Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Archive 37

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Thread of the week award

Thread of the Week Award
Golden Thread of the Week

Just to let you know that a gob-smackingly useful thread on the Science desk prompted me to create a Ref Desk thread of the week award --Dweller 13:24, 24 August 2007 (UTC)

Thanks. How about this pic to go with the award ? StuRat 03:14, 28 August 2007 (UTC)
I like it, and here's a more hyped and dramatic suggestion. ---Sluzzelin talk 13:06, 28 August 2007 (UTC)
Nice ideas. Keep em coming. Meanwhile, just so everyone knows, to spice it up, I'll be keeping a scoreboard of how the various Desks are doing against one another. So far, the Science Desk rules. --Dweller 16:44, 28 August 2007 (UTC)
Nice idea. Is anyone besides Dweller going to actually stay on top of this? Even Dweller concedes: When I remember ... Not to rain on anyone's parade, but the "scoreboard" idea seems a tad misleading considering there are many outstanding contributors on all of the desks, but not everyone reads (or responds) on all of the desks. Sometimes, outstanding refdesk content is found only fortuitously, by way of a search, or a talk page thread somewhere, or via reference in the New York Times.
Yeah, I know, no one claimed this was scientific. I'm just wondering if there is enough momentum to make this good idea a sustainable one. dr.ef.tymac 16:55, 28 August 2007 (UTC)
Heh. --Dweller 15:41, 29 August 2007 (UTC)


from Wikipedia:Reference_desk/Language#Translate_japaneses_please_.(re-ask.) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:57, August 24, 2007 (UTC)

I removed a response and my angry reply to it since it does not help the question I originally asked. I have left a message on the users talk page about this.

This was removed

You asked the selfsame question eight days ago: Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2007 August 16#translate. Apparently you are not seeking a translation, but something else. Could you indicate why you consider the translation inadequate? If you are looking for an alternative, less poetic, characterization; you should realize that only someone familiar with the game can give that. From the description "blooming on the battlefield, a wild lily" it cannot be deduced that the person so predicated is young. So a "plain English description" cannot be based just on the Japanese text alone.  --Lambiam 20:00, 24 August 2007 (UTC)
Oh for fucks sake - what does "strong and descendent of the blue wolf." actually mean? I need a proper plain english translation - for an article. Does 'blue wolf' have some contextual meaning in japanese that is lost in english? If so can you tell us what it is?
Given that the game is set in 12th century France do you imagine that " a "death god" that becomes a seductive dragon. " is a good translation?
(Maybe you think that all of wikipedia should be written in prose?)
I reasked the question because it didn't get a proper answer -and was soon to be archived.
Do you intend to help (by translating)
Have you looked at the japanese text and translated it? 21:14, 24 August 2007 (UTC)

I imagined (wrongly it seems) that it would be patently obvious that a 'prose translation' is not suitable for a factual article on the english language version of wikipedia. I already asked the same question previously but got an equally unhelpful answer and no more. As the question would soon be archived I re-asked it.

I thought it would be clear to all that the current 'english' translation actually makes no sense. Does japanese simply not translate at all? 21:56, 24 August 2007 (UTC)

You could simply have asked for a check and if necessary correction of the translation. It is the "plain English" part that is problematic. If the Japanese text speaks of blue wolves, faithful samurai, and seductive dragons, how is one supposed to "translate" that into "plain English"? Replace "blue wolf" by "red herring"?  --Lambiam 04:19, 25 August 2007 (UTC)
The 'blue wolf' part is still a mystery.. 14:21, 25 August 2007 (UTC)
It doesn't seem appropriate to me to try to strip out all the flowery phrasing and descriptive passages and replace them with "plain English". If it sounds like lyric poetry in Japanese, it should sound that way in English after a good translation. I can appreciate you asking what those flowery phrases might represent, but that's not the same as replacing the original translation with a "plain English" version. StuRat 03:28, 28 August 2007 (UTC)
I understand what you two are saying but the work was specifically for an article about a computer game that will be eventually available in US/UK. I'm sure there is a rule "Wikipedia:what wikipedia is not#wikipedia is not written in prose" (joke) - it really was 'engrish' or 'japglish' as it stood, and as such - nonsensical in english. The new text is here by the way Bladestorm:_The_Hundred_Years'_War#Mercenaries. 14:15, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
That does not take away the fact that turning the (bad) translation into plain English – whether prose or not – as was requested is not at all the same as providing a translation into proper English. The simple solution, by the way, is to leave out these characterizations, meaningless to all except possibly people immersed in the game. This is the solution chosen at the Japanese version of the article.  --Lambiam 15:23, 29 August 2007 (UTC)

SineBot again

Not many people have responded to the suggestion to get User:SineBot to monitor the RD. Before we go ahead, one last time, is anyone opposed to this? Nil Einne 13:26, 25 August 2007 (UTC)

Nope. Go for it. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 13:42, 25 August 2007 (UTC)

Just as a suggestion could the bot automatically sign for me, so instead of doing this. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:16, August 25, 2007 (UTC) It does this: 14:19, 25 August 2007 (UTC) and saves me any embarressment and a little typing. 14:19, 25 August 2007 (UTC)

I'd prefer that the format remain the same—we want to know that the signature was added by a bot because it sometimes makes mistakes. On those rare occasions it would be very confusing (and potentially quite upsetting) for the bot to 'sign' in a way that wasn't distinct from a regular signature.
If you're concerned about the appearance of your signature, then just be careful to always sign your remarks. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 14:36, 25 August 2007 (UTC)
Content edits made by bots should always be clearly indicated as such, I like the unsigned template anyway. The bit of embarassment will make you remember next time ;) By the way yes, sign us up for sinebot --frotht 18:27, 25 August 2007 (UTC)
Please do it! Also, completely agree with Ten and Froth re bot sig ID. Another useful aspect to always having sig/date/time is the simplification when we need to manually add date headers- hydnjo talk 19:11, 27 August 2007 (UTC)

I've added the necessary cat to all the pages. Possibly we could have added it to the header but that would likely have caused other problems. I added it to the top before the header so it wouldn't accidently get archived. I also had to put it in line with the header or it added a whitespace line. Initially I added a white space between the headercfg and the cat but I stopped when it caused problems with the languages desk with a unicode template. I didn't bother to correct the earlier ones but as there is no ill effects as far as I can tell it doesn't really matter. Nil Einne 22:56, 27 August 2007 (UTC)

Belated side note: while it's fine to keep the archiving bot in mind when you're tinkering with the page format, please don't let its existence overly constrain any changes you might make! There are two different reasons for this:
  1. The bot's heuristics for the work it does are both pretty specific (in terms of what it looks for to archive) and pretty generic (in terms of what it ignores and doesn't archive). In fact, I've specifically designed it to properly handle unexpected changes to the ref desk format. :-)
  2. Even if it were to break, I can always fix it.
So if there's a change that needs making to the page format, please don't make it in some horribly suboptimal way just on the archiving bot's behalf. --Steve Summit (talk) 22:01, 30 August 2007 (UTC)
The unicode template just changes the font of the text called, to a more unicode-compatible font. Since the template was being called on nothing ( {{unicode|}} ), it was doing nothing. I took it out and cleaned up --frotht 05:11, 28 August 2007 (UTC)

Scsbot problem?

