Monday, July 10, 2006


Wackapedia is on hiatus. Check out my current thingie, FanDumb.

And for your Wikipedia needs, visit Ben Yates' Wikipedia blog.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


It's the game everyone remembers fondly and no one wants to play. With the old-timey tokens and penalty cards that seem to hail from the days of flicker reels and Tammany Hall (What is a "Community Chest," anyway?) Monopoly retains the sepia aura of a Beloved Icon despite the fact that nobody, but nobody, cherishes fond memories of actually playing the game.

The last time I played, the experience was more like this one (cited by Ben of the blog Ben and Alice): "At about the 3 1/2 hour mark, the mood ...was definitely down. Everybody was yawning, and Chad was playing with action figures between turns. I had a novel I was a reading. Not much had changed by four hours, and Jenny, in exasperation, claimed the win because everybody else had abandoned the game."

Still Monopoly's mystique endures, and not just because of its vintage flair. There's also Hasbro's famous claim, backed up by the Guinness Book of World Records, that Monopoly is "the most-played board game in the world" -- a claim that, if some scrappy Wikipedians have their way, will soon and deservedly bite the dust.

"I'm suspicious of the "most played board game" title -- even if the number [of] 500 million [players] is accurate," says one editor. "Go has been around for maybe 4000 years, and it's much more popular in East Asian countries." Other editors cite games like Mancala and Mahjong as almost certainly surpassing Monopoly's popularity worldwide.

They've got to be right. It's not as if modern Western society invented the board game. In a sense, the claim is as dated as Monopoly itself, a relic of a time (Depression-era America) of unthinking cultural imperialism and awestruck reverence for the new mass-produced consumer goods. It would be more accurate to say Monopoly is the most-played commercial board game of all time. It's a monument to capitalism as much as to the game designer's art. Somehow, though, I don't see Hasbro embracing that definition any time soon.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Fantasy vs. Reality

Did you know Wikipedia's entry on Festivus, the imaginary holiday invented by an imaginary person -- Seinfeld's Frank Costanza -- is longer than its entry on Presidents' Day (1848 words vs. 595 words)? That's not the only imaginary thing Wikipedia is preserving for posterity, either. Below, a few imaginary things and the word counts of their Wikipedia entries.

The Easter Bunny - 490 words
Harvey the Rabbit - 1,650 (in two entries, for the play and the movie)
The Boogeyman - 1,289 (note misspelling in entry. "Bogeyman," my ass!)
Professor Chaos -- 310 (within the entry for Butters Stoch)
Elves - 4,837
No Child Left Behind - 2,761
God - 13,508

Inspired by fellow Chicagoan and Festivus fan Cella Bella, whose blog I just discovered today.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wikreative Anachropedia

I stand before you as a mountaineer gazing up at a rock face. On the Matterhorn. Or Everest -- one of those real tough mountains. (The Matterhorn is tough, right?) I'm going to attempt to do justice to Wikipedia's entry on the Society for Creative Anachronism.

How does a person decide what to do here? The whole basis of comedy is setup and punchline. With the SCA, it's all punchline. Take this paragraph from the 6,389-word entry:

SCA members each create their own persona. For some, a persona is simply a costume and a name, an alter-ego for a weekend costume party. [Dilettantes!] Others craft an elaborate personal history of a medieval person ... opening the door to years of scholarly research and hands-on re-creation. ... Members may attempt to remain "in persona", speaking only of things that their period alter-ego would know about ... They may use code terminology to refer to modern or "mundane" items such as automobiles ("chariots" or "wagons", sometimes "dragons") or telephones ("farspeakers"). A certain amount of cognitive dissonance is accepted, such as when dealing with an 8th-century Norseman wearing eyeglasses and a wristwatch.

For God's sake, what am I supposed to do? I mean where do you even start. Maybe with the "years of scholarly research" all so you can walk around dressed as an 8th-century Norseman in glasses calling phones "farspeakers." Or with the idea of referring to non-Medieval stuff as "mundane." And this is just one paragraph! I haven't even gotten into the political -- sorry, "political" -- structure, "sub-groups from the local Barony up to the Kingdoms." Or the niceties of clothing, which "may range from a polyester-blend T-tunic for a newcomer to a hand-embroidered and beaded Elizabethan gown ... that may take more than six months to complete." Pity the duffer in the poly blend T-tunic!

