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January 31, 2006

tiananmen and the capital of China

David Isenberg points out that if you do an image search on “tiananmen” at, you get tourist photos, while if you search on “tiananmen” at non-Chinese Google, you get the uncensored images we expect…and, most surprisingly, if you search for “Tiananmen” (note the initial capital) you get the uncensored photos. Fascinating. (David acknowledges Sid Karin and Sam Smith.) [Tags: ]


[berkman] Wikipedia’s lawyer

Brad Patrick is giving a Tuesday lunchtime talk at the Berkman. He’s outside counsel to the Wikimedia Foundation, the group that owns Wikipedia. (Brad reminds us that Wikipedia needs a ®, which means I’d rather not use it.) Wikipedia is heading towards having its millionth article. [The millionth article ought to be “The Millionth Wikipedia Article.”]

Wikipedia volunteers include: users, editors, administrators, stewards, arbCom (arbitration committee) and OTRS (Open-source Ticket Request System?). A global but small team of lawyers handles the legal issues.

Some questions and answers:

Wikipedia only keeps one cookie, identifying your user name. Server logs are kept for several months.

About 15,000 people have made ten or more edits to the English version, and about twice that for worldwide.

Q: Does the fact that victims of libel could edit the entries themselves change the legal aspects?
A: This question is being addressed. E.g., A German court is wondering if Wikipedia has any obligation not to print the name of a dead hacker known as Tron.

Q: Why is Wikimedia insisting on the ®?
A: [Not Brad] Open software groups have trademarks, e.g., Mozilla, Apache, etc.

Q: When does a user complaint become something that is Wikipedia’s legal responsibility?
A: We usually have the tools in place to respond to legitimate complaints. The intent of the foundation is through the community of users and dialogue to get better articles. When it can’t, it goes to the Help Desk.

Q: How about how you operate in rights restricted countries?
A: I haven’t been involved in Wikipedia’s relationship with China. It’s an ongoing issue, continuing negotiation.

Q: How often are you getting sued these days?
A: At the moment, there’s no pending lawsuits in the US. [Wow!]

Q: Lots of places republish Wikipedia content, which is fine under the terms of the GFDL. Do you see any abuses of that?
A: No.
Q: Suppose they use content and aren’t compliant with the license?
A: The primary problem is who is going to do the policing? The foundation isn’t out to hunt down every users of Wikipedia content that isn’t doing so according to Hoyle. It’s part of the process.

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January 30, 2006

Empire State Buildings

All photos taken at the Empire State Building gift shop.

Looking up at Empire State Building model

Looking up at Empire State Building model

Looking up at Empire State Building model

Looking up at Empire State Building model

Looking up at Empire State Building model

Through the lens of a telescope
Statue of Liberty through the lens of a pay-per-view telescope

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Fact-based ethics for bloggers

Coming up with a “code of ethics” for bloggers makes about as much sense as coming up with a code of ethics for people who say things. The diversity of blogs makes a code of ethics not even a pipe dream but a pipe nightmare.


We in fact do have some ethical expectations for people who say things. We expect you not to lie (without good cause), to let us know if you know you’re unreasonably biased (e.g., “Of course, that company does pay my salary” or “But, I was married to her for six years, so maybe that’s biased me”), and be capable of responding to a well-intentioned question without socking us in the nose. We don’t need a Code of Good Talking to formalize that. Rather, those are the conditions that enable us to converse in the first place.

There are some facts about blogs that pertain pretty generally, and those facts — features of the landscape, if you prefer — give rise to what I think are some reasonable ethical expectations. For example:

Fact Ethical rule of thumb
Blog posts are persistent Correct errors because erroneous posts may be around for many years.
Blog posts get linked to by others When you change a post, indicate that you have done so to prevent posts linked to it from becoming incomprehensible.
Posts may be read by people who don’t know who you are Unless there is some reason not to, provide some contextual information about who you are, or who your pseudonym is.
Someone may find a single post via a link and have no further context Be transparent about relationships that may influence you, perhaps by providing a persistent link to a disclosure statement of some sort.
The common ground between the author and commenters may be unknown Respond in a way that tries to find the common ground rather than assuming there is none.

