Simple hosting?

ENIAC

All I want is a simple website!

OK, I have a website, and you’re probably reading this on it.

But I want a simple website. Since 2006, I’ve had a server hosted with Asergo (previously EasySpeedy). It ran a lot at one stage. Huge mounds of organic food found new homes through its circuits. Today it’s not so busy, but stands ready, waiting to handle any imminent Slashdot Effect when my latest masterpiece goes viral. Except it never does, and I’m basically paying for a private jet when I could make do with a rusty bicycle.

In other words, a bog standard WordPress hosting offering will do just fine these days.

Moving from total control of my own server to a tiny hosted offering seems limiting, and its kept me from moving for a while. But gradually I’ve come to make peace with it, and will make do with a tiny instance offering limited functionality.

So what am I looking for?

* a reasonably new version of PHP
* a reasonably new version of MariaDB, or similar
* perhaps even hosted locally? Other sites I help with that host locally have made me wary, but there must be some good ones out there?

Space (my current server feels like it’s got backups going back to the dial-up days, so this will be a good chance to clean up), bandwidth etc. are all much of a muchness, as most offerings give some flexibility here

Let’s look at some of the options.

As a starting point, seeing as another site I manage is hosted there, 1-grid. They’ve gone through some wobbles. At first part of Web Africa, the hosting division got spun off into Gridhost, which then got renamed 1-grid.

1-grid
* R89 a month
* Unlimited MySQL databases
* PHP 5+. Really? What does this mean? PHP 5.6 and PHP 7.0 reach EOL in about a month… I happen to know PHP 7.1 is available, but sites really need to publicise this stuff!
* No mention of MySQL version. The instance I manage has the venerable but still supported MySQL 5.5, with no mention of possible upgrade.
* But, the dealbreaker. A measly 5GB storage. The next tier, offering 50GB, is R219 a month.
* Another big dealbreaker – they charge an extra R519 for SSL, for one domain only!

Hetzner
* Hetzner were one of the first locally to move to MariaDB, a major plus in my books (yes, I know I work for the MariaDB Foundation so perhaps I’m slightly biased)
* Another plus is they offer Lets Encrypt SSL with all hosting packages
* R99 for 5GB, 10GB costs for R149 a month
* However, they only mention MariaDB 10.0, which, while a version above MySQL/MariaDB 5.5, is still quite old. In discussion with them, they do offer MariaDB 10.1, but again their website lags with no mention of this.
* PHP 5.6 and PHP 7.0 only.
* Only offer Debian 8. Debian stable is itself already pretty venerable when it comes out, and Debian 8 came out way back 2015. I don’t need cutting edge, but Debian 9 came out in Jun 2017, so this makes Hetzner’s offering a little on the old side.

Ok, moving internationally. I moved my domains to Gandi a few years ago. They offer a Simple Hosting service as well.

Gandi
* Unusually, they offer Percona Server as a MySQL equivalent. Based on MySQL 5.7, which came out at about the same time as MariaDB 10.1.
* Support PHP 7.2
* 20GB for ~R45 a month (a discount as I have domains with them)
* In price, space and up-to-date software they absolutely blow the local offerings out the water
* They also offer a free 10-day trial.

Their Simple Hosting seems to be just that, really simple, not offering as much as the full CPanel or KonsoleH services offered by 1-grid and Hetzner but hey, I did start by saying I wanted a Simple website.

I spend way too long investigating the governments of Luxembourg and France to decide which of the two server locations to choose, but in the end I’m sold (I chose Luxembourg for those interested).

Except I’m unable to sign up, as their interface isn’t working (I tried on three browsers) and I cannot actually sign up. I contacted them a few months ago, pointing out inconsistencies in their documentation (the site mentioned MySQL/Percona 5.5, 5.6 and 5.7 being the latest available version in various different places). The site still lists MySQL 5.6 as the latest release in at least one location.

So not exactly getting a good feeling from them either.

Am I destined to keep paying for my jumbo jet hosting, as it least I know it works?

Any personally recommended hosting suggestions?

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Written in the Stars

When meeting someone through online dating for the first time, things can go a number of ways. You can decide to meet them again, or not to meet them again. You can have a fun time together, or not such a fun time together.

I thought it time to expand on the possible outcomes.

I check Google Maps – damn, it’s a little further than I thought, but I should just about make it on time. Last minute review to see I don’t have toilet paper on my shoe or yoghurt on my nose, and hop into the car.

The driveway gate doesn’t open. I’ve had to try once or twice recently – probably the battery – but it usually opens eventually.

Not this time.

After about 100 presses, including walking right up and shoving the remote into the sensor, I’m not getting anywhere. I’m going to be late. I message her explaining I’m stuck in my house, and not yet sure whether I’ll actually make it out, but will keep her posted.

It occurs to me that as first impressions go “I’m stuck in my house” is not a particularly good one, but what can I do.

I go back inside to look for a spare battery. Multiple hidden cupboards and draws see light for the first time in years, but no spare battery makes an appearance. I open the remote and jiggle the battery around, and step outside to try again.

It doesn’t budge. Back inside, mostly walking around aimlessly hoping a battery will manifest on the floor. It doesn’t.

Back outside again for more aimless pressing. No response to my message yet, she should be there by now.

I press again. This time the gate lurches into motion, violins play as the battery opens the gate for the last time in its existence.

I’m now outside the house. I suppose I should close the gate. No go. I disassemble the remote, perform CPR on the battery, whispering sweet nothings to it while visualising lightning storms. Reassemble for a final go. Miraculously, the battery coughs up its last sliver of life, and the gate closes. I’m on my way, sending a quick message about being there in 20 minutes.

Which is also about 20 minutes too late.

At some point I decide I should call to make sure she’s got the message. There’s been no response, and she may not have data. I see my message about being there in 20 minutes has not gone through. In fact I seem to be out of data. I try call, the call gets dropped and I’m told I can dial emergency numbers only.

This shouldn’t theoretically be possible, but it’s almost full moon, every second person seems to be pre-menstrual, and my phone has decided to join the party.

I reboot the phone, hankering for an ancient Nokia where switching it on and off again was almost instantaneous. The phone crawls through its reboot process. Happy days – just the interminable animation from the manufacturer to go.

I could almost have been there already!

The phone is back, and I have voice and data again. I dial. The phone goes straight to voicemail. Great. Has she left her phone behind? Or is she calling a friend to complain about her idiot Tinder date who’s kept her waiting for 20m.

The reboot and animation has overtaxed my phone, and, taking inspiration from the remote, the battery is about to die. I scramble around for the car charger, and remember it sitting in the draw at home where the spare remote battery should have been. I think the Singularity is close and the batteries are communicating with each other, messing with the humans.

There’s enough life to send an old-fashioned SMS. If she’s got her phone, she’ll get the SMS. – no data needed. Finally I’m driving again. I picture her, pre-menstrual, and me arriving 25 minutes late, slightly flustered. This is going to be an entertaining evening.

I drive past the place we’re meeting, adding another minute or two to the delay.

Finally I pull up, race inside. The owners are standing around. They tell me the place is closed, but describe my date and ask if I’m meeting her?

Yes, she’s here! It’s destiny, a classic romantic tale of overcoming obstacles before the happy ending.

Actually no, she’s just left.

Her phone had been stolen, so there was no way for her to get hold of me, and she wouldn’t have got any of my messages.

I decide to go walk on the beach, on the off-chance I may randomly bump into her. Every second person looks like it could be her, but most have screaming kids, affectionate partners, friends (and they’re not talking about being stood up by some idiot on Tinder).

I’m getting a few glances as I stare at everyone, listen in on their conversations. I really should be paying more attention to where I’m walking, and discover that not all owners clean up their dog’s shit.

Enough asynchronicity for one day, time to head home.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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Six days of the Merry Wives of Windsor

Falstaff and the Wives
The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of Shakespeare’s less well-known, and less well-regarded, plays. Some believe this to be because Queen Elizabeth instructed Shakespeare to write a play featuring Falstaff (the lecherous main character, who also appears in the two King Henry IVs) and complete it in fourteen days, in which case it’s a remarkable achievement.

Thanks to my son’s class putting it on as the school’s annual Class 9 Shakespeare, and me taking the opportunity to see more of him than usual, I went to see it 6 days in a row, as well as read the play for the first time.

In spite of at least one online review stating that the play is highly unsuitable for a family audience due to its adult themes, it’s a great play for teenagers, starring the hopeful Falstaff as he attempts to woo two married women, and the desirable Ann Page being wooed by multiple, mostly unsuitable, suitors.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve never seen a Shakespeare, or any other play, 6 days in a row, and I really enjoyed the intense experience of seeing it daily. Each time I picked up more subtleties, plot features I’d missed, and more puns that had previously gone over my head. And I got to see the students grow in confidence and develop into their roles.

