Thursday, March 27, 2008

Symmetrical pattern antennas

There are four questions on Element 4 that are annoying me: E9D03, E9D19, E9D20, and E9D21. All four of these are of the form "What is the beamwidth of a symmetrical pattern antenna with a gain of x dB as compared to an isotropic radiator?". I've reasonably concluded that I am to assume I am asked to find the apex angle of a solid cone that cuts the unit sphere yielding a solid angle equal to the reciprocal of the gain represented by x dB.

I derived a formula for this: first, convert dB to gain: g = 10x/10; second, find solid angle: Ω = 4π/g; third, find apex angle corresponding to solid angle: θ = 2 cos-1 (1-2Ω). The problem is that this formula does not yield the "correct" answers.

I discovered that this formula is off by a constant factor of 1.05 dB. That is, if I add 1.05 dB to the gain before doing the calculations above, my approach above yields answers that are correct within significant figures. What I don't understand is where the 1.05 dB is coming from.

I'm just going to memorize the answers for the test; there are only four of these questions and it's not all that likely that I'll get even one of them, let alone two, so even if I do flub them it isn't terribly likely affect my chances of passing. But I'm annoyed that reason has gotten me this close, and no closer. Anyone who understands this stuff have an explanation?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Data absorption

I've been studying up for FCC Part 97 elements 2, 3, and 4 the past week, which is part of why I haven't been writing as much here. Anyway, earlier this evening I took the practice tests (over at AA9PW's practice site) and passed all three; while I usually pass the Technician test, the General test has been hit or miss up to now and I've never passed the Extra test before. Another couple weeks of study with mnemosyne and I ought to be able to "enter at Extra".

Friday, March 21, 2008

The cult rolls on

It's interesting how Wikimedia's immune system works. The latest news is that Danny Wool, who of late has done a very interesting job of exposing the Foundation's tender underbelly, has had his access to the "admins-only" IRC channel revoked by James Forrester. James is the same Jimmy-cheerleader who fired me from my role as #wikipedia channel deputy contact back in December without any coherent explanation and despite the fact that nobody (other than White Cat) who actually used the channel was complaining about me. Danny is a widely respected contributor to the English Wikipedia and, of course, an admin. James claims that the removal was "implementing the will of the channel" but really represents a backroom discussion amongst the kool-aid drinkers. He also claimed that Danny "cannot be trusted" because "he leaks info".

The simple fact is that Danny, like myself, has been branded a suppressive person and must be marginalized or eliminated.

I used to like James, but in the past several months he's clearly revealed himself as one of those who have been bamboozled by Jimmy's cultish charm. Sad.

I'd like to remind all Wikipedians that you have the right to fork and the right to leave. It's time to exercise those rights, people. Your community leadership doesn't care about you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Can't they do anything right?

It seems that the Foundation made an error when it filed its annual report back in May 2007 when Jimmy stepped down as chairman and was replaced by Florence. For some reason, the paperwork filed with the Florida Secretary of State listed Jimmy as the Executive Chair (EC), a position which would give him final authority over practically all matters related to Foundation affairs. (He should instead have been deleted entirely; the role of "Emeritus Chair" has no legal significance and would not have been reported to the State of Florida.) Because of this error, Florence is legally unable to act with executive authority for the Foundation; only Jimmy has that power.

I sincerely hope that Mike Godwin will be filing the appropriate paperwork to correct this error post haste. I imagine the Secretary of State will allow for this to be filed retroactively; there's no way this could be anything other than a simple clerical error by Wikimedia's obviously inexperienced personnel. This was, after all, filed after Danny and Brad had left, and before Sue came on, so the Foundation was stumbling along with just Carolyn (her signature appears on the bottom of the document, after all) and a handful of office clerical workers and no legal counsel, so a mistake like this is perfectly understandable.

There is, of course, no way that this could have been a deliberate deception by Jimmy to secretly retain power, as our dear friends at Valleywag suggest...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Codes of conduct

Some of you may recall that, some time back, our dear Deputy Leader Erik Möller attempted a bald-faced character assassination of Danny Wool by alleging that we bloggers should adhere to Tim O'Reilly's proposed "blogger code of conduct". I objected to this at the time, and invited Erik to a discussion about that code. Erik, unsurprisingly did not comment.