I noticed this [1] (see number 17) which I've corrected here. I'm lazy to look into it but could it be a bot bug? I note someone mentioned a abortive bot edit [2] so alternatively perhaps that's why. Nil Einne 23:05, 27 August 2007 (UTC)

Thanks. I've noticed those a few times too. I haven't figured out what causes them. (But they've been happening for a while; they have nothing to do with the problems last night.) I don't feel too bad about them, because all they do is leave the subject entry un-hotlinked (and strangely punctuated), but prior to this month, those subject entries were never hotlinked. —Steve Summit (talk) 02:44, 28 August 2007 (UTC)
Based on the number of instances where this has occurred in the computing desk archives, it would seem that any use of html tags in question titles disrupts the bot. --VectorPotentialTalk 17:50, 6 September 2007 (UTC)
Ah, that would do it. Thanks for the tip. (I think I meant to worry about that case, but forgot...) —Steve Summit (talk) 01:54, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

Anonymous voting on RefDesk posts

Here's one for my "great ideas that are probably never going to happen" file, but I present it anyway, partially in response to User:Dweller/Dweller's Ref Desk thread of the week award and Wikipedia_talk:Reference_desk#Thread_of_the_week_award. Dweller presents a great idea. I'd like to suggest it could be made even better by allowing people to vote once on every refdesk post.

This could be implemented by allowing contributors to either "upvote" or "downvote" individual posts on the Reference Desks. The thread of the week for any given ref desk would be the thread with the most upvotes.

For an example of what this might look like in practice, see one website that supports this very feature, indicating both the Best and the Worst, based solely on the vote count. See also Wikipedia:Other projects similar to Wikipedia and search for "voting on posts".

To prevent abuse, this would have to be restricted to users with a WP account. To prevent chicanery, the votes would be anonymous. All the WP end-users will see is a negative or positive number, reflecting the sum total of "upvotes" and "downvotes".

Although this will probably never happen here, there ya go. dr.ef.tymac 17:17, 28 August 2007 (UTC)

What chicanery are you concerned about ? (The only one I can think of is "you voted my thread down so I'll vote yours down".) StuRat 13:47, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
Exactly. Anonymous voting enables the voter to independently evaluate content without fear of reprisal for downvotes, and without hope of future reciprocation for upvotes. Admittedly, one has to assume that, in this circumstance, people will have a greater incentive to cast aside any personal "leanings" regarding other contributors. dr.ef.tymac 15:27, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
Seems like that would require a (fairly extensive) modification/addition to the software—or is this already a supported (but unused on Wikipedia) feature of the Wikimedia engine? Do we need a formal ranking or voting process? Seems like a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of structure. I mean, if someone wants to do all of the work, I won't get in the way of the beauty contest, but perhaps we're overthinking.
Perhaps someone who wants to recognize and preserve the 'best' or most 'interesting' Ref Desk threads should just adopt what I will call the 'benevolent dictator model'. The 'benevolent dictator' selects threads based on his judgement and the advice of any other editors who feel like commenting. These threads are harvested and collected (or linked from) on some special page. Interesting facts that come to light may be distributed via a template, a la Did You Know; such a process and template might work to raise the profile of the Desk and highlight how it contributes to the encyclopedia. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 17:58, 28 August 2007 (UTC)
Yeah, the technical limitations were the primary reason why I heavily disclaimed feasibility for the idea. Actually, though, enabling votes on entire threads would not be that difficult. Here is a very crude sketch of what a voting form could look like.
This would actually be doable today if we accept the limitation that the voting form has to be on a separate page (separate from the freely-editable desks). This is obviously a deal-breaker, though, if people are required to login separately from WP itself.
The "benevolent dictator" model definitely sounds more doable, but even then, I'd probably just prefer if people kept their own private lists of what they considered to be the "best of" the reference desks, and then just rely on people individually to make sure they put their "best of" lists in a WP category, so they can be easily found.
Some ref desk regulars have already done that, or something substantially similar, but there's not much momentum for people to do it on a regular basis.
The whole idea is pretty interesting though, we all know there are some real gems (and real turds) out there just waiting to be gawked at and recognized :) dr.ef.tymac 19:12, 28 August 2007 (UTC)

Here's my idea - how about if (signed editors) could mark questions as "sound question, unclear, diatribe, flamebate, wrong desk, hasn't searched, etc".. 14:02, 29 August 2007 (UTC) That said I'd tend to oppose the idea here since it's more likely to cause problems than solve any... 14:10, 29 August 2007 (UTC)

To tell the truth, I'm not a great fan of qualifying questions and answers, unless it's something along the line of Carcharoth's highlights page or Dweller's Thread Of The Week. I'm skeptical about the added value of giving bad grades. Awarding or identifying the RD raisins is one thing, it can be fun to visit these questions (just like it can be fun visiting featured articles or pictures), decorating a thread can also be encouraging to those who contributed, and inspiring to others. I don't see why we should attract readers to bad or badly answered questions though. In addition, receiving a bad grade can be very discouraging and even hurtful to whoever contributed to the thread in question. We're all volunteers here, we all try to help out in good faith. When the answers are problematic, it should be pointed out to the user. But the net value of displaying "turds" in public is negative, in my opinion. ---Sluzzelin talk 14:28, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
Hmmm ... good points, Sluzzelin (and anon-IP), admittedly, in referencing "turds" (very poorly-chosen word in retrospect), I was thinking more along the lines of threads where the questioner is obviously presenting a trollish question, and the replies (although perhaps entirely appropriate, and even very witty) were not in any way helpful to WP article space. Since even a "turd" can be salutary for fertilizer, I should have called them "stones" or "noughts" or ...
Frankly, I was not even thinking about the use of "downvotes" as a way to intentionally persecute individual contributors, perhaps I "assumed" too much Good faith. You've added a noteworthy "reality check" (humble bow).
Although, I probably would not have even proposed this idea, but for the fact that I've seen it used on the wide-open web before, and (despite intuition) the crazy idea astonishingly seems to work. (The same thing they say about WP itself).
Important disclosure: One of my absolute favorite threads of all time here on the WP reference desk is one where a student asked an obvious homework question in apparent desperation, and then came back and said she got the first A+ ever in her life because of the help she got here. There were some follow-up threads (some disliked them, others thought they were fine) that portrayed an entertaining story for those who happened to follow it.
The point is this: regardless of whether you thought the thread (and follow-up) was astonishingly good, or amazingly inappropriate, there currently is no systematic way of flagging RefDesk content for long-term recognition. This, to me, is truly a shame. dr.ef.tymac 15:27, 29 August 2007 (UTC)

Ooh. That's a fine mess I've gotten you all into. --Dweller 15:44, 29 August 2007 (UTC)

Not at all, Dweller. Many of us encyclopedists like lists and clicking our way through categories (I do). I definitely like the idea of presenting a collection of good contributions, and dr.ef.tymac, I don't see why you shouldn't use your own criteria to link to your personal favorites. This could also include threads you/we found particularly hilarious, surprising, controversial (as long as interesting) etc. Regarding a wider long term recognition, how about a combining this with an index, as already addressed by Steve Summit above, and also combining it with the contributions to article space (RDAC etc.) We could build a topical index only adding the questions we find worth linking to. It could be every contributor's responsibility to review a question (new or archived) before deciding whether to add it or not. Useful or not useful being the question, I guess, but without directly pointing out the useless. I don't know whether it's worth it, but I'd be willing to contribute (I'd probably enjoy browsing through the archives). ---Sluzzelin talk 06:31, 30 August 2007 (UTC)
Perhaps the best way to do this would be to have an individual or small groups of individuals to propose a shortlist of questions, answers and/or threads each week on a separate page. Then give it a day or two for any interested Ref Deskers to cast a !vote in favour of their choice. Finally, someone can judge consensus/count !votes and award the weekly gong appropriately. That way everyone gets a say should they want to. We could then incorporate the winners into a DYK type box on WP:RDAC and then archive them at the end of every month, so our best work each will be collected in one place. Rockpocket 06:47, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