I guess the best (i.e., worst) stuff is when they get all pompous and persnickety about trivial things. The act of dressing up in a poly blend T-tunic (whatever the heck that is) is certainly no stupider than most if not all American pastimes. (NASCAR, anyone?) But when you start getting bent out of shape over silly legalistic stuff, it becomes painful. Viz:

"Following a major revision of the SCA's rules for heraldic submissions (known, ironically, as the "Modest Proposal"), SCA armorial bearings are now checked for conflict against only major coats of arms, devices and symbols that exist in the real world; and arms awarded within the Society itself." Well, thank bloody God. I was getting sick of my next-door-neighbor flying my "Ye Olde Dogs Playing Poker" standard without my say-so.

My brother nailed this problem in the email that inspired this post. Quoting from Wikipedia's entry on duct tape -- "The official SCA Weapons Standards just refers to "tape", so Gaffer tape is also used by many participants" -- (and that's another thing! Where do these people get off, larding up the duct tape entry with SCA trivia?) he wrote, "Very permissive, those SCA Weapons Standards. Allow all manner of bastard tape. Probably even tape miscegenation. That's why I started a new organization called the New Real SCA. Tape standards must be restored to our weapons!"

The New Real SCA? I like it. Sign me up!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Six Degrees of Mac

Six Degrees of Procrastination: Mac.
Macintosh : McIntosh apple : cultivar : portmanteau : Humpty Dumpty : Humpty Dumptyism

Who knew Humpty Dumpty was so procrastinatory? Turns out the term "Humpty Dumptyism" means "insist[ing] on a meaning of a word that is not generally accepted by others." I've never heard of this before -- could it be a case of Humpty Dumptyism itself? Hmmm...

Here's why it's called Humpty Dumptyism (From Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass):
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'
No one seems to know where Humpty himself came from. Among the theories:

-"Humpty dumpty" was 17th-Century slang for a short, clumsy person

-"Humpty Dumpty referred to King Richard III of England, the hunchbacked monarch ... During the battle of Bosworth Field, he fell off of his steed and was said to have been "hacked into pieces"

-"Humpty Dumpty may also refer to a Roman war machine called a Testudo used to cross moats and climb over castle walls. Humpty Dumpty refers to the turtle-like look of the machine and the noise of the wheels."

Still not totally distracted from your work? Try this: "A phonetic variation ... of the [Humpty Dumpty] rhyme is also used in analysis, knowledge management, and ... software development to illustrate the complexity of human communications."

That should put paid to your productivity for the day. So you can say your productivity "had a great fall!" HAW!!!!!! I kill myself.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Duct Tape Prom Dress

In honor of this year's duct tape prom dress contest (details here, gallery here) a few Wikifacts about the tape everyone loves to love.

Why it's easy to rip: It was designed as a waterproof sealing tape for ammunition cases in WWII, and soldiers don't carry cuticle scissors.

Its moment of heroism: It was used to modify the CO(2) filters on Apollo 13, saving the astronauts' lives. In 2005 one of the engineers involved said he knew the problem was solvable when he found out they had duct tape on board: "I felt like we were home free."

Weirdest thing it's good for: Removing warts. Just stick it on.

Stupidest part of Wikipedia's entry: "Duct tape is used extensively in the creation and identification of weaponry used by the Society for Creative Anachronism. [All roads lead to the SCA, don't they?] The official SCA Weapons Standards just refers to "tape", so Gaffer tape is also used by many participants."

Most lascivious part of Wikipedia's entry: This guy's awesome package. What's he got down there, coconuts?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Six Degrees of Procrastination: Childfree

Eh, well, not exactly. I meant to play Six Degrees of Procrastination with Wikipedia's entry on the Childfree movement, but the movement itself is just so hilarious that I never got away from the page. Instead, here are the six best terms in Wikipedia's list of movement slang. (I think you'll see why I was in difficulty.)

Fence-sitter: A person who has not yet decided whether or not to have children
Fleshloaf: See "loaf"
Free range child: An unsupervised child, usually one who is not staying put or who is wreaking havoc in public
Hipmoo: Trendy mother, usually lax as a disciplinarian, who subscribes to any popular earthy-crunchy parenting trend, such as the family bed, uncovered breastfeeding in public, allowing children to self-wean, and so on
Loaf: Freshly hatched offspring; newborn
S-MOO-V: A massive sport-utility vehicle filled with baby paraphernalia, old drive-through food, or abandoned toys, driven erratically by a parent focusing more attention on the children in the back than the road all around him/her
Sprog: A child. Also "yard ape," "crotch dumpling," "crotch dropping," "sproglet," "spawn," "anklebiter," "shriekling," "fleshloaf", "squatmonkey", "kitchen crawler", "rugrat", "railbiter"


(I know that's seven terms, not six, but, Come on!)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hipster Mannerheim?

