Don’t Write Code (write descriptions of things)

I wish I didn’t know how to code.

For a programmer, the solution to every problem is to write more code.

But sometimes, all that is needed is to write proper words. To explain things and explore them through prose.

Not to remove oneself to the meta-realm of trying to understand the general structure of the problem and model it accordingly. (And then build something that resembles that model, and hope that the people using it see through the layers back to what the buggery’s trying to be done!)

Just write some nice, verbose, rambling blather about what it is and how it works and where we’re trying to go from here. Nothing too technical, and hopefully actually interesting to read. At least, linear, in that old-fashioned way of real writing. Interesting is probably too much to aim for… just words, then.

I was reading Phoebe Ayers recent post about the task of archiving the Wikimedia Foundation’s material. My first thought was “what sort of database/catalogue would be useful for this sort of thing?” Which is quite the wrong question, of course. There’s a whole world of wikis (both instances and engines) out there, perfect for this sort of variably-structured data. (If there’s one thing that constantly amazes me about Wikipedia it’s the fact that so much structure and repeated data is contained in what is basically an immense flat list of lone text files, and that it does rather work! The database geek in me shudders.)

I think a basic tennent for archiving physical and digital resources is that each object, and each grouping of objects, needs to have its own web page. In most cases, I use this both as a catalogue entry for the object or group, and as a printable coversheet to store along with the physical objects (or, in the case of digital-only objects, to be a physical placeholder or archive copy, if they warrant it).

The other thing I try to stick to is that a fonds and its catalogue (i.e. a pile of folders/boxes and the website that indexes them and adds whatever other digital material to the mix) should be able to be shifted off to someone else to maintain! That not everything should live in the same system, nor require particularly technical skills to maintain.

I know that there’s a dozen formalised ways of doing this stuff, and I wish I knew the details of them more thoroughly! For now, I’ll hope that a non-structured catalogue can work, and continue to write little printable English-language wiki pages to collate in amongst my folders of polypropylene document sleeves. And I’ll keep checking back to en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Subject:Library_and_Information_Science for instructions on how to do it better…

QRpedia generator

I’ve been tinkering with a QRpedia ‘plaque generator’ (freo.org.au/qrpedia) that takes a list of Wikipedia page names as input and spits out a printable set of QRpedia codes with ‘Wikipedia’ written across the top, and the article name below the QR code. The printing is a bit wonky, perhaps, but works good for me in Firefox: prints four to a page when scaled to 70% or thereabouts. (Why I’m trying to use HTML for this I do not know… at least it was quick to build… if it doesn’t work, let me know. There was a problem earlier this morning with the formatting of the links, that’s fixed now.)

The generator has come out of an idea to install QRpedia plaques around Fremantle, for the interest of tourists and — more importantly, I reckon — locals. It’s good to know a bit about one’s home, I think, and if anyone gets even more interested, they can get involved and add more info and articles. Today, the (other) local rag rancite a story about this idea. They didn’t quite understand the bit about how these codes will link to Wikipedia, unfortunately.

Wiki Wednesday

Because I never make the time elsewhere to get anything done, I have decided to schedule in an hour or so — just a tiny bit of time, but regular (and here I am, for the second time) — every Wednesday afternoon at the local library, to focus on Wikimedia stuff. Not that I’m very active, and who knows if I’ll succeed in getting anything done; but I’d like to. There’s a whole number of things I want to work on. This plan for QR codes in Freo is spurning me on for one, but today it’s just Geffrard that I want to focus on…

The Geffrard was a ship that sunk south of here in 1875, and my great-great-great-uncle was her master at the time. We (my mum and me, that is; she’s become rather a dedicated genealogist in the last year!) are gathering more and more sources, and soon there will be enough to write something up (whether notable or not, I dunno). Right now, we’re transcribing the inquiry into the shipwreck on Wikisource. So I’ll get cracking on with that…

* * *

Power point in the Freo library with a sign hanging over it prohibiting use for personal equipmentExcept! :-( Except that the library’s wifi seems to be failing me, and (worse) my battery is flat and this place doesn’t provide a single power point for laptops. I think that’s a shame. I mean, I know there’s some arguments around about libraries being places for books, and quiet reading, and whatnot… but really, I’d far rather they were places of general learning and exploration and intellectual inquiry and… well, y’know… all that. It seems that a library full of laptops (and this one, tonight, is just that; I counted eight just now when I went looking for power) is a pretty great thing; certainly on a par with a library full of noisy children (and this one is also that). So, are they just looked on as ‘distractions’? Or we don’t want the place filled up for twelve hours a day with pauper uni students looking for free wifi and some warmth? Or is there some OH&S ruling lurking somewhere? If I had my power cable tested and tagged, would that let me in?! Surely, nerding it up in libraries should be encouraged — it’s far cheaper, if nothing else, than the library service supplying all of these computers itself.

Anyway, don’t let me rant on about that. I’ll get back to preparing some scans of our captain’s Masters Certificate for upload to Commons, and I’ll be back next week with a full battery!

Wikisource now exports

Wikisource has begun, at long last, to be able to produce export formats for its books. PDF and Epub have been made available in the last week or so, the first via the WMF-wide book creator tool (which has just started supporting the <pages /> markup that is used on Wikisource to assemble transcribed books) and the second thanks to a script from Italy.