I love the way Wikipedia develops. Will I live to see the day that abuse of whatever emerges from is reported at ANI? lol. --Dweller 12:01, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

A Much Simpler Proposal

I think it's pretty clear when a great answer has been given to an interesting question and it's worth saving for posterity. I suspect that all we really need to do is to create a page called 'Best of the Ref Desk' (or something like that) and let people edit it in true Wikipedia style. It's going to grow - and it'll doubtless accumulate cruft - and someone will periodically clean it up. It would have a 'discussion' page where people may choose to passionately argue about what should and shouldn't be there - and polls may occasionally happen when there is debate over whether some article should be there or not. But I suspect that in the end, the standards for what makes it into the page will be quirky and that the quality you'll need to have to make it into the page will gradually grow over the years. It is likely (as with most Wikipedia pages) that one or two people will come to informally 'own' the page and keep it alive and relevent. Whether it contains witty (but irrelevent) answers or off-topic (but clever) answers - or merely the ones that helped the OP the most, is anyone's guess. But this way it can evolve and grow into whatever we want it to be.

This approach is taken with lots of other 'Best of' Wikipedia pages such as Wikipedia:Unusual articles. Voting adds red tape and is not 'the wikipedia way'. A weekly pick would mean that in some weeks a basically weak choice has to be made because there was nothing better - and on really good weeks, two excellent answers have to fight it out to be included. The 'Benevolent Dictator' model only works when more or less everyone agrees with the dictator - there is no easy way to ensure that we have the right person for the job.

A less formal mechanism would be much nicer. Let's just make a page and let people populate it - it's the WP way.

SteveBaker 14:40, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

(And while we're about it - a Ref Desk FAQ would be handy too. There are a bunch of questions we get very frequently and a succinct pointer to the FAQ would often save everyone a lot of time.) SteveBaker 14:51, 30 August 2007 (UTC)
I nominate Steve to write a FAQ answer about torque curves and mechanical advantage as they relate to car acceleration. Friday (talk) 15:25, 30 August 2007 (UTC)
There is a Reference desk/FAQ, only nobody is maintaining it.  --Lambiam 18:05, 30 August 2007 (UTC)
Well it's not exactly well advertised is it?! I couldn't find a single link to it other than in >8 month old archived questions. The link labelled 'frequently asked questions' on the main Ref Desk page links to WP:FAQ which is not at all the same thing? It's really, really hard to contribute to something you don't know about! But anyway - that's just an aside. We're supposed to be talking about a 'Best of' page. SteveBaker 19:25, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

Non-talk pages with subpages that are automatically signed

{{editprotected}}On page Wikipedia:Reference desk the category

Category:Non-talk pages with subpages automatically signed by HagermanBot

should be changed to

Category:Non-talk pages with subpages that are automatically signed

 --Lambiam 13:29, 29 August 2007 (UTC)

Why, shouldn't we be as specific as possible ? StuRat 13:40, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
Because user:sinebot does the signing? 14:06, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
Because Hagerbot has been superseded and the category in question is intended to be empty, with the ref desk being the only link it in (due to protection) Kuronue | Talk 15:43, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
I've removed the editprotected request, since this doesn't involve any edits to protected pages. There is no such category on Wikipedia:Reference desk. Nor is there one on Wikipedia:Reference desk/RD header, the categories are all manually added to each Reference desk page, and have, as of this date, all been corrected.-- 21:47, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
I've re-added it, as I don't believe the problem has been resolved. As of this writing, the page Wikipedia:Reference desk includes the category Non-talk pages with subpages automatically signed by HagermanBot. It's right there at the bottom, beside "Wikipedia help forums" and "Wikipedia resources for researchers". And that category still includes the page Wikipedia:Reference desk. - Eron Talk 22:25, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
Done. --- RockMFR 23:15, 29 August 2007 (UTC)
Sorry about that, I must have missed seeing the category there. -- 13:40, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

Out of Xanadu

Hi guys! I've just checked the Humanities Desk history, as I usually do in the evening, and see a quite legitimate question on Kublai Khan was removed altogether by an anonymous IP, on the grounds that it was a 'homework question' (An answer was also removed). I sincerly hope that the questioner did not notice this, because I cannot imagine anything more discourteous and hurtful. The thread was restored by Lambiam, exercising his usual good sense. I am in favour of the instant removel of obvious trollish questions, and I can just about tolerate a 'we do not do homework' response; but the complete excision of an honest question, homework or not, is for me quite intolerable. I hope you do not think I am making too much of this, but I would not wish to see this action as part of a new pattern. Incidentally, on the matter of trolling, I am beginning to feel that the Haiti and West Africa questions are beginning, ever so slightly, to fall into this category. Several superb answers have been produced, but the same old thing just keeps on rolling along! Love to you all Clio the Muse 22:54, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

I agree that questions should never be removed for looking like homework. In fact, I never type "Do your own homework!" and then leave it at that either. There are always ways of pointing a questioner to references or abstractly showing what might be a good approach for answering the question. Assisting with homework is not the same thing as doing the homework. (But that's just my opinion.) As for the Haitian questions, I do know what you're saying, but I'm not sure it's in the same category as the antisemitic, anticatholic, antimuslim series we saw a couple of months ago. I admire Lambiam and Marco's patience in explaining it over and over again. To me this is model referencedeskship. It's tricky to determine what is trolling and what is an innocent nuisance, but, once again, assuming good faith isn't the worst of all options. The alternative would be to simply ignore the question when they annoy us. My 2¢. ---Sluzzelin talk 08:58, 31 August 2007 (UTC)

User:Dweller/Dweller's Ref Desk thread of the week award

We have a winner for this week. Well done the Mathematics Desk. (Yes, I can't quite believe it, myself) --Dweller 11:05, 31 August 2007 (UTC)

Here's another attempt at selecting best threads that I just found out. A.Z. 19:47, 2 September 2007 (UTC)
Gosh. One edit, 18 months ago. I've done monstrously well already, compared with that! That looks eminently deletable. --Dweller 14:04, 4 September 2007 (UTC)

IRC channel

There is a discussion regarding the merits of linking to the Wikipedia-related IRC channel which deals with factual enquiries (#wikipedia-desk) from the "howtoask" header and possibly other places at Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/header/howtoask. All interested users are invited to contribute. GDonato (talk) 10:22, 2 September 2007 (UTC)

top-level archive page

The archiving bot just filled in the last of the redlinks (all seven "Sep 2007"s) at Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives. There's room for a few more, but at some point fairly soon we'll have to think about expanding the format in a different dimension. Perhaps we should grow the current block with three more sets of monthly links until it can read "Answered questions, October 2006 – December 2007", and then start a series of twelve-month blocks above it for 2008 and beyond. —Steve Summit (talk) 01:26, 5 September 2007 (UTC)

Sounds like a plan. StuRat 12:25, 5 September 2007 (UTC)

User:Dweller/Dweller's Ref Desk thread of the week award - third award

Congratulations go to the Miscellaneous Desk for this week's award. Maaaaaarvellous. --Dweller 10:47, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

Professional advice subpage

Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Professional advice. I also updated section 0 to include a link to this page. A.Z. 17:41, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

New feature

This page now has its very own custom edit button for section 0 of the page. --VectorPotentialTalk 17:53, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

What does this mean? A.Z. 17:56, 7 September 2007 (UTC)
I added an [edit] button to the upper right hand corner of the screen. Clicking on it lets you edit section 0.--VectorPotentialTalk 17:58, 7 September 2007 (UTC)
That's great! A.Z. 18:11, 7 September 2007 (UTC)
So, why doesn't that feature automatically happen on every page I wonder. - hydnjo talk 00:23, 8 September 2007 (UTC)
Good question. And why doesn't that feature automatically happen on sub-sections 0 when you create a sub-section inside a section? A.Z. 01:38, 8 September 2007 (UTC)
I remember having seen an explanation of why the edit button to section 0 is disabled by default, but I don't remember exactly what it was - probably something to do with clashing with images \ infoboxes appearing in the top-right corner. Anyway, Wikipedia:WikiProject User scripts/Scripts/Add edit section 0 is a user script (for monobook.js) that makes the button appear for you (don't know about subsection 0 though). -- Meni Rosenfeld (talk) 13:00, 8 September 2007 (UTC)

Thanks, VP, that's a much needed addition. StuRat 03:11, 13 September 2007 (UTC)

Frequently asked questions

So, there are a number of frequently asked questions. Should we do something about it? (I believe this is a frequently asked question on this talk page) People usually link to older threads about the same subject when they recall that there has been a question about it before. I was thinking about adding a sub-section to all threads that are about frequently asked about subjects. Something like this:

=== Related threads ===

Related thread from June 2003,Related thread from May 2004, Related thread from October 2005, Related thread from January 2006.

So say we click on the third link to read the thread from 2006. There would be a similar sub-section there like this:

=== Related threads ===

Related thread from June 2003,Related thread from May 2004, Related thread from October 2005, Related thread from September 2007.

This way, it would be easy to navigate through all threads about a subject. A.Z. 02:06, 8 September 2007 (UTC)

Coding Mistakes

Code cleanup done. Some people haven't worked out that a preceding space does this.
Not this. martianlostinspace email me 13:44, 10 September 2007 (UTC)

Template Google images

Template:Google images may be useful for various threads on the reference desk (I remember one instance when someone didn't know what a milk bag looked like). It is used the same way as Template:Google. A.Z. 03:23, 13 September 2007 (UTC)

How Do I Get Recognized As An Expert

I'm sorry for putting this here but I didn't know where else to put it. I posted on an article and was told I needed to follow the guidelines in how to be recognized as an expert. The person editing my post and removing the materials did not give me a link and did not have a link to their e-mail address. What's that all about? If somebody is going to edit others shouldn't they be required to give a point of contact? I've looked and looked. So where are the guidelines for being recognized as an expert in a field and how to post as an expert?ChaplainSvendsen 11:39, 14 September 2007 (UTC)

This is the talk page for the Wikipedia Reference Desk, this desk is generally used for answering general knowledge questions. Your question seems better suited for the help desk.-- 12:01, 14 September 2007 (UTC)
Which article did this happen on, and who told you you had to be an expert? Wikipedia has no experts-only policy, so there are no guidelines or policies on how to be recognized as one. —Steve Summit (talk) 15:43, 16 September 2007 (UTC)
It looks like the discussion happened here. I would assume the other editor was referring to the essay on expert editors - which is neither policy nor guideline. - Eron Talk 15:56, 16 September 2007 (UTC)

Editors jumping on questioners for asking "homework" questions

It seems recently editors have been assuming any question that could be homework is homework. Without any other evidence, they jump on the questioner, saying, "Do your own homework!"

How can we discourage editors from being so jumpy? -- Mwalcoff 00:39, 17 September 2007 (UTC)

I'm not sure which instances you're thinking of, but usually, there is plenty of evidence. --Steve Summit (talk) 01:28, 17 September 2007 (UTC)
I think this is mu because there's no reason not to respond to homework questions in the first place. A.Z. 05:30, 17 September 2007 (UTC)
This is not about not responding, but about the way in which to respond. The Before asking a question instructions at the top of each RD section page ask questioners not to post homework questions without evidence they've tried to tackle them themselves, and our guidelines state that it should be made clear to questioners asking homework questions that they should do the actual work themselves.  --Lambiam 06:42, 17 September 2007 (UTC)
Yes, that is what I disagree with. I think we shouldn't have a guideline saying it's not ever OK to do someone else's homework. A.Z. 20:40, 17 September 2007 (UTC)
If you are sure an editor is too jumpy, you might engage with them on their talk page. I agree with Steve, though, that in most cases it is evident from the way the question is phrased, like when you see a multiple-choice question, or Discuss your answer.  --Lambiam 06:30, 17 September 2007 (UTC)

Here's a recent example of a questioner who was jumped on prematurely: Wikipedia:Reference_desk/Humanities#What_is_the_secret_behind_the_success_of_American_agriculture.3F -- Mwalcoff 23:14, 17 September 2007 (UTC)

