May 22, 2018

Going GNU

Project Idea – Call for Contributors – web scrapping West Bengal Public Library Network

Hello all,

We have bengali wikisource friends requesting for web scrapping PDF files from a dspace based library.


The site seems down some times. But will be up in few hours.
Can any one contribute to this project?

If you are interested, reply here or mail to me on tshrinivasan@gmail.com


by tshrinivasan at May 22, 2018 08:23 PM

Megha Sharma

GSoC Chapter 1: Getting Started with Coding

The first two weeks of GSoC were pretty different from that of Outreachy, not in terms of the amount of work and the hard work I’d put in, but in terms of the kind of work I did in these initial weeks of my journey. My project proposal was pretty much the same as what the final requirements were, and thus was approved very quickly by my mentors and thus I could start coding pretty early (happy to have reached this stage pretty quickly this time 😛).

I spent some time setting up the environment, database for the tool etc for a smooth development experience. I did lot of research about React, its efficiency and when its useful. In these two weeks, I also managed to set it up, along with Django on Toolforge. It was hell of a task to make React work with Django along with Webpack, Babel etc. Issues kept on coming and I kept resolving them! The whole Webpack world seemed pretty complicated to me, but I managed to survive 😅.

Having spent lot of time playing around with React and Webpack and setting them up to work with Django, I’ve now shifted my focus up on the MVP release of my tool. MVP of the tool will contain all the basic functionality like creating a worklist, adding articles to worklist, finding a worklist, claiming an article in a worklist etc but with minimal UI. The goal of the MVP release would be to gather initial feedback from the users about the tool and make necessary amendments in our plans for this tool. I hope I’ll be able to share the results of MVP release with you in the next chapter. Stay tuned!

by Megha Sharma at May 22, 2018 06:18 PM

Wiki Education Foundation

Wiki Education publishes evaluation of Fellows pilot

This spring, Wiki Education ran a pilot program called Wikipedia Fellows to train subject-matter experts in three disciplines on how to edit Wikipedia. Over a three-month structured course that included weekly meetings, nine academics in political science, sociology, and women’s studies improved Wikipedia articles in their fields of expertise. We’re excited to declare the pilot a success, and we are actively recruiting additional cohorts as we attempt to scale the impact of the program.

How do we know the pilot program was a success? The team of Wiki Education staff who worked on the pilot — Program Manager Will Kent, Educational Partnerships Manager Jami Mathewson, Community Engagement Manager Ryan McGrady, Senior Wikipedia Content Expert Ian Ramjohn, and Wikipedia Content Expert Shalor Toncray — spent extensive time reflecting on every aspect of the pilot program. The team documented what they did and what their learnings were along the way, and since the pilot wrapped up at the end of March, they have been busy creating a full evaluation report of the program, which we’ve published on Meta-wiki, the central organizing hub for the Wikimedia movement’s documentation.

Following in the trends of other evaluation reports we’ve published, the Fellows pilot evaluation report provides an in-depth overview of what we did during the preparation phase, the selection phase, how we created the curriculum, how the meetings went, what our staff roles were, and the outcomes from the pilot. We identified our theory of change and key questions, and then reflected upon them in a conclusion. All of these are documented extensively in the report on Meta.

While Wiki Education believes in transparency, which is part of the reason we publish reports like this, we are also hopeful that this information can be useful for other Wikimedia movement partners globally who may want to pursue a similar program in the future. Trying to engage subject-matter experts to contribute their knowledge to Wikimedia projects has been an ongoing goal of many in our movement for the last 17 years. While only time will tell if we actually retain these new experts as long-term editors, the English Wikipedia and its readers have already benefited from the contributions these nine experts made during their time as Wikipedia Fellows.

To read the full evaluation report, visit Meta. We’ve also published a short blog post outlining the outcomes from the pilot, and participants in the Fellows program are blogging about their experiences on our blog.

by LiAnna Davis at May 22, 2018 04:23 PM

Wikimedia Foundation

Minister Ahmet Arslan: Wikipedia is open for improvement by anyone around the world, and should be open for editors in Turkey

Photo by Benh, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Dear Minister Arslan:

I am the General Counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, the not-for-profit organization that hosts Wikipedia, whose more than 46 million articles make it the largest, collaboratively-built online repository of free knowledge in the world. I read your recent statements on the access ban of Wikipedia in Turkey, which did not include critical information about the current situation. Unfortunately, the statements did not include any information about the many steps the Wikimedia community of volunteer editors have already taken to improve the articles that are the basis for the block. Nor do they include information about our compliance with Turkish law and many meetings with Turkish officials. To that end, I want to take this opportunity to provide crucial information concerning many and significant efforts to address the block, and to emphasize our interest in understanding how to return access to Wikipedia for people in Turkey.

Before getting into more detail, here are a few very important points.

First, the Turkish block is the most expansive government ban ever imposed on Wikipedia, and includes Wikipedias across nearly 300 languages. The court order imposing the ban is based on two articles in English Wikipedia which the court said damaged the reputation and prestige of the Republic of Turkey. While we respectfully disagreed with the court’s decision as it applied to the articles at the time the block was imposed, we also wish to point out that those articles have been changed substantially by Wikipedia volunteer editors since the block was imposed and urge you to take that into consideration.

Second, it is important to note that, unlike other top internet platforms, the Wikimedia Foundation does not own or control the content of the sites it hosts, including Wikipedia. With respect to the editing process, the Foundation cannot remove or alter content. The originating idea that has led to the unique value of Wikipedia is that it is a collaboration of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Together they make decisions about what information to include in Wikipedia and how that information is presented. The editing process proceeds according to policies developed and overseen by these independent volunteer editors. Wikipedia’s policies require reliable sources to verify information included in Wikipedia, and neutrality, especially when covering controversies in which there are differing views. This is an ongoing process and means that Wikipedia articles are under constant improvement. It is a process that benefits from more editors and differing perspectives, which is one of the reasons why ending the block in Turkey is so important.

This manner of creating and improving content remains to this day the most powerful and unique contribution of Wikipedia to the internet. When more people participate on Wikipedia, the more neutral, reliable, and accurate its articles become. As you may know from the BTK, the Wikimedia Foundation and independent Wikipedia volunteer editors offered to provide open, public training on Wikipedia in Turkey once the block is lifted, as we have done in other countries, with the goal of increasing the number of editors and perspectives on Wikipedia.

Third, I also want to emphasize that Wikipedia has complied with Turkish law; it has not sought to circumvent the court ruling. The Foundation, for its part, has pursued its legal remedies and will continue to do so.

Significantly, and as stated above, independent, volunteer Wikipedia editors have made extensive changes to the articles upon which the court order is based. The Wikipedia articles today are significantly different than the versions that were reviewed by the court more than one year ago when it issued its 2017 decision.

The articles have been improved, in a manner consistent with Wikipedia’s own standards: The articles now include more statements from multiple reliable sources from both within and outside Turkey, cover different sides of controversies, and use more neutral language. These changes also address major concerns expressed by the government, including that the Wikipedia articles provide comprehensive summaries that do not only reflect one point of view.

The articles are and have remained open for editing by anyone around the world in accordance with Wikipedia’s editorial policies of neutrality and reliance on reliable sources. Indeed, the only barrier to Turkish people’s ability to improve Wikipedia further is the fact that the access ban has not yet been lifted.

We respectfully request that the government join us in asking the court to lift the ban so that Wikipedia can return to serving as a valuable, free educational resource on a wide range of topics, including science, engineering, art, and culture. We would like to see the Turkish people able to contribute to the global conversation, including Turkish topics, on Wikipedia. As we have repeatedly noted, we are all made poorer for the absence of contributions by the Turkish people.

In any event, we would like to keep open communication with you so that we can discuss these matters further if that is helpful.

Eileen B. Hershenov
General Counsel
Wikimedia Foundation

by Eileen Hershenov at May 22, 2018 01:49 PM

Going GNU

30 Project Ideas for contributing to Indic Wikipedia Projects

Last week, I had an interesting meeting with Panjabi Wikimedian community and CIS-A2K team.

Panjabi wikimedia community is small in count. But each of them are contributing with their best. Many of them doing 100-days-of-wiki, personal wiki edithathon for 100 days. Few of them do in in multiple sites and many times a year.

Their interest on contribution and passion on their language is awesome.

Interacted on wikisource, wiktionary and wikipedia. Shared many ideas to improve their workflow. They are looking for many tools to automate their tasks. Those tools will be useful for all wiki communities.

Then, had some great discussions with CIS-A2K team. We spoke about many interesting project ideas.
Listing them all the ideas here.

1. List down the Top 10 tricks/hacks/must know on any wikisource project

2. Make simple tutorials on how to start contributing to wiki, in all possible languages. Still we dont have an ebook or easy starter guide in Tamil. There may be video tutorials. curate them and show them in better way to find them easily.

3. Telegram bot to proofread wikisource contents. Get a page from wikisource. split it into lines, then words. Show a word and OCRed content in a telegrambot. User should verify or type the correct spelling in telegram itself. Submit the changes to wikisource. Thus, we can make the collaborated proofreading easily.

4. Explore how to use flickr for helping photographers to donate their photos for commons. Flickr is easy for them to upload and showcase. From there, we should move the photos to commons. Few tools are already available. Explore them and train them for photographers.

5. We should celebrate the volunteers who contribute to wiki. By events, news announcements, interviews etc. CIS may explore this.

6. Web application for OCR4WikiSource

7. Make a web application to record audio and upload to commons and add in wiktionary words. explore Lingua-Libre for web app.

8. Make a mobile application to record audio and upload to commons and add in wiktionary words.

9. CIS may ask the language based organizations to give their works/tools on public licenses.

10. A one/two day meeting/conference to connect various language technologies. Each team can demonstrate the tools they are working on. others can learn and use them for their languages. CIS may organize this soon.

11. Building spell checkers for Tamil. Learn how other other languages are doing. Odia seems to have good spell checker. Explore that.

12. For iOS, there is no commons app to upload photos. It was there sometime ago. Fix the iOS commons app and rerelease it again.

13. Build Maps with local languages with OSM.

14. One/Two day training on wiki tech. like gadgets, tools, toolserver, API, etc

15. Tweet marketing to promote the ebooks released in wikisource projects. Measure the downloads.

16. CIS may talk with amazon to release the ebooks from wikisource for free always at amazon.

17. Explore Valmigi project of malayalam, chikubuku of kannada – for their ebooks.

18. Download ebooks from dspace, bengali books – West Bengal Public Library Network – url – http://dspace.wbpublibnet.gov.in:8080/jspui/

19. Explore paid works for wikisource proofreading.

20. Blog on how ta wikisource for 2000 ebooks from TN government in public domain license. Send to CIS. They may try to do the same for other languages.

21. ASI website has info about all monuments. Scrap them all and add in wiki.

22. Scrap details from tourism sites and add in wiki.

23. Kannada archeology site has tons of images but with 3 seals added in all images. scrap them, remove seal and add to commons.

24. Tool to audit wiki sites. like new users, edits, measurements, KPIs, reports etc.

25. Discuss with wiki writers and help them to automate their tasks. Build new tools to help them. train existing tools.

26. Get existing photos from many photographers. Get license doc. Add in OTRS. Have a team to upload the photos to commons.

27. Find the pages that don’t have images. Search in commons and add 1 image automatically.

28. Infobox in wiki pages may have 1 image. Check for the same page in other languages.. get the image from infobox and use it in missing pages.

29. Tito showed a broken JS script. Explore it and fix it.

30. Discuss with victor and google team to improve the OCR feature and integrating with wikisource. Explore existing tools like http://tools.wmflabs.org/ws-google-ocr/ and https://wikisource.org/wiki/Wikisource:Google_OCR


Thanks to Ravi, Tito, Tanveer, Dan, Charan Singh, Manavpreet, Rupika,Gurlaal, Stain for the interesting meeting and great ideas.

We can work on these ideas and implement them soon.

If you are interested in doing any of the ideas, reply here or mail me on tshrinivasan@gmail.com


by tshrinivasan at May 22, 2018 05:57 AM

Brion Vibber

JavaScript engine internals part 4: NaN-boxing vs heap boxing in Mandelbrot

One of my favorite programming samples is calculating a visualization of the Mandelbrot set, a famous fractal. I’ve added it to my experimental JS-like scripting engine to exercise the floating-point performance:

Using the tagged-pointer scheme in my earlier post for storage of variant local types, there was the disadvantage that double-precision floating point numbers (64 bits wide) would not fit in the 31 bits of tagged-pointer space, so they had to be “boxed” (allocated on the heap as an object). This made for runtimes on the Mandelbrot set demo approximately 200x slower than the original JS running in node. Ouch!

I decided to reimplement NaN boxing (which allows storing full 64-bit doubles or a pointer or an int32, all in a single 64-bit word), this time following the JavaScriptCore method that’s easier to unbox pointers versus the SpiderMonkey method. Now I can flip my code between NaN-boxing and heap-boxing with a compile-time #define and compare!

original js: 9 ms

native w/ NaN box: 48 ms
wasm with NaN box: 71 ms

native w/ box doubles: 2677 ms
wasm with box doubles: 1794 ms

NaN-boxing *screams* versus heap-boxing. In part it’s the indirection, but I think it’s mostly having to allocate a hojillion objects and then clean them up, as every temporary result in calculations gets turned into a live object and then garbage-collected after a while. (Note that the native build on my MacBook Pro is slower than the wasm build with heap boxing, probably due to a different allocator and 32-bit vs 64-bit pointers!)

But do we really have to do all that temporary allocation? Most math operators only return a specific type (-, *, and / always return doubles; + can return a string depending on its input). For now the JS code is hand-translated to C++ using operator overloads, so having my C++ operator overloads return doubles when possible, and accept them when possible, lets temporaries that can only be doubles skip the type-checking and boxing/unboxing overhead.

original js: 9 ms

native w/ NaN box: 17 ms
wasm with NaN box: 28 ms

native w/ box doubles: 467 ms
wasm with box doubles: 248 ms

Boxing doubles on the heap is still really slow, but a lot less slow thanks to sidestepping it on many intermediate values… And with the 64-bit NaN-boxing we’re only about 3x slower than native node when running in wasm in node, a big improvement that I’m really happy with!

This makes me feel that 64-bit NaN boxing is the way to go; it’s only slightly more complex than tagging a pointer-sized word and it makes floating point math a ton faster when it’s needed, which sometimes it just is.

by brion at May 22, 2018 05:53 AM

May 21, 2018

Wikimedia Foundation

A note on our approach to privacy

Photo by Ardfern, CC BY-SA 3.0.

We at the Wikimedia Foundation are pleased that organizations across the world are currently rethinking their privacy policies. We have always strongly valued the privacy of our volunteers, readers, and donors, but this moment has given us an opportunity to look at our own privacy policy and see how it can be strengthened.

We see privacy as an important foundation for intellectual freedom, and we believe that the trust of our community is deeply linked to several practices:

  • We intentionally collect very little data about readers and contributors, and provide a transparent view of the data we keep—and do not keep.
  • We work with our communities and invite open community vetting of our privacy-related policies.
  • We remain accountable to the community, including a volunteer ombudsman commission that responds to any reported privacy-related concerns.
  • We support our open source platform, which among other benefits, allows anyone to examine and discover any vulnerabilities in our code.

We do not allow third-party tracking of visitors to our sites. We have short data retention periods (see our data retention guidelines). We proactively publish a transparency report, informing the public about requests for data about our contributors. We have a comprehensive privacy policy, developed with community input.

We are always looking for ways to improve our privacy and data security practices in partnership with our community of contributors and users.

As a result of our most recent review, we are updating our privacy policy, which now clarifies the definition of “personal information,” and has been reorganized to improve readability without changing the overall intentions previously set by the community. As promised in the policy, we are providing these minor changes with three (3) calendar days’ prior notice. These changes will go into effect on May 24, 2018. As always, we want your thoughts and feedback, and invite everyone to comment on the policy talk page over the next thirty (30) calendar days. We are also grateful to our volunteer community, who are actively working on translations of this policy.

We will continue looking for ways to improve and help make clearer to everyone our privacy practices and policy as technology and the world change rapidly around us.

Look out for more updates, both here and on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, to learn more about our approach to privacy and data security practices.

Wikimedia Foundation

by Wikimedia Foundation at May 21, 2018 07:07 PM

Megha Sharma

GSoC-2018 : Beginning of a new Journey

I’d been waiting for the clock to hit 9:30pm, 23–4–2018 since March 27th. The heartbeat only got faster as the date came closer. But all the wait (and hard work) was worth it. I got selected in GSoC. Yay!

I’ll cherish that moment forever when I saw my name in the list of selected interns for GSoC-2018.

I’d been selected by Wikimedia to build a “worklist” tool for campaigns and in-person editing events. After the successful completion of Outreachy Round-15, this was icing on the cake! The dream of getting selected in GSoC had come true!

Being a previous intern with Wikimedia for Outreachy Round-15, I was very happy to have got another chance to work with the amazing community. My experience of working with the people at wikimedia was amazing and I’m sure this GSoC journey won’t be any different.

I’m looking forward to work with my mentors and build an amazing tool in my GSoC-2018 journey. Stay tuned for the chapters in this journey of mine!

by Megha Sharma at May 21, 2018 05:40 PM

Tech News

Tech News issue #21, 2018 (May 21, 2018)

TriangleArrow-Left.svgprevious 2018, week 21 (Monday 21 May 2018) nextTriangleArrow-Right.svg
Other languages:
العربية • ‎čeština • ‎English • ‎فارسی • ‎suomi • ‎français • ‎עברית • ‎हिन्दी • ‎日本語 • ‎polski • ‎português do Brasil • ‎русский • ‎svenska • ‎українська • ‎Tiếng Việt • ‎粵語 • ‎中文

May 21, 2018 12:00 AM

May 20, 2018

Weekly OSM

weeklyOSM 408


Munin-Zugriffsgraph für Apache auf ironbelly.openstreetmap.org

The Munin access graph for Apache on ironbelly.openstreetmap.org shows a decline in the number of requests after the redirect on port 443 was enabled. 1 | Image: munin.openstreetmap.org

About us

  • ERRATUM: In the last issue of weeklyOSM we used an image from this video and stated that it was Newcastle, but it wasn’t. The picture showed the city of Liverpool. It was an oversight from one of our editors who is a fan of Newcastle United. 😉


  • OSM contributor Adam Schneider has mapped features of the recent volcanic eruption in Leilani Estates, Hawaii including fissures and lava flows.
  • Chris Eshun, a youthmapper from Ghana, made a map of recently flooded areas in Tarkwa using OSM data.
  • Paul Johnson points out that a more completionist view towards lane tagging to include bicycle lanes may be better than the wiki’s view, which encourages error by omission in complex lane situations. The most common answer he receives is that changing the meaning of a tag that is used millions of times is counterproductive at this point and to propose a new tag, which includes lanes of any kind.
  • New terms of use for Bing Maps allow OSM to use StreetSide images.
  • The proposal for Tag:man_made=carpet_hanger was accepted.


  • Routing for Accessibility – new Project with the City of Heidelberg.
  • OpenStreetMap Belgium’s ‘Mapper of the month’ features Yasunari Yamashita and Tomoya Muramoto. Yasunari hosts a continuous mapping party in Japan. Tomoya is also active as an editor for the Japanese language team of WeeklyOSM.
  • sev_osm publishes a Twitter moment about two weeks of OSM and free Geomatics training in N’Djamena (Tchad) targeted to local students, teachers and professionals from both the private and public sectors. The courses were facilitated with the help of members of Chadian community and a Togolese mapper with the support of the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF).
  • Ilya Zverev wrote a diary post about what annoys him of OpenStreetMap. Website stand still, OSM Carto style stand still, Tagging mess, no management, no news, etc

OpenStreetMap Foundation

  • The minutes of the OSMF’s License Working Group meeting on May 10th is available. The topic was mainly regarding various data protection concerns.
  • A blog entry in the official OpenStreetMap blog summarizes upcoming changes in connection with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
  • An FAQ of the OSM Foundation answers several data protection questions currently asked by many website operators who integrate services of the OSM Foundation (tile.openstreetmap.org, nominatim.openstreetmap.org, api.openstreetmap.org).
  • The Minutes of the Data Working Group meeting on March 13th is online.


  • The details about the academic track submission for FOSS4G Europe 2018 are available now.
  • The website of State of the Map Japan 2018 has been released and a Call for Proposals has started. CfP deadline is June 18th.


  • Hartmuts MapOSMatic instance has recently served its 20,000th request.
    It has also received a database upgrade/reimport to be able to render OpenStreetMap Carto v4.x stylesheets, so the OSM default style is now up to date with the OSM website again.
    There’s also now a DokuWiki instance running on the server that provides more detailed usage instructions, descriptions of available stylesheets, and other information related to the print service.
  • Alex Kemp reports on landrises and landfalls due to termination of mining activities and the effects of stopping the pumping that kept the shafts from flooding on the underground water tables.
  • “Millimeter precision HD Vector Maps”, a blogpost by Thiago Santos from Mapbox.


  • A team at MIT is currently developing a new navigation method that relies less on highly detailed maps and more on sensor technology which also makes use of OpenStreetMap data.


  • A Java bug in Debian renders JOSM unusable for all users of Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (Long term support). Meanwhile user abienvenu created a Docker container for JOSM so we can get by while waiting for Ubuntu to fix this in an update.
  • Apple cracking down on applications that send location data to third-parties
  • MapsMania blogs about Antirubbersheeter, a tool that ease the use of Leaflet with any image, for instance with vintage maps.


  • In response to Google’s price increase and not totally satisfied with switch2osm.org‘s tutorial u/Overv created a batteries included Docker image containing a way to follow minute diffs of OSM and render tiles for a given region. As he will use this in production himself, it will be kept up-to-date.
  • Complying with the GDPR will require changes to OpenStreetMap.org’s registration form for new mappers and requesting explicit agreement of all mappers to the new API’s and website’s terms of use. The technical implementation on how to accomplish this is being discussed on GitHub.
  • As announced previously planet.openstreetmap.org now redirects HTTP requests arriving on port 80 to port 443 (HTTPS).
  • From now on Geofabrik’s download server provides data stripped of user-related metadata. OSM data with all metadata intact is only available for users with an OSM login at osm-internal.download.geofabrik.de.


  • Version 0.6 of MUIMapparium, an OSM Client for Amiga, Free Pascal and PowerPC has been released.
  • OSM Carto now renders additional tags like amenity=nursing_home and amenity=driving_school, as well as established tags like amenity=police and amenity=bus_station when tagged on surfaces.

Other “geo” things

  • The new version of the free tool for the analysis of old maps MapAnalyst, now visualises the uncertainty of distortion grids, and has a menu for opening recent projects.
  • An academic study of Wikimapia has been published by the International Journal of Geographical Information Science (main paper paywalled).
  • Microsoft launched Azure’s first foray into providing native geospatial functionality.
  • Nothing new: HERE uses Mapillary images – also in its online editor.
  • The fight for Europe’s last wild rivers. Read the article from the Ecologist.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
Viersen OSM Stammtisch Viersen 2018-05-22 germany
Ulm Mapping Stolpersteine Ulm/Neu-Ulm 2018-05-23 germany
Mumble Creek OpenStreetMap Foundation public board meeting 2018-05-24
Essen Mappertreffen 2018-05-24 germany
Lübeck Lübecker Mappertreffen 2018-05-24 germany
Urspring Stammtisch Ulmer Alb 2018-05-24 germany
Ivrea Incontro mensile Biellese/Canavese/Vercellese 2018-05-26 italy
Bremen Bremer Mappertreffen 2018-05-28 germany
Graz Stammtisch Graz 2018-05-28 austria
Dusseldorf Stammtisch 2018-05-30 germany
Bordeaux State of the Map France 2018 2018-06-01-2018-06-03 france
Montreal Les Mercredis cartographie 2018-06-06 canada
Praha – Brno – Ostrava Kvartální pivo 2018-06-06 czech republic
Stuttgart Stuttgarter Stammtisch 2018-06-06 germany
Bochum Mappertreffen 2018-06-07 germany
Potsdam 120. Brandenburg-Berlin Stammtisch 2018-06-08 germany
Tokyo 東京!街歩き!マッピングパーティ:第20回 江戸開城の地 芝 2018-06-09 japan
Rennes Cartographie des bâtiments en 3D 2018-06-10 france
Rennes Réunion mensuelle 2018-06-11 france
Milan State of the Map 2018 (international conference) 2018-07-28-2018-07-30 italy
Dar es Salaam FOSS4G & HOT Summit 2018 2018-08-29-2018-08-31 tanzania
Detroit State of the Map US 2018 2018-10-05-2018-10-07 united states
Bengaluru State of the Map Asia 2018 (effective date to confirm) 2018-11-17-2018-11-18 india

Note: If you like to see your event here, please put it into the calendar. Only data which is there, will appear in weeklyOSM. Please check your event in our public calendar preview and correct it, where appropriate.

This weeklyOSM was produced by Nakaner, Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, Spanholz, YoViajo, derFred, jcoupey, jinalfoflia, k_zoar, sev_osm.

by weeklyteam at May 20, 2018 09:53 AM

May 19, 2018

Brion Vibber

Floating point fun: iterating the number space

As a joke the other day I posted a code snippet on Mastodon:

for (var i = -Infinity; i < Infinity; i++) {
  /* this should cover all possibilities */

Such an infinite loop is not possible, as adding 1 to -Infinity just gives you -Infinity again, and you never get anywhere. 😉

But even if you started from the minimum representable individual number in a double-precision floating point you wouldn’t actually iterate anywhere because there’s not enough precision to represent the added 1.

Which got me thinking, how *would* you iterate over the entire set of floating point numbers between -Infinity to +Infinity, knowing that the intervals between the numbers are variable?

Well if you want to get everything, including non-integral values, you can iterate over the available range of exponents and fractional values, and either bit-shift them together manually (ick!) or multiply/add/pow them together in floating point land.

Something like this:

function iterate_all_floats(callback) {
  // exponent is additively biased in the binary rep,
  // so we go from negative to positive vals.
  let min_exp = -(Math.pow(2, 10) - 2); // all binary 1s are reserved
  let max_exp = Math.pow(2, 10) - 1;

  let min_frac = 0;
  let max_frac = Math.pow(2, 52) - 1;
  let frac_divisor = Math.pow(2, 52);

  let min_sub = 0;
  let max_sub = Math.pow(2, 52) - 1;
  let sub_divisor = Math.pow(2, 52);


  // Start from the biggest negative numbers and go up towards -0
  for (let exp = max_exp; exp >= min_exp; exp--) {
    for (let frac = max_frac; frac >= min_frac; frac--) {
      callback(-(1.0 + frac / frac_divisor) * Math.pow(2, exp));

  // Negative subnormals and -0
  for (let sub = max_sub; sub >= min_sub; sub--) {
    callback(-(sub / sub_divisor) * Math.pow(2, -1022));

  // +0 and positive subnormals
  for (let sub = min_sub; sub <= max_sub; sub++) {
    callback((sub / sub_divisor) * Math.pow(2, -1022));

  // Start from just past +0 and move up to the biggest numbers
  for (let exp = max_exp; exp <= max_exp; exp++) {
    for (let frac = min_frac; frac <= max_frac; frac++) {
      callback((1.0 + frac / frac_divisor) * Math.pow(2, exp));


iterate_all_floats(function(f) {
  // Convert to binary for display
  let floats = new Float64Array(1);
  let bytes = new Uint8Array(floats.buffer);
  let str = '';
  floats[0] = f;
  for (let i = 3; i >= 0; i--) {
    let b = bytes[i];
    for (let bit = 7; bit >= 0; bit--) {
      let val = (b >> bit) & 1;
      str += val;
  console.log(str, f);


by brion at May 19, 2018 06:35 PM

JavaScript engine internals part 3: garbage collection

Another part of implementing a JavaScript-like engine to run inside a WebAssembly sandbox is memory management: JS requires garbage collection because objects may hold references to each other, creating cycles that simpler schemes like reference counting can’t break.

