The Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 for Wikipedians

Its a £2700 lens. At that price I suspect anyone buying it can come to their own conclusions. Still on a full frame camera it is an extremely useful lens. The width makes it great for urban architecture, larger items in museums, and interiors in general. The short minimum focus distance makes it great for objects in cases and the lens’s sharpness makes it viable to crop the resulting images.

Obviously if you want to shoot longer than 24mm then you need another lens but for wide angle work the lens is excellent.

Downsides. Its a £2700 lens. You could buy quite a lot of other gear for that. The Sigma 12-24mm f/4 is about £1000 cheaper and nearly as sharp at the wide end. If you are shooting on a crop sensor then the 10-18mm is under £300 so unless you really really need the sharpness for some reason I wouldn’t go near this lens for a crop system. On top of that its big and its heavy. Not something I have an issue with but for anyone more weight conscious (but then why shoot full frame?) it may present a problem. The f/4 speed may be less than idea for indoor work but thats becoming less and less of a problem as camera low light abilities improve.

Overall a very useful bit of kit but also really rather on the expensive side.

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It is open acess week

Open access week runs from the 24th of October to the 30th. That is why the featured picture of the day on the English wikipedia comes from PLOS ONE.

Open access material appears to have fallen of the wikimedia radar a bit in the last year perhaps because a lot of it is rather hard to use. Probably the biggest issue is that a lot of papers cover a very narrow area within which wikipedia doesn’t even have a general article. Some of this is simply because wikipedia is weak in certain areas but others look suspiciously like publication padding. There are various strategies to deal with this but most of them run into the next problem.

The is a lot of junk in the databases. Sure if you stick to PLOS ONE most papers will meet a certain minimum standard. Beyond that things get interesting. Anyone can start an open access journal and while there are many decent attempts to do so there are also a lot of scammers and cranks out there. Scammers target the pay to publish model (which a lot of open access follows) by setting up a legitimate looking website and then accepting everything sent to them where the author pays the relevant fee. Cranks just want somewhere to publish their cold fusion and free energy papers that looks legitimate. Checking against Beall’s list provides a degree of protection but well, it is big, new journals pop up all the time and it doesn’t list the journal responsible for this paper arguing that the old Venera images show lifeforms on the surface of Venus.

So if want to add open access content to wikipedia how to go about it. I’m sure the are various methods but this is mine. Firstly I’ll identify journals that publish a lot of papers that can be used for sourcing wikipedia articles. Archaeology, astronomy and history are generally good choices here but there are others. I’ll search for these through DOJA Secondly I’ll see if I understand them. The European Geosciences Union publishes some great journals and the ones covering space science are a good source of things to cite but you need some serious physics to understand a lot of them. Thirdly I’ll make a judgement as to their reliability. I tend to do this by checking who they are affiliated with (if anyone) and if I trust them. I’ll also check them against Beall’s List and just by poking around the site a bit to see what they have published before. After that its just a matter of checking them every few months to see if they have published anything new of interest. Examples of journals I do this for are Internet archaeology and the Journal of Lithic Studies.

Another approach is to get personal recommendations from people active in the field. An example of this would be Polar Research.


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Sigma APO 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports for wikipedians

Would I recommend this lens for wikipedians? In general no. Optically its a perfectly good lens but its size greatly reduces its utility to the point where I have uploaded one image taken with this lens and that was pretty much entirely an example of what the lens can do. If you really need a good (if slow) 600mm lens or simply want a lens that looks big (so you look less out of place with bird watchers or something I guess) then it might be an option. Otherwise for cannon users a 100-400mm (original or mk II depending on your price point) with a x1.4 extender covers much the same range although you would lose autofocus unless you are using one of the cameras on this list

I have got rather a lot of use out of my 100-400mm and pretty much all the images I’ve taken with the 150-600 have been to some extent test shots.

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An unusual issue at featured pictures candidates

It began with Godot13 nominating a scan of a banknote at featured images. That is not unusual. Getting acess to the US National Numismatic Collection with a medium format camera and an aparently impressive knowlegde of how to use it will give you a pretty large number of feature picture candidates (enough to break the wikicup certianly). Godot13’s currency images thus usualy pass through with little fuss.

The problem in this case is that the banknote the image is of (An 1880 Liberian 25-cent note) was previously thought not to exist. This results in one of those rare cases where an image breaks wikipedia’s no orginal research policy. Images are largely exempt unless they “illustrate or introduce unpublished ideas or arguments” in this case the idea is that the note exists. Sure it almost certianly does (although fake items have got into museum and archive collections before) but that is still originaly research. Happily the numismatics mob are second only to the railway anoraks in generating reliable sources for everything so this issue should resolve itself soon.

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What is the most significant subject wikipedia doesn’t have an article on

In absolute terms if you go by size its probably one of the voids that make up the large scale structure of the universe. In terms of mass it is probably a galaxy filament or wall.

On a less cosmic scale and limiting things to earth its probably the only ocean current not to have an article the South Australian Counter Current.

For humans its probably going to be a high ranking civil servant in a major country. Either someone high up in the Chinese system or someone like Kamal Pande the most recent Cabinet Secretary of India not to have an article

The most notable thing in wikipedia terms of shear number of citations commenting on its probably harder. Possibly some bacteria species popular in experiments? Its really rather hard to say.

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VLC transcodes and mediawiki

Finally got around to uploading a short (few seconds) video I shoot last month. Its of a rhinoceros iguana and uploaded in part in support of my view that we should try and have a video of every animal (okey so I want to one up Encyclopedia of Life). It can be seen here:

In the process I discovered that:

VLC will put VP8 into an ogg container but mediawiki won’t accept it. Renaming the file to .WebM doesn’t help. It will accept VP8 in WebM if the file is setup to transcode that way within WebM but then for some reason it thinks a 6 second file leasts more than 4 hours and has issues producing thumbnails.

Theora in ogg works fine.

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Brion Vibber on video

Brion Vibber Lead Software Architect of the WMF has given a talk on video. The slides can be found at:

Its a pretty interesting look at what is going on and what is planned. It is though slightly disappointing that the rejection of MP4 resulted in the multimedia team stopping all work on video (although probably not that unexpected there have been various groups wanting to get involved with video on wikipedia and they’ve pretty much all wanted to use non free stuff).

The good news is that playback is largely solved although transcoding to different sizes remains a bottleneck. There is some potential improvement on the software side incoming but I feel this may be a case where the WMF should just buy more hardware.

Brion raises the issue of archiving. While I agree that working with the internet archive is probably the best approach I think we should look into setting up a lossless format (lossless dirac is the only one I’m aware of) at least for internal storage.

He talks about creation mostly in terms of collaborative editing. Third parties are already doing this under the term multi editor project (warning link contains industrial-pop) but the tools kinda suck. He’s looking at integrating Mozilla popcorn into mediawiki which could be fairly useful.

I think though in general creation is going to be hard. Encyclopedic videos are tricky. It also doesn’t help that we’ve set the bar rather high with photos these days. I would like us to include a video of every animal where getting a video would be fairly easy our photos tend to be of extremely high quality and a low quality video would stand out.

Things that might be useful include some actual meatspace training in how to shoot good video. This may end up being something that needs heavy chapter support. Cameras that can shoot uncompressed video are expensive (other than some canon stuff used with Magic Lantern) and learning how to turn the resulting output into something useful is quite a skill.

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