Agreed. We should not chastise people for asking homework questions. We shouldn't answer the questions either, or at least not give the complete answer (giving hints is fine if the questioner is stuck), but there's no call for biting people for asking them. —Ilmari Karonen (talk) 23:31, 17 September 2007 (UTC)
I don't see much wrong with that- it was a homework question, and the questioner got called on it. Big deal. Didn't seem too bitey to me. Friday (talk) 23:38, 17 September 2007 (UTC)
What in the world makes you think that was a homework question? What kind of class would ask a question like that? -- Mwalcoff 01:16, 18 September 2007 (UTC)
Some sort of social studies or world affairs perhaps. In any case, even if it wasn't a homework question it seems the response was harmless enough to me. All the responder said was sorry you need to do your own homework. Not "go to hell, we're not going to do your homework idiot" or something like that. And IMHO, there's nothing wrong with telling people we don't do homework. If it was a homework question then hopefully the person knows now so will refrain from re-asking the question if they don't receive a response or asking other homework questions; or will at least try to do some work first. Heck perhaps we'll save the person from failing an assignment because they're waiting for a response that will never come. If it wasn't a homework question then the asker will simply say it wasn't a homework question. No harm no foul. I don't think informing people of the guidelines is biting if done properly. Note that I'm not saying people should respond like this. If it's not your style that's fine. I'm simply saying that when people do respond like this, I don't think it's harmful. P.S. The question as also asked here [3] Nil Einne 21:36, 18 September 2007 (UTC)
There's nothing wrong with telling people we don't do homework, but I think editors should only respond as such if it's clear it is a homework question. -- Mwalcoff 02:18, 19 September 2007 (UTC)
Well I agree in this case it was perhaps unclear enough that I personally don't think I would have said sorry, we don't do homework. But I don't feel the response did any harm or the way things are now is harmful. Perhaps people occasionally jump on questions too fast but it's not happening often enough and people are usually civil enough that it's not a problem IMHO (although I admit I don't check the ref desk that often and mostly only the science one) Nil Einne 21:20, 19 September 2007 (UTC)
Two things to note:
  1. The purpose of this service is to help people. Doing their homework for them is NOT helping them - at least not in the long term. Helping them with their homework is.
  2. If you've been here a while, it's easy to spot some homework questions. Generally, the question is overly specific - it often ends with the magic word "-- discuss." or demands a specific precision "please show your working and give the results to three places of decimals."...of course there are inevitably questions that we don't suspect are homework - but which are - and occasionally one of us will accuse someone of asking a homework question when they probably aren't. It's hard to tell.
From these two observations, I would offer the following words of wisdom:
  • Don't bite the newbie. We don't have to come right out and say "we can't do your homework for you"...we might be wrong - so tread carefully unless it's really blinding obvious (see #2 above).
  • If you suspect it's a homework question then simply answer with links to pages containing the information that will lead to a solution rather than giving the solution directly. This means that if you're wrong then you have at least provided some help and you havn't been rude to anyone. If you are right then you are forcing the student in question to go and read about the subject - which is probably what they should have done in the first place. "Teach a man to fish".
  • If you suspect it's homework - wait 24 hours before you answer. Kids who think they can get Wikipedia to do their homework for them have almost certainly left it until the last minute. If you answer a day later, they've already been forced to do it themselves. If it's someone who runs a factory and needs to know how to apply some equation to a specific problem - then waiting one day won't hurt at all.
  • In some cases it may be necessary to do more than point at a link. Some of our science and math articles are WAY above the heads of (say) a 12 year old. When you are looking for the equation s = ut + 1/2 at2 to describe an object's motion under gravity - our Newtonian Mechanics article is correct - but 100% USELESS - it's full of calculus and blather about relativity - and it doesn't mention the one equation you actually need to know if you're 12 years old. You need to look under Equations_of_motion#Classic_version. So please tailor your answer to the presumed ability of the person asking it. Whilst we don't generally know their ages, it's possible to intuit it from the difficulty of the question.
SteveBaker 18:36, 20 September 2007 (UTC)
Good post -- Mwalcoff 23:06, 20 September 2007 (UTC)
SteveBaker, I'm not a 12-year-old, but I've been one. The page Equations_of_motion#Classic_version seems to be just as useless to a 12-year-old trying to find out how an object moves under gravity as the page Newtonian Mechanics.
If their teacher wrote a question in a way that you would only need the equation in order to get the answer, the student may be able to do their homework, but they won't learn anything. It would be a pretty much mechanical work, to use the numbers the teacher provided to find the answer using the equation.
I think participants of this reference desk are being overall too lazy and are not actually helping people with their homeworks. I have asked some math questions on the reference desk. I got very kind answers, some useful, but I was never able to fully learn whatever it was that I wanted to learn. People use equations that I don't understand and seem not to have the will or capacity to explain things intuitively.
You may respond to me that it's impossible to explain certain things without using numbers and symbols that I don't know, to which I'll reply that I've seen a case in which —with all due respect for the intentions of other editors—, a 12-year-old got lousy and useless answers for a trivial math question.
Editor Confusing Manifestation said: "Do you have a formula for the volume of a rectangular prism?" Formulas don't matter if you don't understand what they mean. After I learned what some formulas meant, I actually reached the conclusion that they hardly matter even if you do know what they mean. At least for me.
Lambiam linked to the article on cuboid, which has the very unhelpful sentence "If the dimensions of a cuboid are a, b and c, then its volume is abc."
I made a drawing to explain how the volume of a cuboid of dimensions a, b and c has a volume of abc. Any child could understand that.
The rest of what I think about homework questions is further explained on this section (though it's tireing to read even for me). Basically, I believe that refusing to do (and stopping other people from doing), in any case, under any circumstance, the homework of someone who is asking you to do it is unhelpful. To refuse at first may be OK and may be helpful, but to stop other people from doing it isn't. (Note however that I didn't do the guy's homework in the pool question linked to above; if he, however, even after my response, asked people to do the homework for them, I wouldn't stop them.) A.Z. 03:19, 21 September 2007 (UTC)
I agree that many of our articles, particularly those in science and math, are written so that only a PhD in that field can understand them. The Ref Desk can serve to interpret those articles in "normal people language", which sometimes means a simplification. It would be better if we could improve the articles to be readable by the general public, but each article tends to have a group of PhD's protecting "their" article from being made understandable by the masses. StuRat 07:21, 23 September 2007 (UTC)

Dweller's blinkerty blankerty thingy award for this (last) week

Yeah, I'm late. Big up the Language Desk. [4] --Dweller 14:04, 17 September 2007 (UTC)

Yay 4 teh Language Desk, and Yay 4 Dweller! SaundersW 21:31, 18 September 2007 (UTC)

Deleted Text

[5] I think asking other female editors out is getting beyond things. Humour, yes, but should stay within scope of question.--martianlostinspace email me 22:24, 18 September 2007 (UTC)

I was planning to respond with "if that's the way you ask then the answer is no" but I don't see any harm with removing it Nil Einne 23:09, 18 September 2007 (UTC)

Would it be polite to tell them, or do we leave them to discover things like that for themselves? Certainly in my early days, I did things all the time that people simply reverted but didn't WP:BITE me on.martianlostinspace email me 23:35, 18 September 2007 (UTC)

I strongly suspect the author was intending to be humourous even if it was in poor form so I one presume my response would be taken in similar jest (I would probably have putten a :-P or something). And if the author was really serious I would suspect removing it could potentially be more offensive then responding to it in a humorous fashion. But even so it doesn't really matter either way IMHO. Don't bite doesn't mean we should never tell people when we feel their behaviour is inappropriate, it just means we should consider whether it's really necessary and if it is do it in a resonably civil manner and avoid offending people unnecessarily. Nil Einne 21:15, 19 September 2007 (UTC)

RD vs Wikiversity

Having a reference desk in Wikipedia sounds unneeded now that we have Wikiversity. We could just point users to the Wikiversity project instead. What do you think? NerdyNSK 18:11, 20 September 2007 (UTC)

As things stand right now, I'm afraid that we'd be doing a disservice to most questioners if we were to do that. Looking at their Help Desk, it appears that they've only got three or four people who answer questions there regularly. The whole page has seen fewer than fifty edits so far in the month of September, and it covers all the topic areas we've spread out over seven Ref Desks and our Help Desk.
In contrast, some of our Desks (including at least Science, Humanities, and even Miscellaneous) see at least fifty edits per day. When someone is hoping to get a reasonably rapid and fairly reliable answer, it helps to have a lot of participants around. Not only does the large number of people here on Wikipedia represent a broad slice through dozens of different disciplines and areas of expertise, it also generally means that bad or sloppy answers get caught and corrected more quickly.
In principle, I suppose Wikipedia could redirect all the Ref Desk traffic to identical (or equivalent) pages on Wikiversity—but there isn't anything to be gained from it. People who wanted to continue to participate in the Ref Desks on a regular basis would have to set up new accounts on Wikiversity, reverify their email addresses, make appropriate cross-wiki links on their sigs or user pages, maintain a second, Wikiversity watchlist in addition to their Wikipedia watchlist, etc.
That isn't to say that Wikiversity wouldn't be a better venue for a few types of questions. The Ref Desks on Wikipedia aren't really a good place for drawn-out, free-for-all, opinion-driven discussions. Someone who's looking to get into a lengthy debate, for instance, might be better off having it at Wikiversity. Indeed, I don't see anything wrong with the current practice of encouraging people who want to have those discussions to move to a more appropriate place on Wikiversity. (The exception being, of course, where such invitations are made for the purpose of gaming Wikipedia policies.)
As Wikiversity grows in size and participation, they will gradually become better-equipped to handle the sort of questions and level of traffic that we have on the Wikipedia Desks. As that happens I wish them well, and I hope that we will continue to give them our support and encouragement. Nevertheless, I can't see how anyone would benefit from shuttering the Desks here. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 19:18, 20 September 2007 (UTC)
I don't imagine it is wikiversities goal to become a ref desk. My impression is they are trying to put together teaching content. David D. (Talk) 19:38, 20 September 2007 (UTC)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. WP rd works perfectly well.martianlostinspace email me 19:47, 20 September 2007 (UTC)
I totally disagree with "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" (and I already made comments about this here. I actually meant light bulb when I said lamp on that section.) This would be a good argument for stopping Wikipedia from being created, and the Wikipedia reference desk, and basically all inventions. A.Z. 03:28, 21 September 2007 (UTC)
Yes, martian, you are absolutely correct. Questions are placed; questions are answered. What more could one possibly want? There is, however, a 'bonus effect' for Wikipedia, in that new articles have been created and existing pages augmented as a consequence of the work that has been done here. Long may it continue! Clio the Muse 23:28, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