Another Wikimedia meetup

There’s to be a Wikimedia meetup this weekend; hurrah to that. How better to rekindle (and why did Amazon have to steal that word?!) the passion for helping write and build Encyclopaedias, Dictionaries, Libraries, Newspapers, Textbooks, and Universities — than drinking beer on a Saturday afternoon?! None! I say, none at all.

Wikipedia meetup in Freo

(I might be two days late with the birthday wishes, but that’s only because I’ve been too busy partying…)

On Saturday afternoon more than a dozen Wikipedians turned up to Little Creatures to raise a toast to ten years of Wikipedia. There was beer, t-shirts, discussions of intricacies of Wikipedia (none of which, for once, had to be prefaced with an explanation of what the flippin’ deal is with editing), and a broadside infiltration from — of all things — a Reddit crew who had heard about the free swag.

So happy birthday to Wikipedia, and thank you to everyone who came on Saturday for rekindling my enthusiasm for all this. I’m excited about the possibilities for some sort of collaboration between the Fremantle Society and Wikimedia projects. (More on that, later.)

Freo on the web

I am trying to get my head around all of the various places that Fremantle features (regularly, topically) on the Web. I want to figure out where the Fremantle Society’s website fits in, and what it might be used for (what might be missing from elsewhere).

So I started from the outside, yesterday, and moved inwards…

  1. Wikipedia, a first port of call for general info about anywhere, gives a reasonable overview to Freo from an outsider’s perspective. The Fremantle category has the subcategories show in the graph at right (which comes from the catgraph tool by User:Dapete). Obviously, this categorisation isn’t complete, and needs to be improved to reflect what’s actually important in Freo. (More on this later…)

  2. Next, there’s the Council’s website, fremantle.wa.gov.au, which has recently undergone a redesign, and is looking… umm… well, there’s lots of great information for residents and whatnot! There is a news feed, and a calendar of upcoming events (which I’d link to, but it’s a JS overlay thing that doesn’t seem to have it’s own URL). There are plans for new web-based methods of communication with constituents: firstly via a CRM for interacting with Council (for the general public? or just precinct committees?); and secondly (and I think this is going to be separate from the CRM) a network of community-group/precinct websites, called FREOSPACE. This is akin, perhaps, to the Cockburn Community Portal.

    I got my information about these plans from the presentation that Jen Valesini (Coordinator of the Fremantle Volunteer Service; is that right? perhaps not; anyway, she was part of the Precinct Review) gave to last week’s Freo Society meeting; and the Precinct Group Report.

  3. Then, there’s a host of topical and personal blogs: Adele Carles, State MP for Fremantle, Brad Pettitt, Fremantle’s Mayor, Cyclefreo, Dismantle, FERN, the Fremantle Environment Resource Centre, Freo Tribe, the blog of the Fremantle Society, Freo’s View, Tom M. Wilson, Love Freo, Melissa Parke, Federal MP for Fremantle, and The Painted Fish. There are more. I’ve started collecting a list of these as a ‘Freo Planet’ (to use that possibly-too-geeky term for an aggregation of news feeds); the planet itself has a news feed, the idea being that one could subscribe to just one source to get all Freo news.

There’s more to be looked at, but in a general sense I think there is room for a ‘reference’ website about Fremantle. An open site for the stories and detail of Freo, rather like Wikipedia but with ‘non-notable’ topics permitted (not notable in a global perspective, that is). Somewhere that will record, preserve, and make available the minutiae of what goes on here. Is the Freo Society the best organisation to provide this? I don’t know. I’m talking about something more than just the straight ‘history’ of the City (for that one might say that the Local History Centre would be the best coordinator). This would be a site that accepts photos of caravans on South Beach in the ’40s as well as contemporary cafe reviews. It would have a comprehensive calendar of events, and essays on life in Fremantle…

Perhaps I’m getting a bit carried away. Certainly it’s time to stop writing, and head down to Kulcha….

Cantonment Hill and Wikimedia Commons

The news that Flickr Commons is full prompted me, yesterday afternoon, to cycle down to Cantonment Hill to get some photos to add to the hill’s Wikipedia article. Why? Because I added a short note to Wikinews the other day about the imminent return of the hill to the FCC; and because I was reminded that Commons is a place — the place, perhaps, now — to put photos that might be of use or interest to other people, and I like that ‘collective archive’ idea.

I have always felt that Commons only wants files that are of direct use in another project — mainly Wikipedia — and that unless one can think of a good reason to upload a file, that file should be posted elsewhere. Such as Flickr Commons, or the Internet Archive; I can’t think of anywhere else. Perhaps I’m wrong. Is Commons more like the IA than one might first think? Is it acceptable to add material that is highly unlikely to ever make it in to a ‘proper’ article on one of the projects? Unless there is a need to illustrate, for example, the various types of steel handrails used on stairs in the 1950s, then there are some photos that will never make it out of Commons. That’s okay though. Someone might want to write that article in fifty years’ time.

So I am going to keep working on Wikimedia projects, in my own way, in the hope that it is a worthwhile use of my time. I think it is.