Earth (Arts and Literature)

September 2017 African language Wikipedia update

African language map

It’s time to look at the state of the African language Wikipedias again, as always based on the imperfect metric of number of articles.

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017
Malagasy 3,806 45,361 79,329 82,799 84,634
Afrikaans 17,002 26,752 35,856 42,732 46,824
Swahili 21,244 25,265 29,127 34,613 37,443
Yoruba 12,174 30,585 31,068 31,483 31,577
Egyptian Arabic   10,379 14,192 15,959 17,138
Amharic 6,738 12,360 12,950 13,279 13,789
Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 7,605 7,823
Somali 1,639 2,757 3,446 4,322 4,727
Lingala 1,394 2,025 2,062 2,777 2,915
Kabyle   1,503 2,296 2,847 2,887
Shona   1,421 2,321 2,638 2,851
Kinyarwanda   1,817 1,780 1,799 1,810
Hausa 1,345 1,400 1,525
Igbo 1,019 1,284 1,384
Kikuyu 1,349
Kongo 1,173 1,176
Wolof 1,116 1,161 1,023 1,058 1,157
Luganda 1,082 1,153

This is the 2nd update in a row that gets to welcome a new language to the thousand article mark – congratulations Kikuyu which has now joined the list, and is already hot on the tail of Igbo.

I know some of the Afrikaans Wikipedia editors have been a bit disappointed by the slowing pace of growth as they move towards 50,000 articles. But, to put it in perspective, the 2013 Global Brittanica had about 40,000 articles, so there are less and less obvious gaps in content. Afrikaans is also one of the highest quality Wikipedias for its size – there’s a focus by many editors on the quality of articles rather than just the numbers. And they shouldn’t be too disappointed by the pace – Afrikaans is still the fastest growing African-language Wikipedia, catching up to Malagasy, which has the most articles.

It’s interesting that Afrikaans is getting more media attention, but still has to deal with concerns such as but anyone can edit it, how can we trust it?, the kind of thing the English Wikipedia has long moved on from. A definite focus area for us as the Wikimedia South Africa chapter.

Swahili continues to grow steadily, and Egyptian Arabic as well, and the other languages continue to grow slowly.

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017
Afrikaans 20,042 26,754 35,856 42,732 46,824
Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 7,605 7,823
Zulu 256 579 683 777 942
Xhosa 125 148 356 576 708
Tswana 240 495 503 615 639
Tsonga 192 240 266 390 526
Sotho 132 188 223 341 523
Swati 359 364 410 419 432
Venda 193 204 151 238 256
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12

Looking at the South African languages in particular, besides Afrikaans, Northern Sotho has returned to a more natural growth compared to the spurt of the previous period. User:Aliwal2012 continues to be the standout contributor there, having now created 3,228 pages.

Growth in the Zulu Wikipedia has picked up slightly, with a few relatively new editors contributing the majority of recent additions.

Two other languages have also seen an uptick. Tsonga has leapfrogged Swati, mainly thanks to User:Thuvack, who’s on track to make 2017 his record year for Tsonga contributions.

Sotho has also passed Swati, with User:Aliwal2012 active there as well.

So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t edited before, don’t be afraid that you’ll find the syntax difficult – be bold, and there’ll always be someone to ask for help. All it takes is clicking that “Edit” link and getting started. With just a few edits a week and you could be making a noticeable difference to one of the African language Wikipedias!

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

November 2016 African language Wikipedia update

The March update was positive, so let’s see how the various African-language Wikipedias have progressed since then. As always, this measures the number of articles, which is an imperfect metric, but it’s interesting to follow the trends.

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 5/3/2016 24/11/2016
Malagasy 3,806 45,361 79,329 81,240 82,799
Afrikaans 17,002 26,752 35,856 39,065 42,732
Swahili 21,244 25,265 29,127 32,565 34,613
Yoruba 12,174 30,585 31,068 31,172 31,483
Egyptian Arabic   10,379 14,192 14,839 15,959
Amharic 6,738 12,360 12,950 13,031 13,279
Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 2,830 7,605
Somali 1,639 2,757 3,446 3,878 4,322
Kabyle   1,503 2,296 2,643 2,847
Lingala 1,394 2,025 2,062 2,131 2,777
Shona   1,421 2,321 2,459 2,638
Kinyarwanda   1,817 1,780 1,785 1,799
Hausa 1,345 1,360 1,400
Igbo 1,019 1,112 1,284
Kongo 1,122 1,173
Luganda 1,082
Wolof 1,116 1,161 1,023 1,044 1,058

Afrikaans continues to grow the steadily, and recently celebrated its 15th birthday. The quality of articles is high, and it’s starting to get more media attention. Which also means dealing with the kind of responses that the English Wikipedia has moved on from, such as but anyone can edit it, how can we trust it. It’s good to see the solid Afrikaans community continuing their impressive work.

