<September 2004>
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Chris's Random Ramblings

Tue, 28 Sep 2004 - Wikipedia Rusty claims I have vandalised Wikipedia. So I thought I should probably explain what and why I have done.

Prior to the Slashdot article about whether or not Wikipedia could be considered an authorative source I had a debate with him about how much you could trust the information in Wikipedia. IIRC he was claiming that the information was about as accurate as you would find in something like the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Whilst I was claiming that many (honestly added) errors would creep into the database by people trying to be helpful, but having little expertise in the area.

A few days after the slashdot article appeared there happened to be a rather large flame war on a linux mailing list (an unusual event I know). So as an experiment I did some googling around on a subject related to the flame war, adding a new page on the topic, but including a couple of untrue in-joke references to the flame war. Its not something that is totally out of place, but I think most people, if they stopped and thought about it, would find them rather suspicious.

Given this occurred so soon after the slashdot article, and that presumably people looking at the Recent Changes would be viewing changes with increased suspicion, I was expecting that the additional references would be soon removed.

The article was in fact reviewed soon after it was added (about 2 hours afterwards). As far as I know its not possible to determine how many people have looked at a given page (and that wouldn't really tell you if they actually read the content anyway), but a registered user added some useful extra information. The description of this user indicates they have some familiarity with the field and contributes regularly on Wikipedia to the subject area, and I would have expected that he would have picked up the extra references I added. About a week later another registered user made some minor changes.

So does this experience indicate anything about the reliability of Wikipedia? I'm not sure yet. It is of course possible that the people who have read the article did recognise the incorrect bits as a joke and decided to leave them in, but I do doubt that. My intention has been to not correct what I added for a few months to see if anyone does in fact pick up the problems.

Was what I did vandalism? Though I don't believe so, Rusty certainly thinks it is, and I have given it some thought since talking to him.

Do I believe Wikipedia can be a source as reliable as I would consider something like Encyclopaedia Britannica to be? In short yes, with some changes in the way it works, with enhancements to be able to measure how well fact checked an article has been (more on this when I get a bit more time). But at the moment I still don't believe it is. I trust Wikipedia at about the same level as I would getting information from google. Be careful when trying recipes from the internet, especially those with excessive amounts of baking soda and lemon.

Tue, 28 Sep 2004 - Riding to work Steven responded to my comments yesterday about commuting by car versus cycling, saying that often cycling can be faster than driving, especially during peak hour.

Whether this is true or not I think depends on quite a few factors such as how far you need to travel as well as just how bad the traffic gets. Also very important is simply how fit you are. I'm guessing its probably true for Steven and those who ride as much as he does - I estimate he puts more kilometres on his bike than I do on my car. I've driven about 26,000km over the last four years which is pretty low, but then I've always lived really close to work, and do ride fairly often.

For most people in Canberra I'd guess it would take them longer to cycle than drive. Taking one example of say living in Belconnen and working in the Parliamentary Triangle, you'd have to have encounter very heavy traffic to take longer by car. But this is one of the examples of city and road design presuming that motorised transport will be used. A reasonably large hill in the way doesn't help...

It is also pretty easy to avoid rush hour in Canberra. I've noticed that for my route (either by car or by bike), just adjusting when I travel by about half-an-hour will avoid the traffic congestion. I don't know if most people in Canberra have either very inflexible jobs or personal lives, but everyone seems to go to work between 8am and 9am and leave between 5am and 6pm. This results in very heavy traffic in those times, and pretty light traffic just afterwards or before.

So given I have rather flexible work hours I just don't commute during peak hours. I hate sitting or just crawling in my car in traffic when I could be doing something else useful. And I don't cycle during the busy periods as I've had a few too many close calls with cars who get so distracted looking out for other cars they simply don't see cyclists.

Steven also comments that he finds cycling much less stressful, and except for the occasionally close call with a car, I'm inclined to agree. For me its one of those few periods during the day where I'm completely "unplugged". I did used to work with someone who found driving home at the end of the day rather relaxing, and suggested that the more stressed you were, the longer the drive home you should have. Though there's probably something to be said for driving angry.