Today, Geoff Burling has done me the favor (incidentally, I'm sure) of obviating any need on my part to reply further. He's put forth a most eloquent (pun intended) response to Erik's underhanded call, one far more eloquent that I could ever hope for. Do read it.

(I promise, we will return to the article quality evaluations soon. I am somewhat cheered by a report from the field that people are, at least, editing Valentine's Day, although I haven't looked to see if they're improving it....)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wikipedia quality: Animation in the United States during the silent era

This article is a special request; it is not on the list of frequently viewed articles at all, scoring only 1308 views in all of February. However, it was brought to my attention as an example of a remarkably sad article.

And so it is. The lead is about something at best tangentially related to the nominal topic of the article, but there is no mention of animation in the lead paragraph at all. After this is a bare list of, I suppose, directors or producers and films they directed or produced (can't tell which), which I presume are animated films. There's an image, the purpose of which is unclear.

The only redeeming graces this article has is that it is written in more or less correct English, and it does not appear to contain any unexpected penises.

Grade: F
Viewed: 45 times a day

Thursday, March 13, 2008

While we're talking about traffic...

Sage Ross has a couple of interesting pieces on the traffic stats. Anybody interested in trying to understand what Wikipedia's readers are interested in should at least read them.
I think it's very interesting that biographies get significantly more attention that topical articles.

Wikipedia quality: Wikipedia

The fourth article on the list of most visited pages is Wikipedia's article about itself. Obviously this article is going to be at significant risk to all sorts of biasing problems: Wikipedia's editors will generally hold a highly favorable position about Wikipedia itself, and are likely to be biased against including content in the article that they find unfavorable. As with "wiki", the article likely gets a quite a bit of viewers who don't read it because they're using a Google search for "Wikipedia" to get to the site without actually being interested in the article. The access pattern tends to support this; it is very similar that of "wiki", with the typical weekday/weekend pattern that the main site traffic shows. This particular article was designated a "Featured Article" in May of 2005; that status was revoked in August of 2006. It was designated a "Good Article" in September 2006, and currently retains that status. The article has been semiprotected almost continuously since November of 2006; there have been a few brief periods of unprotected status with almost immediate vandalism resulting in reprotection. Given that this article is both a "landing point" and also an obvious target for those with gripes against Wikipedia, it's not surprising it's a heavy vandalism target.

The article is not bad, but it definitely falls short of good. The writing is solid in most places, although there are spots where the transitions are rough; these are likely places where there have been fights over content. One spot that really caught my eye is the paragraph about the relationship between Wikipedia and Wikia. That paragraph (short as it is) appears to have been parachuted in without much effort to tie it in to the rest of the content. I suspect that there is too much disagreement over what it is permissible to say regarding that relationship for anything more to be said. The "cultural significance" section suffers from dartboard editing to a degree, although not nearly as bad as many other articles I've read. The "related projects" section is confusingly titled; at first it sounds as if the authors are claiming that there is a direct connection between the Domesday Project and Wikipedia. There are various points where facts have been stuffed in that deserve mention, but not where they are. (For example, one should probably not talk about present-day competitors while discussing history, as this article does; that leads to a jumpy, disjointed narrative.)

The friendly bias that one would expect is evident throughout, with the criticism section focusing mainly on criticisms to which Wikipedia has settled responses, and those responses are clearly provided to ensure that the reader doesn't go away thinking that those criticisms are to be worried about. Reading the criticism section reminds me of reading the section in a legal brief in which one is expected to present and demolish your opponent's position. That's a hallmark of persuasive writing, and this is a fine example of that. Unfortunately, this is supposed to be an encyclopedia article, not a persuasive brief. On the other hand, the article doesn't deny Larry Sanger's role in founding Wikipedia, as Wikipedia's articles on Jimmy Wales does. One of the ironies I see with this article is that it includes details at a level that would likely be removed from an article about any other website.

The fact that this article has been virtually continuously protected since sometime in 2006 will certainly tend to create a tendency for bias toward viewpoints favored by registered Wikipedians; in this case that bias would tend to lead to this article being presented in a more favorable light. I didn't look to see what the "vandalism" was that caused protection to be reinstated after each attempt to remove protection—was it really vandalism, or just the introduction of unfavorable content? Someone should look, although perhaps not me.