Afrikaans Wikipedia's 15th birthday
The Afrikaans Wikipedia’s 15th birthday celebration in Cape Town

There’s a new edition to the 1000 club this time. Welcome Luganda, leapfrogging Wolof, which has mostly stalled since achieving the milestone

Most of the languages have continued to grow as per their previous tends, but yet again Northern Sotho is an exception, and showed the fastet growth over this period. Why is it doing so well? The overused Margaret Mead quote Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. perhaps? It’s disputed whether she actually said it, but moving on, just how small are we talking about? In the case of Northern Sotho, there are two main champions. User:Mohau, who has single-handedly created a whopping 4916 of them, and User:Aliwal2012, who I mentioned in the March update, has created 2958 articles. These two editors are an inspiration!

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 5/3/2016 24/11/2016
Afrikaans 20,042 26,754 35,856 39,065 42,732
Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 2,830 7,605
Zulu 256 579 683 742 777
Tswana 240 495 503 538 615
Xhosa 125 148 356 473 576
Swati 359 364 410 412 419
Tsonga 192 240 266 352 390
Sotho 132 188 223 299 341
Venda 193 204 151 228 238
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12

Besides Afrikaans and Northern Sotho, none of the languages are showing substantial progress, but all are showing signs of life, except for Ndebele, which has stalled in the incubator. As South Africa’s smallest official language, it most reflects the struggles of many of South Africa’s languages, which while official on paper, receive little to no real support.

But there’s no need to wait for others. Hopefully the Northern Sotho example has inspired you. All it takes is sitting down and editing!

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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Earth (Arts and Literature) Water (Personal)

Bumbling round Bergen

Norway is not a welcoming country. Not when the bottled water is on sale for R60, or the quotes for the taxi from Oslo airport to the city centre start at R2400. I can also splurge on a fancy limo for R14000. Maybe choosing the cheap flight and arriving in Oslo after midnight wasn’t such a good idea after all.

I finally make it to my accommodation. Having failed to find a couchsurfer (another reason not to arrive after midnight), I look away as I hand over my credit card. Punch in my pin and hope my transaction doesn’t send the rand into freefall again. With impeccable timing, the finance minister has been charged with fraud, sending the currency plummeting 3.5% the day before. With the Euro, I can neatly pretend R1 equals 1 Euro (it’s actually 15 to 1), and everything looks a bargain. In Norway, that trick doesn’t work, as it’s about 2 to 1, and prices still seem outrageous even without doubling.

The person at the counter asks me if I want bedding. “Er, bedding?” I ask. Yes, the hotel room comes without bedding. OK, the place is a bit of a dive, but it doesn’t include bedding? “Er, yes, I suppose…” That’s a further R92, thanks to the infernal machine showing me the price in rands.

There was a review saying the place looked like a mental asylum. Online reviews, eh, always exaggerating.

The place looks like a mental asylum. The lift doesn’t work, and I find myself staggering up I forget how many flights of stairs, and in a long corridor, white walls, no windows, with poky doors. I expect to see bars on them, but am too tired to look. I find my room, am too tired to even put on the duvet cover, and collapse down to sleep.

A good lesson in why “order by price, lowest first” isn’t always a good idea when choosing accommodation.

What I looked like after arriving in Oslo
I wish I looked as good as this after arriving in Oslo

I plan to stay in Oslo one or two days, and then catch the train to Bergen. I even have a couchsurfer from later in the evening after he gets back from work. Which means I get to check out, and wander around the city hauling my bags around. I came to Europe for work, and politely made sure I had a clean pair of underpants for every day, but now I’m tempted to burn the lot so that I can travel light.

