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 Images are largely exempt unless they “illustrate or introduce unpublished ideas or arguments” in this case the idea is that the note exists.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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Photographing Midland Air Museum for wikipedia

Midland Air Museum is as the name suggests an air museum near Coventry. While it isn’t Duxford it does have a really rather impressive collection. Not so much in terms of individual stand-out pieces (although the range of early jet engines they have is one of the best I’ve seen) but in terms of the shear number of artefacts on display. This is not a museum with a handful of artefacts and a lot of explanation boards (IWM North being the classic example of that). This is a museum with a lot of artefacts which are mostly labelled (there were a few exceptions but in fairness that’s hardly uncommon).

The exhibits themselves ranged from multiple complete aircraft (the Armstrong Whitworth AW.650 Argosy was nice and I got an interior photo) to so many models. Some of which were pretty random. I’m not sure why they had a model ship for example. Still since the models were mostly placed around the edge of the gallery they never threatened to overwhelm the planes, engines and other artefacts on display The WW1 diorama was rather odd mind. Apart from anything else I doubt there was ever a case of Whippets and Mark Is being deployed together.

For wikipedians well the museum is already fairly well photographed with some rather nice images being used in the Bristol Siddeley 605 article amoung others

In general though wikipedia already has extensive levels of avation photography so even with a collection as extensive as the Midland Air Museum’s there isn’t much to add. We could do with someone visiting on a sunny day to get some better images of the outdoor aircraft (in particular the Boulton Paul P.111).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another wikipedia redesign

Like most of them its a reader rather than an editor. It goes by the name Das Referenz. The designers explain their ideas here. I haven’t tired it out directly because I don’t own a tablet (2015 and still using a laptop? I know).

Mostly its pretty harmless. Some messing with colours and fonts and desaturating the images (I do wonder how well that works with some of our diagrams). One neat thing that they did do with fonts was chose a specific font than Courier for the programming source code examples. They went with CamingoCode which looks solid enough from what I can tell. They don’t mention doing anything with with our equations or musical notation (in fairness musical notation via LilyPond is a fairly recent edition)

Shortening the length of the text lines is pretty standard. They shift all the images into the side column and I wonder how well that works with some of our image heavy articles.

They found our tables hard going but so does everyone (for example it is one of the long standing issues with the visual editor and flow).

Their modification of the search system was rather neat. Making the longer articles taller in the search results may make information more findable although it would need some testing given wikipedian’s habit of writing really long and detailed articles on narrow topics while the more meta articles are often neglected by comparison (generally because they are really rather hard to write).

Overall its not something I would use (I don’t own a tablet and I want to edit) but it is interesting to see their thought processes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Taxonomy is annoying

Most of us are aware that all known species have a scientific name. Homo sapiens for man Bufo bufo for the common toad. We may recall from school the various levels of classification. Usually from various mnemonics involving King Phillip.

Wikipedia species articles usually have a nice box with a list of these down the right hand side and as a reader that is all fine. You’ll get the odd oddity like Dendrogramma or HeLA but for the most part they can be ignored as a worthy but not that interesting part of the article. Every now and then someone new discovers that the human article displays our conservation status and finds it funny but thats all well and good.

Behind the scenes the boxes are called taxoboxes. They are built and maintained by smart committed people. That isn’t the problem.

The first problem you encounter is that as soon as you get away from the big obvious mammals the common names tend to refer to more than one species. Usually they can all be lumped into the same genus or family but figuring out where to draw the lines can get messy.

The problem the causes me the most headaches is how unstable this all is. Again from distantly remembered school lessons these taxonomic rankings seem pretty settled. If you dip your toe into the area while sticking to mammals that seems to be pretty much the case. A few arguments over subspecies, a few question marks over the correct term for sperm whales due to a mistake in the 18th century. Nothing critical. Anywhere else though biologists apparently feel free to publish papers that completely rewrite these taxonomic relationships. Thought your genus was settled? Ha. No we are going to shift it to a completely different superfamily. Something being sitting their quite happily for the best part of a century? Err 3 papers in a year turn up showing its wrong but they can’t agree on what is correct. Want to keep track of all this? Just be sure to read everything published in the field much of which is behind pay walls. Yes maybe there is someone with a Phd and enough time to keep track of all this but for anyone else? Good luck with that.

If you do somehow manage to keep track of this (how?) you’ve then along comes phylogenetic nomenclature with a completely different take on how things should be done.

Look I’m not blaming biologists here. From what I can tell the rise of DNA sequencing and computer databases has heavily revitalised the field and due to the fairly limited number of people working in it it may be some decades before everything settles down a bit. In the meantime we may need to add a warning tag to taxoboxes that this is only an approximation of what is going on.

What brought this on? Cone snails. A fairly harmless paper which looked at extinct snail shells under ultra violet light to observe patterning. They describe cone snails as being one of four genera Profundiconus, Californiconus, and Conasprella, and Conus. So okey I go off to create the disambiguation page (which aparently should have been a set index article). Turns out that there are two competing family names that cover the common name cone snail. Conidae and Coninae. Fine hopefully biologists will come to an agreement at some point. There’s also the superfamily Conoidea but there seem to be a bunch of arguments over its membership. Finally there is the Genus Telescopium which may or may not be known as cone snails (the internet seems to think so though) but aren’t related to the others below the level of the class Gastropoda (they are all snails).

So yeah annoying. And much as I’d like to we can’t just pretend this stuff doesn’t exist for 20-30 years until the apparent revolution in taxonomy has sorted itself out.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment