So you know what you're getting into, please read a little of this before engaging me in a debate. (You probably notice I think a lot about ideals, infrastructure and policy...and I write a LOT. So the more focused you are the more likely you'll be able to keep me on the topic you want to discuss.)
Although I know that there is a formal policy regarding what Wikipedia is not, it is sometimes at odds with my personal philosophy about the project. Here are two of the major reasons I think Wikipedia is important:
- Wikipedia's politics provide a showcase for transparency in making and applying policies. It's not some kind of impractical social ideal, it's an attainable way of working that is fair and makes sense. I hope that it leads people to ultimately expect (and demand) openness and accountability from every government and corporation in the world.
- Wikipedia is one of few well-known projects that use software with built-in version control. By ensuring that old versions of information are available, there is less reason to fear making changes that lead to improvement. I hope that it leads people to ultimately expect (and demand) a full record of one's work in every program used for managing information.
This user page is somewhat strange, because I encourage you to improve it by editing...it's the wiki way! If you'd like to have a conversation about the material then append those comments to my user talk page. Kind words are always welcome—and do feel free to add to my newly-created barnstars page!
Issues that are truly tangential to the work here should be directed to me via my user name on Gmail, Yahoo, AIM, and some other services that I've bothered to make accounts on. (If you send me something and don't get a response, something is up. Suspect identity theft, incompetent or malicious internet filtering, that I'm dead, or that there was an oversight on my part. Keep sending it through any available avenue—I'm notoriously dedicated to my quest to reduce isolation.)
First, An Important Notice
The words you are reading are supposed to be hosted on the Wikipedia. This free encyclopedia exposes the untapped potential of all those smart people who would otherwise be stuck reading the web instead of adding to it. Webmasters can't put up stale content on a wiki and leave it there forever—in the long run, someone will notice and be able to fix it.
Yet because the content on Wikipedia can be freely duplicated (per the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License), unscrupulous individuals on the web can abuse the model. Businesses hijack articles and place them on their own sites—littering the page with ads which cause blinking madness on every corner of our browser. Even worse, they prevent updates to information, so that it becomes old and inaccurate.
Though it's legal, this strikes me as very unethical, especially if they've taken writing I've done about myself and are using it for profit. Though there is a controversy brewing on Wikipedia's own usage of "subtle" paid advertisement, there is an open discussion about stemming that particular tide. Therefore I will still suggest that if you find this content anywhere else, DISREGARD IT and follow these directions to the canonical version:
|This is a Wikipedia user page.|
This is not an encyclopedia article or the talk page for an encyclopedia article. If you find this page on any site other than Wikipedia, you are viewing a mirror site. Be aware that the page may be outdated and that the user whom this page is about may have no personal affiliation with any site other than Wikipedia. The original page is located at
I'll qualify that by saying that we should always analyze words for their intrinsic ring of correctness, and not jump to conclusions based on who said something...or who it seems said something. (I think this is what Jesus was getting at when he said Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.)
Articles here often tend to become jumbles of facts in no particular order. Since I think of myself as a decent writer, I'll often undertake restructurings merely to ensure articles sound okay when read aloud. I do this on topics I know nothing about—if I happen to find them interesting. I have several guidelines for writing style and editing, which I am constantly evolving as I learn more about this medium.
One software concept I wish every non-technical person knew about (and that technical people would better act upon) is database normalization. Redundancy is bad (when left to human hands to maintain), and hypertext gives us a fairly basic tool for avoiding that. Pursuant to that idea, a recurring aspect to my edits is to migrate parenthetical remarks into the article they expand upon. This also usually makes things more readable. So rather than saying:
...I would trust that those who want to know who invented the lightbulb could click and find out. So if I was satisfied that the lightbulb article covered the whole story of invention, then I'd change this to something like:
- "With the invention of the lightbulb..."
Three Paragraph Introductions
I agree strongly with the general rule of the three-paragraph maximum for lead sections. Though some editors feel that this is "just a guideline", I think it shouldn't be taken lightly. There's probably also something about the 3-paragraph number that fits with experimentally verifiable aspects of cognition—such as the difficulty most people have remembering more than 7 digits at a time. There are also a growing number of applications which pull down the lead section (or just the lead paragraph) and put them in small windows—so we are helping enable that software by limiting the amount of text.
Those who favor long introductions are often passionate about subjects, and are afraid that a shorter introduction would bury important facts in the article body. Yet being selective about what to include in the lead paragraphs will make the subject more clear to a "casual reader". If the introduction is kept short enough, they'll read and absorb it—and be more likely to continue to the rest of the article. Even if a page is only rarely visited by disinterested audiences, they should be the targeted audience because those who are already wildly curious about a subject will slog through any stylistic decision.
It is also important to remember that a paragraph is not merely a visual convenience. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and not a spew of one-liners like Googlisms, and prose should be phrased coherently and in a way that eases absorption by the reader. Thus there is value in making sure that a paragraph has a "topic sentence" which gives a central idea that the following sentences are designed to support. (A good test of whether topic sentences have been properly used is to try reading the first sentence of each paragraph, and ensure that this provides an adequate overview of the writing.)
Constantly Refactor Talk Pages
I don't agree with the mindset of preserving full archives of discussions on talk pages. Unlike bulletin boards, discussions here can be refactored so that newcoming readers can skip dead-ends that were hit on the way to consensus. Examining debates for important ideas and forming them into articles of their own is the best policy—after all, we keep content pages updated to their most refined state and leave the chaff available in the history.
While old threads are evolving into genuine "editing guides" for each article, personal philosophy should not be lost in the shuffle. Everyone should be busy mutating their opinions and stances into their user pages, or into policy articles. Anyone who wishes to take an idea I've expressed and integrate it here may do so, though they should expect controversy and changes.
Dynamically Merge And Split Articles
Many inclusionists are opposed to merging short articles on related topics, based on the lack of technical limitation on the number of pages that Wikipedia can host. I point out that creating articles which simply redirect to a "holistic" discussion of related issues allows one the freedom to continue linking to those individual topics. This is often better than having several short articles which end up either being redundant, or forcing readers to keep flipping between pages to get an overview of the subjects.
I do, however, have one rule about merging topics that could reasonably deserve articles in their own right. Each term should appear in the introduction and be bolded. This way, those who reach the article through a redirect will quickly know they have reached the right place—even though the title does not match what they were searching for. If it is not sensible to introduce the term in the introduction this way, I would oppose performing the merge.
The very first article I edited was to provide some findings on Doritos, based on a debate in a bar over where they got their name. It's something about frying and gold (oro means gold, -ito suffix means little, etc). I'm not entirely sure we've gotten the official word on this, and one day I'm going to call the Frito-Lay hotline and find out for sure, and possibly lobby them for a bag of free chips.
These days I have several projects, as well as some pending campaigns for improving the Wikipedia experience. I think about these issues from time-to-time. This is a summary for those interested, as well as a sort of task list to remind me of what I'm supposed to be doing.
Featured Article Meddling
I've taken to checking in on the upcoming featured articles of the day and cleaning up the introductions (if necessary). I imagine that featured articles get viewed a lot by newcomers to the site, and my hope is to ensure that their first impression is positive so they don't dismiss Wikipedia outright. Sometimes I'm duly impressed by the existing introductions, but my poetic sensibilities usually lead me to feel troubled by repetitive sentence structures and poor word choice. Just as importantly, I don't see an attempt for these introductions to leave out details which are best left to the article body. If I perform a rewording and make a mistake, please correct me.
Put "See Also" Templates In Article Body
There's a growing practice of placing templates at the head of an article that implements fancy "See Also" boxes (such as this one on the History of Poland). I think the existence of these graphical sidebars and the ability to re-use them on several pages is neat—like a webring for articles that are related. Yet when it comes to introductions, I'd rather see a good picture and a salient caption. That way the lead is not being compromised by yet-another-mechanism for cramming details that belong in the body into the very beginning of the article.
It would be good to figure out how to establish a user setting by which these boxes could be placed in different positions based on a user's preference. One option would be to have them at the top, another would be to pop it up as a separate browser window, or yet another would be to make it the head of the "See Also" section. Personally, I'd set mine to indicate the presence of such sidebars with an indicator like the portal template. This would appear at the top of the article, and if I were interested I could click through to see it.
In the meantime, experimental forms of picture layout and linking in the intro don't strike me as a good idea, and one well-chosen picture with a caption should suffice. Gimmicks shouldn't replace the allure of good writing that focuses the reader on the subject. Initiatives like the attempt to inventory Pokemon characters don't fit a "one-size-fits-all" attitude toward formatting, but general encyclopedic articles aren't the place for trying these new things.
I and some other editors once had the Film article quite readable. Now someone migrated a bunch of "related articles" into Film, while leaving those other articles intact. The result is a mess which outright duplicates the contents of other articles, and really pushes the reasonable length for the entry. I've kind of given up but I might go back and try to fix this...if the person who made that change has truly gone away and lost interest.
I've thought about maybe contributing some of my notes from school to the Movie-Making Wikibook. Though I'm no genius on the subject and lack any convincing credentials, I think I could make an entertaining and memorable introduction that would suit someone with a casual interest. So far I've been working on that offline, with some vague notions of trying to publish it as a non free-content work. If no one wants to publish it and pay me enough to feed myself for a day or two, then I'll certainly hand it over.
Trying to Stop Repetition Between Wikis
I investigated how to organize an Interwiki project, and wantonly interfered with pages pertaining to the Homestar Runner cartoon — as there's a separate Homestar Runner Wiki. The "Hrwiki" is so thorough that it obviates the issue of redundancy between wikis. I tried putting cute little ads which linked to the other wiki to try and steer people away from putting excessive detail about the cartoon on the Wikipedia. Those were shot down — with the general consensus being that only WikiMedia Foundation projects could get that kind of attention, even with a small graphical banner. I might try to write a policy page on the precise guidelines so that people in the future have a place to debate this, it needs to be addressed.
Moving Misplaced Humor to Uncyclopedia
If I see someone add a funny thing, I'm moving it to Uncyclopedia and noting that in the version history, so that when the vandal visits the page again they realize that there is a place for that kind of thing. Some people disagree with the idea that there's a need for all information to be dry and serious—even in an encyclopedia—and these people aren't necessarily bad. Glad there's a place for it, but I do sort of wish the Wikimedia foundation were running it, though I'm sure they don't want to touch the subject matter with a ten foot pole.
Taking Excessive Disclaimers out of New Age Articles
You wouldn't continuously reiterate in the Super Mario article that he's fictional, he's not real, and that people can't really shoot fireballs or grow twice their size from eating mushrooms. This is adequately covered by mentioning he's a video game character. In a similar vein, if you say Reiki is a New Age belief, you can then provide the details and let people decide if it is interesting or relevant to them. The bias of Wikipedia's technical users against spiritual or religious issues lead to droning disclaimers about what a hoax these topics are, often burying the neutral point of view description of the belief. That isn't going to change anyone's opinion, and it's just going to send people to the extremes instead of really examining the issue. (Not to mention irritating people like me who are reading the article because we already know it's controversial and we want to know the main ideas so we can better make fun of it on Uncyclopedia.)
If modern technology and the impending VR nanodoom has shown us anything, it's that we need to spend more time on What Should Be rather than What Is. Because What Is can become anything, whether we've previously been a by-product of such a Creation process or not. Reality as we experience it is malleable, if not for ourselves (as many like me believe) we shape it radically-if-not-entirely for later generations. We can examine every idea: flat earth, lightning bolts striking sinners, molecules, goat sacrifices—for educational value, aesthetics, etc. (There's not much of a consensus on what is so compelling that it should be reconstructed in any medium that arises. So far, mankind seems to just keep repeating Tetris...everywhere.)
Reading About Hoaxes
Clarity is crucial for our own sake, as well as that of others. I'm interested in figuring out how to stop the acceptance of jargon which makes knowledge inaccessible to those who would like to pursue it. Like Niklaus Wirth said, people seem to misinterpret complexity as sophistication, which is baffling—the incomprehensible should cause suspicion rather than admiration. So I'm strangely drawn to the likes of Bogdanov Affair and Time Cube. I check in on the Bogdanov Affair talk page from time to time...and it's a testbed for my thinking about how we might solve contentious topics. Recently I've been pleased to see the article is miraculously getting better, so peer review might work after all.
Improvements to Wiki Software
I am constantly trying to figure out how software could better enable the process of reading and collaborating on articles. Because these issues are more technical than most editors would care to think about, I have put them on the "Meta-Wiki"—which seems like a more appropriate place to track and discuss.
If you have the interest, then please visit my user page on Meta-Wiki for my views and perspectives on how Wiki Software can be improved: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Metaeducation
About Me and my "Ideals"
I'm a simple electrical engineer and film school dropout living in Hollywood, who is ostensibly interested in education. Wikipedia is not intended as a soapbox for issues that aren't relevant to writing an open-content encyclopedia, but sharing a few ideas here helps collaborators to understand my biases and goals.
My Philosophy of Education
A genuine education is the only way to prevent someone from being exploited by those who wish to limit and control them. The quote I came up with that best summarizes my philosophy is:
- "It should never be more profitable to exploit a market than to educate it."
