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Flog of the Prokonsul

Internet fluency, digital governance and Wikipedia propaganda. You have been warned.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Firefox 1.5 released

I hope there are no mascochists among our class who persist on using the Internet Exploder? Definetly ditching the IE is an important step in becoming more fluent with the net.

Get the Fox. Or read about it. 'Nuff said.

Monday, November 28, 2005

There is more to wiki then Wikipedia

Wikipedia is by no means the only Wiki project there is. There are many wikis - some more important, some less, some closely affiliated with Wikipedia, others completly different. Here is one of Wikipedia sister projects, very closely related to my 'Wikipedia as a teaching tool' project:

Wikibooks is a collection of open-content textbooks - where a textbook is a book which is actually usable in an existing class. In other words, it is a project for collaboratively writing textbooks and related non-fiction books (with supporting books and booklets; such as annotated literary and other classics) about different subjects.

Wikibooks's goal is to create a free instructional resource—indeed, the largest instructional resource in history, both in terms of breadth and depth, to become a reliable resource. It's an ambitious goal which will probably take many years to achieve - but in the wiki world, we don't think small :) Currently the project, started in July 2003, has over 12,000 books and although it is not close to Wikipedia 800,000-something articles, this number is growing exponentialy just as Wikipedia was - so imagine that in 4 years it will have 800,000 free online textbooks...feel the ramifications?

"The big one is to get students involved in producing materials (and) also vetting materials (and) also adding elaboration to materials." Steven Brewer writes. He envisions teachers--at any level--asking students to examine existing Wikibooks entries for accuracy and relevancy and then appending their findings to those entries. That would allow the project to become a teaching tool and a work in progress all at once. "Increasingly, we're going to see classes where students do that kind of work," Brewer said, "and I think that at that point we're going to see Wikibooks really take off."

Reading is simple. Go to the Main Page, find a Wikibook that looks interesting, and start exploring. There's also a search box at the top of every page.

f you read something, and you like it, why not drop a note on the module's talk page? First select the discussion tab, to get to the talk page, and then select the edit tab on the talk page. We always love to get a bit of positive feedback.

If there's something we don't cover, or you're having difficulty finding what you're after, just ask the school librarian, or add the topic to our list of requested Wikibooks.

And of coure you can edit any textbook or start a new one, just as with articles on Wikipedia.

Wiki revolution is coming.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Presentation on Wikipedia

I will definetly list 'not realising someobody has done this before' among the top 10 most stupid things I have thought :>

Ah, scavenging bonanza :) I am now trying to browse through this material and put together a deluxe version of my presentation. They are licenced under GDFL, in case you are wondering.

The presentation for CIDDE will be on Thursday, noon. Keep your fingers crossed!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

See how Ecnarta is trying to be, well, wiki.

Quoting from Jimbo Wales' blog:

Hmm, now people have a choice. They can donate their time and energy to a nonprofit effort to make the world a better place by giving away an encyclopedia under a free license. Or they can go to work for free, enriching Microsoft.

I wonder what the most talented and dedicated people will choose. :-)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wikipedia is not a democracy

For all our discussions about eGovernance, and how new technologies may shape the government, it is important to remember that Wikipedia is not a democracy. Perhaps this is why it works so well... :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Phone revolution is here

Radio Shack to sell Skype Internet communications products

I wonder how can I ditch my Virgin mobile pay-as-you go now. Skype is so much better, obviously.
Do you have a Skype account? Feel free to give me a call at prokonsul_piotrus (just send me a message explaining who you are, because I ignore all unknown callers by default).

What is Skype? It's a free software that allows you to call any other Skype user (just like an instant messanger soft) for free. And for a small fee, you can call fixed/mobile phones, and receive calls for them. And you are not limited to your computer: as described above, you can now have fixed or mobile phones using Skype tech. Small wonder that recently (September) The Economist predicted that Skype and it's other VoIP friends are spelling death to the traditional phones: soon, all calls will be free.

