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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Me = MegaGeek (or MegaDumbass)

Looking back over my previous post, which I wrote a couple hours ago, I realized that I COMPLETELY UNINTENTIONALLY used jargon in my joke about extraneous jargon! Gah! There I was, trying to write a ludicrously simple definition of the term "Glog" ('cos that's COMEDY GOLD, people) and I wrote that it was "basically, a moblog." I didn't even notice. This is what it's come to. Or what I've come to.

I still think "Glog" is extraneous jargon, though. If there really are actual Cyborgs going around blogging from out in the world somewhere, there aren't enough of them to justify their own vocabulary term.


What if a bunch of cheerleaders and homecoming queens had been in charge of propagating the Internet? We'd have keyboard shortcuts to dot i's with hearts and protocols to block sites that were too "mean." ICANN would be funded through bake sales and car washes.

But they didn't create the Internet, geeks did, and so we have jargon. Lots and lots of jargon. ROTFL, meme, Netizen, Wiki. IM, IP, ICANN.

Doing some research on Wikis today, I found a veritable smorgasboard of acronyms. So if you want to pass for a geek at the Kappa Rho Rush party, here are a few to know:

Wiki: A web site that a bunch of people all contribute to.
Bliki: A blog that a bunch of people can edit.
EvoWiki: The fact that wikis evolve over time.
Ouiki: "wiki-like environment, OUIKI, consisting of obfuscator, splitter, atom generator, and database." (Eh? If you can explain this to me, don't.)
Glog: Basically, a moblog.

So there you have it, girls. Have a great game.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

All This Blog Are Belong To Me

If you don't know what this ridiculous thing is, congrats. You have a life, as many of us, clearly, do not.

"All Your Base Are Belong to Us" (Commonly abbreviated as AYB or AYBABTU for "convenience's" sake -- because these people are very, very busy) is a bunch of geeks laughing about a silly video game from 1989. The low-budget game was translated very poorly from Japanese, resulting in hilariously butchered English.

No, really, it is hilarious. I check out the AYB video at least every six months or so.

AYB has another level of humor too, namely, the effort to turn it into a meme so widespread that it will pop up in all sorts of places and eventually go down in history like Kilroy Was Here. Or Evil Bert.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, AYB is already a much more important part of our cultural memory than Kilroy Was Here. Let's compare:

All Your Base Are Belong To Us: Entry length: 5,592 words
Tulip mania: 3,872 words
Hula Hoop: 2,591 words
Better Dead Than Red: 2,065 words
Kilroy Was Here: 1,750 words
Evil Bert: 449 words
I Want You For the U.S. Army: No entry

I feel sort of sorry for Uncle Sam and the Army slogan. That's not "Great Justice"! (Get it? Get it? HAW!!)

Friday, January 06, 2006


It's been a while since I thought about dumpster diving, thrifting and other once-edgy ways for urban post-collegians to acquire stuff that's almost good enough to keep. Funny how some early-'90s "alternative" phenomena just didn't have the crossover potential that others did. (Amazon doesn't even sell Pagan Kennedy's Living: A Handbook For Maturing Hipsters direct anymore, can you believe it?)

Of course, the practice continues sans buzz, particularly in my apartment. I only recently abandoned all hope of "fixing up" a dresser (missing a drawer, painted yellow and adorned with photo-stickers of baby seals). You want it? Last call!

Thanks to the curators of Librarian Avengers and Kuro5hin, I was inspired to explore Wikipedia's wisdom on the subject:

-Dumpstering can be ... a conscious lifestyle choice as a part of freeganism.

-Popular [make that "popular"] rap/rock group Pseudohoodlum had a song called "Dumpster Dive." Lyrics included: "Jump right off the vintage scale, I know a place where there's always a sale... in the dumpster." [Shades of Petula Clark!]

-There is a woman out there who refers to herself as "The Dumpster Lady."

-Wikipedia's article on the topic is deemed by those in the know to be "rather non-encyclopedic" because it's "chummy and instructive ... not really what Wikipedia is about."

It's not? Are you sure?

**The pic is from fellow Chicagoan Kelly Noah's site No Cost for Culture. Cool shot, Kelly!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Wikipedia v. Britannica - missing the point

Nature magazine kind of missed the point with its recent Wikipedia/Britannica slapdown. What I want to know is, how well do the two perform in Six Degrees of Procrastination? In this game, which I invented last week, you follow interesting-seeming links from article to article and see how long it takes to get to a seriously weird entry that distracts you completely from your work.

I'll start the test with the most un-distracting topic I can think of: the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy. The CAP is a system of agricultural subsidies, funded by the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund, that imposes tariffs and sets an internal intervention price to ensure that the internal market price of goods only varies in the blah blah blah blah blah.

Good choice, eh? Let's see how they do:

CAP : Kinds of farm operation : Peasant agriculture : the labour force : land, output and yields : blahblahblahblah

CAP : Fortress Europe : Autarky : Biscúter automobile
The Biscúter (above) was a microcar manufactured in Spain after WWII. It was roughly the size of two motorscooters, so it was originally called the Biscooter. (Awww.) Several body styles were produced, including a tiny woodie station wagon. (Go ahead, resist that woodie link! I dare you!)

And the winner is … Wait, what was I talking about?

Monday, January 02, 2006

In other reference TV from the BBC

The BBC now has a free video archive, the Open News Archive, of TV reports from important moments in history. It's got the Beijing protests, the opening of the Berlin wall, the Ethiopian famine and 76 other clips. The site says it's only free for a trial period, so download now.

UPDATE: You can only download from the archive if you're in the UK. Sorry, Yanks!

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