Nothing too surprising in this list of rules of thumb, of course. It’s the tie back to facts that interests me. Is doesn’t imply Ought, but Is whips Ought into condition.

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Weekend in NYC

Having asked for your help trying to figure out what the four of us should do in NYC this past weekend, here are some highlights of what we ended up doing. Keep in mind our multiple restrictions: two shabbos-keepers, four vegetarians, one crutch-assisted walker, one whiny adult…

On Saturday we got up late and went to the Museum of Modern Art’s Pixar exhibit. (We’d bought tickets ahead of time online, but there wasn’t much of a line.) Somewhat disappointing. The wide-wide-wide screen movie they put together for the exhibit was mesmerizing and makes you wish Pixar gave itself permission to do a non-commercial film. The rest consisted mainly of items to please fans, although some of the items by themselves were beautiful, clever, or intricate in their design. Surprisingly little on the how-to, which was ok with me, Still, I was hoping to see more of Pixar-as-art…whatever that means.

We also spent some time on the fifth floor of the MoMA, which is hard to beat. (By the way, the MoMA is poorly designed for wheelchair access, at least in the special exhibit space.)

We went up the Empire State Building. Ten on a Sunday morning turns out to be a good time to go: No lines. The building is still very tall. (I plan on posting some photos soon to prove that point.)

The Darwin exhibit at the Museum of Natural History was good but a little disappointing, focusing more on eye candy than on telling us how he got to his idea. It covered big influences, such as the revolution in geology, Darwin’s observation of artificial selection, and Malthus’ writings, way too briefly. It was more about Darwin as an isolated genius.

We also went to the planetarium and saw a by-the-numbers show that starts with our night sky (spectacular) and then zooms out to the farthest edges, narrated by Tom Hanks presumably because Morgan Freeman was unavailable. It sounds better than it is: Our 15-year-old son came out of it feeling that he hadn’t learned much. Me too. The ramp around the planetarium provides a walkable timeline of the universe that’s pretty interesting, and the floor around it a gives helpful comparisons … “If the planetarium were Jupiter, this bubble would be the size of Google’s market cap”… that type of thing.

We had a great dinner at the Udipi Palace, one of five Indian kosher vegetarian restaurants within a block. How weird is that? The food was delicious and the waiter (owner?) was very helpful. And, for NY, pretty cheap.

We also spent a lot of time wandering around. The weather was eerily good for January, and the wandering was fantastic.


1. The plug converters (US to Europe) range in price from $20 to $4 in the frequent electronics rip-off stores in NY.

2. Random overheard comment made by a middle-aged man to his companions as they entered the observatory of the Empire State Building: “This building is going to be really tall by the time I get done with it.” Say wha’??

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January 29, 2006

CDC preparing for pandemic?

David Stephenson has noted some small changes at the Center for Disease Control site that would be useful if the site were to become a center for information during a pandemic such as we may well be facing with bird flu. They’re small changes that will be useful in any case because they make it easier to find fresh information. [Tags: ]

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Fillibustalito! Fillabustalito!

My senators — Kennedy and Kerry — are doing their duty to protect us from granting virtually unlimited power to the executive branch. My senators are fillibustering.

Are yours? We don’t have a lot of time left and apparently we only need eleven more Senators. Why not give yours a call today? [Tags: ]


January 28, 2006

The future of Islam

Islamicate blogs a review of Reza Aslan’s No God but God about the history and future of Islam. The review makes me want to read the book… [Tags: ]


The fate of Dumbledore

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not read the 6th Harry Potter, and have had cotton swabs in your ears for the past six months, read no further!

Our daughter, Leah, recommends It has shaken her confidence in the deadness of the guy. (I am refraining from issuing my official I Told You So until the final book comes out.) [Tags: ]

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Bush step down

The “Bush Step Down” demonstrations an hour before the State of the Union are appealing to me. unfortunately, I’m going to be on a train… [Tags: ]

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