Saturday 18 May 2013

Writing for Wikipedia: an introductory workshop

An event by John Cummings - our Wikimedian in Residence at the Natural History Museum and Science Museum.

Originally posted at Physics and Maths info @ Imperial College London Library: Writing for Wikipedia: an introductory workshop

This 90 minute workshop, led by John Cummings (Wikimedian in Residence at the Natural History Museum and Science Museum) and other Wikimedia trainers will involve a short general introduction to the Wikipedia projects and a discussion of how they are created and developed, followed by a more in-depth practical session involving learning the basics of editing and engaging with other contributors.
During the session, Dr Steve Cook (Senior Teaching Fellow, Biology, Imperial College London) will talk about how he uses Wikipedia with undergraduate students and Professor Henry Rzepa (Professor of Computational Chemistry, Imperial College London) will also talk about his work with Wikipedia.
This workshop is aimed at academic staff, researchers, postdocs, teaching fellows, learning technologists and postgraduate research students.
Thursday 6 June 2013
10.00am – 11.30am
Central Library, South Kensington campus, Training Room 1
To book:
If you would like to attend please email Andrew Day to book your place. Joining instructions will be sent on booking.
For further information email Jenny Evans.

Silicon Snake Oil? Hindsight is always 20-20

Clifford Stoll is perhaps best known for tracking down Markus Hess - a German blach-hat computer hacker recruited by the KGB to provide US military secrets to the soviets. This story is told is Stoll's own book The Cuckoo's Egg, Katie Hafner and John Markoff's Cyberpunk as well as the Nova episode embedded below.

Recently I have started to read Stoll's second book Silicon Snake Oil (1995) - slated, at least by the publisher, as "The first book to question the inflated claims - and hidden costs - of the Internet."

Strong words indeed. But nearly 20 years on - how do Stoll's often charmingly  dystopian predictions hold up? Not very well.

" Well, I don't believe that phone books, newspapers, magazines, or corner video stores will disappear as computer networks spread. Nor do I think that my telephone will merge with my computer, to become some sort of information appliance."
 A pretty major prediction on page 11 and one that has clearly not stood the test of time: California stops automatic phone book delivery, newspapers struggle to find sustainable financial models, Blockbuster moves towards a more retail than rental model. I won't provide a link to the telephone/computer hybrid inofmation appliance - you're possibly reading this on it.
"Whether yo-yos, books, records or insurance, there are good reasons why business doesn't work over the Internet."
Of course this was written in a world before Amazon, eBay, comparethemarket and Yoyo Shop.

Stoll's is an astronomer, so perhaps his ideas on scientific research turned out to be closer to the mark?
"Researchers naturally save their best work to publish in jounrals and books, realizing that the review process ensures that better papers make into print. They're unlikely to post good, original stuff to the network first; somebody might swipe their material."
Well - concerns over data swiping are still around - but we also publish material online before publication using preprint servers such as ArXiv and are moving, albeit slowly and uncertainly, towards online, open, peer review.

Thankfully Stoll sees the funny side of all of this:
"Of my many mistakes, flubs, and howlers, few have been as public as my 1995 howler.

Wrong? Yep.
At the time, I was trying to speak against the tide of futuristic commentary on how The Internet Will Solve Our Problems.

Gives me pause. Most of my screwups have had limited publicity: Forgetting my lines in my 4th grade play. Misidentifying a Gilbert and Sullivan song while suddenly drafted to fill in as announcer on a classical radio station. Wasting a week hunting for planets interior to Mercury's orbit using an infrared system with a noise level so high that it couldn't possibly detect 'em. Heck - trying to dry my sneakers in a microwave oven (a quarter century later, there's still a smudge on the kitchen ceiling)

And, as I've laughed at others' foibles, I think back to some of my own cringeworthy contributions.

Now, whenever I think I know what's happening, I temper my thoughts: Might be wrong, Cliff...

Warm cheers to all,
-Cliff Stoll on a rainy Friday afternoon in Oakland"
Here's some newer, but just as enthusiasm rich, Stoll. If you want to predict the future: ask an experienced kindergarten teacher:

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival: The Preparations

Several people (TetZoo, NHM) have already blogged about the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival and how great it is. Instead of doing it again here are some things that had been occurring before and during but out of the public eye, mainly relating to the work of the official friends of the Fossil Festival: The Buckland Club.

For the second year running the Festival has had WiFi internet available in the marquee and around the Marine Theatre and the Cobb Centre. Last year we were fortunate to have Pao and Victor from the Quick Mesh Project in Barcelona to help. This time it was just me and Sam Bennet. The first full day of our holiday was spent wiring up the nodes to test them in the office of the Lyme Regis Development Trust, the second was spent with the ever helpful Chris (who had also taken a day off work) around the town - installing the nodes on buildings and inside the marquee and running ethernet cables through some troublesome runs. By lunchtime on day 2 everything was good to go.

Satellite Link
Eddie and Tony (media technicians at the NHM) setup a satellite link on the Cobb to beam back live video to the Nature Live events in the Attenborough Studio. This involved very quickly setting up some kit and a far greater amount of time hunting for the satellite with the satellite dish.

In this process there was a rather unfortunate exchange between Eddie and a seagull:

The Town Prepares
The event is celebrated by many places throughout the town. When in Lyme Regis we are all the adopted family of Rikey and Paddy. Rikey runs the famous Alice's Bear Shop, Paddy runs the infamous Fossil Workshop in its basement. For the festival weekend Paddy was allowed to have the window display.

Long lost potential relatives
The Festival is also a great time to meet friends old and new. After four years of nagging Richard Edmunds (Jurrasic Coast team / my Jurassic Dad) and I finally posed for a photograph together.

The Buckland Club contingent this year was a relatively small 14 requiring three properties in Lyme Regis organised by the legendary Jackie Skipper (plus the occassional sofa-surfer from Charmouth). The numbers were swollen on the Saturday and Sunday nights as we threw first a party then a BBQ for ourselves and a rather large number of people from the NHM and others associated with the Festival. We had our favourite party house named (at least by us) Cauli and Flowers after the fruit and vegetable shop that used to be below. No two rooms of the house are on the same level - making it resemble an Escher artwork.

The Cyclists
As if turning up to spend your holiday teaching people wasn't enough dedication Aoife and Sally decided to cycle to Lyme Regis from London (still time for a charitable donation here). There's more about their trip on Twitter at #london2lyme.