That's a little more complex than "do not practice deception", and perhaps it is unrealistic to think that society and its legal structure could be designed in a way to enforce the policy. I still believe that we could achieve this if people would commit to the objective. I'm disappointed with those who justify their participation in the existing flawed system, and though we all perpetuate it (in some way) the situation won't improve until we can at least share the goal.
On Freedom of Information
I'm an advocate of Free Software (though I've been skewered into running Mac OS X due to the tragic allure of PowerBook hardware, it's not entirely open although thankfully some parts are). I agree with Eben Moglen when he says:
- The great moral question of the twenty-first century is this: if all knowing, all culture, all art, all useful information can be costlessly given to everyone at the same price that it is given to anyone; if everyone can have everything, anywhere, all the time, why is it ever moral to exclude anyone?
Yet I think the eloquent songwriter Michael Penn raises a good point:
- As to the egalitarian notion that "information wants to be free" : even if I were to accept the premise that art or entertainment is information, it is clear that in the long queue of "things that want to be free", information would be standing quite a few places behind food and shelter. So until someone can hack a way to make those free, I spend my time working very hard to come up with some really good "information" that, if you keep, I deserve to be paid for.
I am empathetic to this argument. But it only underscores that we must stop the greed and inefficiency that makes it currently impossible to offer food, shelter, and medical care to everyone—regardless of their ability to create compelling artistic content!! Ending artificial scarcities of information is a key, and efforts like arXiv and Wikipedia are showing how we might "hack" a way forward.
My Paranormal Leanings
I was raised to be skeptical—even hostile—towards the supernatural and those who believed in it. My own experiences with things like lucid dreaming have expanded my perspectives. I'm still not very impressed by most writing on metaphysical topics, and the sad state of their Wikipedia articles reflects that believers have a lot of work to do in putting their claims under scrutiny. Yet given the current balance of power, my focus has shifted to being more worried about the strangle-hold that the nearly amoral objectivist movement has over our institutions.
Although many watchdogs decry the fairly "surface" mixture of Christian influence on our government, the psychiatric establishment has quietly (and possibly subversively) integrated itself into laws and courts. Their dismissive attitude towards currently unproven phenomena are a serious threat to America's freedom of religion. However, it is important to note that the anti-psychiatry movement has its own agenda—and organizations like the Citizens Commission on Human Rights are controlled by the interests of movements such as Scientology. Like psychiatry, they force limited viewpoints on their victims, and charge them huge amounts of money for assistance that is largely ineffective.
My hope is for those who claim themselves to be "rational" to become less delusional themselves—so that they will not scare intelligent people away from medical treatments which might actually benefit them.
The Importance of Reliable Communication
I've noticed a growing tendency of people to use silence to indicate a rejection of a message, and a cultural assumption that this is the intention when a response is not received. This sets a dangerous precedent—especially in an era where internet services are automatically throwing away content that has been mechanically analyzed as spam. The practice facilitates interpersonal misunderstanding, as well as the abuse of power by governments or corporations that wish to suppress information about competitors (this has happened on major sites).
You would think that senders would get some kind of indication when an automatic mechanism sweeps a message under the rug. It is claimed that this is not done because it would multiply the impact of spam—since the networks would now have to carry the traffic for the mail AND the receipts. The second argument is that giving the feedback would allow spammers to quickly evolve their messages until they beat the tests. This is faulty reasoning, and I think we should be very wary of relying on an infrastructure which is not able to provide a bounce message to blocked mail.
Ideally each person who received a question would respond. This response doesn't have to be as lengthy as what was received, but should at least depend somehow on what was written. Any formulated and automated response—no matter how instant and "informative"—leads to the same systematic weaknesses as giving no response. Being "overwhelmed" with messages is not an excuse for ignoring these policies, because if someone is that popular (perhaps due to celebrity status) then they shouldn't have trouble delegating the duty of responding. A policy of not being upset by those who repeat attempts to communicate is also a very important key to the process.
The Dangers of Badly Designed Technology
Not wanting to rewrite the Unabomber manifesto or anything, here. But technologists who cast their wares out into the world without thinking the whole thing through...man. They're only accelerating the rate at which human nature's emergent properties are going to destroy the universe. If they spent as much time thinking of how to build in safety systems to their inventions, and going to first principles of what's right before doing things wrong, we'd be in better shape. I believe perfect and self-balancing designs are possible, and I wish we saw more of them. Don Knuth pays a finder's fee of $2.56 for any typos/mistakes discovered in his books, and I admire that kind of thing. (Example: Therac-25)