Update: from late November, videophones are here: Skype 2.0 has added video support. I have tested it and it works! So if you want to see yours truly...now you can :)

Check also this Slashdot story aboyt skypecasting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rant alert: My fight with Gmail

So I want to send a 150mb SPSS file to my professor. Well, I thought, this is why I have gmail and this is why I convinced her to use that account, right?


Grrr. Gmail does not allow to send or receive attachments larger then 10mb.

Grumble. What do I need the famous x-giga size account if not for attachments? Heck, my 7 years total email in my mozilla is less then 1 gig (granted, I do delete large attachments). Oh well, maybe they got abused by some movie sending pirates or something (though it kind of means that they lost, as the most appealing function of gmail - handling of large files - is crippled). Oh, remember their excuse for invitation only? 'We are safe from spammers'? Bah.

OK. So I splitt the file with WinZip into 8mb (maximum compression with new WinZip 10 did it in 5 files - less then 40mbs total. Score one for the zip tech).

And guess what. 'This attachment contains an executable file. Gmail will not send such attachments due to security reasons'.

Aaaaaargh. Now this is just plain stupid. What, I ask, executable file? Zip self-extractor? If I wanted to be nasty, I could wonder if scanning my files is not a privacy violation. And if they can scan files (including zips) cannot they tell a SPSS file from movie, mp3 or a virus?

Just in case you wonder, when I send this from my another account, I got a bounce:
Remote host said: 552 5.7.0 Illegal Attachment d7si869528wra

1 hour wasted.

If I want a restriction-full smarter-then-me software, I will go get a hotmail or yahoo crappaccount. Google just lost BIG in my eyes.

Good for me that several years ago for about 50$ I bought a 'for life' email account at home.pl - I never had problems with large attachments (although sometimes with the fools sending them...).

So, Gmail sucks. End of rant.

Update: no piece of crappy junk will beat me (easily). Since all files except the first zip (i.e. z01 to z04) passed through, I renamed zip to z00, and apparently it passed the Google filter (at least I did not got a reject yet).

And if it wont work I can always upload it to my ftp and give my prof a simple download link. Sometimes classic solutions are the best.

Monday, November 21, 2005

In the news

From weekly KurzweilAI.net newsletter:

Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes

Linux Journal, Nov. 16, 2005

"Are you ready to see the Net privatized from the bottom to the top? Are you ready to see the Net's free and open marketplace sucked into a pit of pipes built and fitted by the phone and cable companies and run according to rules lobbied by the carrier and content industries?

"Do you believe a free and open market should be 'Your choice of walled garden' or 'Your choice of silo'? That's what the big carrier and content companies believe. That's why they're getting ready to fence off the frontiers....

Read Original Article>>

Googling Your Genes

Washington Post, November 14, 2005

"Sergey Brin and Larry Page have ambitious long-term plans for Google's expansion into the fields of biology and genetics through the fusion of science, medicine, and technology.... 'Too few people in computer science are aware of some of the informational challenges in biology and their implications for the world,' Brin says....," in The Google Story by David A. Vise.

"'The ultimate search engine,' says Page, 'would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want.'

"The critical path inside the Googleplex includes experimentation with artificial intelligence techniques and new methods of language translation. Brin and Page are hopeful that these efforts will eventually make it possible for people to have access to better information and knowledge without the limitations and barriers imposed by differences in language, location, Internet access, and the availability of electrical power."

Read Original Article>>

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wiki online voting - take two

presents the Arbitration Report. What it is, you ask? Well, it is basically a short review of the latest Wikicourt cases.

Suprised? You see, Wikipedia has its own juridical system. Disputes are common and definetly not avoided on Wiki. Remeber how some of the authors we have read recently raised the issue that people tend to avoid any discussions that may led to disagreements? Well, as true as it may be, there is still enough of those on Wiki that we needed to develop a policy for resolving disputes. Begining with a set of good avice about civil conduct, through unbinding mediation, to binding arbitration, we have evolved our own legal system. We even have advocates. And remember, this is all done by volunteers.

