Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, Life, Student Life

Wikipedia – A Good Story of the 2010's Decade

Every time I see a new bird I look it up and learn all about it, its scientific name and which other birds its related to. Just recently Steve in Aussie sent me his picture of a ‘Bush Stone Curlew’ nesting on an island in a parking lot.

That immediately reminded me of our water dikkops – I looked it up and ‘strues Bob’ they’re cousins – his is Burhinus grallarius and ours is Burhinus vermiculatus; Gondwanaland cousins.

– Steve’s Bush Stone Curlew – our Water Thick-knees – both Burhinus –

When I see historical facts I’ve never heard of I look it up and learn something new every day.

Who is Irvin S Cobb? I didn’t know; now I like him; he wrote these instructions for his funeral:

Above all I want no long faces and no show of grief at the burying ground. Kindly observe the final wishes of the undersigned and avoid reading the so-called Christian burial service which, in view of the language employed in it, I regard as one of the most cruel and paganish things inherited by our forebears from our remote pagan ancestors. . . . . perhaps the current pastor would consent to read the 23rd Psalm, my mother’s favorite passage in the Scriptures . . . it contains no charnel words, no morbid mouthings about corruption and decay and, being mercifully without creed or dogma, carries no threat of eternal hell-fire for those parties we do not like, no direct promise of a heaven which, if one may judge by the people who are surest of going there, must be a powerfully dull place, populated to a considerable and uncomfortable degree by prigs, time-servers and unpleasantly aggressive individuals. Hell may have a worse climate but undoubtedly the company is sprightlier. The Catholics, with their genius for stage-management, handle this detail better. The officiating clergyman speaks in Latin and the parishioners, being unacquainted with that language are impressed by the majesty of the rolling, sonorous periods without being shocked by distressing allusions and harrowing references.

How are Canadian and Eurasian beavers different – they look identical and Canadian beavers have even been introduced into Europe? One has 40 chromosomes, one has 48. Completely different animals! They just look and behave (almost) identically!

Obviously, I did all this on Wikipedia.

I was therefore thrilled to see has hailed Wikipedia as one of its Heroes of the 2010’s decade. I don’t like the overuse of the word ‘hero’ – I’m being so restrained here – but motherjones is American, so the ubiquitous American concept of hero – ‘anyone I like,’ it seems – is probably not amiss here.

Here’s motherjones:

This was the decade we learned to hate the internet, to decry its impact on our brains and society and to detest the amoral organizations that dominate it. Facebook steals our data and abets Trump’s lies. Amazon is a brick-and-mortar–crushing behemoth, like the Death Star but successful. Instagram is for narcissists. Reddit is for racists and incels. Twitter verifies Nazis.

Amid this horror show, there is Wikipedia, criminally under-appreciated, a nonprofit compendium of human knowledge maintained by everyone. There is no more useful website. It is browsable and rewards curiosity without stealing your preferences and selling them to marketers. It is relaxing to read. 

It’s wrong sometimes, sure. But so are you, so am I, and so are all your other sources – and most of them, there’s nothing you can do about it. On wikipedia, you can. Its transparency is a big plus. Wikipedia critics often seem to think ‘encyclopedias’ are better – you know, ‘encyclopedia brittanica’ anyone? Hell, those books are out of date long before they’re printed. That really is (early) last century! Many of its critics say you have to go to the academic source and read the latest research. Well, many of the custodians of those places are knowledge-hoggers, wanting to protect ’eminence’ rather than sharing knowledge. Well, phansi with them, I say. Phansi!

If you actually know something is wrong on Wikipedia, become an editor (full disclosure, I’m one – a very inactive one) and fix the info – don’t withhold, share!

With wikipedia you can – indeed you should always – check sources. Use the footnotes. Some pages need more information? You can add some. Governments, political figures, institutions – especially dodgy ones – or lackeys and fans of those politicians, ‘celebrities,’ or institutions may manipulate the info on themselves. Liars will always lie. But because it’s transparent, they usually get caught. Wikipedia has rules against “conflict-of-interest editing,” which you can read about at “Conflict-of-interest editing on Wikipedia.”

Founded in 2001, Wikipedia has spent the 2010s getting better and bigger. It now has over 377 million pages of info. It is a hero of the 2010s, because while the internet mostly got worse, it kept getting better, reminding us that the web can be a good thing, a place where we have instant access to endless information, a true project of the commons at a political moment when the very idea of the mutual good is under assault.

And it is free in a good way, not “free” like facebook and google which end up OWNING YOU.

(So I just sent Wikipedia my annual donation via paypal)


‘strues Bob’ – wragtig; true as Bob; verily

phansi! – down! as in ‘Down With . . ‘


Most of What You Read on the Internet is Written by Insane People

Interesting observation by reddit user DinoInNameOnly – a computer science student.

