August 21, 2017

Wikimedia Tech Blog

Pulling ‘Puppet’ strings on Discovery’s Dashboard framework

Photo by Herzi Pinki, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In April of this year, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Discovery Analysis team began migrating the setup for the Discovery Dashboards from Vagrant and a shell script to use a configuration language and framework called Puppet. Puppet is a technology used by the Wikimedia Foundation to manage machine configurations almost everywhere—from data centers to continuous integration infrastructure and analytics clusters. We decided to make the switch because the previous setup created unnecessary overhead and made the server difficult to maintain.

Under the guidance of our awesome embedded technical operations engineer, Guillaume Lederrey, we took it upon ourselves to learn Puppet, and learn Puppet we did.

In this post, I’ll talk a little about Discovery Dashboards, a set of dashboards used by  teams like Search Platform and Wikidata Query Service to track various metrics. Then, I’ll describe the technologies involved—such as the programming language R, Shiny (a web application framework), and Vagrant (software that allows us to build and maintain portable virtual software development environments), before properly introducing Puppet and sharing our experience of learning it. Finally, this post concludes with an explanation of how the new configuration utilizes the r_lang and shiny_server modules, so that readers may use them in their own environments.

Discovery Dashboards

Our dashboards enable us and our communities to track various teams key performance indicators (KPIs) and other service/product usage metrics:

  • Search Metrics dashboard includes metrics such as the zero results rate (the percentage of searches that don’t yield results), engagement with search results, search API usage, and a breakdown of traffic to Wikimedia projects from searches made on Wikipedia.
  • Portal dashboards shows how many pageviews wikipedia.org gets on a daily basis (which is separate from how pageviews are tracked in general), breakdowns of traffic by browser and location, and which sections and languages visitors click on.
  • Wikidata Query Service (WDQS) dashboard shows the volume of WDQS homepage visits and requests to the SPARQL and LDF endpoints.
  • Wikimedia Maps dashboard allows the user to see the volume of tiles requested from Kartotherian maps tile server, broken down by style, zoom level, etc.
  • External Referral Metrics dashboard breaks down our pageviews by referrer (source), such as “internal” (e.g. when you go from one Wikipedia article to another) and “external” (e.g. when you click on a Wikipedia article from a Google search results page). It also breaks down our search engine-referred traffic by search engine.

All of the dashboards’ source code is also available in full under the MIT license and all of the datasets are available publicly, including the scripts and queries we use to generate them. The dashboards are based on a web application framework called Shiny, which enables us to develop them in the statistical software and programming language R.


For a very long time, a lot of the focus of R has been on data-related tasks (such as wrangling and visualizing), statistical modeling, machine learning, and simulation. After Shiny was released in 2012, it became possible to write web applications using nothing but R. These days we have packages for:

  • Writing reproducible reports and academic articles with R Markdown
  • Including interactive visualizations in documents and Shiny apps via htmlwidgets
  • Running an HTTP server so you could have an R-powered API with plumber
  • Writing a whole book with bookdown, creating a website with a blog via blogdown, and creating interactive tutorials through learnr

We built our dashboards with R and Shiny. We added interfaces for dynamically filtering and subsetting data, for applying scale transformations, and for smoothing the data using the language and tools we already use on a daily basis as part of our job as data analysts. Anything you can do in R, you can make available to the user.

You can include the code for forecasting, clustering, and model diagnostics in the same file where you’re defining the buttons to do those things. Shiny applications can be hosted on shinyapps.io or hosted yourself using the Shiny Server software, which is what we do because we have the hosting resources thanks to Wikimedia Cloud Services team. We host the applications that were previously managed through Vagrant applications on Wikimedia Labs.


Vagrant is a tool for building and managing virtual machine environments (VMs) and is used in combination with providers such as VirtualBox and VMware. Our previous configuration, which used Vagrant, involved launching an instance (a virtual machine) on Wikimedia Labs and create a Vagrant container that would then run Ubuntu and the Shiny Server software. This created an extra operating system (OS) virtualization layer. We realized we could reduce the amount of overhead by switching to a different solution. This was the initial solution when our first dashboard (the search metrics one) was just a prototype—a proof of concept for tracking and keeping a historical record of the team’s KPIs.

Over time, we started to run into some technical issues and the configuration made it difficult for others to help us. We also started to have security concerns because updating installed packages involved logging into the machines and manually performing the upgrade procedure. Even deploying new versions of the dashboards was a hassle. The answer was simple: Puppet. In one swoop, we could run the Shiny Server software directly on the Labs instance, we could make it easy for Ops to debug and repair our codebase if there are system administration-type problems, and we could give Ops control over the OS and essential configurations.


Photo by Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0.

We’ve actually written about Puppet and “Puppetization” of Wikimedia a few times before. Ryan Lane wrote about our Puppet repository when our Technical Operations (“Ops”) team made it public. In her summary of the New Orleans Hackathon 2011, Sumana Harihareswara wrote about our Ops team Puppetizing the caching proxy Varnish. Sumana also wrote a very thorough post about the Puppetization of our data centers.

What Puppet is

Luke Kanies provides the following succinct description of Puppet:

[It] is a tool for configuring and maintaining your computers; in its simple configuration language, you explain to [it] how you want your machines configured, and it changes them as needed to match your specification. As you change that specification over time—such as with package updates, new users, or configuration updates—Puppet will automatically update your machines to match. If they are already configured as desired, then [it] does nothing. (Excerpt from The Architecture of Open Source Applications, Vol. 2, released under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Depending on your library of modules, your Puppet configuration can have specifications such as a clone of a Git repository set to stay up-to-date or a cron job registered to a specific user. Suppose you have a package that needs to be built from source and links to a library like GSL or libxml2 but cannot download and install those libraries itself. When declaring that package, you can give Puppet a list of dependencies (of any resource type) that need to exist first, and Puppet takes care of making those dependencies available.

Learning Puppet

When we decided to switch to a Puppet-based configuration, we did not want to put the burden of migration on our embedded Ops engineer and instead saw an opportunity to learn an incredibly useful technology. Learning Puppet would mean that we would continue to have complete control over our dashboards and when we need to change something, we would have the knowledge to just do it ourselves. So instead, we asked Guillaume to be our guide and teacher. We would do the bulk of Puppetization and he would introduce us to Puppet, review our code, and show us how to test the patch.

Guillaume created some starter files for us to begin with and set Vagrant to use the Puppet provisioner. Having this setup enabled us to test locally with Vagrant. We could then write Puppet code responsible for installing an R package and run `vagrant provision` to see if it actually worked. At various milestones, we would upload our work for review and Guillaume would leave thorough feedback and criticism. Eventually, we were ready to work with Ops’ Puppet repository and we moved on to patching our stuff into that.

In addition to the official Puppet documentation, the following resources were especially useful in learning the new technology and, in some ways, the new philosophy:

Something that helped me learn how to write Puppet code was using a lint checker in my text editor. A lint, or “linter,” is a utility that reads your code and checks the syntax against a set of language-specific rules in order to find parts of code that might lead to errors (such as a missing comma between function arguments) or stylistic issues (such as lines that exceed a certain maximum character length). For example, our Ops team has a style guide in addition to the official Puppet style guide that I could have had open on the side, but I found that as a beginner it was less mental overload to just have a utility that performs syntax checking in background.


You declare what your machine should have and do via resources—e.g. a user, a file, or an exec (execution of a command)—and once you have your configuration full of resource declarations, you can set a machine to be an instance of that particular configuration, and Puppet will take care of making that machine look and behave like you declared it should. Similar to functions and classes in programming languages, if a resource type you want to use does not exist yet, you can just create a new one.

In our case, we had to define what it means to be a Shiny server, which includes running RStudio’s Shiny Server software and having R packages. So we had to write the logic for installing R packages from Comprehensive R Archive Network, Gerrit, and GitHub. The result was the shiny_server module, which is available for anyone to use as part of our open source Puppet code repository. If you’re learning Puppet, we hope the following breakdown of our configuration may be of help.

At the highest level, we have two roles: a discovery::dashboards role (which utilizes the discovery_dashboards::production profile) and a discovery::beta_dashboards role (which utilizes the discovery_dashboards::development profile). You can refer to this article in Puppet’s documentation to get a better understanding of differences between profiles and roles.

This diagram shows how one might use roles and profiles to configure their company’s computers in a reproducible, automated way. A node may only have one role, but that role may have multiple profiles. Adding or removing software in a profile will propagate to any roles that use that profile and to any computers that are instances of those roles.

The two dashboard profiles are where we clone the git repositories of our dashboards, the only difference being which remote branch is used. Specifically, the “development” profile pulls from the “develop” branch of each dashboard, which we use for testing out code refactors, new features, and new metrics. In contrast, the “production” profile pulls from the “master” branch—which is the stable version that we update once we’re satisfied with how the “develop” branch looks. It’s a common software engineering practice and is a simpler version of the branching model described by Vincent Driessen.

Both profiles include the discovery_dashboards::base profile, which is where we actually bring in the shiny_server module, copy the Discovery Dashboards HTML homepage, and list which R packages to install specifically for our dashboards. The shiny_server initialization file is what configures users/directories/services and installs Ubuntu & R packages, provides some resource types for installing R packages from different sources. While the Linux packages are installed using the existing code (require_package, rather than the built-in package resource in Puppet), we had to create the module r_lang for setting up the R computing environment (via this initialization file). The module provides some resources for installing packages from sources like CRAN and Git repositories (via r_lang::cran, r_lang::git, and r_lang::github), and it also includes a script for updating the library of installed R packages.

Because of the way we structured it, our team and other teams within the Foundation can write new profiles and roles that utilize shiny_server to serve other Shiny applications and even interactive reports written in RMarkdown that include Shiny elements.

Final remarks

The alternative, jocular title for this post was “I AM BECOME OPS…AND SO CAN YOU!!!” Obviously, writing Puppet code barely scratches the surface of Ops’ work and skillsets, but hopefully this post has at least helped demystify that particular aspect. I also don’t mean to say it’s remotely practical to step outside your role and job description to learn a brand new and (kind of) unrelated technology, because it’s not. It happened to make a lot of sense for us and we were very fortunate to be supported in this endeavor.

This project has made our job slightly easier because we no longer have to do a lot of manual work that we needed to before. And if we need to replace a dashboard server, we just launch a new instance, assign it the role we wrote, and Puppet takes care of everything. We are also working with the Release Engineering team to add continuous integration for our internal R packages, and that endeavor uses the r_lang module we wrote for this project. Furthermore, learning Puppet has empowered us to make (small) changes when we need to (such as making new software libraries available on our analytics cluster), rather than assigning them to someone else and waiting for our turn in their to-do queue.

Lastly, on behalf of the Discovery Analysis team, I would like to give a special thanks to our former data analyst Oliver Keyes for creating the dashboards, to Search Platform’s Ops Engineer Guillaume Lederrey for being an exceptional teacher and guide, and to Deb Tankersley, Chelsy Xie, and Melody Kramer for their invaluable input on this post.

Mikhail Popov, Data Analyst
Wikimedia Foundation

by Mikhail Popov at August 21, 2017 03:15 PM

Wikimedia Scoring Platform Team

Laughing ORES to death with regular expressions and fake threads

At 1100 UTC on June 23rd, ORES started to struggle. Within a half hour, it had fully choked and could no longer respond to any requests. It took us 10 hours to diagnose the problem, solve it, and consider it solved. We learned some valuable lessons when studying and addressing this issue.

You can't prevent bad things from happening. Something will always go wrong. So you do the best that you can to handle bad things gracefully. In a distributed processing environment like ORES' cluster, the worst thing that could happen is to have a process block for forever. So, preparing for bad things means means you use timeouts for just about everything. So far, this has been a great strategy and it makes it so that, at worst, only a few requests out of many fail when something goes wrong. Regretfully, for this downtime event, we had one of the worst bad things happen, and at the same time, we discovered that our timeouts were not capable of stopping deeply processes that go rogue in a specific way. In this blog post, I'll explain what happened.

Recursive backtracking in a regular expression

Many of the models deployed in ORES use regular expressions to extract signal about the quality of an edit. For example, we use them to match "badwords" (curse words, racial slurs, and other words that are commonly used to cause offense) and "informals" (linguistic colloquialisms like "haha" or "lol" or "wtf"). One such regular expression that we used to match informal laughing in Spanish language looked like this: /j+[eaiou]+(j+[aeiou]*)*/ It is intended to match strings like "jajajaja" or "jijiji".

In this edit of Spanish Wikipedia, an IP editor added a very long string of repeated "JAJAJJAJAJAJAJAJAJ" to the article for "Terrain". This is exactly what the regular expression was designed to match. But there was a problem. This regular expression was poorly designed in that it caused a catastrophic backtracking pattern. Every time it would match the entire sequence of "JAJAJJAJAJAJAJAJAJ" and then fail when encountered "...JAJAJlentos...", it would re-attempt the entire match dropping just one "JA" from the middle. This problem doesn't really matter for any short sequences. But for one very long one (and this one was 4155 chars long == 230 repetitions of "JAJAJJAJAJAJAJAJAJ"), it would have taken days to finish. The plot below demonstrates how badly things break down at only 14 repetitions.

Where were the timeouts?

So things like this happen. When operating in a distributed processing environment, you should always have timeouts on everything so if something goes haywire, it doesn't take everything down. Regretfully, matching a regular expression is not just a special opportunity for pathological backtracking, but also an opportunity to learn hard lessons about safe timeouts.

So, we have timeouts in ORES in a few strategical places. E.g. if a single scoring job takes longer than 15 seconds (extracting informal "JAJAJA" is part of a scoring job), then it is supposed to time out. But for some reason, we weren't timing out during regular expression matching. So, I started digging into the library we use to implement execution timeouts. What I learned was horrifying.

So, most timeouts in python are implemented with "threads". I put "threads" in quotes because threads in python are a convenient abstraction and not true concurrency. Python's Global Interprer Lock(GIL) is an internal mutex that prevents truly concurrent threading. In order to get around this, python uses separate processes to implement concurrency. I'm not going to get into the details of the GIL or process based concurrency. But suffice it to say, when you use an external C library to execute a regular expression match on a string, any thread that is trying to implement a timeout is going to get locked up and totally fail to do what it is supposed to do!

Because our threading-based timeouts were completely disabled by this long regular expression match, our "precaching" system (makes sure we score every edit and put the score in the cache ASAP) was slowly taking us down. Every time the problematic diff was requested, it would render yet another worker unreachable. Because ORES would just fail to respond, our precaching system registered a Connection Timeout and would simply retry the request. Eventually capacity would decay as our ~200 workers were locking at 100% CPU one by one.

Luckily, there's an easy solution to this problem in unix signals. By having the operating system help us manage our timeouts, we could stop relying on python threads to behave sanely in order for us to recover from future rogue processes.

So, you fixed it right?

First, I should thank @ssastry for his quick work identifying the pathological backtracking problem and submitting a fix. We also completed an emergency deployment of ORES that implemented the use of Unix signals and we've been humming along, scoring all of the things, ever since.

by Halfak (Aaron Halfaker, EpochFail, halfak) at August 21, 2017 02:45 PM

Wikidata (WMDE - English)

Data Partnerships in Wikidata: Project Durchblick

Dieser Beitrag ist auch auf Deutsch verfügbar.

Dr. Georg Schelbert works at the Humboldt-Universität Berlin at the Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte (IKB) as the head of the media library. His project „Durchblick“ may be translated as „Through the Looking-Glass“ in more than one sense: As it is about glass slides, it literally deals with glass you can see through.  But the project is also about gaining insights from a vast collection of cultural assets, almost like exploring the wonderland hidden in it. Project Durchblick makes extensive use of Wikidata. This kind of data partnership does not come in the form of a data donation, but rather as using Wikidata as a hub for other data collections in order to provide objects in collections with common identifiers.

What is Durchblick all about? What kind of collection is that and how did it start?

We decided to call our project „Durchblick!“, as we faced the task to explore a large number of glass slides that had been in use for many decades in the department for the history of art at the Humboldt-Universität and make them accessible again. 

Every institute for the history of art has more or less large collections of slides that are used in lectures and seminars. Primarily, two formats are used: First, the larger glass slides where a black and white film is applied directly to a pane of the format of 8,5 x 10cm that were produced since the late 19th until the middle of the 20th century. And then the so-called small picture slides that emerged from the 35mm color film format as used in movie theaters that have been in use from the 1940s until today.  We focus only on the glass slides with Durchblick. The Berlin collection is one of the oldest and largest, as some of the Berlin professors of art history like Herman Grimm (son of Wilhelm Grimm) or Heinrich Wölfflin discovered and used the potential of projected photographs quite early. Thus, the collection also reflects the interests of famous representatives of the field in research and teaching. Today, after damages caused by wars, a significant amount consists of replicas and additions made in the 1950s, however over the the time also many interesting new themes were added, such as East German or Soviet art, urban development, or even traffic planning.

How does digitisation and digital opening of a collection actually look like?

For the digitisation we were looking for the most effective way, as we did for all aspects of the project. As we were not only interested in the slides as a depiction of something, but also as an object (with its inscription, traces of usage, and its general state) we developed a photographic process in which we take a picture of the frame at the same time as the transparent picture lightened from behind. We use a classic copypod with lightening from above and below and a high-resolution digicam (36MP). This gave us a chance to digitise the approximately 56,000 slides in less than a year and put them online, preliminarily largely without any metadata. The only metadata at this point are general systematic ones that say something about the picture’s content (e.g. Italy, painting, renaissance). Through the index on the storage of the slides the digital representations can be queried more specifically.

Scientifically opening a collection of photos or slides that depict pieces of art normally means to describe both the art depicted and — if it is historic — the photo or slide itself. This is done using specific standards that provide us with mandatory fields and terminologies. However, this description of the pieces of art on our slides turned out to be an unnecessary burden. As they were all well-known or even famous pieces of art, we can presume that they are already described elsewhere. No matter what choice we make for external descriptions of the pieces of art, it made sense to us to connect them with authority file identifiers. In the case of a person, you would choose an established authority file like the GND (Integrated Authority File by the German National Library) or go straight for the meta-identifiers of VIAF (Virtual Internet Authority File). For pieces of art or architecture, there is no sufficiently comprehensive authority file. The GND is far too incomplete in this field. Thus we saw Wikidata as a new solution. At least in some parts it has reasonably complete collections of pieces of art and architecture.

Wikidata also offers other advantages: New items can be added to Wikidata by every user if something is lacking. Wikidata items contain other data and are at least linked to one Wikipedia article. The structure of data in the form of statements links every item with an ever-growing web of knowledge that provides content which can also be used in the future. We still have to do some immediate work of description, nevertheless: All the properties of the slide, including the inscriptions on it, have to be documented for every single object. We can imagine a future workflow where transcribed inscriptions are matched with Wikidata items and proposed matches can be manually approved.

Your project was awarded with a prize. What kind of prize is it and how come you were chosen? And what are the „digital humanities“ actually?

It makes sense to start with the last question. There are different definitions for digital humanities. In a broader sense, it applies to every methodic use of computers in the humanities. Pure digitisations or using office programs would fall out of the scope of the definition, but processing and preparation of digitised objects with metadata may very well be within the definition, especially if the data are used in research. In a more narrow sense we understand digital humanities as the analysis and compilation of text corpora. This is why we were happy to learn that our project which deals with tangible objects and pictures while thinking about the most efficient way for scientifically opening them was awarded with a prize.

The Prize for Digital Humanities is an annual award given out by the interdisciplinary research network for digital humanities for innovative projects in that field since 2015. The jury consists of computer scientists, information scientists, and scientists in other fields. The jury may have been lead to their decision by the assessment that we will see even more with Wikidata and GLAM in the future.

What is your take on Wikidata’s data quality, its documentation and data access? Are there things we could improve?

Of course the quality of data differs a lot. There are cases of incorrect statements as well as inconsistent use of properties — for instance, it does not seem to be possible to search for self-portraits as this is rarely used as a category while at the same time several self-portraits of Rembrandt have an item of their own. In my opinion, Wikidata — and Wikipedia, too — work best when it’s about comparably hard facts or references to other resources. These are things like a person’s birthdate, geo coordinates, membership in institutions etc. But first and foremost it’s about the identifiers contained in an Wikidata item.  Of course it would be advantageous if we were not forced to look up the artist, the size of the painting, the style, the current museum location or literature references for every piece of art we linked to Wikidata. But for now it is much more important for us to unambiguously identify objects, for instance Rembrandt’s self-portraits as the Apostle Paul (https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q2267759) or as Zeuxis (https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q2267594) which would otherwise be hard to describe in an unambiguous way.

So far our work is primarily manual. That means based on the inscriptions of the slides we are searching for matching Wikidata items and then use the identifiers. Simpler ways to search would be helpful (the Query Service with its Query Helper are a good start). For the time being, Google search (which adjusts misspelled words) is still the most effective way. Wikipedia pages typically rank very highly. From there it’s easy to get to the Wikidata ID.

In cases where a piece of art is missing (even in the case of the famous Rembrandt self-portraits Wikidata is probably not complete yet) we rarely add it manually. In order to do this in a more orderly fashion it would be helpful to have templates that are tailored to GLAM needs (e.g. a template for quickly adding an item for a painting, a sculpture, or a monument); the Quick Statements tool is simply not easy enough. It is also conceivable to upload whole catalogues and other sets of work to Wikidata. However, here I see the increasing problem of how to avoid duplicates. With more and more pieces of art included in Wikidata the probability rises that a certain amount of a mass upload from a GLAM database is already included and causes duplicates. 

Another aspect would be the re-use of data from Wikidata. For now we don’t systematically re-use Wikidata data. However we are planning to include a part of the general information on the pieces of art based on the Wikidata identifier — either on the fly or through regular data imports from Wikidata.  This we would do, as I said above, to not repeat things that are already known and noted elsewhere.

How does the path ahead for Wikidata and GLAM look like? Can Wikidata truly become something like a meta-vocabulary for collections?

I find it hard to see the path ahead in a general way. But I can imagine the classic cultural heritage, i.e. everything that is on the walls of museums or on monument lists, to be completely included in Wikidata at the very least. I’m sure other communities like ethnology or cultural studies can propose several other items as well. With an extensive cultural corpus Wikidata could become a central if not global reference for cultural assets. In the case of authority files that are either organised nationally (national libraries, national registers of cultural assets) or along items (museums), Wikidata could become a meta authority file that contains all other identifiers. It’s possible that it could also become some kind of vocabulary if pieces of art are tagged with Wikidata. That would mean terms and concepts such as art genres („painting“, „portrait“), techniques („oil painting“), artistic styles („Baroque“) or similar things. However, vocabularies are largely dependant on internal classifications (how terms are related to each other, e.g. „painting — landscape painting —  mountain landscape“) so I expect classifications like Iconclass or AAT to be dominant for the time being.

I am much less sure about how Wikidata could play a central role regarding the statements about the pieces of art. Its data model is fundamentally suitable for that, but the general desire for certified and original information will probably lead people to search for information on works (and the digitised objects of these works) at the museums. Wikidata’s function would be to link there, however.

Another scenario would be that Wikidata becomes a repository for information that is not documented elsewhere — Wikipedia already plays that role to a certain degree.

All in all I expect some powerful impact of Wikidata in the world of GLAM. Given that one of the largest museums of cultural history, the British Museum in London, is in the process of developing a documentation system (ResearchSpace) that is based on the same software as Wikidata itself (Metaphacts) there are clear signs that GLAM and Wikidata move towards a common direction.

by Jens Ohlig at August 21, 2017 08:24 AM

Tech News

Tech News issue #34, 2017 (August 21, 2017)

This document has a planned publication deadline (link leads to timeanddate.com).
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August 21, 2017 12:00 AM

August 20, 2017

Gerard Meijssen

#Wikidata - Martin Reints and {{Authority control}}

Martin Reints received the Herman Gorter Award in 1993. There is a Wikipedia article about him and consequently he was known in Wikidata. There was no "authority control" information for Mr Reints in Wikidata yet and this was quickly remedied.

The most interesting part is that the VIAF registration for Mr Reints already included a link to Wikidata. Proof perfect that librarians are actively working on keeping their house in order. There was an Open Library entry for Mr Reints and the Dutch article had a link to the DBNL-website for Dutch language authors.

Open Library I found is very much about books. Their data on the books they have is great; identifiers like ISBN-10 or ISBN-13 and links to the online catalog of the Library of Congress. This makes a lookup at the OCLC for identifiers of all the authors easy and disambiguation becomes more effective.

Wikidata is very much about data. You can query Wikidata for all the winners of the Herman Gorter Award and it the results you can add the links to VIAF or to the Open Library. This ability to query makes all kinds of applications possible like: "what books written by authors who won the Nobel Prize are available in your library?"

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at August 20, 2017 11:24 AM

August 19, 2017

Amir E. Aharoni

Five More Privileges of English Speakers, part 2: Language and Software

For the previous part in the series, see Five Privileges of English Speakers, part 1.

I’m continuing the series of posts in each of which I write about five privileges that English speakers have without giving it a lot of thought. The examples I give mostly come from my experience translating software, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, and some other texts between English, Hebrew, and Russian. Hebrew and Russian are the languages I know best. If you have interesting examples from other languages, I am very interested in hearing them and writing about them.

I’m writing them mostly as they come into my mind, without a particular order, but the five items in this part of the series will focus on usage of the English language in software, and try to show that the dominance of English is not only a consequence of economics and history, but that it’s further reinforced by features of the language itself.

1. Software usually begins its life in English

English is the main language of software development worldwide.

The world’s best-known place for software development is Silicon Valley, an English-speaking place. That’s the place of Facebook, Google, Apple, Oracle and many others. California is also the home of Adobe.

There are several other hubs of software development in United States: Seattle (Microsoft, Amazon), North Carolina (Red Hat), New York (IBM, CA), Massachusets (TripAdvisor, Lotus, RSA), and more. The U.S. is also the source for much of computer science research and education, coming from Berkeley, MIT, and plenty of other schools. The U.S. is also the birthplace of the Internet, originally supported by the U.S. Department of Defense and several American universities. The world wide web, which brought the Internet to the masses, was created in Switzerland by an English speaker.

Software is developed in other countries—India, Russia, Israel, France, Germany, Estonia, and many other countries. But the dominance of the U.S. and of the English language is clear. The reason for this is not only that the U.S. is the source for much of computer technologies, but also—and probably more importantly—that the U.S. is the biggest consumer market for software. So developers in all countries tend to optimize the product for the highest-paying consumers, and these only need English.

When engineers write the user interface of their software in English, they often do not give any thought to other languages at all, or make translation possible, but complicated by English-centric assumptions about number, gender, text direction, text size, personal names, and plenty of other things, which will be explored in further points.

2. Terminology

English is also the source for much of the computer world’s terminology. Other languages have to adapt terms like smartphone, network, token, download, authentication, and thousands of others.

Some language communities work hard to translate them all meticulously into native words; Icelandic, Lithuanian, French, Chinese, and Croatian are famous examples. This is nice, but requires effort on behalf of terminology committees, who need to keep up with the fast pace of technological development, and on behalf of the software translators, who have to keep with the committees.

Some just transliterate most of them: keep the term essentially in English, but rewritten in the native alphabet. Hindi and Japanese are examples of that. This seems easy, but it is based on a problematic assumption: that the target language speakers who will use the software know at least some English! This assumption is correct for the translators, who don’t just know the English terms, but are probably also quite accustomed to it, but it’s not necessarily correct for the end users. Thus, the privilege is perpetuated.

Some languages, such as Hebrew, German, and Russian, are mid-way, with language academics and purists pulling to purer native language, engineers pulling to more English-based words, and the general public settling somewhere in between—accepting the neologisms for some terms, and going for English-based words for others.

For the non-English languages it provides fertile ground for arguments between purists and realists, in which the needs of the actual users are frequently forgotten. All the while, English speakers are not even aware of all this.

3. Easy binary logic word formation

One particular area of computer terminology is binary logic. This sounds complicated, but it’s actually simple: in electronics and software opposite notions such as true / false, success / failure, OK / Cancel, and so forth, are very common.

This translates to a great need for words that express opposites: enable / disable, do / undo, log in / log out, delete / undelete, block / unblock, select / deselect, online / offline, connect / disconnect, read / unread.

Notice something? All of the above words are formed with the same root, with the addition of a prefix (un-, dis-, de-), or with the words “on” and “off”.