Mark and sweep

Most JS engines implement some form of mark-and-sweep garbage collection, usually enhanced with various fancy features we won’t get into here (moving/compaction, generational sweeps, etc).

The mark phase involves tracing your way through the object graph. Starting with globals and objects that are held in variables, you mark the object, setting a flag unique to that object. For any references it holds to other objects, you repeat — whenever you reach an object that’s already been marked you can skip over to the next one without re-tracing its references.

Any object that didn’t get marked is considered unreachable, and gets deleted in the sweep phase. This requires having some way to iterate through all allocated objects, which in my experimental engine I’ve temporarily implemented as a C++ std::unordered_set (a hash map with no payload) which new objects are always added to. This should eventually be replaced with a custom allocator that knows how to iterate through its own objects, or something. 🙂

The stack

Traditional C/C++ programs store some of their local variables (those that aren’t optimized into registers) in a region of memory known as the stack: a pointer to the stack top is incremented and decremented as functions run to provide storage space, and the same stack is used to store return addresses for function calls (a cause of many security problems).

Some garbage collection systems like Boehm libgc take advantage of this, and scan the stack looking for object references to keep alive during the mark phase. Clever!

The WebAssembly environment has stricter memory safety: byte-addressable “linear memory” has a limited range and you can only access local variables in the stack frame through compile-time-addressed, pre-verified indexes. There’s no way to access a calling function’s stack frames to check what it had saved in its local variables…

When using the emscripten compiler, there is a second, more C/C++ like stack maintained inside the linear memory for variables and data structures that can’t fit in WebAssembly locals (for instance structure types larger than a single word, or anything that has its address taken and a pointer passed somewhere). Theoretically we could scan through that looking for our pointer values, but there may be false positives and that could be trouble — you wouldn’t want to accidentally try to traverse the object references inside a pointer that was actually a random integer or something!

Stacks, scopes, and smart pointers

For now I’ve implemented my own secondary stack which holds only encoded JS values, and modeled JS local variable bindings as C++ pointers to the value on the stack. When a garbage collection happens, the known globals and anything referenced on the stack are marked and traversed, so objects considered in use stay alive.

The way the stack is managed in the C++ engine code is inspired by V8’s Handle & HandleScope/EscapableHandleScope system. It requires a little bit of explicit discipline, and could probably be further improved in terms of the classes making usage correct, but seems to work correctly.

At the beginning of each function, a Scope or ScopeRetVal object is instantiated:

void someFunc() {
  Scope scope;
  // do stuff

This saves the stack position, and restores it to its original state when the function exits — so you don’t have to manually remember to pop. That’ll free up any of your locally allocated values for garbage collection.

Any given variable binding is either a ‘Binding’ (alias to Val*) to an existing, elsewhere-managed Val, or a ‘Local’ “smart pointer” object when compiles down to a pointer, but with a constructor that pushes a slot onto the stack.

Arguments can be passed as Local instances as well, constructed on the parent frame and eventually destructed with it, or if you know they’re GC-rooted already for sure you can pass a direct binding.

The big trick is return values, which I needed inspiration from V8 to figure out. If you try to return a Local, it’ll be cleaned up from your own scope before you return — and if you try to return a Val directly it won’t be GC-rooted and can disappear unexpectedly.

RetVal somefunc() {
  ScopeRetVal scope;
  // do stuff
  return scope.escape(new String("keep it safe!"));

Functions return a RetVal which doesn’t push, instead of a Local which does. A variant of the Scope, here ScopeRetVal (V8 uses the awesomer name EscapableHandleScope!) first reserves space on the parent scope for that return value. When you return, you have the scope insert the return val into the saved slot, and then the destructor restores the stack to the saved spot _after_ the return value, safely still alive.

Without this trick, return values could end up de-allocated during code like:

var retval = a() + b();

translated to C++ as

Local retval;
*retval = *(a->call(Null(), {})) + *(b->call(Null(), {}));

where the return value from a() gets de-allocated during an allocation inside the call to b().


by brion at May 19, 2018 05:00 AM

May 18, 2018

Brion Vibber

JavaScript engine internals part 2: tagged pointers

In my last post I explored NaN-boxing in JavaScript engines, showing how Firefox and Webkit manage to squish multiple types, including pointers and floating point, into a single 64-bit word.

In my WebAssembly-based JavaScript-like engine experiment I initially implemented NaN boxing similarly to how Firefox/SpiderMonkey do it. It works nicely, but has some downsides:

  • Extra operations needed to unmask a pointer when dealing with lots of objects
  • In-memory values which are pointers have to be manually masked when peeking in the debugger. Kind of a pain.
  • There’s no equivalent aliasing system available in the proposal for native garbage-collected types for WebAssembly.

Inspired by the GC proposal, I’ve tried switching from the 64-bit NaN boxing to native pointer-size (32-bit for Wasm32) words with a minimal tagging system to store integers, which is equivalent to what is available there.

Tagged pointers

So what’s a pointer anyway? It’s a number that points (ha!) to a location in memory where you store stuff. This has a very important consequence:

Because stuff has to be laid out in memory in a way it can be efficiently accessed, structs and classes containing pointers are themselves always located on a pointer-size-aligned boundary. That is, if pointers are 32 bits wide (4 bytes), the structs have to be at a memory location that’s evenly divisible by 4, or it won’t be efficiently accessible.

This means that every pointer to every garbage-collected object is a number divisible by 4… which means its bottom 2 bits are always 0 in binary representation.

Thus, if your value has the bottom bit set, it’s definitely not a pointer to an object. Knowing that, we can divide the 32-bit number space into 32-bit object pointers on the one hand, and on the other hand either 1 tag bit with a 31-bit payload, or 2 tag bits with a 30-bit payload.

The Wasm GC proposal includes an “int31ref” type which can be stored in an “anyref” slot alongside other GC’d reference types, which is meant to use such a scheme.

Implementing tags

In the Val wrapper class in my engine, I’ve adopted this system now and it’s got some trade-offs, but I kinda like it.

The tag check is now a single bit-mask against 1 rather than a giant constant like 0xffff000000000000, which feels cleaner. Integers can be promoted back to 32 bits by right-shifting one bit, while pointers can be consumed as-is once the test is confirmed (or if you know for sure they’re safe).

The biggest downside is that there’s simply not room in 31 bits for very large integers (abs value > 1 billion-ish) or for floating point numbers (64 bits, ay ay!) so they must be boxed on the heap.


“Boxing” is the fun task of taking a nice atomic value type, and wrapping it in a giant heap-allocated object. Horribly inefficient if you use lot of them!

But, it can be automatically done in the accessors, and seems to work so far.

I would prefer to avoid using boxing for floats, but there’s just no room in the int space for them unless I do something crazy like using two tag bits and then storing a 24-bit or 16-bit float when a value can be represented that way… yikes! And you’d still have to box values that are out of range or would lose precision.

For the other JS types — undefined, null, boolean, etc — I’m using boxed types as well, but using a single well-known instance value. So all “undefined” values refer to the same Box<Undefined>* and all “booleans” refer to one of two Box<bool>*s, one for true and one for false. This avoids runtime allocation for those special types, while allowing them to be treated as objects for dynamic dispatch or making the type checks cheap pointer equality comparisons for static dispatch.

by brion at May 18, 2018 10:02 PM

Wiki Education Foundation

How plagiarism is different on Wikipedia and how to help your students avoid it

While the overwhelming majority of students strive to avoid plagiarism on Wikipedia, they sometimes still miss the mark. Wikipedia’s definition of plagiarism differs in important ways from those set forth by academia, which is often the root of misunderstandings related to plagiarism. When students are caught plagiarizing, it’s often a case of close-paraphrasing. Students might not even realize that by changing a few words in a sentence, but keeping the original meaning, they’ve done something wrong. That’s why we’ve developed a plagiarism training module for students to learn about how to make meaningful contributions to Wikipedia in a way that is acceptable both to the academic and Wikipedia communities.

What constitutes plagiarism on Wikipedia

  • Copying text word-for-word from a source
  • Close-paraphrasing, or changing a few words but keeping the original structure and meaning of another sentence
  • Inserting a quote without proper attribution or citation

How to avoid plagiarism on Wikipedia

A student’s sandbox on Wikipedia can be a great spot to organize their notes for articles they plan to improve. However, because a sandbox is public facing just like any other page on Wikipedia, it’s subject to the same plagiarism standards as anywhere else on the site.

Make sure students understand that they need to synthesize academic research in their own words. Rather than taking rigorous notes while reading a text, students can try asking themselves summary questions after reading:

What are the biggest take-aways? What are the results?

Keeping a list of key words and phrases, rather than copying down full quotes, is also an effective way to organize main points to include in their article. Remind students that each sentence that they construct from these notes should reflect something they’ve learned in a source. And remind them to always cite a source where they can!

Plagiarism and copyright violation often overlap on Wikipedia, but they are also distinct concepts and are treated a bit differently.

Plagiarism involves passing someone else’s work off as your own. This can be their ideas, their specific wording, or the overall structure of their work. Copyright infringement is using copyright work without proper permission. Wikipedia’s primary concern is with copyright violations, since it creates legal liability for the site. But editors take plagiarism seriously as well. There are strict standards against both that other Wikipedia editors expect students to understand.

As intellectual property group Novagraaf says, you can republish Shakespeare’s works without fear of copyright infringement or plagiarism because they are old enough that they are out of copyright. If you replace Shakespeare’s name with your name, you still aren’t guilty of copyright infringement, but you are a plagiarist. On the other hand, if you reprint the Harry Potter books with JK Rowling listed as the author, you don’t have a plagiarism problem, but you would be infringing copyright.

From a student perspective, including the lyrics of a song or the text of a poem in a Wikipedia article may infringe copyright (and trigger a deletion) but won’t constitute plagiarism. Copying text from NASA’s website into a Wikipedia article won’t infringe copyright (since that text is not published under a restrictive license), but trying to pass that off as their own work for the purposes of a class assignment will be seen as plagiarism. (If you’re curious about adding open licensed text to Wikipedia, see this page on the process).

What Creative Commons licenses mean for plagiarism

When text or images are published under a particular license, they cannot be used (or published under a different license) without the permission of the person or organization that owns the copyright. The people or organizations that are willing to give that permission are pretty few and far between because they want to protect their intellectual property, their ability to profit off of it, or both. You can read more about these different licenses here.

The intricacies of these licenses are most relevant to students when they are uploading images to Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia’s image sister-site. Students who do so should take the training module about uploading images to be prepared. When students want to publish content to Wikimedia Commons, the most important note is that they look at the license under which the content was originally published. Different licenses require different forms of attribution or restrict use in different ways. If licensing information is not available, it’s not appropriate to upload or use it, as that may violate copyright.

How violations are monitored on Wikipedia

Wikipedia has varying means for detecting such violations. Often, these detections fall to other editors who swiftly delete inappropriate content when they see it. The Wikipedia Expert that supports your course is also an effective detector of potential copyright violations and plagiarism. When this happens, you, as the instructor, will receive a notice from the Dashboard so that the issue may be resolved. The Wiki Education team is also notified of all cases of plagiarism in the classes we support. We swiftly examine the nature of each case and reach out to the instructor to inform them of any relevant next steps.

What to do

If students do plagiarize or violate copyright, we’ll reach out to explain how the student may improve their work. There are often cases of false positives, so we’ll let you know if this is the case. We recognize that Wikipedia’s definition of plagiarism may differ from what you and your students are accustomed to, so we’ll all work together to ensure that both the instructor and students understand how to navigate cases of plagiarism on Wikipedia.

You got this!

Wikipedia’s strict quality standards may present new challenges to students, but ultimately these challenges can create positive outcomes for students. One of the many student learning outcomes that a Wikipedia assignment fosters is that students must have a firm grip on course material to synthesize it concisely and in their own words. And if they are confused about anything they encounter on Wikipedia, they can always review our training materials or ask their course’s Wikipedia Expert if they have questions.

For more information about teaching with Wikipedia or to get started, visit teach.wikiedu.org or reach out to contact@wikiedu.org.

by Helaine Blumenthal at May 18, 2018 04:19 PM

Brion Vibber

JavaScript engine internals: NaN-boxing

In researching code plugin sandboxing with WebAssembly, my thoughts naturally turned to how to let people actually program for that environment without forcing use of low-level C++ or such… so naturally, now I’m writing a small JavaScript-like runtime engine and compiler that targets WebAssembly. 😉

My explorations so far are themselves written in C++, with tiny JS samples hand-translated into C++ code that calls the runtime’s classes. If I continue the project, I may switch to directly emitting Wasm source from the translator, with an eye towards future Wasm improvements like native garbage-collected reference types. (Right now I have to implement garbage collection myself, which will be the subject of another blog post!)

The first step of implementing a JavaScript engine is to implement a representation for values, which is tricky because JS values can be any of several distinct types:

  • undefined
  • null
  • boolean
  • number (float64)
  • object reference (string, Symbol, Object, etc)

Many other dynamic languages like PHP and Python similarly allow a value to hold multiple competing types like this. There are two main ways to implement a value type like this.

Tagged unions

The first is to use a “tagged union” struct, something like this:

enum TypeTag {

struct Value {
  TypeTag tag;
  union {
    int32_t int32_val;
    double double_val;
    Object* object_val;

Then add accessor/mutator functions which check the tag and perform appropriate accesses or conversions. This is simple, but has the downside of requiring 16 bytes per value (to maintain 8-byte alignment on the double-precision float or a 64-bit pointer or int64). That means most reads require two loads, writes require two stores, and you can’t pass a value in a register reliably. (WebAssembly’s local variables and function arguments are sort of like CPU registers in how they’re addressed, so would be the equivalent.)

To get around these, a common trick in high-performance dynamic language runtimes like LuaJIT and all major JavaScript engines is known as NaN boxing.

NaN boxing the SpiderMonkey way

Floating point numbers are a complex beast! A 64-bit double-precision float can be broken down into several sets of bits:

  • 1 bit for sign
  • 11 bits for exponent part
  • 52 bits for binary fractional part

If the exponent bits are all 1, then you have a special value:

  • if the fractional bits are all 0, then it represents infinity (positive or negative, depending on the sign bit)
  • if any fractional bit is 1, then it represents “not a number” (NaN), used as a special signal that an operation was invalid or a non-value is being represented.
  • and oh by the way, regular operations only ever produce a canonical NaN value with just the topmost fractional bit set.

The interesting part is that means you have an entire number space within the range of representable NaN values that will never be produced by legit math operations on legit numbers!

  • 1 bit for sign (set to 1 for a signalling NaN that won’t be produced by math ops)
  • 11 bits for exponent (all set to 1)
  • 1 bit to force it to NaN rather than Infinity if rest is 0s
  • 51 bits for tag and payload

Firefox’s SpiderMonkey engine divides this up into 4 bits of tag (16 types) and 47 bits of address, which is enough for x86_64 (where bit 48 will always be 0 in user space and bits 49-64 aren’t needed … yet) but apparently causes problems on AArch64 and Sparc64. (They work around this by deliberately mapping memory in the lower 47 bits of address space with mmap.)

I’ve chosen to experiment with a similar technique, but only using 3 bits of tag (8 types) to leave a clean 48 bits of address. Though when building to WebAssembly, you only need 32 bits of address so it doesn’t make much difference. 😉

When reading a value of as-yet-unknown type, you mask off the top X bits and compare against some constant values:

  • each type other than double-precision its has a particular tag value, so you just == for it
  • actual double-precision values can be detected quickly by forcing the sign bit on and then doing a uint64 compare against a cutoff value: any legit double including canonical NaNs will be <= 0b1111111111111000’0000000000000000’0000000000000000’0000000000000000 once sign/signalling bit is set.
  • if there are multiple type tags for pointer types, you can put them at the high end of the tag range and do a uint64 compare against a cutoff value

One downside is that every object dereference has to be masked from the stored value, and typical JavaScript code does a lot of objects. It’s a bit-op so it’s cheap, though… and in WebAssembly you can actually wrap the 64-bit value down to 32-bits without masking, since pointers are 32 bits. 🙂

JavaScriptCore style

WebKit’s JavaScriptCore uses a different technique on 64-bit native architecture.

When storing a double value, the bit pattern is treated as a uint64 and has a constant added to it to “rotate” the NaN patterns such that the top 1 bits in a range of the signaling NaNs turn into 0s.

  • object references have 0x0000 in the top 16 bits, meaning a 48-bit pointer can be read directly with a 64-bit read — no bit-masking penalty on dereference!
  • int32 values have 0xffff in the top 16 bits, making common integer operations easy with a mask
  • true/false/undefined/null are stored as special fake pointer values in the object pointer space
  • most double-precision float values sit in the 0x0001-0xfffe space, and have to subtract the constant to get back to their original bit pattern.
  • -Infinity has to be specially stored in the object space because the shift puts it in the wrong place

Sounds clever!

I haven’t checked what Chrome’s V8 and Edge’s ChakraCore do, but I believe they are similar to one or the other of the above.

Security considerations

The downside of all this magic bit-fiddling is that you have to be careful at API boundaries between the JS world and the external world it’s connected to to canonicalize all incoming NaN values in doubles, or it would be possible to create arbitrary object pointer references from within the scripting language — a huge security hole.

So, you know, be careful with that. 😉


by brion at May 18, 2018 07:20 AM

May 17, 2018

Wiki Education Foundation

Students find education to be worth the cost when coursework is relevant to their lives

The more relevant coursework is to a student’s life or career, the more they will agree that their education has been worth the cost.

Strada and Gallup released a study last month, From College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education, which seeks to understand students’ perspectives on the value of their higher education. It’s the first national study of its kind, drawing data from more than 250,000 interviews with people from more than 3,000 educational programs. Subjects, who completed at least some time in a higher education program and are now employed, were asked to respond to two main statements in Strada-Gallup’s survey:

  1. The courses you took are directly relevant to what you do at work.

  2. You learned important skills during your education program that you use in your day-to-day life.

Findings show that those who report that their coursework was relevant to their current professional lives gave a higher rating for the quality and cost-benefit of their education. These respondents also report a higher sense of overall well-being in their current lives. Although respondents varied in gender, race, economic status, age, and more, these results were consistent across the board.

Strada-Gallup suggest next steps from this data, mainly that higher education institutions should consider exploring educational practices that best support increasingly diverse populations of learners. At Wiki Education, we’ve developed an infrastructure of support and free resources for instructors to introduce a new and innovative assignment in their classroom: teach students to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of their course topics, which nicely fits into the study’s recommendations.

1. Students understand course concepts in a real-world context.

When students learn how to improve Wikipedia as a classroom assignment, they not only gain a deeper understanding of a resource they use all the time, but they must also delve deep into course concepts to be able to succinctly transmit them to a worldwide audience. Students are excited by the prospects that millions will have access to their work, motivating them to present high quality research and writing.

The real-world tangibility of a Wikipedia assignment is what draws so many instructors and students to it. As one instructor wrote in our Fall 2017 survey, students “interpret real world material with a purposeful approach, taking their knowledge outside the classroom, engaging in a public debate and defending their ideas in the real world, communicating complex ideas in an accessible language, and exercising meaningful and civil public debate.”

2. Students learn skills that will be relevant to their future careers.

For students, a Wikipedia assignment offers skills for articulating academic topics to a lay audience. Through this articulation process, the student must understand complex course concepts in order to translate them for a public audience. A psychology instructor who also taught with Wikipedia in Fall 2017 noted that by understanding how information is created on Wikipedia, “students will understand what information their patients bring to their office, and will be able to answer questions about how well-founded those pre-conceptions are.”

3. Students come to understand larger structures of misinformation, and participate in correcting them.

For Dr. Kathleen Crowther’s course Women and Medicine, a Wikipedia assignment offered students a chance to begin to correct systemic issues within STEM fields. Her students first identified where Wikipedia lacked biography articles about notable women scientists and then wrote them themselves. As Dr. Crowther writes in a reflection about the course, “How was it, they demanded, that these women, who had achieved so much, often against serious odds, did not already have articles on Wikipedia? It was a powerful lesson on bias in history, both on Wikipedia and in historical scholarship generally. But rather than just learning about that bias, they got to do something concrete to remedy it.” (Read more about how students are closing the gender gap in STEM on Wikipedia here.)

Students thus become involved in correcting misinformation (or correcting a lack of information) by contributing well-researched content to Wikipedia. And along the way, they gain critical informational literacy skills. Students understand how Wikipedia’s information gets there and how to evaluate articles for accuracy. They become intimately familiar with Wikipedia’s high standards for what a “good quality” source is. And they rise to meet those quality standards, often with enthusiasm.

When students engage in the worldwide arena that is Wikipedia, they get a sense of involvement in larger structures of knowledge and politics that are relevant to their future lives and careers. As Rice University student Katie Webber wrote about the experience, “To have some concrete thing that I feel like I can really do right now has made me really feel more confident that I can find other ways to create change going forward. I call my senators, I vote, I donate to the ACLU, and now, I edit Wikipedia.”

4. Students gain a love for learning.

Dr. Cathy Gabor, who has taught with Wikipedia in a number of her courses at the University of San Francisco, wrote about one student who helped create the Wikipedia article on the principle of Eloquentia Perfecta: “By the end of the project, Chelsey realized that both Wikipedia and the principles of Eloquentia Perfecta had become ‘integrated into her life,’ including her part-time job and her other classes. Chelsey explains the impact in this short video:”

“I really took an interest in something that I wasn’t interested in before,” Chelsey says, “which was probably the greatest outcome for me — to see that I can be interested in random things. When you take the time to put your whole self into it and really learn it, it’s cool how something can become really interesting and be integrated into your life. If I have time over the summer, I’ll try to find a new topic and research, and then incorporate my knowledge into a Wikipedia page for other people to go learn from.”

Instructors are drawn to teaching with Wikipedia because of the opportunity to foster this sort of love for learning and sharing knowledge that a student can bring forward with them into their future pursuits.

“Faculty across the disciplines could easily employ a Wikipedia editing project because Wikipedia supports entries in every field,” Dr. Gabor writes.

And as one longtime instructor said in our Fall 2017 survey, “A Wikipedia assignment fits well with John Dewey’s principles that school is not preparation for life, it is life.”

To learn how you can incorporate a Wikipedia assignment into a future course, visit teach.wikiedu.org or reach out to contact@wikiedu.org.

by Cassidy Villeneuve at May 17, 2018 04:22 PM

May 16, 2018

Wikimedia Foundation

Nine community-led projects receive rapid grants to inspire new readers

Photo by Abigail Ripstra/Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0.

We’re happy to announce we’ve awarded nine rapid grants to proposals dedicated to increasing awareness of Wikipedia in communities all over the world.

Rapid grants have a maximum budget of US$2,000 and are designed to offer the everyday Wiki-hero the chance to experiment with running small-scale projects to make a difference. These projects serve as a sort of incubator, where unique ideas can be tested out and eventually nurtured into larger initiatives.

What can we expect from these grants?

Following the New Readers Inspire Campaign, each of these grants focuses on spreading awareness in locations where few internet users have heard of Wikipedia. This is crucial because data has shown that low awareness of Wikipedia is associated with low readership, and therefore fewer people supporting and advancing free knowledge initiatives. In order to make meaningful work towards our movement’s goal of knowledge equity, we first need to reach readers everywhere to ensure that we have worldwide participation in our projects.

We believe that the best way to spread awareness in diverse locations around the world is to empower Wikimedians who know their communities best. Rapid Grants offer the opportunity for the Foundation to engage with Wikimedians on the ground, and to learn more about strategies to raise awareness at the local level.

About our grantees

The locations represented in these projects mirror the direction of the Inspire New Readers Campaign, emphasizing regions such as South Asia and West Africa, which are crucial areas to raise awareness and bolster readership. Here are the projects we’re funding:


Wikipedia Instagram Campaign: In Nigeria, Instagram contests are a popular marketing tool used to promote everything from movies and musicians to tech companies and financial institutions. This campaign uses the approach to spread awareness for Wikipedia using hashtags like #ILoveWikipedia and #MyWikipedia to encourage users to share what they love most about Wikipedia to spread the word.

Find it on Wikipedia!!!: This project uses a popular local radio station to broadcast a contest for listeners to look up information on Wikipedia to win prizes, including gadgets like smartphones which can then be used to access Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Street Take-Over: Wikipedia Street Take-Over interviews everyday Nigerians on the streets of Abuja, spreading awareness for Wikipedia and includes questions and answers in brief clips shared on social media.


Wiki Awareness Campaign: This project aims to bring experienced Wikimedians into the classrooms of secondary schools for girls in India, holding workshops and lectures on how young women can use Wikipedia as a tool in their academic journeys.

Promotion of Punjabi Wikipedia on Social Media: Many Punjabi speakers are aware of English Wikipedia, but don’t realize the wealth of articles that already exist in their native language. Videos showcasing some of Punjabi Wikipedia’s best resources will be shared on social media, targeting Punjabi speakers in India as well as abroad.

Awareness Video for Bengali Wikisource: This project targets avid bookworms in Bengali-speaking regions of India, where few are aware of Wikisource’s huge collection of copyright-free Bengali literature. Local Wikisource experts will collaborate on a video to promote this great resource and inspire new users on social media channels.


Promotion of Maithili Wikipedia: Maithili is a language primarily spoken in Nepal, with a significant presence in Northern India. One Wikimedian proposes to promote Maithili Wikipedia through the use of physical notices posted in popular public spaces, particularly near academic centers. Interested passers-by will be invited to meetups hosted by local Wikimedians.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

One Computer, one Wikipedia: Kiwix is a popular app used to access Wikipedia offline, which can be a powerful tool for readers in countries with little access to the internet. This project aims to install Kiwix software on devices used by Computer Science students in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Using Kiwix, students will have offline access to Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and other sister projects, as well as an introduction from organizers about the Wikimedia movement.

What’s next for these projects?

While these inspiring projects have been approved for funding, many still rely on support from volunteers. If you’ve been inspired, we encourage you to get involved with these and many more projects on IdeaLab. For funded grants that still need assistance, you can find a full list here, under “Funded Proposals 2017-2018.” From there, you can check out each project’s page which gives an overview of resources or support still needed, and how to get in contact with the creator.

IdeaLab also offers a list of projects that need volunteers for particular roles, like developers or organizers. You can offer your skills and expertise with these projects, or add your name and skillset for future idea creators to get in touch with you.

You can learn more about this Inspire Campaign, and view previous campaigns on the Inspire page on Meta. You’ll also find two workshops we hosted during the campaign, which discuss the importance of awareness for Wikipedia in different regions of the world, and offer advice on how to plan your own pilot to tackle this issue. We’re looking forward to seeing more great ideas turn into projects which make a difference in Wikimedia communities around the world, and we encourage you to tune in with us on another round of inspiration.

Noa Morales, Communications intern, Community Engagement

by Noa Morales at May 16, 2018 07:38 PM

Wiki Education Foundation

Learning to claim Wikipedia: Feminist pedagogy and praxis

This reflection on teaching with Wikipedia in the classroom as a feminist praxis is co-written by Dr. Ariella Rotramel and Wiki Education’s Cassidy Villeneuve. Dr. Rotramel is the Vandana Shiva Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Connecticut College. She has reflected on her experience in our Classroom Program before, found here.

Feminist pedagogy continues to ask that we take up the call to challenge students “to be an active participant, not a passive consumer” in their education (hooks 1994, 14). As Adrienne Rich argued in her foundational essay “Claiming an Education,” it is critical that students engage in a “struggle for real education” (Rich 1980, 235). Working with Wikipedia in the classroom offers an opportunity for students to make their education their own.

When students create or add to Wikipedia articles, they make and share content that is popular and freely accessible. Instead of accepting the common idea that Wikipedia is to be avoided in educational contexts, students learn to evaluate resources for accuracy and missing content. This shift requires that they think about their own usage of online content and learn about the ways Wikipedia works and does not work as a platform for feminist knowledge sharing.