I wander through the botanical gardens. It’s autumn, and everything looks like I did the night before. I carry on to the train station. There are lots of beggars. I wonder about the viability of setting up a proxy beggar, and sending the daily earnings back home. Probably eradicate poverty in Cape Town.

Looking online before, there are regular trains from Oslo to Bergen. I come across the train station, and decide to buy a ticket there. It turns out there’s a train strike, with limited trains and most of them full. The only option in my timeframe is the very next one, leaving in about an hour. I quickly message my couchsurfer, book accommodation for Bergen (again, I have a couchsurfer, but not for the next two nights) and settle down to enjoy the ride.

Each time I travel, I fantasise about meeting some gorgeous stranger. It doesn’t help that a friend did just this on a flight to Cape Town, ended up showing her around the whole week, and is now married to her.

On the 12-hour overnight flight to Amsterdam, I was seated next to a gorgeous stranger. Who promptly went to sleep. She woke up about 2am, just as I was hoping to fall asleep myself. She started rummaging around for her iphone. This went on the whole night, and it didn’t help that she got up about 6 or 7 times too (I was in the middle seat, she by the window). After a miserable sleepless night, she finally accused me of stealing her iphone and demanded to search my bags. I let her search my bag (all the while hoping it hadn’t slipped into my shoe or something). She didn’t find it. She wanted me to ask the equally grumpy, sleepless passenger next to me whether he’d taken it. I decided to rather ask him to get up, so that we could both get out of her way and she could search for her iphone properly. The stewards came to see what was happening.

“Is this yours?” the passenger behind helpfully asked, showing her the iphone that had slipped to the seat behind.

Happily she got her iphone back. Unhappily I was more of a wreck than usual on arrival. No, we’re not getting married.

The train from Bergen to Olso is apparently one of the most beautiful train trips in the world. I sit down next to a gorgeous stranger. But she has the window seat and is blocking my view. Soon the seat in front is free, and I move there to look at the view. Just as we start ascending, and I start to see snow on the hills, the gloom descends, and I can’t see anything. Thanks to the late departure, most of the trip will be overnight, and I’ll miss the views. I move back to the gorgeous stranger. She likes the pictures of Cape Town. She gets off at the next stop.

I arrive in Bergen. It’s late again. At least the place I’m staying at is walkable from the station.

It’s a self-service checkin. Enter your booking code. Enter your credit card. Aargh, not again, can’t the machines here stop showing me the price in Rands! I punch in the pin. The machine spits out my keycard, and flashes out a whole bunch of information. I’m tired, I want to go sleep. Wait, my room number?! Was it 420? 402? I enter the keycard in the main doors. Red light. A note pasted to the door says “you may have to enter your card a few times before getting a green light). I enter it again. Red light. And again. About 15 times later I’m starting to get a wild look in my eyes and am wondering how strong the door is. Luckily I’m saved from a night in Bergen prison by someone else coming in, telling me I need to remove the card quickly, rather than wait for the light.

At least the lift works, and room 402 turns out to be correct. But disaster, what’s the wifi password!? Perhaps that was also on the bunch of info I didn’t read. I really must stop arriving late at night as a zombie. I go downstairs to find someone. Except I can’t get downstairs because I can’t find the lift. I remember coming through a door into a passage, but which door? There are lots, and they all look the same! At least everything is not all white this time. I try a few, all locked. Eventually I find the stairs, find someone who can give me the wifi password, and, concentrating carefully to remember my room number, the wifi password and where I came in, make it back, and settle in for the night.

I can’t sleep, with the infernal racket the fridge is making. I get up to switch it off.

The next morning I awaken, looking up at the hills surrounding this beautiful town. A deep, contented breath as I feel relaxed at last. And step into a huge puddle formed from the fridge defrosting onto the floor. Shortly after I get a reminder about the work I promised to finish up after Amsterdam, and haven’t got around to yet. The hills call to me as the day passes, distractedly punching the keyboard.

My couchsurfer cancels. I get to extend my stay, and hand over my credit card again. I start to get worried about my cards getting blocked before I’ve even bought my return ticket to Amsterdam. I look at flight tickets. I find the cheapest ticket, one I’d briefly researched before. Click book. Wait! There’s an 11-hour stopover somewhere. I may as well walk. What about direct flights? Oh god, no. I feel like crawling into a ball and whimpering when I see the price.

