Lisa McPherson Day picket against Scientology, Tottenham Court Road, Saturday 1st December, 1pm.

(I thought for some reason this was next Saturday, but apparently it really is tomorrow. I presume the weather will suck slightly less.)


In the closing years of the last millennium, a shadowy and powerful organisation operating under cover of religion attempted to silence criticism of itself on the Usenet™ bulletin board chatroom message network. The backlash from this event resonated forth as Internet Freedom Fighters sprung forth, goggles on and capes a-flutter, to defend their right to discuss and criticise the powerful in public.

Not many remember those dark days, before Xenu was fodder for children’s cartoon shows and surgery soap operas. But our re-enactors will be out in force. See them enturbulate™ the Scientologists! See the Scientologists with their E-Meters™, “stress-testing” random passers-by! See authentic living critics of Scientology singing silly songs through the Xenu Boom Box!

1pm, Tottenham Court Road Museum of Scientology, W1T 2EZ, next door to CEX near Goodge Street Station. Bring an umbrella.

(Lisa McPherson, my old Australian Critics of Scientology page and why I bothered.)

How to avoid Windows Vista in business.

I’m a Unix sysadmin. I got a new work laptop today, still on XP. I asked the IT guys if we were in any danger of Vista. They said “Nope, XP is supported for years yet!” And we all exhaled.

We have worked out that if we are ever threatened with Vista, we promptly (a) pump up the Gutmann (b) write a whole pile of in-house apps for ourselves that only work on XP. The latter already worked wonderfully for us in making an instant business case for staying on Firefox — make sure your in-house web apps are written for Firefox and SeaMonkey, and specifically break in IE. (This is easy: just write to standards. We have one vital app for twenty people that was broken for six months in IE with no-one realising …)

So: to stay off Vista, stock up on in-house apps that don’t work on it. Then you have the business case you need.

Meaningful estimates of popularity.

English Wikipedia Wikicharts for November 2007 (so far). The numbers are a sampling of raw page hit count.

The hits on “Main Page” will be people just going to the site. The hits on “wiki” will not (I would guess) come from a society-wide fascination with editable websites, but because people have typed “wiki” into a search engine. I suspect a lot of the sex-related hits will be disappointed porn searchers.

The question is what “popular” actually usefully means. Raw page hits demonstrably isn’t quite it. “Pages with most hits gone to by people looking for information” (whether starting from Wikipedia, a search engine or a link) is closer to what we’re after, but there’s the question of quantifying intent. When we ask what’s “popular,” what’s the question we’re actually asking?

(At least our charts are harder to rig than Conservapedia’s.)

Citizendium, the non-free encyclopedia.

Update, Dec 2007: I was wrong. CZ has chosen CC-by-sa. w00t! *champagne*

Citizendium looks likely to adopt a Creative Commons Non-Commercial licence, with the Citizendium Foundation having the power to license anything in it commercially to keep the organisation running. Larry Sanger says he hasn’t declared a view, but I think the question wording and his clarifications point pretty obviously. See also the forum thread.

If Citizendium takes its content non-free, it immediately becomes only as interesting as Scholarpedia, for the same reason. (And not to mention contributors who feel they’ve been deceived wanting their stuff back.) Free content, with analogy to free software, does not have usage restrictions. Dr Sanger attempts a reductio ad Hitlerum on the term “free,” but I suspect that’s not going to convince many outside Citizendium.

There’s a complete failure (in the CZ forum or blog threads) to acknowledge “commercial use” as meaning anything other than large corporations in the first world. But a non-profit running a large sales operation falls under “non-commercial”; an individual selling copies and covering costs while not operating under a governmental or non-profit corporate umbrella, however, is “commercial”.

(The GFDL is hardly that wonderful, and I’ve posted to the FSFE list that the one thing those of us contributing to the largest GFDL project in existence want is that a future version be completely compatible with a future CC-by-sa. That’s it. That’s what we want.)

Usage restrictions are fundamentally problematic. One of the reasons for making Wikipedia free content without usage restrictions is so that distribution of the content can be encouraged. Erik Möller has noted the problems with NC licences: “marking up regions of content as non-commercial and consistently following these boundaries is almost impossible in a collaborative environment.” Lawrence Lessig agrees he has a point there (though, of course, continues to support -NC for appropriate uses himself). Further from Möller:

Worse still are the effects that -NC licenses can have on people in the developing world, where entrepreneurship represents an opportunity to overcome poverty and the digital divide. People with basic access to freely licensed materials can redistribute them at a small profit using more traditional means such as photocopying or CD burning. In the absence of large scale government programs to broaden Internet access or distribute free content, market forces can play a clearly beneficial role in spreading free knowledge and free culture. Given cultural, language and access barriers, the common argument of -NC proponents that permitting commercial use on request is sufficient to allow for desirable uses, is at odds with reality.

Dr Sanger says he considers the free market useful, but doesn’t speak of commercial use in terms other than large first-world corporations. If that’s what Citizendium want to make sure they get paid for, they need a licence that says that and doesn’t have the collateral damage outside the first world that this approach will. Even those Citizendium contributors apparently driven by bitterness toward Wikipedia would surely have some reluctance to concede most of the world’s population for short-term gain.

Update: Dr Sanger states he really truly hasn’t decided any which way, both here and on the forum.

Update 2: It’s in the Slashdot firehose, apparently adapted from this post. With a link here. INCOMING!!

Bored? Policy-weary? Write something.

English Wikipedia may have two million articles, but it’s so far off finished it’s ridiculous.

We had a quite notable recent classroom experiment in assigning students missing Wikipedia articles to write. Dig this first edit!

Writing a new article that will stick really isn’t hard: a few paragraphs, some references and some indication that there’s a reason to care will do the trick. (Go on, stretch yourself beyond web comics.) Anyone with an hour or two can produce something well worth keeping with Google Scholar. If you have access to a university library, it’s ridiculously easy.

Rather than just telling your students “go write something,” set them loose on a list of red links, requested articles, missing articles or the missing articles project. Discussion on WikiEN-L suggested Gaelic footballers, Indian and South African politicians (indeed, politicians from anywhere that isn’t the US or Europe), biographies from before the twentieth century (check any public domain biographical dictionary, particularly ones not in English), every scientist in a prominent national academy …

(Don’t forget to tell the school and university projects list.)

Also: add red links as you potter about the wiki. Red links encourage contributors. We’re now saying so expressly at FAC. And pathological red link haters can always be dealt with.