It's very hard for an entity to write objectively about itself, and Wikipedia here proves that they're no different than anyone else. A good effort, but definitely could be better.

Grade: B+
Viewed: 49 times a minute

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wikipedia quality: Barack Obama

The third article on the list of most visited pages is the first biography in the list: Barack Obama. Obama is, as practically anyone reading this blog probably already knows, running for President of the United States, and is at the moment in a hotly contested primary battle with Hillary Clinton (whose article also appears on the most visited pages list, but quite some ways further down). As a result, it stands to reason that this article would be in flux as the campaign progresses, and be prone to inappropriate editing, both from those who support and those who oppose his candidacy. Wikipedia's Featured Article process identified this article as a "featured article" in 2004, and the article has successfully withstood two attempts to decertify it of that status since. The article has been subject to full protection since March 7th (expiring March 14th); prior to that it had been semiprotected since December 2007, with a long history of various levels of protection before that.

The access pattern displays a seemingly odd cycle of weekly peaks on Tuesday; however, this is simply explained by the fact that most primaries and caucuses in the United States are held on Tuesday. Obviously the traffic to Obama's article peaks with the newscycle. It seems quite evident that people are going to the Internet to find out more about Obama each time he hits the news, and Wikipedia's article on him is the second Google hit for "Barack Obama" (after the campaign's official site) and the third for "Obama" (after two separate listings for the campaign site). The extra high peak on February 5th and 6th obviously corresponds to Super Tuesday.

To the complete credit of whoever has obviously made this article a labor of love, this is a fine article. I've read through it twice now and I can find no significant fault with it. The prose is well-written and engaging, and there is a good sense of flow in the writing. I did not find myself confused or put off by transitions. I do not notice any major omissions, nor do I see anything that has been given significant undue weight. Biographies in general often lend themselves to a chronological approach, and this article follows that approach, but in this case it does the article no harm. There is not a discussion of Obama's "lasting cultural legacy" as one might expect in an encyclopedic biography, but given that Obama is still alive and very much in the thick of current events, it would be premature and speculative to even begin to write such content. My only complaint (and a weak one, at that) about this article is that it may perhaps be too sympathetic to Obama.

I did contact the Obama campaign to ask them if they have been monitoring the article or taken any role in maintaining it; as of the time I write this, they have not responded. However, the Washington Post reported last September that the Obama campaign is aware of the article and has established some policy regarding its staffers editing Wikipedia (without revealing what that policy is). If they do respond, I will be certain to share their comments as appropriate. (Relatedly, this article, on the Obama campaign's use of wikis and other web 2.0 ideas in organizing their campaign, is an interesting read.)

Grade: A
Viewed: 62 times a minute

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wikipedia quality: Valentine's Day

The second article from the list of frequently viewed articles is "Valentine's Day". The reason this article appears in this review is the mere happenstance that the data set I'm using is for the first 23 days of February, 2008; it is obvious from the article's access pattern that the interest in this article is highly seasonal, with half of the views from February falling unsurprisingly on the 14th. The article is not currently protected, although it was semiprotected from January 29th through February 16th.

This article is another confused mass of facts strung together without a lot of rhyme or reason. The introductory paragraphs are repetitive of one another and, almost word for word, of sentences later in the article. The history section starts out with a brief discussion of the name Valentine, and then backtracks to discuss possible classical origins of the celebration. It then jumps forward to Chaucer (actually a relatively readable section). After this we are barraged with Wikipedia's trademark presentation of random tidbits of confusing information that seems as if it might be related, but figuring out how is challenging. After reaching a brief comment about North American elementary schools, we are thrown back once again to the Middle Ages and left there, while we go seeking for meaning in other cultures, where "other" apparently includes both North America and Europe, even though it is pretty clear that the sections before were primarily about European traditions to begin with.

This is another typical Wikipedia article. The history is presented in a very disorganized manner and some of the items shoehorned into the history are not historical at all. Some of the historical items are presented with insufficient context to understand why they are mentioned in the article. In general, the cultural significance of the holiday is not well-explained, nor is the evolution of the manner of observance even in western Europe and North America discussed in any coherent manner. Clear evidence of "dartboard editing" is visible: the article looks very much as if various editors have thrown darts at it with their personal favorite facts about Valentine's Day attached to them, without any real regard as to where those darts stuck to the article. Clearly an article grossly in need of a complete top-to-bottom rewrite. There's also evident problems with systemic bias, as the article focuses almost entirely on Europe and North America, touching on other cultures only briefly and in a very scattershot way.