It rains 240 days a year in Bergen, and once set an impressive record of 85 days of rain in a row. My kind of town.

And then there’s the fjords. I sit down to write some landscape love poetry.

Ah, the fjords

A good start, a little rusty, but I can feel this coming back to me.

The beautiful fjords, bellisimo, belle

Or is it bellisima and beau? What gender is a fjord anyway? Hmm, this isn’t really poetry, is it. I’ll skip the poetry.

Anyway, Slartibartfast deserves his award for the fjords. If you get a chance, go see some!

Earth (Arts and Literature)

Revisiting Patreon

In March 2015 I started a series, 30 Artists in 30 Days, where the plan was to find 30 artists to support on Patreon. The 30-days part ended up being a little loose. Read that post first if you haven’t already.

It’s been about 18 month since then, and I thought I’d go back and see how Patreon is working out for those artists.

Here’s the list:

Active means has posted on Patreon since June 2016.

Artist Current Status Mar 2015 Sep 2016
Nate Maingard Active 153 $1343 269 $1309
Amanda Palmer Active 3935 $29,193.25 8,317 $33,080
Cyra Morgan Inactive 22 $140 25 $139
Julia Nunes Active 504 $2,010.84 531 $1,424
Dan Newbie Inactive 16 $43 21 $49
George Aguirre Inactive 16 $221 removed
Okori Active 13 $50.50 23 $68
Walt Ribeiro Inactive 28 $158.11 removed
TimH Active 53 $844.35 55 $968
Peter Yuen Active 47 $558 78 $838
Peter Blanchard Active 14 $251 18 $177
The DarkSide Active 1 $1 1 $1
Raina Rose Active ?? ?? 62 $198
James O’Deorain Inactive ?? ?? removed
Caitlin de Ville Inactive ?? ?? 61 $336
Danielle Ate the Sandwich Active 181 $1,011.85 193 $693
Nika Harper Active 302 $1,918.41 194 $877
Scott Bradlee Active 955 $3,427.59 620 $1316
Lauren O’Connell Inactive 342 $1,463.68 357 $1,193
Ana Free Active 75 $445.00 53 $390
Sean Osborn Inactive 3 $31.00 5 $37
David Sides Inactive 5 $9 4 $7
Cyrille Aimee Active 79 $705 152 $1,125
Phil J Active 9 $34 9 $40
Tony Lucca Active 178 $1,373.00 165 $1,003
Christopher Bill Active 48 $287.50 47 $98
Walk Off the Earth Active 1448 $15,805.50 1,287 $9,512
Taylor Davis Active 370 $1,857.00 412 $1,707
Unwoman Active 293 $593.61 399 $751
Gabby Young Active 40 $226.00 51 $260

Like Wikipedia, the concept behind Patreon seems to me like one those things the internet was designed for. Freeing up artists from the middlemen so that they can interact and earn directly from their audience.

So I was quite surprised to see that the majority have seen a reduction in their Patreon income, some quite substantially. A few no longer have Patreon accounts. Only 12 of the 30 have seen an increase. Most have fewer patrons, but even some with more patreons are earning less – so the average pledge has come down. I can’t really see a good reason for this. Patreon’s site was exploited in in October 2015, and perhaps this had an effect, frightening people off. But Patreon’s still getting good press, and still seems to be attracting new artists, so it’s a pity and a mystery to me that artists have not been able to grow their income in a way many would have hoped.

Related posts:
* 30 Artists in 30 Days

Earth (Arts and Literature)

Wikipedia and systemic bias

Systemic Bias
A while ago, I noticed a comment on the talk page of one of the Wikipedia editors that I follow. An article he had created was nominated for speedy deletion.

Speedy deletion is the kind of thing reserved for articles about my pet cat, my high school teacher, the rock band I’ve started in my my basement that will be performing its first gig soon, the brilliant new open source content management system I wrote last night. In other words, articles that are uncontroversially deemed to be a waste of space.

The editor, Bobby Shabangu, has created many articles, almost exclusively African content, on the English Wikipedia, as well as the Swati Wikipedia. He’s on the board of Wikimedia South Africa. So, unlikely to add an article about his rock band then.

I took a look at the article. It was on David Tlale, a South African fashion designer. At the time (and it’s still the case as I write), the article was very short, a stub, but had a couple of good references.

