Cycling again

A wise decision - - 1802231.jpgToday, after almost a year and a half off of my bike, after buying a new helmet a few months ago, after pumping up my tires a few weeks ago… After all that build up, I finally actually went for a ride today.

Before I left, I made sure to tell Alexis exactly where I was going.  Since this was my first time out on a ride of any length — and I only went 10 miles — I can still feel the strain on my thighs.  Of course, the short trip took me an hour.

I suppose I’m only now coming to grips with what it really means for my confidence after losing a couple of weeks of my life to a TBI sustained while riding alone one sunny fall afternoon. As I rode, I was constantly aware of any ditches to fall into.  There was the constant reminder that, yes, I’m not going to push myself to ride hard up or down hills.  I was too scared.

But, I’m very happy I went.  I’ll go again tomorrow.  And — who knows? — in a month I may even be ready to ride on longer trips.  I may even go over 10mph!

Lost my phone down a storm drain

Storm Drain.JPGToday, after I dropped the everyone off and then parked the car, I was a walking into church. As I made my way in, I tried to be sensitive to others in church and turned off my phone’s ringer.

Just as I had turned it off, it slipped out of my hands, fell to the ground and slide — to my dismay and misfortune — into a storm drain. Worse, it was foggy and looked like rain.

I spent the next hour skipping church, trying different combinations of broomsticks and different kinds of adhesive like tape and super glue, to get it out.

It was only after others came out to watch me and help that we struck on a winning combination: My daughter went to get a rake. I was able to move the phone onto the rake using a broomstick and lift it up against the side of the storm drain.

Success! And lesson learned: keep your phone in your pocket when walking near storm drains!

Britannica stops the presses

and what that means in the new world order

If you haven’t heard yet, Encyclopedia Britannica is going to stop printing new editions and focus on their online effort.

My mother is working on a column about this and asked us for any memories of our use of the encyclopedias at home.

For what it’s worth, my son Basil will spend time with his Nook looking at different Wikipedia articles for hours. Encyclopedias encourage this sort of free-form exploration and, with the introduction of hyperlinks, it becomes much more natural.

Research is changing dramatically in the networked age and the New York Times offers us a blog post about ways to research online outside of just Wikipedia.

Wikipedia, alone, offers us a semi-truck sized chunk of information. It isn’t everything, but it is a good start.

From my point of view, a lot of the objections from professional writers to online, crowd-sourced information look like they’re simply using a false appeal to authority.

Our use of authority as a crutch — especially when information is so readily available — can cripple us. If you look at the online Encyclopedia Britannica, you’ll see a marked difference in side-by-side comparisons of articles. For example, compare the articles on the Soviet space shuttle Buran in Encyclopedia Britannica with Wikipedia’s.

The amateurs are winning the race so far.

The resistance I see from professional writers and librarians towards Wikipedia seems to revolve around two issues: Authority and Compensation.

Writers who consider themselves experts (journalists and college professors, for example) thinks Wikipedia should appreciate their finely crafted prose and respect their authority. They don’t like it when self-appointed deletionists blow away an article that they spent a lot of time on. They don’t like it when what they write isn’t immediately given credibility because they’ve been published in peer-reviewed journals.

And then there are those who see writing as something that they should be paid for. Yes, you should be able to live off of your work. But the value of your work goes down when someone else is willing to provide an acceptable replacement for just your work just because they enjoy it.

For example, if I’m an amateur ditch digger and dig ditches because I enjoy it, then, as long as I have other means of getting my basic needs taken care of, I could end up taking work away from the professional ditch diggers.

The world is changing, same as it always has.

Join the Bug Squad

This week, I’ve announced the start of a WikiProject for the new Wikimedia Bug Squad. The hope is to find people willing to try make bugs easy to reproduce, fix, and verify the fix.

After some input from Tomasz Finc, I think it would be good to create ways for other important projects (like Tomasz’ Mobile team) have lower barrier of entry for checking, fixing and verifying bugs. I’m looking forward to getting that done.

If you don’t work…

Today, someone quoted Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians in which he says “if any would not work, neither should he eat.

This quote (or at least, this sentiment) is used a lot to support welfare reform in the United States, so I was amused when I found that the Wikipedia article “He who does not work, neither shall he eat” was part of the Socialism Portal and included quotes from the Soviet Constitution:

In the USSR work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

In this presidential political season, the term “Socialist” has been bandied about a bit too easily by the president’s critics. My wife pointed out, though, that it is a good thing Jesus didn’t read Paul’s admonition before feeding the multitude of irresponsible adults with food from a (relatively) responsible child’s knapsack.

