As Those Who Make

It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

– Why I am Not a Maker – Debbie Chachra

I make communities. I do it with other people. It is just as valuable as those who make the architecture, content, documentation, and software that these communities use and support.

My Favorite Twitter Bot

Nearly a year ago I tweeted the following.

It was always funny and frustrating to me when folks shared screenshots from their mobile phones with such low battery. For some reason the low battery bugged me. It’s like living on the edge, man!

So then today I get this reply.

Rahat actually coded up the damn thing! And it works really well. Even better, the source code is up on Github under an MIT license.

I was curious if I was the first to think of it. I wasn’t, which is cool. It looks from my sleuthing that the first mention was back in 2013.

I love the Internet – and the people on it.

My Presentation from WordCamp KC is now Online

I had a great time at WordCamp KC last year1 and thought my presentation wasn’t too bad. Secret behind-the-scene info: I started getting really sick minutes after my talked ended. I even had to leave KC early and asked my wife to drive I felt so yucky. It was as though my body knew it had to keep itself together until I was done presenting, then – PARTY TIME IN SICK TOWN.

If you run a site managed by WordPress you’ll do yourself a lot of good if you keep it up-to-date. So, I hope my video helps a few people learn to stop worrying and love the update button.


  1. 2015 is now last year!?

Explaining Hard Things to Humans – My Small Part to Make WordPress More Welcoming

Fred Meyer from WPShout gave this really good talk on writing for technical knowledge at WordCamp US earlier this month. It really resonated with me. I work with a bunch of really smart people everyday who are savvy with technology. Some of the concepts Fred talks about seem like common sense, but are so often overlooked (even by myself from time-to-time).

In one particular example, Fred calls out the language in the WordPress installer itself. Currently, once the installation is successful you see a message:

WordPress has been installed. Were you expecting more steps? Sorry to disappoint.

This could be interpreted many different ways, but the potential to sound flippant or snarky during the initial steps of an interaction with your software is a bad idea. Not to mention, not all software installations go as smoothly as planned. The individual using your program could be at their wit’s end; frustrated.

I was inspired by Fred’s talk and took action. WordPress is open-source, right? So I did what all folks should do, I submitted a patch to change the wording.

WordPress has been installed. Thank you, and enjoy!’

SMWCon Spring 2015 in Review

In early May I helped to organize the Spring Semantic MediaWiki Conference or SMWCon. We had 25 people from around the world come together for three days to learn and share about Semantic MediaWiki and it’s use in various industries. It was an honor to host such an event here in my hometown of St. Louis. I wanted to take a few minutes to share my experiences as an amateur event organizer and reflect on one of my personal accomplishments for 2015.

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When planning an event my mind always goes to the worst possible scenarios. What if people don’t come? What if they can’t find the event location? What if the food is terrible? What if the presentations are off-target?

For the most part, if you worry about these things and do something to address them, you’ll be fine. Don’t be overly anxious. Writing things down and keeping “To-Do” lists really helped keep things organized. Remembering to follow-up with people (venue folks, caterers, etc.) will prevent miscommunication and last-minute dashes to fix things.

Another tip? Make sure you have coffee and snacks around. Nothing fancy is needed. We made a trip to Costco the day before the event and grabbed some mixed nuts, granola bars, chips and soda.

I’m glad to say that everyone appeared to have a good time and everything 1 generally went off without a hitch.

I was an attendee at the last Spring SMWCon. Since that was also my only SMWCon experience, I based a lot of my work off of the great organizers that hosted us in Montreal. One thing I didn’t go a good enough job on was encouraging diversity in the audience and in speakers. What we had wasn’t bad, but man I would have like to have more unique voices present.

That said, we did have one of the most diverse group of industries represented. eSport statisticians, geneticists, geophysicists, independent developers, Tibetan Buddhist philosophers, MITRE, NASA, NATO, SNPedia, and more represented the diverse use of Semantic MediaWiki. We actually remarked during one of our sessions that this SMWCon had a much more ‘enterprise’ vibe than past conferences. It’s remarkable how many wikis exist behind firewalls that the public never know about and what amazing things people are doing with the software.

This lead into an interesting discussion around future of SMW and SMWCons. The discussion is ongoing, but the consensus is that there should be more events around enterprise 2 MediaWiki usage.
All of the presentations were interesting and chatting with some of the attendees opened my eyes to new uses and interests I never knew existed.

Some of my favorite sessions are listed below. We recorded the presentations and they should be up online soon.

smartMediaWiki

Wolfgang Fahl presented on an idea he has called smartMediaWiki. His tutorial was in-depth and allowed for all attendees to participate. While some of his concepts are beyond my meager understanding, the amount of effort he put into his presentation is commendable upon itself.

 

Cargo and the future of SMW

Yaron talked about his new extension, Cargo. It’s an alternative to SMW, which is interesting as it’s a much smaller code base, but nearly just as powerful. His approach to semantic data is different (standard database schema instead of triples) and the history of his involvement with SMW made for an interesting talk. Where Cargo (and SMW) go in the future is still very much unknown, but Yaron brings forth the idea that both can live in harmony.

 

The Why and How of Wiki Farms

Cindy’s presentation on the interworking of MITRE’s Gestalt framework was eye-opening. I manage two independent wikis and have never though much about the complexities of running dozens – or hundreds – of wikis. Her talk covered how one might manage multiple wikis without going insane – and still leaving plenty of room for customization and uniqueness.

 

SMW Grammars & Variables

John McClure is not a man to shy away from big challenges. His presentation tackled the promise of a semantic web – multiple independent sites interconnected among one another with a common ontology. His passion was present and his goals noble. The conundrum is who is willing to do the work? So many wiki folk – yes even those within the Wikimedia movement – are rather ‘heads down’ on what they’re working on. John’s vision is of a standard grammar we can all leverage to systematically interconnect the various repositories of information we all maintain.

 

Quantifying Accountability

James and Daren gave a great ad-lib presentation 3 on how they use MediaWiki to help document information around the training of astronauts for their EVAs. Their presentation was a great example (among many) of folks who are not ‘wiki people’ leveraging the software as part of their jobs. Both are engineers and training astronauts is their primary career. Even with that full-time gig they find time to develop their own extensions and adapt the SMW platform to fit their needs – all while releasing their code to the public.

 

How to get your bug fixed in MediaWiki

Mark gave a great overview on how to take a PITA bug and get it fixed. His introduction to the MediaWiki bug ecosystem was really helpful. I now feel more confident in submitting bug reports and improving the software.

 

We had a panel on the third day around the topic of “The Future of the Semantic Web, SMW and MediaWiki”. The three panel members 4 did a great job discussing the changes yet to come that will impact us all.

I love the SMW and larger MediaWiki community. There are a lot of good people involved. Each working hard in their respective industries trying to not only accomplish the work before them, but giving back to the community as well. If you have an inkling of interest in attending (or organizing!) a SMWCon I can’t recommend it highly enough.


  1. Except for A/V hiccups. Like their printer brethren, A/V equipment conspires against humanity.

  2. Not necessarily inside corporations, but non-profits, community groups, research groups, etc.

  3. Their original slide deck was not approved in time by NASA

  4. Cindy CicaleseYaron Koren, and Mark Hershberger