Saturday, May 14, 2005

I have to side with Martin Luther King on this one

In response to the proposed policy Don't disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point:

Inconsistency is fine when it doesn't cause a practical problem, and good when it actually improves things. However, inconsistent policies which cause problems are '''not''' a good thing. For example, inconsistent deletion of borderline articles is a very bad thing; this creates bad blood, and leads to the same arguments being repeated over and over and over, with whichever side that happens to have more energy that week winning out on the vfd. What a waste of time and energy!

And it's not just inconsistent policies which are a problem; poorly written policies which can be exploited by someone with a "rules lawler" attitude or misinterpreted by someone with a "letter of the law" mentality are a problem as well; they need to be exposed and fixed as soon as possible. Civil disobedience is an effective means of doing that. It may cause a short term annoyance, but it also affects a long term good.

I am going to have to side with Ulysses S. Grant and Martin Luther King and Ghandi on this one. Civil disobedience is an important tool for exposing bad laws. Silencing civil disobedience is silencing dissent. And what happens when you do that is not just an irritation of the would-be dissenters; what happens is ultimately an obstruction of the evolution of good laws and a protection of and entrenchment of bad laws. Reason and justice are more important then blind obedience to authority. If a rule sucks, change it.

This is a well intentioned proposal, but ultimately it will cause more harm then good. I vote "nay". I oppose making this policy.

© Pioneer-12

p.s. If this were changed to "Please don't disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point" and the text modified to include a clause like: "Good faith disruptions are frowned upon... but tolerated if (1) done in moderation and (2) after an attempt at resolution through discussion has been unsuccessful", then I would probably vote "yes".

Pluralism - America's secret weapon

Pluralism is a founding concept of the United States. (Thirteen free and independent states united as one.) But it seems that many countries and citizens of Europe just don't appreciate the concept. This makes sense... We were founded as and remain a collection of states united, while the Europeans started out as and largely remain a group of independent, mostly uncoordinated, often feuding countries. Because of this cultural divide, it is understandable that many people from Europe simply don't understand the concept of pluralism--i.e. the tolerance and coexistence of a diversity of differing points of view. But it's disturbing how this lack of tolerance can so easily translate into a dictatorial, even totalitarian attitude.... "Everyone MUST do as I say. Dissent will NOT be tolerated." Ouch. That sort of attitude would never fly in the U.S. (Though of course there is a minority who feels that way.) We in America often don't realize how free we really are.

If it wasn't for pluralism, there would be no United States. If it wasn't for pluralism, we could very easily have 50 little, insignificant, uncoordinated states, arguing and yelling at each other like silly children. Look at South America. If they united, they could be a powerhouse. Instead they remain uncoordinated and weak. Thus, their political power, their economic power, their military power, and--most importantly--their quality of life, suffer as a result.

Imagine Iowa getting into a war with Nebraska. Sound ridiculous? That's what a war between two small countries is like. The United States, by comparison, is like 50 countries united.

America's size and diversity is often compared to an "empire" by Europeans. That is because Europe has experienced numerous empires over the years, but it has not experienced a strong pluralistic union like the United States. Look at any empire in history, from the Romans to the Soviets. They seek to capture and subjugate territories, exploiting them for the good of the motherland. Often, they create "colonies", with those in the colonial territories being treated as 2nd rate citizens. Thus, when the empire eventually dissolves, it is understandable why those forced into the union seek independence above all. The United States, by contrast, gives equal rights and local rule to all people under it's umbrella. Washington D.C. may be the federal government's administrative headquarters, but the local concerns of Washington do not come before the local concerns of New York or Florida or California. There is no hierarchy of states; all stand on an equal footing, and all may choose a local government with laws and policies unique to that state. This combination of local authority and group coordination is what has made new states so willing to join the union. (Hey, who wouldn't want to join an alliance of dozens of countries that would accept you as an equal partner?) The United States even managed to convince fiercely independent Texas--once a part of Mexico and for several years it's own autonomous nation--to join the union. Could the Soviets have done that? Could the British Empire have done that?

Also, pluralism--the respect for different peoples, different beliefs, different religions--is a major force which drove tens of thousands of immigrants to leave the persecution and repression of their old lands and seek a freer life in America. Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, Buddhists... whatever religion was out of favor by the powers du jour of the old country, have all found freedom and tolerance in America. And this tolerance has fueled the immigration of many hard workers and brilliant minds. And it is pluralism which enables the United States to lead the overthrow of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, while allowing the newly freed people of Iraq the freedom of choosing their own form of government--rather then forcing our constitution and our particular flavor of democracy on them.