So I wrote: Read this interesting observation – NB: By ‘insane’ this writer means ‘NOT NORMAL’ – and I must agree with him – AND I think that’s fine! (my comments in bold)

97-99% of users rarely contribute to the discussion, they just passively consume the content generated by the other 1-3%. This is a pretty consistent trend in Internet communities and is known as the [1% rule]

Take wikipedia:

More than 99% of users are lurkers. Or just users. Only 68,000 people are active contributors, which is 0.2% of the 32 million unique visitors wikipedia has in the U.S. alone.

As an occasional contributor to wikipedia I say that’s OK, those people are adding their bit. If they’re adding bias (and of course they are) that’s what the links are for, plus any additional research you want to do. To diss wikipedia is wrong; It’s a fantastically useful site; And, of course, to totally accept every wikipedia entry as the sum of knowledge is also wrong. Do your homework; Check the links; They are the ‘evidence’ you base your decision on. They will vary. They will contradict each other. Read  more than one. Decide.

One of Wikipedia’s power users, Justin Knapp, had been submitting an average of 385 edits per day since signing up in 2005. Assuming he doesn’t sleep or eat or do anything else, that’s still one edit every four minutes. He hasn’t slowed down either; he hit his one millionth edit after seven years of editing and is nearing his two millionth now at 13 years. This man has been editing a Wikipedia article every four minutes for 13 years. He is ‘insane,’ and he has had a huge impact on what you and I read every day when we need more information about literally anything. My theory: He’s a bright, focused savant / prodigy / OCD nerd. And I like that!

Amazon book reviews:

One book reviewer, Grady Harp, has written 20 800 reviews since 2011. That’s just under 3,000 reviews per year, which comes out to around eight per day. This man has written an average of eight book reviews on Amazon per day every day for seven years. I thought it might be some bot account writing fake reviews in exchange for money, but if it is then it’s a really good bot because Grady Harp is a real person whose job matches that account’s description. And my skimming of some reviews looked like they were all relevant to the book, and he has the “verified purchase” tag on all of them, which also means he’s probably actually reading them.

The only explanation for this behavior is that he is ‘insane.’ I mean, ‘normal’ people don’t do that. We read maybe twenty books a year, tops, and we probably don’t write reviews on Amazon for all of them.

So – 
If you read reviews on book sites like Amazon, you’re mostly reading reviews written by people like Grady Harp;
If you read Wikipedia, you’re mostly reading articles written by people like Justin Knapp.
If you consume any content on the Internet, you’re mostly consuming content created by people who for some reason spend most of their time and energy creating content on the Internet. And those people clearly differ from the general population in important ways.

– as always, xkcd nails it –

DinoInNameOnly muses, ‘I don’t really know what to do with this observation except to note that it seems like it’s worth keeping in mind when using the Internet.’ He emphasises again that his use of the word ‘insane’ is intended as tongue-in-cheek and ‘I did not mean to imply that any of them literally have diagnosable mental illnesses. (Me: I think ‘obsessed’ would be closer). I have a lot of respect for all of the individuals I listed and they seem like nice people, I was just trying to make a point about how unusual their behavior is.’

If you think about it: Pre-internet, if you wanted to know about Mars or Alpha Centauri you would have asked a cosmologist – hardly a ‘normal’ person; a person ‘insanely’ – or my word ‘obsessively’ – interested in what you happen to be asking about. I think that’s OK. In fact I think that’s great.

Myself, I’ve written about 900 blog posts over 13 years. That’s three posts every two weeks. That’s a sane rate, see. Perfectly sane.

And if you ous didn’t do crazy things I’d have less to write about, so it’s not me.


Jon Taylor replied: That’s way above the average sane lurkers output, so I would say borderline insanity in your case and in need of close surveillance . 👁👁

Family & Kids, Life, Motorcars_Automobiles

We have not been able to reach you

Hi Pete,

Thank you for your response, I’ll cancel your – or shall I say Thomas’s – request with the dealer.

Glad the boy has good taste in cars.

Keep well.

Kind Regards

Carshop Team Leader


From: Pete
Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 2:15 PM
To: carshop
Subject: Re: We have not been able to reach you

Hi there

I’m sorry!
Thomas is 11yrs old and was on a “wishing” spree without my knowledge!
Please cancel this request.
Thanks a lot

On 2013/02/20 12:34 PM, carshop wrote:

Dear Thomas,

We have been unable to contact you since your vehicle enquiry from CMH Land Rover Silver Lakes.

Please contact Org R on 012 8_9 5__0 from CMH Land Rover Silver Lakes to discuss your vehicle enquiry.

Feel free to contact our support centre by email or call us on 0861 carshop should you experience any difficulties.


Brauer: Fully understandable. Having been forgotten to be picked up at school so often by his dad he deserves his own wheels and shouldn’t be embarrassed in front of his peers by arriving in a skadonk;

Reed: Would Evoque some ire no doubt! Hope it was the Diesel Turbo 6 speed manual. (Probably the automatic, though, so he could drive it).

Stoute: Where’s their sense of humour? Didn’t even offer him a test drive!