In a weird convergence of obsessions (in this case, Finnish militaria and procrastination/productivity), I learned this week that Carl Mannerheim, Winter War general and creator of the Mannerheim Line, may have used something like a Hipster PDA:

Image courtesy of this nice lady.

Mannerheim certainly was well-organized, that's for sure. Check out his desk! (In an image from his eminently procrastinatory Wikipedia entry)

My desk is 50 times messier, and I'm not trying to kick the Russian army's ass with nothing but a few hardassed patriots on skis.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Thanks, U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan! By trying to lie in your Wikipedia entry, your staffers have prompted Wikipedia to politician-proof itself.

THE STORY: The AP reports that "members of [the Lowell, Mass. congressman's] staff deleted unflattering information about a broken campaign promise." For the full story, click here.

THE FALLOUT: At least one political blog says this story proves Wikipedia is inherently flawed. What a stupid criticism! Stories like this one and the Seigenthaler controversy are ultimately going to make Wikipedia much stronger. Right now it's a lot like the Internet in 1994: A handful of early adopters have a disproportionate influence over content. As more people become aware of Wikipedia, it will become much harder to give an entry a self-serving slant.

Not convinced? Check out the case of good ol' Joshua Gardner, the would-be Duke of Cleveland. He was foiled by some high-school kids who understood how Wikipedia works. Once they told the papers about him, the story hardly hit print before Wikipedia contributors removed his edits.

They're already at work on the Meehan entry. The story just broke Saturday, and their discussion of it already runs to more than 4000 words and encompasses such topics as how to find the person or people behind dubious edits; what to do about self-serving edits in general; and how to review politicians' edits to their own pages. They're even trying to track down the people behind a troublemaking IP address! These guys are indefatigable!

In short, by trying to fill Wikipedia with political lies and manipulations, Meehan's staff has provoked Wikipedians to try and forestall similar skullduggery. Whether they succeed remains to be seen.

P.S. Yes, that's Ricky Gervais as the glad-handing politician.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wikipedia and Whack-a-mole: Part 1

Because my hordes of fans want to know: "Whence Wack-a-Pedia?"

There are actually several similarities between the community encyclopedia and the beloved Chuck E. Cheese/arcade standby, so let's start with The Big One: Both of them beguile you into endless procrastination, one step at a time. It's true! e.g.:

Whack-a-mole player: Hey look, Whack-a-mole! I haven't played this in a while. What the hey, I'll whack a mole or two.

Wikipedia user: Hey look, Wikipedia! I need to research the historical origins of Whack-a-mole. What the hey, I'll look it up here.

Whack-a-mole player: Hey, this is fun! Every time one mole gets whacked, another one appears ... and I never know where! *BAM BAM BAM*

Wikipedia user: Hey, this is fun! The Wackamole entry links to an entry on all sorts of arcade redemption games! *CLICK CLICK CLICK*

Whack-a-mole player: OK, my pizza's getting cold. One more mole, then I'll quit.

Wikipedia user: OK, my work is waiting. I'll read this linked entry on SkeeBall, then I'll quit.

Whack-a-mole player: More moles...more moles...MOLES! MOLES! ALWAYS MORE MOLES!!! *BAM BAM BAM BAM*

Wikipedia user: SkeeBall ... invented in 1909 ... the year of Ernest Shackleton's South Pole expedition ... Royal Geographical Society ... LINKS! LINKS! ALWAYS MORE LINKS!!! *CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK* *BAM BAM BAM BAM*

The end ... or is it?

Tiffany and Amber say: We love to go down to the pier to play Whack-a-mole! We avoid that homeless guy who smells like chili, though.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Six Degrees of Cramming

Six Degrees of Procrastination: Alito edition.

Roe v. Wade : landmark : cause célèbre : Terence Rattigan : crammer : juku

Half of all Japanese schoolchildren attend Juku, private schools that offer intense additional study. (I'm SO glad I didn't get into the Jet program after college.) They're controversial, not because nobody should have to study that hard, but because the government wants kids to get all the workload they need at regular school. Fat chance! "Some juku even have branches in the US and other countries to help children living abroad catch up with students in Japan."

Other Japanese educational trivia, courtesy of this entry: "In the past, the selection process for advancing to higher education had been described as 'hellish' and 'war-like,'" thus juku. Japanese schools "emphasize diligence and self-criticism." So they're basically the opposite of American high schools. Or at least my high school.

Friday, January 20, 2006

WIkipedia to the rescue -- Part 2

Wikipedia's heroics just won't stop. Even while it was out-reporting ABC this week, one of its contributors was outing a plagiarist reporter. Tim Ryan had been an entertainment columnist for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for 21 years. Talk about job security! And he had to go and blow it! Yeesh.