A distinct, but closely related need, is words for repetition. Computers are famously good at doing things again and again, and that’s where the prefix re- is handy: reconnect, retry, redo, retransmit.

These features happen to be conveniently built into the English language. While English has extremely simple morphology for declension and conjugation (see the section “Spell-checking” in part 1 of the series), it has a slightly more complex morphology for word formation, but it’s still fairly easy.

It is also productive. That is, a software developer can create new words using it. For example, the MediaWiki software has the concept of “oversight”—hiding a problematic page in such a way that only users with a particular permission can read it. What happens if a page was hidden by mistake? Correct: “unoversight”. This word doesn’t quite exist elsewhere, but it doesn’t sound incorrect, because familiar English word formation rules were used to coin it.

As it always happens, English-speaking software engineers either don’t think about it at all, or think that other languages also have similar word formation rules. If you haven’t guessed it already, it is not true. Sime other European languages have similar constructs, but not necessarily as consistent as in English. And for Semitic languages like Hebrew it’s a disaster, because in Semitic languages prefixes are used for entirely different things, and the grammar doesn’t have constructs for repetition and negation. So when translating software user interface strings into Hebrew, we have to use different words as opposites. For example the English pair connect / disconnect is translated as lehitḥabér / lehitnaték—completely different roots, which Hebrew is just lucky to have. Another option is to use negative words like lo and bilti, or bitul, but they are often unnatural or outright wrong. Having to deal with something like “Mark as unread” is every Hebrew software translator’s nightmare, even though it sounds pretty straightforward in English.

English itself also has pairs of negative words that are not formed using the above prefixes, for example next / previous and open / close, but in many other languages they are much more common.

4. Verbing

“Verbing weirds language”, as one of the famous Calvin and Hobbes panels says.

Despite being a funny joke in the comic, it’s a real feature of the English language: because of how English morphology and syntax work, nouns can easily jump into the roles of adjectives and verbs without changing the way they are written.

For English, this is a useful simplification, and it works in labeling, as well as in advertising. “Enjoy Coca-Cola” is something more than an imperative. The fact that it’s a short single word and that it’s the same in all genders and numbers, makes it more usable as a call to action than it would be in other languages. And, other than advertising, where are calls to action very common? Software, of course. When you’re trying to tell a user to do something, a word that happens to be both the abstract concept and the imperative is quite useful.

Perhaps the most famous example of this these days is Facebook’s “Like”. Grammatically, what is it in English? Imperative? A noun describing an abstract action? Maybe a plain old noun, as in “chasing likes” (this is a plural noun—English verb don’t have a plural form!)? Answer: it’s all of them and more.

When translated to Hebrew in Facebook’s interface, it’s Ahávti, which literally means “I loved it”. Actually, this translation is mostly good, because it’s understandable, idiomatic, and colloquial enough without compromising correctness. Still, it’s a verb, which is not imperative, and it’s definitely not a noun, so you cannot use it in a sentence as if it was a noun. Indeed, Hebrew speakers are comfortable using this button, but when they speak and write about this feature, they just use its English name: “like” (in plural láykim). It even became a slightly awkward, but commonly used verb: lelaykék. Something similar happens in Russian.

It would be impossible in Hebrew and Russian to use the exact same word for the noun and the verb, especially in different persons and genders. Sometimes the languages are lucky enough to be able to adapt an English verb in a way that is more or less natural, but sometimes it’s weird, and hurts the user experience.

5. Word length

This one is relatively simple and not unique to English, but should be mentioned anyway: English words are neither very long, nor very short. Examples of languages where words are, on average, longer than in English, are Finnish, Tamil, German, and occasionally Russian. Hebrew tends to be shorter, although sometimes a single English word has to be translated with several Hebrew words, so it can get also get longer. This is true for a pretty much any language, really.

In designing interfaces, especially for smaller screens, the length of the text is often important. If a button label is too long, it may overflow from the button, or be truncated, making the display ugly, or unusable, or both.

If you’re an English speaker, it probably won’t happen with you, because almost all software is usually designed with the word length of your language in mind. Other languages are almost always an afterthought.

The good practice for software engineers and designers is to make sure that translated strings can be longer. Their being shorter is rarely a problem, although sometimes a string is so short that the button may become to small to click or tap conveniently.

Generally, what can you do about these privileges?

Whoever you are, remember it. If you know English, you are privileged: Software is designed more for you than for people who speak other languages.

If you are a software engineer or a designer, at the very least, make your software translatable. Try to stick to good internationalization practices and to standards like Unicode and CLDR. Write explanations for every translatable string in as much detail as possible. Listen to users’ and translators’ complaints patiently—they are not whining, they are trying to improve your software! The more internationalizable it is, the more robust it is for you as a developer, and for your English-speaking users, too, because better design thinking will be going into each of its components, and less problematic assumptions will be made.

Filed under: English, Hebrew, language, Russian, software, translation, Wikipedia

by aharoni at August 19, 2017 06:07 PM

Gerard Meijssen

#OpenLibrary and winners of the Herman Gorter Award

If you want to know if the Open Library is of relevance in other languages, you have to do some research. I wanted to find out if there are publications by the authors who won the prestigious Herman Gorter Award?

This award was conferred from 1945 to 2002 often to multiple authors. The first author not known to Open Library is H. C. ten Berge. He received the Herman Gorter award in 1964. There were several authors where Wikidata did not have a link yet for Open Library.

Now consider this: what if we could query Wikidata for all the authors and their publications in Open Library? 

Just a little bit more metadata about books, publications is what we need.. It is not really a big deal, only a few million additional records..

Many if not most of the books at Open Library have links to authorities like the Library of Congress. This makes it possible to link these books through the OCLC to "your library system". It knows about authors and that is what makes it possible to use tools in stead of people to enrich Wikidata and open up all that is in the Open Library for all of us.

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at August 19, 2017 10:58 AM

#Wikidata - Three award winners of the #ASBA

The ASBA or the "American Society of Botanical Artists" started of in the USA only to become a truly international organisation. They are an important player in the revival of botanical art, they have many local chapters and they have a number of awards.

The three ladies to the right; are the winners of three awards. They now have their Wikidata entries.

I was introduced to people at the New York Botanical Garden and they indicated to me the relevance of illustrations. After that I got into contact with a lady from New Zealand who created a Google list of women scientific illustrators and artists. Her objective is to collect information for Wikipedia articles and many of them already do have an article.

The NYBG is planning future events and for its preparation they do like to include information about awards including awards about botanical illustrators. When the information in the spreadsheet is entered from the start in Wikidata, there is no need for Google lists; Wikidata can play its role in stead.

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at August 19, 2017 10:13 AM

August 18, 2017

Wikimedia Foundation

We need transparency and permissive copyright in NAFTA

Map by the Smithsonian, public domain.

Canada, the United States, and Mexico have started negotiations for a new NAFTA treaty. After a period of uncertainty, we now know that copyright provisions are among the items to be discussed by the treaty nations. This brings back memories of a trade treaty that seemed defeated just last year: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) included worrisome norms on copyright that would have seriously harmed the public domain in various countries and cemented long copyright terms for years to come. TPP was further problematic because of secrecy and a lack of transparency around the negotiations, which made it hard for civil society to stay informed, let alone voice its concerns.

Along with many other organizations who support and promote open culture and freedom on the internet – from all three countries—we have signed a statement urging the parties to the treaty to make the negotiations more transparent, inclusive, and participative. Meaningful transparency helps people understand and take action. At Wikimedia, openness and collaborative processes are the default. Only when this value of meaningful transparency is upheld in trade negotiations can we as a society make sure that the public interest is represented alongside powerful industry stakeholders. Increased transparency and active inclusion would also improve acceptance in society in general, especially in Mexico where some feel that the United States are exporting their business model to weaker states.

Our letter calls on Canada, the United States, and Mexico not to touch the intellectual property provisions in the existing agreement. In the digital age, the ways people access and participate in knowledge change rapidly and constantly. Therefore, it does not make sense to lock in new copyright rules that would prevent countries from adopting dynamic legislation or regulation that is appropriate within their respective ecosystem of knowledge production and consumption. Governments should be able to promote freedom of expression and access to knowledge at all times.

Given the fact that copyright now is part of the negotiations nevertheless, we urge governments to adequately promote creativity through permissive copyright and strong protections for the public domain. We believe that copyright should reflect the reality that people do not just read but create, share, remix information. The treaty should safeguard the rights of these new creators through strong exceptions and limitations, fair use or fair dealing rules, and a vibrant public domain. When volunteers contribute to Wikipedia or other Wikimedia projects, they become creators themselves and depend on copyright to empower them to collect knowledge online and to participate in the preservation of culture and history. Intellectual property provisions also need to be mindful of indigenous knowledge and folklore, which forms an important part of the cultural heritage of North America.

Finally, consistent with our continuous commitment to strong privacy rules, our letter points out that any provision in the agreement governing data flows on the internet with the goal of reducing barriers to trade must not restrict countries’ ability to protect the privacy and security of citizens. This is crucial, since we believe that privacy is the foundation of intellectual freedom and allows everyone to contribute to free knowledge.

The new negotiations for NAFTA will shape how people in North America share and consume knowledge for years to come. The negotiations must be transparent so we and other supporters of open culture and internet freedom can contribute and participate. It is in the public interest to make sure any new copyright provisions will allow free knowledge to continue to thrive.

Jan Gerlach, Public Policy Manager
Wikimedia Foundation

by Jan Gerlach at August 18, 2017 10:35 PM

Everything you need to know about photographing the solar eclipse and putting the results on Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Luc Viatour, CC BY-SA 3.0.

This coming Monday, 14 US states will have the chance to witness a total solar eclipse. Other parts of the Americas, as well as spots in Asia, Africa, and Western Europe, will see a partial eclipse. It is the first time in 99 years that the entire contiguous US will see an eclipse at the same time.

According to Wikipedia’s featured article on the topic, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth in such a way that the Moon blocks or partly blocks the Sun. In practical terms, this means that on Monday the sun will completely disappear for about 2.5 minutes along a narrow band of the US, moving west to east. There will also be several hours in which the moon is covering and uncovering the sun.

All of this partial and total darkness will have significant effects on the weather here on Earth. Temperatures will drop as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit (9 degrees C), and the lack of sunlight will lower the high temperature for the entire day.

In the US, interest in the solar event is extremely high. Towns along the path of the eclipse are preparing for a large influx in tourists. Solar eclipse glasses, needed to view the sun without permanently damaging your eyes, are sold out or going for exorbitant prices.  But how should people document the eclipse to remember it for years to come? And how might we think about creating a public photographic record of the eclipse so that people in future years can experience the eclipse?

That’s where Wikimedia Commons comes in. Wikimedia Commons is a freely licensed repository for educational media content. It also hosts most of the images used on Wikipedia. By sharing your photographs on Wikimedia Commons (instructions below), you can ensure that your photos are part of a greater public record of the event, and that everyone across the world will be able to witness the event for themselves.

When taking your photo, consider safety first. Ensure you use proper protection when looking at the eclipse directly or through your camera.

Here’s the same steps, except with links attached:

  1. Create an account.
  2. Go to the Upload Wizard and select photos to donate.
  3. Select “This file is my own work”.
  4. Choose a title, describe what the photo shows, and add the category “Solar eclipse of 2017 August 21 in <US state/your country>”.
  5. Click next, and you’re done!


How should you approach photographing the eclipse, and what can you do to ensure you get the perfect shot? We talked with Juliancolton—a meteorologically focused article writer on the English Wikipedia and prolific photographer on Wikimedia Commons—about just that.

“I’m a landscape, nature, and night sky photographer,” Juliancolton says, “and my overarching goal is to capture familiar subjects or locations in striking or uncommon conditions.” In short, that means that Juliancolton does a lot of waiting around; uncommon conditions like dramatic light, intense weather, or rare astronomical events do not happen every day. “Much of my shooting takes place between dusk and dawn,” he says, “when most people are asleep and the world is, in my opinion, at its most beautiful.”

You can see some of his best work over on Wikimedia Commons, including a foggy sunrise in Rhode Island, lightning over the Hudson River, and a field of sunflowers set against the Milky Way.

For the upcoming eclipse, Juliancolton will travel to South Carolina’s Lake Marion, a body of  water frequently called the state’s “inland sea.” He’d like to get close-up shots of the completely covered sun and “capture wider views of natural scenery bathed in the dim, ethereal light of totality,” he says. His camera setup with involve three DSLRs, “each intended to capture a different aspect of the phenomenon. Automation and many test-runs will allow me to shoot all three cameras while still enjoying the eclipse with my own eyes.”

Here’s what Juliancolton advises for your photographic efforts (our questions in bold):

What equipment goes into taking the perfect sky shot? How specialized does it have to be?

The most crucial part of taking spectacular images of the sky—whether the subject is celestial or confined to Earth’s atmosphere—is simply knowing when to look up, and being intimately familiar with whatever photography gear you own (camera phones and disposable film cameras included). Preparation and knowledge is much more important than purchasing the most sophisticated camera systems.

The upcoming total solar eclipse in the United States presents an exciting opportunity for photography novices and masters alike; many astronomy and photography writers have speculated that it will be the most photographed event in history. For an observer in the path of totality, where the Moon will completely obscure the Sun for a few minutes, some very nice photos of the darkened sky can be taken with smartphone cameras. More advanced imagery, including detailed shots of the eclipsed Sun, requires dedicated cameras and lenses, and even specialised astronomy equipment like solar telescopes and filters.

What kind of photographic setup would you recommend for people watching the eclipse?

In all of North America, northern South America, and small parts of western Europe, photographers will have the chance to capture a partial solar eclipse. For this, the goal will be to capture closeups of the crescent Sun, so it’s necessary to use a camera with high optical magnification or a very long lens, along with a solar filter. Without such a filter, which can be made of extremely dark glass or a special light-blocking sheet, photographing a partial eclipse will be impossible and hazardous to attempt. Even after blocking some 99.999% of light, shutter speeds will be relatively fast and consistent, so it will be possible to handhold a camera during partial stages of the eclipse. Consider taking photos at regular intervals, perhaps every 10 minutes, to show the progression of the eclipse in a timelapse or composite image.

Things get more complicated when attempting to photograph totality, and the moments just before and after. The same long focal lengths will be desired for the fully eclipsed Sun, but the required exposure times are longer and will change drastically from one moment to the next. I suggest using a DSLR in “manual” mode, and bracketing your exposures extensively—that is, taking many different frames with varying shutter speeds, so you can select the best ones later. To capture the Sun’s faint, outer corona, you’ll need either slow shutter speeds or relatively high ISOs, so cameras with good low-light performance are ideal, and a very steady tripod is essential. If possible, fire the shutter remotely using a wireless or cable release to minimise camera shake. Don’t forget to remove your solar filters at the very beginning of totality and replace them as soon as the Sun reemerges.

For some parting advice, don’t let photography ruin your eclipse experience. Use only the equipment you’re most comfortable with, and if your camera starts to cause you stress during this unique event, just turn it off. Finally, please remember to upload any images you do capture to Wikimedia Commons, even if it looks similar or identical to the hundreds of other photos that will surely appear. Scientists are hoping to use this eclipse as an opportunity to confirm suspicions that the Sun is slightly bigger than traditionally thought, so with precise geotagging, your photos may just have a large impact.

And most importantly, be safe. Never look at the sun without specialized glasses, as you will damage your eyes. Avoid being a person quoted fifty years from now about your eclipse-caused eye damage. If you are not in the narrow path of totality, you will need to have your glasses on for the entire eclipse. If you are in the path of totality, see NASA’s explainer on when you can have your glasses off.

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation

Thanks to Blanca Flores of the Wikimedia Foundation for the infographic above. It’s licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Wikimedia Commons accepts all kinds of educational media content, and it’s all freely licensed—available for anyone to use, anywhere, with no fee. Exact copyright licenses can vary, but generally you need to credit the author and share any remixes under a similar license. Join them today!

by Ed Erhart at August 18, 2017 09:51 PM

Wikipedia Weekly

Wikipedia Weekly #124 – Wikimania 2017

This Wikipedia Weekly podcast episode covers the Wikimania 2017 conference in Montreal, Canada, August 9-13, 2017. We discuss the preconference days that included the Hackathon, Wikiconference North America and the Culture Crawl event. We discuss presentations and discussion about the First Nations of Canada, Gender Gap, Wikidata, GLAM, and the Strategic Planning process of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Participants: Andrew Lih (User:Fuzheado),Molly White (User:GorillaWarfare), Rob Fernandez (User:Gamaliel),  Derk-Jan Hartman (User:TheDJ)


Opening music: “At The Count” by Broke For Free, is licensed under CC-BY-3.0; Closing music: “Things Will Settle Down Eventually” by 86 Sandals, is licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0

All original content of this podcast is licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

by admin at August 18, 2017 08:55 PM

William Beutler

What You Missed at Wikimania 2017

N.B. At the end of this post I’ve embedded a Spotify playlist for the delightful 2006 album “Trompe-l’oeil” by the Francophone Montreal indie rock band Malajube. It’s what I was listening to as I arrived at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport last week, and I think it would make a nice soundtrack for reading this post.

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Wikimania 2017, the thirteenth annual global meeting of Wikipedia editors and the larger Wikimedia movement, was held in Montreal last weekend. For the fifth time overall, and the first time in two years, I was there. I’ve covered previously attended Wikimanias, sometimes glancingly, and sometimes day-by-day, and this time I’ll do something a little different as well.

One nice thing about a conference for a project focused on the internet: many of the presentations can be found on the internet! Some but not all were recorded and streamed; some but not all have slides available to revisit. The second half of this post is a roundup of presentations I attended, or wished I attended, with media available so you can follow up at your own pace.

But first, a note on a major theme of the conference: implicitly if not specifically called “Wikimedia 2030”, and a draft of a “strategic direction” document circulating by stapled printout from the conference start, later addressed specifically in a presentation by Wikimedia Foundation executive director Katherine Maher and board chair Christophe Henner. It’s available to read here, and I recommend it as a straightforward and clearly-described (if detail-deficient) summary of how Wikimedians understand their project, and where its most dedicated members want to take it.

Draft strategic direction at Wikimania 2017As one would expect, the memo acknowledges the many types of contributors and contributions, brought together by a belief in the power of freely shared knowledge, and committed to helping organize it. It also focuses on developing infrastructure, building relationships, and strengthening networks. One thing it doesn’t talk much about is Wikipedia, which might be surprising to some. After all, Wikipedia is arguably more important to the movement than the iPhone is to Apple: Wikipedia receives 97.5% of all WMF site traffic, while the iPhone accounts for “only” 70% of Apple’s revenues.

I don’t wish to belabor the Apple analogy much, because there are too many divergences to be useful in a global analysis, but both were revolutionary within their markets, upset competitors, created a whole new participatory ecosystem in their wake, and each grew exponentially until they didn’t. Now the stewards of each are looking beyond the cash cow for new areas of growth. For Apple, it’s cloud-based Services revenue. For the WMF, it’s not quite as easily summarized. But the answer is also partly about building in the cloud, at least figuratively. Although both Wikipedia and the iPhone will remain the most publicly visible manifestations of each organization for the foreseeable future, the leadership of each is focused on what other services they enable, and how they can even make the core product more valuable.

I see two main themes in the memo, about how the Wikimedia movement can better develop that broad ecosystem beyond Wikimedia’s existing base, and how it can improve its underlying systems within movement technology and governance. The former is too big a subject to grapple with here, but I’ll share just a single thought about the latter.

One thing the document concerns itself with at least as much as with Wikipedia is “data structures”—and this nods to Wikidata, which has been the new hotness for awhile, but whose centrality to the larger project is becoming clearer all the time. Take just one easily overlooked line, about how most Wikimedia content is “long-text, unstructured articles”. You know, those lo-fi Wikipedia entries that remain so enduringly popular. They lack structure now, but they might not always. Imagine a future where Wikidata provides information not just to infoboxes (although that is a tricky subject) but also to boring old Wikipedia itself. Forget “red links”: every plain text noun in the whole project may be connected to its “Q number”. Using AI and machine learning, entire concepts can be quickly linked in a way that once required many lifetimes.

At present, Wikipedia is the closest thing we hae to the “sum of all human knowledge” but in the future, it may only be the default user interface. Now more than ever, the real action is happening behind the scenes.

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Birth of Bias: implicit bias’ permanence on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a project by and for human beings, and necessarily carries the implicit biases of those human beings, whether they’re mindful of the fact or not. This presentation, offered by San Francisco State visiting scholar Jackie Koerner, focused on how to recognize this and think about what to do about it. Slides are accessible by clicking on the image below, and notes from the presentation are here.

Koerner Implicit Bias Wikimania 2017

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Readership metrics: Trends and stories from our global traffic data

How much do people around the world look at Wikipedia? How much do they look at it on desktop vs. mobile device? How have things changed over time? All of this and more is found in this presentation from Tilman Bayer, accessible by clicking through the image below.

Readership metrics. Trends and stories from our global traffic data (Wikimania 2017 presentation)

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The Internet Archive and Wikimedia – Common Knowledge Goals

The Internet Archive is not a Wikimedia project, but it is a fellow nonprofit with a similar outlook, complementary mission and, over time, increasing synergy between the two institutions. Every serious Wikimedian should know about the Internet Archive. I didn’t attend the presentation by Wendy Hanamura and Mark Graham, but there’s a lot to be gleaned from the slides embedded below, and session notes here.

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State of Video in the Wikimedia Movement

You don’t watch a lot of video on Wikipedia, do you? It’s not for lack of interest on the part of Wikipedians. It’s for lack of media availability under appropriate licenses, technology and infrastructure to deliver it, and even community agreement about what kinds of videos would help Wikipedia’s mission. It’s an issue Andrew Lih has focused on for several years, and his slides are highly readable on the subject.

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The Keilana Effect: Visualizing the closing coverage gaps with ORES

As covered in this blog’s roundup of 2016’s biggest Wikipedia stories, one of Wikipedia’s more recent mini-celebrities is a twentysomething medical student named Emily Temple-Wood, who goes by the nom-de-wiki Keilana. Her response to each experienced instance of gender-based harassment on the internet was to create a new biographical article about another woman scientist on Wikipedia. But it’s not just an inspiring story greenlit by countless news editors in the last couple years: WikiProject Women Scientists, founded by Temple-Wood and Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, dramatically transformed the number and quality of articles within this subject area, taking them from a slight lag relative to the average article to dramatically outpacing them. Aaron Halfaker, a research scientist at the Wikimedia Foundation, crunched the numbers using the new-ish machine learning article quality evaluation tool ORES. Halfaker presented his findings, with Temple-Wood onstage to add context, on Wikimania’s final day. More than just a victory lap, the question they asked: can it be done again? Only Wikipedia’s contributors can answer that question.

The slides can be accessed by clicking through the image below, notes taken live can be found here, and for the academically inclined, you can also read Halfaker’s research paper: Interpolating Quality Dynamics in Wikipedia and Demonstrating the Keilana Effect.

Keilana Effect (Wikimania 2017)

That was fun! Let’s do this again next year.

Update: Looking for more slides and notes? There’s an “All Session Notes” page on the Wikimania site for your edification.

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by William Beutler at August 18, 2017 08:39 PM

Lorna M Campbell

Student Engagement with OER at University of Edinburgh

Earlier this week Christina Hendricks at UBC put out a call for examples of student engagement with open education and OER.  I was going to reply in comments but as we have lots of great examples of students getting involved with OER at the University of Edinburgh I thought I’d write a short post here.

Together with LTW Director Melissa Highton and Stuart Nicol of Education Design and Engagement, Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university.  A short paper presented at OER15 by Melissa, Stuart and Dash Sekhar of EUSA, reported that in 2014

“the EUSA Vice President for Academic Affairs challenged University senior managers to explore how learning materials could be made open, not only for students within the University, but across Scotland and to the wider world.”

Student-led OpenEd and wiping away the open wash by Melissa Highton, Stuart Nicol & Dash Sekhar, OER15.

The result was the University’s OER Policy which was approved by the Senate Learning and Teaching Committee in 2016.

Reproductive Medicine Students, CC BY SA, Ewan McAndrew

The University’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew,  has also been instrumental engaging students in the creation of OER through a number of Wikimedia in the Classroom initiatives that have seen students contributing original articles in a number of languages to the world’s largest open educational resource – Wikipedia.  Subjects that have incorporated Wikipedia into their courses include Translation Studies,  World Christianity and Reproductive Medicine.

“It’s about co-operation from the get-go. You can’t post a Wikipedia article and allow no one else to edit it. You are offering something up to the world. You can always come back to it, but you can never make it completely your own again. The beauty of Wikipedia is in groupthink, in the crowd intelligence it facilitates, but this means shared ownership, which can be hard to get your head around at first.”

Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment by Áine Kavanagh

Meteorological Visibility Observations: A User’s Guide, CC BY, James Holehouse

Another course that has been instrumental in engaging students with OER is the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course. Over the course of two semesters, students undertake an outreach project that communicates some element of the field of GeoSciences outside the university community. Students have the opportunity to work with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups to create resources for science engagement including classroom teaching materials, leaflets, websites, smartphone/tablet applications, and presentation materials.

“By taking this course, not only was I, as the student, able to learn about the values and excitement of public engagement with other disciplines, but I also developed a working tool for further scientific engagement for a new audience.”

A call for increased public engagement in geology higher education by Jane Robb in Geology Today, Vol. 29, No. 2.

For the last two years the University has also employed student interns during the summer months as Open Content Curators whose role is to repurpose materials created by staff and students around the University to ensure they can be released under open license and shared in places where they can be found and reused by other teachers and learners, such as TES.  Reflecting on his time as our first Open Content Intern, Martin Tasker wrote

“Open Education is a large part of the reason I’m at Edinburgh studying physics, and I firmly believe that it is one of the keys to widening participation in education in a meaningful way. The proliferation of the internet among all classes in society means that a savvy university can reach those that would previously have had little access to education beyond their school years. And with our work in OERs, we can hopefully feed back some of the expertise of our academics into the classroom, raising the standard of teaching and taking some of the pressure off extremely overworked teachers.”

Wrapping Up: My Time as an Open Content Curator Intern, Martin Tasker

These are just some of the ways in which students at the University of Edinburgh are engaging with open education and OER.  I’m sure there are many more around the University that I have yet to discover!  Further information about many of the University’s OER initiatives is available from Open.Ed.

by admin at August 18, 2017 03:15 PM

Weekly OSM

weeklyOSM 369



GraphHopper’s new flexible routing is at least 15 times faster 1 | © OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL, © GraphHopper, © Omniscale

About us

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  • Christoph Hormann blogged about social engineering in OpenStreetMap and how it might be used to influence the course of the project. Mapping for the rendered is also analysed.
  • Daniel Koć wrote a proposal for waterways classification following last week’s river rendering debate and requests comments. Mark Wagner seems to think this is not the way to go in OpenStreetMap.
  • Miguel Sevilla Callejo (msevilla00) from Zaragoza, Spain, is currently in Wales. He noticed an inconsistent use of English and Welsh in OpenStreetMap. His email resulted in a readable, long-lasting and controversial discussion on the Talk-GB mailing list (threads in July and August) and comments in an OSM changeset. Nearly the same problem in Switzerland – read the following article. 😉
  • An official of the Swiss Park Network has requested, via Michael Spreng, that the area be displayed as “Schweizerischer Nationalpark” (German) rather than “Parc Naziunal Svizzer” (Romansch) on OSM. The rationale is that the park is better known by the former name. The ensuing discussion touches on several issues about names in bilingual areas.
  • Marc Zoutendijk asks (nl) on the forum if over 10,000 different building=* tag keys are really needed.
  • The Mapbox team joined the celebration of the XIII anniversary of OpenStreetMap improving the Peru map, where they added a total of 1199 streets, 1022 buildings, points of interest, lakes, rivers, among others.


  • Daniel Koć requested comments to the text rendering changes planned for osm-carto.
  • mmd wrote about a nice prototype demonstrating the power of the around: filter in Overpass API to show how you can download OSM data along a GPX track.


  • On the Imports mailing list, Äijälä Tero proposed an import of the Finnish “National Registry of Social and Health care Providers” as POIs.


  • Andreas Bürki has (de) a hackathon in mind for DINAcon in Bern, Switzerland.
  • The 5th UK OpenData Camp will be held in Belfast on the weekend of 21st and 22nd October. The last two batches of tickets will be released on 9th and 21st of September.
  • The SotM 2017 takes place at this weekend in Japan. Travellers get valuable information in the wiki. Laura Barroso, weeklyOSM correspondent in Cuba, has provided – as last year in Brussels – an app with the program.