As students delve into topics of their choice for the project, they learn how to convince other Wikipedia editors that their topics are noteworthy. They also encounter Wikipedians who are excited about their work and provide support. Students of differing gender identities, races, and sexualities thus hold positions of power in mechanisms of knowledge dissemination that have historically excluded them. They learn how to work through problems rather than shutting down. As students become knowledge creators, they gain a sense of the dynamics that feminist scholars, writers, and artists face as they choose to put their work into the world; they learn to accept imperfection or criticism along with the recognition that sharing their work is worth the risk. The opportunity to be subject-matter experts, putting forth knowledge on a forum to which millions have access, is a strong motivator. Students recognize the tangible impact of their work and feel a responsibility to ensure its quality for a worldwide audience.

In Rotramel’s feminist theory classes, working with Wikipedia is a means of doing feminist praxis (the dynamic relationship between theory and practice). When students evaluate Wikipedia for where it can be improved, they must first understand how gaps in knowledge occur. How is knowledge traditionally produced? What perspectives are privileged in the process? Whose histories are told, and by whom? Those whose histories have been historically marginalized in academia face the same underrepresentation on the world’s most popular online encyclopedia. Rather than just talking about feminist theories about knowledge, students think through the assumptions of Wikipedia – particularly the site’s principles that editors must write with a neutral point of view and authority. Moreover, Wikipedia’s coverage of topics relies heavily on the interests of its volunteer base, 80% of whom identify as men and are subject of a disproportionate amount of its content (Mako Hill, 2013; Reagle, 2011). Many articles about notable women, people of color, and queer folks are under-developed or simply do not exist.

With the knowledge of these challenges, students create new articles or add to existing material to address content gaps they have identified. For example, Rotramel’s course evaluated the article for the anthology This Bridge Called My Back. The article did not detail the anthology’s contributors, a glaring erasure of many contributors of color. By editing the article in class, we addressed this problem. Students created entries that highlight the work of women of color and women with disabilities, as well as added content that addresses racial and class privilege in existing entries. When students learn to edit Wikipedia in the classroom, they not only understand how to evaluate the site for gaps in knowledge, they take an active role in righting those wrongs. If you are interested in teaching with Wikipedia, visit teach.wikiedu.org for access to free resources to help you do it.


  • hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • Reagle, Joseph, and Lauren Rhue. “Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica.” International Journal of Communication 5.0 (2011): 21.
  • Rich, Adrienne. “Claiming an Education.” On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. New York: Virago, 1980. 231–235.
  • Mako Hill, Benjamin, and Aaron Shaw. “The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation.” PLOS ONE. June 26, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0065782

To read more about Dr. Rotramel’s Fall 2017 course in which she taught with Wikipedia, see our feature here.

Image: File:Two Connecticut College students stand in front of GWS 306 posters on Lillian Wald and the Henry Street Settlement (left) and the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association (right).jpg, Alphareductaze, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. 

by Guest Contributor at May 16, 2018 04:23 PM

May 15, 2018

WMF Release Engineering

Selenium tests in Node.js project retrospective

I have been working on the project with more or less focus on it since 2015. Maybe the easiest way to follow the project is by taking a look at a few epic tasks:

T182421: Q3 Selenium framework improvements will come to an end in a few days, so last week a few of us had a meeting to discuss the project.


  • The new Node.js Selenium framework is simpler and easier to use than previous Ruby framework.

What could have gone better:

  • A lot of effort is required to port large test suites. Some teams were able to do it, some teams were not.
  • It was not clear that both Ruby and Node.js frameworks could coexist.
  • It was not clear that Mocha is recommended, but not mandatory. It is still possible to write Cucumber tests.
  • Some features of the Ruby framework are not available in Node.js framework, like multi-user login.
  • Node.js's built-in assertion library sometimes doesn't provide useful error messages. Chai is a good alternative.
  • It would be better if a meeting like this happened at the beginning of the project, and several times during the project.

Things to do:

Meeting notes are available at 20180320 Selenium Retrospective.

Image by Paul Friel - Meerkat II, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24567063

by zeljkofilipin (Željko Filipin) at May 15, 2018 11:35 PM

Wiki Education Foundation

Three surprising things I learned about Wikipedia

Dr. Bradley Zopf is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Carthage College. He recently participated as a Wikipedia Fellows in our pilot program as a member of the American Sociological Association. In this reflective piece, he discusses three things he’s taken away from the experience.

Dr. Bradley Zopf.
Image: File:Bradley Zopf.jpg, BradleyZopf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

As an Assistant Professor of Sociology, Wikipedia has usually been near the top of my least favorite websites students cite. I have held a genuine hesitancy, if not outright rejection, of Wikipedia as a reliable source of information. My skepticism extended to my own use of this online database, often reluctantly and begrudgingly using Wikipedia simply because it was easy and often the first website that comes up in a Google search. When I first became aware that the American Sociological Association was collaborating with Wiki Education for a pilot program to engage academics in editing Wikipedia, I instinctively dismissed the opportunity. However, my curiosity soon got the better of me as I explored the purpose and scope of the Wikipedia Fellows Program. Now, having participated in this program, I am happy to say that my views on the use and value of Wikipedia have changed dramatically.

By learning the rules and regulations concerning Wikipedia contributions and engaging with fellow Wikipedians, I learned a lot more about how Wikipedia articles are created, edited, and maintained. I have come to appreciate the breadth, and even the depth, of what Wikipedia can provide to both students and scholars alike. I would like to explain just a few lessons I have learned after participating in the Wikipedia Fellows Pilot project as a member of the American Sociological Association.

The first lesson I learned from this experience is that Wikipedia articles are very much a collaborative effort and that fellow Wikipedians truly care about making articles as well researched and well-written as possible. I participated in the Wikipedia Fellows program primarily because I wanted to contribute to more complete and accurate knowledge about the Arab and Muslim American populations in the United States. During the early phases, I often confirmed my initial apprehension about Wikipedia, which was that not all Wikipedia articles are good. I often found articles on Arab and Middle Eastern Americans to be incomplete. However, I generally did not find these articles to be inaccurate or to misrepresent Arab, Middle Eastern, and/or Muslim Americans. Perhaps this should not have been a surprise given the stringent guidelines around vandalism on Wikipedia, but my naiveté notwithstanding; I set out to contribute to various pages on the Arab and Muslim American experience. I initially edited several pages on Arab American immigration and Definitions of Whiteness. While editing these articles I realized just how much information is well cited in the Wikipedia article and the ease to which I could investigate source material linked throughout the page. Additionally, I found that being a part of a community of Wikipedians contributed to the overall improvement of the articles as several Wikipedians copyedited my own contributions making the overall article much clearer. Even with relatively little direct communication with others, I found myself a member of a community of writers, scholars, and contributors whose goals aligned with my own, namely, to provide accurate and reliable information about Arab and Muslim Americans.

The second lesson I learned by participating in the Wikipedia Fellows Program was that Wikipedia provides a fertile ground for student involvement. I am looking forward to assigning semester-long group projects requiring students to engage with both material on Wikipedia and the broader Wikipedia community of editors. Rather than having students avoid Wikipedia, I want students to contribute as editors. If anything, involving students with Wikipedia can encourage them to “Be Bold” in their own writing and thinking. I envision students gaining skills in editing others’ work, evaluating sources, and developing new writing styles as potential learning outcomes for Wikipedia-based projects. Such skills are highly transferrable and students can point to Wikipedia contributions as real-world experience.

Finally, and perhaps most rewardingly, I learned that Wikipedia can be a good place for scholars to engage with their own research and that of others. While Wikipedia articles are not about original research or scholarship, I was surprised by the skills and knowledge I gained by participating in this Wikipedia Fellows program. Not only did I find myself endlessly following linked articles across the vast number of articles on Wikipedia, but I also dug deeper into the references and resources related to my own research. In order to feel confident in contributing to Wikipedia, I forced myself to re-engage with books and articles I haven’t read in a while and even found others that I was not aware had been published. Taking my work on Wikipedia seriously meant that I had to find sources—especially page numbers—for often very specific details that I wanted to add to an article. Going through the process of re-reading and combing through some of those references I know quite well, as well as finding more recent scholarship on the subjects, gave fresh light on my own research—something I certainly did not expect.

My experience as a Wikipedia Fellow has taught me to embrace Wikipedia for a variety of reasons. I want to encourage other scholar-teachers to consider taking part in Wikipedia projects around their areas of expertise whenever possible. The skills I gained by going through this program have changed my views of Wikipedia for the better. I no longer scoff when students use Wikipedia, nor do I include it on my do-not-cite list. Rather, I plan to encourage students to explore Wikipedia as starting place for exploration of their chosen research topics; to continue editing and contributing to Wikipedia as a matter of scholarly activity; and to occasionally use Wikipedia as a place to practice my writing and editing skills.

To see the Wikipedia articles this Fellows cohort improved, click here. To learn more about how you can get involved as a Wikipedia Fellow, click here.

Image: File:20110510 15 Carthage College, Kenosha, Wisconsin (6010327246).jpgDavid Wilson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

by Guest Contributor at May 15, 2018 04:32 PM

May 14, 2018

Wikimedia Tech Blog

Twitter bots powered by Wikipedia: An interview with Darius Kazemi, internet artist

Photo by Jennifer Brommer, CC BY 4.0.

Darius Kazemi is an internet artist who makes bots—bots that mix headlines together and bots that make absurd flow charts and bots that buy him random items from Amazon each month. He also relies heavily on Wikipedia for both inspiration and material. His Wikipedia-related bots include the Bracket Meme Bot, which makes “arbitrary brackets, sourced from Wikipedia” and the Empire Plots bot, which comes up with “weird but plausible soap opera-type plots for the TV show Empire.”

I wanted to learn more about how Kazemi uses Wikipedia in his work. Our conversation is below.


What was your first project that used Wikipedia?

Oh gosh. Good question. I think it was probably Content, Forever—this was an extension of a failed National Novel Generation Month prototype. The idea is that it generates a semi-coherent “thinkpiece” type article simply by falling down a Wikipedia hole! I wrote a little post on how it works that might be of interest to your readers. It uses the parse action to get JSON formatted content, then parses the HTML clientside using JavaScript and jQuery.


In the write-up for the Empire Plots bot, you explained how you employed DBPedia. While DBPedia is structured content extracted from infoboxes on Wikipedia, there’s also a structured info database called Wikidata (run by our sister organization Wikimedia Deutschland). In some cases the infoboxes on Wikipedia are actually generated from the associated structured content on Wikidata and it too can be queried with SPARQL, the querying language you used with DBPedia, to return some pretty interesting datasets. Do you think there’s potential for Wikidata as a source of content in addition to DBPedia for bot makers?

Wikidata can absolutely be used in addition to DBPedia! Wikidata is always going to be more up-to-date than DBPedia, but main issue is whether Wikidata has the data you want. For example, for that bot I used the “dbt:subject” relation to determine if an entry belongs to the set of “African_American_actresses”, which doesn’t exist on Wikidata. I suppose that could be worked around with a JOIN operation of some kind, though!

Mikhail’s note: The following query,which can be used on Wikidata Query Service, finds African American actresses on Wikidata.

SELECT ?person ?personLabel WHERE {
?person wdt:P31 wd:Q5. # instance of: human
?person wdt:P21 wd:Q6581072. # gender/sex: female
?person (wdt:P106/wdt:P279*) wd:Q33999. # occupation: all subclasses of actor (incl. film, voice, and television)
?person wdt:P172 wd:Q49085. # ethnic group: African Americans
SERVICE wikibase:label { bd:serviceParam wikibase:language “[AUTO_LANGUAGE],en”. }


What is your general process when building a bot after you have the initial idea?

I try to start making the bot as soon as I have the idea, and the first thing I do is a manual, non-computational prototype. So if I have an idea for an algorithm, I will write down the algorithm and then attempt to follow it manually a few times to see if the results are good. So for @BracketMemeBot, I poked around Wikipedia’s Categories to get a sense of what my algorithm might look like, then manually created a few brackets to see the result. This is the research portion of the process, and it’s helpful because I can determine very quickly without writing any code whether or not a bot will be any good. I abandon a lot of projects at this point in the process because the output isn’t what I want, but also no code was written so it’s no big deal.


Has there been a time when you wanted to make something that relied on Wikipedia but it wasn’t possible using the MediaWiki API nor DBPedia? What were the limitations you ran into and what would be some features you wish the MW API endpoint had?

It’s tough to say because I almost always set out to do a certain thing, immediately discover it’s not possible, and then redesign the bot within the parameters of what is possible. Just like in my Empire Plots Bot, I had to figure out a way around the fact that there is no “dead African American actors” category on Wikipedia. But I have always been able to find a workaround on MediaWiki or DBPedia — although often, as is the case with Content, Forever, I need to add HTML parsing/scraping to the mix.

Probably the most specific road block I ran into was with Bracket Meme Bot. It would certainly be nice to be able to get a random Category, or to be able to at least get a count of the total number of Categories available and then be able to index to an arbitrary number in that range.


The size of English Wikipedia makes it a great source of content for bot makers but Wikipedia is also available in almost 300 other languages (with some articles being available in multiple languages), DBPedia is available in 125 languages, and Wikidata is language-agnostic (users can add labels & descriptions in their language). In the global bot-making community, have you seen your colleagues build bots in other languages besides English that utilized the multilingual aspect of those projects?

Yes, there have been translations of some of my bots. @TwoHeadlines has a Spanish version called @DosTitulos! Now that you mention it, I could probably easily translate Content, Forever by changing the language namespace on the API…

Mikhail Popov, Data Analyst, Reading Product
Wikimedia Foundation

by Mikhail Popov at May 14, 2018 04:08 PM

Gerard Meijssen

#AfricaGap - #Wikidata; its quality as Wikidata matures

Currently there are 45 countries that I monitor for their national politicians. When I add a specific national "position", I do several things; I add existing politicians that are known in a particular category and I include a definition of what that category contains.

I give hardly any attention to details; my objective here is simple I want to see how this (underdeveloped) data evolves. There is a huge gap in what we know about Africa and as it is, we hardly inform about Africa, we need Africans to help us gain the most basic facts straight for ourselves.

As Wikidata matures, we gain subsets of data that is of varying quality. The most mature living data are our interwiki links. It is live data and it serves a purpose. Changes require attention to detail it has an immediate effect in the discoverability of information. When data comes alive, when it serves a purpose, it has people who will invest their time to get the data right. They will give attention to detail because that serves their purpose.

For arcane subjects like the Ottoman Empire, even Africa, there are few people who find a purpose in the data. Arguably there is so little data that almost everything added is a 100% gain in quality (a person exists, he is a member of parliament of ***, I do not understand African names so it could be male or female I do not know). Sometimes there are whole lists of people like these people from the Bosnian Eyalet, it is easy enough to complete such a list. But will it serve a purpose? How to give it a purpose?

There is no uniform quality to Wikidata. There are whole areas where we are 100% of the mark as we do not have the data nor the ability to link to data elsewhere. There are other areas like in biomedical literature where our quality is such that it is actually useful. As this becomes known thanks to its evangelists, more attention is given by a wider public and more attention to detail is given in the process.

Arguably the quality of subsets of our data depends on its usefulness. When it is useful, people will come and give the attention to detail as it serves their purpose.

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at May 14, 2018 05:36 AM

Tech News

Tech News issue #20, 2018 (May 14, 2018)

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May 14, 2018 12:00 AM

May 13, 2018

Weekly OSM

weeklyOSM 407



The City of Newcastle, UK – OSM data as art 1 | © ItoWorld © map data OpenStreetMap contributors


  • The proposal for a new key spacing=* receives both positive and negative comments on the tagging mailing list.
  • In Italy getting children to school in accompanied groups (‘walking buses’) is organised to the point there schedules are posted on poles along the route. On the Tagging mailing list there is a proposal to tag these in a similar way to bus stops, as a sort of public transport without a vehicle.
  • Bryan Housel, the maintainer of the iD editor, explains on the tagging mailing list, why iD introduced, via the preset mechanism, new undocumented tags related to vehicle servicing. The topic did not generate a lot of interest on the mailing list, and a question as to whether other tags have been introduced in this way remains unanswered.


  • A Reddit user compares the frequency of ground-level parking in the downtowns of 50 US cities making use of OSM data.
  • You are invited to add your nominations to the OpenStreetMap Awards 2018 – the call for nominees will close on 31th of May.
  • HOT welcomes this year’s Google Summer of Code (GSoC) students and Outreachy participants. Note that HOT’s participation in GSoC this year is distinct from that directly under the OSM name (See below).


  • Official Danish government address data was first imported to OSM in 2009. Now a new web app AutoAWS for automatically maintaining address nodes within Denmark is under development. First live test runs have been performed.

OpenStreetMap Foundation

  • A German instance of uMap is planned to relieve the French servers. An application for funding to make this possible was submitted to FOSSGIS e.V.
  • The OpenActive team from the Open Data Institute (ODI) seeks people to interview from OSM or OSMF as part of a study on open data for sport and physical activity.


  • State of the Map Asia 2018 will take place in Bengaluru, India, on November 17th – 18th at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. The call for scholarships is closed and the Call for Proposals closes on 10th June.
  • The organisers of State of the Map 2018 in Milan, Italy invite attendees to the social event on the night of Saturday, July 28th.
  • OSM US invites you to the hackathon in the Mapbox offices of Washington, DC, on May 21st and 22nd.

Humanitarian OSM

  • In Somalia, 500,000 people are affected by severe flooding. HOT is looking for mappers to help.
  • HOT has received a donation from the Digital Impact Alliance (DIA). Interested open source projects can also apply for funding by 31 May.


  • The HOT Training working group will be hosting the May HOT Community Webinar on Monday, May 21st, 14:00 UTC and it will be focused on learning to use JOSM.


  • JB used Maperitive to create a map of a village in France. He shares the code used to accomplish this on GitHub.
  • Joe Matazzoni, product manager of the Wikimedia Foundation, introduces the planned innovations on the Wikipedia maps in the framework of the Map Improvements 2018.
  • In order to better support the Bike to Work initiative, the Canadian advocacy group Bike Ottawa created a platform that helps cyclists with planning safe routes. The data comes from OSM, as they provide speed limits, street widths, and the presence of bike lanes, which is useful to measure the traffic stress level.


  • Mapframe templates are now available in Wikipedia.
  • OpenStreetMap is used on the information screens of the Irish bus company Bus Eireann and on a public bus in Malaga, Spain as well.
  • Democlub uses OSM in their site to enable voters to find their polling stations. The site was live during the recent local elections in Britain which took place on Thursday 3rd May
  • Starting June 11 both an API key and payment details will be required to use Google Maps’ services. Prices for many users are likely to increase, in some cases sustantially. See the entry on the Google Maps blog and the alternative view of the subject on geoawesomeness.com.


  • Ilya Zverev’s OSM Conflator import tool – which is used for the NavAds gas station import – suggests users can use Google Street View for validation. An issue has been raised with the DWG as this seems contrary to existing policies.


  • Assetto Corsa, a sim racing game, now generates track layout and street scenery from OSM.


  • We received 7 slots for students to work on OpenStreetMap related projects for Google Summer of Code 2018.
  • The OSM Carto style developers discuss how a style comparable to OSM Carto using vector tiles might be implemented.
  • On the OpenTopoMap, the names of lakes are marked along the path of the centre line of the longest loops. This results in a very professional map. User maxbe explains the algorithm used by the renderer to determine this line from the shore.


  • Looking for latest updates? Please check the OSM-Software-Watchlist.

Did you know …

Other “geo” things

  • Ollie O’Brien writes about maps of ground deformation in London caused by the construction of Crossrail. The data were collected using a type of Synthetic Aperture Radar: InSAR.
  • Planet Labs did an interesting spin on the standard straight down satellite shots: they angled the camera from 280 miles up. (via BoingBoing) Earth’s Wonders …
  • Levente Juhász is seeking help for his PhD research about geo-social media and mapping platforms. He studies people’s online behavior from a geospatial point of view. More info on how to help can be found on his website.
  • An article at Sitepoint shows how to build indoor office maps using WRLD, QGIS and OSM.
  • The longest land and sea routes on earth are discussed in an article in Der Spiegel.
  • [1] Small multiples visualisation of drive time analysis worked up as 3D corals.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
Rennes Réunion mensuelle 2018-05-14 france
Budapest OSM meetup – Urban Mobility(EN) 2018-05-14 hungary
Nantes Réunion mensuelle 2018-05-15 france
Lüneburg Lüneburger Mappertreffen 2018-05-15 germany
Cologne Bonn Airport Bonner Stammtisch 2018-05-15 germany
Lyon Rencontre mensuelle pour tous 2018-05-15 france
Disneyland Paris Marne/Chessy Railway Station FOSS4G-fr 2018 2018-05-15-2018-05-17 france
Karlsruhe Stammtisch 2018-05-16 germany
São Paulo Painel OpenStreetMap no MundoGEO Connect 2018-05-16 brazil
Mumble Creek OpenStreetMap Foundation public board meeting 2018-05-17
Vienna 60. Wiener Stammtisch 2018-05-17 österreich
Davao City Free & Open Mapping Workshop at Ateneo de Davao University 2018-05-18 philippines
El Salvador Palestra na Campus Party Bahia 2018-05-18 brazil
Greater Manchester OSM UK Annual General Meeting 2018 2018-05-19 united kingdom
Greater Manchester OSM UK and OpenData Manchester joint meetup/workshops/mapping 2018-05-19 united kingdom
Essen Mappertreffen 2018-05-24 germany
Lübeck Lübecker Mappertreffen 2018-05-24 germany
Urspring Stammtisch Ulmer Alb 2018-05-24 germany
Bremen Bremer Mappertreffen 2018-05-28 germany
Graz Stammtisch Graz 2018-05-28 austria
Dusseldorf Stammtisch 2018-05-30 germany
Bordeaux State of the Map France 2018 2018-06-01-2018-06-03 france
Milan State of the Map 2018 (international conference) 2018-07-28-2018-07-30 italy
Dar es Salaam FOSS4G & HOT Summit 2018 2018-08-29-2018-08-31 tanzania
Detroit State of the Map US 2018 2018-10-05-2018-10-07 united states
Bengaluru State of the Map Asia 2018 (effective date to confirm) 2018-11-17-2018-11-18 india

Note: If you like to see your event here, please put it into the calendar. Only data which is there, will appear in weeklyOSM. Please check your event in our public calendar preview and correct it, where appropriate.

This weeklyOSM was produced by Anne Ghisla, Nakaner, PierZen, Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, Spanholz, YoViajo, derFred, doktorpixel14, jinalfoflia, keithonearth.

by weeklyteam at May 13, 2018 09:50 AM

May 12, 2018

Gerard Meijssen

#Wikidata - #Copyright and linked data

There are many points of view when it comes to copyright and data. In the Wikipedia world the discussion is different because each text has its own copyright. Data is different because you can not own ie copyright a separate fact.

When data is open or opened up, it follows that much of the data that exist in multiple sources is identical. When the data is the same, it has two benefits. The first is quality. When multiple sources agree on something, it is more likely to be correct. The second is copyright; whose copyright?

Every now and again, the license used by Wikidata is questioned. Typically by Wikipedians who think they know their stuff. They will be the first to tell you the importance of sources and, indeed many factoids in Wikidata do not have a source. When a factoid is sourced, a statement like John Doe died on Friday, 13th, that factoid only links to the source and hardly to the place where it came to the attention of the person or the bot adding it to Wikidata.

When I add the fact that someone is a member of the Somalian parliament, when a list is used like this one, that information is sourced, there is no added value except for a name being on a list. It has been in the news that in the last year parliamentarians have been murdered, there is no article for them and consequently even in Wikipedia it is only a name on a list, no added value, no arguable reason for copyright.

Value is in the links, it is in knowing the same data to be true in many sources. Claiming copyright, particularly in data, is predatory. It prevents people from bringing facts together. Only when facts are brought together informed knowledge exists. Only in linked data, sourced data, there is a handle on fake facts and fake news.

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at May 12, 2018 05:12 AM

May 11, 2018

Wiki Education Foundation

Rosiestep is putting faces to pre-20th century women’s history

Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, User:Rosiestep on Wikipedia, is a prolific editor who improves the encyclopedia in a number of ways. One of these ways is by uploading photos of pre-20th century women writers to Wikimedia Commons, which she then uses to illustrate biography articles that she’s written about them. Thanks to access to academic databases provided by Northeastern University, Rosie is putting faces to women’s history on the fifth most-accessed site in the world. Watch our short video for more:

For more about Rosie’s impact, read our feature we published in March here. Also, follow along with her progress on the Dashboard.

Video on Commons

by Cassidy Villeneuve at May 11, 2018 06:03 PM

The success of our first Wikipedia Fellows cohort

Our very first Wikipedia Fellows cohort has finished! For the first three months of 2018, we piloted a new program in which nine academic experts completed rigorous training and contributed to more than sixty articles on Wikipedia. We are proud of their work and are excited to have new Wikipedians out in the world! From Race to Masculinity to Margaret Atwood, you can see their contributions here.

Many of Wikipedia’s readers look to information on the site to make political, behavioral, and even medical decisions in their life. The goal of the Wikipedia Fellows program is to have subject-matter experts improve the public’s access to reliable knowledge, especially in these highly-trafficked topic areas. Engaging professors and graduate students with expertise in these areas, who would have access to high-quality resources, seemed like a compelling approach to bridging academia and Wikipedia. We partnered with three academic associations – the National Women’s Studies Organization (NWSA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), and the Midwestern Political Science Association (MPSA) to help us identify participants for this program. The Fellows we selected from these associations excelled in our program.

With one Good Article (GA) nomination and one Did You Know (DYK) nomination, these Fellows went from being new to Wikipedia to confidently contributing new sections to articles, improving existing articles for clarity, and creating new articles entirely from scratch. They surpassed our projections of words added, page views, and number of articles edited. The Fellows reported in their exit survey that they found this program useful for anyone interested in explaining Wikipedia to students and colleagues, ensuring the public has access to accurate information, and addressing systematic bias.

The Fellows cohort and Wiki Education staff met once a week over Zoom, a video conferencing software, and explored different aspects of contributing to Wikipedia – policies, tools, verifiability, content gaps, sources, etc. To complement meetings, we used Slack, an instant message platform, to answer questions in real-time, troubleshoot issues, and allow for another channel of communication. To track Fellows’ efforts, we used the Dashboard, which is a platform we use in our Classroom Program and with Visiting Scholars. We track individual contributions, word count, articles, as well as several other data points through the Dashboard. Although multiple platforms bring their own sets of complications to any program, the Fellows appreciated how quickly they were able to build community virtually.

Since the Fellows were new to Wikipedia, we needed to introduce, unpack, and demonstrate the content contribution process clearly and quickly. We addressed the learning curve at the beginning of the pilot by assigning training modules through the Dashboard. We spent the early sessions discussing the trainings and how Wikipedia pages work as well as the various tools users can use to contribute to articles.

The pilot cohort of Wikipedia Fellows required a three month commitment to spend three hours per week working on Wikipedia. As they selected articles, we shifted away from policy discussions to teaching steps to start their first drafts. These later sessions yielded in-depth conversations about Talk Pages, controversial topics, and collaborating with the Wikipedia community.

We believe this program meets a need that our other programs do not: contributing subject-matter expertise, from the experts themselves and at a large scale. In addition to being a bridge between Wikipedia and academia, the pilot could also serve as a connector between our Visiting Scholars and Classroom Program. This summer, we will train several new experts beginning in June, July, August, and September. We are excited to experiment with the pilot’s successes and challenges by trying out new curricula, varied program durations, thematic cohorts, and accepting applicants from additional partners. We hope that by expanding the program we will be able to have a sustained and substantial impact on the content that Wikipedia’s readers use every day to make informed decisions.

Regarding the program’s impact, one participant said “I feel that the program helps me to be a better citizen.” This could have never happened without support from our association partners. We want to thank NWSA, MPSA, and ASA for supporting us as they encouraged their members to participate in this program. Another participant said “now, more than ever, partnerships like this are vital.” These sentiments demonstrate there is great deal of interest in improving and contributing to Wikipedia among academics. We also want to thank all of the Fellows for their amazing work and for participating. They are publishing blog posts about their experience, so please check back frequently to hear about what they learned. Each Fellow had a unique experience in this program, but there was one thing they all unanimously believed: all nine fellows strongly agreed that they want to continue to edit Wikipedia.