Pluralism can be considered America's secret weapon. It is directly responsible for a large portion of the immigration and talent which has come to the country, and it is pluralism that allows the federal union of the United States to exist in the first place--the principle enables the individual states to exist both free and united at the same time. This belief--this concept, this philosophy--ranks up there with liberty and democracy as one of the cornerstones of America's success.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

WELCOME NEW READERS!

Welcome to my blog. The focus is on Wikipedia. However, since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, this blog will touch on a wide variety of subjects.

Note: Not all old posts have collected here yet. Patience, my child. It is the patient turtle who snatches the pebble from the manic-depressive rabbit. (Or something like that.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Torture should be outlawed 99% of the time

Inspired by comments posted here.

I very much despise torture. It is a barbaric practice and should be outlawed 99% of the time.

But there remains that 1%. If some terrorist lunatics kidnapped my wife, and are going to chop her head off in 12 hours, and we caught a guy with information, a man who has participated in the willful and deliberate killing of innocents... then I don't give a crap about due process. And I don't give a crap about that guy's "human rights"--he forfeited them when he decided blowing up babies was a good thing to do. And if it takes torture to get the information needed to save my loved one, then I'll authorize that torture, and I'll perform it myself if I have to.

And I won't be forfeiting the moral high ground, either. If you had to choose between torturing Hitler or your wife/husband/child dying--or any innocent dying, for that matter--what would you choose?

Every detainee should be given the benefit of the doubt. Torture should only be used as a means of last resort, and only when we are absolutely certain, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person to be tortured is guilty. When an innocent life is on the line, we can and should and must take all means necessary to protect that life. Even perpetrators of evil have nominal human rights... but when it comes down to a choice between the rights of an evildoer and the rights of an innocent, then the innocent's rights come first, and the evildoers better pray real hard they don't get in the way.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Bill Gates is coming to eat you (Part III)

In response to comments posted on Wikipedia's village pump.

Re: Motive. The motive is profit. As Wikipedia isn't pulling in any G-bills right now (nor will it ever, being a nonprofit venture), it may be escaping Microsoft's radar.... they may simply be unaware of the profit potential.

Re: "the Boogeyman". It doesn't have to be Microsoft, but they have the most inherent advantages, as Nickptar demonstrated in the list above. Another company that is well positioned to give Wikipedia a good spanking, if they choose to administer it, is Yahoo. First, they've got the number #1 web directory--a perfect platform for wiki integration. Second, Yahoo has a habit of trying to expand it's little web kingdom in all directions. Witness Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Music, and Yahoo Messenger.

Another competitor, less likely to enter the fray, but the most skillful of them all, is Google. Google's programmers and designers are the best the online world has ever seen. They didn't become the #1 web search by accident. And with expansions like Google AdSense, Google News, Google Maps, Picasa, and Blogger.com, it looks like Google is ready and willing to show any part of the online world how REAL programmers do things. I think Google might feel a greater affinity with Wikipedia then other companies, though.... so they might be hesitant to upstage it. But they certainly could, if they wanted to.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Bill Gates is coming to eat you (Part II)

In response to comments posted on Wikipedia's village pump.

Ignore the possibility if you wish, but it is a possibility. And I think that many people are exaggerating Wikipedia's "popularity" in terms of the general population. What percentage of the online population edits on Wikipedia, really (even as an occasional thing)? I'm sure it's much less then 1%. Furthermore, there are a LOT of people who have tried editing but are annoyed with various aspects of Wikipedia... you don't realize how many because they make a couple edits, encounter problems, and then leave. If some big name player offered an alternative that fixed those problems, then many of them would be more then happy to go there and leave this place behind.

You don't know just how many people there are who have tried Wikipedia and not liked it. Maybe their edits get reverted by some clueless idiot... maybe they post an honest article and it gets deleted before they have a chance to explain why they added it. These things PISS PEOPLE OFF. Not everyone is like me who sees a problem and looks for a way to fix it. Many people have tried Wikipedia, had a bad experience, said "this sucks", and left... and yet many of these people could be happy contributors if they didn't receive such harsh, unfair, and irritating treatment.