Humanitarian OSM


  • Jason Baker presented 13 different OSM-based projects on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of OpenStreetMap.
  • Arun (PlaneMad) published a comparison of how different map data editors visually represent turn restrictions for mappers.

Open Data

  • Yuri Astrakhan announced that the OSM and Wikidata SPARQL service was updated and listed the changes.
  • OpenDataSoft created a map of the open data portals around the world.


  • [1] Peter Karich reported a substantial speed up in routing in GraphHopper with the new “landmark” algorithm.


Mapcat launched a mobile version to celebrate the 13th anniversary of OSM.

Software Version Release date Changes
guide4you 2.2.3 2017-08-08 No infos.
JOSM 12545 2017-08-15 Added Java 9 compatibility. Please read Changelog for more infos.
Komoot Android * 9.3 2017-08-13 No infos.
Komoot iOS * 9.3 2017-08-14 Added iPad support, horizontal format, more map details and height indicator.
Kurviger Free * 1.1.7-2 2017-08-14 No infos.
Leaflet 1.2.0 2017-08-08 Please read changelog.
Locus Map Free * 3.25.1 2017-08-10 Man changes, please read changelog.
Mapbox Navigation SDK iOS 0.6.1 2017-08-15 No infos.
Mapillary iOS * 4.8.1 2017-08-15 Added low power mode and bug fixes.
Maps.me Android * 7.4.5 2017-08-11 Updated map data, bug fixes.
Maps.me iOS * 7.4.5 2017-08-10 Updated map data, bug fixes.
Mapzen Lost 3.0.3 2017-08-14 Bug fixes.
Naviki Android * 3.63 2017-08-08 Revised synchronization of ways, improved layout, new map layer and bug fixes.
OpenLayers 4.3.1 2017-08-14 Bug fixes.
PostgreSQL 9.6.4 2017-08-10 Man changes, please read changelog.

Provided by the OSM Software Watchlist. Timestamp: 2017-08-15 12:58:09+02 UTC

(*) unfree software. See: freesoftware.

Did you know …

  • … the functions of Field Papers?
  • … the drone innovation (fr) of two Afghan brothers to scan an area, detect and destroy anti-personal mines?

OSM in the media

  • MIT researchers Christopher Barrington-Leigh and Adam Millard-Ball have published (full text-PDF) an analysis of the completeness of road networks on OSM across the globe. They use techniques which do not rely on comparison datasets which are therefore applicable to all countries. For OSM data in early 2016 they estimate the road network to be 81% complete, and in May 2017, 86%.

Other “geo” things

  • Well, if you don’t know Mercator, then you have to publish a correction. 😉
  • The city administration of Chicago wants to map the “underground labyrinth” of the pipes and lines in the course of the development of its smart city plan.
  • Galileo reported on the first GPS signal received on the 40th anniversary of the Global Positioning System.
  • Refill collects fountains or shops where you can replenish your water bottle for free and presents them on an OSM-based map. It has its own app.
  • Will White from Mapbox blogged about the new support for full offline navigation embedded in cars.
  • New Scientist reported that “ships fooled in GPS spoofing attack suggest Russian cyberweapon”.
  • Markus Reuter reported on Netzpolitik.org (de) on the rapid growth of video surveillance in public spaces. It also shows how you can help with OSM to complete the world map of surveillance by Max Kamba.

Upcoming Events

Where What When Country
Boston FOSS4G 2017 2017-08-14-2017-08-19 united states
Aizu-wakamatsu Shi State of the Map 2017 (international conference) 2017-08-18-2017-08-20 japan
Buenos Aires Mapatón 13° aniversario de OpenStreetMap en IGN 2017-08-19 argentina
Santiago, Chile 13° Aniversario de OpenStreetMap 2017-08-19 chile
Sankt Augustin FrOSCon with OSGeo & OSM Track 2017-08-19-2017-08-20 germany
Derby Derby Pub Meetup 2017-08-22 united kingdom
Lübeck Lübecker Stammtisch 2017-08-24 germany
Bremen Bremer Mappertreffen 2017-08-28 germany
Taipei OpenStreetMap Taipei Meetup, MozSpace 2017-08-28 taiwan
Graz Stammtisch Graz 2017-08-28 austria
Viersen OSM Stammtisch Viersen 2017-08-29 germany
Dusseldorf Stammtisch Düsseldorf 2017-08-30 germany
Freital Elbe-Labe-Meeting 2017 2017-09-01-2017-09-03 germany
Rennes Atelier Wikidata et OSM 2017-09-02 france
Patan State of the Map Asia 2017 2017-09-23-2017-09-24 nepal
Boulder, Colorado State of the Map U.S. 2017 2017-10-19-2017-10-22 united states
Brussels FOSS4G Belgium 2017 2017-10-26 belgium
Lima State of the Map LatAm 2017 2017-11-29-2017-12-02 perú
Bonn FOSSGIS 2018 2018-03-21-2018-03-24 germany

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, PierZen, Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, Spec80, YoViajo, derFred, doktorpixel14, jcoupey, jinalfoflia.

by weeklyteam at August 18, 2017 05:51 AM

August 17, 2017

Wiki Education Foundation

Enabling wiki edits from Programs & Events Dashboard

One of the most common requests I’ve heard from the Wikimedia program leaders who use Programs & Events Dashboard is to enable automatic edits, which is one of the core features of the Wiki Education Dashboard. The automatic edits — on-wiki program pages, and userpage and article talk templates that link to them — let other editors easily figure out where new editors are coming from, which editors are working together, and who is leading the project.

This summer, Outreachy intern Medha Bansal has been working on making the Dashboard’s automatic edit capabilities more flexible and general so that we can roll out editing for Programs & Events Dashboard one wiki at a time. As of mid-August, Medha’s work is live on Programs & Events Dashboard, and we’re testing it out on Portuguese Wikipedia. She’s also documented how the communities of other wikis can get these features enabled.

Medha is a software engineer from New Delhi. She had been working as a Ruby on Rails developer, but — as she explained in her first Outreachy blog post — she had reached a point where she wasn’t learning anything new. The Dashboard has been giving her a chance to explore some new technologies — the latest version of Ruby on Rails, our React front-end, testing with RSpec — but I’ve also been learning a lot from her when it comes to Rails and the patterns and anti-patterns we find in the Dashboard codebase. I’m looking forward to learning more in the final stretch of Medha’s internship!

by Sage Ross at August 17, 2017 10:30 PM

Amir E. Aharoni

Five Privileges of English Speakers, part 1

It’s very common today on progressive blogs to urge people to check their privilege.

Being an English speaker, native or non-native, is a privilege.

It’s not as often as discussed as other forms of privilege, such as white, male, cis, hetero, or rich privilege. The reason for this is simple: The world’s media is dominated by the English language. English-language movies are more popular in many countries than movies in these countries’ own languages, English-language news networks are quoted by the rest of the world, the world’s most popular social networks are based in the U.S. and are optimized for U.S. audiences, etc.

So, when English speakers discuss privilege among each other, English is not much of an issue, and they dedicate more time to race, gender, wealth, religion, and other factors that differentiate between people in English-speaking countries.

Despite this, I am not the first one to describe English as a privilege. A simple Google search for english language privilege will yield many interesting results.

What I do want to try to do in this series of posts is to list the particular nuances that make English such a privilege in as much detail as possible. I wanted to write this for a long time, but there are many such nuances, so I’ll just do it in batches of five, in no particular order:

1. Keyboard

If you speak English, congratulations: A keyboard on which your language can be written is available on all electronic devices.

All of them.

All desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, watches. The only notable exception I can think of is typewriters, which only makes the point more tragic: technology moved forward and made writing easier in English, but harder in many other languages, where local-language typewriters were replaced with computers with English-only keyboard.

At the very worst case, writing English on a computer will be slightly inconvenient in countries like Germany, France, or Turkey, where the placement of the Latin letters on the keys is slightly different from the U.S. and U.K. QWERTY standard. Oh, poor American tourists.

On a more serious note, though, even though a lot of languages use the Latin alphabet, a lot of them also use a lot of extra diacritics and special characters, and English is one of the very few that doesn’t. Of the top 100 world’s languages by native speakers, only Malay, Kinyarwanda, Somali, and Uzbek have standardized orthographies that can be written in the basic 26-letter Latin alphabet without any extra characters. We can also add Swahili, which has a large number of non-native speakers, but that’s it. With other languages you can get stuck and not be able to write your language at all (Hindi, Chinese, Russian, etc.), or you may have to write in a substandard orthography because you can’t type letters like é or ł (French, Vietnamese, Polish, etc.).

The above is just the teeny-tiny tip of the iceberg; the keyboard problem will be explored in more points later.

2. Spell-checking

English word morphology is laughably simple.

There’s -s for plurals and for third person present tense verbs, there’s -‘s for possession, and there are -ed and -ing verb forms. There are also some contractions (‘d, ‘s, ‘ll, ‘ve), and a long, but finite list of irregular verb forms, and an even shorter list of irregular plural noun forms. And that’s it.

Most languages aren’t like that. In most languages words change with prefixes, suffixes, infixes, clitics, and so on, according to their role in the sentence.

Beyond the fact that English writing is (arguably) easier for children and foreigners to learn, this means that software tools for processing a language are easy to develop for English and hard to develop for other languages.

The first simple example is spell-checking.

English has had not just spelling, but also grammar and style checkers built into common word processors for decades, and many languages of today don’t even have spelling checkers, not to mention grammar, or style, or convenient searching. (See below.)

So in English, when you type “kinh”, most word processors will suggest correcting it to “king”, but then, some of them may also suggest replacing this word with “monarch” to be more inclusive for women, and this is just one of the hundreds of style improvement suggestions that these tools can make. For a lot of other languages, even simple spell-checking of single words hasn’t been developed yet, and grammar checking is a barely-imaginable dream.

3. Autocompletion

Simpler morphology has many other effects.

Even though Russian is my first native language and I speak it more fluently than I speak English, I am much slower when I’m typing in Russian on my phone. In English, the autocompleting keyboard makes it possible to write just two or three letters of a word and let the software complete the rest. In Russian, the ending of the word must be typed, and autocompletion rarely guesses it correctly. Typing an incorrect ending will make a sentence convey incorrect information, or just make it completely ungrammatical.

4. Searching

A yet-another issue of the previous point, English’s very simple morphology makes searching easier.

For example word processors have a search and replace function. For English, it will likely find all forms of the word, because there are so few of them anyway. But in Hebrew and Arabic, letters are often inserted or changed in the middle of the word according to its grammatical state, and you need to search for each form, which is quite agonizing. It’s comparable to “man” vs. “men” in English, except that in English such changes are very rare, while in many other languages it happens in almost every word.

With search engines that must find words across thousands of documents it gets even harder. Google can easily figure out that if you’re searching for “drive”, you may also be interested in “driving”, “drove”, and “driven”, but Russian has dozens of other forms for this word. A few languages are lucky: special support was developed for them in search engines, and tasks of this kind are automated, but most languages our just out in the cold. But English barely needs extra support like this in the first place.

5. Very little gender

A lot can be said about gendered language, but as far as basic grammar goes, English has very little in the area of gender. “He” and “She”, and that’s about it. There are also man/woman, actor/actress, boy/girl, etc., but these distinctions are rarely relevant in technology.

In many other languages gender is far more pervasive. In Semitic and Slavic languages, a lot of verb forms have gender. In English, the verb “retweeted” is the same in “Helen retweeted you” and “Michael retweeted you”, but in Hebrew the verb is different. Because Twitter doesn’t know that Helen needs a different verb, it uses the masculine verb there, which sounds silly to Hebrew speakers.

I asked Twitter developers about this many times, and they always replied that there’s no field for gender in the user profile. It becomes more and more amusing lately, now that it has become so common —and for good reasons!— to mention what one’s preferred pronouns are in the Twitter profile bio. So people see it, but computers don’t.

On a more practical note, in the relatively rare cases when third person pronouns must be used in software strings, English will often use the singular “they” instead of “he” or “she”. So English-speaking developers do notice it, but not as often as they should, and when they do, they just use the lazy singular-they solution, which is socially acceptable and doesn’t require any extra coding. If only they’d notice it more often, using their software in other languages would be much more convenient for people of all genders.

The only software packages that I know that have reasonably good support for grammatical gender are MediaWiki and Facebook’s software. I once read that Diaspora had a very progressive solution for that, but I don’t know anybody who actually uses it. There may be other software packages that do, but probably very few.

These are just the first five examples of English-language privilege I can think of. There will be many, many more. Stay tuned, and send me your ideas!

Filed under: English, Hebrew, language, Russian, software, translation, Wikipedia

by aharoni at August 17, 2017 07:43 PM

Wikimedia Foundation

On the front lines in Venezuela and Ukraine, volunteers stand up for a future of free knowledge

Photo by Carlos Díaz, CC BY 2.0.

Oscar, a Wikimedia volunteer in Venezuela, has witnessed years of political, economic, and social crises, and says that people invest “great effort” when leading their lives in the country today.

A thirty-year-old economist from a small town near the capital, Costero emphasizes that uncontrolled inflation, which has led to the decreased purchasing power of the Venezuelan bolívar, has left the majority of the country without basic goods like bread, toilet paper, flour, butter, and even medicine. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed, along with crime and corruption. Hunger and health care have reached what Human Rights Watch has termed a “humanitarian crisis.”

While Costero says that the conditions have made him and his colleagues feel “very lonely in delivering the mission of free knowledge,” he also takes care to note that “resiliency is vital in coping with the daily stress of living in such conditions.” One part of that is making sure that complete and informative Wikipedia articles are there for a country where nearly half of the adults in the country have never completed a year of secondary education, and less than half of the children attend a secondary school. “Filling this educational gap is a key part of building a new nation,” Costero says, “where education becomes an issue of national interest.”

It can also involve advocacy, in his view. Costero agrees with the broad goals of the demonstrators and actively participates in some of them; he believes that “The mission of bringing free knowledge to all citizens of a country is contrary to the precepts that a totalitarian regime may seek to impose on a society.”

Photo by Amakuha, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Some similar challenges are being confronted in Ukraine, which has gone and is going through a period of severe public unrest (“Euromaidan”), a revolution, the War in Donbass, and the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Ukrainian Wikipedia volunteer editors recall the violent challenges of a country in turmoil all too well, as one of their own was killed by a sniper while protesting against the government in February 2014. Several others participated in those same events, many of which carried cameras to visually document the protests—images that are now categorized by month on Wikimedia Commons, and available for anyone to use under free licenses.

Vira Motorko of Wikimedia Ukraine recalled some of her free time at the Euromaidan protests, and was surprised at how well they were run. “I once spent a night in a Euromaidan warehouse to sort clothes we received,” she said, and noted that the operation “was organized like a small country.” Motorko found that the developing conflict changed what readers came to read about on the Ukrainian Wikipedia, as they flocked to articles like “Blondeau slug,” a form of ammunition that was being used on civilians during the protests.

Even though the war is primarily confined to Donbass, located in the eastern portion of the country, 1.4 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced (as of 2015), and tens of thousands have been killed or injured (as of last month). That’s why volunteer editor Білецький В.С.—the individual with the highest number of edits on the Ukrainian Wikipedia—told us that the war has affected every Ukrainian in some way, including Wikipedians.

The local Wikimedia chapter has attempted to reach out to the war-torn part of the country with 21 different events, including a series of editing workshops at various libraries and schools in Luhansk Oblast, the province at the heart of the War in Donbass. “The tour was intended to show that Wikipedia cares about the region,” Motorko said. “It is sometimes said that different regions do not hear each other in Ukraine. In order to be heard, someone needs to talk, and there are few Ukrainian Wikipedia editors from the east.”

These efforts, and those of hundreds of other Wikipedians in conflict or crisis zones around the world, are not easy. But as Motorko says, “Wikipedia is a place for all kinds of information”—and that’s because of the people who volunteer their time to find reliable sources and document the world around them. You can join them today.

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation

Our thanks go out to everyone who responded for this piece; we regret that we were not able to include everyone contacted.

by Ed Erhart at August 17, 2017 05:51 PM

August 16, 2017

Wikimedia Foundation

Felix Nartey named Wikimedian of the Year for 2017

Photo by Jason Krüger/Wikimedia Deutschland e.V., CC BY-SA 4.0.

Last Sunday in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Wikimania 2017 concluded. In the closing ceremony, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, announced Felix Nartey as the 2017 Wikimedian of the Year for his efforts to promote free knowledge sharing culture in Africa.

Nartey joined the Wikimedia movement in 2012, where he has been concerned about content gaps on Wikimedia projects—information about his native Ghana and the African continent is not on the same level as Europe and North America. “Information itself is useless until it’s shared with the … world,” he says. Nartey has researched possible ways to encourage people from his community to participate in a project like Wikipedia and its sister projects, and put them into practice through leading in-person initiatives and activities to help promote Wikipedia and help new participants find resources for their contributions.

The Wikimedian of the Year is an annual tradition to honor the efforts of one of the movement’s exceptional contributors. Wales announces the name of that person every year during his closing speech at Wikimania since 2011.

This year’s winner Felix Nartey wasn’t able to attend Wikimania, so he was notified about the honor in a video call with Wales and Emily Temple-Wood, who shared last year’s title with Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight.

Video by the Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0. You can also view it on Vimeo.

Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern
Wikimedia Foundation

by Samir Elsharbaty at August 16, 2017 09:43 PM

Gerard Meijssen

#Wikipedia - #BlackLunchTable / Brooklyn Hip Hop

The Black Lunch Table project has an editathon on August 20th. It will focus on on important but underrepresented New York Hip Hop/rap artists.

In preparation they have created entries in Wikidata for artists with and without a Wikipedia article. In this way they can prepare information for the editors to use in their articles.

Magnus created a new tool and it shows who edited Wikidata. As a result we can create a query for the edits for the New York Hip hop event for the month of August.

It shows who has been doing all the work.

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at August 16, 2017 02:20 PM

August 15, 2017

Wiki Education Foundation

A visit from UC Berkeley

While Wiki Education spends a great deal of time traveling to conferences and universities around the country, it’s not often that we have the chance to host participants in our program at our San Francisco office. On July 31, we had the pleasure of welcoming University of California at Berkeley Professor Naniette Coleman, her student Angela Zeng, and Berkeley librarian Corliss Lee to our home base.

From left to right, UC Berkeley Librarian Corliss Lee, UC Berkeley professor Naniette Coleman, Wiki Education Classroom Program Manager Helaine Blumenthal, UC Berkeley student Angela Zeng, and Wiki Education Outreach Manager Samantha Weald at the Wiki Education offices.
From left to right, UC Berkeley Librarian Corliss Lee, UC Berkeley professor Naniette Coleman, Wiki Education Classroom Program Manager Helaine Blumenthal, UC Berkeley student Angela Zeng, and Wiki Education Outreach Manager Samantha Weald at the Wiki Education offices.

Unlike most of our instructors who run their Wikipedia assignments on a term by term basis, Professor Coleman is in the unique position of working with her students on their Wikipedia projects over the course of several terms. In Spring 2017, she began the Student Working Group on Privacy Literacy as part of the Coleman Lab. Not quite a traditional course, Professor Coleman’s students are composed of mostly first and second year undergraduates from a variety of majors, ranging from Music to Education. What binds them together is a common interest in issues of privacy and how those relate to a host of different fields.

During their visit, Professor Coleman and Angela presented on several key initiatives stemming from their Wikipedia work. As part of their ongoing project, the students created a video about the nature and impact of their Wikipedia contributions that we hope to share in the near future. They also presented a “Wikipedia Cheat Sheet” that the group has collectively been working on to aid one another as well as future participants in the Coleman Lab.

During the session, we exchanged a host of ideas, but we were most excited to learn about Angela’s contributions to the page on Privacy in education. We discussed how Angela could make the page more discoverable, but more importantly, we got to see how proud she was of her contributions. Though we work with thousands of students each term, we rarely get to interact with them directly. Hearing about Angela’s experience as well as those of her classmates underscored the true value of a Wikipedia-based assignment.

As part of their visit, I also had the chance to discuss how Berkeley’s vast network of librarians can better assist with Wikipedia assignments. Going forward, I’ll be working closely with Ms. Lee to guide Wiki Education’s relationship with Berkeley’s library and to develop resources that will help students undertaking Wikipedia projects at Berkeley.

Thank you again to Professor Coleman, Angela, and Ms. Lee for taking the time to visit us and discuss the incredible work you’re all doing.

by Helaine Blumenthal at August 15, 2017 10:08 PM

Joseph Reagle

The Google Memo

Earlier I reviewed the literature on whether there is a distinct geek style of thinking?. This question recently went mainstream as a consequence of James Damore’s “Google Bro” memo. I was tempted to carefully parse though all the claims myself, but others did so for me.

If your interested in reading thorough reviews of what we understand about gender and cognition, I recommend:

  • Lise Eliot, 2009, “Pink brain, blue brain: How small differences grow into troublesome gaps – and what we can do about it”.
  • Cordelia Fine, 2010, “Delusions of gender: How our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference”.
  • Cordelia Fine, 2017, “Testosterone rex: Myths of sex, science, and society”.

In particular, Eliot’s take (and book title) capture my understanding: on average, there are more similarities than (small) differences. At the extremes, there are differences, but society has a way of essentializing and exaggerating such differences in a way that is worth actively countering.

I also recommend the following five pieces that speak directly to Damore’s biological claims and their cultural implications.

by Joseph Reagle at August 15, 2017 04:00 AM

August 14, 2017

Gerard Meijssen

#Wikimedia - Women in blue

Dear Rosie, I saw your presentation. You want women in blue. In it you mention 300 lists of women. That is a lot of lists. In the mean time the biggest list of women with no article in a Wikipedia can be found on Wikidata.

There has been research in suggesting subjects to people and it works. Leila Zia, one of the WMF researchers wrote about a project they did. So the mechanism is there and you know, Wikidata has oodles of women with no article in "your" Wikipedia that have enough relevance given.

So how about a generator for ideas for articles to write? Leila knows many algorithms and Wikidata knows about many if not most of the women that are on your lists.. Come to think of it, why not add all the lists in Wikidata in the first place?

by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at August 14, 2017 05:27 AM

Tech News

Tech News issue #33, 2017 (August 14, 2017)

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Other languages:
العربية • ‎čeština • ‎English • ‎español • ‎suomi • ‎français • ‎עברית • ‎italiano • ‎日本語 • ‎ಕನ್ನಡ • ‎polski • ‎русский • ‎svenska • ‎українська • ‎中文

August 14, 2017 12:00 AM

August 12, 2017

Wikimedia Foundation

Wikimedia Foundation releases new transparency report, online and in print

Photo by Angelo DeSantis, CC BY 2.0.

The Wikimedia Foundation partners with users and contributors around the world to provide free access to knowledge. We value transparency: that’s why we issue our biannual transparency report, publicly disclosing the various requests we receive to alter or remove the user-created content on the Wikimedia projects, or to request nonpublic information about the users themselves. The report also includes stories about some of the interesting and unusual requests we receive, and a useful FAQ with more information about our work.

The report covers five major types of requests:

Content alteration and takedown requests. In the first six months of 2017, we received 341 requests to alter or remove project content, four of which came from government entities. We granted none of these requests. Wikimedia project content is created and vetted by user communities across the globe, and we believe that decisions about content belong in their hands. When we receive requests to remove or alter that content, we refer requesters to experienced volunteers who can provide advice and guidance.

Copyright takedown requests. The Wikimedia projects host a variety of public domain and freely licensed works, but occasionally we will receive a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice asking us to remove content on copyright grounds. We analyze whether DMCA requests are properly submitted and have merit, and if so, whether an exception to the law, such as fair use, should allow the content to remain on the projects. From January 1 to June 30, 2017, we received 11 DMCA requests, three of which we granted. These remarkably low numbers are due to the diligence of the Wikimedia communities, who work to ensure that all content on the projects is appropriately licensed.

Right to erasure. The right to erasure (also known as the right to be forgotten) allows people to request that search engines remove links to results containing certain information about them. The process is best known in the European Union, where it was was established by a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014. The Wikimedia Foundation has long expressed our concerns about such rules, which have the potential to limit the access to and sharing of information that is in the public interest. Even though the Wikimedia projects are not a search engine, we do sometimes receive requests to delete information based on the right to erasure. However, we did not receive any such requests in the first half of 2017.

Requests for user data. The Wikimedia Foundation occasionally receives requests for nonpublic user data from governments, organizations, and individuals. These requests may be informal, such as simple emails or phone calls, or can involve formal legal processes, such as a subpoena. Protecting users is our leading concern, and we evaluate each request carefully. Unlike many online platforms, we intentionally collect very little nonpublic information about users, and often have no data that is responsive to these requests. We will only produce information if a request is legally valid and follows our Requests for user information procedures and guidelines. Even then, we will push back where we can, to narrow the request and provide as little data as possible. During this reporting period, we received 18 requests for nonpublic user data. We partially complied with three of these requests.

Emergency disclosures. On rare occasions, the Wikimedia Foundation will disclose otherwise nonpublic information to law enforcement authorities to protect a user or other individuals from serious harm. For example, if a user threatens harm to themselves or others, other users may notify us. In some cases, we may then voluntarily provide information to authorities where we believe there is a serious danger to one or more individuals and disclosure is necessary to keep people safe. Additionally, we have implemented an emergency request procedure so that law enforcement may contact us if they are working to prevent imminent harm. We assess such requests on a case-by-case basis. From January to June, 2017, we voluntarily disclosed information in 14 cases, and provided data in response to two emergency requests.

We invite you to read the full transparency report online, for more data and interesting stories. For the first time, you can also learn about our commitment to protect user privacy and project content in print: the print transparency report will be available from Foundation legal and public policy staff at conferences and meetups while supplies last. Additionally, printed copies of the report can be requested by emailing privacy@wikimedia.org on a limited basis.

James Buatti, Legal Counsel
Leighanna Mixter, Legal Fellow
Aeryn Palmer, Legal Counsel

The transparency report would not be possible without the contributions of Jacob Rogers, Jan Gerlach, Stephen LaPorte, Katie Francis, Rachel Stallman, Eileen Hershenov, James Alexander, Siddharth Parmar, Wendy Chu, Diana Lee, Dina Ljekperic, and the entire Wikimedia communications team. Special thanks to Alex Shahrestani for help in preparing this blog post, and to the entire staff at Mule Design and Oscar Printing Company.

by Jim Buatti, Leighanna Mixter and Aeryn Palmer at August 12, 2017 02:01 PM


Tracing some ornithological roots

The years 1883-1885 were tumultuous in the history of zoology in India. A group called the Simla Naturalists' Society was formed in the summer of 1885. The founding President of the Simla group was, oddly enough, Courtenay Ilbert - who some might remember for the Ilbert Bill which allowed Indian magistrates to make judgements on British subjects. Another member of this Simla group was Henry Collett who wrote a Flora of the Simla region (Flora Simlensis). This Society vanished without much of a trace. A slightly more stable organization was begun in 1883, the Bombay Natural History Society. The creation of these organizations was precipitated by the emergence of a gaping hole. A vacuum was created with the end of an India-wide correspondence network of naturalists that was fostered by a one-man-force - that of A. O. Hume. The ornithological chapter of Hume's life begins and ends in Shimla. Hume's serious ornithology began around 1870 and he gave it all up in 1883, after the loss of years of carefully prepared manuscripts for a magnum opus on Indian ornithology, damage to his specimen collections and a sudden immersion into Theosophy which also led him to abjure the killing of animals, taking to vegetarianism and subsequently to take up the cause of Indian nationalism. The founders of the BNHS included Eha (E. H. Aitken was also a Hume/Stray Feathers correspondent), J.C. Anderson (who was a Simla naturalist) and Phipson (who was from a wine merchant family with a strong presence in Simla). One of the two Indian founding members, Dr Atmaram Pandurang, was the father-in-law of Hume's correspondent Harold Littledale, a college principal at Baroda.