Fasting begins, but…

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this week is Cheesefare week and last Sunday was Meatfare Sunday — the last Sunday to eat meat before fasting begins in earnest.

What struck me this year, though, were the first two sentences of the Epistle this Sunday:

Brethren, food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.

Right when I could get bogged down in legalism and judging others, they have to give me this thought: I’m no better off.

They really know me.

Related to this, Fr Stephen writes about the scandal of the Gospel in a way we don’t often think of it:

…the radical forgiveness of everyone for everything…

Why your javascript on Wikipedia will break

This week we did our first roll out of MediaWiki 1.19 on some of the smaller project sites. This staged roll out is a great way to find out how you are using the software in ways we didn’t expect and to give you a warning: “Beware! This thing you are doing is going to break!” Of course, I would prefer to avoid that wherever possible, but there are things I can’t control.

So now, I get to say “Beware!”:


If are using document.write() in some javascript, whether in a gadget, in your common.js, vector.js, monobook.js or even global.js, you need to change it. In the cases that I saw, people had used a code fragment like the following:

function importAnyScript(lang,family,script) {
document.write('<script type="text/javascript" src="' + 'http://'
        + lang + '.'
        + family + '.org/w/index.php?title='
        + script + '&action=raw&ctype=text/javascript"></script>');

This has to be changed to something like the following:

function importAnyScript(lang,family,script) {
mw.loader.load('//' + lang + '.' + family
        + '.org/w/index.php?title='
        + script + '&action=raw&ctype=text/javascript');

Thoughts from The Checklist Manifesto

Just over a month ago, I read The Checklist Manifesto and I’ve been meaning to write up my thoughts on it ever since. Since I’ve waited so long to write this, I’m going to rely on the notes I typed up one night when I was thinking about this book as well as a another related article that I read along the way.

I first heard about this book a couple of years ago from a review I read in Powell’s now discontinued review-a-day. Based only on the reviews I read and my initial experience developing MediaWiki, I started MediaWiki’s Pre-commit checklist. Last month, when Guillaume Paumier told me he had started reading the book after looking over the checklist, I decided I really should read the book myself.

Atul Gawande wrote the book to write about how worked with the WHO to introduce checklists into the surgery room. He talks about the history of checklists, starting with the pre-flight checklists that were developed after a tragic accident involving an experienced test pilot and a new, more complex, B-17 in 1935.

In each of these situations, you’re dealing with complexity and helping a person with superior domain knowledge avoid silly mistakes.

In the surgery room, this involves empowering nurses and anesthesiologists to call the surgeon out if they see something amiss. Everyone agrees, and even gets the patient to agree to what procedure will actually be performed. Getting surgeons to use these checklists wasn’t easy, but when they did, errors were caught.

The past century (even the past 30 years) has seen great strides in what we can do. Our ability has jumped exponentially. At the same time, the amount of complexity that we have to deal with has grown exponentially. We are only starting to develop are ways to manage the complexity but those who have managed to master some of the it are treated like rock stars. It isn’t uncommon to hear someone use the term “rock star” to refer to a really proficient person. Even they can make mistakes, though, and so we have things like code review where all code written is examined and critiqued by others.

I’m no where close to a rock star programmer, so those code reviews would turn up some of the same things every time. As a result, the checklist was born and has been adopted and maintained by the community since then.

But back to the book. The Checklist Manifesto outlines the successful use of checklists to enable communication between the expert and people around him. This is one the real benefit of checklists. Recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs to be open to correction from others that they are working with is one thing that checklists are really good at whether they are used in the cockpit or the surgery room.

Other activities still benefit from cooperation and communication, but as Susan Cain says in her editorial “The Rise of the New Groupthink”, it is dangerous to fetishise cooperation and team work. Her piece ends with this great bit of insight, though:

Before Mr. Wozniak started Apple, he designed calculators at Hewlett-Packard, a job he loved partly because HP made it easy to chat with his colleagues. Every day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., management wheeled in doughnuts and coffee, and people could socialize and swap ideas. What distinguished these interactions was how low-key they were. For Mr. Wozniak, collaboration meant the ability to share a doughnut and a brainwave with his laid-back, poorly dressed colleagues — who minded not a whit when he disappeared into his cubicle to get the real work done.

Collaboration is important, but the surgeon still needs to be the one holding the scalpel.