For more information about Wikipedia Fellows and how to get involved, visit our informational page. For more information about this cohort, click here. Also check out Fellows’ blog posts by ASA member Dr. Sine Anahita, ASA member Dr. Michael Ramirez, and MPSA member Dr. Royal G. Cravens, III.

by Will Kent at May 11, 2018 04:34 PM

May 10, 2018

Wikimedia Foundation

Exploring offline access to Wikipedia: WikiFundi, an editing tool for remote schools

Award ceremony for the WikiChallenge Ecoles d’Afrique in Mali, March 2018. Photo by Anthere/Florence Devouard, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Senior Program Manager Anne Gomez leads the New Readers initiative, where she works on ways to better understand barriers that prevent people around the world from accessing information online. One of her areas of interest is offline access, as she works with the New Readers team to improve the way people who have limited or infrequent access to the Internet can access free and open knowledge.

Over the coming months, Anne will be interviewing people who work to remove access barriers for people across the world. In this installment, she interviews Florence Devouard, who has been a Wikimedian since the early days. Her work in the Wikimedia movement has ranged from content creation, to being a member of the Wikimedia Foundation board, to her more recent focus on supporting the growth of African language projects. In this interview, Anne and Florence discuss WikiFundi, an offline editing tool for remote schools.


First, can you tell us about your work in Africa with Wikimedia? What got you started? What have been your proudest accomplishments?

I guess my first interest related to African participation can be traced back to the first Wikimania conference held in Frankfurt in 2005! I gave an overview of the digital divide in African countries and provided an estimate of Wikimedia projects’ visibility in Africa, as well as African editor participation and impact. Back then, I already wanted to increase awareness, foster higher contribution rate and build African-language projects.

In the past 5 years, I have really been able to really make a difference through the setting up several projects with different focuses: increasing visual content with the Wiki Loves Africa photo content, providing offline solutions with WikiFundi, increasing participation in GLAM-related projects and conducting outreach with Wiki Loves Women, teaching digital skills acquisition with WikiSchools Africa, and doing some applied research with African primary schools curriculum and motivational factors. All those projects belong to the larger WikiAfrica movement. My pride lies in the current growth of the African Wikimedia community, as I know I played a part in it.


What is WikiFundi? How does it work?

WikiFundi is a software application that provides the same experience as editing Wikipedia, whilst not connected to the Internet. It can be run using a local server, such as a Raspberry PI, and is made available via a local wifi hotspot. WikiFundi develops the ability for a group of people within the same physical space to collaborate with each other on writing articles or learning how to work with Wikipedia’s editing interface when internet access and electricity outages fail or are not available at all.


How did you decide to take on this software/hardware project in addition to your other efforts? How were you connected with Orange?

Back in 2013, Isla Haddow-Flood and I ran the Kumusha Takes Wiki project, in Ivory Coast with Samuel and in Uganda with Erina. We realized one of the challenges in running this outreach project was the difficulty of planning and running an edit-a-thon or a training session in a context when Internet is unreliable, sometimes plain missing, or too expensive. Some time later, I discussed the issue with Luc Héripret from the Fondation Orange, and it turned out that they were working on the Digital Schools program (which currently reach 130,000 children in schools and 250,000 people in rural villages). The Fondation Orange was providing tablets, servers, and educational resources (which naturally included Kiwix content) to schools with no internet access at all. We clearly shared an interest here and I decided to come up with a proposal to them.


What is your vision for WikiFundi?

In my vision, anyone should be able to participate in building the sum of human knowledge, regardless of language, physical location, nationality, age, and connectivity status.

Whilst we are very inclusive in some aspects (such as language diversity), we are not so inclusive when it comes to physical location and connectivity status, with some people been largely excluded from participating because they are in non or poorly connected locations. Could we do more to facilitate participation from people living in prisons? In refugee camps? In rural isolated areas? In slums? Most of our offline solutions currently aim at giving access to the resources, not allowing people to participate in creating them.

I only took a little piece of the big puzzle: Wikipedia as a project, English and French as languages, Africa as a physical location. But, I’d love to see a larger solution or set of solutions emerge to extend the range of those human beings that can actually actively participate to build the sum of human knowledge.


How do you see digital literacy and education as part of your vision? Are they relevant factors?

I believe they are relevant factors; which is the reason the dissemination of the WikiFundi tool is in schools was a priority. An important point to mention is that my primary focus with the WikiFundi tool is not content production.

The focus is 1) getting prospective contributors acquainted with the Wikiplatform as well as to allow training in regions or places or situations with access issues as well as 2) building soft skills (ICT literacy, collaboration, critical thinking…).  WikiSkills, which I co-wrote, promotes innovative pedagogical approaches that foster creativity, competitiveness, employability and entrepreneurial spirit, equity, social cohesion and active citizenship.


What happened in the first year? What did you learn? What lessons can you share with other people who might want to do similar projects?

We released the first version of WikiFundi in January 2017. It was made available in different contexts during the year.

The software was distributed with a raspberry PI along with various resources, as a kit, to a dozen groups of Wikimedians across Africa, to support them in their outreach work. Anyone can download the software from that page.

The software was also distributed in many African schools, in particular as part of the Digital Schools Program of the Foundation Orange; it was simply added to the educational resources and software that the Foundation already provides to their schools network. To foster use of WikiFundi, we organised a writing contest involving 30 primary schools in Mali, Madagascar, Tunisia and Guinea, in collaboration with Foundation Orange and local Wikimedians. Given the age of the kids, the content produced was hosted on Vikidia. I (manually) collected absolutely delightful texts, as well as photos, drawings and videos from the kids of those schools. It may appear anecdotal… but two years in the past, the kids of those schools had never held a tablet, never seen a computer, knew nothing about Wikipedia. And now they produce articles. That’s SO cool.

Main lesson: for offline contexts—a reliable partner with local presence is a must-have.


What’s next for WikiFundi? What are you most excited about?

We are working on the next version with the technical support of Kiwix, hopefully to be released next summer. If you have software developing skills and want to help, contact us!

This release will be mostly bug fixing and improvements to make it more user-friendly. During WikiIndaba, Zack McCune (from the Wikimedia Foundation) also helped me in shooting introductory videos with the help of Afek and Sami from Tunisia, Georges from Cameroon and Erina from Uganda.

The most exciting element is that there are discussions ongoing to create a synchronization system. At the moment, WikiFundi is completely offline, which is not an issue as long as it is only used for training and local writing activities, but becomes a problem when the authors want their articles published online. Finalized articles have to be retrieved manually by local facilitators to be imported on Wikipedia or Vikidia, which is obviously not very practical. This synchronicity issue that I currently face in the school of the island of Antsoheribory (Madagascar) is also somewhat also faced in the ISS  in low Earth orbit.

Image by Joo, CC BY-SA 4.0.

…which brings up a thought: could we manage to synchronize “offline” wiki platforms with an intermediary server, so that the content  produced by kids in primary schools of Antsoheribory and hosted on the WikiFundi could be collected automatically and becomes accessible to the inhabitants of the ISS? Antsoheribory seen from ISS?


How else can the Wikimedia Foundation help?

There is a big need for offline solutions. The Wikimedia Foundation is already helping financially in supporting this second version of WikiFundi. It is also very helpful with communication, spreading the word and facilitating networking between the different actors of offline solutions. It can further help in facilitating the “Antsoheribory seen from ISS” project (aka Async Wikis) come true.


Who do you rely on to learn more about offline educational resources? What resources (conferences, people, spaces) exist for people who want to know more?

There is a low-traffic mailing list dedicated to offline solutions in a Wikimedia context. Anyone interested can join and speak up. You may also contact us at the Wiki In Africa association, on Twitter @wikiafrica, or on Facebook.

Interview by Anne Gomez, Senior Program Manager, Program Management
Wikimedia Foundation

by Anne Gomez at May 10, 2018 06:39 PM

Wiki Education Foundation

A people person becomes a Wikipedian

Dr. Sine Anahita is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She participated in our recent Wikipedia Fellows pilot program as a member of the American Sociological Association. In this post, she reflects on what she has taken away from the experience.

Dr. Sine Anahita
ImageFile:Anahita 5-9-18.jpgAnaSoc, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

You know how some persons are cat people, and some persons are dog people? Well, I am a people person and I work as a sociologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The state of Alaska has always had a cyclical boom and bust economy. The state’s fortune rises when the price of Alaska oil rises, and tanks when prices decline. Unfortunately, when the state’s budget suffers, so does the University’s budget. Over the past three years, the University’s budget woes pushed the other sociologists in my department out. Now I am the last PhD sociologist in Interior Alaska, and I am surrounded by empty faculty offices. The nearest sociologist is 353 miles away, in Anchorage.  By Fall 2017, a deep sense of intellectual loneliness had settled on me—a people person—and I hungered for scholarly interaction.

But then I received two emails: one from the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and the other from the American Sociological Association (ASA). The emails announced that Wiki Education was planning a pilot program for Wikipedia Fellows to learn how to become a Wikipedia editor, and they invited applications from sociologists and women’s studies scholars. Although in the past I scorned Wikipedia, even to the point of prohibiting my students from using it as a source, the proposed cohort model appealed to me. The idea of engaging on a weekly basis with other sociologists and women’s studies scholars was exciting, so I eagerly applied.

The program not only exceeded my expectations, it exceeded even my wildest hopes. The weekly web conferences and online discussions with the other Wikipedia Fellows and the fabulous Wiki Education staff helped to ease the intellectual loneliness. But what I did not expect was the interaction with anonymous strangers on the Wikipedia articles themselves. Sometimes my edits went unnoticed, or at least unremarked. But I also made some edits that generated passionate discussion on the article talk pages. People were reading my work and were arguing with me! Other people persons! I discovered that much of my enjoyment of working on Wikipedia emerged from those creative conflicts with other editors.

I also rediscovered my passion for my discipline of sociology, the passion that I discovered as an undergraduate taking my first sociology class. Wikipedia seeks secondary sources, and there I was surrounded by sociology texts. Re-reading those to find a citation that would be useful in my argument with another editor rekindled that old passion. I remembered what drew me to the discipline in the first place. I had also inherited an office full of books left by the faculty who had departed; there are probably three or four hundred that I do not know that I own. I found myself writing a rather arcane article only because I happened to glance at one of the book shelves and discovered a set of books specific to the topic. Until the Wikipedia Fellows Pilot, I did not even know those books existed, much less that they were on my shelf. So not only did the Wikipedia Fellows Pilot ease my intellectual loneliness by immersing me with other scholars in our cohort and with other editors on Wikipedia, the project also reconnected me with the former owners of the books in my office, and with the scholars who wrote the books.

Wikipedia now feels like a community of scholars to me. I may no longer have colleagues who are physically located nearby, but I am a member of a vast network of people who appreciate interactive learning, collaboration, and scholarly discussions. And I just discovered that Wikipedia lacks an article on a topic near and dear to my sociological heart. Back to editing!

To see the Wikipedia articles this Fellows cohort improved, click here. To learn more about how you can get involved as a Wikipedia Fellow, click here.

Image: File:Autumn UAF campus – panoramio.jpgtenkais, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

by Guest Contributor at May 10, 2018 06:01 PM

A student reflects on her Wikipedia success

Jane Lee, a student at Washington University in St. Louis.
Image: File:Jane Lee Headshot.jpg, J.j.lee, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jane Lee, a student in Dr. Joan Strassmann’s Behavioral Ecology course at Washington University in St. Louis, vastly improved a Wikipedia article about the Small heath butterfly species last fall. She added 4,723 words and went into depth about the butterfly’s taxonomy, life cycle, habitat, and behavior. And her work has been viewed more than 1,000 times by curious Wikipedia readers since then.

If one were to look at the article’s edit history, they’d see that Jane came back to edit in February, well after her course had ended. That’s because the article had been nominated for Wikipedia’s Good Article status and required her participation in a rigorous review process.

“After the initial Good Article nomination, I frequently checked back to see if a member of the Wikipedia community began to review the article,” Jane told Wiki Education in an interview.

“During this review process, I worked with a reviewer and carefully addressed their thorough feedback. And my articles were officially promoted to Good Article standing once the reviewer was satisfied the improvements we made.”

So what was this assignment that compelled Jane to re-engage with her work months after it was due?

Dr. Strassmann guided her students in learning how to edit Wikipedia using Wiki Education’s online tools, print resources, and staff support. (She walks us through the positive experience here). Her students consistently produce admirable work that is so recognized by the Wikipedia community. This Fall 2017 term’s class alone received seven more Good Article designations, in addition to the Small heath article. Thanks to these biology students, Wikipedia articles about the Codling mothGynaephora groenlandicaParnassius smintheusPolygonia c-albumChoristoneura fumiferanaCabbage looper, and Eldana are all deemed Good Article quality.

Jane says that writing about the small heath was no simple task. The topic required some real digging and perseverance.

“One challenge I encountered was finding a sufficient amount of information about my butterfly to compile. My butterfly, the small heath, was often associated with different species or covered tangentially, which made it difficult to find direct, concrete information at times. Because of this, I skimmed as many scientific articles as possible and compiled any relevant but reliable information I could find.”

This deep dive into research was challenging, but ultimately Jane says she came out with a clear sense of the new skills she had developed through the process. “In the end, I felt that I improved at applying knowledge from my other classes and at better understanding scientific articles while reading at a brisk pace.”

With Dr. Strassmann’s guidance and the structure the assignment provided, Jane felt prepared to engage with the Wikipedia community about her research. “It was intimidating to learn about the Wikipedia community dynamic and to work with the many experts involved in the process. However, my professor provided us with a comprehensive, structured timeline for us to follow, which helped us pace ourselves.”

Learning to apply course concepts in a public arena like Wikipedia takes a different set of skills than a traditional term paper assignment. Students develop confidence to speak authoritatively about a topic they’re learning about. And they often feel a deeper sense of motivation in their work and a sense of pride that it can be accessed by millions.

The assignment changed Jane’s perspective about Wikipedia. “At first, I was confused that we would be working on Wikipedia articles in a college course, especially after having many teachers and professors emphasize its unreliability, but I was intrigued by how unique this assignment was compared to standard exams and papers.”

Jane’s sentiment echoes something we hear a lot from students. They’ve been told that Wikipedia is unreliable and not to use it, but not how to evaluate it for accuracy on their own. As Dr. Zach McDowell said comically about the value of a Wikipedia assignment, “The problem with telling students that they’re not supposed to use Wikipedia, but at the same time knowing they are, is abstinence-only Wikipedia education.”

A Wikipedia assignment offers an opportunity for students to learn the ins and outs of a resource they use all the time. They gain valuable media literacy skills to take with them in academia and beyond.

“This assignment was very non-traditional, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the work,” Jane says. “It definitely required a lot of research, writing, revising, and time, but I appreciated applying the concepts from class to developing this article about my butterfly. I actually found it very gratifying to watch my article grow and contribute to such an enormous, volunteer-run database.”

“I was proud of the final version of the article I submitted at the end of the course, but I knew that there was still room for improvement. After working with another Wikipedia editor through the review process, I am very happy with the final version of the article because of my reviewer’s thoughtful and comprehensive critiques.”

This peer review process is an essential aspect of Wikipedia’s crowd-sourced model. The collaboration creates a sense of responsibility and accountability for students, motivating them to produce quality work and respond to feedback.

“In the beginning, the sheer number of underdeveloped Lepidoptera articles seemed daunting,” Jane tells us. “But by the end of the class, it was encouraging to see the cumulative effort of my classmates.”

To learn more about Wiki Education’s free resources and support for this assignment, visit teach.wikiedu.org or reach out to contact@wikiedu.org. Also check out Dr. Strassmann reflections on the success of this Fall 2017 course here.

Image: File:Small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) P.jpgCharlesjsharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

by Cassidy Villeneuve at May 10, 2018 05:07 PM

This month in GLAM

This Month in GLAM: April 2018

by Admin at May 10, 2018 11:53 AM

Amir E. Aharoni

There’s Nothing Particularly Good About Long Wikipedia Articles. Let’s Make Them Shorter

Wikipedia used to have a warning about articles of a certain size. If I recall correctly, it was 64KB. As far as I understand, the reason for this was more engineering-oriented than user-experience-oriented: Loading a larger page was slower, because networks were slower, or at least so some people thought.

Wikipedia no longer has this warning. It’s not unusual to have a page of 250KB or more. I don’t participate in discussions about performance, but the discussions that I do see are about the time that it takes to parse the templates server-side, to load JavaScript modules, and to render the CSS; they are not so much about the kilobyte size of the pages themselves.

I suspect, however, that there is a problem with page length. Not one of performance engineering, but of user experience. Do people actually read whole encyclopedic articles in Wikipedia? In case you haven’t guessed it already, my hypothesis is that most people don’t.

This is my hypothesis because of the famous debunking of a designer myth: people usually don’t read texts.

It should be clarified right away that the notion that people don’t read whole Wikipedia article is not, by itself, a problem. It may be a bit sad for people who invest hours (or years!) in writing the brilliant prose of each excellent article, but the point of Wikipedia is not supposed to be getting millions of people to read very long articles. Rather, it’s making information that they need accessible, and making it as easy as possible for everybody to edit this information.

Do long articles make finding information easy? Probably not. Experienced Wikipedia editors are familiar with article structure, with tricks like Find in Page, and so on, but a lot of readers are not.

So here’s my call: Let’s bring back article length warning in some form. The importance of a topic doesn’t necessarily justify having a very long article about it. The purpose is not to have a long page, but to make information easy to find. If splitting an article to several pages makes the information easier to find, then the readers will of course be happy, and the editors who invest their effort in writing a lot about a topic should be happy, too, because their writing is more likely to be actually read.

by aharoni at May 10, 2018 11:11 AM

Gerard Meijssen

#Wikimedia - What I am willing to do for the #AfricaGap

Africa hardly gets attention in Wikimedia projects. When the one project that brings together, Wikidata, does not know the people who are or used to be president of an African country, this is obvious. There is no reasonable argument to counter this.

What I can do is "watch the gap". To do this I have a growing list of African National politicians. The list is not complete, I am still adding countries. I do not add ministers and I have not included "first wives", this to reach out to people who care about that other gap, a gap that is no longer as wide.

When people add data about politicians, it will update Listeria lists. There are many of them and they will show up on my watch list. It means that I can tweet about changes as they occur.

To be perfectly honest; I expect it to be like in a railstation; typically you wait for the trains and are watching a chasm and not a divide.

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at May 10, 2018 10:49 AM

May 09, 2018

Jeroen De Dauw

Guidelines for New Software Projects

In this blog post I share the Guidelines for New Software Projects that we use at Wikimedia Deutschland.

I wrote down these guidelines recently after a third-party that was contracted by Wikimedia Deutschland delivered software that was problematic in several ways. The department contracting this third-party was not the software development department, as since we did not have written down guidelines anywhere, both this department and the third-party lacked information they needed to do a good job. The guidelines are a short-and-to-the-point 2 page document that can be shared third parties and serves as a starting point when making choices for internal projects.

If you do not have such guidelines at your organization, you can copy these, though you will of course need to update the “Widespread Knowledge at Our Department” section. If you have suggestions for improvements or interesting differences in your own guidelines, leave a comment!

Domain of Applicability

These guidelines are for non-trivial software that will need to be maintained or developed further. They do not apply to throw-away scripts (if indeed they will be thrown away) or trivial code such as a website with a few static web pages. If on the other hand the software needs to be maintained, then these guidelines are relevant to the degree that the software is complex and hard to replace.

Choice of Stack

The stack includes programming language, frameworks, libraries, databases and tools that are otherwise required to run or develop the software.

We want

  • It to be easy to hire people who can work with the stack
  • It to be easy for our software engineering department to work with the stack
  • The stack to continue to be supported and develop with the rest of the ecosystem


  • Solutions (ie frameworks, libraries) known by many developers are preferred over obscure ones
  • Custom/proprietary solutions, where mature and popular alternatives are available, are undesired
  • Solutions known by our developers are preferred
  • Solutions with many contributors are preferred over those with few
  • Solutions with active development are preferred over inactive ones
  • More recent versions of the solutions are preferred, especially over unsupported ones
  • Introducing new dependencies requires justification for the maintenance cost they add
  • Solutions that are well designed (see below) are preferred over those that are not

Widespread Knowledge at Our Department

  • Languages: PHP and JavaScript
  • Databases: MySQL and SQLite
  • Frameworks: Symfony Components and Silex (discontinued)
  • Testing tools: PHPUnit, QUnit, Selenium/Mocha
  • Virtualization tools: Docker, Vagrant

Architecture and Code Quality

We want

  • It to be easy (and thus cheap) to maintain and further develop the project


  • Decoupled architecture is preferred, including
    • Decoupling from the framework, especially if the framework has issues (see above) and thus forms a greater than usual liability.
    • Separation of persistence from domain and application logic
    • Separation of presentation from domain and application logic
  • The code should adhere to the SOLID principles, not be STUPID and otherwise be clean on a low-level.
  • The applications logic should be tested with tests of the right type (ie Unit, Integration, Edge to Edge) that are themselves well written and not laden with unneeded coupling.
  • Setup of the project for development should be automated, preferably using virtualization tools such as Docker. After this automated setup developers should be able to easily run the tests and interact with the application.
  • If the domain is non-trivial, usage of Domain-driven design (including the strategic patterns) is preferred

by Jeroen at May 09, 2018 08:10 PM

Brion Vibber

Thoughts on WebAssembly as a plugin sandbox

I’ve been thinking about ways to run user-supplied untrusted code in the browser, with an eye towards things like interactive demo programs in Wikipedia articles and user interface & editor extensions. Just running JavaScript provided by the user is wildly unsafe — it can dig into your web page’s UI and submit server requests on your user’s behalf without permission, for instance — and sandboxing things into iframes can be a bit funky and hard to fully lock down.

Current web browsers have another language they can run, though, which is WebAssembly — and WebAssembly makes much stricter sandboxing guarantees:

  • Sandboxed code has literally no way to access memory or objects not provided to it
    • no DOM access
    • no network access
    • no eval()
  • Imported objects can only be numbers (read-only) or functions (call-only)
  • Only numbers can be passed as arguments or returned to/from foreign functions
  • Maximum memory usage can be set at compile time
  • Compiled modules can be cached offline in indexedDB and reloaded safely

This means there’s no way an arbitrary wasm binary can access your document.cookies or submit a form, unless you pass in a function that allows that.

This also means that unless you provide an API to the wasm code, it can’t actually do anything other than calculate numbers. It also means that whatever API you do provide becomes a security boundary — you must make sure that you don’t introduce a function that can be exploited contrary to the security guarantees you want to make!

There are also a couple things that wasm by itself doesn’t solve:

  • The halting problem — like JS code, wasm code can loop forever if it wants and there’s no way for the caller to interrupt it.

But wait — you can run a wasm binary in a Web Worker thread. And you can terminate Web Worker threads from the main thread! Depending on your API, if asynchronous messaging around the calls is workable this might be a good way to avoid hanging the main thread in the face of a misbehaving plugin.

So what’s the downside? Well, a few things to consider:

  • wasm APIs must be wrapped to idiomatically transfer strings or data buffers with your main JS.
  • Getting the emscripten compiler to produce “bare wasm” from C/C++ without assuming some JS imports are available seems tricky.
  • C and C++ may not be the friendliest languages for plugin writers on text/GUI-heavy systems!
  • Note rustc also has wasm compilation support, but the same concern applies.
  • Any other language runtimes/libraries you use have to be built into the wasm binary… unless you rig up some kind of cross-module linking and ship multiple modules which link together, which seems super hard right now.

Something to consider for later. 😀


by brion at May 09, 2018 06:29 PM

Wiki Education Foundation

Women’s studies and Wikipedia: a year in review

As we approach the end of the academic year, I enjoy reflecting back to celebrate our achievements. When I step back, I see how much we’ve accomplished through our dedicated staff members, passionate program participants, and committed partners. My real passion project on Wikipedia is to improve its equity—in both content and contributors—and I’m consistently blown away by the energy we expend in our community to expand the voices represented in this precious source of information for the world.

One of the major ways Wiki Education is dedicated to expanding Wikipedia’s equity is through our partnership with the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA). Through the NWSA partnership, nearly 5,000 student editors have added 3.5 million words about women’s studies to Wikipedia, reaching 346 million readers. The partnership enables us to work closely with a fiercely smart group of people whose lives are devoted to making academia and knowledge more equitable. They work tirelessly to ensure all traditionally underrepresented communities—women of color, LGBTQ people, the impoverished, the homeless, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, children, victims of police brutality—are represented fairly in our understanding of how the world works. If Wikipedia wants to be the sum of all human knowledge, it must adopt these lenses and represent different people’s experiences in the world. That’s why so many members of NWSA work with Wiki Education to learn how they can bring their context to the encyclopedia that reaches 500 million readers each month.

Here are some of the ways we’ve worked to bring more women’s studies scholars to Wikipedia this year:

Presenting to academics about why Wikipedia matters to their discipline

In November 2017, Wiki Education attended the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual meeting in Baltimore. The 40th anniversary meeting also marked the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist organization from the 1970s that developed a statement highlighting what would eventually come to be known as intersectionality. Renowned political activist Angela Davis gave the keynote speech alongside Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. Their discourse allowed the opportunity to show how black women historically have been leaders in the fight for justice and parity. Decades of hard work to shift the feminist canon toward fighting for all people have begun seeping into the mainstream understanding of feminism, as more laypeople than ever discuss intersectionality in their everyday lives.

During the conference, I had the pleasure of speaking with women’s studies scholars and instructors who seek to bring intersectionality to the masses, enabling citizens to acknowledge narratives beyond their own. Today, Wikipedia is one of the most efficient ways to ensure this research reaches beyond the university campus.

Student editors learn how to add scholarly information to Wikipedia

In Wiki Education’s Classroom Program, students channel their research and writing into expanding Wikipedia articles related to their coursework. Thus, students make academic literature accessible to those of us who cannot access university libraries and databases. Over the past year, 1,500 women’s studies students have completed our program to learn how to edit Wikipedia. In the process, they made incredible information available at the world’s fingertips.

In Dr. Jo Ann Griffin’s Fall 2017 course at the University of Louisville, two students expanded the feminization of poverty article. They added information about human trafficking, single mother households, cultural influences on Muslim women’s employment status, welfare reform in the United States, and the wage gap between women and men in the Dominican Republic. In a world with growing poverty rates, it’s imperative that we enhance our understanding of economic disparity, perhaps finding more empathy for our fellow humans. Thanks to these two student editors, Wikipedia readers now have a more complete picture of struggles facing impoverished women.

In Dr. Margaret Lowry’s Spring 2018 course at Texas Christian University, one student significantly improved the article about gender equality in Rwanda. Rwanda is ranked 5th in the world for gender equality, as women have a high rate of labor participation, a smaller wage gap than most countries, paid maternity leave, and a high rate of women in government. This statistic perhaps surprises readers because the country ranks in the 48 least developed nations. As the student in Dr. Lowry’s class makes clear to the world, if a nation truly prioritizes gender equality, they can enact laws and policies to improve women’s quality of life. Gender equality does not have to take a back seat to other efforts working toward economic growth; rather, it is a core part of the solution. This article can increase the visibility of Rwanda’s successes, perhaps even inspiring other nations to follow suit.

Working with department chairs to bring more Wikipedia expertise to their campuses

In March 2018, I joined women’s studies department chairs in Denver to speak about the successes of our initiative and how we can make Wikimedia projects even more representative of women and women’s history. The meeting offered the opportunity to present to more than 50 women’s studies department chairs and ask them to join the Classroom Program and bring the initiative to their campuses. Wiki Education appreciated the opportunity to meet with more women’s studies instructors and scholars, including several of our current program participants. We also presented to attendees about our newest program, Wikipedia Fellows, as NWSA was one of the first partners to participate.