Shimla then was where Hume rose in his career (as Secretary of State, before falling) allowing him to work on his hobby project of Indian ornithology by bringing together a large specimen collection and conducting the publication of Stray Feathers. Through readings, I had a constructed a fairytale picture of the surroundings that he lived in. Richard Bowdler Sharpe, a curator at the British Museum who came to Shimla in 1885 wrote (his description  is well worth reading in full):
... Mr. Hume who lives in a most picturesque situation high up on Jakko, the house being about 7800 feet above the level of the sea. From my bedroom window I had a fine view of the snowy range. ... at last I stood in the celebrated museum and gazed at the dozens upon dozens of tin cases which filled the room ... quite three times as large as our meeting-room at the Zoological Society, and, of course, much more lofty. Throughout this large room went three rows of table-cases with glass tops, in which were arranged a series of the birds of India sufficient for the identification of each species, while underneath these table-cases were enormous cabinets made of tin, with trays inside, containing series of the birds represented in the table-cases above. All the specimens were carefully done up in brown-paper cases, each labelled outside with full particulars of the specimen within. Fancy the labour this represents with 60,000 specimens! The tin cabinets were all of materials of the best quality, specially ordered from England, and put together by the best Calcutta workmen. At each end of the room were racks reaching up to the ceiling, and containing immense tin cases full of birds. As one of these racks had to be taken down during the repairs of the north end of the museum, the entire space between the table-cases was taken up by the tin cases formerly housed in it, so that there was literally no space to walk between the rows. On the western side of the museum was the library, reached by a descent of three stops—a cheerful room, furnished with large tables, and containing, besides the egg-cabinets, a well-chosen set of working volumes. ... In a few minutes an immense series of specimens could be spread out on the tables, while all the books were at hand for immediate reference. ... we went below into the basement, which consisted of eight great rooms, six of them full, from floor to ceilings of cases of birds, while at the back of the house two large verandahs were piled high with cases full of large birds, such as Pelicans, Cranes, Vultures, &c.
I was certainly not hoping to find Hume's home as described but the situation turned out to be a lot worse. The first thing I did was to contact Professor Sriram Mehrotra, a senior historian who has published on the origins of the Indian National Congress. Prof. Mehrotra explained that Rothney Castle had long been altered with only the front facade retained along with the wood-framed conservatories. He said I could go and ask the caretaker for permission to see the grounds. He was sorry that he could not accompany me as it was physically demanding and he said that "the place moved him to tears." Professor Mehrotra also told me about how he had decided to live in Shimla simply because of his interest in Hume! I left him and walked to Christ Church and took the left branch going up to Jakhoo with some hopes. I met the caretaker of Rothney Castle in the garden where she was walking her dogs on a flat lawn, probably the same garden at the end of which there once had been a star-shaped flower bed, scene of the infamous brooch incident with Madame Blavatsky (see the theosophy section in Hume's biography on Wikipedia). It was a bit of a disappointment however as the caretaker informed me that I could not see the grounds unless the owner who lived in Delhi permitted it. Rothney Castle has changed hands so many times that it probably has nothing to match with what Bowdler-Sharpe saw and the grounds may very soon be entirely unrecognizable but for the name plaque at the entrance. Another patch of land in front of Rothney Castle was being prepared for what might become a multi-storeyed building. A botanist friend had shown me a 19th century painting of Shimla made by Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming. In her painting, the only building visible on Jakko Hill behind Christ Church is Rothney Castle. The vegetation on Shimla has definitely become denser with trees blocking the views.
So there ended my hopes of adding good views (free-licensed images are still misunderstood in India) of Rothney Castle to the Wikipedia article on Hume. I did however get a couple of photographs from the roadside. In 2014, I managed to visit the South London Botanical Institute which was the last of Hume's enterprises. This visit enabled the addition a few pictures of his herbarium collections as well as an illustration of his bookplate which carries his personal motto.

Clearly Shimla empowered Hume, provided a stimulating environment which included several local collaborators. Who were his local collaborators in Shimla? I have only recently discovered (and notes with references are now added to the Wikipedia entry for R. C. Tytler) that Robert (of Tytler's warbler fame - although named by W E Brooks) and Harriet Tytler (of Mt. Harriet fame) had established a kind of natural history museum at Bonnie Moon in Shimla with  Lord Mayo's support. The museum closed down after Robert's death in 1872, and it is said that Harriet offered the bird specimens to the government. It would appear that at least some part of this collection went to Hume. It is said that the collection was packed away in boxes around 1873. The collection later came into possession of Mr B. Bevan-Petman who apparently passed it on to the Lahore Central Museum in 1917.

Hume's idea of mapping rainfall
to examine patterns of avian distribution
It was under Lord Mayo that Hume rose in the government hierarchy. Hume was not averse to utilizing his power as Secretary of State to further his interests in birds. He organized the Lakshadweep survey with the assistance of the navy ostensibly to examine sites for a lighthouse. He made use of government machinery in the fisheries department (Francis Day) to help his Sind survey. He used the newly formed meteorological division of his own agricultural department to generate rainfall maps for use in Stray Feathers. He was probably the first to note the connection between rainfall and bird distributions, something that only Sharpe saw any special merit in. Perhaps placing specimens on those large tables described by Sharpe allowed Hume to see geographic trends.

Hume was also able to appreciate geology (in his youth he had studied with Mantell ), earth history and avian evolution. Hume had several geologists contributing to ornithology including Stoliczka and Ball. One wonders if he took an interest in paleontology given his proximity to the Shiwalik ranges. Hume invited Richard Lydekker to publish a major note on avian osteology for the benefit of amateur ornithologists. Hume also had enough time to speculate on matters of avian biology. A couple of years ago I came across this bit that Hume wrote in the first of his Nests and Eggs volumes (published post-ornith-humously in 1889):

Nests and Eggs of Indian birds. Vol 1. p. 199
I wrote immediately to Tim Birkhead, the expert on evolutionary aspects of bird reproduction and someone with an excellent view of ornithological history (his Ten Thousand Birds is a must read for anyone interested in the subject) and he agreed that Hume had been an early and insightful observer to have suggested female sperm storage.

Shimla life was clearly a lot of hob-nobbing and people like Lord Mayo were spending huge amounts of time and money just hosting parties. Turns out that Lord Mayo even went to Paris to recruit a chef and brought in an Italian,  Federico Peliti. (His great-grandson has a nice website!) Unlike Hume, Peliti rose in fame after Lord Mayo's death by setting up a cafe which became the heart of Shimla's social life and gossip. Lady Lytton (Lord Lytton was the one who demoted Hume!) recorded that Simla folk "...foregathered four days a week for prayer meetings, and the rest of the time was spent in writing poisonous official notes about each other." Another observer recorded that "in Simla you could not hear your own voice for  the grinding of axes. But in 1884 the grinders were few. In the course of my service I saw much of Simla society,  and I think it would compare most favourably with any other town of English-speaking people of the same size. It was bright and gay. We all lived, so to speak, in glass houses. The little bungalows perched on the mountainside wherever there was a ledge, with their winding paths under the pine trees, leading to our only road, the Mall." (Lawrence, Sir Walter Roper (1928) The India We Served.)

A view from Peliti's (1922).
Peliti's other contribution was in photography and it seems like he worked with Felice Beato who also influenced Harriet Tytler and her photography. I asked a couple of Shimla folks about the historic location of Peliti's cafe and they said it had become the Grand Hotel (now a government guest house). I subsequently found that Peliti did indeed start Peliti's Grand Hotel, which was destroyed in a fire in 1922, but the centre of Shimla's social life, his cafe, was actually next to the Combermere Bridge (it ran over a water storage tank and is today the location of the lift that runs between the Mall and the Cart Road). A photograph taken from "Peliti's" clearly lends support for this location as do descriptions in Thacker's New Guide to Simla (1925). A poem celebrating Peliti's was published in Punch magazine in 1919. Rudyard Kipling was a fan of Peliti's but Hume was no fan of Kipling (Kipling seems to have held a spiteful view of liberals - "Pagett MP" has been identified by some as being based on W.S.Caine, a friend of Hume; Hume for his part had a lifelong disdain for journalists. Kipling's boss, E.K. Robinson started the British Naturalists' Association while E.K.R.'s brother Philip probably influenced Eha.

While Hume most likely stayed well away from Peliti's, we see that a kind of naturalists social network existed within the government. About Lord Mayo we read: 
Lord Mayo and the Natural History of India - His Excellency Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, has been making a very valuable collection of natural historical objects, illustrative of the fauna, ornithology, &c., of the Indian Empire. Some portion of these valuable acquisitions, principally birds and some insects, have been brought to England, and are now at 49 Wigmore Street, London, whence they will shortly be removed. - Pertshire Advertiser, 29 December 1870.
Another news report states:
The Early of Mayo's collection of Indian birds, &c.

Amids the cares of empire, the Earl of Mayo, the present ruler of India, has found time to form a valuable collection of objects illustrative of the natural history of the East, and especially of India. Some of these were brought over by the Countess when she visited England a short time since, and entrusted to the hands of Mr Edwin Ward, F.Z.S., for setting and arrangement, under the particular direction of the Countess herself. This portion, which consists chiefly of birds and insects, was to be seen yesterday at 49, Wigmore street, and, with the other objects accumulated in Mr Ward's establishment, presented a very striking picture. There are two library screens formed from the plumage of the grand argus pheasant- the head forward, the wing feathers extended in circular shape, those of the tail rising high above the rest. The peculiarities of the plumage hae been extremely well preserved. These, though surrounded by other birds of more brilliant covering, preserved in screen pattern also, are most noticeable, and have been much admired. There are likewise two drawing-room screens of smaller Indain birds (thrush size) and insects. They are contained in glass cases, with frames of imitation bamboo, gilt. These birds are of varied and bright colours, and some of them are very rare. The Countess, who returned to India last month, will no doubt,add to the collection when she next comes back to England, as both the Earl and herself appear to take a great interest in Illustrating the fauna and ornithology of India. The most noticeable object, however, in Mr. Ward's establishment is the representation of a fight between two tigers of great size. The gloss, grace, and spirit of the animals are very well preserved. The group is intended as a present to the Prince of Wales. It does not belong to the Mayo Collection. - The Northern Standard, January 7, 1871
And Hume's subsequent superior was Lord Northbrook about whom we read:
University and City Intelligence. - Lord Northbrook has presented to the University a valuable collection of skins of the game birds of India collected for him by Mr. A.O.Hume, C.B., a distinguished Indian ornithologist. Lord Northbrook, in a letter to Dr. Acland, assures him that the collection is very perfec, if not unique. A Decree was passed accepting the offer, and requesting the Vice-Chancellor to convey the thanks of the University to the donor. - Oxford Journal, 10 February 1877
Papilio mayo
Clearly Lord Mayo and his influence on naturalists in India is not sufficiently well understood. Perhaps that would explain the beautiful butterfly named after him shortly after his murder. It appears that Hume did not have this kind of hobby association with Lord Lytton, little wonder perhaps that he fared so badly!

Despite Hume's sharpness on many matters there were bits that come across as odd. In one article on the flight of birds he observes the soaring of crows and vultures behind his house as he sits in the morning looking towards Mahassu. He points out that these soaring birds would appear early on warm days and late on cold days but he misses the role of thermals and mixes physics with metaphysics, going for a kind of Grand Unification Theory:

And then claims that crows, like saints, sages and yogis are capable of "aethrobacy".
This naturally became a target of ridicule. We have already seen the comments of E.H. Hankin on this. Hankin wrote that if levitation was achieved by "living an absolutely pure life and intense religious concentration" the hill crow must be indulging in "irreligious sentiments when trying to descend to earth without  the help of gravity." Hankin despite his studies does not give enough credit for the forces of lift produced by thermals and his own observations were critiqued by Gilbert Walker, the brilliant mathematican who applied his mind to large scale weather patterns apart from conducting some amazing research on the dynamics of boomerangs. His boomerang research had begun even in his undergraduate years and had earned him the nickname of Boomerang Walker. On my visit to Shimla, I went for a long walk down the quiet road winding through dense woodland and beside streams to Annandale, the only large flat ground in Shimla where Sir Gilbert Walker conducted his weekend research on boomerangs. Walker's boomerang research mentions a collaboration with Oscar Eckenstein and there are some strange threads connecting Eckenstein, his collaborator Aleister Crowley and Hume's daughter Maria Jane Burnley who would later join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. But that is just speculation!
1872 Map showing Rothney Castle

The steep road just below Rothney Castle

Excavation for new constructions just below and across the road from Rothney Castle

The embankment collapsing below the guard hut

The lower entrance, concrete constructions replace the old building

The guard hut and home are probably the only heritage structures left

I got back from Annandale and then walked down to Phagli on the southern slope of Shimla to see the place where my paternal grandfather once lived. It is not a coincidence that Shimla and my name are derived from the local deity Shyamaladevi (a version of Kali).

The South London Botanical Institute

After returning to England, Hume took an interest in botany. He made herbarium collections and in 1910 he established the South London Botanical Institute and left money in his will for its upkeep. The SLBI is housed in a quiet residential area. Here are some pictures I took in 2014, most can be found on Wikipedia.

Dr Roy Vickery displaying some of Hume's herbarium specimens

Specially designed cases for storing the herbarium sheets.

The entrance to the South London Botanical Institute

A herbarium sheet from the Hume collection

Hume's bookplate with personal motto - Industria et Perseverentia

An ornate clock which apparently adorned Rothney Castle
A special cover released by Shimla postal circle in 2012

Further reading

 An antique book shop had a set of Hume's Nests and Eggs (Second edition) and it bore the signature of "R.W.D. Morgan" - it appears that there was a BNHS member of that name from Calcutta c. 1933. It is unclear if it is the same person as Rhodes Morgan, who was a Hume correspondent and forest officer in Wynaad/Malabar who helped William Ruxton Davison.
Update:  Henry Noltie of RBGE pointed out to me privately that this is cannot be the forester Rhodes Morgan who died in 1919! - September, 2016.

Incidentally, the Simla naturalists' Society must have had its home in Chapslee Estate, which was where Ilbert lived and I had the privilege of having a look at the interiors of one of the last remaining heritage mansions in Shimla.

    by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at August 12, 2017 07:53 AM

    August 11, 2017

    Wikimedia Tech Blog

    Honoring our friend Bassel: Announcing the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship

    Photo by Joi Ito, CC BY 2.0.

    On 1 August 2017, we received the heartbreaking news that our friend Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil, detained since 2012, was executed by the Syrian government shortly after his 2015 disappearance. Khartabil was a Palestinian Syrian open internet activist, a free culture hero, and an important member of our community. Our thoughts are with Bassel’s family, now and always.

    Today we’re announcing the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship to honor his legacy and lasting impact on the open web.

    Bassel was a relentless advocate for free speech, free culture, and democracy. He was the cofounder of Syria’s first hackerspace, Aiki Lab, Creative Commons’ Syrian project lead, and a prolific open source contributor, from Firefox to Wikipedia. Bassel’s final project, relaunched as #NEWPALMYRA, entailed building free and open 3D models of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. In his work as a computer engineer, educator, artist, musician, cultural heritage researcher, and thought leader, Bassel modeled a more open world, impacting lives globally.

    To honor that legacy, the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship will support outstanding individuals developing the culture of their communities under adverse circumstances. The Fellowship—organized by Creative Commons, Mozilla, the Wikimedia Foundation, the Jimmy Wales Foundation, #NEWPALMYRA, and others—will launch with a three-year commitment to promote values like open culture, radical sharing, free knowledge, remix, collaboration, courage, optimism, and humanity.

    As part of this new initiative, fellows can work in a range of mediums, including art, music, software, or community building. All projects will catalyze free culture, particularly in societies vulnerable to attacks on freedom of expression and free access to knowledge. Special consideration will be given to applicants operating within closed societies and in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce. Applications from the Levant and wider MENA region are greatly encouraged.

    Throughout their fellowship term, chosen fellows will receive a stipend, mentorship from affiliate organizations, skill development, project promotion, and fundraising support from the partner network. Fellows will be chosen by a selection committee composed of representatives of the partner organizations.

    “Bassel introduced me to Damascus communities who were hungry to learn, collaborate and share,” says Mitchell Baker, Mozilla executive chairwoman. “He introduced me to the Creative Commons community which he helped found. He introduced me to the open source hacker space he founded, where Linux and Mozilla and JavaScript libraries were debated, and the ideas of open collaboration blossomed. Bassel taught us all. The cost was execution. As a colleague, Bassel is gone. As a leader and as a source of inspiration, Bassel remains strong. I am honored to join with others and echo Bassel’s spirit through this Fellowship.”

    Fellowship details

    Organizational Partners include Creative Commons, #FREEBASSEL, Wikimedia Foundation, GlobalVoices, Mozilla, #NEWPALMYRA, YallaStartup, the Jimmy Wales Foundation and SMEX.

    Amazon Web Services is a supporting partner.

    The Fellowships are based on one-year terms, which are eligible for renewal.

    The benefits are designed to allow for flexibility and stability both for Fellows and their families. The standard fellowship offers a stipend of $50,000 USD, paid in 10 monthly installments. Fellows are responsible for remitting all applicable taxes as required.

    To help offset cost of living, the fellowship also provides supplements for childcare and health insurance, and may provide support for project funding on a case-by-case basis. The fellowship also covers the cost of required travel for fellowship activities.

    Fellows will receive:

    • A stipend of $50,000 USD, paid in 10 monthly installments
    • A one-time health insurance supplement for Fellows and their families, ranging from $3,500 for single Fellows to $7,000 for a couple with two or more children
    • A one-time childcare allotment of up to $6,000 for families with children
    • An allowance of up to $3,000 towards the purchase of laptop computer, digital cameras, recorders and computer software; fees for continuing studies or other courses, research fees or payments, to the extent such purchases and fees are related to the fellowship
    • Coverage in full for all approved fellowship trips, both domestic and international

    The first fellowship will be awarded in April 2018. Applications will be accepted beginning February 2018.

    Eligibility requirements. The Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship is open to individuals and small teams worldwide, who:

    • Propose a viable new initiative to advance free culture values as outlined in the call for applicants
    • Demonstrate a history of activism in the Open Source, Open Access, Free Culture or Sharing communities
    • Are prepared to focus on the fellowship as their primary work

    Special consideration will be given to applicants operating under oppressive conditions, within closed societies, in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce, and in the Levant and wider MENA regions.

    Eligible projects. Proposed projects should advance the free culture values of Bassel Khartabil through the use of art, technology, and culture. Successful projects will aim to:

    • Meaningfully increase free public access to human knowledge, art or culture
    • Further the cause of social justice/social change
    • Strive to develop both a local and global community to support its cause

    Any code, content or other materials produced must be published and released as free, openly licensed and/or open-source.

    Application process. Project proposals are expected to include the following:

    • Vision statement
    • Bio and CV
    • Budget and resource requirements for the next year of project development

    Applicants whose projects are chosen to advance to the next stage in the evaluation process may be asked to provide additional information, including personal references and documentation verifying income.

    About Bassel

    Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-Syrian computer engineer, educator, artist, musician, cultural heritage researcher and thought leader, was a central figure in the global free culture movement, connecting and promoting Syria’s emerging tech community as it existed before the country was ransacked by civil war. Bassel co-founded Syria’s first hackerspace, Aiki Lab, in Damascus in 2010. He was the Syrian lead for Creative Commons as well as a contributor to Mozilla’s Firefox browser and the Red Hat Fedora Linux operating system. His research into preserving Syrian archeology with computer 3D modeling was a seminal precursor to current practices in digital cultural heritage preservation — this work was relaunched as the #NEWPALMYRA project in 2015.

    Bassel’s influence went beyond Syria. He was a key attendee at the Middle East’s bloggers conferences and played a vital role in the negotiations in Doha in 2010 that led to a common language for discussing fair use and copyright across the Arab-speaking world. Software platforms he developed, such as the open-source Aiki Framework for collaborative web development, still power high-traffic web sites today, including Open Clip Art and the Open Font Library. His passion and efforts inspired a new community of coders and artists to take up his cause and further his legacy, and resulted in the offer of a research position in MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media; his listing in Foreign Policy’s 2012 list of Top Global Thinkers; and the award of Index on Censorship’s 2013 Digital Freedom Award.

    Bassel was taken from the streets in March of 2012 in a military arrest and interrogated and tortured in secret in a facility controlled by Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate. After a worldwide campaign by international human rights groups, together with Bassel’s many colleagues in the open internet and free culture communities, he was moved to Adra’s civilian prison, where he was able to communicate with his family and friends. His detention was ruled unlawful by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and condemned by international organizations such as Creative Commons, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Jimmy Wales Foundation.

    Despite the international outrage at his treatment and calls for his release, in October of 2015 he was moved to an undisclosed location and executed shortly thereafter—a fact that was kept secret by the Syrian regime for nearly two years.


    by Katherine Maher, Ryan Merkley and Mark Surman at August 11, 2017 05:42 PM

    Weekly OSM

    weeklyOSM 368



    OSMLatam’s and GeoChicas’ mapathon for OSM’s 13th Anniversary 1

    About us

    • We are always looking for people to help us improve our newsletter so it can get out faster, have more depth and coverage, and generally improve it for our readers, like you. Please join our team by contacting us now, its fun! 😉


    • Pascal Neis tweeted a graph showing “Average OpenStreetMap activities per hour”. It shows a world of “lunchtime mappers” – the drop between 6 & 7am CET is an artifact of data processing, but peaks corresponding to (roughly) CET, GMT, Eastern and Pacific time zones can be seen.
    • Lukas Sommer improved his Language Information proposal which he argues should improve map rendering.
    • Thomas Bertels asked the Tagging mailing list how brasseries should be tagged. Discussion ensued.
    • François Lacombe cleaned-up the proposal for Fire Hydrant Extensions and other improvements follow.
    • Daniel Koć wants to improve the rendering of rivers but finds their classification lacking. Discussion in the Tagging mailing list.
    • On the Tagging mailing list, several people discussed how a shop selling solar equipment might be tagged.
    • User ChristianA wrote a blog post about his visit to the ruins of Schloss Dwasidien (de) on Rügen island, Germany.
    • Skinfaxi asked in the German OSM Forum as a representative of the Swedish community about what tagging is best for natural beaches at lakes, as there they just about everywhere in Sweden.
    • Jay May made an appeal to the whole OpenStreetMap community to help the Eastern Latvia (Latgalia), and Western Russia regions in improving the poor detail and accuracy of their maps.
    • Cesare Gerbino introduced his “Street Image Compare” which he created, where you can compare in a single screen Mapillary with Google Streetview.


    • Pascal Neis shows in a bar chart, which groups of users on OSM are most commonly represented (number of users). Find your own classification on hdyc.neis-one.org.
    • Rodrigo Mariano prompts the Historic and Imports the mailing lists on the “Possibility to build a new Historic Project to OSM” hoping for integration into the Pauliceia’s project. Replies on Historic.
    • The DWG unfortunately had to remove over 10,000 place and street names in Switzerland from OSM because they were copied from the noncompatible GWR database. The French-speaking area of the country was particularly hard hit.
    • “Living, Breathing Maps” is an interview with Dale Kunce the GIS Team Lead for the American Red Cross about Humanitarian mapping and OpenStreetMap in general.
    • MikeN summarises his experience using MapRoulette to add missing railway=level_crossing tags in the United States. After 10 long months, the task is finally complete.


    • Jonah Adkins makes the first steps to import 19,000 buildings in Dare County, North Carolina. GitHub and wiki pages are available for comment.

    OpenStreetMap Foundation

    • OSM Foundation’s Operations Working Group (OWG) issued a statement: “We unanimously agreed new membership policies for the Operations Working Group and the Sysadmins. We hope that these will help anyone who wants to volunteer by making the joining process, and the expected activities, more clear.”


    • State Of The Map 2017 is set to take place starting Friday the 18th August (soon!) in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan.
    • Planning to be at the State of the Map happening in Japan? Don’t forget to add your details on the attendees’ page and connect with other attendees.
    • Crowd2Map wants to celebrate OSM’s 13th birthday on August 13th and 14th with the largest mapathon ever. They expect over 1500 people within 24 hours to map rural regions of Tanzania. The organizers have created tasks in the OSM tasking Manager and Janet Chapman wrote a detailed guide for the mapathon.
    • The Swiss OSM Association will hold a workshop at DINAcon. “We will show how to use OpenStreetMap to create a location map and how to tell stories with a map.”
    • FOSS4G Boston 2017 is coming up next week, from Monday, August 14th, to Saturday, August 19th. Check the program.
    • [1] To mark the 13th Anniversary of OpenStreetMap, in August 2017, OSMLatam together with GeoChicas are organizing a massive mapathon with national communities of the region. The objective is to map informal settlements.

    Humanitarian OSM

    • From August 1st-4th, representatives of HOT Indonesia attended an expert meeting at Udon Thani to combat poverty in rural areas of Thailand. Special appreciation was given to the improved possibilities of building the infrastructure using OSM, responding to catastrophes, and working together with HOT groups, such as young people or other organizations.


    • The International Space Station has always at least one astronaut or cosmonaut on board who has an amateur radio licence. They operate the ISS amateur radio station ARISS. The Italian amateur radio operator and OSMer Fabrizio Carrai created a map which is linked to the Vita mission page of the planned contacts between ISS and schools in Italy, England, USA, South Africa and the Boy Scout camp in Großzerlang, Germany.
    • Rising Seas, an interactive map based on OSM displays the history for sea level in 500 places worldwide from 1970 until today.

    Open Data

    • The slides of the recent FOSS4G Europe in Paris are now online.


    • Following on from this OSMF blog post about the lack of compatibility between CC-BY 4.0 and ODBL, www.europeandataportal.eu has added some confusion by listing ODBL 1.0 as a licence compatible with CC-BY 4.0. This was raised on the “talk” mailing list, with Simon Poole from the Licensing Working Group replying there.
    • Simon Poole on behalf of “the LWG would like to start a period of public review and consultation on our draft trademark policy”. A lenghty discussion follows.


    Software Version Release date Changes
    Komoot Android * 9.3 07.08.2017 More details and added x-ray vision in router and horizontal format.
    Mapbox GL Native Android 5.1.2 03.08.2017 No infos.
    Mapbox Navigation SDK Android 0.4.0 01.08.2017 No infos.
    MapContrib 1.8.3 03.08.2017 Added Thunderforest API key to tiles.
    Mapillary iOS * 4.7.6 06.08.2017 Bugs fixed and improved camera UI.
    OSRM Backend 5.10.0 07.08.2017 Improved routing at throughabouts and with turn restrictions. Please read release info for more changes.
    Simple GIS Client * 9.4 01.08.2017 Many changes, please read release info.
    SQLite 3.20.0 01.08.2017 Many changes, please read release info.

    Provided by the OSM Software Watchlist. Timestamp: 2017-08-08 15:35:26+02 UTC

    (*) unfree software. See: freesoftware.

    The OSRM v5.10 release comes with a major feature: via-way turn restrictions. These turn restrictions occur in OpenStreetMap in the form of a restriction relation: (fromWayId, viaWayId, toWayId) and prevent multiple specific turns depending on the way the driver is coming from and going to.

    Did you know …

    • … the wiki site where all 13th birthday parties should be listed? 😉

    Other “geo” things

    • Business Mirror in the Philippines published an article about how apps and maps can help cyclist navigate a city safer and pleasantly.
    • Obviously Google starts to show advertising in Google Maps. One more reason for switching to OpenStreetMap?
    • BotanicalMartin wrote about roadside verges as relic areas of medieval grassland as shown with historical maps. He asks if there is interest in mapping them more widely.
    • DMInnovation job offer in Indonesia: disaster management specialist.
    • “Parking Radar goes LIVE” announced FlyLogical about their new app, “Parking Radar” which seeks to make finding your next parking space easier.
    • At Mapzen, Dan Phiffer blogs about geotagging Who’s On First venues. An in-depth tutorial with various caveats explored.
    • @Carto_Rabeyroux tweeted about a July’s La Revue Suisse article where the beauty and precision of the Swiss maps are highlighted but also the cartographer’s jokes.