There were two casts, so each student got to play a reasonably major role, and it was fascinating to see the different dynamics on stage, and the different touches both casts brought. The students were clearly told to express themselves, and many had fun improvising in the last performances in particular.

The purpose is not to put on the best play possible, but as part of the curriculum for the children, who’re around 15 years of age. They learn to express themselves in new ways as they take on their own unique roles, all as part of something much larger.

I read the play over the last two days, and seeing it in text helped me understand even more, as well gain a greater appreciation for the edits that the director made to the script and how it was directed on stage. Parts that would read quite drily on the page came alive on stage.

The director did an excellent job. Most of the audience are parents, relatives, friends and the greater school community, unfamiliar with Shakespearean English. So the play lives to a greater degree on the children’s physical performances, rather than their verbal expression.

Take Sir Hugh, a Welsh parson in the original, and Doctor Caius, a French physician. Much of their time on stage involves having fun poked at their accents. With the school version being set in the 70’s, and with most unlikely to distinguish a Welsh accent these days, Sir Hugh became an Afrikaans priest, and many of the lines were rewritten.

From the original:


Pless my soul, how full of chollors I am, and
trempling of mind! I shall be glad if he have
deceived me. How melancholies I am! I will knog
his urinals about his knave’s costard when I have
good opportunities for the ork. ‘Pless my soul!

Sings
To shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sings madrigals;
There will we make our peds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies.
To shallow–
Mercy on me! I have a great dispositions to cry.

The first part works quite well with an Afrikaans accent, but the song…

Here’s a version of the song I could find:

Probably pushing it!

In the school’s version, the song is changed to “By the Rivers of Babylon”, with some comic relief added by Simple, a servant.

While Welsh cuisine would have gone over most people’s heads, jokes about biltong and koeksisters hit the spot.

Or take this piece, which pokes fun at Caius’s French accent:

Sir Hugh
If there is one, I shall make two in the company.

Doctor Caius
If dere be one or two, I shall make-a the turd.

The joke is easy to spot written, but could easily be missed when spoken out loud. A small minority in each audience got the joke immediately, but thanks to a pause and a helping hand from the band, everyone had time to realize what had been said.

Some lines I just couldn’t understand, even after the multiple viewings and reading the play.

There’s a part where the boy William is being tested by Sir Hugh.

SIR HUGH:
William, how many numbers is in nouns?

WILLIAM PAGE:
Two.

MISTRESS QUICKLY:
Truly, I thought there had been one number more,
because they say, ‘Od’s nouns.’

I had no idea what Od’s nouns was referring to, but it turns out that in Shakespeare’s time, nouns and wounds would have rhymed (it seems English once made more sense) and Mistress Quickly has misheard the colloquial form of the oath, “God’s Wounds”, or “Od’s ouns”.

She then mishears “pulcher” as “polecat” (a slang term for a sex worker), “vocative” (as in vocative case) as “fuckative”, “horum” as “whore”, and “genitive case” as “Jenny’s case”. “Case” euphemistically means vagina, so “Jenny’s vagina”. She’s outraged at what Sir Hugh is teaching the child!

Naturally none of this was understood or garnered many laughs, and I’m not sure how it would have been possible to convey without major rewriting.

Although those ones would have been missed, the play is full of suggestive jokes, often physically highlighted by the children, and part of the humour for me was in seeing the reaction of some of the more shocked members of the audience, as well as how the cast gained in confidence, embarrassed and very aware of the audience in the first performances, to confidently playing up the jokes in their later performances.

I found myself enjoying the play more with each viewing.

In writing this post I almost got side-tracked and watched a 2011 version by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I did however come across The Cockerel Song. I suppose the line had to be drawn somewhere, and this wasn’t performed by the children, but some of them may have had fun with this version!

While some of the cast, and probably most of the staff, may have been relieved when the run finally came to an end, I found myself mildly depressed the next night, and wishing for more. I’ve never come close to wanting to go back to my own schooldays. But wanting to go to Dorje’s school? I think Dorje and I would be happy to trade…

Since it did take up about 24 hours of my week, it’s probably a good thing it came to end when it did.

Well done to everyone involved for what I thought, in my totally objective opinion, was a magnificent showing.