Training content experts to share complex knowledge with the world

In short, Wikipedia Fellows join our team virtually over the course of a few months to learn how to edit Wikipedia. We provide training and insight into how Wikipedia works and how it differs from traditional academic publications, and the content experts identify articles they can improve. Then, they work to make them more representative of the underlying scholarship. During the Denver meeting, NWSA Wikipedia Fellow Dr. Jenn Brandt shared her experience in the Wikipedia Fellows pilot cohort. Dr. Brandt is teaching in the Classroom Program for the first time this term, so she also reflected on the value of asking students to learn how to contribute to Wikipedia while she was in the process of doing so herself.

Dr. Brandt selected the women’s studies article and decided to make it better align with experts’ understanding of the field. When she showed other department chairs the lead paragraph of the article (the part that comes up in a Google search!) before and after she worked on it, they couldn’t believe how inaccurate the definition had been. Brandt expanded the history of the discipline, explained different feminist theories and research methods, and made sure she included all prominent references in the field. This article is much of the world’s entryway into women’s studies, and an expert’s touch really went a long way in making it a valuable reference and summary of the discipline.

Join Wiki Education’s programs!

If you’re interested in improving Wikipedia’s equity, consider joining the Classroom Program to teach with Wikipedia or applying to be a Wikipedia Fellow. Email us at contact@wikiedu.org, or visit teach.wikiedu.org. We’re thrilled about the work we’ve been able to do alongside the National Women’s Studies Association, and we look forward to our continued partnership.

by Jami Mathewson at May 09, 2018 06:03 PM

New book highlights connections between libraries and Wikimedia projects

“Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge” is a new book published by the American Library Association that highlights the myriad connections between Wikimedia projects and libraries. Edited by OCLC Research’s Merrilee Proffitt, the book contains 15 chapters highlighting ways librarians and Wikimedia projects have been intertwined since Wikipedia’s founding in 2001.

Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge.” Image by Monika Sengul-Jones.

I was honored to contribute a chapter to the book highlighting the work Wiki Education and the broader Wikipedia Education Program has done to connect academia and Wikipedia. Several other Wiki Education friends and collaborators offer their insight throughout the book, making it an interesting read for any university librarian looking to get more involved in Wikipedia, Wikidata, or Wikimedia Commons — or just interested in how programs work in the Wikipedia space.

Andrew Lih’s chapter on the history of collaborations between “GLAM institutions” — Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums — and the Wikimedia projects offers a helpful overview for both newcomers and experienced Wikimedians alike. Lih explains the mutual interests of both Wikimedians and GLAM institutions, and highlights several collaborations, including an explanation of the Wikipedia in Residence model adopted by several institutions.

A chapter written by Alex Stinson and Jason Evans is filled with case studies and tips for collaborations. With practical insight and broad overviews of a number of ways Wikimedians and librarians can collaborate — including references to both Wiki Education’s Classroom Program and Visiting Scholars Program — the chapter is a must-read for any librarian looking to survey the options of where to get started with Wikipedia.

West Virginia University Wikipedian in Residence Kelly Doyle authors a great chapter on the equity gaps related to gender in Wikipedia, and how she’s worked over the last two years to help close those through on-campus support from the library at WVU. She talks about her work to train librarians on campus to edit Wikipedia as well as projects to engage students in service learning through editing Wikipedia, always with a focus on closing the gender equity gaps on Wikipedia.

Lily Todorinova and Yu-Hung Lin offer a chapter that showcases a study Rutgers University’s library did to measure students’ use of Wikipedia as well as their work with the Visiting Scholars Program. Students, they found, generally view Wikipedia as a “reliable gateway to information”, and that a rubric would be helpful for students to assess the source material in Wikipedia. They also felt encouraged to continue collaborating with Wikipedia based on their experiences in the Visiting Scholars program.

Sara Snyder’s chapter offers a good how-to for edit-a-thons, a collaborative editing event that many university librarians are eager to host at their institution. While Wiki Education does not support these events, this chapter provides great guidelines for those interested.

Mairelys Lemus-Rojas and Lydia Pintscher’s chapter on Wikidata offers an overview of the newest Wikimedia project, and one that has the potential to be of great interest to many university librarians. Wiki Education is in the planning stages for a pilot program next year to work with Wikidata, and this chapter offers many helpful insights into the open structured data repository.

In a chapter on semantic web identity, Kenning Arlitsch and Justin Shanks write about how they engaged with Wikipedia and Wikidata to improve the availability of information about the Montana State University Library and two other campus groups. This chapter will be of interest to librarians interested in their institution’s own web presence.

Finally, Merrilee Proffitt’s chapter offers an inspirational closing statement on why all librarians should become Wikimedians, and how welcoming and collaborative the broader community of people are who help facilitate the relationships between Wikipedia and libraries. As someone who’s been involved in the Wikimedia movement since 2010, I can attest to Merrilee’s encouragement to join us: This particular intersection of groups offers fruitful collaborations for both libraries and Wikimedians. And my thanks to Merrilee for including my chapter about Wiki Education’s work in the book!

The book is available from the ALA store. Encourage your university library to add it to their collection today.

Image: File:Leveraging-Wikipedia-book.jpg, ALA, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

by LiAnna Davis at May 09, 2018 04:07 PM

Wikimedia Tech Blog

Here’s everything we published from the design, development, and data process for the page previews feature

A mockup of the new page previews feature, using the English Wikipedia's article on the Andromedia Galaxy.

Mockup by Nirzar Pangarkar/Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0. Article text from Andromedia Galaxy and Spiral galaxy, CC BY-SA 3.0. Left image, CC BY 3.0. Right image, CC BY 2.0.

A few weeks ago, we deployed the page previews feature to English Wikipedia.  This deployment marked the completion of one of the largest changes we’ve made to the desktop version of Wikipedia in years. Since then, we’ve received a number of questions about our process, motivations, and documentation. Given that much of our work is already online, we thought it’d be nice to share a bit more.

As tech lead Jon Robson wrote in his blog post, page previews took us a pretty long time to complete.  This long timeline was in part due to technical complexity as well as to our best attempts at rigour in terms of instrumentation, testing, and having thorough conversations with our communities on what they wanted the feature to be like in the long term.  Here’s a list of the documentation we’ve gathered along the way:


The main MediaWiki page for the project contains an overview of the project and functionality, links to research and requirements, an overview of the history of the feature, and deployment plans.


Product requirements and detailed descriptions of workflows and functionality: Before we deployed to any wikis, we refactored our code.  As this marked somewhat of a fresh start, we made sure to collect all requirements for the feature ahead of time.  We incorporated feedback from our communities to include all requested updates.

Initial blog post on launching this as a beta feature: The story of page previews goes far back.  The feature was initially presented to logged-in users as a beta feature, then called “hovercards,” back in 2014.  Since then, it has changed in appearance and functionality significantly.


How we designed page previews for Wikipedia and what could be done with them in the future: Even though page previews may seem simple at first glance, many complexities lie beneath the surface.  This blog post goes into detail on why this is the case, which issues particular to Wikipedia we had to consider in terms of designing the feature, and how these considerations translated into the final design

Design improvements since the first iteration of the feature: This is a list of design updates we made since the initial iteration of page previews in beta.


The code itself: Yup.

Records of architectural decisions: Here, you can see why we build page previews the way we did, and track the architectural decisions we made along the way.

API Specification: In the beginning, previews were in plaintext.  Our communities were rightly interested in presenting page previews in html to allow for rendering content true to its original form.  This makes sense – we didn’t want strange bugs and missing formulas to detract from the benefits of page previews.  However, we did not want to process all of this HTML within the Page Previews client.  The less work the client has to do to display a preview, the better.  Thus, we built a new API that could generate summaries for page previews as well as for other similar features in the future.

Code details: For the engineers among you, this page contains details on the code for page previews and instructions on how to set the feature up for other wikis.

“Beacons”: This blog post highlights the process of identifying and replicating one of the most confusing bugs we’ve come across so far.  During our first round of A/B testing, we ran into a very strange bug within our instrumentation.  We were seeing duplicate events logged for every link hover and it tooks us a lot of effort to get to the core of the issue — a bug in the Firefox browser.  We worked with the Mozilla team to resolve this issue and were able to continue measuring the performance of the feature bug-free.

Page previews front-end tooling: This series of blog posts explains the different technical decisions and choices in technology and tooling for the front-end part of the extension. The posts provide reasoning, explanations, pros and cons, and our conclusions.

mustache.js replaced with JavaScript template literals in Extension:Popups: The Popups MediaWiki extension previously used HTML UI templates inflated by the mustache.js template system. This post provides the reasoning behind replacing Mustache with ES6 syntax without changing existing device support or readability.


2017-18 A/B Tests: Page Previews are designed to reduce the cost of exploring a link, as well as to promote learning, by allowing readers to gain context on the article they are reading or to quickly check the definition of an unfamiliar event, idea, object, or term without navigating away from their original topic.  To gauge the success of the feature, we wanted to test these assumptions by performing an A/B test on the English and German wikipedias.  This page includes details of our methodology, the hypotheses we decided to test, and our results.

Hovercards Usability Research: In addition to quantitative testing, we also wanted to test qualitatively to gain insight into user opinions on page previews.  We looked into opinion based questions as well as overall usability – Do people like the feature?  Do they know how to turn it on/off? Do they find it annoying?  How do they feel about the presence and size of images? Etc, etc.

2016 A/B Test Results: Our first A/B test, while providing us valuable insight into the feature was most valuable as a means of improving before a larger scale test.  Here, we gauged the performance of the feature on Hungarian, Italian, and Russian Wikipedias.  During the process of collecting and analysing our data we also ran into a number of bugs and issues within our instrumentation that allowed us to refine and improve, making sure all subsequent tests were issue-free.

Greek and Catalan usability test: Back in 2015, we performed the first investigation into the performance of the feature.  We ran a survey on beta users on Greek and Catalan Wikipedias. A number of issues and bugs were reported and user satisfaction was recorded using a survey. Users had generally favorable feedback, with the majority of users finding hovercards useful, easy to use, and enjoyable to use.

Olga Vasileva, Product Manager, Reading Product
Wikimedia Foundation

by Olga Vasileva at May 09, 2018 02:25 PM

Brion Vibber

Solved: mystery status bar icon on 2010 MacBook Pro

If you have a really old MacBook Pro that can’t do AppleTV mirroring, and you have an AppleTV on your network, turn this checkbox *off* to keep the status bar icon from appearing and immediately disappearing every once in a while.

by brion at May 09, 2018 03:27 AM

May 08, 2018

Wikimedia Tech Blog

Hello, my name is ________: Searching for names is not always straightforward

Photo by Travis Wise, CC BY 2.0.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

—Juliet, Act II, Scene II of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, more or less

I really like names. There’s so much variation in the way people use their own names—formally and informally, at home, work, or online. And there’s even more variation in names across cultures. In this blog post I’m going to touch on some of my favorite kinds of name variation and how such variation can make it bafflingly hard to search for people “by name”, on Wikipedia or elsewhere.


Some “simple” variation

Let us consider a hypothetical American male named “Robert John Smith, Jr.” Our hypothetical pal might go or have gone by any of the following given names at some point in his life: Bobby, Bob, Robbie, Rob, Robert, Robin, or even Bert. Unless, of course, as a “Jr.” he decided to go by his middle name because his father was already “Rob”—in which case he might go by any of John, Johnny, or Jack.

Depending on which given name he uses, and the formality of the context, he might write out his “full” name—or have it written out for him—as any of the following:

  • Robert John Smith, Jr.
  • Robert J. Smith, Jr.
  • Robert J. Smith
  • Robert Smith
  • Bob Smith
  • R. John Smith
  • John Smith
  • Jack Smith
  • R. J. Smith, Jr.
  • R. J. Smith
  • R.J. Smith
  • RJ Smith

… and many others.

Mr. Smith might also go by “Junior”, especially with his family, since he is a “Jr.”, or his friends may have nicknamed him “Smitty”, after his last name. Or maybe like a certain Mr. Lund he’s 6’5” (1.95 m) and 270 pounds (120 kg), so his friends ironically nicknamed him “Tiny”.

A lot of this variation is understandable: nicknames tend to be shortened, and in English -y or -ie is a common diminutive suffix. But have you ever wondered how Bob came from Robert, Bill from William, or Peggy from Margaret? Rhyming nicknames have been popular in English-speaking countries at various times (see Bob for more details)—so normal shortened forms of some names picked up rhyming variants, and some of those have more-or-less permanently embedded themselves in the culture. So rhyming Rob to Bob, Will to Bill, and Meg to Peg, plus a diminutive -y or -ie, can explain a lot.

Our fictitious friend might even end up affecting his father’s name! Dad might add a “Sr.” to his name to distinguish him from his son, or go by “Big Rob”, especially within the family. “Rob Junior” might tire of “Jr.” and try to class things up a bit by changing his suffix from “Jr.” to “II”.

If there were ever to be a Robert John Smith, III, the little guy might pick up the nickname “Trey”, which is one that I’m personally fond of, and not just for its interesting etymology. It’s also worth noting that—since naming patterns and customs evolve over time—while many Treys are secretly Somebody S. Something, III, Trey can also be a shortened nickname for Tremaine, and has sometimes been used as a regular given name.

And, of course, once little Bobby gets his law degree, medical degree, and doctorate, he might add one or more of “Esq.”, “Esqr.”, “MD”, “M.D.”, “PhD” or “Ph.D.” to the end of his name, or “Dr.” to the front.

Let us now consider Dr. Smith’s sister, who is also Dr. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., Esq.—though she might also go by Miss Smith or Ms. Smith—whose full name is “Caitlin Roberta Smith”. She will of course be used to people badly misspelling her first name. The English Wikipedia disambiguation page lists Caitlin, Caitlín, Caitlyn, Catelyn, Catelynn, Kaitlyn, Kaitlin, Katelyn, Katelynn, and Katlyn—though many more are attested, including KVIIIlyn—I’ll wait while you figure that one out. Of course, to avoid all the fuss, Cait/Kate/Cate might decide to just go by a nickname based on her middle name, say, Bobbie.

Some women—and some men—decide to change their names when they get married, which creates another unpredictable—but in this case very official—variant of their names.


Why it stinks for search: In a search context, all of this variation can become quite bewildering. Computational approaches to resolving names are called entity linking (and that’s after you’ve figured out what’s actually a name—which is named-entity recognition). Using patterns for initials, titles, and suffixes, dictionaries of nicknames, and sometimes context can help, but it’s very easy to miss unusual variants or get false positives.

Alas, nothing other than real-world knowledge will help with people who have changed their names or are known primarily by an uncomputable nickname like Tiny or Squeak. Among the more practical solutions—if there are tireless hordes of dedicated WikiGnomes out there doing the work—are disambiguation pages and redirects! High-quality redirects in particular can be very useful in search because they get treated much like an alternate title for the page. Thanks, WikiGnomes!


A tale of two (or more) writing systems

To shift gears a bit, I want to tell you about one of my all-time favorite things related to searching for names—it has to do with the transliteration of Russian names!

First, a few preliminaries… In case you’ve never noticed, the sound represented by English “ch” is really just a “sh” following a “t”. Yep, “tsh” is the same as “ch”. (Some additional semi-mind-blowing facts: many English speakers pronounce word-initial “tr“ as “chr”, because of an epenthetic “sh” that pops up between the “t” and the “r”, so many people say “tree” as “chree”—and “Trey” as “Chray”. Also, similarly to t + sh = ch, d + zh = j. Really.)

Also, since the sounds represented by English “sh” and “ch” are not as common across languages as, say, p, b, t, d, k, and g, they have much less consistent spelling in the Latin alphabet. For example, in French, English “sh” is spelled “ch”, and “ch” is spelled “tch”. German has “sch” and “tsch”. Polish uses “z” a bit like English uses “h”, and so has “sz” and “cz”. Several Slavic languages have nice special-purpose letters: “š” and “č”.

Back to Russian and Russian names… The Cyrillic character Щ/щ is called shcha in English, and in some languages it is pronounced more-or-less like English “shch”. In Russian, it no longer has that sound—though it still does in Ukrainian and Rusyn—but following older tradition, Russian names with Щ are transliterated as “shch” in English.

For example, there is a Russian composer named Родион Щедрин, whose name is transliterated into English as “Rodion Shchedrin”. His first name is fairly consistently spelled “Rodion”, but his last name is all over the place when transliterated into the Latin alphabet through other languages, each trying to capture “shch” in their own way. In Czech it’s efficiently rendered as Ščedrin, while German has the much, much longer Schtschedrin, French Chtchedrine, and Polish Szczedrin. Other variants include Catalan Sxedrín, Danish Sjtjedrin, Hungarian Scsedrin, Dutch Sjtsjedrin, Romanian Șcedrin, and Finnish Štšedrin.

Now you can figure out why the composer Tchaikovsky’s name is spelled with an apparent silent T. In Russian it starts with the letter Ч, which in many languages sounds like English “ch” and is generally romanized as such. In this case the name came into the Latin alphabet through French as “tch”, and that spelling became standardized in English, too.

This kind of transliteration-based variation isn’t limited to Russian or Cyrillic, of course.

For decades, there was a mixture of confusion and a running gag over the many ways to spell Libyan leader Gaddafi/Khadafy/Qadhafi’s name. In addition to inconsistent romanization, Arabic script doesn’t normally spell out all the vowels, and the pronunciation of the unwritten vowels varies by dialect, giving many layers of inconsistency. Thus, native speakers of different varieties of Arabic could pronounce a name with significant differences, and then transliterate their pronunciations according to different transliteration schemes, made even more divergent in languages with different spellings of the same sounds (like “sh” and “ch” above).

An article in The Straight Dope on the variation of “Gaddafi” appeared as early as 1986, and as late as 2009, ABC News listed 112 variations (see the relevant footnote on the Wikipedia article). For (a peculiar kind of) fun, I worked up a regular expression that matches them all: ([KG]h?|Qu?)[aue]([dtz][h']?)+[aā]f+[iīy]. A regex to match all variants of his given name is left as an exercise for the reader.

Of course, the only inarguably correct spellings of Muammar and Rodion’s surnames are… القذافي and Щедрин, respectively!


Why it stinks for search: Again, disambiguation pages and redirects are a practical and accurate approach in various Wikipedias, though the level of effort required to create and maintain them—have you thanked a WikiGnome today?—is untenable for many search scenarios. Phonetic algorithms can help, but they invariably suffer from false positives, false negatives, or significant complexity—or all three at once! There are sometimes useful trade-offs to be made, like limiting the kind of names the phonetic matching has to accommodate, but a general solution is very difficult.


Surnames… it’s complicated

Surnames as family names are a relatively recent invention in many cultures. From the English Wikipedia article on surnames:

Many cultures have used and continue to use additional descriptive terms in identifying individuals. These terms may indicate personal attributes, location of origin, occupation, parentage, patronage, adoption, or clan affiliation. These descriptors often developed into fixed clan identifications that in turn became family names as we know them today.

Some English occupational names include Baker, Carpenter, Farmer, Miller, Potter, Weaver, and Smith. (Blacksmiths were very important in many cultures, and as a result, the words for smith or blacksmith in many languages have become surnames: Demirci, Fabbro, Haddad, Herrera, Kajiya, Kalējs, Kalvaitis, Kovács, Kovář, Lefèvre, Lohar, McGowan, Nallbani, Schmitt, Seppä, Sideras, Smed, Zargar and many others.)

Patronymics—a name based on the name of a male ancestor—are another source of surnames (that can become family names). Patronymics include Arabic Ibn- and Bin-, Aramaic Bar-, Celtic Mc- and Fitz-, Hebrew Ben-, Persian -pur, and Scandinavian -sen, and others. Matronymics are rarer, but also occur. Patronymics are good candidates to fossilize into family surnames. Many English surnames that follow the pattern of “male name + -son or -s” come originally from English or Welsh patronymics: Johnson, Robertson, Williams, Adams, Edwards, and Jones.

Some cultures don’t have surnames, or use surnames in a different way from most Western European names. Javanese people in Indonesia sometimes have only one name, or mononym. Other variations, including multiple names without a family name, also occur—see the Wikipedia page for examples. Icelandic names typically use a patronymic (or matronymic) as a surname instead of a family name, using the parent’s name, plus -son or -dóttir. Most people know that many East Asian names are ordered with family name first, then given name—though this is also the traditional order in Hungary, too. When transliterated into languages that use the traditional Western name order, East Asian names are sometimes re-ordered, sometimes not—leading to confusion.


Why it stinks for search: For the purposes of search, mononyms, patronymics, and name element re-ordering often don’t matter much, unless you are dealing with highly structured data. If you know what elements to search for, you should be able to find them as a simple bag of words—that is, not paying attention to the order the words are in. Other naming traditions can lead to more confusion, though.


Traditional Spanish names include two surnames, with the first coming from the father (and before that, the father’s father), and the second coming from the mother (and before that, the mother’s father). The first surname is in some sense the “main” surname, in that José Antonio Gómez Iglesias would be referred to as Señor Gómez or José Gómez, rather than as Señor Iglesias or José Iglesias, as those unfamiliar with the system might suppose. Ongoing cultural shifts have resulted in more flexibility in naming in Spain, and the system has further evolved in Latin America and the U.S., where some Hispanic people have adopted the single family name model. Searching for the wrong shortened version of a name—e.g., José Iglesias based on the full name José Antonio Gómez Iglesias—is a good way to not find what you are looking for.

Traditional Arabic names contain many interesting parts, including a variable number of patronymics and possibly a paedonymic (a name based on the name of a child), religious elements, and elements indicating place of origin, tribal affiliation, or ancestry—all depending on context and level of formality. Improperly trying to fit elements of the name into a Western name schema can lead, as with Hispanic names, to considering the wrong name elements as the ones primarily used to refer to someone. To further complicate matters, some of the elements—particularly patronymics (bin Laden) and elements based on ancestry (Al Saud)—have become surnames.


Why it stinks for search: Once again, WikiGnomes often save our collective bacon in these situations with redirects and disambiguation pages that help you figure out what you are looking for or help the search engine find it for you.


An onomastic miscellany

Here are some random additional name-related fun facts that didn’t make it into the discussion above:

  • Onomastic is a nerdy word that means “related to names.”
  • A lot of given names come from surnames. There are lists for male and female names, and you can find more by searching Wiktionary for the phrase “transferred from the surname”.
  • “Daisy” is a nickname for “Margaret” because the French version of the name, “Marguerite”, is also the French name for a kind of daisy.
  • Russian Wikipedia uses the traditional “Surname, GivenName” order for titles, so Albert Einstein is listed as “Эйнштейн, Альберт” (“Einstein, Albert”). This does make sorting easier.
    • English Wikipedia and others use DEFAULTSORT to help handle the complexity of figuring out where a given name ends and a surname begins for sorting: {{DEFAULTSORT:Einstein, Albert}} and {{DEFAULTSORT:King, Martin Luther Jr.}}.
  • In systems that require name elements that a person’s name doesn’t have, you will sometimes see the abbreviations NFN, NMN, or NLN, for “no first name”, “no middle name”, or “no last name”.
  • Another aspect of naming we didn’t touch on is online identities; you can get to know someone by an online moniker without ever knowing their “real” name.
    • Debates over whether online users should use their legal names has been dubbed “nymwars”.
  • The Korean name Park is spelled that way in English because non-rhotic varieties of British English use “r” as a mark of vowel length, so it was the obvious way to spell what sounded more-or-less like “pahk”. Other transliterations include “Bak” and “Pak”. The only unambiguously correct spelling is .

Winding down and wrapping up

There is a lot more to names—see “Further reading” below—but we’ve covered the general classes of problems we are likely to encounter when searching for people by name: unexpected variation in the preferred form of a name, unpredictable nicknames, cross-cultural confusion, transliteration trouble, spelling struggles, and overall orthographic anarchy. Many of these concerns also apply when searching for places and other proper nouns besides people. All this variation in names sometimes stinks!—but the Search Platform team is always working to improve search for Wikipedia and its sister wiki projects.

Further reading

Trey Jones, Senior Software Engineer, Search Platform
Wikimedia Foundation

by Trey Jones at May 08, 2018 03:15 PM

May 07, 2018

Wikimedia Foundation

The stories behind this year’s award-winning photographs from Wiki Loves Africa

First-place winner. Photo by Yann Macherez, CC BY-SA 4.0.

First place in the global jury prize went to Cape Town-based freelance photographer Yann Macherez. Macherez decided to spend an afternoon with his camera and seaweed farmers in Jambiani, a village on the southeast coast of Zanzibar. He wanted to learn about the trade that creates a living for hundreds of the village women: “the way they were farming it, what they did with their crop, and why they called it a ‘gift of the ocean’”:

Before farming seaweed was an option, many women in rural coastal communities were completely dependent on their husbands for their livelihoods. Today seaweed farming employs 25,000 people, mostly rural women, while upwards of 150,000 people benefit indirectly from the seaweed industry. Women found emancipation and an access to freedom because of this ‘gift’.

He submitted several photos to the contest, including the image above.

Second-place winner. Photo by Marco Gualazzini, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Second place went to Italian photographer Marco Gualazzini, who became interested in photographing the continent to change Western attitudes about it: “most people in the west are not fully aware or even interested in learning about what happens in this beautiful continent,” he says.

Gualazzini’s photograph of a Somalian man carrying a dead hammerhead shark through the streets of Mogadishu struck a chord with this year’s contest jury members, but stories like this are far from new for him. “Telling the story of Somalia’s rebirth” is a story Gualazzini has committed to more than anything he’s covered in Africa over nearly a decade of photographing the continent, he says.

I’m working on a collection of stories that illustrate the heroic, solidarity-fuelled actions that take place here every day. These pictures I took, including the award-winning one of the man who carries the shark, seek to shed light upon these little examples of resilience and piece them together.

Third-place winner. Photo by Hassanelsayadd, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Third place went to Cairo-based lawyer Hassan Elsayed, who told me that he takes every opportunity he can to get outside and take photos. Here, he was in Dahshur, Giza, with his camera up at the perfect time to capture a brief moment of affection between a young shepherd and his sheep.


These three winning images were only a small part of the latest Wiki Loves Africa photography and media competition, which showcases the continent’s rich diversity across a variety of themes.

All of the photos are uploaded under free licenses, meaning that you can use them free of charge with few stipulations.*

An annual competition held since 2014, Wiki Loves Africa founders and organizers Isla Haddow Flood and Florence Devouard say that a total of 40,000 photos have been uploaded in the contest’s history. That includes over 18,000 files in this year alone, donated to Wikimedia Commons by nearly 2,500 people.

(Wikimedia Commons is the photo repository of the Wikimedia movement. It holds most of the photos used on the hundreds of various language Wikipedia.)

Wiki Loves Africa’s theme changes each year, and this most recent one was focused on “people at work.” Participants were asked to upload their photos in October and November 2017, and local teams in participating countries were on hand to introduce the site to local photographers. An international jury selected the winning three images, seen above.


This year saw the introduction of a new category to the competition: photo essays, a collection of photos or a video to document an endangered work practice or women at work. Eric Atie, from Nigeria, and User:Rachelclarareed, from Tanzania, caught those two prizes (respectively). The stories behind those are located in two separate blog posts: “Zanzibar seaweeds in Tanzania” and “The making of thatch“.


A separate organizer’s prize went to User:Bentaylor13413 for his videos of glassmaking, which you can see below:

Video by Bentaylor13413, CC BY-SA 4.0Due to browser limitations, the video will not play on Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, or Safari. Please try Mozilla Firefox instead, or watch it directly on Wikimedia Commons.


Video by Bentaylor13413, CC BY-SA 4.0. This video is subject to the same browser restrictions; if you encounter an error, please try Mozilla Firefox or watch it directly on Wikimedia Commons.


For more information on the winning photos, media files, and the competition, go to www.wikilovesafrica.net.

Samir Elsharbaty, Writer, Communications
Wikimedia Foundation

Editor’s note: Wiki Loves Africa was funded in part by a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation.

*License terms can vary depending on the image; a Creative Commons CC BY-SA license, for instance, would require you to credit the photographer and re-share the photo, even with modifications, only under a similar license. Please check each individual file page for the exact requirements.

by Samir Elsharbaty at May 07, 2018 06:03 PM

Zanzibar seaweeds in Tanzania

Zanzibar’s seaweed growers face a changing climate. Here, a farmer tends to her farm in Paje, on the southeast coast of the island.