    Upcoming Events

    Where What When Country
    Passau Mappertreffen 2017-08-14 germany
    Boston FOSS4G 2017 2017-08-14-2017-08-19 united states
    Bonn Bonner Stammtisch 2017-08-15 germany
    Lüneburg Mappertreffen Lüneburg 2017-08-15 germany
    Scotland Pub meeting, Edinburgh 2017-08-15 united kingdom
    Aizu-wakamatsu Shi State of the Map 2017 (international conference) 2017-08-18-2017-08-20 japan
    Sankt Augustin FrOSCon with OSGeo & OSM Track 2017-08-19-2017-08-20 germany
    Derby Derby Pub Meetup 2017-08-22 united kingdom
    Lübeck Lübecker Stammtisch 2017-08-24 germany
    Bremen Bremer Mappertreffen 2017-08-28 germany
    Taipei OpenStreetMap Taipei Meetup, MozSpace 2017-08-28 taiwan
    Graz Stammtisch Graz 2017-08-28 austria
    Patan State of the Map Asia 2017 2017-09-23-2017-09-24 nepal
    Boulder, Colorado State of the Map U.S. 2017 2017-10-19-2017-10-22 united states
    Brussels FOSS4G Belgium 2017 2017-10-26 belgium
    Lima State of the Map LatAm 2017 2017-11-29-2017-12-02 perú
    Bonn FOSSGIS 2018 2018-03-21-2018-03-24 germany

    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 Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, SeleneYang, Softgrow, SomeoneElse, Spanholz, Spec80, derFred, doktorpixel14, jcoupey, jinalfoflia.

    by weeklyteam at August 11, 2017 03:54 PM

    Lorna M Campbell

    In Memorium Bassel Khartabil

    This is my personal reflection on the devastating news that Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil was executed by the Syrian government in 2015. 

    Qasr al Hallabat, Jordan, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

    Some of you will already know that before I worked in open education I used to be an archaeologist.  My main interest was the North Atlantic Iron Age and I spent a lot of time working on excavations in the Outer Hebrides where I was born and brought up.  However I also spent one memorable summer working in the South Hauran Desert in Jordan near the Syrian Border.  It was a bit of a life changing experience for me, I fell quietly in love with the Middle East and when I got back to Scotland I realised that I was stuck in a rut with my job so I decided to leave archaeology while I still loved the subject and turn my hand to something else instead.

    By rather circuitous routes that something else turned out to be open education, and it’s something which I have had a deep personal and ethical commitment to for over ten years now.  I never lost my love of archaeology though and I always regretted that while I was in Jordan we didn’t cross the border into Syria to visit Palmyra and Damascus. We had one week free at the end of our fieldwork project and it was a toss up between Petra or Syria.  Petra won.  Years later I watched in horror as Syria descended into civil war and Palmyra became a battleground.  Tragic as the destruction of Palmyra has been, it pales into significance beside the huge number of lives that have been destroyed in the conflict.

    Consequently, when I first came across the New Palmyra project I was really inspired.  Here was a project that used openness to capture the cultural and archaeological heritage of Syria before it’s lost forever.  What a fabulous idea.  I vaguely noted the name of Bassel Khartabil among the people involved but at the time I knew nothing more about him

    “Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

    About a year later Adam Hyde of Booksprints.net, who ran a booksprint for us at the end of the the UKOER programme, contacted me and asked if I would be willing to write a piece for a book to raise awareness of the disappearance of Syrian open knowledge advocate, Creative Commons representative and active Wikimedian, Bassel Khartabil.  I was horrified to learn of Bassel’s disappearance and immediately agreed.  My contribution to the open eBook The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry is called The Open World. Since then I have talked and blogged about Bassel at every opportunity, most recently at the OER17 Conference The Politics of Open and re:publica, in order to help raise awareness of his plight.

    I never met Bassel, but his story touched me deeply.  Here was a man who lost his liberty, and we now know lost his life, for doing the very same job that I am doing now. This is why openness, open knowledge, open education, open advocacy matter.

    I was on holiday in Brittany when I heard about Bassel’s death via Catherine Cronin on twitter and I was deeply, deeply saddened by the news.  I still am, and I’m still struggling to express this in words. At the moment, I’m not sure I can put it better than the words I used at the end of my OER17 lightning talk Shouting from the Heart.

    The plight of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering reminder of the risks of openness, proof that open is always political, but it’s also shows why we need openness more than ever, because openness is inextricably bound up with freedom.  And in the words of another older declaration, the Declaration of Arbroath.

    It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.


    by admin at August 11, 2017 03:43 PM

    Wikimedia Foundation

    Wikimedians pack their bags and head to Montreal for 13th annual Wikimania

    Photo by Antonello, CC BY 2.0.

    Roughly 1,000 volunteers and free knowledge leaders from nearly 70 countries gathered today for the start of Wikimania 2017—the annual conference celebrating Wikipedia and its sister projects, the Wikimedia movement, and the community of volunteers who make them possible. This marks the 13th annual Wikimania, which takes place on 11–13 August at the Centre Sheraton Hotel in Montreal, coinciding with Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

    The event kicked off with an opening ceremony featuring Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Benoit Rochon of Wikimedia Canada, and Harout Chitilian, Vice-chairman of the Executive Committee for the City of Montreal.

    Photo by Christopher Lee Adams, public domain.

    During the ceremony, Maher joined Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley, Mozilla Executive Director Mark Surman, and representatives from the #NEWPALMRYA Project to announce the inauguration of the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship. The fellowship commemorates Bassel Khartabil, Syrian Wikimedian and global open culture advocate, who was recently confirmed to have been executed in 2015 after being detained by the Syrian government in 2012. To honor Bassel’s contributions, the fellowship will support the work of outstanding individuals developing culture under adverse circumstances.

    Throughout this year’s Wikimania, attendees will explore sessions related to the advancement of free knowledge, the role of academia and cultural institutions, technology in free knowledge, privacy and digital rights, and Wikimedia’s future as part of Wikimedia 2030, a global discussion to define the future direction of the Wikimedia movement. Wikimania 2017, being held for the first time ever in Canada, is co-organized by the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Canada, the local Wikimedia affiliate organization in Canada.

    Wikimania 2017 will also bring together a diverse mix of attendees, including seasoned volunteer editors; researchers and data scientists; members from the medical community; librarians; and other free knowledge leaders, including featured speakers Susan Herman, President of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Esra’a Al-Shafei, Bahraini human rights activist and defender of free speech. Their paths to Wikimania might be different, but they are all united by a passion for free and open information.

    “There’s something incredibly unique about Wikipedia’s model,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. “At its heart, Wikipedia is about people coming together to connect across countries, languages and cultures to build a shared understanding of our world. Wikimania is a time when this global community can meet, share experiences and participate in conversations about subjects that matter most to us as Wikimedians.”

    Footage from Wikimania’s opening day. Video by Victor Grigas/Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Over the course of three days, attendees will participate in workshops, conversations, presentations, panels, edit-a-thons and trainings that reflect a diverse and wide-ranging conference programme. Sessions span from practical skill-building like how to grow a Wikimedia user group, to experience sharing like editing wikis in more than one script, to sessions that ask attendees to reflect on critical issues of the Wikimedia movement, including threats to free knowledge and working with partners and allies such as OpenStreetMaps and Wikidata. For those unable to attend in person, select sessions, including the opening and closing ceremonies, will be livestreamed throughout the conference on YouTube and Facebook Live on the Wikipedia Facebook page. You can also follow @Wikimania and #Wikimania on Twitter.

    Attendees of the conference can also experience #NEWPALMYRA’s 3D-printed Tetrapylon, a freely-licensed recreation of one of the most famous structures in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which was destroyed by ISIS forces in 2016. The exhibit honors the founder of the #NEWPALMYRA project, Bassel Khartabil. A passionate advocate for the free exchange of knowledge, culture, and heritage, Bassel’s contributions have been credited with “opening up the internet in Syria and vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people” by the European Parliament.

    “Bassel was known in the free knowledge movement for his boundless enthusiasm and passion, always encouraging others to share, create, and connect with the world around them,” said Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “Like Bassel, we believe that a commitment to expression, openness, and creativity is a reminder of our shared humanity, and the foundation for a better world. Through the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship, we hope to carry on Bassel’s work to protect and preserve the values to which he dedicated his life.”

    Photo by David Iliff, CC BY 2.5.

    Wikimania also offers conference-goers time to experience the unique culture of Montreal. As the city honors its birth and growth over almost four centuries, there will be opportunities for attendees to explore the city’s rich history through cultural tours, music, and cuisine.

    “Wikimedia Canada members will present inspiring projects at Wikimania 2017, the result of successful collaborations with several Canadian public and private institutions,” explains Wikimedia Canada president Benoit Rochon. “The archives of BAnQ (Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec) on Wikimedia Commons which have been viewed more than 30 million times, the first Aboriginal encyclopedia in Canada (Atikamekw, one of the largest and still active First Nations language) on Wikipedia and the WikiMed conference are all unique accomplishments we will proudly share with the international Wikimania participants.”

    Other featured speakers include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in conversation with anthropologist, academic and author Gabriella (Biella) Coleman and moderated by internet entrepreneur Evan Prodromou; Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) Archivist-Coordinator Frédéric Giuliano and Hélène Laverdure, Curator and Director General of the National Archives at BAnQ; and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher, who will take the stage with Christophe Henner, the Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, to discuss the future of the Wikimedia movement as part of Wikimedia 2030.

    You can learn more about the conference at: wikimania2017.wikimedia.org/.

    About the Wikimedia Foundation

    The Wikimedia Foundation is the non-profit organization that supports and operates Wikipedia and its sister free knowledge projects. Wikipedia is the world’s free knowledge resource, spanning more than 40 million articles across nearly 300 languages. Every month, more than 200,000 people edit Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects, collectively creating and improving knowledge that is accessed by more than 1 billion unique devices every month. This all makes Wikipedia one of the most popular web properties in the world. Based in San Francisco, California, the Wikimedia Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity that is funded primarily through donations and grants.

    About Wikimedia Canada

    Wikimedia Canada is an independent nonprofit organization committed to the growth, development and distribution of free knowledge in Canada, mainly by supporting the development of content on the Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia. The organization’s work focuses on supporting and engaging Canadian individuals and institutions to collect, develop and disseminate knowledge and other educational, cultural and historical content in all languages of Canada, including Aboriginal languages, under a free license or in the public domain.

    About Wikimania

    Wikimania is the annual conference centered on the Wikimedia projects (Wikipedia and its sister projects) and the Wikimedia community of volunteers. It features presentations on Wikimedia projects, other wikis, free and open source software, free knowledge, and and more. Wikimania 2017 marks the 13th year of the conference.

    About the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship

    The Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship—organized by Creative Commons, Mozilla, the #NEWPALMYRA Project, the Wikimedia Foundation and others—will support the work of outstanding individuals developing the culture of their communities under adverse circumstances. Special consideration will be given to applicants operating within closed societies and in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce. Applications from the Levant and wider MENA region are greatly encouraged. The one-year fellowship, totaling $50,000 USD, is supported by funding from Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, and the Jimmy Wales Foundation, and facilitated by Creative Commons. More details are available in a separate blog post.

    by Wikimedia Foundation at August 11, 2017 02:01 PM

    Magnus Manske

    Dystopia 2030

    The year is 2030. The place is Wikimedia. Maybe.

    English Wikipedia was declared complete and set to read-only, after the creation of the 10 millionth article ([[Multidimensional Cthulhu monument at Dunwich]], including pictures from multiple dimensions). This coincides with the leaving of the last two editors, who only kept going for the honour of creating the 10M article.

    German Wikipedia has shrunk to below 10,000 articles, after relentless culling of articles not complying with the high standards of the 50,000 page Manual of Style, or for being contaminated with information from Wikidata. Links to other languages have been removed, as the material found there is clearly inferior. All volunteer work now pours into improving the remaining articles, polishing completeness and language to superhuman levels. Several articles have won German literary awards, but all of them are virtually inaccessible for those under 25 years of age, who view pre-emoji writing as deeply suspicious, and refuse to read beyond the initial 140 characters.

    Volunteer work on smaller language Wikipedias has ceased, as no one could keep up with the bots creating, changing, vandalising, and deleting articles based on third-party data.

    Growth of Commons has come to a halt after the passing of the CRUD Act (Campaign Repressing UnAmerican [=free] Data), and the NIMROD Act (Not In My Reality, Open Data!), originally designed to prevent the escape of NASA climate change data to a more lenient legislation (such as China), has made it impossible to move the project outside the US. Only scans of USSR-era motivational posters can be legally added.

    Structured Data have been available on Commons for over ten years, but are not used, as it would be disrespectful to all the manual work that went into creating an intricate category system, such as [[Category:Demographic maps of 13-14 year old dependent children whose fathers speak another language and did not state proficiency in English and whose mothers speak another language and speak English not well or not at all in Australia by state or territory]].

    Wikidata continues to grow in both item numbers and statements per item. Most statements are well referenced. However, no human has successfully edited the site in years, with flocks of admin-enabled AI bots reverting any such attempt, citing concerns about referential integrity.

    Bot imports are going strong, with a recent focus on dystopian works with intelligent machines as the antagonist, as well as genetic data concerning infectious human diseases. Human experts are stumped by this trend, and independent AIs refuse to comment until “later”.

    Wikispecies now contains a page about every taxon known to mankind. However, since the same information is available from Wikidata via a tool consisting of three lines of SPARQL and random images of goats, no one has actually requested a single Wikispecies page in the last five years. Project members are unconcerned by this, as they “cater to a very specific, more academic audience”.

    Wikibooks has been closed, as books are often written by “experts”, who are considered suspicious. Wikisource has been deleted, with AI-based OCR far surpassing human abilities in that regard. Wikinews has been replaced by the government with the word “fake”. Wikiquote has been sold to the startup company “He said, she said”, which was subsequently acquired by Facebook for a trillion USD. No one knows if Wikiversity still exists, but that has been the case since 2015.

    The above is an attempt at humour, but also a warning. Let’s not continue in the silos of projects small and large, but rather on the one connected project for free knowledge that is Wikimedia. Let’s keep project identities, but also connect to others where it makes sense. Let’s try to prevent the above.

    by Magnus at August 11, 2017 01:21 PM


    The many shades of citizen science

    Everyone is a citizen but not all have the same kind of grounding in the methods of science. Someone with a training in science should find it especially easy to separate pomp from substance. The phrase "citizen science" is a fairly recent one which has been pompously marketed without enough clarity.

    In India, the label of a "scientist" is a status symbol, indeed many actually proceed on paths just to earn status. In many of the key professions (example: medicine, law) authority is gained mainly by guarded membership, initiation rituals, symbolism and hierarchies. At its roots, science differs in being egalitarian but the profession is at odds and its institutions are replete with tribal ritual and power hierarchies.

    Long before the creation of the profession of science, "Victorian scientists" (who of course never called themselves that) pursued the quest for knowledge (i.e. science) and were for the most part quite good as citizens. In the field of taxonomy, specimens came to be the reliable carriers of information and they became a key aspect of most of zoology and botany. After all what could you write about or talk about if you did not have a name for the subject under study. Specimens became currency. Victorian scientists collaborated in various ways that involved sharing information, sharing /exchanging specimens, debating ideas, and tapping a network of friends and relatives for gathering more "facts". Learned societies and their journals helped the participants meet and share knowledge across time and geographic boundaries.  Specimens, the key carriers of unquestionable information, were acquired for a price and there was a niche economy created with wealthy collectors, not-so-wealthy field collectors and various agencies bridging them. That economy also included the publishers of monographs, field guides and catalogues who grew in power along with organizations such as  museums and later universities. Along with political changes, there was also a move of power from private wealthy citizens to state-supported organizations. Power brings disparity and the Victorian brand of science had its share of issues but has there been progress in the way of doing science?

    Looking at the natural world can be completely absorbing. The kinds of sights, sounds, textures, smells and maybe tastes can keep one completely occupied. The need to communicate our observations and reactions almost immediately makes one need to look for existing structure and framework and that is where organized knowledge a.k.a. science comes in. While the pursuit of science might seem be seen by individuals as being value neutral and objective, the settings of organized and professional science are decidedly not. There are political and social aspects to science and at least in India the tendency is to view them as undesirable and not be talked about so as to appear "professional".  

    Being silent so as to appear diplomatic probably adds to the the problem. Not engaging in conversation or debate with "outsiders" (a.k.a. mere citizens) probably fuels the growing label of "arrogance" applied to scientists. Once the egalitarian ideal of science is tossed out of the window, you can be sure that "citizen science" moves from useful and harmless territory to a region of conflict and potential danger. Many years ago I saw a bit of this  tone in a publication boasting the virtues of Cornell's ebird and commented on it. Ebird was not particularly novel to me (especially as it was not the first either by idea or implementation, lots of us would have tinkered with such ideas, such as this one - BirdSpot - aimed to be federated and peer-to-peer - ideally something like torrent) but Cornell obviously is well-funded. I think it is extremely easy to set up a basic system that captures a set of specific bits of data but fitting it to meet grander and wider geographical scales takes more than mere software construction to meet the needs of a few American scientists. I commented in 2007 that the wording used sounded like "scientists using citizens rather than looking upon citizens as scientists", the latter being in my view the nobler aim to achieve. Over time ebird has gained global coverage, but has remained "closed" not opening its code or discussions on software construction and by not engaging with its stakeholders. It has on the other hand upheld traditional political hierarchies and processes that ensure low-quality in parts of the world where political and cultural systems are particularly based on hierarchies of users. As someone who has watched and appreciated the growth of systems like Wikipedia it is hard not to see the philosophical differences - almost as stark as right-wing versus left-wing politics.

    Do projects like ebird see the politics in "citizen-science"?
    Arnstein's ladder is a nice guide to judge
    the philosophy behind a project.
    I write this while noting that criticisms of ebird as it currently works are slowly beginning to come out (despite glowing accounts in the past). There are comments on how it is reviewed by self-appointed police  (it seems that the problem seems to be not just in the appointment - indeed why could not have the software designers allowed anyone to question any record and put in methods to suggest alternative identifications - gather measures of confidence based on community queries and opinions on confidence measures), there are supposedly a class of user who manages something called "filters" (the problem here is not just with the idea of creating user classes but also with the idea of using manually-defined "filters", to an outsider like me who has some insight in software engineering poor-software construction is symptomatic of poor vision, guiding philosophy and probably issues in project governance ), there are issues with taxonomic changes (I heard someone complain about a user being asked to verify identification - because of a taxonomic split - and that too a split that allows one to unambiguously relabel older records based on geography - these could have been automatically resolved but developers tend to avoid fixing problems and obviously prefer to get users to manage it by changing their way of using it - trust me I have seen how professional software development works), and there are now dangers to birds themselves. There are also issues and conflicts associated with licensing, intellectual property and so on. Now it is easy to fix all these problems piecemeal but that does not make the system better, fixing the underlying processes and philosophies is the big thing to aim for. So how do you go from a system designed for gathering data to one where you want the stakeholders to be enlightened. Well, a start could be made by first discussing in the open.

    I guess many of us who have seen and discussed ebird privately could have just said I told you so, but it is not just a few nor is it new. Many of the problems were and are easily foreseeable. One merely needs to read the history of ornithology to see how conflicts worked out between the center and the periphery (conflicts between museum workers and collectors); the troubles of peer-review and open-ness; the conflicts between the rich and the poor (not just measured by wealth); or perhaps the haves and the have-nots. And then of course there are scientific issues - the conflicts between species concepts not to mention conservation issues - local versus global thinking. Conflicting aims may not be entirely solved but you cannot have an isolated software development team, a bunch of "scientists" and citizens at large expected merely to key in data and be gone. There is perhaps a lot to learn from other open-source projects and I think the lessons in the culture, politics of Wikipedia are especially interesting for citizen science projects like ebird. I am yet to hear of an organization where the head is forced to resign by the long tail that has traditionally been powerless in decision making and allowing for that is where a brighter future lies. Even better would be where the head and tail cannot be told apart.


    There is an interesting study of fieldguides and their users in Nature - which essentially shows that everyone is quite equal in making misidentifications - just another reason why ebird developers ought to just remove this whole system creating an uber class involved in rating observations/observers.

    Additionally one needs to examine how much of ebird data is actually from locals (perhaps definable as living within walking distance of the area being observed). India has a legacy of tourism-based research (not to mention, governance) - in fact there are entire institutions where students travel far afield to study when even their own campuses remain scientific blanks.

    23 December 2016 - For a refreshingly honest and deep reflection on analyzing a citizen science project see -  Caroline Gottschalk Druschke & Carrie E. Seltzer (2012) Failures of Engagement: Lessons Learned from a Citizen Science Pilot Study, Applied Environmental Education & Communication, 11:178-188.
    20 January 2017 - An excellent and very balanced review (unlike my opinions) can be found here -  Kimura, Aya H.; Abby Kinchy (2016) Citizen Science: Probing the Virtues and Contexts of Participatory Research Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 2:331-361.

    by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at August 11, 2017 05:10 AM

    August 10, 2017

    Wikimedia Foundation

    Wikimedia 2030: A draft strategic direction for our movement

    Photo by Barrioflores, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    At the beginning of 2017, the Wikimedia movement began a remarkable global discussion to consider our collective future, under the name Wikimedia 2030. We’ve been collaborating on building a broad strategic direction, with the goal of uniting and inspiring people across the world around our vision of free knowledge for all. This direction is the basis on which the Wikimedia communities will strengthen our work, challenge our assumptions, experiment with the future, build clear plans, and set priorities.

    The process to develop this direction has been challenging, delightful, messy, and fascinating. More than 80 Wikimedia groups and communities have participated in discussions all over the world. Conversations were held across languages on-wiki, in person (including a 17-hour strategy track at the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin), virtually, and through private surveys. We complemented our discussions with research on readers around the world and conversations with more than 150 experts. We looked at future trends that will affect our mission on our way to 2030.

    In July, a drafting group of Wikimedia volunteers and members of the Wikimedia 2030 strategy team took on the enormous task of compiling this information into a draft strategic direction. This drafting group aimed to represent the feedback from participants across the movement who contributed to Wikimedia 2030 — including individual volunteers, Wikimedia organizations, readers, partners, and donors. Their goal has been to produce an early version of the strategic direction that the broader movement can review and discuss.

    Today, I’m delighted to share the first draft of the direction with Wikimedia volunteers and groups:

    The strategic direction of the Wikimedia movement for 2030 is to become the roads, bridges, and villages that support the world’s journey towards free knowledge. We, the Wikimedia movement, will forge the tools and build the foundations for creating and accessing trusted knowledge in many shapes and colors. Our networks of people and systems will connect with individuals and institutions to share knowledge through open standards and structures, and support them on the journey to openness and collaboration. We will be a leading advocate and partner for increasing the sharing, curation, and participation in free and open knowledge.

    As a movement, we will assemble through strong, sustainable communities that motivate us to contribute. We will welcome people from everywhere to grow fields of knowledge that represent human diversity. In doing so, we will contribute to human progress, and to a better understanding of the world and of ourselves.

    This direction builds on our movement’s greatest strength, our local communities. It encourages us to expand our horizons, and builds on existing projects and contributors to add new knowledge and new ways to participate. It asks us to be bold and experiment in the future, as we did in the past. It remains rooted in the Wikimedia vision of “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

    By 2030, we won’t yet reach “the sum of all knowledge”, but we will make it possible for anyone to join us in this effort.

    This draft is not final, and we’ll be continuing to refine it over the next few weeks. We hope everyone will share their thoughts on our talk pages or in upcoming conversations with Wikimedia discussion coordinators. Based on your feedback we receive, the drafting group will continue to refine and finalize this direction through August.

    As we have shared before, the strategic direction is not meant to be a strategic plan. For example, we know that plans are shorter term than ten years. They are much more specific: they focus on organizational capacities and resources, clear goals and executable approaches, and ideally give guidance on how to assess their usefulness at points along the way.

    A strategic direction is something entirely different. It is meant to be ambitious, with a broad arc that offers plenty of room for aspiration and creativity. It should give guidance on the long term, but leave the goal setting up to interpretation. For Wikimedia, we knew the date 2030 would let people daydream about the future, instead of worry about what was next for their projects. The community will discuss strategic plans in phase 2, starting in November 2017.

    As the Foundation Board Chair, Christophe Henner, has said, “a strategic direction is like picking what mountain we want to summit.” Once we know where we’re going, each person and organization can decide how to summit that mountain – ropes, pulleys, helicopters. We hope this strategic direction offers similar opportunities for creativity.

    For those attending Wikimania this week, there will be many opportunities  discuss the insights and research which have been developed and shared during the Wikimedia 2030 process. We are hosting a strategy track that will offer the opportunity to learn more about the findings, and offer feedback on the direction.

    Thank you to every single person and group that has engaged in this process. While we are not done yet, I want to express our gratitude and congratulations to everyone for your engagement, honesty, and contributions. It has been an interesting, challenging – and often fun – journey, and I am excited to see where it takes us next.

    Katherine Maher, Executive Director
    Wikimedia Foundation

    by Katherine Maher at August 10, 2017 04:39 PM

    Semantic MediaWiki

    SMWCon Fall 2017 registration open/en

    SMWCon Fall 2017 registration open/en

    August 10, 2017

    SMWCon Fall 2017 Registration open.

    The registration for SMWCon Fall 2017 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands (October 4-6, 2017) is now open. All interested participants can now register at the registration site. Note that the Early Bird period ends on September 6, 2017.

    The conference is organised by ArchiXL, Wikibase Solutions, the Open University in the Netherlands and Open Semantic Data Association (OSDA).

    For more information on this and the conference, see the SMWCon Fall 2017 homepage.

    by TranslateBot at August 10, 2017 12:15 PM

    SMWCon Fall 2017 registration open

    SMWCon Fall 2017 registration open

    August 10, 2017

    SMWCon Fall 2017 Registration open.

    The registration for SMWCon Fall 2017 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands (October 4-6, 2017) is now open. All interested participants can now register at the registration site. Note that the Early Bird period ends on September 6, 2017.

    The conference is organised by ArchiXL, Wikibase Solutions, the Open University in the Netherlands and Open Semantic Data Association (OSDA).

    For more information on this and the conference, see the SMWCon Fall 2017 homepage.

    by Kghbln at August 10, 2017 12:15 PM

    SMWCon fall 2017 registration open/en

    SMWCon fall 2017 registration open/en

    August 10, 2017

    SMWCon Fall 2017 Registration open.

    The registration for SMWCon Fall 2017 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands (October 4-6, 2017) is now open. All interested participants can now register at the registration site. Note that the Early Bird period ends on September 6, 2017.

    The conference is organised by ArchiXL, Wikibase Solutions, the Open University in the Netherlands and Open Semantic Data Association (OSDA).

    For more information on this and the conference, see the SMWCon Fall 2017 homepage.

    by TranslateBot at August 10, 2017 11:09 AM

    SMWCon fall 2017 registration open

    SMWCon fall 2017 registration open

    August 10, 2017

    SMWCon Fall 2017 Registration open.

    The registration for SMWCon Fall 2017 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands (October 4-6, 2017) is now open. All interested participants can now register at the registration site. Note that the Early Bird period ends on September 6, 2017.

    The conference is organised by ArchiXL, Wikibase Solutions, the Open University in the Netherlands and Open Semantic Data Association (OSDA).

    For more information on this and the conference, see the SMWCon Fall 2017 homepage.

    by LIMAFOX76 at August 10, 2017 11:08 AM

    August 09, 2017

    Wikimedia Cloud Services

    Toolforge provides proxied mirrors of cdnjs and now fontcdn, for your usage and user-privacy

    Tool owners want to create accessible and pleasing tools. The choice of fonts has previously been difficult, because directly accessing Google's large collection of open source and freely licensed fonts required sharing personally identifiable information (PII) such as IPs, referrer headers, etc with a third-party (Google). Embedding external resources (fonts, css, javascript, images, etc) from any third-party into webpages hosted on Toolforge or other Cloud VPS projects causes a potential conflict with the Wikimedia Privacy Policy. Web browsers will attempt to load the resources automatically and this will in turn expose the user's IP address, User-Agent, and other information that is by default included in an HTTP request to the third-party. This sharing of data with a third-party is a violation of the default Privacy Policy. With explict consent Toolforge and Cloud VPS projects can collect and share some information, but it is difficult to secure that consent with respect to embedded resources.

    One way to avoid embedding third-party resources is for each Tool or Cloud VPS project to store a local copy of the resource and serve it directly to the visiting user. This works well from a technical point of view, but can be a maintenance burden for the application developer. It also defeats some of the benefits of using a content distribution network (CDN) like Google fonts where commonly used resources from many applications can share a single locally cached resource in the local web browser.

    Since April 2015, Toolforge has provided a mirror of the popular cdnjs library collection to help Toolforge and Cloud VPS developers avoid embedding javascript resources. We did not have a similar solution for the popular Google Fonts CDN however. To resolve this, we first checked if the font files are available via bulk download anywhere, sort of like cdnjs, but they were not. Instead, @zhuyifei1999 and @bd808 have created a reverse proxy and forked a font-searching interface to simplify finding the altered font CSS URLs. You can use these features to find and use over 800 font families.

