Thursday, 27 September 2007

'No pimps allowed'

Wikipedia has been a valuable reference tool for many people since it's creation in 2001. Below is a list of the number of articles submitted in each of Wikipedia's 10 most popular languages:
  1. English: 2,025,577
  2. German: 644, 514
  3. French: 562, 648
  4. Polish: 427, 910
  5. Japanese: 417, 000+
  6. Dutch: 361, 237
  7. Italian: 353, 135
  8. Portuguese: 287, 645
  9. Spanish: 282, 076
  10. Swedish: 252, 261
There's also several other languages including Danish, different types of Norweigian, Welsh and Scottish.

There might be the occasional question over the accuracy of some of the articles, but that is because it allows anonymous posting - so there is no way of ensuring that only trustworthy people make the edits. However, you can create a user account (as I did) if you don't mind being identified. It will also allow you to carry the list of contributions you have made from computer to computer (for anonymous posting, Wikipedia takes the IP address of the computer).

Under the name 'Pimp Daddy', I have made 36 contributions to Wikipedia. They have ranged from spelling corrections to the creation of pages (e.g. I created an article about the World Darts Federation).

My username might not be the most serious looking choice, but it contains no swearing, no racism, no anti-semitism, etc. It's just a bit of fun. However, Wikipedia have decided to block me from editing because they felt it was inappropriate. This has happened despite my numerous contributions to the site using that name already. There are many people who include things such as bias in their contributions, cause controversy and don't even bother to create a user account - but most of them do not get blocked.

This was the message that I get when I try to edit an article:
"You have been blocked from editing, or tried to edit a page to which you do not have editing access.

Pimp Daddy (your account, your IP address or a range of addresses) was blocked by DragonflySixtyseven for the following reason (see our blocking policy):

no pimps allowed

Your IP address is, and your block has been set to expire: indefinite."
Obviously, I was annoyed by this. I sent an email to one of the Wikipedia administrators (DragonflySixtyseven) expressing my opinions (without swearing) and I received this response via Wikipedia's 'My talk' feature (part of the email I sent is shown at the top):
""I have been blocked from editing pages and the reason given was 'No pimps allowed'. I think this is a totally unjustified reason - it is only a username."


You have three choices:

1. you can start over with a fresh username. This is easiest, but you will lose all your previous edits.
2. you can post a request on WP:CHANGE to have your username changed. If you opt for this, you will have to post on your talkpage first to ask to be unblocked so that you can post your request.
3. you can walk away from the project in disgust.

I suggest option 1 or 2, but some people do opt for 3.

DS 22:04, 24 September 2007 (UTC)"
I still believe that this is not a valid reason given my good conduct and accurate contributions on the site. As a result of this I won't be using Wikipedia again.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Wikipedia, Wiki

Monday, 24 September 2007

The cost of blogging

There has been plenty of news and opinion recently about whether bloggers can be considered journalists and whether they can expect certain rights and privileges. Recently, another story in a similar vein was reported by a number of people across the internet. The following is a quote from an article on the Bit-tech website:
"...Jessica Zenner, a 23 year old contractor for Nintendo who has been formally fired for posting inappropriate comments on her personal blog. Jessica, who posted under the pseudonym of Jessica Carr, was unaware of Nintendo’s scrutiny and thought she was protected by her right to freedom of speech."
Yes - Jessica Zenner has been fired for using her right of free speech.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
You could argue that the release of important company information in her blog would harm the company in some way, but after reading the blog there is nothing like that posted there - it's mostly personal stuff. There is one section where she insults a fellow employee, but there is no name mentioned.

The way she was fired wasn't exactly appropriate either. According to The Stranger, she was told by the Human Resources Director via her BlackBerry. The proper way of doing it would be to arrange an appointment with Ms Zenner so they could talk to each other in person.

Ms Zenner could go for wrongful dismissal, but if she did I think she'd only want compensation. Why would you want to be reinstated to a business where there is so much ill-feeling?

Providing people follow things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, you should not be fired for blogging - especially if it's a blog not hosted on the servers of the company. Jessica Zenner used Live Spaces, the Microsoft blogging platform.

So what do you think?

Technorati tags: Jessica Zenner, Nintendo, Blogging

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Gone to SEED

Taken from The Free Dictionary:
go/run to seed
1. To pass into the seed-bearing stage.
2. To become weak or devitalized; deteriorate: The old neighborhood has gone to seed."
One of those two definitions is probably what you were thinking after you read that title. Well, both are wrong. I've actually joined a software development place called SEED Software, which is in the University of Hull's Computer Science department.

This doesn't mean that I've finally joined the ranks of the tax-payers again though. SEED provides training and much-needed experience of working on software projects for real clients while you look for a job. So many computer jobs ask for prior experience, but how can you possibly get that without a job? Well this is an answer to that classic Catch-22 situation.

I don't really know how long I'll be here, but it's already proved to be useful and this is only my second day. I've learned a bit more about how C#/.NET handles TCP and I've found out more information about the inner-workings of an instant messenger program. This is because my first task was to create something that has the basic functionality of Windows Messenger. It's a throw-away project though. I chose that instead of going onto a real-life project straight away because my programming skills are a little rusty and that could mean I end up missing deadlines. I'll be moving onto one of those 'real-life projects' once the IM program is completed though.