Well... although, even supposing the desk was separate from the encyclopedia, there is nothing which prevents answers being used to improve articles in another project - even a wiki rival, for example, Citizendium. In all honesty, I doubt that in practice it is always the case that they are used to improve. I guess tens of articles, with your answers, could have become semi doctoral thesis's/thesii/thesises/thesisisisis, etc, or whatever else the plural of thesis is. I don't suppose you would mind us copying your answers to relevant talk pages? (Of course, I presume this right already exists in that you must have already GDFL'd it, but it is polite to ask anyway.)martianlostinspace email me 08:48, 22 September 2007 (UTC)

"Theses" :). --SB_Johnny | PA! 10:39, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
For the time being, I'm satisfied to redirect Q's (provided they haven't been deleted before I even see them) to Wikiversity which can be answered by their liberal rules and not by Wikipedia's draconian rules. I would invite others to do the same. I also invite those who wish to answer Q's in an inclusionist manner (versus those who want to delete anything they don't like) to join us in answering Q's over there. StuRat 07:08, 23 September 2007 (UTC)

New tool sheds light on the Ref Desks

I was playing about with a new analytical tool (See here for example) and thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast some metrics for the desks...


The Miscellaneous desk is the granddaddy of the Ref Desks, being the offshoot of the original desk from 2002. As such it has the most contributions, a whopping 99,000+. The top 5 contributors are as follows:

Editor # edits % of total
User:StuRat 3666 3.7
User:DirkvdM 1595 1.6
User:Light current 1517 1.5
User:Dismas 1182 1.2
User:JackofOz 1019 1

In the top 20 the most consistent editors are User:MacGyverMagic, User:Tagishsimon and User:Alteripse, all of whom have contributed with regularity since mid 2004. The most sporadic are User:Light current, User:Justanother and User:THB who made over 1000, 800 and 700 edits respectively, in a about a 6 month period, then stopped (for various reasons). Light current also came in with the most edits in a week: 190. Activity on the desk peaked around this time last year, when StuRat, DirkvdM and Light Current were are their editing peak. The page was hitting around 1500 edits a week at that period, and has been declining since then. An honorable mention for User:SteveBaker, who sneaks into the top 20 as the most recently prolific editor: around 600 since February this year.


The Science desk is the second most popular desk and is catching the Misc, it has amassed over 88,000 since August 2005. The top 5 contributors are as follows:

Editor # edits % of total
User:StuRat 4885 5.5
User:Light current 2614 3
User:DirkvdM 1864 2.1
User:Mac Davis 1636 1.9
User:Edison 1145 1.3

Many of the same trends described above can be found on this page. The most consistent editors are User:TenOfAllTrades, User:Nunh-huh and Alteripse, all of whom have contributed with regularity since it was created. User:Lambiam joins Light current in sporadic editing here, and User:Ummit and User:Nimur took long breaks from editing, but returned. Light current also notched to a remarkable, and somewhat scary, 330 edits a week at one point, almost double what StuRat managed in second. This desk also peaked around a year ago (hitting 1480 edits/week), and has been on a slowly decreasing trend since.


The Humanities desk comes in third, with over 64,000 since August 2005. The top 5 contributors are as follows:

Editor # edits % of total
User:StuRat 3126 4.8
User:Clio the Muse 2911 4.5
User:Loomis51 2255 3.5
User:JackofOz 1258 1.9
User:Lambiam 979 1.5

There are a good number of editors who have contributed consistently since the page was created, these include StuRat, JackofOz, User:Kainaw User:Nunh-huh, User:Shantavira and User:Mwalcoff. User:Halcatalyst and User:Wakuran edited significantly for a period and then stopped. The obvious specialist on this page is Clio, who had edited consistently at a rate of around 55 edits/week since October 2006 and will soon knock StuRat off the No. 1 spot. Like the others, this desk also peaked around a year ago (hitting 1170 edits/week), it has dropped off a little since then, but is holding steady.


The Language desk comes is the most popular of the, shall we say, less frequented desks. Despite being formed at the same time as Humanities, it has had less than half the activity, about 31,000 edits since August 2005. The top 5 contributors are as follows:

Editor # edits % of total
User:Angr 1245 4
User:JackofOz 1079 3.5
User:StuRat 838 2.7
User:Lambiam 817 2.6
User:Wakuran 780 2.5

The most consistent contributors are User:Marco polo and JackofOz. Wakuran and User:Greatgavini edited significantly for a period and then stopped and Angr did the opposite, having edited heavily and regularly except for a 6 month break at the end of last year. This desk has the most "new faces" among the top 20 editors by edit, perhaps reflecting its more specialist subject area. The top 5 editors have all peaked at 40-50 edits per week and the page record is 550 edits/week. Unlike the others, the page activity peaked slightly earlier last year, perhaps reflecting Angr's wikibreak, and has since dipped to early 2006 levels again.


The Computing desk is newer still, having accumulated over 21,000 edits since July 2006. The top 5 contributors (excluding bots) are as follows:

Editor # edits % of total
User:Froth 902 4.2
User:StuRat 713 3.3
User:Kainaw 487 2.3
User:H2g2bob 383 1.8
User:CesarB 337 1.3

The most consistent contributors are Froth, StuRat, Kainaw, CesarB and User:Splintercellguy, all of whom have contributed since the page was created. Wakuran and User:Finlay McWalter edited heavily and regularly except for a 4 month break at the beginning of year. User:L has been a significant contributor recently, racking up 210 edits in 3 months. Like the Languages desk, there are many unique contributors. Froth takes the plaudits for most edits in a week - 90 - and the page has managed to peak at 670 edits/week in January this year. The edit rate has dropped slightly since then.


The Mathematics desk is older than Computing, being created in November 2005, but has less edits: just under 18,000. The top 5 contributors are as follows:

Editor # edits % of total
User:Lambiam 1083 6.1
User:KSmrq 884 4.9
User:StuRat 655 3.7
User:Meni Rosenfeld 575 3.2
User:Lethe 418 2.3

The top 4 contributors are the most consistent along with User:Gandalf61 and User:B jonas. Lethe contributing significantly for the first 6 months, when he hit 50 edits/week, but nothing more since then. This desk has the most influential "core" of contributors, with over 20% of all contributions coming from just 5 people (for comparison, the top 5 contribute just 9% of the Misc Desk). The desk peaked in April 2006, with 400 edits/week, but has remained steady since then at a slightly reduced rate.


The Entertainment desk is the baby of the Ref Desk family, being created in December 2006. In that time it has had just under 5,000 edits. The top 5 contributors are as follows, excluding bots:

Editor # edits % of total
User:StuRat 196 4
User:Wakuran 136 2.8
User:Clarityfiend 132 2.7
User:Sluzzelin 117 2.4
User:Dismas 88 1.8

Its a little harder to spot trends in a compressed time frame. With the exception of Wakuran, who edited for the first 3 months only, the top 12 editors have edited consistently since launch. StuRat and Wakuran have both edited at a peak rate of 30 per week and the page had, at most, 290 edits in a week in February 2007.