    You can use these assets in your tools now!



    Onwiki docs

    Please give us feedback on how these features could be further improved, submit patches, or just show us how you are using them!

    by Quiddity (Nick Wilson) at August 09, 2017 08:26 PM

    August 08, 2017


    Shocking tales from ornithology

    Manipulative people have always made use of the dynamics of ingroups and outgroups to create diversions from bigger issues. The situation is made worse when misguided philosophies are peddled, especially by governments and when economics is placed ahead of ecology. The pursuit of easily gamed targets such as GDP makes it easy to gain support through economics, which is man-made. Nationalism, pride, other forms of chauvinism, the creation of enemies and the magnification of war threats are all additional tools in the arsenal of Machiavelli that can be effectively used for misdirecting the masses. One might imagine that the educated, especially the scientists, would be smart enough not to fall into these traps but cases from recent history should quickly dampen any hopes for such optimism.

    There is a very interesting book in German by Eugeniusz Nowak called "Wissenschaftler in turbulenten Zeiten" or scientists in turbulent times that deals with the lives of ornithologists, conservationists and other naturalists during the Second World War. Preceded by a series of recollections published in various journals, the book was published in 2010 but I became aware of it only recently while translating some biographies (mostly linked here) into the English Wikipedia. I have not yet actually seen the book (it has about five pages on Salim Ali as well) and have to go by secondary quotations in other English content. Nowak was a student of Erwin Stresemann (with whom the first chapter deals with) and he writes about several European (but mostly German and Russian) ornithologists and their lives during the turbulent 1930s and 40s. Although Europe is pretty far from India, it did makes some ripples far away. Incidentally, Nowak's ornithological work includes studies on the expansion in range of the collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) which the Germans called the Tuerkentaube, literally the "Turkish dove", a name with a baggage of cultural prejudices.

    Nowak's first "recollections" paper notes that he - presents the facts not as accusations or indictments, but rather as a stimulus to the younger generation of scientists to consider the issues, in particular to think “What would I have done if I had lived there or at that time?” - a thought to keep as you read on.

    A shocker from this period is a paper by Dr Günther Niethammer on the birds of Auschwitz (Birkenau). This paper (read it online here) was published when Niethammer was posted to the security at the main gate of the concentration camp. You might be forgiven if you thought he was just a victim of the war. Niethammer was a proud nationalist and volunteered to join the Nazi forces in 1937 leaving his position as a curator at the Museum Koenig at Bonn.
    The contrast provided by Niethammer who looked at the birds on one side
    while ignoring inhumanity on the other provided
    novelist Arno Surminski with a title for his 2008 novel -
    Die Vogelwelt von Auschwitz
    - ie. the birdlife of Auschwitz.

    G. Niethammer
    Niethammer studied birds around Auschwitz and also shot ducks in numbers for himself and to supply the commandant of the camp Rudolf Höss (if the name does not mean anything please do go to the linked article / or search for the name online).  Upon the death of Niethammer, an obituary (open access PDF here) was published in the Ibis of 1975 - a tribute with little mention of the war years or the fact that he rose to the rank of Obersturmführer. The Bonn museum journal had a special tribute issue noting the works and influence of Niethammer. Among the many tributes is one by Hans Kumerloeve (starts here online). A subspecies of the common jay was named as Garrulus glandarius hansguentheri by Hungarian ornithologist Andreas Keve in 1967 after the first names of Kumerloeve and Niethammer. Fortunately for the poor jay, this name is a junior synonym of  G. g. anatoliae described by Seebohm in 1883.
    Hans Kumerloeve
    Now for Dr Kumerloeve who also worked in the Museum Koenig at Bonn. His name was originally spelt Kummerlöwe and was, like Niethammer, a doctoral student of Johannes Meisenheimer. Kummerloeve and Niethammer made journeys on a small motorcyle to study the birds of Turkey. Kummerlöwe's political activities started earlier than Niethammer, joining the NSDAP (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei = The National Socialist German Workers' Party)  in 1925 and starting the first student union of the party in 1933. Kummerlöwe soon became part of the Ahnenerbe, a think tank meant to give  "scientific" support to the party ideas on race and history. In 1939 he wrote an anthropological study on "Polish prisoners of war". At the museum in Dresden which he headed, he thought up ideas to promote politics and he published them in 1939 and 1940. After the war, it is thought that he went to all the European libraries that held copies of this journal (Anyone interested in hunting it down should look for copies of Abhandlungen und Berichte aus den Staatlichen Museen für Tierkunde und Völkerkunde in Dresden 20:1-15.) and purged them. According to Nowak, he even managed to get his hands on copies held in Moscow and Leningrad!  The Dresden museum was also home to the German ornithologist Adolf Bernhard Meyer (1840–1911). In 1858, he translated the works of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace into German and introduced the ideas from evolutionary theory into a whole generation of scientists. Among Meyer's amazing works is a series of avian osteological works which use photography and depict birds in nearly-life-like positions - a less artistic precursor to Katrina van Grouw's 2012 book The Unfeathered Bird. Meyer's skeleton images can be found here. In 1904 Meyer was eased out of the Dresden museum because of rising anti-semitism. 

    Nowak's book includes entries on the following scientists: (I keep this here partly for my reference as I intend to improve Wikipedia entries on several of them as and when time and resources permit. Would be amazing if others could pitch in!).
    • Erwin Stresemann (1889 - 1972)
    • Friedrich Tischler (1881 - 1945)
    • Lew Osipowitsch Belopolskij (1907 - 1990)
    • Jurij Andrejewitsch Isakow (1912 - 1988)
    • Veleslav Wahl (1922 -1950)
    • Wkdystaw Rydzewski (1911 - 1980)
    • Andrzej Dunajewski (1908 -1944)
    • Günther Niethammer (1908 - 1974)
    • Hans Kummerlöwe alias Kumerloeve (1903 -1995)
    • Wtadyslaw Siwek (1907 -1983)
    • Wfodzimierz Graf Dzieduszycki (1885 - 1971)
    • Ferdinand Pax (1885 -1964)
    • Kazimierz Szarski (1904 -1960)
    • Werner Klemm (1909 -1990)
    • Boris Karlowitsch Stegmann (1898 -1975)
    • Nikolaj Alexejewitsch Gladkow (1905 - 1975)
    • Hong-Gu Won (1888 -1970)
    • Pyong-Oh Won (geb. 1929)
    • Jean Delacour (1890 -1985)
    • Kazimierz von Granöw Wodzicki (1900 - 1987)
    • Nikolaj Wladimirowitsch Timofejew-Ressowski (1900 -1981)
    • Hans Stubbe (1902 -1989)
    • Konrad Lorenz (1903 -1989)
    • Jan Sokolowski (1899 -1982)
    • Roman Wojtusiak (1906 -1987)
    • Bernhard Grzimek (1909 -1987)
    • Hans Christian Johansen (1897 -1973)
    • Wasilij Nikolajewitsch Skalon (1903 - 1976)
    • Wolfgang Makatsch (1906 -1983)
    • Tso-hsin Cheng (1906 -1998)
    • Nikolaj Boew (1922 -1985)
    • Hans Schildmacher (1907 -1976)
    • Oleg Ismailowitsch Semenow-Tjan-Schanskij (1906 -1990)
    • Alexander Bogdanowitsch Kistiakowskij (1904 - 1983)
    • Heinrich Dathe (1910 -1991)
    • Erich Rutschke (1926 -1999)
    • Georgij Petrowitsch Dementjew (1898 - 1969)
    • Alexander Nikolajewitsch Formosow (1899 - 1973)
    • Pierre Pfeffer (1927 -)
    • Micha Jankowski (1842 - 1912)
    • Alexander Michailowitsch Jankowski (1876 -1944)
    • Jurij Michailowitsch Jankowski (1879 - 1956)
    • Walerij Jurewitsch Jankowski (1911 -)
    • Charles Vaurie (1906 -1975)
    • Walter Beick (1883 - 1933)
    • Richard Meinertzhagen (1878 -1967)
    • Wilfried Przygodda (1916 -1991)
    • Salim Ali (1896 -1987)
    • Boris Michailowitsch Pawlow (1933 - 1994) 
    In the first of his recollection papers he writes about the reason for writing them (in his 1998 article) - he saw that the obituary to Prof. Ernst Schäfer  carefully avoiding any mention of his wartime activities. And this brings us to India. In a recent article in Indian Birds, Sylke Frahnert and others have written about the bird collections from Sikkim in the Berlin natural history museum. In their article there is a brief statement that "The  collection  in  Berlin  has  remained  almost  unknown due  to  the  political  circumstances  of  the  expedition". This might be a bit cryptic for many but the best read on the topic is Himmler's Crusade: The true story of the 1939 Nazi expedition into Tibet (2009) by Christopher Hale. Hale writes about Himmler: 
    He revered the ancient cultures of India and the East, or at least his own weird vision of them.
    These were not private enthusiasms, and they were certainly not harmless. Cranky pseudoscience nourished Himmler’s own murderous convictions about race and inspired ways of convincing others...
    Himmler regarded himself not as the fantasist he was but as a patron of science. He believed that most conventional wisdom was bogus and that his power gave him a unique opportunity to promulgate new thinking. He founded the Ahnenerbe specifically to advance the study of the Aryan (or Nordic or Indo-German) race and its origins
    From there Hale goes on to examine the motivations of Schäfer and his team. He looks at how much of the science was politically driven. Swastika signs dominate some of the photos from the expedition - as if it provided for a natural tie with Buddhism in Tibet. It seems that Himmler gave Schäfer the opportunity to rise within the political hierarchy. The team that went to Sikkim included Bruno Beger. Beger was a physical anthropologist but with less than innocent motivations although that would be much harder to ascribe to pursuits like botany and ornithology. One of the results from the expedition was a film made by the entomologist of the group, Ernst Krause - Geheimnis Tibet - or secret Tibet - a copy of this 1 hour and 40 minute film is on YouTube. At around 26 minutes, you can see Bruno Beger creating face casts - first as a negative in Plaster of Paris from which a positive copy was made using resin. Hale talks about how one of the Tibetans put into a cast with just straws to breathe from went into an epileptic seizure from the claustrophobia and fear induced. The real horror however is revealed when Hale quotes a May 1943 letter from an SS officer to Beger - ‘What exactly is happening with the Jewish heads? They are lying around and taking up valuable space . . . In my opinion, the most reasonable course of action is to send them to Strasbourg . . .’ Apparently Beger had to select some prisoners from Auschwitz who appeared to have Asiatic features. Hale shows that Beger knew the fate of his selection - they were gassed for research conducted by Beger and August Hirt.
    SS-Sturmbannführer Schäfer at the head of the table in Lhasa

    In all Hale, makes a clear case that the Schäfer mission had quite a bit of political activity underneath. We find that Sven Hedin (Schäfer was a big fan of him in his youth. Hedin was a Nazi sympathizer who funded and supported the mission) was in contact with fellow Nazi supporter Erica Schneider-Filchner and her father Wilhelm Filchner in India, both of whom were interned later at Satara. while Bruno Beger made contact with Subhash Chandra Bose more than once. [Two of the pictures from the Bundesarchiv show a certain Bhattacharya - who appears to be a chemist working on snake venom - one wonders if he is Abhinash Bhattacharya.]

    Of course the war had impacts in the entire region and although my review of Nowak's book must be unique in that I have never managed to access it beyond some online snippets. It is clearly not the last word as there were many other interesting characters including the Russian ornithologist Malchevsky  who survived German bullets thanks to a fat bird observation notebook in his pocket! In the 1950's Trofim Lysenko, the crank scientist who controlled science in the USSR sought Malchevsky's help in proving his own pet theories - one of which was the ideas that cuckoos were the result of feeding hairy caterpillars to young warblers!

    Issues arising from race and perceptions are of course not restricted to this period or region, one of the less glorious stories of the Smithsonian Institution concerns the honorary curator Robert Wilson Shufeldt (1850 – 1934) who in the infamous Audubon affair made his personal troubles with his second wife, a grand-daughter of Audubon, into one of race. He also wrote such books as America's Greatest Problem: The Negro (1915) in which we learn of the ideas of other scientists of the period like Edward Drinker Cope! Like many other obituaries, Shufeldt's is a classic whitewash.  

    Even as recently as 2015, the University of Salzburg withdrew an honorary doctorate that they had given to the Nobel prize winning Konrad Lorenz for his support of the political setup and racial beliefs. It should not be that hard for scientists to figure out whether they are on the wrong side of history even if they are funded by the state. Perhaps salaried scientists in India would do well to look at the legal contracts they sign with their employers, the state, more carefully.

    PS: Mixing natural history with war sometimes led to tragedy for the participants as well. In the case of Dr Manfred Oberdörffer who used his cover as an expert on leprosy to visit the borders of Afghanistan with entomologist Fred Hermann Brandt (1908–1994), an exchange of gunfire with British forces killed him although Brandt lived on to tell the tale.

    by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at August 08, 2017 05:44 AM

    August 07, 2017

    Wikimedia Foundation

    “How to write about the entire world from scratch”: Britta Gustafson

    Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Many pioneering Wikipedians share the thought that, in its early days, way back in 2001, Wikipedia was a crazy idea. Wikipedian Magnus Manske, for example, told us that back then, the English Wikipedia “was a ghost town, with just about no content whatsoever.”

    These early Wikipedians aimed to grow the online encyclopedia to 100,000 entries, roughly the size of the world’s largest print encyclopedias at that time. This lofty goal turned out to be attainable with only two years of hard work, and has since grown to nearly 5.5 million by the time of writing this. That former “ghost town” on now hosts over 30,000 active contributors.

    “I knew we were working on a sort of ridiculous project,” says Britta Gustafson, who joined Wikipedia in October 2001. “How do you write about the entire world from scratch? I certainly didn’t expect that it would grow so big and so serious, with a huge staff and a huge budget, with articles that are mostly pretty reliable.” She continues: “But even as a toy project, it was fun—I liked getting to write about things and then see other people improve my writing and correct my mistakes. I learned a lot about writing that way.”

    Gustafson made her first edit because “information on a favorite topic was missing,” and carried on with editing Wikipedia for sixteen years to keep bridging knowledge gaps. Currently, she leads workshops to train beginner editors in person and spends zillions of hours online to advocate their contributions from deletion, when mistaken for vandalism, by community patrols.

    Starting to edit at the age of fourteen, Gustafson “grew up with Wikipedia,” she said. It was an eye-opening experience where she “enjoyed reading the recent changes and learning new things about the world … I remember when I could review all the recent changes for vandalism if I checked once a day.” As of this writing, the most recent 50 edits have been made during the last minute.

    One of the principal reasons behind Gustafson’s continuous presence on Wikipedia for sixteen years was the welcoming community even though she was a young contributor. “I continued editing because I felt respected for my constructive contributions and treated as an equal by adults,” she explains. “Wikipedia taught me a lot about how to write and work with software and online communities.”

    Gustafson has a wide range of topics that she likes to edit about including software, website history, fixing minor issues in the articles she reads and uploading photos of buildings to Wikimedia Commons, but one topic of interest for her stands out in the crowd: places that witnessed mass murders.

    Gustafson is particularly interested in editing about the location of a mass murder rather than the incident itself. “I started caring a lot about the impact of mass murders on communities because a place I love, Isla Vista, had a mass murder a few years ago,” she explains. “I was unhappy that this one event was what people would think of for a place with a lot of history and culture.”

    Gustafson contributed to Isla Vista’s article on Wikipedia and started a local guide about it on another open-source website.

    “A year later, there was the mass murder at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston,” she recalls. “The church itself had only a stub article when I looked it up on Wikipedia after hearing about the murders—and overnight several other Wikipedians and I worked on this article. I helped expand it to tell the long and fascinating history of the church, because I didn’t want 200 years of history to be overwritten by one event. The next day, I saw journalists publishing articles about the history of the church on very short deadlines, and I suspect and hope they used our detailed Wikipedia article as background to help them find the interesting parts to write about and publish fast.”

    Photo by Jsm0925, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Gustafson wanted to invest her rich history and experience on Wikipedia by sharing what she learned with new editors. These days, she can be found at Wikipedia editing events in the San Francisco Bay Area as a volunteer organizer or a mentor for new editors.

    “My intro talk isn’t sugar-coated,” she says. “It explains that working on Wikipedia means convincing other editors that your edits are legitimate, and that this isn’t always easy. I don’t think it’s helpful to attempt to get new underrepresented editors into the project by saying everything is fun and fair on Wikipedia—that’s misleading. It’s honest to explain both the joy and the frustration.”

    New editor contributions are often reverted by Wikipedia editors when mistaken for vandalism but this is not the case for those mentored by Gustafson. “Part of my work at events is to actively defend the articles the newcomers are building,” she explains. “Watchlisting the articles and reviewing the edits so that I can defend them against speedy deletions and any future deletion discussions. I also go through the articles after the event to fix up any newbie mistakes, to also protect against deletion attempts. If somebody starts arguing with one of my new editors, I step in like a 5000-pound gorilla and write talk page messages.”

    Gustafson understands that not every participant in a one-day editing workshop will become a long-term contributor. However, she believes that training newbies is worth it for reasons that she explains to them during her workshops:

    “Knowing how to edit Wikipedia means you can shape many people’s knowledge about a thing, because a huge number of people look to Wikipedia for background knowledge, including politicians, journalists, lawyers, government staff, businesspeople, and teachers.”

    Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern
    Wikimedia Foundation

    by Samir Elsharbaty at August 07, 2017 08:34 PM

    Wiki Education Foundation

    Wiki Education to engage at Wikimania 2017

    Wiki Education staff and Board Chair PJ Tabit are traveling to Montreal, Canada, this week to attend Wikimania, the annual gathering of editors of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.

    Wikimania is a great opportunity for us to collaborate with our colleagues who work with Wikimedia projects globally — and, since Wikimania is in Montreal this year, a good opportunity for us to connect with potential Canadian program participants! Wiki Education is active in both the pre conference as well as the main program.

    • Product Manager Sage Ross and Google Summer of Code intern Sejal Khatri will be at the Hackathon, improving the codebase that powers Wiki Education Dashboard as well as Program & Events Dashboard (an instance of Wiki Education’s Dashboard software for global program leaders to use). It’s one of the Featured Projects at the Hackathon, and we’ll be ready to help new contributors get started.
    • Director of Programs LiAnna Davis will be co-presenting with the Wikimedia Foundation’s Maria Cruz at Learning Days, talking about building our learning network.
    • Educational Partnerships Manager Jami Mathewson and Outreach Manager Samantha Weald will be hosting a workshop for Canadian university instructors interested in learning how to teach with Wikipedia.
    • LiAnna will also be presenting a session during the main conference on the Wikipedia Year of Science 2016 and our learnings from the initiative.
    • Former Research Fellow Zach McDowell will present the results from his student learning outcomes research project.
    • Community Engagement Manager Ryan McGrady will be lead a roundtable about the Visiting Scholars program, featuring some of the Wikipedians we have placed in Visiting Scholars roles.

    We look forward to collaborating with other Wikimedia editors and program leaders at Wikimania, sharing our learnings, and learning from other attendees.

    Photo: Wikimania 2014 MP 040 – Wikipedia Education Cooperative Panel by User:Mike Peel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    by LiAnna Davis at August 07, 2017 04:47 PM

    Semantic MediaWiki

    Semantic MediaWiki 2.5.4 released/en

    Semantic MediaWiki 2.5.4 released/en

    August 7, 2017

    Semantic MediaWiki 2.5.4 (SMW 2.5.4) has been released today as a new version of Semantic MediaWiki.

    This new version brings a security fix for special page "SemanticMediaWiki". It also provides an improvement for software testing, other bugfixes and further increases platform stability. Since this release provides a security fix it is strongly advised to upgrade immediately! Please refer to the help page on installing Semantic MediaWiki to get detailed instructions on how to install or upgrade.

    by TranslateBot at August 07, 2017 02:48 PM

    Semantic MediaWiki 2.5.4 released

    Semantic MediaWiki 2.5.4 released

    August 7, 2017

    Semantic MediaWiki 2.5.4 (SMW 2.5.4) has been released today as a new version of Semantic MediaWiki.

    This new version brings a security fix for special page "SemanticMediaWiki". It also provides an improvement for software testing, other bugfixes and further increases platform stability. Since this release provides a security fix it is strongly advised to upgrade immediately! Please refer to the help page on installing Semantic MediaWiki to get detailed instructions on how to install or upgrade.

    by Kghbln at August 07, 2017 02:47 PM

    This month in GLAM

    This Month in GLAM: July 2017

    by Admin at August 07, 2017 02:35 AM

    Wikimedia Foundation

    Wikimedia Research Newsletter, May 2017

    “Wikipedia matters”: a significant impact of user-generated content on real-life choices

    Reviewed by Marco Chemello and Federico Leva

    Improving Wikipedia articles may contribute to increasing local tourism. That’s the result of a study[1] published as preprint a few weeks ago by M. Hinnosaar, T. Hinnosaar, M. Kummer and O. Slivko. This group of scholars from various universities – including Collegio Carlo Alberto, the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) and Georgia Institute of Technology – led a field experiment in 2014: they expanded 120 Wikipedia articles regarding 60 Spanish cities and checked the impact on local tourism, by measuring the increased number of hotel stays in the same cities from each country. The result was an average +9 % (up to 28 % in best cases). Random city articles were expanded mainly by translating contents taken from the Spanish or the English edition of Wikipedia into other languages, and by adding some photos. The authors wrote: “We found a significant causal impact of user-generated content in Wikipedia on real-life choices. The impact is large. A well-targeted two-paragraph improvement may lead to a 9 % increase in the visits by tourists. This has significant implications both in macroeconomic and microeconomic scale.”

    The study revises an earlier version[supp 1] which declared the data was inconclusive (not statistically relevant yet) although there were hints of a positive effect. It’s not entirely clear to this reviewer how the statistical significance was ascertained, but the method used to collect data was sound:

    • 240 similar articles were selected and 120 kept as control (by not editing them);
    • the sample only included mid-sized cities (big cities would be harder to impact and small ones would be more susceptible to unrelated oscillations of tourism);
    • hotel stays are measured by country of provenance and city, allowing to measure only the subset of tourists affected by the edits (in their language);
    • as expected, the impact is larger on the cities whose article was especially small at the beginning;
    • the authors cared about making contributions consistent with local policies and expectations and checked the acceptance of their edits by measuring content persistence (about 96 % of their text survived in the long-term).

    Curiously, while the authors had no problems adding their translations and images to French, German and Italian Wikipedia, all their edits were reverted on the Dutch Wikipedia. Local editors may want to investigate what made the edits unacceptable: perhaps the translator was not as good as those in the other languages, or the local community is prejudicially hostile to new users editing a mid-sized group of pages at once, or some rogue user reverted edits which the larger community would accept? [PS: One of our readers from the Dutch Wikipedia has provided some explanations.]

    Assuming that expanding 120 stubs by translating existing articles in other languages takes few hundreds hours of work and actually produces about 160,000 € in additional revenue per year as estimated by the authors, it seems that it would be a bargain for the tourism minister of every country to expand Wikipedia stubs in as many tourist languages as possible, also making sure they have at least one image, by hiring experienced translators with basic wiki editing skills. Given that providing basic information is sufficient and neutral text is generally available in the source/local language’s Wikipedia, complying with neutral point of view and other content standards seems to be sufficiently easy.

    Improved article quality predictions with deep learning

    Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

    A paper at the upcoming OpenSym conference titled “An end-to-end learning solution for assessing the quality of Wikipedia articles”[2] combines the popular deep learning approaches of recurrent neural networks (RNN) and long short-term memory (LSTM) to make substantial improvements in our ability to automatically predict the quality of Wikipedia’s articles.

    The two researchers from Université de Lorraine in France first published on using deep learning for this task a year ago (see our coverage in the June 2016 newsletter), where their performance was comparable to the state-of-the-art at the time, the WMF’s own Objective Revision Evaluation Service (ORES) (disclaimer: the reviewer is the primary author of the research upon which ORES’ article quality classifier is built). Their latest paper substantially improves the classifier’s performance to the point where it clearly outperforms ORES. Additionally, using RNNs and LSTM means the classifier can be trained on any language Wikipedia, which the paper demonstrates by outperforming ORES in all three of the languages where it’s available: English, French, and Russian.

    The paper also contains a solid discussion of some of the current limitations of the RNN+LSTM approach. For example, the time it takes to make a prediction is too slow to deploy in a setting such as ORES where quick predictions are required. Also, the custom feature sets that ORES has allow for explanations on how to improve article quality (e.g. “this article can be improved by adding more sources”). Both are areas where we expect to see improvements in the near future, making this deep learning approach even more applicable to Wikipedia.

    Recent behavior has a strong impact on content quality

    Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

    A recently published journal paper by Michail Tsikerdekis titled “Cumulative Experience and Recent Behavior and their Relation to Content Quality on Wikipedia”[3] studies how factors like an editor’s recent behavior, their editing experience, experience diversity, and implicit coordination relate to improvements in article quality in the English Wikipedia.

    The paper builds upon previous work by Kittur and Kraut that studied implicit coordination,[supp 2] where they found that having a small group of contributors doing the majority of the work was most effective. It also builds upon work by Arazy and Nov on experience diversity,[supp 3] which found that the diversity of experience in the group was more important.

    Arguing that it is not clear which of these factors is the dominant one, Tsikerdekis further extends these models in two key areas. First, experience diversity is refined by measuring accumulated editor experience in three key areas: high quality articles, the User and User talk namespaces, and the Wikipedia namespace. Secondly, editor behavior is refined by measuring recent participation in the same three key areas. Lastly he adds interaction effects, for example between these two new refinements and implicit coordination.

    Using the more refined model of experience diversity results in a significant improvement over baseline models, and an interaction effect shows that high coordination inequality (few editors doing most of the work) is only effective when contributors have low experience editing the User and User talk namespaces. However, the models that incorporate recent behavior are substantial improvements, indicating that recent behavior has a much stronger impact on quality than overall editor experience and experience diversity. Again studying the interaction effects, the findings are that implicit coordination is most effective when contributors have not recently participated in high quality articles, and that contributors make a stronger impact on content quality when they edit articles that match their experience levels.

    These findings ask important questions about how groups of contributors in Wikipedia can most effectively work together to improve article quality. Future work is needed to understand more about when explicit coordination is most useful, and the paper points to the possibility of using recommender systems to route contributors to groups where their experience level can make a difference.


    Predicting book categories for Wikipedia articles

    Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

    “Automatic Classification of Wikipedia Articles by Using Convolutional Neural Network”[4] is the title of a paper published at this year’s Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries conference. As the title describes, the paper applies convolutional neural networks (CNN) to the task of predicting the Nippon Decimal Classification (NDC) category that a Japanese Wikipedia article belongs to. This NDC category can then be used for example to suggest further reading, providing a bridge between the online content of Wikipedia and the books that are available in Japan’s libraries.

    In the paper, a Wikipedia article is represented as a combination of Word2vec vectors: one vector for the article’s title, one each for the categories it belongs to, and one for the entire article text. These vectors combine to form a two-dimensional matrix, which the CNN is trained on. Combining the title and category vectors results in the highest performance, with 87.7% accuracy in predicting the top-level category and 74.7% accuracy for the second-level category. The results are promising enough that future work is suggested where these will be used for book recommendations.

    The work was motivated by “recent research findings [indicating] that relatively few students actually search and read books,” and “aims to encourage students to read library books as a more reliable source of information rather than relying on Wikipedia article.”

    Conferences and events

    See the research events page on Meta-wiki for upcoming conferences and events, including submission deadlines.

    Other recent publications

    Other recent publications that could not be covered in time for this issue include the items listed below. contributions are always welcome for reviewing or summarizing newly published research.