In no way was it worthy of nomination for speedy deletion.

But it’s the kind of situation African editors routinely face. Whenever African content is added, the chances of it being nominated for deletion are high. In many cases, the editor is at fault, having not provided sufficient references, but in many cases it’s simply a case of systemic bias. Wikipedia recognises this (there’s a whole article on the issue, and how to tackle it), but that doesn’t help minimise the impact. At any gathering of African editors, there’s almost always much grumbling about the latest rejected content, a sharing of war stories. Another member of the South African board says he no longer contributes to the English Wikipedia for this very reason. And undoubtedly, if you’re able to contribute in another language, it’s far more rewarding to see your contributions gratefully accepted rather than viewed suspiciously.

I started editing in 2002/2003. At the time, the English Wikipedia was a giant blank page. It wasn’t hard to find a new article to create. The city of Durban? The Springbok rugby team? Kaizer Chiefs? Lawrence Ferlinghetti? Walter Sisulu? The Pan-Africanist Congress? I created the articles for all of these and more, and many articles were in a far worse state than Bobby’s once I submitted them. References? Pfft, too much trouble, who needs them.

Today, the English Wikipedia is a very different beast, the criteria are far more stringent, and it’s no longer possible to find such low-hanging fruit to create. But Wikipedia still severely under-represents African content.

Because I happened to spot, Bobby’s article I could remove it from consideration for speedy deletion. But shortly after it was nominated for deletion, which involves more energy spent justifying an article’s existence.

If I had faced the obstacles new editors face today, if my new articles were continually rejected, deemed unworthy, and I had to spend all my energy in fighting to keep them, I can safely say I wouldn’t still be editing 13 years later.

Let’s go back to David Tlale. Let’s imagine he was an American fashion designer. He’s had articles published about him in the New York Times and the Washington Post. His work has appeared at the New Fashion Week and the Paris Fashion Week. Would his article be seen as the equivalent of one about my pet rabbit?

Of course not.

Systemic bias doesn’t imply that administrators nominating African content for deletion are malicious, out to sabotage the project. No, I’m sure they are well meaning, and having to deal with a constant stream of rubbish contributions must test one’s patience, so when they see another article about someone they don’t recognise, when because of their background they can’t quickly tell the difference between references from South Africa’s largest media companies and various personal blogs, the outcome is not too surprising.

So what can be done about it?

Since I’ve been editing for so long, I’ve been granted the “autopatrolled” right. This means any new article I create is listed as “reviewed”, and is far less likely to attract the attention of a trigger-happy administrator editor looking to delete it.

At today’s Wikimedia South Africa board meeting, I proposed that we identify various experienced, trusted editors, and nominate them to receive the autopatrolled right. Most editors don’t know it exists, or don’t want to go through the red tape of applying and justifying themselves. This won’t help new editors, but it will help retain experienced editors who’re consistently beaten down by the opposition they face.

Let’s see how it goes!

Related posts:
* Wikimedia South Africa Workshop
* March 2016 African language Wikipedia update

Earth (Arts and Literature)

March 2016 African language Wikipedia update

My feeds have been full with Dumi editing up a storm on the Xitstonga Wikipedia recently, as well as helping the Ndebele Wikipedia into the incubator. Ndebele is the only South African official language without a Wikipedia, and it’s great to see this hole being plugged. So, it’s time for another African language Wikipedia update. The usual disclaimer that this only takes into account number of articles, an imperfect metric, as not all articles are equal. This article is in a far healthier state than this one, for example.

But as an indicator of trends and activity, it’s as good as any, so let’s see what been happening:

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 26/6/2015 5/3/2016
Malagasy 3,806 36,767 45,361 47,144 79,329 81,240
Afrikaans 17,002 22,115 26,752 31,756 35,856 39,065
Swahili 21,244 23,481 25,265 26,349 29,127 32,565
Yoruba 12,174 29,894 30,585 30,910 31,068 31,172
Egyptian Arabic   8,433 10,379 12,440 14,192 14,839
Amharic 6,738 11,572 12,360 15,968 12,950 13,031
Somali 1,639 2,354 2,757 3,646 3,446 3,878
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691 1,000 2,830
Kabyle     1,503 1,876 2,296 2,643
Shona     1,421 2,077 2,321 2,459
Lingala 1,394 1,816 2,025 2,077 2,062 2,131
Kinyarwanda   1,501 1,817 1,832 1,780 1,785
Hausa 1,345 1,360
Kongo 1,122
Igbo 1,019 1,112
Wolof 1,116 1,814 1,161 1,201 1,023 1,044

Afrikaans as always continues to show steady growth, and while at times growth in other languages has spiked for a short while, Afrikaans has shown steady, consistent progress, and most of its articles are high quality as well.