I wonder if this can be called eRulemaking? Or online civil society?

One of the things that really makes me wonder is that if it works on Wiki, can this be applied to the real government? In other words - can you imagine a real world government run by volunteers?

All things considered, I am pretty sure that we are much better on transparency then any real gov.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Don't be a stranger!

Use OpenID! It's an open source identity system, allowing you to log in with a profiled avatar to various sites, without the need to create an account there.

It looks like a great idea to me: no need to register account just to leave a message somewhere saves you time, and in the future I hope this will allow a merger of existing profiles on various boards and networks.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Your rights online at Slashdot

It seems like one of the Slashdot newstags is 'your rights online', and that you can sort the news by tag. I have not used Slashdot much, but this spiked my interest.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bridging the digital divide: the $100 laptop

MIT unveils $100 laptop to the world

Wiki of course knows much more.

Is $100 in range of every citizen? In US, perhaps. In the 'Third World', not yet. But it is much closer then anything before.

Power to that initative!

Online voting in practice

Check this current vote on Wiki for an example of how voting in a Wiki community looks like.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fluency Time: Command your files!

Graphical interface is to text interface like tabbed browsing is to windows (lower case...) and Total Commander is to Windows Explorer :)

Two windows are simply better then one. You may be used to dealing with Windows Explorer, but believe me - it is a giant waste of time. You will spend a few minutes getting used to the efficienty of the Total Commander, and then you will start saving time by managing your files quicker.

Favourite folders? Last-visited folders? Folder comparison? Much faster copying and moving? One click size information on selected files or folders? All this and much more in this great shareware soft. And the shareware is very friendly - it only reminds you to pay for the soft if you like it when you start it, and takes no functionality away.

Can it gen any better? Well, it could with open source, but I still love the Commander series :)

And I wonder if anybody remember the good old days of the Norton Commaner?

Feel free to see if there is another file manager that you would like to try: anything is better then Windows Exploder...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Come to the PolishFest

Granted, it's not the most thematic subject with regards to digital governance, but's the food is much better :)

Pitt’s Nationality Rooms Programs will host “Polishfest”—a free public festival of all things Polish from noon to 5 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Cathedral of Learning’s Commons Room.

The event will feature food (stuffed cabbage, Polish sausage with sauerkraut, noodles and cabbage, pierogi, and baked goods), music, song, dance, art, and crafts.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Transparent Wiki

Regarding our discussion of funding and transparency, check out Wikimedia budget for 2005 for information how the Wikimedia Fundation (the fundation supporting Wikipedia) is spending its money - the money which comes from you (donations). It is not that difficult to tell citizens where their money is going - even in details (see Wikimedia servers/hardware orders for details of the hardware we ordered after our last fundraising drive). It would be even more preferct if we had scans of receipts and such, but I think it is definetly a good sign how funding should be dealt with - not only by NGOs, but by government as well.

Speaking of wikipedia, wouldn't you just love to own a nifty Wikipedia t-shirt, cup or mug? Sure you would! :) 20% of each listed price goes to Wikimedia - check out our nifty shop!

PS. If you want a 5$ off coupon on your first purchase, let me know (with an email) and I'll send you a refferal thingy.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bloglines fluency nugget

Finally taking Luke's advice to hear, I decided to give Bloglines a try. While I am not sure how useful this will be in the future, I definetly see it's advantages for those who try to keep up with several blogs (and that means us all, right? :).

It is really very simple: sign up for an account (no need to give any personal info, only email for confirmation), then drag the bloglines button to your browser bar, and whenever you visit a blog you want to know was updated, click the bloglines button - and presto: whenever you go to bloglines page you will see what blogs out of those you marked were updated - no need to check them all, one by one.

Nifty. Give it a try.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Related to our last reading: Justice John Gomery releases his first report on corruption in the Liberal Party of Canada and the sponsorship scandal. Being internet-savvy is no safeguard from being corrupted. But transparency helps - at least, helps spot the problem.