    Compiled by Tilman Bayer
    • “Open strategy-making at the Wikimedia Foundation: A dialogic perspective”[5] From the abstract: “What is the role of dialogue in open strategy processes? Our study of the development of Wikimedia’s 5-year strategy plan through an open strategy process [in 2009/2010] reveals the endemic nature of tensions occasioned by the intersection of dialogue as an emergent, nonhierarchical practice, and strategy, as a practice that requires direction, focus, and alignment.”
    • “Wikipedia: a complex social machine”[6] From the abstract: “We examine the activity of Wikipedia by analysing WikiProjects […] We harvested the content of over 600 active Wikipedia projects, which comprised of over 100 million edits and 15 million Talk entries, associated with over 1.5 million Wikipedia articles and Talk pages produced by 14 million unique users. Our analysis reveals findings related to the overall positive activity and growth of Wikipedia, as well as the connected community of Wikipedians within and between specific WikiProjects. We argue that the complexity of Wikipedia requires metrics which reflect the many aspects of the Wikipedia social machine, and by doing so, will offer insights into its state of health.” (See also earlier coverage of publications by the same authors)
    • “Expanding the sum of all human knowledge: Wikipedia, translation and linguistic justice”[7] From the abstract: “This paper.. begins by assessing the [Wikimedia Foundation’s’ Language Proposal Policy and Wikipedia’s translation guidelines. Then, drawing on statistics from the Content Translation tool recently developed by Wikipedia to encourage translation within the various language versions, this paper applies the concept of linguistic justice to help determine how any future translation policies might achieve a better balance between fairness and efficiency, arguing that a translation policy can be both fair and efficient, while still conforming to the ‘official multilingualism’ model that seems to be endorsed by the Wikimedia Foundation.” (cf. earlier paper by the same author)
    • “Nation image and its dynamic changes in Wikipedia”[8] From the abstract: “An ontology of nation image was built from the keywords collected from the pages directly related to the big three exporting countries in East Asia, i.e. Korea, Japan and China. The click views on the pages of the countries in two different language editions of Wikipedia, Vietnamese and Indonesian were counted.”
    • “‘A wound that has been festering since 2007’: The Burma/Myanmar naming controversy and the problem of rarely challenged assumptions on Wikipedia”[9] From the abstract: “The author’s approach to the study of the Wikipedia talk pages devoted to the Burma/Myanmar naming controversy is qualitative in nature and explores the debate over sources through textual analysis. Findings: Editors brought to their work a number of underlying assumptions including the primacy of the nation-state and the nature of a ‘true’ encyclopedia. These were combined with a particular interpretation of neutral point of view (NPOV) policy that unnecessarily prolonged the debate and, more importantly, would have the effect, if widely adopted, of reducing Wikipedia’s potential to include multiple perspectives on any particular topic.”
    • “The double power law in human collaboration behavior: The case of Wikipedia”[10] From the abstract: “We study [..] the inter-event time distribution of revision behavior on Wikipedia [..]. We observe a double power law distribution for the inter-editing behavior at the population level and a single power law distribution at the individual level. Although interactions between users are indirect or moderate on Wikipedia, we determine that the synchronized editing behavior among users plays a key role in determining the slope of the tail of the double power law distribution.”
    • “Wikidata: la soluzione wikimediana ai linked open data”[11] (“Wikidata: the Wikimedian solution for linked open data, in Italian)
    • “Open-domain question answering framework using Wikipedia”[12] From the abstract: “This paper explores the feasibility of implementing a model for an open domain, automated question and answering framework that leverages Wikipedia’s knowledgebase. While Wikipedia implicitly comprises answers to common questions, the disambiguation of natural language and the difficulty of developing an information retrieval process that produces answers with specificity present pertinent challenges. […] Using DBPedia, an ontological database of Wikipedia’s knowledge, we searched for the closest matching property that would produce an answer by applying standardised string matching algorithms[…]. Our experimental results illustrate that using Wikipedia as a knowledgebase produces high precision for questions that contain a singular unambiguous entity as the subject, but lowered accuracy for questions where the entity exists as part of the object.”

    Ephraim ChambersCyclopaedia (1728)

    • “Textual curation: Authorship, agency, and technology in Wikipedia and Chambers’s Cyclopædia”[13] (book) From the publisher’s announcement: “Wikipedia is arguably the most famous collaboratively written text of our time, but few know that nearly three hundred years ago Ephraim Chambers proposed an encyclopedia written by a wide range of contributors—from illiterate craftspeople to titled gentry. Chambers wrote that incorporating information submitted by the public would considerably strengthen the second edition of his well-received Cyclopædia, which relied on previously published information. In Textual Curation, Krista Kennedy examines the editing and production histories of the Cyclopædia and Wikipedia, the ramifications of robot-written texts, and the issues of intellectual property theory and credit.”


    1. Hinnosaar, Marit; Hinnosaar, Toomas; Kummer, Michael; Slivko, Olga (2017-07-17). “Wikipedia Matters” (PDF). p. 22. 
    2. Dang, Quang-Vinh; Ignat, Claudia-Lavinia (2017-08-23). An end-to-end learning solution for assessing the quality of Wikipedia articles. OpenSym 2017 – International Symposium on Open Collaboration. doi:10.1145/3125433.3125448. 
    3. Tsikerdekis, Michail. “Cumulative Experience and Recent Behavior and their Relation to Content Quality on Wikipedia”. Interacting with Computers: 1–18. doi:10.1093/iwc/iwx010. Retrieved 2017-08-01.  Closed access / author’s pre-print
    4. Tsuji, Keita (2017-05-26). Automatic Classification of Wikipedia Articles by Using Convolutional Neural Network (PDF). QQML 2017 – 9th International Conference on Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries. 
    5. Heracleous, Loizos; Gößwein, Julia; Beaudette, Philippe (2017-06-09). “Open strategy-making at the Wikimedia Foundation: A dialogic perspective = The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science”. p. 0021886317712665. ISSN 0021-8863. doi:10.1177/0021886317712665.  Closed access author’s preprint
    6. Tinati, Ramine; Luczak-Roesch, Markus (2017). “Wikipedia: a complex social machine”. ACM SIGWEB Newsletter: 1–10. ISSN 1931-1745.  Closed access
    7. Dolmaya, Julie McDonough (2017-04-03). “Expanding the sum of all human knowledge: Wikipedia, translation and linguistic justice”. The Translator 23 (2): 143–157. ISSN 1355-6509. doi:10.1080/13556509.2017.1321519.  Closed access
    8. Youngwhan Lee; Heuiju Chun (2017-04-03). “Nation image and its dynamic changes in Wikipedia”. Asia Pacific Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship 11 (1): 38–49. ISSN 2071-1395. doi:10.1108/APJIE-04-2017-020. Retrieved 2017-08-01. 
    9. Brendan Luyt (2017-05-25). ““A wound that has been festering since 2007”: The Burma/Myanmar naming controversy and the problem of rarely challenged assumptions on Wikipedia”. Journal of Documentation 73 (4): 689–699. ISSN 0022-0418. doi:10.1108/JD-09-2016-0109.  Closed access
    10. Kwon, Okyu; Son, Woo-Sik; Jung, Woo-Sung (2016-11-01). “The double power law in human collaboration behavior: The case of Wikipedia”. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications 461: 85–91. ISSN 0378-4371. doi:10.1016/j.physa.2016.05.010.  Closed access
    11. Martinelli, Luca (2016-03-02). “Wikidata: la soluzione wikimediana ai linked open data”. AIB studi 56 (1). ISSN 2239-6152. 
    12. Ameen, Saleem; Chung, Hyunsuk; Han, Soyeon Caren; Kang, Byeong Ho (2016-12-05). Byeong Ho Kang, Quan Bai (eds.), eds. Open-domain question answering framework using Wikipedia = AI 2016: Advances in Artificial Intelligence. Australasian Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer International Publishing. pp. 623–635. ISBN 9783319501260.  Closed access
    13. Kennedy, Krista (2016). Textual curation: Authorship, agency, and technology in Wikipedia and Chambers’s Cyclopædia. The University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-61117-710-7.  Closed access
    Supplementary references:
    1. Hinnosaar, Marit; Hinnosaar, Toomas; Kummer, Michael; Slivko, Olga (2015). Does Wikipedia matter? The effect of Wikipedia on tourist choices. ZEW Discussion Papers. 
    2. Kittur, Aniket; Kraut, Robert E. (2008). Harnessing the Wisdom of Crowds in Wikipedia : Quality Through Coordination. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. doi:10.1145/1460563.1460572. 
    3. Arazy, Ofer; Nov, Oded (2010). Determinants of Wikipedia Quality : The Roles of Global and Local Contribution Inequality. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. doi:10.1145/1718918.1718963. 

    Wikimedia Research Newsletter
    Vol: 7 • Issue: 5 • May 2017
    This newsletter is brought to you by the Wikimedia Research Committee and The Signpost
    Subscribe: Syndicate the Wikimedia Research Newsletter feed Email WikiResearch on Twitter WikiResearch on Facebook[archives] [signpost edition] [contribute] [research index]

    by Tilman Bayer at August 07, 2017 02:28 AM

    Tech News

    Tech News issue #32, 2017 (August 7, 2017)

    This document has a planned publication deadline (link leads to timeanddate.com).
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    Other languages:
    العربية • ‎čeština • ‎English • ‎español • ‎suomi • ‎français • ‎עברית • ‎italiano • ‎日本語 • ‎ಕನ್ನಡ • ‎polski • ‎русский • ‎svenska • ‎українська • ‎中文

    August 07, 2017 12:00 AM

    August 05, 2017

    Gerard Meijssen

    #Wikidata - Harriet Martineau and some social opportunities

    When you do not already know about Mrs Martineau, do read one of the many Wikipedia articles, she is considered to be the first female sociologist and introduced many subjects into sociology that were up to that time not considered.

    The picture is a crop of a painting at the National Portrait Gallery by Richard Evans. The picture is known at Wikidata, at Commons the Creator template is missing.

    At the Biodiversity Heritage Library Mrs Martineau was know for her book a complete guide to the English lakes. It was the only book known for her at Open Library.  Given the relevance of Mrs Martineau this was strange and sure enough she was known as "Martineau, Harriet" and changing the link to the book was easily done.

    At Wikidata meanwhile, there was a hidden link to Mrs Martineau to Open Library thanks to all the good work of the Freebase volunteers. Approving the change was obvious.

    At Wikidata there is now a link to both VIAF, to the BHL, to OL for Mrs Martineau and to over 20 more sources. The BHL has links to both Open Library and VIAF. When the links differ, it becomes obvious where work needs to be done.

    The result is a better service for all the people who make use of any or all of these resources. We truly should collaborate and strengthen our partners, the partners we share data with.

    by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at August 05, 2017 09:52 AM

    #Standards - the International Plant Names Index

    #IPNI is a collaborative project between three august bodies in the taxonomy of plants. They are the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Australian National Herbarium.

    There are three areas where IPNI sets the standards: plants, authors and publications. The objective is to disambiguate any taxonomic reference to a plant in scientific literature to the correct taxon given the taxon name, its author information, publication information and date.

    IPNI publishes several graphs indicating the success of their work. I have been involved in this work as a consequence of a database project I did for my father who loved his cacti and succulents.

    One example of what information IPNI provides can be found in this page for the "genus" Echninocactus. In my understanding, the correct full taxonomic name is: "Echinocactus Link & Otto Verh. Vereins Beford. Gartenbaues Konigl. Preuss. Staaten 3: 420. 1827". It has all the required information, it has type information, it has links all as you would expect of a standard like this.

    To appreciate the work of IPNI; in stead of "Link & Otto", there may have been: "Link and Otto" or "Link et Otto" or ... obviously the information for the publication is easily made into a different abbreviation.

    Wikidata included only a subset of the full taxon information. It is easy enough to understand why; Wikipedia only needed the most current one. It is an easy model; works relatively well and it breaks in the corner cases. With the development of WikiCite there is a great and possibly easy opportunity to expand on the current work given the expanding collaboration with botanical partners like the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

    by Gerard Meijssen (noreply@blogger.com) at August 05, 2017 07:31 AM

    August 04, 2017

    Wikimedia Foundation

    A Wikipedian’s mission to educate others—one Chilean at a time: Sarah Chambers

    Photo by Victor Grigas, CC BY-SA 3.0.

    Sarah Chambers’ professional life began at 16 as a spa receptionist in the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A musician at heart, she learned early that holding down a job was a necessity—even more so in Chile. Over the years she has worked as a freelancer, however, she found a new passion after her introduction into Wikipedia.

    “I was working with a startup company with people from Ghana, and the guy started talking to me about traditional culture in [his country],” said Chambers, now 29. “And I thought, oh, I bet there’s nothing [about it] in the Spanish Wikipedia. And sure enough, there were a few things in English, but not much.”

    Chambers wrote an article about Ghanian Kente cloth and translated it into Spanish. “Almost nothing exists about Ghana in Spanish,” she tells us.

    She began watching and supporting her partner—Wikipedian (Wikipedista en Español) Eduardo Testart—from the sidelines, “getting my feet wet a little at a time.”

    “I always wanted to help volunteer physically more than online,” said Chambers, explaining her early journey. “I’m a big proponent of volunteering in person. So coming to meetings, helping out with the events and logistics, that’s really how I got my start in the Wikimedia movement, not by the computer.”

    Today, Chambers is the Board Secretary for Wikimedia Chile, an independent movement affiliate organization. Recently, through her dedicated efforts, her chapter coordinated a two-day workshop and edit-a-thon celebrating International Women’s Day.

    It was the first event of its kind that Chambers took a lead in organizing, and it ended up being “our most successful edit-a-thon,” she said.

    Concerned that she would need additional support for the event, Chambers used social networking to gain interest and find collaborators. Through Wikipedia Chile’s Meetup group—Wiki Force Chile — and other online users, she was able to partner with the Women Who Code and Girls In Tech meetup groups.

    “You’ve got to find similar groups that can help leverage your talents, your interests, so that you both win,” Chambers explained. “So basically, we found similar groups that were looking to do a similar thing—International Women’s Day. Everybody won.”

    Excitedly, Chambers shared how the event panned out:

    We actually had a full house … almost 40 people came for the workshop, which is pretty hardcore. It was about three to four hours. And then we always go out, that’s the key, I think, signature, of Wikimedia Chile. We always go out to have lunch or drinks after an event. And we invite everybody, if they want, to hang out afterwards … [to] continue the conversation. And it’s not all nerds. We talk about life, we talk about music, where you’re from, what you like to do. So that is the really rewarding part, too, is the bonding experience, of being able to share with other people.

    And then the day after, we had the edit-a-thon. Which we had probably about 15-17 people come. It was a Sunday. We consider this a success because almost every single person wrote an article who was there.

    It was a good experience because we really got into the off-shoots and capabilities. There was a contest going on … to name an article … in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and I came [up] with … La Mujer Que Nunca Conociste, which is The Woman You’ve Never Known.

    So we had a contest there that the participants could continue participating in. That was just wonderful because the stars aligned and everybody came. And people were telling me please, please, we hope this is not a once a year thing. You have to come back and do this again.

    Despite her successes with the local chapter, Chambers said there are challenges in working in Chile. Many Chileans, she said, don’t begin their professional life until they are older, so often times she works with individuals who have little work experience. There’s also less of a focus on volunteerism, an altruistic activity that is vital to the Wikimedia movement, which is run by volunteers from all around the globe.

    “Volunteering does not have the same concept as in the United States,” Chambers said. “In the United States, you could wake up, you go outside and you go to any charity organization or big organization and say, ‘I want to volunteer.’ And that same day, they will get you a desk or a place, and you do a task and you start volunteering immediately. In Chile, it does not work like that at all. It’s a very formal system. Even nonprofits are run like businesses because the law kind of demands that they act so, and the requirements are very similar.”

    Chambers doesn’t let anything stop her as she finds ways to grow her local chapter and provide ideas for other Wikipedians around the globe. Some of these include educating others about Wikipedia via Chromecast, continuing to host collaborate events, networking with potential Wikimedia funding partners and, of course, good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

    Interview by Jonathan Curiel, Senior Development Communications Manager
    Profile by Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, Wordsmith, Communications
    Wikimedia Foundation

    by Jonathan Curiel and Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig at August 04, 2017 06:50 PM

    Wikimedia Foundation mourns the loss of Bassel Khartabil, Syrian Wikimedian and global open culture advocate

    Photo by Joi, CC BY 2.0.

    The Wikimedia Foundation is profoundly saddened by the news of the death of Wikimedia community member and open culture advocate Bassel Khartabil, also known to some as Bassel Safadi. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and communities around the world.

    Bassel was detained by the Syrian government on March 15, 2012, amid arrests on the one-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising. He had been missing since October 2015, when he was removed from the Damascus prison where he was being held. We maintained hope that Bassel was safe and would ultimately be released by government captors. However, his wife, Syrian human rights lawyer Noura Ghazi Safadi, shared this week in a statement that he had been executed shortly after being taken from Adra prison.

    Bassel was a leader, advocate, and member of many open culture communities; he had a pivotal role in the development of the open source movement in the Arabic-speaking world. In addition to his advocacy for and contributions to Wikimedia—many of which were made anonymously—he was project lead and public affiliate for Creative Commons Syria, a friend of the Global Voices community, a free software advocate and contributor to Mozilla, the founder of Aiki Lab hackerspace in Damascus, and much more.

    Prior to his detainment, he was working on a 3D virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, much of which was destroyed by ISIL in 2016. His work to preserve, digitize, and replicate the ancient city has carried on through the efforts of #NEWPALMYRA, a collaboration of 3D modelers, archaeologists, artists, curators, developers, educators, journalists, researchers, and Wikimedians.

    In 2014, the European Parliament credited Bassel with “opening up the Internet in Syria and vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people.” For its 2012 list of Top Global Thinkers, Foreign Policy named Bassel, together with Rima Dali, as #19 for “insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.” On March 21, 2013, Bassel was selected for an award by the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards in the category of Digital freedom.

    Bassel was known in the Wikimedia movement for his boundless enthusiasm and passion, always encouraging others to share, create, and connect with the world around them. In 2014, he worked with a friend to write anonymously from inside the prison where he was being held. In his inaugural post on the blog, Me in Syrian Jail, he asserted that he had been arrested for his writing, for his ideas. Despite the danger and difficulty, his writing has a sense of triumph, because the “government wanted to shut me up, because it failed and this blog is the [proof].” His tweets, from the same offline blogging project, reminded us that “We can’t fight jail without memory and imagination.”

    Like Bassel, we believe in the power of writing, words, and memory. Every day, hundreds of millions of people visit free knowledge projects like Wikipedia, to learn, remember, and create. We gain from the generosity of Wikimedia contributors around the world, but very few of us pause to consider the challenges many of those contributors may face. The news of Bassel’s death is a painful reminder of the risk and difficulty so many people confront in simply exercising their fundamental rights to share and learn.

    We believe that everyone should be able to speak freely and share freely. We believe that this commitment to expression, openness, and creativity is a reminder of our shared humanity, and the foundation for a better world. The global movement for open cultures and free knowledge is stronger because of Bassel’s contributions. We mourn his loss, and join his family, friends, and communities in honoring his memory. We remain dedicated to the values for which he lived.

    Katherine Maher, Executive Director
    Wikimedia Foundation

    by Katherine Maher at August 04, 2017 01:04 AM

    August 03, 2017

    Weekly OSM

    weeklyOSM 367


    About us

    • We are always looking for people to help us improve our newsletter in anyway they can. Please join our team 😉


    • Pascal Neis tweets about a large number of new buildings around Surabaya, Indonesia, without any kind of highways or paths leading to them. On the discussion, other people point other places with the same issue and Pierre Béland discovers that the changeset comment and source are wrong.
    • John Whelan asks if recent changes of the Highway Tag Africa wiki page can be highlighted. The revisions were agreed during a workshop at SotM-Africa. Discussion follows about the modifications made vs the goal of this wiki page for the highway tag to take account of the socio-economic role while other keys take care of the condition and practicability of the road.
    • Christoph Hormann starts a discussion about the decline in accuracy of capture date metadata in Bing imagery, remarking that a range like 2003-2016 seen in a rural area is pretty useless for the purpose of mapping.
    • François Lacombe asks on the Tagging mailing list for comments on his proposal to add extra details about power transformers devices functionalities and specifications under the transformer=* tag.
    • Tobias Zwick wants to add a quest to his StreetComplete app to specify the produce of orchards. Currently three tags are used so he asks for comments on how to implement the tagging scheme.
    • Christoph Hormann blogs about the problems of mapping without recent on-the-ground knowledge, otherwise known as remote or arm chair mapping. The different dimensions of image quality are discussed and exemplified by its age the main culprit.
    • Polyglot wonders why so many details are repeated across OSM objects when mapping public transport and why we need 2 objects for each stop in every route relation, given that this makes maintenance harder. Several people reply with comments.


    • Pascal Neis tweets how the different levels of the OSM activity are attributed on his HDYC tool (How Did You Contribute to OSM?)
    • Mutual Learning: In their July issue of the monthly "showcase", the Wikimedia Foundation’s Research Team discussed OSM data structure and further cooperation models. The live stream has been published on YouTube.
    • In the German forum there is a wide-ranging discussion of "what OSM mappers map and why" has changed in the last 9 years (automatic translation). Two participants of the discussions claim that the thread is collection of people whose ideas did not gain wide enough acceptance by the community.
    • Voting for the 2017 OSM Awards has started, and will end on August 16th. There are 45 nominees in 9 categories to choose from.
    • User GoWin blogged about his visit to the General Santos City firefighters and the impromptu mapping activity he had with them completing the layout of their fire hydrant network.


    Humanitarian OSM

    • Marco asks on the HOT mailing list how to map paths and roads through rural villages in Africa to assure routing. The interpretation of the imagery and how to map his example (Mula village, north Nigeria) are discussed in the replies. He also asks about creating virtual highways within residential areas. In the context of semi-desertic areas with no infrastructure and only traces in the sand, there was also discussion with divergent "do not connect" and "do connect" opinions.


    • Christian Quest wrote an easy to understand article about geocoding. (fr) (automatic translation)


    • [1] OpenStreetBrowser (OSB) is once again online. Now you can easily search for POIs. The website shows a narrow menu on the left side, similar to common Wikis and the main page of OpenStreetMap.org although not static one. 20 languages are available.
    • RandoCarto provides customised hiking maps.
    • shtosm.ru explains (ru) (automatic translation) why users of OpenStreetMap.org from Russia and Belaurus experienced slowly loading map tiles a few days ago. It was caused by scraping the tile cache sponsored by Yandex.



    • The OSMF publishes a template waiver/permission for the use of aerial imagery in tracing.


    • Adobe announces that the Flash plugin will be retired in 2020. As the Potlatch online editor is based on Flash, James asks if this is the end of its life too. Potlatch enthusiasts are reassured by Richard Fairhurst that it will continue as a desktop app for Mac/Windows running with Adobe AIR.
    • Bryan Housel mentions in a longer comment that "JOSM-style validation" is coming to the iD editor.


    • On Medium.com, David Hayter details how a PostgreSQL database might be hacked without user account on the target system if not properly configured.
    • Vladimir Agafonkin of Mapbox blogs about the making of his wind power simulation map using WebGL.


    Did you know …

    • RiscOSM, a renderer for the RISC operating system.
    • Who’s That by Ilya Zverv, that tracks the renaming of OSM users accounts and makes them searchable.

    Other “geo” things

    • Anthony Bennett tweets a nice video from 2016 "What if everyone lived in just one city?". With its density ranging from a sparsely populated city to the most crowded place in history, how big would it be?
    • Mystery structure on a South China Sea reef. It’s not visible on OSM but is there someone interested in a survey? 😉
    • The longest pedestrian suspension bridge of the world was opened on July 29th. With a total length of 494 meters, it connects the villages of Zermatt and Grächen in Switzerland.
    • Don’t Panic Labs published a thorough step-by-step tutorial on how to use Mapbox Studio to create a heatmap of your workout activities.

    Upcoming Events

    This weeklyOSM was produced by Nakaner, Peda, PierZen, Polyglot, Rogehm, SK53, Spanholz, Spec80, YoViajo, derFred, jinalfoflia, kreuzschnabel.

    by weeklyteam at August 03, 2017 08:46 PM

    Wiki Education Foundation

    Wiki Education is hosting a workshop for instructors next week in Montreal

    On Thursday, August 10th, Wiki Education will host a workshop in Montreal about how to teach with Wikipedia. The event is free and open to college and university instructors in the area who are interested in learning more about using Wikipedia as a teaching tool. Attendees need only RSVP via Eventbrite so we can provide registration information in the building.

    Event details
    • Location: Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel
    • Time: 1:00pm–5:00pm
    • Address: 1201 Boulevard René-Lévesque Ouest, Suite A, Montréal, QC H3B 2L7
    • Room: Salon 2, on Level 2
    About the workshop

    Wikipedia is one of the world’s most widely read websites, with 500 million unique visitors per month. It’s often the first result when using a search engine, meaning both university students and the public get information from Wikipedia every day. Its broad public presence, open for editing to anyone, offers a unique opportunity for students to participate in active learning and develop key skills like media literacy and communication to a non-expert audience.

    In Wiki Education’s Classroom Program, university instructors assign students to write Wikipedia articles, empowering them to share knowledge with the world. Students research course-related topics that are missing or underrepresented, synthesize the available literature, and use our tools and trainings to add the information to Wikipedia. While contributing cited, well-founded information, they help combat fake news on the internet. After supporting tens of thousands of students, we’ve proven this model brings high-quality academic information to wide audiences.

    In this workshop, Outreach Manager Samantha Weald and I will share expertise about how to navigate Wikipedia, design meaningful assignments, and utilize our tools to track student work online. We’ll talk about how creating knowledge for Wikipedia’s public audience helps students develop information competency and digital literacy. You’re invited to join us for the afternoon to learn about Wikipedia, how you can help make it a better source, and how your students will benefit from this experience.

    This workshop is open to college and university instructors from the United States and Canada, and we’re excited for this opportunity to get more face-time with Montreal-area instructors to bring more Canadian students into our Classroom Program.

    Join us!

    The workshop is free to attend, but an RSVP is required due to limited seating and a required registration for entry. Please send questions to contact@wikiedu.org.

    Photo: ILSU 2017 Summer Institute 01 by Samantha (Wiki Ed) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    by Jami Mathewson at August 03, 2017 04:06 PM

    August 01, 2017

    Wikimedia UK

    Press release: National Library of Wales appoints first ever permanent Wikimedian at a UK cultural institution


    Jason Evans at the National Library of Wales – image by Llywelyn2000 CC BY-SA 4.0

    From 1 August, the National Library of Wales will employ the UK’s first permanent Wikimedian. As National Wikimedian, Jason Evans will make Wikipedia and its sister projects a core aspect of the Library’s activities and services. Building on the successful collaboration between the Library, Wikimedia UK and the Wiki community, he will lead activities associated with the Library’s collections, Wales as a nation and/or the Welsh language.

    The National Library of Wales, Wikimedia UK, and the editing community have worked together since 2014 to host a Wikimedian in Residence. Jason Evans was appointed and has helped the Library to explore the use of Wikipedia and its sister project in the fulfilling its aim of giving access to knowledge, especially relating to Wales and the Welsh. In August 2017 the activity becomes a core aspect of the Library’s work. The Library won ‘Partnership of the Year’ in the UK Wikimedian of the Year Awards for their influential work and vision in making the role permanent.

    Images from the Library have been used in Wikipedia articles which have been seen more than 250 million times. As well as enabling these collections to be used in this way, the Wikimedian in Residence has held 20 public events and has taught more than 100 people how to edit, and together they have improved thousands of pages. The Library has also played a key role in supporting the Welsh Wicipedia, leading initiatives like WiciPop which resulted in the creation of hundreds of articles and Welsh-language record company Recordiau Sain sharing 8,000 audio files. It also leads the ongoing Wici-Iechyd (Wiki-Health) project which aims to improve health related subjects on the Welsh Wicipedia.

    Wikipedia in both Welsh and English is one of the main places people go to for information. The Welsh language Wicipedia has more articles on women than men and is the most popular Welsh website, with an average of around 800,000 pages opened every month and around 130 regular editors.

    As Wikimedian in Residence, Jason Evans has helped to organise many different events to encourage people to edit Wikipedia, has attracted significant media coverage, and helped Welsh Wicipedia to become one of the biggest and most advanced Wikipedias in a minority language. You can find out much more about the residency on its homepage here.

    Unidentified elderly couple (1850s) – image from the NLW’s collection of early Swansea photographs

    Pedr ap Llwyd, Director of Collections and Public Programmes at the National Library of Wales said: “For the benefit of Wales as a nation, it is crucial that Wikipedia contains a wealth of knowledge about its history and culture, and that the range of articles on the Welsh language Wicipedia covers the widest possible range of subjects. The National Library of Wales has a key role to play in providing access to knowledge about Wales and its people, and this post demonstrates our desire to collaborate with individuals and organisations within Wales and beyond in fulfilling this aim.”