And if you do happen to be in London, this version looks hilarious too:

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Cape Town Wikimania, and some Wikidata observations

The 2018 Wikimania was held in Cape Town from July 18 to July 22.

Wikimania is the annual conference of the Wikimedia Foundation, the foundation supporting Wikipedia and other hosted projects, such as Wikimedia Commons, WikiVoyage, Wikidata and Wiktionary.

I’ve never been to a Wikimania before – the closest I came was almost going to Taipei in 2007, and leading the Cape Town bid in 2008, which I’m very grateful ended up second to Alexandria.

Wikimania session

It was the best conference I’ve attended, and according to a few anecdotes, the best Wikimania for some of the regular participants as well. It was hosted in the Cape Sun in the central city. The entire hotel was booked, with a second nearby hotel for some of the overflow, so most of the attendees were right there, and had easy access to various tourist activities. For some participants, it was their first visit to Cape Town, South Africa, or even Africa, and judging from the stream of photos on videos on some of the channels, people were enjoyed the experience of visiting a new place.

The wifi was excellent, surpassing many other, even commercial, conferences I’ve attended before. Food was great, and the masterstroke of serving lunch from 10am to 4pm meant lunch fitted into everyone’s schedule. And yes, if you arrived at 4pm, there was still ample food.

Another huge benefit was that, to my knowledge, everyone that wanted a visa got one. The last few Wikimanias have seen delegates, even on full scholarships, not able to attend after experiencing visa hassles. Last years Wikimania in Canada was particularly disastrous in this regard. The local organisers put effort into ensuring visa applications proceeeded smoothly, and of course South Africa, being a poorer country, is far more welcoming of visitors than most previous hosts.

There was some talk of making visa accessibility a priority criteria for upcoming Wikimanias, so we could see a number of new locations on the schedule in future. While attending in a location such as the USA is great for attracting lots of people already involved, the Wikimedia projects need to grow beyond their traditional strongholds. About a quarter (by my visual reckoning) of attendees were at their first Wikimania, so Wikimania Cape Town certainly helped reach a whole new audience.

I didn’t want the conference to end. I was torn between attending multiple great sessions, meeting lots of new people, and the role I took on for the event, tweeting up a storm for the Wikimedia South Africa Twitter account, which felt like a fulltime job at times, with tweets pouring in from multiple sessions at once. Wikimedia South Africa also signed up lots of new members.

I was happy I got time to make progress on helping integrate Wikidata into the Siswati and Xitsonga Wikipedias in particular (and if I can find people to work with for the other South African languages, will help there as well).

Wikipedia has always been unstructured data, and Wikidata corrects that by structuring the data, making it much easier to use across projects. Before using Wikidata, updates had to be done on each individual Wikipedia language edition.

For example, in mid-July, the latest South African population estimate was released. At the time of writing, Wikidata and the English Wikipedia have the updated figure, 57,725,600. The German Wikipedia has the figure from 2017, 56,521,900. The French Wikipedia states the figure from 2016, 55,653,654. The Sotho and Afrikaans Wikipedias give 54,956,900, the 2015 estimate. Xhosa and Northern Sotho go back to 2013, giving 52,981,991. Zulu goes even further back, to 2011, with the census figure of 50,586,757.

Swati, thanks to Wikidata, gives the 2018 figure. It’s a huge boost for everyone, with content needing only to be updated in only one location, and filtering through to all language editions.

However, there are downsides.

Installing the templates require admin permissions. I am not an administrator on any Wikipedias, and some of the smaller South African language Wikipedias don’t have any admins at all, so installing them needs a helpful person with rights. Luckily it’s a once-off task, and Wikimania was a great place to find help – thanks to User:Theklan, from the Basque Wikipedia, for his assistance.

But there are other downsides. Firstly, of course the templates themselves will need to be translated (you may have seen some of the terms in the Tsonga and Swati Wikipedia templates are still in English). This is inevitable, whatever method is used, and is also a once-off task, but what makes it tricky is that its’s unlikely an inexperienced user will know where to translate them. Translations can be done on either Wikidata, on the template, or on both, and without personally showing someone how and where to do this, it’s unlikely an editor will discover this by themselves

Once the templates are translated, the results may need to be translated as well.