Grade: D+
Viewed: 1.1 million times on February 14th

Wikipedia quality: Wiki

The first real article on the list of frequently viewed articles is "Wiki". It's likely that this is actually not read as often as it is viewed; rather, its first place ranking is more likely to be an artifact of how people use the Internet. Specifically, I suspect that most people merely land here because they searched for "wiki" to find Wikipedia, and have no actual interest in reading about wikis generally. About 10% of the traffic to my blog comes from searches on "nonbovine", "nonbovine ruminations", or "kelly martin blog"; it's obvious that many people use search engines instead of bookmarks or remembered URLs to find things on the internet. It would be very interesting to see where people go from this article. I bet quite a few go straight-away to search, watchlist, or the main page. Unfortunately, that information isn't tracked by the Foundation as far as I know.

The access pattern is typical weekday, and closely tracks the overall traffic levels. (We'll see other patterns as we look at future articles.) The page has been semiprotected continuously since February of 2007, wth full protection for moves since October 2007.

That most of the viewers of this article are probably not interested in reading it is just as well, as the article is mediocre at best. Poorly organized and lacking any coherent structure, the article is mainly a pastiche of randomly assorted facts about wikis. A significant portion of the article is given over to talking about Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. Another significant portion goes to advising the reader on how to choose a wiki engine (while at the same time failing to mention Microsoft Sharepoint Services, which has provided a wiki engine for quite some time now). Almost nothing is said about the social or broader cultural impact of wikis on Web 2.0, public discourse generally, or the broadening role of wikis in closed communities. It is difficult to tell from the article why this subject is of sufficient cultural interest to merit an encyclopedia article. The authorship evinces clear inclusionary biases toward free software and Wikimedia-related projects. Finally, the writing is unengaging, choppy, and disconnected.

On the plus side, there doesn't appear to be any grossly incorrect information, although I suspect much of the discussion of non-Wikimedia projects is out of date. The article being semiprotected makes it harder for casual editors to update the article, which does tend to lead to information drift; this article gets an unusual drift pattern because the information about Wikimedia projects is more likely to be updated reliably than that about non-Wikimedia projects. As a result, semiprotection probably contributes to the bias toward Wikimedia projects.

This is a pretty typical Wikipedia article, to be honest. I'm torn between giving it a D+ and a C-, but I will be charitable and give it the higher score.

Grade: C-
Viewed: 134 times per minute

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wikipedia's quality

So, people are constantly finding new and interesting ways to evaluate Wikipedia's quality. These often rely on random pagewalks, which is a really poor way to choose articles for evaluation. Finally, though, we have a good basis for choosing articles for evaluation: some dude named Henrik has, presumably in cooperation with someone in the Wikimedia developers' team, come up with stats on the most frequently viewed articles. This is by far the best way to choose articles for evaluation for quality: the articles that people actually do look at will, better than anything else, evaluate how well Wikipedia's readerships is being served by Wikipedia content.

Based on a sample window of 23 days in February 2008, there were 9956 distinct page names (not all of which correspond to articles) that were viewed at least once per minute on average over that timeframe. I don't have time to evaluate them all, but I will be looking at some of the top rated ones and making some comments in the near future. Just glancing down the list indicates that politics, popular culture, and sex dominate the topics. I admit being perplexed at the prominence of "canine reproduction", however. (Andrew Gray has some good comments on his first impressions of the top 9956 in his LiveJournal; I shall not repeat them here.)

I actually expect Wikipedia will acquit itself better here than in many of the other evaluatory metrics people use. These high-traffic articles tend to be watched closely and many of them are semiprotected (and in fact my early observation of this led me to wonder what percentage of pageviews are of protected content, a statistic I would love to see collected, or at least estimated). Their content is likely to be at least decent, if not actually good. It'll be interesting to see to what degree this is the case, and how far down one has to get before one gets to a really bad article.