The paper found a bunch of incidents of plagiarism from different sources, but what apparently tipped them off was when "an attentive Wikipedia editor noted similarities between a Wikipedia article and one of Ryan's columns," reports Slashdot's CmdrTaco.

Alas, as so often happens, the heroes failed to get their due. While the "Star-Bulletin has admitted to the plagiarism, they failed to publicly acknowledge that Wikipedia was responsible for bringing this situation to light," Slashdot notes.

In other words, they used Wikipedia's reporting without crediting it. What's that called again?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Wikipedia to the rescue!

Wikipedia saved the day this weekend, proving that a bad reputation only lasts 'til the next news hook. Here's a play-by-play of the derring-do.

Thanks to Wikipedia, some spunky high-schoolers figured out that a prospective transfer student was in fact a 22-year-old sex offender. The guy, one Joshua Gardner, claimed he was the fifth Duke of Cleveland and a member of the British royal family. (from ABC news)

ABC says four reporters at the high school newspaper turned to Wikipedia to research the "Duke's" royal lineage. They found the name "Joshua Gardner" mentioned in connection with** edits to Wikipedia's Duke of Cleveland entry. Gardner's name also appears in the National Sex Offender Registry.

**As I write this, Wikipedia contributors are saying ABC was wrong to report that the Duke of Cleveland entry "was written by" Gardner. By doing so, ABC implied that a sex offender can just write a whole entry claiming to be the Duke of Cleveland, and nobody at Wikipedia will notice. But that's not what happened here. Gardner didn't write the original entry, he just contributed to a discussion of edits to it. So Wikipedia actually saved the day twice -- once from a sex offender, and once from the media! Thanks, Wikipedia!

FUNNY DETAILS (from ABC News coverage): Gardner claimed his name was "Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV." Before they sussed him, the teen reporters spent two hours interviewing Gardner, during which he "spoke with a convincing accent and at great length about his British lineage."

Saturday, January 14, 2006


In keeping with this week's jargon theme, here are some of the words Wikipedia's unpaid contributors -- sorry, "community members" -- have coined to make sure everyone knows they're part of a community. You'll never see these words anywhere outside the heuristic fumfering going on behind Wikipedia's "community portal."

Coincidentally, the more absurd neologisms illustrate key concerns about jargon in general. Viz:

1) Fancruft: Fans' Wikipedia entries about their favorite shows/movies/video games/Japanese underage horror porn. FYI, "cruft" is itself a jargon term among computer programmers.
The problem is: It's harder to understand than the original idea is! A word like "fancruft" is basically a power play on the part of its users: it keeps outsiders from understanding their subculture. Either that or they just want to make extra-certain nobody invites them to any parties, ever.

2) Wikieternity: A long time, "such as 24 hours or a week" [!] spent futzing around on Wikipedia.
The problem is: It's unnecessary. Jargon is supposed to sum up a complicated concept. Is it really easier to say "I futzed around for a wikieternity" than "I futzed around for 5 hours"? Please. Terms like this never last long. "Wikieternity" is really just a jargon wannabe. (And if you need an example of the opposite case, it's "wannabe." Now, that's a necessary term. It's not going anywhere.)

3) Wikignome: "a wiki user who makes small and useful edits without clamoring for attention."
The problem is:Ever notice how some jargon terms catch on just because they're fun to say? I just don't see that happening with "wikignome," do you? This is a shame, actually, because we desperately need a word for people who contribute their time to the Net in unrecognized ways. But if you call them "gnomes," they're going to quit en masse and go get lives or something. The quality of online information will take a fatal nosedive, all because of jargon.

Tiffany and Amber say: "Remember, jargon kills!"

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Six Degrees of Apocalypse

Today for Six Degrees of Procrastination, I decided to start with the topic England, since it was mentioned on Wikipedia's main page. It took a while to avoid Tolkienian cul-de-sacs, but here's what I got -- nothing less than the Apocalypse!

Six Degrees of Procrastination: Apocalypse
England : Statute of Rhuddlan: Llywelyn the Last : Brut y Tywysogion : Geoffrey of Monmouth : Apocalypse

The word "apocalypse" doesn't technically have anything to do with the end of the world. It comes from a Greek word meaning "disclosure" that corresponds to a Hebrew word meaning "to reveal." Wikipedia says: "Apocalypse is a term applied to the disclosure to certain privileged persons of something hidden from the mass of humankind." Kind of like Match Game 77.

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