About Wikipedia project: a second, larger meeting with CIDDE is scheduled for December 1. Not as soon as I would have hoped, but great news nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A sign of things to come?

Oregon State University Technical Writing class used Wikipedia as a collaboration writing tool; the result is at Visual_literacy. Read more on this blog.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Political parties, Part 2

The key point of this article is that political parties need and could benefit enormously from e-democracy strategies that would deepen the relationships between party organizers and rank-of-file members.

Article argues that Internet is the tool that parties should use to boost the dwindling numbers of their supporters, preferably by duplicating the daring leaps taken by the business world (hence the authors coin an intereseting phrase, the 'Citizen Relationship Managers' - the software for politicians).

It is interesting to note that most political parties seem to lag behind even governments. This is a bit suprising - I'd have thought that government is alwyas the proverbial 'latecomer'. Alas, it seems like political parties are even worse in adopting new technologies. Authros give the number of Canadian politicans not aware (or caring?) about net possibilities as around 80%. Even if this correlates with age and thus means those are the 'dying breed' oldtimers, neither of this increases my confidence in the very institution of a political party.

Unfortunately, our article seems to skip over the important issue of ethics in politics, concentrating soley on the question how to give more power to the parties. While I will come back to it, let's consider for a moment what lies behind one of the pillars of today's political system: the political parties and why we need them.

Max Weber wrote that organizations tend to degenerate in time, and I think we can see this when we look at almost any political parties. What was invented in the early days of modern democracy as a helpful organisation uniting people with commons political goals, have over the next century or so degenerated into a set of 'mutual help' lobby sponsored organisations, dumbing down information and encouraging pointless (if colorful) party partisanship. In the end, as any student of the organisation theory can vouch for, parties are just a type of ogranisation - and all organisation have two primary goals: survive and grow. In terms of political parites, it means that they want votes and donations, and for them are willing to do almost anything that public will support, and a few things they probably wouldn't. That doesn't mean that parties are inherently evil, or that politicans are spineless liers - but neither are they the force for good. Bottom line is, they are just organisations formed by men with access to much power (and you know the proverb about power, do you?).

As you can see, I am not a great fan of any political party. Still, until we invent a better system, representation-based democracy is the system we have to live with, and instead of ranting (as pleasant as it is, from time to time), trying to fix it is a good alternative. Authors, as far as I can tell, advocate that funding for political parties should be increased and/or diverted to building online communities of party supporters and increasing the public awarness of party's goals. And while I am definelty opposed to any tax payer money going to the parties, I think that some legislation forcing parties to invest in online infrastructure would be a good thing. Authors are correct in pointing out that many online projects are long term, and long term planning is something that our governments (and parties) are definetly in need of. As our previous articles have shown, it is hard to be certain that any online community would be more civil and wise then the offline one, but there is definetly an advantage for everybody in forcing parties to go online and share information. A politician (or a party) that is more in touch with its voters will get more votes, and in exchange, people (us) get to have a little bit more control (information = power) over the people we elect.

Let me end this with links to some interesting sites I googled out when I looked for interesting sides dealing with political parties, funding and online communities:
* Opensecrets.org - formerly Disinfopedia, describes itself as "a collaborative project that aims to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interests." Oh, and it's wiki-based :)
* Center for Public Integrity - is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, organization in the United States which is concerned with monitoring campaign finance laws in the U.S. and works for campaign finance reform. In pursuit of these goals, it sends out press releases and produces analysis of campaign finance issues.
* LobbyingInfo.org - A Public Citizen project with a motto 'Tracing the activities of special interests' :).

It is worth noting that those NGOs have much better sites then those of political parties (in terms of information content). My hope is that the pressure from such organisations will lead to increased competition between politicians and parties in terms of 'I am more honest then you and I am proving this online', with a complete transparency in the flow of money and in decision making process. Utopian? Maybe. But one can hope...