Swahili too shows steady growth, and has passed Yoruba, which was the beneficiary of a brief spike.

Most dramatic has been been Northern Sotho, which is the most recent official language of South Africa to get a Wikipedia, and which only recently broke the 1000 article barrier. It has now surged past seven other languages, with 2830 articles. Much of this growth (a whopping 1544 new articles) is down to User:Aliwal2012, a hospital pharmacist living in Lady Grey who’s also extremely active on the Afrikaans Wikipedia, and modestly contributes to the English Wikipedia as well. Modest is a relative term, since in spite of being around for about decade less than me, and English only being their third most active language, they’ve still created more new articles in English than I have!

A great example of the impact one person can have, made more visible by it being in a language that has little content.

Kabyle, a language spoken mostly in northern Algeria, as well as France, has also shown some growth, passing Shona.

Kongo, spoken in the DRC, Republic of Congo and Angola, has now also broken 1000 articles and is a new edition on the list, and Kikuyu is knocking on the door as well.

Exciting to see new languages and bursts of activity, with only a few being relatively stagnant.

On to the South African languages specifically:

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 26/6/2015 5/3/2016
Afrikaans 20,042 22,115 26,754 31,756 35,856 39,065
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691 1,000 2,830
Zulu 256 483 579 630 683 742
Tswana 240 490 495 510 503 538
Xhosa 125 136 148 333 356 473
Swati 359 361 364 400 410 412
Tsonga 192 193 240 303 266 352
Sotho 132 145 188 197 223 299
Venda 193 190 204 209 151 228
Ndebele (incubator) 12

The results here are particularly pleasing, as with the exception of Swati, all the languages are showing activity. As Northern Sotho and Xitsonga, have shown, one person can make a substantial impact.

Anecdotally, some of the of this activity may be down to the content translation tool – it’s great to see a useful tool put to use by the community.

This has probably been the most optimistic report since I started these a number of years ago. Long may it continue, as we get closer to a world where each human can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

Related articles

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Earth (Arts and Literature)

Swiss Precision

Bathroom scaleI have an old analog scale, inherited from my parents. It sits in Dorje’s room, mostly gathering dust.

I’ve never worried much about weighing myself, but in my own mind, I’ve been 80kg most of my adult life, and, more recently, since becoming “fat”, moved up to 85kg. The analog scale is not particularly accurate – I can lose 5 kg in 30 minutes, but still, on the rare occasion I stood on it, I never went above 85kg.

The friends I stayed with in Switzerland had a bathroom scale. All digital, shiny and new, measuring to the 100g. I decided to give it a try. Since I’d walked up a storm in Berlin and Prague, and felt a little lighter than when I arrived in Europe, I imagined something like 83.9kg.

No. 91.1kg it claimed! So much for Swiss precision… Clearly one of those scales handed out as free marketing for a weight-loss supplement.

After a few days of alpine walking, on the morning I left, I braved it again. 90.9kg! Pfft. No more accurate than before.

I rushed to weigh myself on the old scale when I got back home to Cape Town. A sprightly 75kg! Much more like it.

Still, it may not be coincidence that I’ve jogged around the field outside a few times the last couple of days. Yes, jogged. I don’t think I’ve jogged since school – it’s been all sedate walking or all out action since then. And have obviously managed to put on 5kg of pure muscle, weighing in at 80kg two days later.

I don’t really know how to explain the increase to 82kg since I started writing this post though… Perhaps those 7-minute workouts I do every few weeks have a delayed muscle-building effect?

Related posts:

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Earth (Arts and Literature)

South African Literary Awards Online – 6 Years Later

In 2009, I wrote about the sad state of South African Literary Awards online. While sites such as do great work keeping on top of things, the bodies administering the awards did not and, at the time, many did not even have up-to-date, or in some cases any, pages listing their award’s winners.