Anyway. Look for this to be the focus of at least the next several posts. Hopefully this will be a pleasant change from the less pleasant discussions of the past few days.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The trend continues

For all of you who think that you're the Last Defender of the Wiki:



Once again, courtesy of garfield minus garfield.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Don't tell me what to do

Another Wikipedian meme in the comics:



(Again, from garfield minus garfield.)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

In case you weren't certain that Wikimedia is a cult...

The following little bits of log (from a channel best left unnamed):

<bastique> and I'm *still* not going to character assassinate him.
<bastique> He's an evil human being

Bastique is, of course, Cary Bass, Wikimedia's "volunteer coordinator" (a.k.a. the guy they pay to chat online). "Him" and "He" in the above refer to Danny.

I'm at a loss as to what "evil human being" is other than character assassination. Maybe Cary will stop in to explain.

Update: Some people have complained about a "lack of context". Fine, here's some more context:

<bastique> ********: I was there when Danny left
<bastique> I know what happened
<bastique> and I'm *still* not going to character assassinate him.
<bastique> I dont' believe in that shit

<bastique> ********: I had good wishes for it, until the last week
<bastique> I actually wished well for Danny
<bastique> i'm sorry I did
<bastique> He's an evil human being

I can't say that the context really helps Cary's case much here.... (Additional clarification: "it" above refers to Veropedia, Danny's competing encyclopedia project.)

Yet another update: Cary is now claiming that I "omitted" the portion of the log in which he "apologizes" to Danny for what he said above. However, nobody I know can find that log. Cary, stop lying. What you said was bad enough. Trying to deny having said it, or claiming that it doesn't count because you yelled "backsies", is just stupid. You are responsible for what you say.

An answer for Ben Yates

Ben Yates, on his blog, asks Danny two questions. I considered answering them in a comment on his blog, but decided instead to answer them here. I know I'm not Danny, but his questions are good ones for anyone engaged in the process of criticizing Wikipedia, and so I will comment nonetheless.

Ben's first question is "What's your ultimate goal?" My ultimate goal in this process is to reclaim Wikipedia from the rabble that has subverted it from its original mission, or, if that is not possible, to marginalize Wikipedia so that a competing project organized along different lines can take its place. I think if Wikipedia is to be reclaimed, a major step in that process will involve the removal of Jimmy Wales from any special role in the project. His failures of leadership are a large part of how Wikipedia got to the sad state it is in today, and his removal is a necessary step in jettisoning the failed framework that is creating so much trouble. This is largely orthogonal to his role in the Wikimedia Foundation. I think Jimmy should be removed from his relationship there as well, but as I also recommend that the Wikipedia community divorce itself from the Wikimedia Foundation and find new hosting digs elsewhere, what WMF does is of less significance. If Wikipedia withdraws from the WMF, the WMF will become a largely meaningless shell, and will rapidly wither and die. (It may well do so anyway; the impact on fundraising of the events of the past week are likely to be substantial.)

Jimmy Wales has not been the banner-carrier for Wikipedia for some time, and has never been an appropriate banner-carrier for the project, not even from the moment of the project's inception. Jimmy's purpose in founding Wikipedia was to make money for Jimmy. When it became obvious to Jimmy that he would not be able to make money from it directly (see also the unpleasantness regarding Enciclopedia Libre, which is, sadly, poorly documented anywhere that I am aware of), he first tried to siphon money off the Foundation sight unseen (leading to the incidents Danny reports) and, that failing him, founded Wikia, moving his aspirations of wealth to that vehicle. Jimmy has been a banner-carrier for Wikia ever since; he supports Wikipedia only insofar as doing so will increase the chances of Wikia making him rich (which it has failed to do and shows no signs of doing in the future) or will gain him access to the celebrity lifestyle he so obviously craves. Jimmy has never been committed to Wikipedia for any altruistic purpose, the way so many of us in the community are, but purely out of venal motives, and is therefore a terrible banner-carrier for the cause. Removing him will certainly be painful because it will take the recognition of these simple facts by a large enough faction of the community to overwhelm the cult of personality that has sprung up around him. Examples of this "cult" can be seen in even a brief examination of recent comments on the Wikien-L mailing list, which exhibits several recent instances of evident thoughtstopping behavior.

