paris Hilton, whose life changed after being widely "observed" 0) In quantum mechanics, looking at something changes its nature. Media attention creates just such effects on Wikipedia pages, and elsewhere all over the two-way web. Call it the “Paris Hilton” quantum effect.

0.5) Wikipedia has good tools to deal with individual vandals, mostly based on searching for “bad” strings in text/username and then blocking IPs that create such edits. We also need tools for vandal waves and spin waves, problems we’ll face increasingly in the future as Wikipedia gets more media attention.

1) An vandal wave* occurs when a controversial topic gets hit by a lot of different editors, time-synchronized because they arrive from a media event. For example,

  • the leftwing blogs deploring the “swiftboating” article on Nov. 29, 2005
  • the Adam Curry/podcasting news on Dec. 2, 2005, or
  • Stephen Colbert’s recently urging people to edit “elephant”

Such waves yield mostly bad edits because of the way the editing software fails when they occur.

2) You can detect a vandal wave by two simple metrics. 1) The average time between edits by *different* users gets very short. 2) The ratio of edits by IP to edits by registed Wikipedians goes way up. (This isn’t because most IPs are vandals–it’s because a heavy influx of IPs to one page gives you warning that a lot of new users are suddenly seeing that page.) Putting numbers on that–depends on what kind of traffic your page gets normally. (Here I made some arm-waving mention of “derivatives” and even “second derivatives.”)

3) It’s important to respond fast–first because the media event is giving lots of people their first impression of Wikipedia, so you want that impression to be an accurate picture of Wikipedia at its best. Second, because editing software fails in a bad way under such heavy use–“edit conflicts” block people’s thoughtful contributions, while permitting less desirable but faster edits, such as blanking the page, adding an obscenity, or even just correcting one word without realizing a larger problem exists.

4) Wikipedia’s vprotect response should be re-thought as a way to welcome potential new editors at the same time as blocking quick bad edits. For example, the vprotect could include a link to recent page history to show why the vprotect has been added. Also, “failed edits” shouldn’t be dumped and lost–chances are people put thought and effort into creating them. There should be a backup page or two for each controversial article where such “lost” edits get archived so that they can become part of the discussion once the pace of bad edits slows down.

5) A “vandal wave” occurs in response to media attention. “Spin waves” occur in anticipation of media attention, as motivated and paid professional writers try to spin the content of pages. These writers will become increasingly good at hiding their motivation and their identities–we need better techniques to deal with them than outing the few inept ones who get caught.

6) Wikipedia is a resource not only of facts but also of coding solutions that other big interactive websites will be needing in the future. Wikipedia is full not only of words but also of numbers–for example, the timestamp on each edit makes it easy to compute time between edits. These matters will become very important with the growth of “two-way web.” Here at Wikipedia, we saw them first!

* People at the talk correctly pointed out that “vandal wave” was too narrow a description. So with a tip of my hat to Doc Searls, who talks about an “intention economy”, maybe we should call them intention waves. A wave of people arrives at your page–motivated not just to take a look, but to try to play with your software to make the page look more like what they want to see.

There you have the meat of it–my first PowerPoint assisted talk ever–sad that my summary has to leave out the funny parts and fine pictures….

Tags: Metablogging · wikipedia