Editing Wikipedia is supposed to be as simple as clicking the Edit button. It was in the early days, but now with nested templates within templates, or with templates pulling in data from an entirely different project, it’s not nearly so simple anymore. The English Wikipedia has built up a great deal of complexity, all with good reason (to remove needless repetition), but it can be difficult to make a change, even for experienced editors. Introducing Wikidata introduces similar complexity to smaller Wikipedias, where there can be little expertise to overcome obstacles.

There is no simple link to click, so a user has to navigate to Wikidata, find the correct term themselves, and then navigate the slightly more difficult Wikidata interface, in order to edit a value. I don’t see this happening easily.

The next downside is customisation, which is very limited. The format of the numbers, which fields are shown, which order, are all not possible or easy to customise. There’s no easy way to hide fields that are still in English, or fields that the language community decides are not necessary in their edition.

Making things even more tricky are that there are different implementations of Wikidata templates. I attended a workshop demonstrating something I really needed, but the demonstrated solution was not available in the implementation I’m using.

Still, overall using Wikidata is extremely positive for the Wikimedia projects, and hopefully with some attention to simplicity in actually making edits, they can live up to their potential.

Thanks to everyone involved for making Wikimania Cape Town a great success, and leaving us inspired as we build a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Zulu Wikipedia reaches 1000 articles

Just in time for Wikimania, the Zulu Wikipedia has reached the 1000 article milestone. Congratulations to user Njabulo19 who created the 1000th article. Njabulo19 started editing actively in 2017 and has continued into 2018, and has paid particular attention to article categories.

isiZulu 1000

Well done Zulu Wikipedia community for having reached 4 figures – wishing you speedy progress to 5 figures!

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Better than the Beatles

I’m not sure I’m going to sleep tonight.

I’ve discovered a classic album, one of those new discoveries that sears itself into your consciousness, leaving you forever changed. Kurt Cobain listed this as his fifth favorite album of all time. Frank Zappa apparently called them better than the Beatles. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of them before.

I introduce The Shaggs, with their influential 1969 album, Philosophy of the World.

The Shaggs

Musician Cub Koda writes: “There’s an innocence to these songs and their performances that’s both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them … being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one.”

Not all reviews were as appreciative. “Like a lobotomized Trapp Family Singers, the Shaggs warble earnest greeting-card lyrics (…) in happy, hapless quasi-unison along ostensible lines of melody while strumming their tinny guitars like someone worrying a zipper. The drummer pounds gamely to the call of a different muse, as if she had to guess which song they were playing – and missed every time.” went a 1980 Rolling Stone review.

A later Rolling Stone review takes it further: “It may stand as the worst album ever recorded.” and the New Yorker called the album “hauntingly bad”.

If you think that’s hyperbole, track 4, My Pal Foot Foot, takes the album to a new level.

The visionary band was formed and promoted thanks to a palm reading given to Austin Wiggins that claimed his daughters would form a popular band. He withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments, and arranged lessons for them.

Enjoy.

Image from Wikipedia

June 2018 African language Wikipedia update, 50 000 articles for Afrikaans

African language map

There are only 19 days to go until Wikimania in Cape Town, so it’s a good time to look at the state of the African language Wikipedias again, as always based on the imperfect metric of number of articles.

The following tables show the number of articles for each language on a particular date, as well as the percentage growth between the most recent two dates.

African Language Wikipedias

Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +
Malagasy 79,329 82,799 84,634 84,996 0.43%
Afrikaans 35,856 42,732 46,824 50,275 7.37%
Swahili 29,127 34,613 37,443 42,773 14.23%
Yoruba 31,068 31,483 31,577 31,672 0.30%
Egyptian Arabic 14,192 15,959 17,138 18,605 8.56%
Amharic 12,950 13,279 13,789 14,286 3.60%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,605 7,823 8,050 2.90%
Somali 3,446 4,322 4,727 4,898 3.62%
Shona 2,321 2,638 2,851 3,630 27.32%
Lingala 2,062 2,777 2,915 3,023 3.70%
Kabyle 2,296 2,847 2,887 2,844 -1.49%
Hausa 1,345 1,400 1,525 1,856 21.70%
Kinyarwanda 1,780 1,799 1,810 1,823 0.72%
Kikuyu 1,349 1,357 0.59%
Igbo 1,019 1,284 1,384 1,320 -4.62%
Kongo 1,173 1,176 1,179 0.26%
Wolof 1,023 1,058 1,157 1,166 0.78%
Luganda 1,082 1,153 1,162 0.78%
Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +

The Malagasy Wikipedia still leads by number of articles, but most of the articles were bot-created. 95% of all edits on that Wikipedia were made by bots, the fourth highest of any Wikipedia, indicating that there’s not much of an actual human community.