Ben's second question was "How do you feel about Wikipedia?" I think you can get some sense of how I feel about Wikipedia from the foregoing, but I'll be more explicit. I support the notion of an encyclopedia written by a broad community of people from all walks of life; that is, I strongly support the broader mission that Wikipedia seeks to complete. However, I think Wikipedia, the project, has made poor decisions in the past that now greatly hamper, and may well preclude, its attempts to fulfill that mission. I firmly believe that Wikipedia is too open and allows too many people to participate in the project with insufficient organizational structure and direction, leading to a whole host of ills. There is a fine line between being "too open" and "too closed"; too closed and you don't get critical mass and too open and you get overrun. It may be that there is no "happy medium" on this question and that you have to change your degree of openness over time to ensure the right mix of experience and freshness. Wikipedia has, however, adopted radical openness as a now-immutable core principle, and I think they are doomed for that. Radical change is needed to save Wikipedia; if radical change is not possible then Wikipedia needs to be swept to the side and a new project founded to grow from the ashes of what was Wikipedia, taking from Wikipedia what does work and reinventing what did not.

I think it's widely understood that there are many things wrong with Wikipedia. I would welcome a broader discussion of how to reinvent Wikipedia so as to be better, and once that discussion is complete, another discussion on how to get from where we are to that place. And I think before we can do either, we need to get past the petty politics that dominates the Wikipedia community today. And doing that entails, amongst other things, removing those from the community, and the discussion, whose commitment is not toward the encyclopedia project. And that, sadly, includes Jimmy Wales, as I have explained above.

I hope this answers your questions, Ben. Even if you didn't ask them of me.

Why you should not let Redmond proofread your writing

Geoff Pullum, over at the Language Log, tells us why you should not let Microsoft's grammar checker proofread your writing: "An egg out of which it developed must logically have preceded every chicken" is apparently acceptable English prose, but "Every chicken must logically have been preceded by an egg out of which it developed" is not.

Lord spare us.

If you use Word, please turn off the grammar checker. Your readers will thank you.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Enough with the warrior-poet

Stephen, you've been "Warrior-Poet" since, what, November? October? Dude, it's time for something new.

Mortgage insanity

Speaking as we have been about mortgages, I just ran across this article (at the Consumerist) about "pay-option" mortgages, an especially insane form of mortgage where you have the option to capitalize payments instead of paying them. These are illegal in most states, but not everywhere, and apparently Countrywide issued quite a lot of them.

A lot of wind has passed about the mortgage crisis, and about people who are stuck in bad option ARM or interest-only loans. This is commonly presented as a "crisis for homeowners", with at least one presidential candidate calling for an "interest rate freeze" (which I am interpreting as a prohibition on lenders exercising the ARM option). One of the widely ignored aspects of this, however, is that most of these high-risk mortgages are on property that is not owner-occupied. For example, there has been a lot of talk about high default rates in Florida, but little notice is taken of the fact that two-thirds of the defaults are on property that is not occupied by the owner: that is to say, property which is being held by a landlord as a speculative investment.

Let me go on record as saying that I am adamantly opposed to any form of mortgage relief that acts to the benefit of real estate speculators. Yes, fine, provide foreclosure protection for those homeowners living in owner-occupied housing with a bad mortgage. A lot of them were suckered into either buying houses they could not afford (but should have been able to except for ridiculously inflated real property values), or into accepting mortgages they could not afford by unscrupulous dealers (and in some cases through outright fraud). But I have little sympathy for people who buy residential property, mortgage it to the hilt with an interest-only or ARM loan, and hire a scumbag property management company to manage it for them, all with the main intent being to cash in on the increase in property value in a few years (the rental income on such properties being usually just barely enough to cover the mortgage interest, taxes, and management fees). These people are real estate speculators. They played the game, and they lost. There is absolutely no reason for the government to bail them out. Their tenants will not be immediately displaced by a foreclosure as leases generally survive changes in ownership of the leased property (while most banks will attempt to break leases if they can, and usually do, we could forbid banks from doing so and I would support such a measure if necessary), so nobody is being "forced from their homes" anyway.

It bothers me that we're seeing such widespread calls for sympathy for people who basically took a calculated business risk and got burned by it. If there's to be any bailout for the owners of non-owner-occupied homes, it has to be predicated on a finding that doing so is necessary to preserve the housing industry and/or the economy. And I suspect there are better ways to deal with it. Quite frankly a large part of the run-up of the housing bubble has been caused by real estate speculators; they should be sharing in the pain, not getting a pat on the back from the government.

