Keeping MediaWiki sites up to date

I just completed a survey of about 2100 wiki’s running MediaWiki. The initial list came from S23-Wiki’s WikiStats, but I plan to add to it. Google, for instance, says there are “About 3,070 results” for the search string “inurl:Special:Version mediawiki "Magnus Manske, Brion Vibber"“.

My purpose in doing this is to find out what version of MediaWiki these sites are running. To do that, the easiest thing is to use the API. This way, you can just ask a site to tell you about itself and get back useful information.

Of course, sometimes the version of MediaWiki installed is too old (before 1.8) or has the api disabled and, in these cases, I had to get a bit more creative.

Usually, I could find the information on the Special:Version page.

And still, there were about 200 wikis that I tried to check that were no longer active, had database problems or some other issue.

Of those that I did get a version from, 692 (36%) were running a version marked “1.20wmf1” indicating they are run by Wikimedia; 51 (2.7%) were running a version older than 1.10; 1043 (54%) were running a version older than 1.17.3 or 1.18.2 both released over a month ago on March 22 (a more recent version of each was released last week).

I would be tempted to think that those 51 wikis running an especially old version of MediaWiki were just unmaintained or abandoned. A spot check, though, seems to show that this isn’t the case.

For example, I found one that was running a seven year old(!) version of MediaWiki on an Ubuntu server whose packages had been updated in the past month and whose wiki pages had been modified in the past couple of days. According to some traffic and search ranking sites, it gets thousands of visitors a day.

When a site owner is good about keeping his packages up-to-date and his pages spam-free (as this one was), it doesn’t seem right to not also provide a way to keep his MediaWiki site up-to-date. But even today, the instructions for installing MediaWiki on Ubuntu, push the user pretty hard to use the tarball installation instead of the Ubuntu packages.

We’ve got to do better.

Feeling Smarter

[photocommons file='”Citation_needed”.jpg’ width=”300″]For the first time ever, I replaced a citation needed template in Wikipedia with an actual citation. And, even better, I am pretty sure it is gonna stick.

The fact template was on the Absolute hot article which I came across after while reading The Hour of Our Delight.

This book as turned into a very readable introduction to particle physics for me. In fact, I was reading some parts of it to my son and he asked me some questions (of course) that I couldn’t really answer. “To Wikipedia!” was the natural solution. And I saw that a citation was needed for something I had just read.

Even better, I learned that there is a direct link between Quantum gravity (which was in the book’s quote) and the theory of everything.

So, yeah, I’m recommending The Hour of Our Delight (or in the original French as L’heure de s’enivrer). You should find it and read it if you have any interest in this sort of thing. I’ll probably write a post later about the chapter titled “An Anthropic Principle”.

Cycling again

[photocommons file=”A wise decision – geograph.org.uk – 1802231.jpg” width=”300″]Today, 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

[photocommons file=”Storm Drain.JPG” width=”300″]Today, 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!”:

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');
}