Of course, as we all know, quantity does not equal quality, and one good contribution may be worth more to our reader than many poor ones. Nevertheless, the amount of effort a number of people have put into this part of the project in good faith is quite astounding. So on behalf of our readers, a big thank you to those named above and all the other regular contributors not mentioned by name. For those interested, these data were generated using Wikidashboard (which is a neat tool from PARC) and is good through late July 2007. Once everyone has had a chance to poke fun at those who clearly need to get out more *ahem* ;), I'll move this to a subpage and perhaps do a little bit more comparative analysis to see if we can glean some useful information about how our services are used and thus make them better. Rockpocket 09:10, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

What fun! Could you generate some stats (top 20, maybe?) for contributions across all the desks? --Dweller 10:13, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

Sure, the data is tabulated in the image, right. It was generated by crossreferencing the top 20 contributors to each Desk, with the top twenty pages edited by each of those editors. As such:

Top twenty contributors across all desks
WT:RD by edits. frotht
  • This is a conservative dataset. Where there is data points missing it may be an understimation of up to 30 for the most experienced contributors, but generally less than 20. Taken together this means for pretty much everyone listed with a data point missing, the totals may be a slight underestimation, probably by less than 100.
  • The data does not include edits to talk pages, nor does it include edits to the archives (for some editors, notably Clio, this results in another underestimate, perhaps by as much as another 100).
  • The data is a few months old, and only includes edits through July 2007.

I'm pretty confident this data is good, but around the 19-20th position it remains possible that an editor just outside the top 20 of each individual page could amass enough in total to sneak in. They way I collected that data can not rule that out. However, its unlikely though, as I selected a few editors at random who contribute widely but are not in any top 20, and none of them broke the overall top twenty. Enjoy. Rockpocket 19:10, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

That's interesting. This tool is also interesting. It doesn't show only the 20 most active contributors, it shows all of them. A.Z. 05:48, 23 September 2007 (UTC)
Cool. Now if we only had a system where those who contribute the most to the Desks were allowed to contribute the most to setting the rules... :-) StuRat 06:55, 23 September 2007 (UTC)

Thanks all, for that. Fun and interesting. Sorry, but it doesn't count for thread of the week. Lol. --Dweller 11:49, 24 September 2007 (UTC)

Very nice find! Too bad the data is so old :( By the way you forgot stats on this page! Look right. --frotht 22:51, 24 September 2007 (UTC)

IMHO some editors make too many contributions. I refuse to believe that every single edit made by some of the high fliers is a valid attempt to answer a question. I don't make many contributions to the RDs, but when I do, it's because I feel I can add something useful. In the wise words of Wittgenstein, "whereof one cannot speak one should remain silent." --Richardrj talk email 10:28, 25 September 2007 (UTC)
You'll forgive me if I say that that is somewhat of a blanket condemnation. That said, I know at least one of the high fliers became something of a troll and was eventually banned. --Tagishsimon (talk) 13:26, 25 September 2007 (UTC)
And surely it is an equally blanket statement to say the reverse, i.e. that every edit made by the high fliers is a useful addition to the page. This is the kind of thing I'm talking about. I guess it goes back to that old debate about whether the RD is, or should be allowed to be, some kind of chat forum. Personally I would say not. --Richardrj talk email 13:54, 25 September 2007 (UTC)
What on earth are you complaining about with that edit of mine ? I gave an answer to the OP, but didn't know the technical term for it. Ten then provided a technical term, and I verified that this was, indeed, the term I was describing. If it wasn't the term I was describing, I would have said "That's interesting, but the condition I meant is different in that...". If you consider this to be unnecessary chatter, then surely your saying "You're welcome" would also qualify: [6]. Then we have this edit containing, (gasp !) idle speculation from an admitted non-expert: [7]. StuRat 03:06, 26 September 2007 (UTC)
It would be, yes; but I didn't say that; merely commented that as it was, it was a blanket condemnation. Anyway, we know who the natterers are, or were. And I'm with you in being agin the chat forum. --Tagishsimon (talk) 14:27, 25 September 2007 (UTC)
Such rapier reasoning. Greater men than you have tried to resolve this and failed; it's not worth it to start over again --frotht 05:25, 29 September 2007 (UTC)
Quality not quantity.png
Editcountitis run amok! Surely the most important metric is: "How many questions are asked and how many of those got acceptable answers?" - the former should be easy to measure for the different desks (and to graph over time) - the latter is tough to measure. It would be interesting to do a user survey to see how satisfied our OP's were with the answers they received.
If we are determined to find out who is better than who amongst our editors we could ask them to tack on the username of the person who's answer helped them the most - I don't think that's a particularly productive thing to do though. SteveBaker 19:18, 29 September 2007 (UTC)
No one said it was important. It's just cool. A.Z. 20:45, 29 September 2007 (UTC)

User:Dweller/Dweller's Ref Desk thread of the week award - Fifth award

I can't quite believe it... Humanities Desk wins it, with no contribution from the ubiquitous Clio. Extraordinary. Anyway, well done to everyone who contributed here ([8]) especially as it seems our article will improve as a result. --Dweller 10:29, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

Really minor request -- Could you title each of these subsections with a unique title? Clicking through to this edit from my watchlist takes me to the first U:D/DRDtotwa entry. --LarryMac | Talk 11:20, 21 September 2007 (UTC)
Great idea. --Dweller 12:14, 21 September 2007 (UTC)

going overboard on no-medical-advice

Me, I'd say this question was fine and its removal was silly and unnecessary. —Steve Summit (talk) 16:42, 22 September 2007 (UTC)

It looks like a medical question to me, so removing it seems corehent with our current policy regarding those issues. I agree it was silly and unnecessary to remove it, and by this I mean I disagree with the policy. A.Z. 17:22, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
The question quite clearly asked for medical advice. "I'm doing X, can it injure me? What can I do to make it better?" Pretty clear-cut. Friday (talk) 17:26, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
I agree with Friday. A.Z. 17:28, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
Is there a specific reason you think having a medical advice forum makes the encyclopedia better? Often it seems like what you're objecting to is any suggestion that Wikipedia has a scope, and that certain things are outside of it. Friday (talk) 17:38, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
It seems arbitrary to me to remove medical advice from the scope of the reference desk. There's no specific reason why I think it would improve the encyclopedia, nor a reason why I think it would improve it less than the rest of the reference desk. A.Z. 17:42, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
Nobody's suggesting removing it from the scope. It's never been in scope- Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. We have content related to all manner of medical topics, but we draw the line at trying to diagnose or recommend a course of treatment. Friday (talk) 17:44, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
The reference desk is not an encyclopedia. The articles of Wikipedia don't do a lot of the things that the reference desk does. The reference desk is just something fun and/or useful separate from the encyclopedia that somehow helps the encyclopedia improve. A.Z. 18:39, 22 September 2007 (UTC)

Sorry it's been killing me to say this on this topic. Bunches of companies get sued everyday because of medical stuff. Although I am pretty sure that alot of people really do need help with medical stuff and they wouldn't sue us, I still wouldn't take the chance.–Sidious1701(talkemailtodo) 17:41, 22 September 2007 (UTC)

I thought that particular questions fell into a grey zone. "Can this damage me? How can I prevent this damage?" certainly seems like a request for medical advice. "How can I do this so that it doesn't feel uncomfortable?" - which may have been the actual point of the question - seems more like a request for costume advice. It strikes me as an (arguably) poorly-phrased request for advice, followed by erring on the side of caution in removing it. An approach that might have worked in this situation would have been to remove the question and suggest that the questioner restate it in a clearly non-medical form. - Eron Talk 17:46, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head. The removed content had two sentences ending in question marks. The first — "Can binding them harm or damage them in any way, or make them permanently smaller?" — was clearly a request for medical advice as defined in the guidelines. The second — "What can I do to reduce pain and discomfort [...]?" — would, IMO, have been acceptable on its own. One possible solution might've been to only remove the first of the two, leaving something like "[request for medical advice removed per refdesk guidelines]" in its place. —Ilmari Karonen (talk) 17:59, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
Just because a question involves "advice" and "the human body" in the same sentence does not automatically make it a question about medical advice.
We often say, "That's a question about _____ advice, you should go and ask a professional _____." But who's the _____ in this case? Not a doctor, surely, but rather, someone who knows about stage makeup and costuming practices. There are plenty of those people around, there are probably even some of them reading these desks, and it's not an area of regulated professional practice. —Steve Summit (talk) 00:56, 23 September 2007 (UTC)