Community project

Another cartoonist who understands Wikipedia's problems:



Unlike Wikipedia, Ted has a solution.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Für Erik

Ok, I admit that my post about Jimmy's financial status wasn't terribly captivating. I didn't do a good job of making my point, and it was boring and dry. Finance often is. (The fact remains that Jimmy is almost certainly lying about his financial status, although you can conclude that without any extrinsic information simply because he has told conflicting stories to different people.)

But, as to your "blogger's code of conduct": I'll contemplate adopting it when Wikipedia does the same. Unfortunately, Wikipedia's community does a poor job of living up to this code of conduct. For that matter, you personally do a poor job of it. Goose, gander, you know the drill.

I'll be glad to detail how Wikipedia, and you, fail to live up to it. And if you think I fail to live up to it, I'll be glad to explain either how you're wrong, or how I simply disagree with the proposed code of conduct.

The floor is yours.

Comcast shaking down Google?

So, tonight I started having difficulty getting onto some but not all websites. This happens sometimes, for any of a number of reasons. So I went through my usual troubleshooting.

First, I restarted the bind9 server that runs on my gateway box and provides DNS for our home network. I don't rely on Comcast's DNS, instead using DNS the way it was intended to be used. The server has been known to get fubared, and restarting it is trivial. Anyway, didn't help.

Next, I rebooted my laptop. My laptop runs Windows XP, which is certainly not the world's stablest platform, so restarting might help. But not this time.

So my next consideration is Comcast, who has been known of late to do various high-level traffic mucking. I fire up my Verizon NationalAccess card, and the sites I wasn't able to get to do become available. But this isn't the end of the story.

Comparing DNS from my laptop (on Verizon) and one of my Linux boxes (using Comcast) show identical resolution, and pings to both go through. So, as a test, I use lynx on the Linux box to connect to www.google.com, one of the sites that my laptop couldn't get to. Voila, a connection occurs. Further experimentation shows that I can access www.google.com from my laptop even when connected using Comcast, but only if I use a browser other than Firefox. Sitemeter, a site that I use for analytics on my blog, is showing the same behavior (site loads in IE, but not in Firefox). Both sites load in Firefox if I use Verizon.

Other sites, such as Bloglines, load no matter how I connect to them. I had to post this via Verizon because blogger.com is also affected by whatever this is.

I cannot fathom why Comcast would crap on traffic to Google.com and Sitemeter.com, but not Bloglines.com, but only when using Firefox. I know that Comcast likes to send random RST packets to people, but this combination of factors simply makes no sense to me.

On further research, I have determined that I am getting random RST packets on connections to properties owned by Google. I don't get them from the IE session because I don't have a Google cookie in my IE session, and so the load of www.google.com is too short for Comcast's GoogleWhacker to reset the session. I am signed in in Firefox, and so the complex series of transactions that occurs when I load www.google.com in Firefox gets whacked by a pair of TCP resets.

Sadly, I don't have much of a choice but to use Comcast.

Update: Shortly after I posted this, the situation resolved itself. So it could have been a "technical error", but if so, it's one caused by Comcast's insistence on its right to forge RST packets into TCP sessions it doesn't like. This is just another reason why we need net neutrality.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Whom do you trust?

Those of you who have been following the Jimmy Wales saga are no doubt aware that Danny Wool, formerly Jimmy's assistant, has suggested that Jimmy tried to use Wikimedia as a "piggybank" to fund his preferred lifestyle. This is a very serious accusation—far more serious than anything relating to Rachel Marsden—and one that, if even remotely true, would be grounds at the very least for Jimmy's expulsion from the projects, and even possibly a visit from the Florida Attorney General.

Danny's comments have garnered a huge amount of attention from all over the place. There's two responses that I found especially interesting. On one hand, we have WMF Executive Director Sue Gardner claiming that "Jimmy has never used Wikimedia money to subsidize his personal expenditures."

And on on the other, we have WMF Chair Florence Devouard (in yet another email on yet another Wikimedia internal list; boy howdy do they have a lot of those): "It may have been a mistake Jimbo, but you originally actually asked the Foundation to pay for that dinner. I find tiring to see how you are constantly trying to rewrite the past. Get a grip ! You asked the Foundation. Michael told you "no". Then you asked Wikia. And for whatever reason (I do not know), you ended up paying yourself." (Emphasis is mine; the dinner in question is, I am pretty certain, the bill with the $650 wine tab that Danny mentions in his post.)

