Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Speed restoration

Sometimes preparation doesn't help. WikiVoices was set to a podcast today, and four hours before showtime I learned that the restoration that had been ready for half a week actually wasn't usable. We were planning an article creation episode where several editors collaborate via voice and text to start a new article and get it to DYK. Then we discovered that there actually weren't enough online third party sources for the Aesop fable we had planned to write about.

Quick, time to come up with Plan B.

The Library of Congress has a few dozen vintage childrens' books scanned and available online from cover to cover. There has actually been a fair amount of scholarship about Mother Goose, so Shoemaker's Holiday and I tore through the possibilities. Our conversation sounded something like this:

Me: "There's got to be an article on Humpty Dumpty."
Shoemaker: "There already is."
Me: "'Mistress Mary, quite contrary'"?
Shoemaker: "It's there under a slightly different title."
Me: "'Bye, Baby Bunting'"?
Shoemaker: "Already an article."

Nestled among the selections were also several well known rhymes that had never gotten their own Wikipedia articles. Shoemaker insisted upon "The Queen of Hearts" because Lewis Carroll quotes it in Alice in Wonderland. I had been pushing for "A dillar, a dollar, a ten o'clock scholar" but gave in to his good argument that there would be more sources with the Carroll reference. So he went to look for references and I opened Photoshop.

The advantage to having a good illustration for a new article is that it generally helps a nomination get a good position at Wikipedia's main page in the "Did you know?" section. That makes a good morale boost for a podcast where some of the editors had never written a DYK before. The illustrator William Wallace Denslow had created three images to accompany the poem. They were all in relatively good condition, considering they were more than a century old. Denslow was a fairly important children's book illustrator: he also provided the artwork for the first edition of The Wizard of Oz.
First I selected the smallest of the three images. The Knave of Hearts was the only one of the set that did not occupy a full page. This would be the simplest and quickest to complete, which was an important consideration in case any other unexpected problems arose before the recording.
Although the range of colors is not very broad, at close examination the image has a number of small dirt specks and scratches, as well as fade. The tool to use in this situation is the clone stamp, since the healing tool can result in a mottled appearance when used on this type of printing.
After fixing the scratches and dirt this restoration required a linear dodge and a localizedcolor adjustment to correct for the uneven lighting at far right where the page bent near the spine, plus a few other changes to simulate the colors and tonal range from the original printing. It didn't take long and by the end of the recording all three illustrations were restored.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pin the tail on the cognate

Do enough image restoration and eventually it means dealing with text, sometimes in languages one doesn't understand. If the title above looks a little bit like "Manhattan", that's exactly what it means. The source is a 1639 map from the era when New York was New Amsterdam. Restoration of foreign text poses special challenges.

An early and important part of restoration is dirt removal, but with foreign language texts one often runs into the question "Is that a punctuation mark or an accent mark, perhaps?" The first rule, when in doubt, is do no harm.

Modern dictionaries aren't always trustworthy for this challenge because centuries old texts may be written in dialect or use obsolete spellings. Consultation with native speakers helps, yet it's equally important that the native speaker comprehends the goal. During one restoration last year on an Arabic script document a scholar from Morocco assisted with review; it was a surprise to discover she did not just order marks removed but also wanted new ones added: she had corrected the accents according to modern usage, not realizing that what was really needed was fidelity to a text over two centuries old.

Fortunately, for this old Dutch map it will be possible to tap Gerard Meijssen and the WMF Netherlands. Gerard occasionally sends along copies of his correspondence with Dutch museums, which I've nicknamed as games of "Pin The Tail on the Cognate". Between English and German I can sometimes catch the gist, but darned if it's feasible to remember Dutch spelling.
It's fascinating how much easier it is to recognize the letters of an old text after basic cleanup. Here's hoping this partial restoration doesn't take away too much. At this point it probably still has an unnecessary mark or two; better to err on the side of caution.

Great figures of history: Admin or troll?

Skype voice chat can be wonderful.

"If there had been a Wikipedia in Thomas Paine's day, would he have been an administrator or a troll?"

That's a typical why-is-the-sky-blue question the people at WikiVoices kick around. During the more routine parts of image restoration this keeps my brain cells from sliding down my ear and swimming to Mexico.

After a discussion we all agreed that Paine would be a troll.

Which opens up other possibilities. What about other figures from history? You decide; please state your reasons.

