Yes, I’m still alive and so is my server. Unfortunately (note to self: cue up “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP” by Todd Rundgren in the background) Southwestern Bell seems intent on proving my theory that their technicians’ favorite thing to do when bored is to run around unplugging stuff to see what happens.
What usually ends up happening is my Speedstream DSL modem gets hopelessly confused and I fall off the ‘Net. Although this weekend the problem wasn’t that my modem couldn’t connect, it’s that I couldn’t authenticate. Hello? How could I have changed my password? I was offline!
Now, maybe my Speedstream is a piece of junk. Maybe Southwestern Bell is a piece of junk. Were I in the habit of looking around in toilets, I’m pretty sure I could find a better modem and ISP. Unfortunately, I signed a one-year contract. It expires in October. I look forward to telling them to find another sucker.
Meanwhile, yes, I’ve been on a bit of an unannounced sabbatical. What happened? Well, an editor on a power trip over at Wikipedia turned me off to all writing for a time (Zoe, if you’re reading this, just because you don’t know how to write or research doesn’t mean you need to take it out on the world, OK?) and then I found myself swimming in a video editing project that made me believe anew in curses, because I don’t think I’ve seen so many things go wrong since a weekend about four years ago when Steve DeLassus and I tried to install about 4 different flavors of Linux on his 486SX/20 and turn it into a router. When I finally put that project to rest, my leisure activities tended to drift towards anything that didn’t involve a computer.
So I’ve been tired and just haven’t had the energy or will to write much or deal with questions. It happens sometimes.
I guess the Wikipedia snipe deserves a little clarification. I love the project idea. I love writing history. Unfortunately, the project is tainted by several editors who delete anything they don’t like, often without much reason. An article I contributed to about osteopathy garnered a comment from an overzealous editor saying the article raised more questions than it answered and if those weren’t answered he was going to delete it. Well, duh! A lot of things raise questions. If osteopathy didn’t raise any questions, then allopathy (the medical techniques practiced by your friendly neighborhood M.D.) wouldn’t exist. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, and if you don’t understand that you really have no business associating with anything with the letters “pedia” in its name.
Working along with one or two others, we were able to answer enough questions to save that article. But I was mad. The osteopathy article had minor problems and was on the chopping block, yet the article on Joseph Smith was so biased and incomplete as to be unusable, but was being ignored?
At one point I got into the habit of checking the historical events of the given day and looking for holes in the linked articles. It was fun, I learned a lot, and I think some articles improved for the better. I fondly recall writing about Joseph Pulitzer (as in the Pulitzer Prize). He’s a very misunderstood figure in history. On one hand, he was one of the biggest innovators in journalism, ever. On the other hand, he and William Randolph Hearst pretty much created the Spanish-American War just to sell newspapers, which is despicable. (Hearst falls a bit lower on the slimeball scale though; at least Pulitzer didn’t ever openly advocate the assassination of a president.) I came out of that endeavor with more respect for Pulitzer than I’d had before though.
But one day I found a photograph of Booker T. Washington at the Library of Congress and uploaded it. It got deleted when I neglected to answer a query as to its copyright status after 24 hours. Was the picture copyrighted? Very highly unlikely. Washington died at the turn of the 20th century and any published work prior to 1922 is now in the public domain. The Library of Congress isn’t willing to guarantee that particular picture is in the public domain, but they provide a huge, archival-quality TIFF for download, suitable for commercial printing use. So they must be pretty certain. You think the Library of Congress wants DMCA-related legal problems? William Jefferson Clinton may be above the law, but the Library of Congress isn’t.
Yet it turned into a controversy. A huge controversy. That particular editor wasn’t interested in improving the quality of Wikipedia; she was on an ego trip. Somehow she got gratification from teaching me and the person who re-uploaded my image (and then replaced it with another one) a lesson.
Meanwhile, an unattributed image of Britney Spears remains.
Of course there’s another lesson to be learned: When you’re trying to be an open-content encyclopedia, you need to attract people. You attract people by having lots of articles. The more articles you have, the more people read you, and the more people you have reading you, the more readers you’ll be able to convert into contributors. The Wikipedia would be a much better place with that editor writing articles and not harassing people who are also doing their best to make it a better place.
I do expect to return someday, but when I do, I’ll be writing the biographies of people like Calvin Schiraldi. Few people besides Red Sox fans care about Calvin Schiraldi, but that’s the point. I’ll get left alone if I linger in the obscure and I don’t upload images. I’m less valuable there, but we’ve already seen what happens when I think about value.
But in the shorter term, I need to find a paying gig. I’ve got a couple of leads on that. I can really use the money, but besides that, it’ll be nice to do some writing for magazines again. For me, writing stopped being about money at about age 19.