Shona, Hausa and Swahili saw good growth, with Swahili particularly impressive coming off a high base. Congratulations too to Afrikaans for reaching the 50,000 article milestone, a target they had set themselves to achieve before Wikimania.

Egyptian Arabic, Lingala, Amharic, Somali and Northern Sotho all saw moderate growth.

Otherwise, the other African languages are mostly static, with Yoruba having barely moved since 2013 (and 79% of all edits made by bots).

Igbo and Kabyle have actually shrunk, which is possible due to the cleaning up and removing non-notable articles.

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +
Afrikaans 35,856 42,732 46,824 50,275 7.37%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,605 7,823 8,050 2.90%
Zulu 683 777 942 959 1.80%
Xhosa 356 576 708 738 4.24%
Tswana 503 615 639 641 0.31%
Tsonga 266 390 526 562 6.84%
Sotho 223 341 523 539 3.05%
Swati 410 419 432 439 1.62%
Venda 151 238 256 256 0.00%
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12 12 0.00%
Language 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 % +

Onto the South African languages. In spite of being far ahead in terms of number of articles, Afrikaans is also growing at by far the fastest rate, even off this high base. It wouldn’t take much to get, say Ndebele to grow quickly – just the addition of one new article would see its percentage growth outstrip Afrikaans, but sadly it’s been static since its early days in the Incubator (the Incubator being a staging area until a project can show it has enough to survive as a stable project).

Tsonga has been growing steadily. User:Thuvack, who was previously president of Wikimedia South Africa, but now works for the Wikimedia Foundation, has personally created 293 of them, the most recent being in April.

Xhosa, Sotho and Northern Sotho have seen moderate growth, while there’s some life in Zulu and Swati. Tswana, Venda and Ndebele have all been static recently.

User:Aliwal2012 continues to be a standout contributor in a number of South African languages, in particular Afrikaans, Northern Sotho and Sotho, and has edits in most of the South African languages.

With so many African languages still in the startup stages, one to two regular editors can make a huge difference. All it takes is clicking “Edit” and getting started.

With Wikimania coming to sub-Saharan Africa for the first time, it’s a great opportunity to meet and interact with others in the project. The preconference to Wikimania starts in Cape Town on July 18, and the main event starts on July 20. There’s still time to register!

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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Birthday parties

Rumour has it I turned 57 today. Last night, I had a combined birthday party with someone turning 44, and according to their calculations during the cake speech, our combined age was 101. Since most of the people at the party didn’t know me, and no one pointed out the mistake at the time, I got to enjoy a few minutes of “wow, you don’t look more than 50” style compliments, and sharing my health tips – eating midnight slabs of cheese and slumping all day in front of the computer – before my real age emerged.

It was the best birthday party of my life.

OK, so it was only my second birthday party as an adult, but still.

I’ve rarely been inspired to organise a birthday party. As a child, birthdays involved some last-minute studying for the next days mid-year exams. The most memorable one was me crying on the bed, I don’t remember why, but thinking “it’s supposed to be my birthday!”

As an adult, I organised one – a sedate dinner at home, and my memory of that is people sitting around the table arguing, and me finding it all pointless and wishing I could just go to bed.

I’ve always preferred meeting people one one one, or in very small groups, so the idea of putting lots of people I know together and then not getting to spend much time with them each wasn’t too exciting.

But still, I usually enjoy other’s parties, and it’s about time I had one. After agreeing to pitch up if someone else organised it, three friends got together to form an organising committee.

Thinking my part was done, and I could just make a brief appearance at the actual event, was wishful thinking. I soon had to intervene to untangle some organisational gridlock. The committee had creative differences, and ideas for a vodka slushie machine, magic mushrooms, a night in the mountains, dancing in town and dinner at home weren’t fitting together well.

Dancing took priority, and even if the party had turned into a disaster, putting together the playlists, including a 90’s trance hour, reliving 90’s anthems like Sandstorm, Madagascar, For an Angel, made it all worth it.

90’s trance hour lasted for 4 and a half hours. I’m surprised I can walk today.