Mwanaisha Makame and Mashavu Rum, who have been farming seaweed on beautiful Zanzibar island for 20 years, wade through the low tide to their farm.

The seaweed grows underwater for 45 days. When it reaches one kilogram, the women pick it and dry it, then pack it in bags to be exported to countries like China, Korea and Vietnam. There, it’s used in medicines and shampoos.

The farmers have a lot of problems due to climate change. Two decades ago, 450 seaweed farmers roamed Paje. Now, only about 150 farmers remain.

Mwanaisha holds up a healthy clump of seaweed. Then she holds up seaweed the farmers won’t be able to use. A hard white substance grows on it – ice-ice disease, caused by higher ocean temperatures and intense sunlight.

The seaweed farmers learned how to make soap from their seaweed at the Zanzibar Seaweed Center, a business that started as an NGO in 2009. At their homes, they mix water, ground seaweed powder, coconut oil, caustic soda and essential oils in a large plastic tub.

Later in the week, the seaweed farmers will sell their finished soaps in Zanzibar town or to regular local customers. As seaweed levels decline, they have found a way to increase the value of their work.

The finished product – a bar of seaweed soap.


All of the images in this post by Wikimedia Commons user Rachelclarareed are freely licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0In short, this means that you can use any of the images in this post for any reason, so long as you attribute the photographer and share any remixes under the same license. The text in this post was written by Rachelclarareed and originally posted on Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. 

For the other awarded photo essay, see “The making of thatch.” For more information about the contest, see the main announcement.

by Rachelclarareed at May 07, 2018 06:02 PM

The making of thatch

The creativity that comes with mud housing in rural areas is majorly in the art of it’s roofing, of crafting thatch. With the continuous movement of development reaching far into these area, newer ways of doing things have been discovered, faster, reliable, more durable ways. Houses are now being raised with modern materials, and even the ones standing still in traditional clay and thatch are being refurbished with the fashionable cement blocks/metal roofing sheets. This progression has no doubt brought about a decline to the practice of traditional crafts such as thatching.

Mr. Bassey Ekpenyong, an indegene of Ito community in Cross-River state, Nigeria, calls me his friend in that manner that, as a stranger serving in his community under the National Youth Service Corp, makes me feel safe. He invites me to his shop at evening hours, and as he offers me roasted nuts, he makes a new promise to take me on his bike to the beach when the rains have stopped and the roads are accessible again.

It is on my return to Ito after a couple of weeks away that I first see him sitted in the shade outside of his shop, palm leaves littered all over. He sees the excitement register on my face a top the moving bike and signals that I return, as if to say “I have been waiting for you”. And truly, he has.

He is making a new roof for his shop, he tells me. He wants me to make pictures. There are palm leaves all over, some tied up in a bunch, some lying underneath the sun, others thatched already and staked up in a pile. On his hands are two long,thinly carved sticks that would function as the skeletal frame for a pair of thatch.


He begins a new pair and laughs as he talk; a satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that he is creating for me yet another experience to take home when service is over. He makes a joke of it.


He folds a leaf in half neatly across both sticks. He does same for another leaf, lapping it with the previous, and then, with another thiny stick which he breaks afterwards, pins the the leaves in place, firm.

The process continues until the length of the sticks are fully covered in green palm leaves. He completes a pair of thatch in what takes minutes and begins another.

Mr. Bassey is a converser. He talks about the need for this change, a practice he does every five years as this is the durability period for the thatch. “Nfok nkaya” He says in Efik pointing to his shop behind, mud house with mat(thatch). He points to other houses around, including the ones made of clay but with metal roofing sheets and calls them “Ikanga” zinc dey up.

On other days, Mr Bassey is joined by his friends. They sit for long hours underneath the tree on their return from their various farms. They chat as they thatch, switching on occasion from Efik to English.

They craft at the same pace, with the same measure of skill, but what intrigues me the most is their fellowship in that shared space, a communion of banter and silence. How this silence descends on them as they craft only for it to be broken yet again with a thought, a story, a sigh – childhood friends who had all grown up in this same space and carried within themselves different experiences as they each sorted life out; some leaving only to return yet again.

Childhood friends thatching through time, memories into their palms, pinning them into that place of recollection, of regret, of conquests. Pinning them with the same laughter and voices that survived time.

When asked how and when they had learnt thatching, the story is the same for everyone. They throw back to a time when they were just kids, when Ito was only made of the traditional mud houses.

As kids, they had been taken along with other kids by The Contractor, an older member of the community who dealt in a sales of thatch, to the beach. There, they had, each person assigned to a bunch of palm leaves, made dozens of thatch. This contractor, in return had provide their meal for the day and bought them treats. He had, later, on completion of their work, also paid for their services to their mothers; money meant for their upkeep.

“We just sabi” Mr. Bassey tells me, explaining to me how he couldn’t really pinpoint exactly how he had learnt. How, before then, in a society where almost everything used where hand-crafted, most of these skills children grew into, got used to just by seeing it being done on a daily basis, just by being a part of the home/society.

“Those wen no sabi wen we go beach go just sidon look those wen sabi, or, watch contractor do am and dem go sabi.

To Mr. Bassey this is more. It carries sentiments enough for him to brag about the metal roofing sheets he’s kept lying waste in his house for years, enough sentiments for him to, in a time when the few thatched houses left are been broken down and then raised up in modern fashion, sit outside of his shop underneath the tree every five years, matting green leaves into thatch.

His shop, once his home, carries for him memories of events: of childhood adventures; of leaving and returning; of his late wife, of loss. Memories that make him. And thatching, this craft, this practice of maintenance is, in a fast paced world, for him the very means through which he holds time in his hands. The very means to which he laps these memories into a place of remembrance. The very means in which he shelters them.


All of the images in this post by Wikimedia Commons user Eric Atie are freely licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0In short, this means that you can use any of the images in this post for any reason, so long as you attribute the photographer and share any remixes under the same license. The text in this post was written by Eric Atie and originally posted on Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. 

For the other awarded photo essay, see “Zanzibar seaweeds in Tanzania.” For more information about the contest, see the main announcement.


by Eric Atie at May 07, 2018 06:01 PM

Wiki Education Foundation

How access to academic sources empowers already prolific Wikipedia editors

Gary Greenbaum, also known as User:Wehwalt on Wikipedia, is a Visiting Scholar at George Mason University. Through the Visiting Scholars program, Gary gets access to George Mason University’s academic sources and databases, expanding the reach of those collections and improving his own abilities to create and maintain Wikipedia articles. Here, Gary shares an example of how George Mason collections have been useful to him.

Gary Greenbaum, User:Wehwalt

About two years ago, I set about writing a new article for Wikipedia, on a topic that had long interested me. The topic was “Mr. Dooley”. If you have not heard of Mr. Dooley, you are not alone, but a hundred years or so ago, you would have been the exception.

Mr. Dooley, or Martin J. Dooley, was a fictional Irish immigrant bartender created in the 1890s by journalist Finley Peter Dunne, whose columns would be set in Dooley’s bar. Having a fictional surrogate speak for you in a newspaper column isn’t something that’s done a lot today, but Dunne would write of Mr. Dooley giving a monologue on local or national affairs. Dooley is depicted as speaking with an Irish brogue, an accent suggested through the spelling of words in his monologues, in which he would speak of local or national affairs, often making a progressive point.

Initially the Dooley columns dealt with local issues in Dunne’s hometown of Chicago, but after Dunne and his creation became famous, they mostly dealt with national or world affairs, with Dunne skewering such figures as Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, Admiral George Dewey, and John D. Rockefeller. Though Dooley is almost forgotten today, for a decade or so, what “Mr. Dooley says” was the topic of everyday conversation.

I became acquainted with Dooley through reprints of some of the most humorous pieces, and through satires of the style, printed in my books of legal humor. I did not have much in my personal library that could be of help, one introduction in a recent edition of some of the Dooley columns. When I started work, a useful source was the American National Biography article on Dunne. I would not ordinarily have access to the ANB, but it is one of the databases I can use as George Mason University’s Wikipedia Visiting Scholar. JSTOR, that compendium of academic articles, was also useful; Dooley may be nearly forgotten, but he remains well studied.

Mr. Dooley in 1900.
Public domain, uploaded by Wehwalt to Commons.

Both Dooley and Dunne have been the subject of a number of books over the years, available to me through George Mason’s library. I read though what I had, and I began to write. One of the difficulties I had was Dunne’s transcription of Dooley’s brogue, which made the columns more and more difficult for Dunne to write, and which has made it more difficult for modern readers to appreciate the Dooley columns. I decided on using “proper English” in the quotes found in the article, with the original found in the footnotes.

I’m generally pleased with the article that resulted. It’s a topic that should have a well-done article, for the Dooley articles were influential in their day, read by presidents and ordinary citizens alike. Phrases invented by Dunne for Dooley, such as “the Supreme Court follows the election returns” and “Politics ain’t bean bag” (that is, it’s played for real) still have relevance today, as does the fact that Dunne came from a minority group without great influence, the Irish, many of whom had only recently immigrated, with Dooley himself an immigrant.

Without the Wikipedia Library’s programs to empower our editors, Dooley might have gone long without a useful article for those wishing to read about him. I am grateful that these resources gave me a chance to tell others about him. While there is no Dooley in some rundown Chicago bar to give us humorous perspective on the political issues of today, the fact that someone could make light of the politics of the day, make a serious point, and do it while attracting an audience from across the political spectrum, has lessons for us today.

For more about Gary’s work, read our roundup here or view his Dashboard page. For more information about Visiting Scholars, see our informational page.

Image: File:Mr. Dooley views Peg.jpg, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. (Uploaded by Wehwalt)

by Guest Contributor at May 07, 2018 04:57 PM

Jeroen De Dauw

Yield in PHPUnit data providers

Initially I started creating a general post about PHP Generators, a feature introduced in PHP 5.5. However since I keep failing to come up with good examples for some cool ways to use Generators, I decided to do this mini post focusing on one such cool usage.

PHPUnit data providers

A commonly used PHPUnit feature is data providers. In a data provider you specify a list of argument lists, and the test methods that use the data provider get called once for each argument list.

Often data providers are created with an array variable in which the argument lists get stuffed. Example (including poor naming):

 * @dataProvider provideUserInfo
function testSomeStuff( string $userName, int $userAge ) {}

function provideUserInfo() {
    $return = [];

    $return[] = [ 'Such Name', 42 ];
    $return[] = [ 'Very Name', 23 ];
    $return['Named parameter set'] = [ 'So Name', 1337 ];

    return $return;

The not so nice thing here is that you have a variable (explicit state) and you modify it (mutable state). A more functional approach is to just return an array that holds the argument lists directly. However if your argument list creation is more complex than in this example, requiring state, this might not work. And when such state is required, you end up with more complexity and a higher chance that the $return variable will bite you.

Using yield

What you might not have realized is that data providers do not need to return an array. They need to return an iterable, so they can also return an Iterator, and by extension, a Generator. This means you can write the above data provider as follows:

function provideUserInfo() {
    yield [ 'Such Name', 42 ];
    yield [ 'Very Name', 23 ];
    yield 'Named parameter set' => [ 'So Name', 1337 ];

No explicit state to be seen!

Update: my Introduction to Iterators and Generators in PHP is now live 🙂

by Jeroen at May 07, 2018 04:36 PM

Brion Vibber

emscripten fun: porting libffi to WebAssembly part 1

I have a silly dream of seeing graphical Linux/FOSS programs running portably on any browser-based system outside of app store constraints. Two of my weekend side projects are working in this direction: an x86 emulator core to load and run ELF binaries, and better emscripten cross-compilation support for the GTK+ stack.

Emulation ideas

An x86 emulator written in WebAssembly could run pre-built Linux binaries, meaning in theory you could make an automated packager for anything in a popular software repository.

But even if all the hard work of making a process-level emulator work, and hooking up the Linux-level libraries to emulated devices for i/o and rendering, there are some big performance implications, and you’re probably also bundling lots of library code you don’t need at runtime.

Instruction decoding and dispatch will be slow, much slower than native. And it looks pretty complex to do JIT-ing of traces. While I think it could be made to work in principle, I don’t think it’ll ever give a satisfactory user experience.


Since we’ve got the source of Linux/FOSS programs by definition, cross-compiling them directly to WebAssembly will give far better performance!

In theory even something from the GNOME stack would work, given an emscripten-specific gdk backend rendering to a WebGL canvas just like games use SDL2 or similar to wrap i/o.

But long before we can get to that, there are low-level library dependencies.

Let’s start with glib, which implements a bunch of runtime functions and the GObject type system, used throughout the stack.

Glib needs libffi, a library for calling functions with at-runtime call signatures and creating closure functions which enclose a state variable around a callback.

In other words, libffi needs to do things that you cannot do in standard C, because it needs system-specific information about how function arguments and return values are transferred (part of the ABI, application binary interface). And to top it off, in many cases (emscripten included) you still can’t do it in C, because asm.js and WebAssembly provide no way to make a call with an arbitrary argument list. So, like a new binary platform, libffi must be ported…

It seems to be doable by bumping up to JavaScript, where you can construct an array of mixed-type arguments and use Function.prototype.apply to call the target function. Using an EM_ASM_ block in my shiny new wasm32/ffi.c I was able to write a JavaScript implementation of the guts of ffi_call which works for int, float, and double parameters (still have to implement 64-bit ints and structs).

The second part of libffi is the closure creation API, which I think requires creating a closure function in the JavaScript side, inserting it into the module’s function tables, and then returning the appropriate index as its address. This should be doable, but I haven’t started yet.

Emscripten function pointers

There are two output targets for the emscripten compiler: asm.js JavaScript and WebAssembly. They have similar capabilities and the wrapper JS is much the same in both, but there are some differences in implementation and internals as well as the code format.

One is in function tables for indirect calls. In both cases, the low-level asm.js/WASM code can’t store the actual pointer address of a function, so they use an index into a table of functions. Any function whose address is taken at compile time is added to the table, and its index used as the address. Then, when an indirect call through a “function pointer” is made, the pointer is used as the index into the function table, and an actual function call is made on it. Voila!

In asm.js, there are lots of Weird Things done about type consistency to make the JavaScript compilers fast. One is that the JS compiler gets confused if you have an array of functions that _contain different signatures_, making indirect calls run through slower paths in final compiled code. So for each distinct function signature (“returns void” or “returns int, called with float32” etc) there was a separate array. This also means that function pointers have meaning only with their exact function signature — if you take a pointer to a function with a parameter and call it without one, it could end up calling an entirely different function at runtime because that index has a different meaning in that signature!

In WebAssembly, this is handled differently. Signatures are encoded at the call site in the call_indirect opcode, so no type inference needs to be done.


At least currently, the asm.js-style table separation is still being used, with the multiple tables encoded into the single WebAssembly table with a compile-time-known constant offset.

In both cases, the JS side can do indirect calls by calculating the signature string (“vf” for “void return, float32 arg” etc) and calling the appropriate “dynCall_vf” etc method, passing first the pointer and then the rest of the argument list. On asm.js this will look up in the tables directly; on WASM it’ll apply the index.


It’s possible that emscripten will change the WASM mode to use a single array without the constant offset indirection. This will simplify lookups, and I think make it easier to add more functions at runtime.

Because you see, if you want to add a callback at runtime, like libffi’s closure API wants to, then you need to add another entry to that table. And in asm.js the table sizes are fixed for asm.js validation rules, and in WASM current mode the sub-tables are definitely fixed at compile time, since those constant offsets are used throughout.

So currently there’s an option you can use at build time to reserve room for runtime function pointers, I think I’ll have to use it, but that only reserves *fixed space* of a given number of pointers.


Coming up next time: int64 and struct in the emscripten ABI, and does the closure API work as expected?

by brion at May 07, 2018 04:12 AM

Tech News

Tech News issue #19, 2018 (May 7, 2018)

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May 07, 2018 12:00 AM

May 06, 2018

Neha Jha

And the Summer of Code begins

I have been selected for GSoC 2018! I couldn’t be happier. This time also I am gonna be working with Wikimedia.

After completing Outreachy 15, I was looking for more work to keep myself busy. Then, my friend Aman Jain suggested me to participate in GSoC. I got to know that Wikimedia is also participating this year. Choosing a project was a bit of a challenge for me since all of them looked so interesting. There were so many new things to learn. I took a lot of time to decide which project I am gonna be participating in.

Completing the first microtask was challenging since this project is a first for me. Anyhow, I completed the first microtask in the middle of my exams and endless hackathons ;). I started working on the proposal pretty late but the experience of Outreachy was really helpful. I was already familiar with phabricator, Gerrit etc. I had to finish my proposal and get the opinion of mentors too.

After submitting the proposal to the GSoC site, I brushed up my python skills which have gone pretty rusty. On 23rd April, I was anxiously waiting for the results. I was elated to see my name on the GSoC site(top of the world feeling :D).

There are many people in Wikimedia cloud team who have offered to help me. Never felt more welcomed :D. The whole journey of getting selected in GSoC was not possible without my two most amazing mentors Bryan Davis and Andrew Bogott. Initially, I was a bit sceptical about participating but Srishti Sethi encouraged me a lot. Thanks to all of these wonderful people.

Looking forward to a thrilling summer of code.

by Neha Jha at May 06, 2018 01:01 PM

May 05, 2018

Weekly OSM

weeklyOSM 406



How to generate 1D maps from OSM data: example linear maps of public transport stops 1 | © SK53


  • Following a discussion on the forum (automatic translation) Leonhard Lenz suggests (automatic translation) unifying the tagging of (nature) reserves in Germany.
  • Telenav’s OSM team released a portal for viewing a range of 22 different metrics on OSM. The ones available now focus on navigation attributes (e.g. turn restrictions). They are computed weekly for the whole world.
  • Pokémon Go updated their map data and this brings along a new wave of mappers wildly adding parks, nature reserves, steppes, lakes and recreation areas to OSM. See the discussions in the German forum and on the Talk mailing list.
  • Vote for the proposal on man_made=carpet_hanger until May 10th.
  • Ilya Zverev wrote a diary entry about some remarkable big changes to OSM data, which stood out during their monthly processing for the MAPS.ME application.


  • sev_osm publishes a Twitter moment about two weeks of OSM and free Geomatics training in Dakar. Participation was aimed at students, teachers and professionals from both the private and public sectors. The courses were run with the help of members of the Senegal and West African OSM communities and with the support of the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF).
  • Earlier this year the Data Working Group redacted a considerable quantity of data in Peru due to copyright infringement several years back. @karitotp describes in a diary post how the OSM community managed to recover speedily from the deletion of such an enormous amount of OSM data.

OpenStreetMap Foundation

  • Heather Leson wrote a diary entry with a brief introduction to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) regarding the OSM Foundation.


Humanitarian OSM

  • HOTOSM reports about their work with YouthMappers in Indonesia.


  • [1] User SK53 describes in his blog how to generate 1D maps from OSM data. A common example of such maps are linear maps of public transport stops.
  • Paul Norman explains his new client-side rendering style “Bolder”.

Open Data

  • The Opendata.ch/2018 conference will take place on July 3rd at the University of Applied Sciences of St. Gallen (Switzerland).



  • Reddit user iggy-koppa has introduced three small geo packages for Rust on Reddit. One of them is a GTK widget to display OSM maps.
  • Want to find a suitable flat with OSM? Here is how to do it in Python using the ORS API.
  • The provision of changeset diffs had a stutter on April 26.
  • Florian (@floscher) will be improving the Wikipedia/Wikidata plugin for JOSM for the Google Summer of Code 2018. Comments and suggestions are welcome.


  • Wambacher’s “OSM Software Watchlist” now tweets the news from the OSM software world every week under the hashtag #OSMSoftwareWatchList.
  • The iD editor reached version 2.8.1. Presets of less known tags are now available, like man_made=observatory or ... antenna, further examples are leisure=outdoor_seating or ...beach_resort.
  • Klokan Technologies released OpenMapTiles 3.8.

OSM in the media

  • Harry Wood spotted a mention of OpenStreetMap in the local newspaper and congratulates the Korean mappers.

Other “geo” things

  • @MapScaping tweeted a picture of an unusual globe. It shows the geology of the Earth.
  • Andy Woodruff created a tool that allows the export of contour lines for an area selected in the browser and saves them either as vector data (GeoJSON, SVG) or images. More details are provided on the Axismaps blog.
  • “Wyndham City Council in Melbourne’s outer west is expanding an augmented reality urban planning tool to cover cities across Australia.” reports itnews.
  • Hackernews contributor findus23 has used a Markov Chain model to simulate questions and answers for various Stack Exchange sites. Some of the simulated threads may seem familiar to users of GIS Stack Exchange.
  • Nicolas Renoir reports at the Transport Research Arena 2018 in Vienna on how SNCF uses OpenStreetMap data to develop apps to help people with reduced mobility navigate railway stations.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
N’Djamena Mapathon: Bol in Lake Chad 2018-05-05 chad
Dortmund Mappertreffen 2018-05-06 germany
Heidelberg Semester Start Mapathon with Kathmandu Living Labs 2018-05-07 germany
Arlon Réunion au Pays d’Arlon 2018-05-08 belgium
Munich Münchner Stammtisch 2018-05-09 germany
deutscher Mumble-Server öffentliche Vorstandssitzung FOSSGIS e.V. 2018-05-09 germany
El Salvador Encontro de Dados Abertos 2018-05-09 brazil
Berlin 119. Berlin-Brandenburg Stammtisch 2018-05-10 germany
Shiki 東京!街歩き!マッピングパーティ:第19回 出張編 小江戸と浅草の中継点「志木」 2018-05-12 japan
Kyoto 幕末京都マッピングパーティ#04:薩摩藩士と寺田屋騒動 2018-05-12 japan
Davao City Free & Open Mapping Workshop at Ateneo de Davao University 2018-05-12 philippines
Rennes Réunion mensuelle 2018-05-14 france
Nantes Réunion mensuelle 2018-05-15 france
Lüneburg Lüneburger Mappertreffen 2018-05-15 germany
Cologne Bonn Airport Bonner Stammtisch 2018-05-15 germany
Lyon Rencontre mensuelle pour tous 2018-05-15 france
Disneyland Paris Marne/Chessy Railway Station FOSS4G-fr 2018 2018-05-15-2018-05-17 france
Karlsruhe Stammtisch 2018-05-16 germany
São Paulo Painel OpenStreetMap no MundoGEO Connect 2018-05-16 brazil
Mumble Creek OpenStreetMap Foundation public board meeting 2018-05-17
Greater Manchester OSM UK Annual General Meeting 2018 2018-05-19 united kingdom
Greater Manchester OSM UK and OpenData Manchester joint meetup/workshops/mapping 2018-05-19 united kingdom
Essen Mappertreffen 2018-05-24 germany
Lübeck Lübecker Mappertreffen 2018-05-24 germany
Bordeaux State of the Map France 2018 2018-06-01-2018-06-03 france
Milan State of the Map 2018 (international conference) 2018-07-28-2018-07-30 italy
Dar es Salaam FOSS4G & HOT Summit 2018 2018-08-29-2018-08-31 tanzania
Bengaluru State of the Map Asia 2018 (effective date to confirm) 2018-11-17-2018-11-18 india

Note: If you like to see your event here, please put it into the calendar. Only data which is there, will appear in weeklyOSM. Please check your event in our public calendar preview and correct it, where appropriate.

This weeklyOSM was produced by Anne Ghisla, Nakaner, Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, Spanholz, Spec80, YoViajo, derFred, jinalfoflia.

by weeklyteam at May 05, 2018 06:17 AM

WMF Release Engineering

Introducing Quibble

Running all tests for MediaWiki and matching what CI/Jenkins is running has been a constant challenge for everyone, myself included. Today I am introducing Quibble, a python script that clone MediaWiki, set it up and run test commands.

It is a follow up to the Vienna Hackathon in 2017. We had a lot of discussion to make the CI jobs reproducible on a local machine and to unify the logic at a single place. Today, I have added a few jobs to

An immediate advantage is that they run in Docker containers and will start running as soon as an execution slot is available. That will be faster than the old jobs (suffixed with -jessie) that had to wait for a
virtual machine to be made available.

A second advantage, is one can exactly reproduce the build on a local computer and even hack code for a fix up.

The setup guide is available from the source repository (integration/quibble.git):

The minimal example would be:

git clone https://gerrit.wikimedia.org/r/p/integration/quibble
cd quibble
python3 -m pip install -e .

A few more details are available in this post on the QA list:

Please give it a try and send issues, support requests to Phabricator Quibble project.

It will eventually used for all MediaWiki extensions and skins as well.

by hashar (Antoine "hashar" Musso (WMF)) at May 05, 2018 04:15 AM

May 04, 2018

Gerard Meijssen

#Wikimedia - Introducing the #AfricaGap

Minding the gaps is  important in all our projects. The #GenderGap program is an excellent project that shows the important and impressive results possible when we make a deliberate effort.

One area where we are weak is in our coverage of everything Africa. One area where we are particularly weak is in providing support for our readers and editors in Africa.

There are many things that can be done to improve upon the current situation and I am grateful to the people who have worked so hard to get us where we are.

To mind a gap, it starts with awareness. My "Africa" page provides some insight in the politicians of African countries. Obviously most politicians are missing and as my page links to Listeria list, every time a new African politician becomes known in Wikidata, it will show up on my watch list.

I intent to include all African countries and their national politicians. I will remain committed to bring more information about Turkey and its history, this project will show through the daily Listeria updates the extend of our African efforts. It would be cool when 1% of the humans we know is from Africa.

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at May 04, 2018 11:10 AM

May 03, 2018

Wikimedia Foundation

Why I write about women on Wikipedia

The author and a host of other Wikipedia editors wrote the article on Malouma, a Mauritanian singer, songwriter, and politician. Photo by Marc Ball, CC BY 2.0.

When I was growing up, I never really identified with my history classes. They focused on the “great men” who in theory shaped that history: “great men”: politicians, military heroes, church leaders, and the famous. In these narratives, women were usually mentioned only in the context of their relationship with a more famous man, usually their husband.

I was fascinated by the history that lurked behind—of people who actually built society and sustained each other while great men were trying to build power and create influence. I could see the differences between what textbooks presented as history and real life, as my everyday life, was full of women and men of varying colors, ethnicities, beliefs, and sexual orientations. It was only when I got to university that studying the hidden history was ever an option.

At this time, women’s studies had just been launched as a degree path in US universities, something that both intrigued and appalled me—appalled that we knew so little about women’s participation in historical events, and intrigued by the irony that a group of mostly male professors were teaching us about women who were important for other women’s development. I realized that the people I was studying were being pushed into the “great women” mold and recognized that there was a fundamental difference in what and how I wanted to learn and what teachers wanted to teach.

I wanted to learn about how women participated in the events and developments of the world. Instead, I was being taught about women’s sphere as if it was a separate entity, concerned about and involved in different things than men were. I wanted to learn about the builders of society, the ones who sustained other people, created systems for them to overcome the adversities of life, not the leaders or figureheads, but the teachers, the farmers, the artists, the scientists. The hierarchical measure of contributions, where some are less than others, isn’t interesting to me. I see history more as a circular playing field where many contributed to make the whole. It is far more engaging to see how all the pieces fit into shaping an event than giving one person all the credit.

I discovered Angie Debo, Audre Lorde, Anaïs Nin, and Doris Stevens, among others, and fortunately had professors who might not be ready to teach about these women given the era, but were willing to let me do independent studies on them.  In a contemporary studies course, I questioned why women were left out of the stories—how can one teach about the civil rights movement and only refer to Rosa Parks or the Women’s Political Council in tangential asides, as if their actions had been minor?  I realized that the only way stories would be told in a different way was if I researched them myself to find the stories behind the official rhetoric. I took courses in research techniques and fell in love with archives, spending hours and hours combing through old documents and newspapers.

Fast forward several years. Textbooks hadn’t changed much, though there was an incremental change in the diversity represented. History books still focused on great men and minimized everyone else’s contributions to our collective history. It took the rise of the internet to finally change who told our history and how it was portrayed.