Jumping ahead six years, surely things are rosier? Even if it’s just a Facebook page, surely not even the most digital-phobic or badly-administered award would have failed to recognise the importance of having some sort of web presence?

In short, no, and in some cases it’s even worse.

I’ve been helping to keep the South_African_literary_awards section on Wikipedia more or less updated with recent winners since then, but every now and again I dive into looking up some of the missing historical winners, and am still amazed at how poor the record-keeping is.

As an example, let’s take the English Academy, which administers a number of awards. In 2009, they had a page listing award winners (albeit only until 2007). In 2014 I noticed that this page had disappeared (breaking the Wikipedia citations), and wrote to them asking them to restore the link, or let me know the new location. They responded a few week’s later by saying that they were updating the list and hoped to put it on the website soon. As of today I’m still waiting, but they have achieved something special by making their new awards page one of the more unreadable out there. One (very) long page begins with a call for submissions for the 2015 Olive Schreiner Prize, continues with a blow-by-blow account of the 2015 award ceremony, including a list of who was thanked in the speeches, and of the wine and good food enjoyed at the ceremony. Next up is a description of the 2014 Gold Medal award winner, including his full acceptance speech. After much scrolling, next up is a press release on the 2014 Percy Fitzpatrick award, followed by a horribly formatted table of winners of various awards from 2012-2013, where the nominators names are more prominently displayed than the winners. Next up is a slightly-better formated table of the 2011-2012 winners. And so it continues, acceptance speech, citation, acceptance speech…

By the end of the page my mouse wheel is crying for mercy, but there’s no list of winners. If I’ve been playing very careful attention, I may have been able to decipher some of the recent winners, but nothing resembling a comprehensive list.

What about the award described as the most prestigious in Afrikaans literature, the Hertzog Prize, administered by the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns? The page used as a citation on Wikipedia again disappeared, but at least they replaced it with a new page, even if they didn’t bother to redirect the old link. “New” is perhaps overstating it, as the list of winners stops at 2013, so while perhaps the 2014 winners of the most prestigious award in Afrikaans literature may be mentioned somewhere on their site, it’s nowhere to be found on the awards page.

The litany of woe continues from award to award. What about the Media24 Books Literary Awards? Surely Media24, the dominant online media empire in South Africa can get it together and have a comprehensive list?

Sadly it appears not, and unlike most of the other awards, which at least give it a brave try, Media24 don’t seem to even have any sort of awards page.

While there’s always Wikipedia (and the section needs some love, so feel free to help out), it’s sad that so few of the local literary awards respect their own awards enough to bother recording them somewhere accessible.

I know, say, the Alba Bouwer prize is not the Nobel Prize for Literature, but some of us are still interested!

Related posts:
* South African Literary Awards and the internet

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

Earth (Arts and Literature)

Film heaven with Mubi

I’ve recently joined Mubi, a video on-demand site for film lovers. Netflix, which, in spite of users having to jump through DNS hoops as it’s not officially available in South Africa, is extremely popular, while Mubi is not well-known at all.

Mubi has some advantages though.

Firstly, it’s officially available to South Africans, so no need to pretend we’re American. It has an interesting model. At any one time, only 30 films are available. Each day, one drops off the list, to be replaced by another. Knowing they’re going to be disappearing soon creates a sense of urgency to watch the films.

So while the range at any one time is limited, most importantly, they show the kind of films I like to watch, which they describe as cult, classic and award-winning films.

To give you an idea of the films they list, here’s what I’ve watched in the last few days (remember these will be dropping off each day so may not be available by the time you read this)
* Lascars, an animated film about two petty crooks set in a French ghetto
* Dancer in the Dark, the Lars von Trier classic featuring the brilliant Björk
* Trash Humpers featuring actors in old people masks humping trashcans (I didn’t get much further than that before moving on to something better, but I’m sure it has a cult following).
* Pink Saris, the award-winning documentary following Sampat Pal Devi, ‘Pink Gang’ leader and her attempts to bring justice to abused women on the streets of Uttar Pradesh in India.

So, after a long drought, I’m in film heaven. I don’t normally like affiliate schemes, but if the site appeals, this one benefits you too. Sign up on your own and get a 7-day free trial, or through this link, and get a 30-day free trial.