So while others (re)forged connections, had intense talks about flat earth(s) and the like, tried to throw Buddha statues in the pond, struggled to get the playlist they had spent ages on working, and whatever else went on behind the trees, I mostly just danced.

Even if it was more like the first minute of the video below, rather than the last:

Thanks to all who helped organise and to all who came, even if I never got to meet you, or spend much time with you. Here’s to another 47 years of dancing.

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Cape Town wiki meetup with Wikimedia Foundation’s Asaf Bartov

Cape Town was very lucky to host Wikimedia Foundation’s Senior Program Officer Asaf Bartov at the end of his Africa tour. We held a meetup, and it proved particularly inspiring to those attending.

Asaf spoke about Wikidata, discussed projects using the data, and demonstrated a number of tools that were new to most of us, such as https://query.wikidata.org, which uses the SPARQL query language to query Wikidata content.

Cape Town Wiki Meetup May 2018

Wikidata adds structure to the content which makes pulling out all kinds of related information possible. Wikipedia data is fairly unstructured. Numerous categories exist, so if you’re looking for, say, a list of South African politicians, there’s both a list page and a category page. However, if you want something more detailed, such as a list of South African politicians that have a father that was a politician, without lots of manual slogging, Wikipedia alone won’t be much help. That’s where https://query.wikidata.org comes in, and once familiar with SPARQL, such questions are easy to answer.

Even more exciting to me was Quarry. Years ago I remember toying with the idea of downloading a Wikipedia database dump, but at the time the massive download would probably have ground South Africa’s internet to a halt. Quarry is an interface for running SQL queries directly on the Wikimedia Foundation’s backend MariaDB databases. The bar to getting something useful is a little higher than on https://query.wikidata.org, as to use it effectively requires getting to know the data structure, but since access is direct, it’s a tremendously powerful tool to extract almost anything you want.

The easiest way to get started is to take someone else’s query and modify it. For example, here is a query listing pages from the Afrikaans Wikipedia that don’t have an Afrikaans label on Wikidata, which I forked from Asaf’s demo run during the meetup: https://quarry.wmflabs.org/query/27283

I can already see myself diving in and automating and expanding the (semi) regular African language updates I do, or getting automatic notifications of activity in some of the small South African language Wikipedias.

And if those listed above are not enough, Asaf has a tool section on his user page listing yet more wonderful tools you’ve probably never heard of.

Thanks Asaf for taking the initiative to pay a visit to some of the African Wikimedia communities, and leaving a trail of inspiration in your wake.

Black Panther

Tonight was the opening night of Black Panther. It’s been getting heavy publicity for being the first of eighteen Marvel superhero films to feature a black lead, and features a predominantly black cast.

For some this is just tokenism, an attempt to find a new angle to sell yet more movie tickets. So was there more to it than this? Mild spoilers ahead.

All I can say is, you should have been there.

It started with a mostly black audience (unusual in the southern suburbs of Cape Town), many dressed up for the event.

From the first appearance of Black Panther, in a trailer, the crowd was shouting and cheering. As the first isiXhosa words were heard, the crowd again broke into prolonged cheering and applause.

The script was great and hit all the right notes. The audience howled at “Great, another broken white boy for us to fix.”, and perhaps the line with the wildest audience reaction was, “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” From then on, every time that character spoke out of turn, the crowd shouted him down with cries of “Colonizer!”, and the movie was an interactive experience with the crowd shouting out encouragement and quips all the way through.

Later, when the “colonizer” was forced to stop talking by the guard’s gorilla grunting, the crowd was again shouting in encouragement, with years of racist monkey chanting being reversed to shut up the white guy.

I am certain the EFF will be co-opting some of the themes next time they want to make a symblolic statement in parliament. Who needs miner’s hats and red overalls when you have gorilla chants?

As the movie ended, the crowd broke into applause, with some getting up and dancing. The cinema stayed full for well after the credits started, and the cleaning staff had their hands full getting things ready in time for the next show.

The audience left, breaking into song, dance and gorilla chanting, and many of the the crowd waiting for the next show had cellphones filming the audience reaction.

It’s a euphoric time in Southern Africa, with Mugabe and Zuma both being booted out recently. Both tried to talk the talk, but steered their countries in exactly the opposite direction of the utopian Wakanda featured in the movie. Black Panther came at the perfect time in this part of the world. Someone commented that you could almost feel centuries of oppression being lifted.

Quite a feat for just another superhero movie.

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