Do you edit Wikipedia? Thank the person who welcomed you

The Board of the Wikimedia Foundation published a Resolution on Openness. In short, quantitative studies show that new editors are joining Wikipedia and related projects slower than they used to, and the Board decided that this is the most important challenge that the Foundation must deal with in the near future.

One of the things that the Foundation is doing is to appeal to the community and ask to be more open towards new editors. I agree with this and pass this message on: Please, if you are one of the veteran editors of Wikipedia, remind yourself every once in a while not to bite the newcomers. Don’t just coldly tell them that they’re wrong, delete their contribution or block them. Maybe their contribution should be deleted, because it’s really bad, but please bother to explain it to them and don’t just send them a template message. Read chapter 31 of “Catch-22” to get an idea on the damage that template messages do. Bite a newcomer and he will never come back. This newcomer may be an elementary school kid who has nothing better to do than adding bad jokes to Wikipedia, but it may also be a university professor who has knowledge about topics that nobody else knows. If you scare off that professor, he won’t come back and Wikipedia will not have any information about these topics for a long time, and possibly forever.

Just remember that the Wikimedia community is supposed to be easy to penetrate, not hard. Some other communities are even harder to penetrate, but it’s their loss. That’s one thing we don’t want to be. That’s the meaning of wiki.

And another thing. Remember that “welcome” message you received after you made your first edit in Wikipedia? Send a thank-you note to the user who sent it to you. Even if you already thanked that user in the past and even if that user retired from Wikipedia. Even if instead of a welcome message that user sent you a copyright violation notice – that happened to me and i am nevertheless thankful to that user, simply because he was polite about it. Send that user a thank-you note, now. Tell him about your achievements since then; tell him what was good about that welcome message; if he retired since then, tell him that you hope that he will come back. It will mean a lot to that user and it will mean a lot to you – it will remind you that that welcome message was more than just a template. It was the thing that made you part of the biggest community of people in history – the Wikimedia family.



In the library of the Hebrew University a religious Jewish student has a friendly and lively chat with an Arab student, in Arabic. They speak about memorial ceremonies for Israeli soldiers which are to be held tomorrow.

Don’t let anyone fool you: There is peace between Arabs and Jews.

Happy Independence day.

Market Share

At the infamous Bug #1 discussion, someone compared Microsoft developers’ priorities to Linux developers’ priorities. Although this discussion is very boring lately, i felt compelled to reply and said that Microsoft’s only priority has always been getting Microsoft products to all computer users in the world.

And today i read an interview by the Mozilla evangelist Christopher Blizzard, who says: “That might sound strange, but we are not that concerned about market share. […] I’d like to make sure more fundamentally that the web is healthy.”

Free Software people are determined to make the world a better place and treat questions of market share in a “if you build it, they will come” manner.

Made Me Cry – Hague

A guy called Ian Hague gave US$200,000 to The Perl Foundation to help the development of Perl 6.

Well, it didn’t make me weep like Misha or The Walkabouts. But i did shed a tear.

Maybe it’s a tax writeoff and maybe he could give the money to the victims of the bad weather in Burma.

But he gave it to one of the geekiest and weirdest causes possible—development of a programming that possibly no-one will ever use seriously. But it could also happen that it will be the best programming language ever. And for whatever reasons he gave his money to it. It is almost a religious story: At least three of the leading developers of Perl 6 have been struck by bad health problems. And then an angel came, so this undertaking won’t perish.

The world is not lost.

The Future

Where does the computing world go? I’m not talking just about Free Software, but about the whole industry. Even Microsoft is in trouble here.

What more can we do with computers? What will computers do five years from now that they can’t do today?

Writing documents and university papers can’t get much better than MS-Office, OpenOffice, TeX and DocBook. Each of them caters rather well to their respective markets (except some interoperability issues, which are really rather minor if you put the bizness bullshit aside.)

Music, Movies, Animation? You can’t improve this field much more in the home market, and the high-end market of professional artists and studios is rather narrow. (Although ideas expressed in Lessig’s Free Culture can make it wider …)

Business v1.0 software – databases, billing, CRM, ERP? It is a market of reliability, not innovation.

Websites, communications and social networks? True innovation in that area hit a glass wall long ago, if you ask me. Some websites make up nicer AJAX tricks, but that’s about it.

So i thought that the really innovative thing that can useful on a major scale may lie in the field of Linguistics (disclaimer: I am studying for a B.A. in Linguistics). Speech recognition, text-to-speech and automated translation – all of them are related to Linguistics; none of them can be done right without proper scientific Linguistic preparation.

Microsoft puts “improved” speech recognition into every version of MS-Office, but it is very far from doing it right. Xerox and IBM tried something in their respective (and respected) research labs, but it didn’t see the light of day (at least yet). Google are rumored to be doing something with statistics-based automated translation.