1. Socrates
Admin traits: Major philosopher. Got other people to discuss highfalutin' stuff. Distracted them from doing anything useful.
Troll traits: Didn't actually write anything. After conviction, lectured the people who had judged him about how he should be rewarded instead of punished. Distracted people from doing anything useful.

2. Julius Caesar
Admin traits: Reformed society and government, declared "dictator in perpetuity".
Troll traits: Invaded Gaul, started a civil war in Rome, chased his enemies for four years rather than accept no for an answer.

3. Dante Alighieri
Admin traits: Good writer.
Troll traits: Put everyone who disagreed with him in hell, including popes.

4. Harriet Tubman
Admin traits: Leadership, good organizational skills.
Troll traits: Illiterate. Kept sneaking back no matter what people who didn't like her tried to do.

5. Linus Pauling
Admin traits: Two Nobel prizes.
Troll traits: Pushed a fringe theory about vitamins.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Please state your age

There's a disturbing trend lately at Wikipedia's requests for adminship and requests for bureaucratship. Although no age requirement exists for either position, an increasing number of people are opposing due to age. The most heated opposes are directed not against the youngest candidates, but against an individual who refuses to answer an optional question. Observe the reaction:
"I do not wish to state my age (for security reasons)" (see candidate's response to Sandstein's oppose, #10 at the time of this writing). Seriously? What "security concerns" could there possibly be here? "Congratulations, by knowing the age of this pseudonym, we can narrow it down to one of roughly 400,000,000 people on the planet! Soon the world will be ours!". To put it bluntly: this, er, "position" shows definite kookiness. Whether this is kookiness due to being kooky like most kids, or the more entrenched nuttiness of age doesn't matter: It is incompatible with a position of responsibility. That is, of course, Assuming Good Faith® and taking the candidate's statement at face value. Were I to read into the statement, I might conclude that the candidate is using trumped-up "security concerns" as a cover for the fact that, for some reason - perhaps due to youth - he is actually ashamed of his age. I would then still oppose, partially due to maturity concerns, partially to the unmigitated audacity displayed by the candidate honestly expecting anybody here to swallow such a far-fetched yarn. But, again, I strive to Assume Good Faith wherever possible - hence, I will assume kookiness, rather than juvenile embarrassment. Badger Drink (talk) 14:19, 10 July 2009 (UTC)
Scathing. I do not know the candidate in that RfA, but imagine--hypothetically speaking--another candidate who refuses to give his age due to security concerns. We'll call him User:Nematode. Nematode is actually a thirty-four year old stepfather of two children, but he does not like to disclose personal details because his wife's prior husband is violent. The ex has been jailed repeatedly, but never for a long time. Last year Nematode moved his family to a different city for their protection. The ex's most recent conviction was for stalking.

Nematode has been an active Wikipedian for a year. He accepted a nomination for administratorship in the belief that no personal disclosure would be required. He is aware of websites that publish the names, photographs, and home addresses of Wikipedia administrators. He does not want to do anything that could assist such an exposure regarding himself because if that occurred he would have to move his family again. Due to market changes he owes slightly more in mortgage than his home is worth. Very early in his Wikipedian career he made a few edits to his undergraduate university and to his favorite sports team. That isn't enough to identify him, but he doesn't want to pass out more pieces to that puzzle.

Now he is expected to disclose those circumstances or else be labeled a child or a kook, with the strong suggestion that he is also a liar. This is the appreciation he receives for a year of volunteer contribution to an educational charity. Of course Nematode is not going to explain his answer more fully than "security concerns." He has every reason not to.
The oddest thing about this dilemma is how easy it is to get away with lies at RfA and RfB, if a person is inclined to do so. It was not too long ago that an editor, a woman in her twenties, became a bureaucrat at a Wikimedia Foundation website. This popular individual subsequently returned to Wikipedia, where she had previously been banned as a sockpuppeteer--a decision which was widely believed to have been wrong and driven by internal politics. Then it turned out she wasn't in her twenties and wasn't a she. He wasn't a teenager either; he was in his fifties and was running three separate administrator accounts on that other project. Previously he had been running an administrator sock on Wikipedia.

A dedicated liar tells his audience what he knows they want to hear.

I'd like to ask Badger Drink and the people who think his way to step back and reconsider. Is that really a tone to be using? Is it constructive or effective?