Interesting but perhaps moot as the "medical" advice asked for has been rendered on the OP's talk. - hydnjo talk 23:02, 22 September 2007 (UTC)

I agree that this isn't medical advice and it wasn't appropriate to remove it. This is the type of thing you would ask a costume-designer, not a doctor. StuRat 06:30, 23 September 2007 (UTC)

You could ask a costume-designer because he is more used to deal with such things, which doesn't mean his advice is not going to be medical advice. Medical advice, in my opinion, is not advice given by a doctor, or asked to a doctor. It's advice that is medical. A.Z. 06:57, 23 September 2007 (UTC)
StuRat and Steve Summit are arguing that it is advice that would be dispensed by a costume-designer (a non-regulated, non-licensed profession) and thus not subject to the prohibition on seeking "regulated professional advice". And for the record, defining medical advice as, "advice that is medical", is not an especially useful or helpful definition. See: Fallacies of definition in general and Circular definition and tautology (rhetoric) specifically. 14:33, 26 September 2007 (UTC)

RD and Wikiversity

I have an idea for how these projects can collaborate to benefit both the RD community and Wikiversity... I'll happily cross post it here if that's preferable, but in the interests of keeping the conversation in one place, maybe folks could have a look here: v:Wikiversity:Colloquium#Help_Desk_and_the_WP_Reference_Desk:_possibilities_for_both_communities. --SB_Johnny | PA! 18:05, 24 September 2007 (UTC)

Another example of hypersensitivity to "homework" questions

From the Humanities desk:

I read that there was a lot of sympathy internationally for the Boers during the Second Boer War. What form did this take? Luke Here 05:33, 25 September 2007 (UTC)
Do your own homework. The reference desk will not give you answers for your homework, although we will try to help you out if there is a specific part of your homework you do not understand. Make an effort to show that you have tried solving it first. Lanfear's Bane 09:06, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

There is absolutely no evidence that this is a homework question. It doesn't read like a homework question to me. -- Mwalcoff 09:25, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

It's getting ridiculous now. Pretty much every question today has been pounced on with a "do your own homework" admonition. If this goes on, soon no-one will bother with the Reference Desk. 15:05, 25 September 2007 (UTC)
Agreed. Perhaps we should leave notes on the talk pages of people who regularly accuse people of posting homework questions, with little or no evidence to support their claims. StuRat 02:59, 26 September 2007 (UTC)
"HAX!" :) Nobody takes them seriously either; why not just answer the question normally and ignore the person accusing people of posting homework questions? --frotht 18:20, 2 October 2007 (UTC)

Category:Reference desk templates

I was trying to look for the patronising template Lanfear's Bane was using, to delete it, and instead realised there was no category for all the templates associated with the reference desk. As I can't find one, it would be great if people could add any they know of into this category. Neil  15:12, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

Found it ({{Dyoh}}) - see below. Neil  08:50, 26 September 2007 (UTC)

What the heck is happening?

Overzealous, very BITE-y homework responses. Non-content additions. More and more "discussion threads" (e.g. the diatribe about Home Depot and such on the Science desk the other day). I think it's break time. --LarryMac | Talk 18:34, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

Questions about the new "analytic tools" being linked to here

1) The "tool" linked from seems to mirror the WP login page:see here. Can anyone explain why? At first glance, this does not seem appropriate -- not that I am one to find fault with PARC, mind you, just wondering if anyone has some background explanation.

This is a consequence of a generic rule. A URL of the form mirrors Wikipedia page So, for example, mirrors  --Lambiam 22:37, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

2) The tool linked here specifies 483 unique editors, but only (159 IP addresses). Huh? Does that strike anyone else as a lot of different user names riding in on very few unique IPs? Even if you factor in situations where multiple human beings use the same IP (computer labs, certain ISPs, etc.) that ratio seems odd. dr.ef.tymac 21:29, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

This means: 483 unique editors, of which 159 are anonymous and only identifiable by an IP address. The other 324 were logged in under a user name.  --Lambiam 22:49, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

Archiving issues

Just so y'all know, I'm going to be traveling for the next two and a half weeks, with sketchy or no internet connectivity. This is good for me (I'm looking forward to the trip!), but it has implications for the archiving of our beloved desks.

  1. Up 'til now, the scripts that comprise the archiving bot have been running on my laptop. I'll have it with me, of course, but without a high-bandwidth connection I can't realistically slurp down the hundreds of kb that our larger desks routinely are. (And, of course, archiving a page involves not only slurping down the entire contents of the desk, but then reuploading the split-up pieces.) Those with older browsers or slow internet connections, and who've ever tried to edit the entire Science or Miscellaneous desk (not just one of the sections), know what I'm talking about.
  2. Over the past two nights I've installed the bot scripts under the shell account at my ISP, where I hope to be able to invoke them over a low-bandwidth connection. But for various reasons the scripts haven't ported cleanly, and I've had some significant problems getting them working properly and reliably. (Thanks to Someguy1221 for catching some of its boo-boos tonight.)

If all goes well, I should be able to keep the desks archived more or less normally. (I don't expect I'll manage to run the script every single day, though.) But I wanted to let people know that there may be some occasional "issues". I hope things won't get so bad that anyone has to try archiving the desks by hand again ('cos I know what a royal pain that can be), but you never know. —Steve Summit (talk) 02:51, 26 September 2007 (UTC)

P.S. Why not just invoke the bot out of cron? I could do that, it's true. But I'm still not sure I trust the script enough to do that (especially in its new incarnation at my ISP, where cron would even be a possibility), and anyway, strictly speaking, Scsbot is currently only approved for semiautomatic operation.

Bitey "do your own homework" template

Per above discussions, I've nominated {{Dyoh}} for deletion, and am informing potentially interested parties on the most appropriate talk page:

TfD nomination of Template:Dyoh

Template:Dyoh has been nominated for deletion. You are invited to comment on the discussion at the template's entry on the Templates for Deletion page. Thank you. — Neil  08:48, 26 September 2007 (UTC)


I was surprised to see that neither Entertainment nor any other category lists Theatre. Do theatre/drama questions go in Entertainment, Humanities, or Miscellaneous? --teb728 01:15, 27 September 2007 (UTC)

Of course, theatre has several aspects. Drama is a principal form of Literature, which is listed for the Humanities desk, and indeed there was a question on drama on the desk yesterday. Other forms of theatre, such as music hall, may belong in Entertainment, while in my view some of the technical disciplines of theatre would come under Technology, on the Science desk. Xn4 01:53, 27 September 2007 (UTC)

Date headers

Is there a bot MIA? I don't want to add date headers if it's going to screw-up a delayed bot. - hydnjo talk 22:12, 28 September 2007 (UTC)

See above (#Archiving issues). The new bot is fairly robust; adding date headers will not derail it.  --Lambiam 22:44, 28 September 2007 (UTC)
Ahh, Ok, I missed Steve's posting - thanks. - hydnjo talk 02:16, 29 September 2007 (UTC)