Also remember that most people who post on Wikipedia are college age (or younger). A rather startlingly high percentage. Do you think that everyone interested in contributing to an encyclopedia is of college age? Hell no! There are plenty of people in their late-20s, in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond who would love to contribute. Wikipedia needs to attract older people, or someone else ''will''.

Inertia is significant, but it can be overcome. Netscape had a huge lead in the browser market, yet was reduced to just a minor player because of Microsoft Internet Explorer. What's interesting about that is... Netscape was actually better then Internet Explorer, but it wasn't better enough for the average person to make the extra effort to use it. In the wiki case, Microsoft could make a wiki environment better then this one. If they did that, what hope would Wikipedia have? Of course the die hards and the fanatics would stay, but the general population would switch over, just as they did with Netscape.

It seems that many of the responders are more interested in trying to brush this off instead of objectively considering it. Keep your heads in the sand if you want. If Bill Gates decides to eat Wikipedia, it will be a tasty feast.

Problems are fixable

Re: Programming, and problem solving in general.

Problems are fixable. Think positive. So often in programming, a difficult or "impossible" problem becomes easy with just a slight change of perspective. Often, the solution to a problem might be one step away, but there are a thousand different directions to step in. The hardest part is often finding the right place to go--finding the one right step out of a thousand.

Whenever someone tells me that something "can't be done", it only gives me more motivation to do it. As Walt Disney said "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

BILL GATES IS COMING TO EAT YOU

An open letter to Wikipedia:

Wherever there is profit, Microsoft is there. They may be slow on the draw, but they carry a cannon. Bill Gates, the Lord of Microsoft, is known for his obsessive desire to dominate everything computer related and to reap as much money as possible... by any means possible. It is a game to him. In field after field, Microsoft has sought to get a foothold and a competitive edge. If they can't develop a top notch product from scratch, then they buy one or steal one.

Enter Wikipedia. Once a mere blip on the radar screen, but its profile is growing. How long until Bill "Dollar" Gates looks up some bit of information online and winds up at a Wikipedia page? How long till he says, "This is cool; this is profitable; I want to rule this."

Is there profit in a wiki? Other sites have already copied the GFDL content and used it for ad revenue. It's only a matter of time before M$crosoft realizes that it can do the same. What's worse, is that Microsoft could start a content fork... a content fork that could easily rival or surpass Wikipedia in popularity.

Look at all the stupid problems we have to deal with: unrestrained vandalism; idiotic votes for deletion; buggy, hard to use software. You think these problems are unsolvable? Microsoft doesn't think so.

If Wikipedia is unable to get it's act together--if Wikipedia is unable to get it's childlike tendencies under control... then Microsoft just might rise and show the world a '''better way''' to do an wiki encyclopedia. Microsoft just might take Wikipedia to school, and to the cleaners.

Microsoft already has a foothold in the encyclopedia business--remember, they bought Encarta. They can't buy Wikipedia, but they can steal it.

Bill Gates is coming to eat you.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

To Fight For Freedom - Why the Goddess of Democracy is important

Thoughts inspired by the Goddess of Democracy.

In my opinion, the Goddess of Democracy is the image of the Tiananmen Square protests. Media coverage tends to focus on the man in front of the tank--which is unquestionably a powerful image--but this, I think, embodies the spirit of the protests better; in fact, it is this image that gives that scene a context and meaning. Why was the man standing in front of the tank? Because those demonstrators believed in and fought for liberty and democracy, and they'd do whatever was needed to be done to get it, including staring down a tank and building their own 40 foot high Statue of Liberty in their backyard.

This statue was built, by their own hands, to embody their dreams, to focus their thoughts, and to give their beliefs a symbol and a form. How often do people get together, and in the space of a few days, construct a statue 40 feet high, yet light enough to be carried by hand? That effort cannot be ignored.

This is one of the most inspirational images I have ever seen. It reminds me of something Thomas Paine wrote:

"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."
- The American Crisis, December 19, 1776

People who have been born into freedom and democracy have obtained it without a struggle; it is often easy to take these things for granted. The Goddess of Democracy reminds us that freedom is precious--that ''freedom'' is a noble and spectacular thing, and that liberty is often obtained only through great struggle.

I think that bronze duplicates of this statue should be built in the cities of London, Paris, and Washington D.C.--and in the capital cities of any country which has obtained democracy through a difficult struggle--so that we twenty-first century citizens of a free world, the heirs to a tradition of freedom and democracy, could be inspired by the brilliance and courage of those valiant demonstrators in China... who were inspired by us.