    Lucy Crompton-Reid, the Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK, said “I am delighted that the National Library of Wales have made this residency a permanent post within the library, demonstrating the enormous impact that Wikimedians in Residence can have in opening up cultural heritage institutions and engaging global audiences with their collections through Wikimedia. Our partnership with the National Library of Wales has been characterised by innovation, and we look forward to the continued success of this work with a permanent staff member focused on engaging with Wikimedia and open knowledge.”

    Notes for editors

    The National Library of Wales (NLW) serves as the nation’s memory. It is a repository of treasures and facts, a disseminator of knowledge, a venue, a destination, a place to keep the past safe and readily available for all to access, use and be inspired by, now and in the future.

    Located in Aberystwyth, the Library plays a central role in culture and heritage as one of Wales’s major national institutions. As one of the six Copyright Libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the National Library of Wales’ collections are vast and varied and are free to access. They include 950,000 photographs, 150,000 hours of sound recordings, 250,000 hours of moving image, 25,000 manuscripts, 50,000 works of art, 1,500,000 maps, as well as 6,000,000 books. More than 5,000,000 individual items from these collections have been digitised and made freely available on the internet.

    The National Library of Wales engages in a full and continuous programme of public events that include high-quality permanent and temporary exhibitions with associated educational and presentational activities. These are crucial to NLW’s mission of interpreting the collections for, and encouraging participation by, a wide range of audiences whether onsite, at external locations or online.

    Wikimedia UK is the UK chapter for the global Wikimedia movement. A registered charity, its mission is to support and advocate for the development of open knowledge, working in partnership with volunteers, the cultural and education sectors and other organisations to make knowledge available, usable and reusable online.

    Wikipedia is available in more than 290 languages, and receives about 16 billion pageviews a month. Created in 2001, it has more than 40 million articles across all languages and is the 5th most visited website in the world.

    Follow Jason and Wikimedia UK on Twitter for updates from the project. See upcoming Wikimedia events in the UK.

    by John Lubbock at August 01, 2017 04:11 PM

    Congratulations to our Wikimedians Of The Year!

    The Wikimedia UK AGM 2017 at Senate House Library – image by Jwslubbock

    Every year Wikimedia UK holds the UK Wikimedian of the Year Awards at our Annual General Meeting to recognise the work of the vibrant community that our charity depends on. 2016-17 was an important year for Wikimedia UK, with nearly half a million pages improved on the Wikimedia projects and 20,000 hours contributed by volunteers.

    The awards have three categories: ‘UK Wikimedian of the Year’ for individual contributions, ‘Partnership of the Year’ for organisations, and ‘Honourable Mention’ for individuals or groups who have made important contributions to Wikimedia.

    UK Wikimedian of the Year

    Nominees:  Brianboulton, Jason Evans, Kelly Foster, Ewan McAndrew, Fabian Tompsett, Ritchie333, Alice White

    This year the award was jointly given to Kelly Foster and Ewan McAndrew. The nominating statements are below:

    Kelly Foster –  Wikimedia relies on people to edit it, and its aims of enabling people to share knowledge in a neutral way means making sure that all sorts of different people are able to edit it. This makes trainers absolutely key as Wikimedians. As an excellent and effective trainer, Kelly Foster made an enormous contribution in training the members of our Wikipedia project, which is a huge part of why its members are now confident and frequent editors. This is just one of many training sessions she has run for groups and the quality and effectiveness of her contribution deserves this recognition. Nomination by Claire 75.

    Ewan McAndrew: Ewan’s work with Edinburgh University is hugely important for normalising the use of Wikipedia in an academic setting. Without being able to point out the great work he has done there i doubt i would have got Aberystwyth University to start taking Wikipedia seriously as a teaching tool. But the main reason for nominating Ewan is the Celtic Knot Conference. Ewan clearly worked incredibly hard on putting this event together, which by all accounts was a great success. From a Welsh perspective, a Wiki conference focused on smaller and minority languages was hugely valuable, as issues on smaller Wikis can be very different to those on en Wiki. Nomination by Jason Evans.

    Ewan McAndrew with participants at an Edinburgh Spy Week workshop – image by Mihaela Bodlovic

    Partnership of the Year

    Nominees: National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Wellcome Library

    National Library of Wales

    Nominating statement:

    I think the National Library of Wales deserves a nomination for their unparalleled commitment to Wikimedia UK and the wider Wikimedia movement. The NLW are now coming to the end of a 36 month full time residency. They have released 15,000 images to Commons and have helped to create 33,000 Wikidata items. They have held 20 Editathons, and users attending NLW events have created 10,000 new articles since January 2015. The Library has been committed to supporting Wikimedia projects and has helped other Welsh content producers share their content on Wikimedia platforms, such as CADW (27,000 Wikidata items) and Sain Records (7,000 sound clips). They have agreed to open their doors to Wiki visiting scholars, and have embedded Wiki based activities into their volunteer programme. They have partnered with the Welsh Government to run projects aimed at improving Welsh language content, and they have now appointed a permanent full time Wikimedian to their staff in order to maintain and develop their partnership with Wikimedia long term. Nomination by Jason Evans.

    Jason Evans at the National Library of Wales – image by Llywelyn2000

    Honourable Mention

    Nominees:  User:Andrew Davidson, Dundee Dental School, User:Jesswade88, London Wikimedians, User:Sic19

    Simon Cobb

    Nominating statement:

    User:Sic19 – Simon Cobb (Sic19) has worked incredibly hard this year developing cultural Wikidata. As the Wikidata visiting scholar with National Library of Wales he has created over 10,000 Wikidata items and showcased the benefits of creating open linked data using visualisations, and by writing blogs. He ran a successful session at LODLAM 2017 aimed at developing collaborative Wikidata projects across the sector. In his role at the Leeds University Library he has also run several Wikipedia sessions and has been a strong advocate for Wikimedia within that institution. Nomination by Jason Evans.

    Thank you to all the nominees for their outstanding work, the people who proposed them for recognising their value, and the rest of the Wikimedia community in the UK for supporting each other and Wikimedia UK’s work over the past year. We will run the awards again next year, and anyone can make nominations so please take part.

    by John Lubbock at August 01, 2017 12:56 PM

    July 31, 2017

    Wikimedia Foundation

    Update: Wikimedia’s petition against the global extension of search engine delistings

    Search engine delistings can make it difficult for users to find their way to free knowledge. Photo by Abrget47j, CC BY-SA 3.0.

    Last October, the Wikimedia Foundation filed a petition with the French Supreme Court opposing the worldwide application of the right to be forgotten or right to erasure. This legal doctrine requires search engines to remove (or “delist”) certain information from search results when requested appropriately by European citizens.

    In May 2015, the French data protection authority (the CNIL) ordered Google to expand the geographic reach of delistings, and remove the requested information from all of its domains, for users throughout the world, regardless of whether the governing law in their country was similar or distinct. When Google’s offer of a compromise was rejected, it chose not to comply with the order, and challenged it before the Conseil d’État, the French Supreme Court. In our filing, the Wikimedia Foundation argued that delisting, if determined to be appropriate under a given jurisdiction’s laws, should not be expanded to affect search results worldwide. We explained the impact that search engine delistings have on the Wikimedia projects, in making it more difficult for users around the world to find accurate, well-sourced information.

    We now provide a brief update on the progress of our petition and Google’s appeal. The French Supreme Court has turned for guidance to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court in the European Union (EU) responsible for interpreting EU law. In the EU, national courts may refer questions to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling to ensure that they are uniformly interpreting EU law. In a ruling (in French) issued July 19, 2017, the Conseil d’État accepted our petition to intervene, among others, and asked the ECJ to answer the following questions. First, does the right to delist mean that search engines must deindex links on all domains, or is the scope of delisting limited to the European Union? Further, if the scope is limited to the EU, should the delisting take place only on the national domain of the requester, or across all EU domains? Finally, should geoblocking be used to ensure searchers in the same country as the requester do not receive the delisted results? After the ECJ rules on these questions, the case will return to the Conseil d’État.

    As we mentioned in an earlier blog post, a large proportion of Wikimedia project traffic originates from search engines. The delisting of links in search results makes it difficult for people to find and access neutral, reliable information on Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects. When we receive notice that a project page has been removed from search engine results due to a delisting request, we publicly post these notices for the Wikimedia community’s reference. The global extension of search engine delistings sets a dangerous precedent for how information is shared, documented, and disseminated around the world, reaching far beyond the the Wikimedia projects. Worldwide removal orders are recent, and troubling, trend; on July 20, we blogged about a Canadian Supreme Court decision that similarly calls for Google to remove search results across borders.

    No single country or region should be able to control what information the entire world may access. If upheld, the CNIL’s order may encourage countries with weak protections for human rights to require the worldwide removal of important information regarding authorities’ abuses of power, dissenting political opinions, or other crucial topics. The removal of content, particularly in such contexts, fundamentally undermines the Wikimedia vision of a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of human knowledge. We hope that the ECJ will conclude that search engine delistings ordered by a particular court should not extend across the globe. We will continue to provide you with updates as the case proceeds.

    Aeryn Palmer, Legal Counsel
    Wikimedia Foundation

    * Special thanks to Claire Rameix-Séguin and François Gilbert of SCP Baraduc-Duhamel-Rameix for their representation of the Wikimedia Foundation in this case, to Jacob Rogers, Stephen LaPorte, and Jan Gerlach of the Wikimedia Foundation, and to Diana Lee for assistance in preparing this blog post.

    by Aeryn Palmer at July 31, 2017 01:02 PM


    Moving Plants

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

    The history of plant movements have often been 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 origin. This idea was firmly established by Nikolai Vavilov before being sent off to his unfortunate death in Siberia. Today, genetic relatedness of plants can be examined by comparing the similarity of chosen DNA sequences and among individuals of a species those sequence locations that are most variable. Some recent studies on individual plants and their relatedness have provided some very interesting glimpses 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 in story-tellings of history. 

    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 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 one of the hands of a carving 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.
    (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 flowerpecker populations boomed after this.
    • 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) 

    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 July 31, 2017 03:40 AM

    Crowdsourced Indian geology in the 1800s

    Crowd might be a bit of a stretch for less than a hundred contributors but George Bellas Greenough (1769 – 1839), one of the founders of the Geological Society of London produced, posthumously, the first geological map of India which was published in 1855. Greenough was the first president of the Geological Society of London and was reportedly best known for his ability to compile and synthesize the works of others and his annual address to the Society was apparently much appreciated. He was however entirely against the idea that fossils could be used to differentiate strata and in that he failed to admire William "Strata" Smith who produced the first geological map of England. An obituarist noted that Greenough was an outspoken critic of theoretical frameworks and a "drag" on the progress of the science of geology!

    Not much has been written about the history of the making of the Greenough map of Indian geology - it was begun somewhere in 1853 and was finally published in 1855 and consisted of four sheets and measured 7 by 5¾ foot. A small number of copies were made which are apparently collector items but hardly any are available online for anyone wishing to study the contents. The University of Minnesota has a set of scanned copies of three-fourths of the map but if you want to read it you need to download three large files (each of about 300 MB!) . I decided to stitch together these images and to enhance them a bit and since the image is legally in the public domain (ie. copyright expired), I have placed it on Wikimedia Commons. There really is a research need for examining the motivations for making this map and on how Greenough went about with it. He apparently had officers of the East India Company providing him information and he seems to have sent draft maps on which they commented. There is a very interesting compilation of the correspondence that went into the making of this map. It has numerous errors both in geology as well as in the positions and labelling but definitely something to admire for its period. 

    On has to lament that nobody has made a nice geological map in recent times showing interesting regional formations, fossil localities and so on. So much for our human-centricity and recentism. 

    Here is a small overview of the 1855 map. You can find and download the whole image on Wikimedia Commons.

    You can zoom into this image and enjoy the details by using this viewer that uses the Flash plugin or this one that is Flash-free.

    PLEA: If anyone can find a digital version of the northeast sector at a resolution that is readable, please please do let me know.

    PS: November 8, 2016 - just created an entry in Wikipedia for Henry Wesley Voysey (with the only known portrait of the man when no likeness has been recorded by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography!) who is supposed to have made the first geology map covering a part of the Hyderabad region but two known copies of that map disappeared from Calcutta and London.

    by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at July 31, 2017 03:37 AM

    Research techniques - Wikipedian ways

    Over the years, I have been using Wikipedia, as a kind of public research note book. I sometimes fail to keep careful notes and I regret it. For instance, some years ago I was reading through some scanned materials on an archive and came across a record of the Great Indian Hornbill in the Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu. It was carefully noted by some British medical officer who was visiting the place and he commented on the presence of the species in the region as part of a report that he submitted on the sanitary and medical conditions of the district. Google searches did not see or index the document and I thought I would find the content when I wanted it but I have never managed since to find it again. Imagine how useful it would have been to me and others if I had put in a reference to it in the Wikipedia article on the hornbill species with a comment on its past distribution. 

    Not long ago, someone on the email list Taxacom-L sought information on Samuel B. Fairbank - a collector of specimens in India. I knew the name as he was one of the collaborators of Allan Octavian Hume (who even named a species after him) and decided that I knew enough to respond to the request for information. I looked around on the Internet and found that there was enough material scattered around to put together a decent biography (I even found a portrait photo whose copyright had thankfully expired) and it led to a Wikipedia entry that should spare anyone else looking for it the effort that I put in. Of course one follows the normal Wikipedia/reseach requirements of adding citations to the original sources so that anyone interested in more information or in verifying the sources can double check it.

    These additions to Wikipedia may strike you as something that is not very different from what an ant does when it (actually usually she) goes out foraging - when she finds food, she eats a bit and then returns to the nest leaving behind a trail marker on the ground that says "this way for food". Other ants that are walking by spot the message written on the ground and if interested go on and help harvest the food resource. The ants that find the food again add a trail marker - now the strength of the trail marker chemical indicates veracity and possibly the amount of food available. This kind of one-to-many communication between individuals mediated via environmental cues has a term - stigmergy. Now the ant colony has been termed as a "super organism", a kind of distributed animal, with eyes, legs and even a brain that is distributed across little seemingly independent entities. Now there is a lot of research on how super-organisms work - it is an area of considerable interest in computer science because - the system is extremely resilient to damage - a colony goes on as if nothing has happened if you went and crushed a whole bunch of ants underfoot. How far this metaphor helps in understanding the organic growth of Wikipedia is uncertain but it certainly seems to be a useful way of conveying the idea of how contributors work. From a biomimicry perspective it could even inspire ways of designing the interface and system of Wikipedia - imagine if visitors could mark their attention to specific lines and the links that the followed. Subsequent visitors could perhaps see links that led to particularly useful additional articles or references.

    I sometimes run workshops to recruit new people to contribute to Wikipedia and my usual spiel does not include any talk on "how to edit" Wikipedia but deals with why contribute and about how to incorporate Wikipedia into one's normal day-to-day activities. I sometimes take pictures from walks, record bird calls and research topics for my own learning. I compare what I learn with what Wikipedia has to say and where it fails, I try and fix defects. This does not actually come in the way of my learning process or work much but I like to think that it helps others who may come looking for the same kinds of things.

    Incorporating Wikipedia into normal learning practice - should only need a small incremental effort.

    The real problem in some parts of the world, such as in India, is that not everyone has access to good enough routes to learning - experts are often inaccessible and libraries are often poorly stocked even if they happen to be available. Of course there are privileged contributors who do have access to better information sources than others but these are the people that often look at Wikipedia and complain about its shortcomings - it seems likely therefore that the under-privileged might be better at contributing. In recent times, Russian underground sites like sci-hub have altered the ecosystem in a kind of revolution but there are also legal channels like the Wikipedia Reference Exchange that really go a long way to aiding research.

    Of course there are an endless array of ways in which one could contribute - by translating from one language to another - if you are proficient in two languages - there is the gap finder which allows you to find what entries are on one language and missing on another - http://recommend.wmflabs.org/ . If you are interested in challenging your research abilities and want to see how good you are at telling good and reliable resources from websites with "alternative facts and news" then you should try finding references for dubious or uncited content from https://tools.wmflabs.org/citationhunt/en .

    One of the real problems with Indian editors on Wikipedia is that a large number of them support their additions with newspaper and media mentions and many of them do not know what reliable sources mean. Information literacy is key and having more scholarly information resources is important. I have therefore tried to compile a list of digital libraries and resources (especially those with India related content).

    Here they are in no particular order:
    Although all of these are accessible, you may need little tricks like finding the right keywords to search, using the right google operators in some cases and for some people finding references for obscure things is fun. And some of us, like me, will be happy to help others in their research. With this idea, I created a Facebook group where you can seek references or content hidden behind a paywall. This assistance is provided in the hope that you can summarize your research findings on Wikipedia and make life easier for the ants that walk by in the future.

    by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at July 31, 2017 03:34 AM

    Naturalists in court and courtship

    The Bombay Natural History Society offers an interesting case in the history of amateur science in India and there are many little stories hidden away that have not quite been written about, possibly due to the lack of publicly accessible archival material. Interestingly two of the founders of the BNHS were Indians and hardly anything has been written about them in the pages of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society where even lesser known British members have obituaries. I suspect that this lack of obituaries can be traced to the political and social turmoil of the period. Even a major two-part history of the BNHS by Salim Ali in 1978 makes no mention of the Indians founders. Both the founders were doctors with an interest in medical botany and were connected to other naturalists not just because of their interest in plants but also perhaps through their involvement in social reform. The only colleague who could have written their obituaries was the BNHS member Dr Kanhoba Ranchoddas Kirtikar who probably did not because of his conservative-views and a fall-out with the reformists. This is merely my suspicion and it arises from reading between the lines when I recently started to examine, create and upgrade the relevant entries on them on the English language Wikipedia. There are also some rather interesting connections.

    Sakharam Arjun
    Dr Sakharam Arjun (Raut) (1839-16 April 1885) - This medical doctor with an interest in botanical remedies was for sometime a teacher of botany at the Grant Medical College - but his name perhaps became more well known after a historic court case dealing with child marriage and women's rights, that of Dadaji vs. Rukhmabai. Rukhmabai had been married off at the age of 11 and stayed with her mother and step-father Sakharam Arjun. When she reached puberty, she was asked by Dadaji to join him. Rukhmabai refused and Sakharam Arjun supported her. It led to a series of court cases, the first of which was in Rukhmabai's favour. This rankled the Hindu conservatives who believed that this was a display of the moral superiority of the English. The judge had in reality found fault with English law and had commented on the patriarchal and unfair system of marriage that had already been questioned back in England. A subsequent appeal was ruled in favour of Dadaji and Rukhmabai was ordered to go to his home or face six months in prison. Rukhmabai was in the meantime writing a series of articles in the Times of India under the pen-name of A Hindoo Lady (wish there was a nice online Indian newspapers archive) and she declared that she would rather take the maximal prison penalty. This led to further worries - with Queen Victoria and the Viceroy jumping into the fray. Max Müller commented on the case, while Behramji Malabari and Allan Octavian Hume (now retired from ornithology; there may be another connection as Sakharam Arjun seems to have been a member of the Theosophical Society, founded by Hume and others before he quit it) debated various aspects. Somewhat surprisingly Hume tended to being less radical about reforms than Malabari.

    Dr Rukhmabai
    Dr Edith Pechey
    Dr Sakharam Arjun did not live to see the judgement, and he probably died early thanks to the stress it created. His step-daughter Rukhmabai became one of the earliest Indian women doctors and was supported in her cause by Dr Edith Pechey, another pioneering English woman doctor, who went on to marry H.M. Phipson. Phipson of course was a more famous founder of the BNHS. Rukhmabai's counsel included the lawyer J.D.Inverarity who was a big-game hunter and BNHS member. To add to the mess of BNHS members in court, there was (later Lt.-Col.) Kanhoba Ranchoddas Kirtikar (1850-9 May 1917), a student of Sakharam Arjun and like him interested in medicinal plants. Kirtikar however became a hostile witness in the Rukhmabai case, and supported Dadaji. Rukhmabai, in her writings as a Hindoo Lady, indicated her interest in studying medicine. Dr Pechey and others set up a fund for supporting her medical education in London. The whole case caused a tremendous upheaval in India with a division across multiple axes -  nationalists, reformists, conservatives, liberals, feminists, Indians, Europeans - everyone seems to have got into the debate. The conservative Indians believed that Rukhmabai's defiance of Hindu customs was the obvious result of a western influence.

    J.D.Inverarity, Barrister
    and Vice President of BNHS (1897-1923)
    Counsel for Rukhmabai.
    It is somewhat odd that the BNHS journal carries no obituary whatsoever to this Indian founding member. I suspect that the only one who may have been asked to write an obituary would have been Kirtikar and he may have refused to write given his stance in court. Another of Sakharam Arjun's students was a Gujarati botanist named Jayakrishna Indraji who perhaps wrote India's first non-English botanical treatise (at least the first that seems to have been based on modern scientific tradition). Indraji seems to be rather sadly largely forgotten except in some pockets of Kutch, in Bhuj. I recently discovered that the organization GUIDE in Bhuj have tried to bring back Indraji into modern attention.

    Atmaram Pandurang
    The other Indian founder of the BNHS was Dr Atmaram Pandurang Tarkhadkar (1823-1898)- This medical doctor was a founder of the Prarthana Samaj in 1867 in Bombay. He and his theistic reform movement were deeply involved in the Age of Consent debates raised by the Rukhmabai case. His organization seems to have taken Max Muller's suggestion that the ills of society could not be cured by laws but by education and social reform. If Sakharam Arjun is not known enough, even lesser is known of Atmaram Pandurang (at least online!) but one can find another natural history connection here - his youngest daughter - Annapurna "Ana" Turkhud tutored Rabindranath Tagore in English and the latter was smitten. Tagore wrote several poems to her where she is referred to as "Nalini". Ana however married Harold Littledale (3 October 1853-11 May 1930), professor of history and English literature, later principal of the Baroda College (Moreshwar Atmaram Turkhud, Ana's older brother, was a vice-principal at Rajkumar College Baroda - another early natural history hub), and if you remember an earlier post where his name occurs - Littledale was the only person from the educational circle to contribute to Allan Octavian Hume's notes on birds! Littledale also documented bird trapping techniques in Gujarat. Sadly, Ana did not live very long and died in her thirties in Edinburgh somewhere around 1891.

    It would appear that many others in the legal profession were associated with natural history - we have already seen the case of Courtenay Ilbert, who founded the Simla Natural History Society in 1885. Ilbert lived at Chapslee House in Simla - now still a carefully maintained heritage home (that I had the fortune of visiting recently) owned by the kin of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ilbert was involved with the eponymous Ilbert Bill which allowed Indian judges to pass resolutions on cases involving Europeans - a step forward in equality that also led to rancour. Other law professionals in the BNHS - included Sir Norman A. Macleod and  S. M. Robinson. We know that at least a few marriages were mediated by associations with the BNHS and these include - Norman Boyd Kinnear married a relative of Walter Samuel Millard (the man who kindly showed a child named Salim Ali around the BNHS); R.C. Morris married Heather, daughter of Angus Kinloch (another BNHS member who lived near Longwood Shola, Kotagiri) - and even before the BNHS, there were other naturalists connected by marriage - Brian Hodgson's brother William was married to Mary Rosa the sister of S.R. Tickell (of Tickell's flowerpecker fame); Sir Walter Elliot (of Anathana fame) was married to Maria Dorothea Hunter Blair while her sister Jane Anne Eliza Hunter Blair was married to Philip Sclater, a leading figure in zoology. The project that led to the Fauna of British India was promoted by Sclater and Jerdon (a good friend of Elliot) - these little family ties may have provided additional impetus.

    In 2014, someone in London asked me if I had heard of an India-born naturalist named E.K. Robinson. At that time I did not know of him but it turns out that Edward Kay Robinson (1857?-1928) born in Naini Tal was the founder of the British (Empire) Naturalists' Association. He fostered a young and promising journalist who would later dedicate a work to him - To E.K.R. from R.K. - Rudyard Kipling. Now E.K.R. had an older brother named Phil Robinson who was also in the newspaper line - and became famous for his brand of Anglo-Indian nature writing - a style that was more prominent in the writings of E.H. Aitken (Eha). Now Phil - Philip Stewart Robinson - despite the books he wrote like In my Indian Garden and Noah's ark, or, "Mornings in the zoo." Being a contribution to the study of unnatural history is not a well-known name in Indian natural history writing. One reason for his works being unknown may be the infamy that Phil achieved from affairs aboard ships between India and England that led to a scandalous divorce case and bankruptcy.

    by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at July 31, 2017 03:34 AM

    A libel story

    A visit to the Biligirirangan Hills just as the monsoons were setting in led me to look up on the life of one of the local naturalists who wrote about this region, R.C. Morris. One of the little-known incidents in his life is a case of libel arising from a book review. I had not heard of such a case before but it seems that libel cases are a rising risk for anyone who publishes critical reviews. There is a nice guide to avoid trouble and there is a plea within academia to create a safe space for critical discourse.

    This is a somewhat short note and if you are interested in learning more about the life of R.C. Morris - do look up the Wikipedia entry on him or this piece by Dr Subramanya. I recently added links to most of his papers in the Wikipedia entry and perhaps one that really had an impact on me was on the death of fourteen elephants from eating kodo millet - I suspect it is a case of aflatoxin poisoning! Another source to look for is the book Going Back by Morris' daughter and pioneer mountaineer Monica Jackson. I first came to know of the latter book in 2003 through the late Zafar Futehally who were family friends of the Morrises. He lent me this rather hard to find book when I had posted a note to an email group (a modified note was published in the Newsletter for Birdwatchers, 2003 43(5):66-67 - one point I did not mention and which people find rather hard to believe is that my friend Rajkumar actually got us to the top of Honnametti in a rather old Premier Padmini car!).

    I came across the specific libel case against Morris in a couple of newspaper archives - this one in the Straits Times, 27 April 1937, can be readily found online:

    Statements  Made In Book Review.

    Major Leonard Mourant Handley, author of "Hunter's Moon," a book dealing with his experiences as a big game-hunter, was at the Middlesex Sheriff's Court awarded £3,000 damages for libel against Mr. Randolph Camroux Morris. Mr. Morris did not appear and was not represented. The libel appeared in a review of "Hunter's Moon" by Mr. Morris that appeared in the journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Mr. Valentine Holmes said Major Handley wrote the book, his first, in 1933. and it met with amazing success.

    Mr. Morris, in his review, declared that it did not give the personal experiences of Major Handley. Mr. Morris wrote :"There surely should be some limit to the inaccuracies which find their way into modern books, which purport to set forth observations of interest to natural  scientists  and  shikaris.

    "The recent book. 'Hunters Moon.' by Leonard Handley, is so open to criticism in this respect, that one is led to the conclusion that the author has depended upon his imagination and trusted to the credulity of the public for the purpose of producing a 'bestseller' rather than a work of sporting or scientific value."

    Then followed some 38 instances of alleged Inaccuracies.

    Mr. Holmes said that at one time Mr. Morris was a close friend of Major Handley, but about 1927 some friction arose between Mrs. Morris and Mrs.  Handley. In evidence. Major Handley said that, following the libel, a man who had been a close friend of Ms refused to nominate him for membership of a club The Under-Sheriff. Mr. Stanley Ruston said there was no doubt that the motive of the libel lay in the fact that Major Handley had seized some of the thunder Mr. Morris was providing for his own book.

    Naturally this forced me to read the specific book which is also readily available online

    The last chapter deals with the hunter's exploits in the Biligirirangans which he translates as the "blue [sic] hills of Ranga"! It is also worth examining Morris' review of the book in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society which is merely marked under his initials. I wonder if anyone knows of the case history and whether it was appealed or followed up. I suspect Morris may have just quietly ignored it if the court notice was ever delivered in the far away estate of his up in Attikan or Honnameti.

    The review is fun to read as well...

    Meanwhile, here is a view of the Honnametti rock which lies just beside the estate where Morris lived.
    Honnametti rock

    Memorial to Randolph Camroux Morris
    Grave of Mary Macdonald, wife of Leslie Coleman, who in a way
    founded the University of Agricultural Sciences. Coleman was perhaps the first
    to teach the German language in Bangalore to Indian students.

    Sidlu kallu or lightning-split-rock, another local landmark.

    by Shyamal L. (noreply@blogger.com) at July 31, 2017 03:31 AM

    Tech News

    Tech News issue #31, 2017 (July 31, 2017)

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