And let me know if Trash Humpers turns you on and I’ll be sure to leave the rubbish bin out next time you visit.

Related posts:
* The Bloody Miracle
* Inside Job, ideology and regulatory contradictions
* Shortbus
* Sithengi

Earth (Arts and Literature)

June 2015 African Language Wikipedia Update

I recommend that anybody new to Wikipedia editing starts, if possible, with one of the smaller Wikipedias. It’s far more fun, contributions will probably be openly welcomed, and there’s less likelihood of experiencing some sort of bureaucratic nightmare. An example fresh in my mind is the OpenCart article, which doesn’t exist. Anyone attempting to create it will be faced with this page, and need to persuade the administrator who locked it (due to previous abuse) that they should be permitted to do so, and who therefore holds veto power over its creation. A bridge too far for most new editors!

While the English Wikipedia makes the news due to the declining number of editors, and has a particularly bad reputation (as can be seen in the mailing lists) amongst African editors who’ve had experience with some of its trigger-happy bureaucrats, how are the African language Wikipedias themselves faring?

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 29/10/2014 26/6/2015
Malagasy 3,806 36,767 45,361 47,144 47,061 79,329
Afrikaans 17,002 22,115 26,752 31,756 33,392 35,856
Yoruba 12,174 29,894 30,585 30,910 30,989 31,068
Swahili 21,244 23,481 25,265 26,349 27,021 29,127
Egyptian Arabic   8,433 12,440 12,934 14,192
Amharic 6,738 11,572 12,360 15,968 16,229 12,950
Somali 1,639 2,354 3,646 3,680 3,446
Shona     1,421 2,077 2,091 2,321
Kabyle     1,503 1,876 1,967 2,296
Lingala 1,394 1,816 2,025 2,077 2,087 2,062
Kinyarwanda   1,501 1,817 1,832 1,834 1,780
Hausa 1,386 1,345
Wolof 1,116 1,814 1,161 1,201 1,148 1,023
Igbo 1,017 1,019
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691 966 1,000

Malagasy has shot up, but it’s always been an outlier – a language for which, due to its unusual characteristics, there’s always been a great deal of outside interest. Afrikaans continues to grow steadily, albeit at a slightly slower pace than before. Swahili, in 4th place, is growing at a faster pace than Yoruba in 3rd. Yoruba had a huge burst from 2011-2012, but has only been slowly growing since then.

Egyptian Arabic is also growing steadily, but after that there are some interesting figures. Amharic has lost over three thousand articles. Articles being deleted is not uncommon. Spam gets removed, articles get merged and so on. Losing so many articles simply means the growth before was mostly made up of these kinds of articles, and that there’s little growth outside of that.

With the exception of Kabyle, most of the languages that follow share a similar fate, or are static. Wolof has even fallen to lower than its 2011 level. The one noteworthy milestone is that Northern Sotho has (just) joined the 1000 club.

So, barring Malagasy, while the only fireworks amongst the top African language Wikipedias are of the going out kind, and there are no trigger-happy bureaucrats to blame this time, are things in the far south looking any better? What about the South African language Wikipedias specifically?

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 29/10/2014 26/6/2015
Afrikaans 20,042 22,115 26,754 31,756 33,392 35,856
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691 966 1,000
Zulu 256 483 579 630 686 683
Tswana 240 490 495 510 513 503
Swati 359 361 364 400 408 410
Xhosa 125 136 148 333 380 356
Tsonga 192 193 240 303 309 266
Sotho 132 145 188 197 202 223
Venda 193 190 204 209 208 151

So while Afrikaans continues steadily, Northern Sotho makes it to 1000 articles (albeit with the energy of an athlete somewhere near the back of the pack crawling over the finish line at the end of the Comrades marathon) and Sotho has managed to haul itself off the bottom, all the other languages are static or have shrunk.

The Xhosa deletion log, for example, gives an idea of the kind of articles being deleted, while the latest article to be created at the time of writing, Star Wars, is just blank, and probably also not long for this world.

Northern Sotho is an interesting case, as for a long time it sat in the Incubator, but the experience seems to have helped, as in spite of having less native speakers than both Xhosa and Zulu, it sits well above them in articles created.

Hopefully there’ll be some fireworks to report in the next update!

Related articles

Image from Wikimedia Commons