Iain Kelwick, the SEED Manager was very helpful - he took me through the initial stages of this messenger project and that lead up to my lunchbreak nicely. This is the point where things became interesting though. I was going to go into Staff House for some food - but it was too late (my lunchbreak started a little later than expected), so I went into the union (the first time since I left my sabb job). I ended up talking to loads of people and catching up on things (which was good), fixing two computer issues (which seems to be my role in life), working on another problem and getting no food at all. The union shop was closed at that point and the vending machines were almost empty - grr. At that point I went back to the Computer Science department and got something from the vending machines (how nutritious!).

Anyway, I went home at a reasonable time and now I'm back again today to carry on working on the messenger program.

Has anyone else been in a situation where they need experience to get a job, but need a job to get experience?

Technorati tags: SEED, Software Development, University

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Journalistic standards

Following on from my post about the licence fee etc. in a previous post, I have found another reason to criticise the BBC - this article.

Here's an example of why that piece was badly put together:
"A 2005 study showed that an increase of 10 mobile phones per 100 people could increase GDP growth by 0.6%."
This was a study from two years ago. The information might be accurate, but wouldn't it be better if the journalist used a more recent reference? If there's no study covering this from 2006 or this year, go and look for another type of source. Also, what is this study called and who did it? It's common (and required) practice in universities and many other places to cite your references properly. You would think that someone from an organisation such as the BBC would know that you do that to prove the reliability of the information.

Ok, next point:
"Nearly half a million people, described by the UN as "the poorest of the poor", will soon be able to make mobile calls."
"It is hoped that the connections will help improve healthcare and education, as well as boosting the local economy."
The UN thinks that mobile in Africa would help solve problems such as healthcare and education? I can see that it would help if you need to contact the emergency services and you're in the middle of nowhere, but surely the most important things would be to improve training, build more hospitals, provide medical instruments and increase the provision of effective drugs. Mobile/Cellphones cannot improve those three things. As for education, the important things must be books and other reference resources, plus training for teachers.

Another interesting thing is that I can find no other coverage of this story on any other the other major news websites (e.g. CNN, Reuters) or after looking through the results on several search engines (e.g. Google, Live Search, Yahoo, Mahalo). I found nothing on Technorati or either. That might just mean that the BBC is way ahead of the competition on this story, but it's also likely that nobody else finds this newsworthy.

There is little or no balance to this article either. You can read plenty of positives and other assorted information about the project, but their is no criticism anywhere. There are no quotes from anybody saying things like 'this aspect of the Millennium Villages project is a waste of time and money'.

Anyway, there are some positives to the project. It is another way of improving the resources for the poorest people and mobile/cellphones can be useful when there is no-one else nearby who can help - but that is all.

This is just one article by one of their journalists too. It is not representative of the entire corporation. However, there should be efforts to prevent low quality articles such as this from being submitted to the website.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: BBC, Journalism, Mobile Phones, Cellphones,

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

OOXML fun and games

If you're an average home user, then I know what you're thinking:

"I can't wait to hear the latest news about the emotional rollercoaster that is Office Open XML."

I hope you all noticed the slight hint of sarcasm there. The fact is, no average home user (at least no-one who fits within the currently accepted definition) will care about whether the new default file format for Microsoft Office complies with international standards. They will just want to start the program, create the document, save the file and open it again later.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't important for some people. In fact, it's causing uproar in the tech community. It has a bias towards English and uses a non-standard dates system. Another major point is that there is already a standard open file format that's used by products such as OpenOffice (it has that format set as default). With all that in mind, how can the computer companies and geeks create fully working programs that are suited for the average user which uses that format?

For those who understand XML (eXtensible Markup Language), this is an excellent article and exposes the major flaws - including my personal favourite which is that the files described in this ECMA standard for Office Open XML don't actually exist due to programs wrapping it in proprietary technologies.

ECMA (European Computer Manufacturers Association) has a process that allows you to 'fast-track' something towards becoming an international standard, something which is ultimately decided by the ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation). If the only place where OOXML is used (Office 2007) changes it in such a way which means it no longer complies with the ECMA document, how can the ISO possibly make into an international standard?

If it is, then one of three things could happen:
  1. To enable other programs to interop with the files, companies would have to buy a licence to use the proprietary parts or attempt to reverse engineer everything (the latter has been done with the .doc format in OpenOffice, but it won't necessarily be 100% perfect)
  2. No custom program manufacturers will use the format. This would mean communication problems between software and they will end up using another format (probably the old-style MS Office formats or OpenDocument(used in OpenOffice))
  3. Everyone would have to adopt Microsoft products
I would prefer the second option.

Other criticisms of OOXML include the use of VML (Vector Markup Language). This is something which (apparently) has little documentation and no library to use in programming. The proposed standards document for this was rejected by the W3C (World Wide Web C) due to their being a competing format at the time. Instead, the two were combined to form SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). VML is also used in Internet Explorer 5+. The documentation states that VML is only included for legacy purposes, but constantly building on top of things leads to a cumbersome and unmanageable nature. It would be better to just scrap the use of VML which would then make it more stanrdards compliant. Microsoft could even make use of the already-accepted SVG.

According to this article on Ars Technica, the Linux Foundation are pleading to countries to say no to the OOXML format. There is also a petition that you can sign (I've done that).

ISO have recently rejected an initial fast-track submission, but it could still be accepted if Microsoft address the technical queries. If it's accepted after that though, a patch would have to be issued so that the original version of the format (already in use on a number of machines) can be changed.

The O'Reilly Radar - a major tech news source - has widespread coverage of this story and it's journalists also criticise the format. You can find further articles about this on Opportunity Knocks and CNET. Bit-Tech has an article about this too.

I consider this to be a PR disaster for Microsoft.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: OOXML, Microsoft, ISO, ECMA