First and foremost, it made my own research objectives and the exchange of information far easier. Second, I saw the potential for other narratives to reach a wider audience, giving a more balanced perspective on how society developed, how different people contributed, and how we have always been and always will be a jagged mosaic, rather than a monochromatic line drawing.

In mid-2014, I started editing Wikipedia as an unregistered editor. My first edits were to pages dealing with Native American and LGBT history. In November, I created an account and wrote my first article on Tillie Hardwick. Little by little, I added more indigenous women, Latinas, and Caribbean women. I tend to focus on minority women, non-English speaking women, and women whose impact crosses geographic barriers. Finding a group of mentors, which included the editors Dr. Blofeld, Montanabw, Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, Ian Pigott, and others, was pivotal—editing Wikipedia is difficult. It is technology-driven and the opposite of academic writing. Slowly, I found my legs and with my mentors became one of the founding members of the WikiProject Women in Red in 2015. Our project works to add women’s stories back into the history of world events.

While we focus on biographies of notable women, a critical part is adding links of those women to the world in which they participated. For example, during an event to create Wikipedia articles on women in the food and drink industry, Sue Barnum and I worked on an anchor article about the history of women in brewing. It allowed us to use it as an article to link to articles of notable women working in the field, as well as to add links to the general article on brewing, which at the time had no information about women’s influence on brewing in emerging nations and prior to European and American industrialization.

I learn as much from writing women’s biographies as I impart from telling their stories. For example, in the pre-internet world, the international links between people and the organizations in which they participated were much stronger than you might imagine. The analytical part of researching the interconnections, and reward of working with editors who want to improve articles, is a motivating factor to me—as is the hope that the women in generations who follow will grow up knowing that women have always been actively involved in the world around them and were not passively allowing the world to go by.

SusunW, Wikipedia editor

by SusunW at May 03, 2018 06:18 PM

Wiki Education Foundation

Joining the leaders of the global Wikimedia movement in Berlin

I’m back from Wikimedia Conference 2018 in Berlin, where I had the privilege of spending time with some of the most inspiring and lovely people I know: leaders of the global Wikimedia movement. These are people from all across the world who are working together on the Wikimedia mission, and joining them in person is a powerful reminder of how lucky I am to have fallen in with this crowd.

Wikimedians from all across the world, together in Berlin

One of the developments I’m most excited about is Structured Data on Commons. This project will bring first-class metadata support to the image and media files on Wikimedia Commons, including translatable captions and Wikidata integration so that we can tag an image with exactly the things it depicts. This opens up the possibility to do curation and annotation independently of the MediaWiki user interface — such as via the Dashboard, in the same context where we can currently view the media contributions from a group of new users. (In fact, Outreachy intern Urvashi Verma will be laying the groundwork for that kind of curation activity in the Dashboard this summer.) More broadly, it could enable a wide range of “microcontributions” that work well for mobile-only internet users, who so far have been limited in what they can practically contribute to Wikimedia projects.

My main role at the conference centered on our Dashboard software — in particular, the present and future of the global Programs & Events Dashboard that we maintain for use by the global Wikimedia community. It was extremely gratifying to meet so many people who have already been using it — “this has made my work so much easier” is a remark I heard more than a few times — and the questions and concerns I discussed with these folks reinforced my ideas of what the most imporant priorities for further Programs & Events Dashboard development ought to be. I’m also excited to work with Wikimedia Foundation Community Programs team to provide better support for users who have questions or run into problems going forward.

And the personal highlight of the trip? I got to meet recent Outreachy intern Candela! Candela is a developer based in Berlin who is currently working on building diversitytickets.org, and she came by the conference meet some of the folks who’ve been using the Dashboard. 😀

Candela and Sage


by Sage Ross at May 03, 2018 05:45 PM

Wikimedia Foundation

A snapshot of Wikimedia education activities in Asia

Photo by Sailesh Patnaik, CC BY-SA 4.0.

I recently traveled to Nepal, India and Taiwan to meet with local Wikimedians and pilot a new approach to help program leaders in each country establish, improve and grow their educational programs.

In-context help provides program leaders with the opportunity to get support and feedback that is grounded in the needs of the local Wikimedia community, and the local educational landscape. During the site visits, I supported the local Wikimedia community to advocate to institutional partners, listen to the needs of educators, and plan for high quality education programs.

We know that students learn valuable skills when they contribute to Wikimedia projects. On the education team, we want to empower our program leaders to be able to work with educators. But every location around the globe has different challenges and may require slightly different methods of execution.

At Deerwalk Sifal School, a primary school in Kathmandu, Nepali Wikimedians facilitated an elective course that taught students how to edit Wikipedia. The enthusiasm of the students led the teachers to ask to be trained themselves with one teacher noting, “It wasn’t a viable solution to just train the students. So, we asked to be trained so we could continue the class.” Together with local program leader Saroj Dhakal, I visited 5 institutions, all of which expressed great enthusiasm towards the idea of using Wikimedia projects to support student learning.

The time spent with the local Wikimedia community was also incredibly valuable. During a program planning workshop where we looked at local problems and turned them into project objectives, the Nepali Wikimedians discovered that the potential impact of their activities would be greater than words or bytes added on projects. Especially when thinking about gender equality, they expressed that they thought teaching students about anti-harassment and safe space policies would have a ripple effect in the society with students spreading the idea to their friends and families.

From the group discussions in all three site visit locations, we learned that teachers and Wikimedians really understand how using Wikimedia projects in the classroom gives students skills that they need to be successful in the world. Overall, educators saw the value of Wikimedia projects as contributing to a shift in pedagogy from teacher-centred to student-centered learning by getting students to critically engage with the information they consume.

You can learn more about the experience on the online report.

Next steps

This pilot trip is shaping the way in which the education program team is offering support for communities all over the world. We now ask ourselves: How can support for education program leaders all over the world be more equitable and transparent?

We are trying to find ways of giving in-context help on a regular basis. In the coming months, we will be piloting an incubation project, where communities can apply for in-context support. If you are interested in this project and would like to get notifications and news, please sign up on Outreach wiki.

Nichole Saad, Program Manager, Community Programs
Wikimedia Foundation

by Nichole Saad at May 03, 2018 03:32 PM


Artistic impressions

Art in black and white is something that is always striking. In early times, when printing technology was still underdeveloped, the woodcut was the choice for illustration. Particularly interesting are the early illustrations of animals and plants. One of the earliest and best known examples of animal illustration printed using the woodcut technique was that of Albrecht Dürer. His rhinoceros of 1515 is something that has been widely written about. First done in ink (facing left) it was converted by the printmaking technique of the woodcut into a classic image (facing right due to the process by which it is made).

The BBC has a nice piece on the history of this rhinoceros and its significance.

Looking at the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in the 1840s gives one a good idea of how intricate the art of the woodcut had become by then. Print makers had moved from wood to limestone - using the technique of lithography. With colour washes and multiple impressions on paper they were able to produce colour prints or chromolithographs. The black areas were covered with wax or oil and the uncovered areas were treated with weak acid causing the areas to be depressed. The block was then painted using flat rollers and then pressed on to paper (once for black and white and multiple times for colour) to produce the prints. The process sometimes involved the use of a delineator, a colorist and a printer. One could argue about who among the three is the actual copyright owner here ! The process was expensive but the results were spectacular. The expense meant that journals like the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London had options for subscribers to opt for versions with or without the plates. One of the downsides of the technique was in the representation of molluscs and crabs which are often not bilaterally symmetric. Most snail shells, for instance, are coiled so that when the apex is above the aperture opens to the right - so called dextral and only the rare few have left-handed coils  (termed sinistral from which is derived the word sinister). Mirrored images aside, the masters of the art produced works that continue to have a life-like glow. Modern exponents like Robert Gillmor continue to produce such amazing works with modifications to this basic technique such as the Linocut.

Here is a sampling from the 19th century. Click on the images for viewing them in better resolution.

G. H. Ford
Ford seems to have specialized in black and white illustrations of reptiles and amphibians.

W. Mitchell

John Gerrard Keulemans (1842 - 1912)

Thriponax kalinowskii

Spilornis cheela pallidus

Calyptomena hosii

W. Purkiss

Ornithoptera victoriae

Joseph Wolf (1820 - 1899)

Anathana elliotti

Joseph Smit (1836 – 1929)
Note: Smit (and possibly his son Pierre) was responsible for many of the woodcuts that are used in the Fauna of British India (edition 1) and reused in the Fauna of British India (edition 2) as well as in Ali & Ripley's "Handbook".


Testudo trimeni

Frederic Moore (1830 - 1907)

Moore's greatest contribution to India was the Lepidoptera Indica, a work that he did not live to see to completion. Those who have seen the images in this work will not fail to be impressed. Most of the illustrations here were made by his son F. C. Moore. Moore senior also appears to have been artist, but it appears that considerable care is needed in identifying the works of the two. More than two hundred years later, the butterflies in his tomes seem almost ready to fly out of the pages.

All of the above images (and more by Gould, Richter, Hewitson, Westwood) are on the Wikimedia Commons image repository and being in public domain are ready for reuse in yet another century.

7 June 2011 - Found out that Frederic Moore's son was F. C. Moore
and the Biodiversity Heritage Library has completed the scanning of Lepidoptera Indica
The original scans are linked below
Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 (copy of 3)
Volume 4 Volume 5 Volume 6 Volume 7
Volume 8 Volume 9 Volume 10

1 November 2011 - All the images from Lepidoptera Indica volumes 1 to 10 have been extracted and can be found under the following category on Wikimedia Commons

Further reading
* Allmon, WD (2007) The evolution of accuracy in natural history illustration. Archives of natural history 34 (1): 174–191.
* Terms and techniques

by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at May 03, 2018 08:29 AM

Wikipedia for the birds

"Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it." - Andre Gide

Public availability of knowledge is a great idea that should not require selling. The idea that "knowledge" is neccessarily incomplete and constantly in a state of flux is however something that does not go down well with many people. The surety of being right is far more comfortable than having to question what we hear or read. Most people trained in science are expected to be more comfortable with this state of being critical and careful about all knowledge. For a lot of people, however, Wikipedia has been that wakening call - and one of the first ever studies of the accuracy of knowledge available on it focussed on the fact that it had the same number of errors as other sources with a reputation for being accurate.

Given the state of flux it is somewhat surprising that there still are researchers who fail to see the value of contributing to Wikipedia - using it to document and summarize the state of published knowledge. A recent note in the venerable ornithological journal The Ibis - titled - "Why ornithologists should embrace and contribute to Wikipedia" by A. L. Bond (Ibis 153:640–641) is of interest and one would have thought that ornithologists or indeed all scientists would take to Wikipedia without the need for such persuasion.

In countries like India, where the attitude of governance (and government funded research)  is not one of being supportive - even organizations dealing with environmental conservation make little effort to supply citizens with information. There is no enforceable principle that the government should supply information proactively (except as an obscure clause in the Right to Information Act 2005 which states that public bodies should NOT wait for citizens to seek information). The Wikimedia Foundation provided me with a travel grant to attend the first WikiConference in Mumbai and at a session (presentation material here) there I pointed out, much to the amusement of the audience, how very intellectually stimulating a visit to the websites of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Zoological Survey of India and Botanical Survey of India are. Indeed there are no government-run place where a citizen can seek knowledge about something around them without having to spend the rest of their life filling forms and sending money orders or registered letters. On the other hand, the experience of someone seeking answers to their queries on the Wikipedia reference desks for science or mathematics is a world apart. Wikipedia articles themselves each have a "talk" or discussion page and one can ask questions, question the legitimacy of information or seek better clarity, something that cannot be done with a textbook and often and sadly enough even with teachers. 

Wikipedia articles are often not always in great form, and are only improved when knowledgeable and conscientious editors / readers try to improve them. Since 2002, I have been working on some of the articles and have set upon myself the task of improving the articles on Indian birds. More than anything, it is a very satisfying experience to research the existing literature. I decided to work on the species starting with the most frequently met ones - a working list of which is on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Shyamal/todo - and it has to be reiterated that there is no such thing as a complete article, indeed there never will be a book or any other work that is "complete". Some years ago, I attempted to impress upon the more literate bird enthusiasts of India how little we have progressed in terms of collecting, collating, updating and making available new information on the birds in India. (See Shyamal, L. 2007. Opinion: Taking Indian ornithology into the Information Age. Indian Birds 3 (4): 122–137.) The situation in other taxonomic groups can hardly be considered any better - words like "taxonomic impediment" have been invented for the inability of support for identification in zoology. Even the taxonomists working on specific groups seem to believe that they cannot help. In 2001, I was invited to a discussion on using computers in taxonomy - and there were people making it appear like zoologists needed to learn a whole load about relational databases and Codd's rules so that they could contribute. Being a complete outsider to this clique I suggested that they needed none of this obscure additional computer science and that they merely needed to get their act together and post plain documents of their knowledge into the Internet and that other people or other computational systems (such as search engines) would come along and collate the available information in new forms. A decade on, it seems that nothing much has changed and the few "providers" of information still feel they cannot do much, but it is interesting that the "seekers" and "consumers" of information have now empowered into becoming the new "ersatz providers".

I recently decided to see how the "seekers" work with Wikipedia articles and examined the traffic on various articles. I was interested to see if there was a seasonal trend with people looking up information for certain species in winter, however the picture is not so clear. The visitation to Wikipedia articles on a bird species is related to (1) the chances that people know the name for a bird; (2) the nature of the species - how much it influences folks to look it up on the Internet; and (3) the position of the article on Google search results, which in turn is related to the "quality" of the Wikipedia article.

In 2011, the number of visitors per month to the list of Indian birds (and a local Bangalore list for comparison) were (semi-automatially collated from http://stats.grok.se/ ):

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
List of birds of India 7401 6193 5616 7090 8768 11788 11238 10102 24240 10419 16052 13782
List of birds of Bangalore 652 619 947 549 674 543 683 757 574 478 820 568

Among "lists of birds", the Indian list was second only to the Florida list during January 2011 ! For the species themselves the monthly activity was relatively stable, showing little difference across months in the vast majority of species. A few show spikes, but these appear to be related to either media related interest or due to appearing or being linked to something on higher traffic Wikipedia pages. For a full table of the statistics see here. The overal statistics follow the usual power distribution with the top hundred species getting 60.4% and the top 500 species receiving 90% of the total traffic of 14.46 million visits in 2011.

When people find something interesting in the media, they sometimes look up Wikipedia articles and the results is a surge in traffic on their pages. In the unsorted 30 day traffic one can see a spike in the traffic for the Black-necked Stork - this is probably due to a media event. On the other hand one can see a correlated peaking for the Black and Red Kites for 2012-02-02 - such activity indicates information seekers looking at a cluster of related species, possibly for comparing identifications. This kind of activity holds great promise - and it is doubtless that this will increase as new tools to seek information - that are not based merely on Google searches for names (which means you need to know the name before you seek info on it) - become commonplace. Imagine the day when you describe the colours of a bird on your mobile and it lists you the relevant Wikipedia bird pages, based on the region from where you access it. Until then, one can always seek information by posting images (if you are willing to share them via a non-restrictive Creative Commons license, that would be via http://commons.wikimedia.org - you can use your English or other language Wikipedia login for this site as well ) and asking for the identity on the Wikipedia projects - the extra advantage to this is that a good image might well become useful in one of the articles.

For birds - WikiProject Birds
For insects - WikiProject Insects
For plants - WikiProject Plants

and so on...,

Seek and ye shall find, and when you do, we shall too ...

Postscript - a sample of things that researching for a Wikipedia article can produce

In the last week, I have been researching the entry for Dendrocygna javanica - the Lesser Whistling Teal / Duck. A recent fieldguide for India by an American author P C Rasmussen - has this to say about the family - (Birds of South Asia. p. 67, volume 2) - "Two species in region; rather small, with long neck and legs, and upright carriage. In flight, readily identified by very broad wings and long necked shape; tend to circle around when disturbed. Both species are noisy and have specialised wing feathers that produce noise in flight.... "
Heinroth's 1911 description

This "specialised wing feathers" is not even mentioned in Salim Ali and Ripley's handbook - so I decided to examine this further. It turns out that in 1911, Oskar Heinroth, a German ornithologist, wrote about this idea which was published in the Proceedings of the International Ornithological Congress. The actual text reads as follows (from pages 673 and 696) :

Merkwürdig ist das laute Pfeifen, das Dendrocygna javanica im Fluge hervorbringt. Es wird verursacht durch einen eigenartigen Vorsprung an der Innenfahne der äußersten Handschwinge, die auf der nebenstehenden Abbildung in natürlicher Größe wiedergegeben ist. Den anderen Arten fehlt diese absonderliche Federbildung, und sie fliegen auch anscheinend ohne ein besonders bemerkenswertes Geräusch; bei ihnen  werden aber dafür, wenn sie die Flügel öffnen, weil hin auffallende Farben bemerkbar.   (Siehe unter "Bedeutung des Flügelspiegels" S. 696.)
 This translates as
The strange thing is the loud whistle that Dendrocygna javanica produces in flight. It is caused by a curious projection on the inner vane of the outermost primary feather, which is reproduced on the adjacent image in actual size. The other species lack this bizarre feather structure, and they seem to fly without any particularly remarkable sound, but when they open their wings, they have striking colors. (See "Understanding the wing mirror": page 696)
 And page 696 has this:
Von den mir naher bekannten Dendrocygna-Arten hat autumnalis und discolor einen breiten, weißen, arborea einen deutlich silbergrauen Spiegel, bei arcuata, fulva und eytoni sieht man im Fluge eine leuchtende, durch die Seitenfedern und Oberschwanzdecken erzeugte, um das hintere Körperende gehende Binde, viduata hat den abstechend weißen Kopf, und bei D. javanica, die keinerlei helle Farben hat, ist an die Stelle des optischen ein akustisches Lockmittel getreten: an der Innenfahne der äußersten handschwinge findet sich bei dieser Art ein ganz merkwürdiger, zungenartiger Fortsatz (s. Abbildung S. 673), der beim Flügelschlage ein Pfeifen hervorruft. Es wäre mir sehr erwünscht, wenn andere Beobachter diese von mir aufgestellten Behauptungen bei den übrigen Anseriformes, die meinen Studien  bisher nicht  zugänglich  waren,  nachprüften !
Which translates to:
From the Dendrocygna species that I know of - autumnalis and discolor have a wide white band, arborea a silvery gray colour, and in arcuata, fulva and eytoni in flight bright colors, produced by the side feathers and upper tail-coverts; viduata has a contrasting white head, and in D. javanica, which has no bright colors, the role of the visual effect is replaced by an acoustic modification:- the inner vane of the outermost primary has a  very strange, tongue-like extension (see Figure p. 673), which causes the wing to produce a whistle. It would be very desirable if other observers can confirm my idea with other Anseriformes, that I have not had access to in my studies !

So it is evident that this modification is not found in Dendrocygna bicolor as mentioned in the Birds of South Asia (See a picture of the primaries here). To add to this, the idea that this notch even produces sound needs to be questioned and examined more carefully. It seems highly suspect, particularly because notches and emargination of primaries are quite common. It turns out that the next two primaries have a notch in them. It seems quite unlikely that any significant whistling sound is actually produced by this structure. The only other work that actually questions this idea is from 1922 and is from an amazing four volume work on the "A Natural history of the Ducks" by John C. Phillips. On page 151 - Phillips says "A characteristic peculiar to this species is a projection on the inner web of the outermost primary which Heinroth (1911) pictures, and describes as producing a loud whistling sound during flight. It is remarkable that no observations made in thc field have brought out this peculiarity, but it may be that the loud voice obscures this sound." It is interesting how certain ideas like this from 1911 get perpetuated by repeated citation without actual examination. And it is even more surprising that researchers fail to examine the original literature and take secondary citations for granted. Hopefully the efforts by the Biodiversity Heritage Library to make these and other originals works available to ordinary citizens will raise the standards of research particularly within academia.

by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at May 03, 2018 03:18 AM

A little-known bird artist

One of the hazards of contributing to Wikipedia is that one does not read enough of what is on it. Bumping into a series of interesting paintings of South African birds I looked up the artist marked as Sergeant C. G. Davies. Turns out that he was Claude Gibney Finch-Davies, a somewhat lesser known artist. Born in Delhi in 1875 he went to England and joined the army in South Africa. Somewhere along the line he picked up an interest in birds and art. A couple of biographies have been written about him by A C Kemp, but it would seem like he has largely been unknown, partly due to something he did that blemished his career and led perhaps to his death/suicide. His keen interest in illustration led him to remove plates from books in the museums and libraries that he referred to. Today there are probably art collectors who must be eager to steal this man's paintings.

The Natural History Museum at London holds some of his unpublished notebooks and paintings. Fortunately for us his paintings are out of copyright since 70 years have passed since his untimely death. Some of his paintings can be found here on Wikimedia Commons

His biography on Wikipedia is interesting but some of the details seem to be untraceable - it says:
He was born in Delhi, India, the third child and eldest son of Major-General Sir William and Lady Elizabeth B. Davies née Field. His father later became Governor of Delhi and was awarded the Order of the Star of India, while his mother was said to be an expert on Indian snakes.
The names of the mother and father are confirmed elsewhere as well. But it is odd that no further information is found on his father in the ODNB. Does anyone know further details and sources?

by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at May 03, 2018 03:08 AM


A colourful term used by field biologists for a kind of mate-seeking behaviour that involves unmated males and females going up to the highest point in a locality and then competing and pairing up before dispersing. (this behaviour is thought to be restricted to insects although I know several mountaineering couples!) Apparently some of us had expanded the "hill-topping" entry on Wikipedia a few years ago but the real impact of that behaviour did not sink in until last week.

There is a wonderful line of hills somewhere between the two westbound highways going down from Mudigere and Sakleshpur in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, India that we decided to visit. More importantly it was accessible to researchers, unlike the national parks and sanctuaries in the neighbourhood. The forest here surrounds a towering hill with a rock that sticks out from lower hills covered in grass.

We climbed up the summit and were surprised by an enormous swarm (several thousands) of Tetraponera rufonigra (you can find some images here), all of them winged. It was so large and the numbers quickly got onto our bodies and faces that we were forced to descend back. I tried to tolerate them but had to swat one off leading to a sting that quickly swelled into a nice weal that took a couple of days to fully subside. We packed off a few specimens just to confirm identity and check whether we had any males. Getting back we checked with Dr Musthak Ali and he found that the few we collected to be only queens. We had hoped for some males, perhaps some more valiant observers will determine how males respond to these aggregations. It would seem that the usual emergence of breeders is in October-November, possibly after some rains.
Looking towards the western horizon - a matrix of tropical montane forest and grassland

Hill-topping behaviour is apparently very widespread and the definition of a hill can be as low as a small mound. In some countries the location of such sites are carefully avoided when roads are aligned or special wildlife crossings and other measures considered at such places. And talking of roads, there is a particularly well-done bit of road between Belur and Hassan. The road is uniformly wide and just right for two lines of traffic with well marked medians and edges and the shoulders are level with the roadside verge well covered by a tough species of grass. Overall this would seem like a great model for other roads, good enough and supporting a smooth flow of traffic without being too much of a hazard for people and wildlife around it. The quality of the road and the surroundings seems to induce calm driving behaviour.

The road between Belur and Hassan. Well marked and bordered. Accidental or by design?
Further reading

by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at May 03, 2018 02:59 AM

Moving Plants

All humans move plants, most often by accident and sometimes with intent. Humans, unfortunately, are only rarely moved by plants. 

Unfortunately, the history of plant movements is often difficult to establish. In the past, the only way to tell a plant's homeland was to look for the number of related species in a region to provide clues on their area of origin. This idea was firmly established by Nikolai Vavilov before he was sent off to Siberia, thanks to Stalin's crank-scientist Lysenko, to meet an early death. Today, genetic relatedness of plants can be examined by comparing the similarity of DNA sequences (although this is apparently harder than with animals due to issues with polyploidy). Some recent studies on individual plants and their relatedness have provided insights into human history. A study on baobabs in India and their geographical origins in East Africa established by a study in 2015 and that of coconuts in 2011 are hopefully just the beginnings. These demonstrate ancient human movements which have never received much attention from most standard historical accounts.

Unfortunately there are a lot of older crank ideas that can be difficult for untrained readers to separate. I recently stumbled on a book by Grafton Elliot Smith, a Fullerian professor who succeeded J.B.S.Haldane but descended into crankdom. The book "Elephants and Ethnologists" (1924) can be found online and it is just one among several similar works by Smith. It appears that Smith used a skewed and misapplied cousin of Dollo's Law. According to him, cultural innovation tended to occur only once and that they were then carried on with human migrations. Smith was subsequently labelled a "hyperdiffusionist", a disparaging term used by ethnologists. When he saw illustrations of Mayan sculpture he envisioned an elephant where others saw at best a stylized tapir. Not only were they elephants, they were Asian elephants, complete with mahouts and Indian-style goads and he saw this as definite evidence for an ancient connection between India and the Americas! An idea that would please some modern-day Indian cranks and zealots.

Smith's idea of the elephant as emphasised by him.
The actual Stela in question
 "Fanciful" is the current consensus view on most of Smith's ideas, but let's get back to plants. 

I happened to visit Chikmagalur recently and revisited the beautiful temples of Belur on the way. The "Archaeological Survey of India-approved" guide at the temple did not flinch when he described an object in the hand of a carved figure as being maize. He said maize was a symbol of prosperity. Now maize is a crop that was imported to India and by most accounts only after the Portuguese sea incursions into India in 1492. In the late 1990s, a Swedish researcher identified similar  carvings (actually another one at Somnathpur) from 12th century temples in Karnataka as being maize cobs. It was subsequently debunked by several Indian researchers from IARI and from the University of Agricultural Sciences where I was then studying. An alternate view is that the object is a mukthaphala, an imaginary fruit made up of pearls.
Somnathpur carvings. The figures to the
left and right hold the puported cobs in their left hands.
(Photo: G41rn8)

The pre-Columbian oceanic trade ideas however do not end with these two cases from India. The third story (and historically the first, from 1879) is that of the sitaphal or custard apple. The founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, Alexander Cunningham, described a fruit in one of the carvings from Bharhut, a fruit that he identified as custard-apple. The custard-apple and its relatives are all from the New World. The Bharhut Stupa is dated to 200 BC and the custard-apple, as quickly pointed out by others, could only have been in India post-1492. The Hobson-Jobson has a long entry on the custard apple that covers the situation well. In 2009, a study raised the possibility of custard apples in ancient India. The ancient carbonized evidence is hard to evaluate unless one has examined all the possible plant seeds and what remains of their microstructure. The researchers however establish a date of about 2000 B.C. for the carbonized remains and attempt to demonstrate that it looks like the seeds of sitaphal. The jury is still out.
I was quite surprised that there are not many writings that synthesize and comment on the history of these ideas on the Internet and somewhat oddly I found no mention of these three cases in the relevant Wikipedia article (naturally, fixed now with an entire new section) - pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories

There seems to be value for someone to put together a collation of plant introductions to India along with sources, dates and locations of introduction. Some of the old specimens of introduced plants may well be worthy of further study.