But no-one has anything finalized.

The first one who does it right will rule the whole market for years to come. Of the current players, Google seems to have the best chances to succeed, but it can also be a startup company created by an anonymous undergraduate Liberal Arts student in India, Nigeria or Ukraine. Or Israel?

(Originally published in Bug #1.)

It’s decreed the people rule

What do you know – my little campaign for free-as-in-freedom hardware bears its first fruits.

I sent a few messages similar to the one that i posted here recently to forums concerning Linux, gNewSense, Ubuntu etc. I have also posted a few comments* to the post on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog, where he announces the first developer release of Gobuntu, the “radically free” version of Ubuntu.

Surprisingly Mark himself replied to me in the comments of Bug #1. That’s nice, but not too notable on a global level.

But today something bigger happened: Mark announced that he sets up an initiative to pressure laptop manufacturers into building the perfect free-as-in-freedom GNU/Linux latpop – one that can be used with only purely Free Software drivers. He didn’t mention me by name, but i really don’t need this.

So there you go: One of the good things about Free Software projects is the openness of the development and the project management.

Most Free Software projects have open access to their mailing lists and bug tracking tools. Every user of the program can, nearly anonymously, enter a bug or a feature request into the database (Bugzilla, RT, Launchpad, etc.) and then track its investigation and fix.

It is not a requirement of any license; it just makes sense! For most users this is even more important than being able to read or modify the source code. Even a reply like “Duplicate bug” or “Works for me” is far better than nothing.

I’ve never seen anything like this in the proprietary software world.

Sure – you can send an email with a bug report to Microsoft, Oracle, CA, HP etc., but it is unlikely that you will know where did it go, unless you have a personal service agreement. It’s just “fire and forget”. And you surely won’t get a personal reply from Mr. Gates.

Yet in the Free Software community the user has the full power to influence the project planning of the core development team.

So – thank you, Mark, for this initiative.

* Some people that read them badly misundestood what i was trying to say. I have made some mistakes too; i really should have known that being sarcastic in writing is much harder and more dangerous than when speaking in person. Joshua Gay, Andrew Fenn, if you are reading this – please accept my apologies again for any misunderstandings.


There’s a word in Hebrew – schtinker. It probably comes from Yiddisch and it means informer, snitch (“stinker” appears as an English word in Babylon dictionary, but not in Merriam-Webster). I do it.

I inform the Ministry of Environment (nonstandard) about people who throw garbage from their cars (mostly cigarette butts) and pollute the air with stinking black smoke from their exhaust pipes. I “schtink” on them, which may be not so nice, but the stench of what they do is worse.

Mr. Naphtali Cohen, who is responsible for air pollution in the Ministry of Environment called me before Passover and told me that my reports are really good. He has less than ten air pollution inspectors for the whole country and he depends on volunteers like me. That’s right, less than ten inspectors for a country of more than six million people. In the end he wished me happy holidays:

— “Happy holidays, teimani.”

— “Happy holidays to you too…” I wasn’t sure what was the last word he said.

— “Ha-ha! I am also teimani! Well, happy holidays.”

Then i got it: He saw my address – Giv’at Yearim. It is a moshav which was founded by teimanim – Jews from Yemen but is now pretty mixed.

Polluting emissions test

My car was tested for polluting emissions and passed (the red frame at the bottom). Now i know that while i am informing the authorities about other polluting cars, i am not a hypocrite.

Notice the emblem of the Vehicle Testing Facilities Union of Israel at the top right square – it looks quite a lot like Square and Compasses and also like the coat of arms of Communist East Germany.


Zoë standing
Zoë sitting

Or neighbor, a dog-lover himself, found this cutie (no, not Sandy Bar) when she was about a month old. He said that he really liked her and called her Zoë, but couldn’t take her home, because he was his own grown-up German Shepherd will mistreat her. Her eyes were irresistible and we took her.

Taking care of her proved harder than we had naïvely thought, as she is much more playful than the average puppy. After a few days of futile search for a new home Hadar’s uncle took her. He probably cared for her pretty well, but after about three months he gave up and gave her back to us.

Her first night back at our home was very hard. She really hated to sleep alone and kept whining all night, but Hadar didn’t want her in her bed. At three o’clock i took a sleeping bag and went to sleep in the kitchen. She immediately fell asleep with me in the sleeping bag.

The night after that she was already quiet, but we nevertheless didn’t want to make her miserable by leaving her alone every day and started looking for a new home for her again. It was very easy this time – Hadar somehow found an adult Soviet-born lady who took her. Maybe my Russian skills helped.

It’s hard to see how cute she is at these pictures, because she is too black and way too playful to be photographed.