So, do you believe Sue, or Florence?

I suppose you can believe both: Jimmy tried to get WMF to pay for his dinner, but Michael said no, and so they didn't. But that's just one incident. What possible reason do I have to believe Sue when she says that Jimmy has never charged anything to Wikimedia, when she wasn't there and is necessarily going on information fed to her by someone else? Who could that someone else possibly be but Jimbo? It wasn't Danny. It wasn't Florence. I doubt very much that it's Michael. And there's nobody else who was there.

Jimmy's house

One of the oft-stated "facts" about Jimmy Wales is that he made himself financially secure as an options trader. I'm a little curious about this because I don't think it's true.

So I did some digging. Jimmy sold his house last December for $230,000; he had bought it back in 2002 for $180,000 so that's a pretty decent capital gain. We'll get to that in a bit.

The more interesting thing is that when he bought it, he took out a 30 year fixed note for $171,000. Now, I'd expect even someone with substantial wealth to take out a mortgage. But that's a note for 95% of value—the maximum that most lenders will write a plain 30-year fixed note for. Anything less and you end up in creative financing territory. Most lenders require private mortgage insurance on notes for more than 80% of value, and the conventional financial wisdom is to avoid PMI if you can. Either Jimmy has some special pull with IndyMac Bank (thereby avoiding PMI), didn't care about paying PMI, or simply didn't have $27,000 in additional cash to make a 20% down payment.

Here's where it gets more interesting. In 2006, Jimmy took out a $120,000 home equity line of credit against his house. Now, at this point, if he's been paying a 30 year fixed mortgage at the normal amortization rate, he's built between $7000 and $10,000 in additional equity, on top of the $9000 he put down. So that home equity line of credit is relying on an increase in value of the house of about $100,000 since he bought it in 2002. This is within the realms of possibility, but what it tells me is that he took the maximum he could when he drew this line of credit. The house subsequently sold for $230,000, which is less than the total indebtedness on the two mortgages if the line of credit were fully extended, but of course Jimmy might not have used the entire line of credit or may have paid it down more than the minimum required. Both banks released their liens so it appears that Jimmy either did not utilize the entire $120,000, or came up with the $50,000 he needed to satisfy the difference from somewhere else. Quite frankly, I don't expect someone who is "comfortably wealthy" to have his house mortgaged to the hilt; that's just not fiscally prudent.

Now, there's the issue of where he and his (soon-to-be-ex) wife are living. There's no record of Jimmy or Christine recording a deed in Pinellas County. That means one of several things: they no longer live in Pinellas County; they're leasing; or they're living in a house that is registered in the name of some other entity (admittedly, I didn't check to see if there's a deed registered in Kira's name). In any case, as I understand tax law that means that Jimmy and Christine cannot roll that capital gain into the basis of their new house (since there is no new house) and instead have to pay capital gains tax. That's at least $50,000 and could be more if they've carried forward capital gains from prior sales; the tax on $50,000 would be nearly $20,000. (Update: It seems I missed an exemption for cap gains that would protect them from having to pay tax. I'm a network administrator, not a tax accountant.) I hope they have that, especially after going $50,000 under water on the sale of their home. I know Jimmy makes a bunch of money every time he speaks, but from the sounds of it he spends it at least as fast as he makes it.

My point is that Jimmy's finances, or at least this bit of the picture, is not entirely consistent, in my mind at least, with Jimmy's portrayed image of "comfortably wealthy former option trader". None of the above proves that he's lying, but it certainly gives me pause. If he's lying about this, one has to wonder what other statements in his supposedly "neutral" biography on Wikipedia are also lies. Oh well. The divorce papers ought to make for a clearer image of this; if nothing else there will be the issue of child support which generally requires evaluating assets and income; Florida law prohibits putting these on the web so someone is going to actually have to go to the courthouse and obtain the actual file to find out what's up here. Maybe they'll turn up on the Smoking Gun....

Sunday, March 02, 2008

If only...

If only more Wikipedians would follow Jon's lead...



(Kudos to Cyde for introducing me to garfield minus garfield.)