Introduction dates
  • Pithecollobium dulce - Portuguese introduction from Mexico to Philippines and India on the way in the 15th or 16th century. The species was described from specimens taken from the Coromandel region (ie type locality outside native range) by William Roxburgh.
  • Eucalyptus globulus? - There are some claims that Tipu planted the first of these (See my post on this topic).  It appears that the first person to move eucalyptus plants (probably E. globulosum) out of Australia was  Jacques Labillardière. Labillardiere was surprized by the size of the trees in Tasmania. The lowest branches were 60 m above the ground and the trunks were 9 m in diameter (27 m circumference). He saw flowers through a telescope and had some flowering branches shot down with guns! (original source in French) His ship was seized by the British in Java and that was around 1795 or so and released in 1796. All subsequent movements seem to have been post 1800 (ie after Tipu's death). If Tipu Sultan did indeed plant the Eucalyptus here he must have got it via the French through the Labillardière shipment.  The Nilgiris were apparently planted up starting with the work of Captain Frederick Cotton (Madras Engineers) at Gayton Park(?)/Woodcote Estate in 1843.
  • Muntingia calabura - when? - I suspect that Tickell's flowerpecker populations boomed after this, possibly with a decline in the Thick-billed flowerpecker.
  • Delonix regia - when?
  • In 1857, Mr New from Kew was made Superintendent of Lalbagh and he introduced in the following years several Australian plants from Kew including Araucaria, Eucalyptus, Grevillea, Dalbergia and Casuarina. Mulberry plant varieties were introduced in 1862 by Signor de Vicchy. The Hebbal Butts plantation was establised around 1886 by Cameron along with Mr Rickets, Conservator of Forests, who became Superintendent of Lalbagh after New's death - rain trees, ceara rubber (Manihot glaziovii), and shingle trees(?). Apparently Rickets was also involved in introducing a variety of potato (kidney variety) which got named as "Ricket". -from Krumbiegel's introduction to "Report on the progress of Agriculture in Mysore" (1939) [Hebbal Butts would be the current day Airforce Headquarters)

Further reading
  • Johannessen, Carl L.; Parker, Anne Z. (1989). "Maize ears sculptured in 12th and 13th century A.D. India as indicators of pre-columbian diffusion". Economic Botany 43 (2): 164–180.
  • Payak, M.M.; Sachan, J.K.S (1993). "Maize ears not sculpted in 13th century Somnathpur temple in India". Economic Botany 47 (2): 202–205. 
  • Pokharia, Anil Kumar; Sekar, B.; Pal, Jagannath; Srivastava, Alka (2009). "Possible evidence of pre-Columbian transoceaic voyages based on conventional LSC and AMS 14C dating of associated charcoal and a carbonized seed of custard apple (Annona squamosa L.)" Radiocarbon 51 (3): 923–930. - Also see
  • Veena, T.; Sigamani, N. (1991). "Do objects in friezes of Somnathpur temple (1286 AD) in South India represent maize ears?". Current Science 61 (6): 395–397.

by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at May 03, 2018 02:30 AM

German influences in Indian ornithology

I have noted before that many non-English works in science, even from Europe, are often given a quick pass-over in English works and cases range from the failure to cite junior synonyms in taxonomic monographs [ Ixos fisquetti Eydoux & Souleyet, 1842 from a French source has been ignored as a synonym of Pycnonotus priocephalus (Jerdon, 1839) by nearly all taxonomists] to glossing over major contributions like those of the German anatomist and cladist Max Fuerbringer. Some of this may be due to the wars but there is a sense that even much later works often do not give enough credit where it is due. 

In Tim Birkhead's preface to his history of ornithology, Ten Thousand Birds, he notes the ratings of his friends for the most influential ornithologists: 
"David Lack was the clear leader (30 votes), followed by Ernst Mayr (23), Niko Tinbergen (21), Robert MacArthur (11), Peter Grant (11), Nick Davies (11), Erwin Stresemann (11), Charles Sibley (11), Konrad Lorenz (9), and Donald Farner (8)."
Title page of Volume 7 part 2 of Handbuch der Zoologie (1934)
This is obviously a questionable sample size but the presence of three Germans in the list (with Stresemann at the root of the academic genealogy of the other two - Mayr and Lorenz) should be a useful indicator. A much richer view of influence and the genealogy of ornithology in Germany can be found in the writings of Jürgen Haffer. Haffer, who died a few years ago, was a student of Ernst Mayr who in turn was a student of Stresemann. Stresemann's influence was far-reaching, extending into India through Salim Ali who spent some time with Stresemann at the Zoological Museum, Berlin. An invitation to visit Berlin for a Wikipedia-related meeting allowed me to pursue my research on Stresemann's work and the Salim Ali connection. Ali notes in his biography that it was through the Germans and their Heligoland observatory that he picked up his studies of live birds in the hand and ringing.* In 1914, at the age of 25, while still a doctoral student in medicine, Stresemann was offered the task of writing an entry on the birds in the Handbuch der Zoologie series since the bigger names in German ornithology were too busy to take up the job. This offer from the series editor Willy Kükenthal was to be crucial in his later career. The draft version which followed a structure suggested by Kukenthal arrived in 1920, delayed by the First World War, and when it was published in 1934, it consisted of 900 pages. The book led Stresemann to his future career in the Berlin museum picked in preference to many other bigger and dominant names. In producing the book, Stresemann had clearly conducted a great deal of research into the literature, both new and old, before him which also led him to later reflect on the historical development of ornithology - leading to another magnificent work which was also translated into English as Ornithology from Aristotle to the Present - a (signed) copy of which apparently went to Salim Ali and was passed on to the late S.A. Hussain (who mentioned it over a coffee one evening not too long ago). Now Birkhead's ornithological history does not do a good job of telling us what went into Stresemann's Handbuch der Zoologie. This book had 2200 printed copies but only 536 were sold by 1934 and 156 in 1944 and the remaining copies were burnt at the end of World War II (see Bock, 2001). I  browsed through a copy of the book in the library of Zoological Museum at Berlin and have extracted the table of contents which gives a good overview of the topics covered (I have removed the page numbers and hopefully there are no major transcription errors, use translate.google.com to see what they mean but be prepared for mis-translations):

Stresemann (left) in Finland during the Ornithological Congress of 1958. Photo from the Alexander Wetmore album courtesy of Smithsonian Instituion / Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Einleitung [Introduction]
Erforschungsgeschichte [Research history]

Haut und Hautgebilde [Epidermis]
Haut: Cutis - Epidermis - Schnabel [beak] - Stirnplatten - Nagel [nails]: Zehennägel- Fingernägel - Sporen - Federn [feathers] - Konturfedern [contour feathers] - Augenwimpern [eyelash], Tastfedern - Pelzdunen - Puderfedern - Pinselfedern - Fadenfedern - Afterschaft - Nestdunen - Stellung der Federn [position of feathers] - Anordnung der Federn [arrangement of feathers] - Schwingfedern [flight feathers] - Deckfedern [coverts] - Diastataxie [diastaxy] - Afterflügel - Oberarmdecken [upper wing coverts] - Steuerfedern [control feathers] - Mauser [moult] - Schnelligkeid des Federwachstums [rate of feather growth?] - Mauserperioden [moult period]- Umfang der Mauser - Doppelte und dreifache Mauser [double and triple moult] - Reihenfolge des Federwechsels [sequence and  - Abhängigkeit der Mauser von äusseren und inneren Einflüssen - Schuppen [scales]: Deck-, Lauf-schuppen - Fersenschuppen - Hautdruesen - Färbung von Haut und Hautgebilden [colours of skins and skin formation]: Melanine und Lipochrome - Bildungsort der Lipochrome - Periodischer Faerbungswechsel [periodic colour change] - Federzeichnung - Farbenindruck - Schillerfarben - Farbaberrationen [aberrant colours] - Komplizierte Mutationen

Skelett [Skeleton]
Schädel [skull] - Ersatzknochen - Deckknochen - Bewegungen im Schädel - Unterkiefer - Zweiter Schlundbogen - Driter Schlundbogen - Pneumatizität der Schädelknochen - Wirbelsäule - Rippen - Brustbein - Schultergürtel - Vordere Extremetität - Pneumatizität des Rumpf [pneumatization of the hull] - und Extremitätenskeletts - Ossifikation der Markknochen [Ossification of the medullary bone]

Muskelsystem [Muscular system]
Viszeralmuskulatur - Somatische Muskulatur - Augenmuskulatur [eye muscles] - Parietale Muskeln - Glatte Federnmuskeln [smooth feather muscle] - Hautmuskeln [skin muscles] - Rote und weisse Muskulatur - Muskelkerne

Nervensystem [Nervous system]
Rückenmark [spinal cord] - Spinalnerven - Gehirn - Gehirnnerven III-XII - Kleinhirn - Mittelhirn - Zwischenhirn - Vorderhirn - Autonomes Nervensystem - Paraganglien - Parasympathisches System

Sinnesorgane [Sense organs]
Hautsinnesorgane - Geschmacksorgan - Geruchsorgan - Hörorgan - Labyrinth - Scheckenteil - Vestibularteil - Bogengangteil - Mittelohr - Paratympanisches Organ - Äußerer Gehörgang - Auge - Retina - körper - Akkomodation - Cornea - Sclera - Bulbus - Augenmuskeln - Lidapparat - Assoziation beiderAugen - Augendrüsen

Verdauungssystem [Digestive system]
Mund-Rachenhöhle - Zunge - Histologie der Mund-Rachenhöhle - Drüsen - Faerung der Mundhöhle  Oesophagus - Magen - Druesenmagen - Muskelmagen - Innervierung des Magens - Darm - Duodenalschleife - Ileum - Diverticulum caecum vitelli - Blinddärme - Enddarm - Struktur der Darmwand - Kloake - Bursa Fabricii - Innervierung des Darmes - Verdauung - Leber - Pankreas

Klementaschenderivate und Thyreoidea [Respiratory system]

Atemweg - Pharyngo-nasale Luftsäcke - Kehlspalt - Stutzgerüst des Kehlkopfes - Trachea - Freie Bronchien - Syrinx - Syrinxmuskeln - Innvervierung der Syrinx - Sexualdimorphismus im Syrinxbau - Lunge - Pulmonale Luftsäcke - Histologie der Luftsäcke - Bronchialbaum - Physiologie der Atmung - Funktionen der Luftsäcke - Thoraxbewegungen - Kammerung der Leibeshöhle

Zirkulationsorgane [Blood circulation]
Herz  - Wärmeschutz -Schutz gegen Ueberhitzung  - Körpertemperatur - Arterien: Schicksal der Aortenbögen -Arterien der vorderen Extremität - Arterien der hinteren Extremität - Intersegmentale Arterien - Arterien des Darmkanales - Arterien der Nieren und Keimdrüsen - Venen: Embryonale Entwicklung  - Gebiet der Vena cardinalis posterior - Gebiet der Vena cava posterior - Gebiet der Vena hypogastrica - Nierenpfortaderkreislauf - Gebiet der Venae portae - Gebiet der Vena cardinalis anterior - Gebiet der Vena jugularis - Gebiet der Vena vertebralis communis und  Vena  subclavia  - Blutzellen:   Leukozyten  und  Erythrozyten  -Thrombozyten - Lymphgefäßsystem  — Milz

Urogenitalsystem [Urinogenital system]
Harnapparat — Harn  — Nebenniere — Geschlechtsapparat. Entwicklung: Urgeschlechtszellen - Entwicklung der Keimdrüsen  — Entwicklung des Müllerschen Ganges - Zustand beim Männchen: Hoden — Reste der Urniere beim Männchen - Nebenhoden - Samenleiter - Übertragung des Sperma - Phalloides Organ - Zustand beim Weibchen: Schwund des rechten Ovars und rechten Ovidukts - Geschlechtsumwandlung - Ovar  — Reste von Urniere und Wolffschem  Gang beim Weibchen — Ovidukt

Keimzellen [Germ cells]
Ei. Eierstockei — Dotterbildung - Große Wachstumsperiode des Eies - Bilateraler Bau der Oozyte und des Follikels - Follikelsprung - Hau des Reifeies - Sekundäre Eihüllen -   Kalkschalc - Färbung der Schale - Schalendicke - Eiform - Legeakt- Eiweiß - Verhältnis des Dottergewichts zum Eiweißgewicht - Zusammensetzung des Eiweißes - Eigröße - Spermium.

Embryonale Entwickelung [Embryo development]
Befruchtung - Furchung - Gastrulation -  Primitivstrelfen -Kopffortsatz - Mesoderm -Orientierung der Embryonalanlage - Drehung auf die linke Seite -Eihäute-Dottersack- Resorption des Dotters -   Gefäße des Dottersackes - Amnion -Serosa -Allantois - Gefäße der Allantois - Eiweißsack - Bau der Eiweißsackwandung - Resorption des Eiweißes - Verbindungen der Allantois gefäße - Stellung des Embryo im letzten Drittel der Bebrütung - Schlüpfakt -Abbau lies Schalenkalkes - Aufnahme des Dottersackes in die Bauchhöhle-Stellung des Eies während der Bebrütung-Physiologie der Hmbryonalentwickeluug - Ent-Wickelungsdauer -Brutdauer.

Postembryonale Entwickelung [Post-embryonic development]
Nestflüchter und Nesthocker - Dottervorrat -  Gewichtszunahme -  Nahrungsmenge - Erste Befiederung - Nestlingsdunen - Färbung des Dunenkleides- Tragdauer des Jugendkleides -   Eigenschaften der ersten Plugfedern -  Färbungs entwickelung - Nestlingszeit -  Proportionsverschiebungen -   Nahrungsaufnahme der Jungen - Leitmale

Geschlechtsdimorphismus [sexual dimorphism]
Geschlechtschromosomen - Zahlenverhältnis der Geschlechter - Gynandromorphe - Sexualhormone -Geschlechtsunterschiede in der Färbung - Größenverschiedenheit der Geschlechter - Geschlechtsunterschlede im Skelettbau - Geschlechtsunterschiede und Werbung - Unterschiede im Stimmapparat - Periodischer Wechsel des Geschlechts-dimorphismus- Geschlechtsunterschiede im Mauserverlauf - Geschlechtsdimorphismus und Brutpflege - Übertragung männlicher Eigenschaften auf das Weibchen - Rassenunterschiede im geschlechtlichen Färbungsabstand - Mutative Vergrößerung des Geschlechtsdimorphismus

Fortpflanzung [Reproduction]
Werbung. Erreichung der Geschlechtsreife -  Fortpflantungsperiode - Zusammenhalt der Geschlechter-  Verlobung- Balz -  Psychische Selektion- Begattung -Nest. Ort der Eiablage - Nestbautrieb-    Nestform-    Standort des Nestes- Baukunst als ererbte Anlage - Baustoffe - Verarbeitung der Baustoffe - Dauer des Nestbaues - Aushöhlen von Holz und Erdreich - Benutzung von Ameisen- und Termitenbauten [use of termites and termite nests] -  Fehlen des Nestbautriebes - Wiederbenutzung des alten Nestes  — Bautätigkeit nach Brutbeginn - Organveranderungen zur Nestbau-Zelt — Ei: Eiabläge und Klima -    Eierzahl [number of eggs] — Beziehungen zwischen Eigewicht und Zahl der Eier [Relations between egg weight and number of eggs] — Nachlegen -  Nachgelege —  Brut [brood] — Polyandrie — Legeabstand - Bebrütung - Schutzfärbung der Eier -   Anteil der Geschlechter am Brutgeschäft  — Bebruting durch beide Gatten - Ablösung beim Brüten — Verständigungsmittel der Gatten  - Triebhandlungen im Dienste der Brutsicherung — Bebrütung durch nur einen Partner -      Brutflecke - Kompensation mangelnder Brutflecke — Bebrütung über die normale Brutdauer hinaus  -   Schlüpfakt  — Jungenpflege  — Verhalten der Nesthocker - Verhalten der Nestflüchter -   Zusammenhalt der Familien  — Geselliges Brüten -  Polygynie — Ehelosigkeit — Geselliges Leben der Pinguine  — Erbrütung der Eier durch Bodenwarme - Brutparasitismus — bei Cuculiden — Färbunganpassung der Kuckuckseier — Größenanpassung der Kuckuckseier — bei Icteriden - bei Ploceiden — bei Indicatoriden  — bei Heteronetta  — Rasche Embryonalentwickelung der Brutschmarotzer — Schädigung der Wirtsvögel.

Lebensdauer [life spans]

Tag- und Nachtvögel [day and night birds]

Ernährung [nutrition]
Nahrung — Nahrungswahl — Nahrungsaufnahme — Erweiterung von Spalträumen — Bogenförmige Schnäbel  — Zusammenspiel von Schnabel und Zunge — Mundwerkzeuge der Nektarsauger — Saugakt — Ornithophile Blüten — Zungen-apparat der Spechte — Nahrung der Spechte — Mundwerkzeuge der körnerfressenden Passeres — Mundwerkzeuge der Papageien — Jagd auf fliegende Beutetiere — Nahrungsaufnahme bei den Raubvögeln— Scharren — Nahrungsaufnahme aus dem Wasser — Vorrat-Sammeln — Zerkleinerung der Nahrung durch Zerrupfen oder Zerschlagen — Prüfung der Nahrung mit dem Geschmackssinn — Tastsinn im Bereich der Mundwerkzeuge — Bildung des Werkzeuges nach dem Bedürfnis — Ausnutzung der Nahrung. Zellulosereiche Nahrung  — Darmbakterien — Fleischnahrung — Gallen-farbstoffe - Resorption und Anbau pflanzlicher Farbstoffe — Endozoische Samen-verbreltung durch Vögel

Stoffwechsel und Energiewechsel [Metabolism and energy metabolism]
Chemie des Eies — Zusammensetzung des Dotters — Zusammensetzung des Eierklars — Zusammensetzung von Schalenhaut und Kalkschale — Stoffwechsel des Embryo— Stoffwechsel des Erwachsenen. Erhaltung des ernährungsphysiologischen Gleichgewichts — Mineralstoffwechsel — Eiweißabbau und Harn — Grundumsatz und Leistungszuwachs — Periodisches Schwanken des Fettansatzes — Stoffwechsel im Hunger — Hungerresistenz und Körpergröße — Wasserhaushalt.

Bewegung [Movement]
Bewegungen  der  Wirbelsäule —  Brustwirbelsäule —  Halswirbelsäule — Schwanzwirbelsfiule — Bewegungen der hinteren Extremität — Schlafstellung - Ortsbewegung: Laufen und Hüpfen — Gang  — Ortsbewegung der Schwimmvögel auf festem Boden — Klettern — Bewegungsform und Bauplan — Längenverhältnis der Zehenglieder — Längenverhältnis von Lauf und Unterschenkel — Bewegungen der vorderen Extremitat — Flügelskelett — Schultergürtel — Schultergelenk — Ellenbogengelenk — Handgelenk — Gelenke zwischen Mittelhand und Fingern — Flügelmuskeln — Muskeln zur Bewegung des — Muskeln zur Bewegung des Vorderarms — Muskeln zur Bewegung der Mittelhand und der Finger — a) Ursprung am Oberarm — b) Ursprung am Vorderarm — c) Ursprung am Metacarpus — Flügelfläche — Propatagium und Metapatagium — Schwungfedern — Bau der Schwungfedern — Spannung der Schwungfedern — Wirkung des Luftdruckes an den Federstrahlen — Erteilung des Vortriebes — Flug: Ruderflug — a) große Vögel — b) kleine Vögel — Flügeltypen — Hubflügel — Schnellflügel — Schwebeflügel — Zahl der Flügelschläge — Zusatzbelastung — Hüpfender Flug — Schwebeflug der Kleinvögel — Gleitflug — Schwirrflug — Rütteln — Flugleistung — Flugarbeit — Ausnutzung der Windkräfte  — Statischer Segelflug — Dynamischer Segelflug  — Änderung der Höhe — Änderung der Richtung — Abflug — Landüng — Aufgaben des Schwanzes — Verlust des Flugvermögens — Schwimmen — Tauchen — Fußtaucher — a) Kormorane — b) Podiceps, Colymbus, Tauchenten — Flügeltaucher — Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Tauch- und Flugvermögen — Tauchleistungen

Tonerzeugung [Sound generation]
Syrinx und Trachea als Zungenpfeife — Akustik der Zungenpfeifen — Akustik der immwerkzeuge der Vögel — Wirkung der Stimm-Muskeln — Paarige und unpaarige Stimmapparate — Veränderung des von den schwingenden Membranen erzeugten Tones — Resonanzapparate — Biologische Bedeutung der Stimmlaute — Instrumentalmusik

Geographische Verbreitung [Geographical distribution]
Alter des Vogelstammes, der Arten und Rassen — Arten-Zahl — Ausbreitungsschranken
— Verbreitungsmittel — Räumliche Sonderung der Populationen als Vorbedingung der
Artenvermehrung — Artvermehrung als Folge ökologischer Umstellung — Diskontinuierliche Verbreitung als Ergebnis erdgeschichtlichen Geschehens — Regionale Verbreitung der Vögel

Wanderungen [Migration]
Ökologische Ursachen der Wanderungen — Winteraufenthalt — Dauer des Aufenthaltes im Überwinterungsgebiet — Ökologische Ansprüche an das Winterquartier — Traditionelles Festhalten am Winterquartier — Beziehungen zwischen Urheimat und Winterquartier — Überwandern südlicher Populationen durch nördliche — Unbeständige Lage der Winterquartiere — Winteraufenthalt der Albatrosse — Räumliche Ausdehnung des Überwinterungsgebietes — Wanderwege — Ökologisch begründete Umwege — Schleifenförmiger Zugweg — Historisch begründete Umwege — Verlassen der traditionellen Zugbahnen — Breite der Zuggebiete — Leistungen: Beispiele für lange Wanderwege — Beispiele für lange Flugstrecken — Häufigkeit und Dauer der Rasten — Vergleich der täglichen Flugleistungen während der Brutzeit und der Zugzeit — Energiequellen — Orientierung — Optische Orientierung — Flug in großen Höhen — Richtungssinn — Richtungsgefühl und Richtungstrieb — Andressiertes Richtungsgefühl — Artgedächtnis — Steigerung der Orientierungsfähigkeit durch Selektion — Verdriftung — Aufsuchen neuer Brutgebiete — Veranlassung zum Aufbruch — terscheidung zwischen Wettervögeln und Instinktvögeln — Verkettung von Zugtrieb und r;pflanzungszyklus — Zusammenhänge zwischen Zugtrieb und endokrinem System — Beeinflussung des Zuges durch meteorologische Faktoren — Windrichtung — Beziehungen zwischen Zugzeiten und Dauer des Fortpflanzungszyklus — Beziehungen zwischen Zugzeiten und Länge des Wanderweges — Veranlassung zur Einstellung der Wanderung — Trennung nach Alter und Geschlecht — a) im Herbst — b) im Frühjahr —Geselliges Wandern —Zug und Mauser — Stammesgeschichtliches Alter der Zugvögel

Parasiten [Parasites]
Vermes: Trematoden — Cestoden — Nematoden — Acanthocephalen — Pentastomiden — Arthropoden: Acari — Flöhe — Wanzen — Fliegen — Mallophagen

Stammesgeschichte [Evolutionary history]

Stresemann's work is also well illustrated and it makes use of graphs to show how conclusions were arrived at. For instance there is a graph that shows the numbers of male and female larks collected at Danish lighthouses which points to protandry in Spring migration. It clearly was a truly illuminating and broad overview of ornithology in the 1930s and one that was widely appreciated. It is unclear if Salim Ali went through the contents of this work. The only major biography of Stresemann is by Jürgen Haffer, Erich Rutschke and Klaus Wunderlich - all three of whom are no more. Their biography includes several interesting sections but the ones that stand out are by Haffer and include scientometric approaches to examining the life and work of Stresemann. Unfortunately most of the book is in German and there is only a short summary in English. Haffer provides a chronological view of Stresemann's research focus over time using a graphical timeline.

A chronology of Stresemann's research focus from Haffer et al., 2000.
Haffer's phylogeny of avian taxonmy

Photo: Z thomas (Creative Commons)

Haffer notes that one of Stresemann's major activities was his review of literature and I think this kind reflective approach is especially important to the development of any field. It is clear that this showed the direction for further research for ornithology in Germany. The fact that Germany was at the forefront of ornithology can also be noted by the persistence of many technical terms from German that are still in use in ornithology like zugunruhe (or migratory restlessness). In fact it was Stresemann who coined the German word "einemsen" in 1935 for describing the then undocumented behaviour of birds anointing themselves with live ants. Salim Ali who was clearly in touch with Stresemann at that time found a suitable English verb for it as "anting" in a note published in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society - a word that has stayed ever since in the English ornithologist's dictionary.

The correspondence archive** at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin has only two letters from Ali to Stresemann [Reference: S IV Nachl. Stresemann/Akte Salim, A.; MfN d. Hub, HBSB]. One written (typed) on 24 July 1964 is in response to a letter of condolence to Salim Ali on the death of Loke Wan Tho. The other (29 April 1966) is a bit of an apology for not studying the moults of birds:

33 Pali Hill, Bandra
29 April 1966

Dear Stresemann,

Many thanks for the prompt reply to my query about age, moult, and leg colour in Philomachus. This clarifies the position nicely.

I feel guilty and unhappy not to make fuller use of the exceptional opportunities one gets for studying moults etc. when handling such large numbers of birds for ringing. But unless we can have a much larger team of helpers in our migration study camps than circumstances permit - including some devoted entirely to moult study - this is very difficult. We have to collect arthropod parasites and blood samples from the birds for virus studies, and the various operations connecting with ringing - measuring, weighing, etc - use up all the time and facilities available. How, and for how long, to detain the birds during and after all these operations without harming them, when several hundred birds have to be dealt with under more or less alfresco conditions is another problem. All the same it seems a great pity that such wonderful opportunities cannot be more fully utilized!

With warmest regards, Yours ever
As can be seen from the graph of Haffer, Stresemann really moved into the study of moult towards the 1960s and until the end of his life. He was greatly aided in his research on moult by his (second) wife Vesta, an ornithologist in her own right about whom rather little has been written. Salim Ali notes in his autobiography that Stresemann was his guru and that he routinely wrote enquiries to which detailed replies would be sent without fail but in a difficult cursive handwriting. Perhaps someone can find the archives of Ali's letters and see what is to be learnt there. Ali notes that Stresemann was warm and welcoming in his letters even before he met him, a reason for Ali to choose Berlin over the British Museum. He also wondered how Stresemann managed to keep up with his correspondence given the number of people who wrote to him.

I suspect that a reflection on the state of knowledge of Indian birds with respect to their patterns of moult will not be particularly uplifting but reflect we must. The maintenance of a system of privileges (most often passively by not fighting against privilege) for a few ringers will ensure the poverty of local expertise that still continue.

The entrance to Waldfriedhof Dahlem (4 April 2017)
That afternoon, I went round to Waldfriedhof Dahlem (the Dahlem forest cemetery) to look for Stresemann's grave - which curiously is shared with that of his guru Ernst Hartert. It must be the only tombstone shared by two unrelated ornithologists. Actually Stresemann had wished to be beside his mentor after his death and was cremated with the ashes interred into the grave of Hartert. The grave is maintained by the Berlin district but despite weaving through the blocks, I failed to spot it!

* Ali's early ringing in India included field assistance from the Swiss ornithologist Alfred Schifferli (1912–2007, for a biography in German see - apparently Schifferli's namesake father essentially founded Swiss ornithology and a son Luc also continued in the same field) - there is a mention in Zafar Futehally's auto-biography of a field assistants who had grouped the the three bird-ringers as the three "Alis" that included "Schiffer-Ali" !
** Salim Ali evidently gifted about 200 bird specimens to the collection of the Berlin museum, the species list suggests that it was mostly from peninsular India.


Wikimedia Foundation invited me to attend the Wikimedia Conference at Berlin. I visited the archives of the Museum für Naturkunde on the 4th of April and the library on the 5th of April 2017. Thanks are due to Dr Sabine Hackethal and Sandra Miehlbradt, archivists at the Museum of Natural History Berlin for tracing the correspondence between Ali and Stresemann and for allowing their contents to be shared here. Thanks are also due to Martina Rißberger, librarian at Museum für Naturkunde Berlin for access to the Handbuch der Zoologie 7-2 and the biography of Erwin Stresemann. Thanks also to Kalpana Das for assistance.


One of the reasons for posting this is to point out that Indian scientists and amateurs alike have a rather narrow view of the field of ornithology. In fact at a meeting to consider founding an ornithologists association many big names were asked if poultry came under ornithology and those present decided that their field and organization should restrict themselves to the study of wild birds. Even today bibliographic compilations on India routinely skip references to parasitology, ethno-ornithology, paleontology, molecular biology, behaviour, biomechanics and a host of other areas while tending to focus on bird records and regional avifaunal lists - the last was one of the things that Stresemann explicitly banned from the Journal fur Ornithologie during his editorship

    by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at May 03, 2018 02:17 AM