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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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).

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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.

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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.

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Samyang 8mm for Wikipedians

There are various cheap manual 8mm fisheye lenses out there. Samyang’s offering appears to be the best of the field and has the advantage that it can be purchased in the UK without going through the Ebay store. The thing’s full name is “Samyang 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye Lens AS IF MC CSII (Detachable Hood), CANON EOS” which is probably a reflection of how many versions samyang likes to produce of its lenses rather than anything else.

In terms of build quality the lens seems solid enough and much the same applies to optical quality. I have had some slight issues with the focusing ring not always staying in place. I don’t spend time taking picture of test charts so I’ve leave the pixel peeping conclusions to those who do. The lens seems pretty sharp mind. One optical issue worth mentioning is that the lens apparently uses a stereographic projection resulting in a less extreme fisheye effect than other fisheye lenses.

So is it useful to wikipedians? To an extent. When I purchased this lens I was expecting it to be like the Samyang 800mm. More of a toy than a useful lens but the 8mm is a serious bit of optical equipment. Where as the 800mm only produced images useful for showing the optical effects of a mirror lens I could actually see some of the 8mm being used in articles. For example this image would be usable if I wanted to write an article about the Barbican conservatory.

Against that rectilinear lenses are likely to be more useful in most cases and for much the same money you can buy a Samyang 14mm. Still if you already own a 14mm lens and want something wider still the samyang provides a cheap and fairly high quality way to access the fisheye world.

All my use of the lens has been on a full frame camera which produces a slightly cropped circle as the resulting image. Looking at what’s on commons suggests that the results on ASP-C sensors should be even better although you get a slightly reduced field of view.

Final conclusion; If you have already reached the limits of rectilinear linear lenses and you can afford its fairly reasonable price its a lens worth owning.

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Musing on a Let’s Play videos and wikipedia

The wikipedia article on Let’s Play videos lacks an example. This is understandable. Wikipedia isn’t video heavy and the vast majority of games are locked down under extensive copyright.

There are some free ones though. The one I’m most familiar with is Battle of Wesnoth. A pretty solid game and a search of youtube shows that let’s play videos of it do exist. However such videos are pretty long. There isn’t much work on how long encyclopedic videos should be but I feel for that for the most part they should max out at under 10 minutes.

Probably the best bet in that case is would be racing type games. Looking at wikipedia’s list a couple of them are based off the light cycles from Tron. I’ve actually played one of the (GLtron) and while fun there are potential copyright issues here (although lets face it no one is going to sue). X-Moto looks rather like an elasto mania clone. I’m not aware of much caselaw in the area but it might be a theoretical concern. Speed Dreams looks to be the best option in terms of copyright, graphics and actually being out of alpha/beta. Copyright wise and lets play video of the thing would need to be released under the free art license.

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The Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro for wikipedians

This is the cheapest of canon’s macro lenses. While not up to L glass standards I have no particular complaints about its build quality or optical quality. Since I don’t spend my time taking pictures of test charts I can’t really comment on its absolute optical performance beyond saying its adequate and I hear that its slightly edges out the nifty 50 in optical quality (but then given the extra cost it probably should). One technical issue is that instead of the 1:1 magnification most macro lenses give the the 50mm Compact Macro only offers 0.5 magnification. The focus system is rather noisy and the extending barrel can be annoying in some situations. The manual focus ring looks like it should be a weak point but it seemed to stand up to a fair bit fiddling.

So how useful is the lens for wikipedians? For proper macro photography (full lighting setup and effectively a tabletop studio) its probably going to be worth spending the extra money to get a lens that allows proper 1:1 magnification. For more casual out and about use extension tubes are cheaper and lighter. Still those involve a lot of lens changes unless you are prepared to put up with losing infinite focus. The 50mm Compact Macro allows you to shoot at post macro distances something which is quite common if the commons category is anything to go by. On a full frame 50mm also tends to be a bit short for the kind of macro work you might do in a museum. Small items are often far enough back from the glass that something a bit longer comes in handy. The situation with crop sensored cameras is better (75mm equivalent) however I don’t own a crop sensored camera. WikimediaUK does though so I’ve lobbed the lens in their direction if anyone want so try it. Eh if all else fails at f/2.5 it is faster than your standard kit lens.

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