Category Archives: humour

For I’m a Jolly Good Fellow (of the RSA)

I may have been overlooked, once again, in the new year’s honours list, but in mid-December I received an unsolicited and very flattering email; I’d been nominated, by their Regional Programme Manager, to become a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the Royal Society of Arts, for short, or RSA, for shorter). The nomination was “for your work on open data, Wikipedia and social media”.

You could have knocked me down with a metaphor.

Royal Society of Arts - from the Strand, London

RSA headquarters
Photo by Elliott Brown, on Flickr, CC-BY

Founded in 1754, the RSA is an independent enlightenment organisation committed to finding practical solutions to today’s social challenges (their email pointed out). That sounded right up my street. I was delighted to accept, and confirmation arrived by e-mail on Wednesday.

I’m in some illustrious company. My fellow fellows include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Dr Sue Black, Stephen Hawking and Gareth Malone. Past fellows have included Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin and Karl Marx!

As a fellow, I shall have use of facilities at the RSA headquarters, off The Strand, pictured above. I shall henceforth refer to this, tongue firmly in cheek, as “my London club”.

My fellowship also means that I now have extra initials after my name. I’m “Andy Mabbett, FRSA”.

But you can still call me Andy.

Talking about GLAM, Wikipedia and QRpedia in Amsterdam and Hamburg

During the first weekend of December, I was in Amsterdam, at the invitation of Wikimedia-UK and Wikimedia-NL (two of Wikipedia’s many “chapters”, which support the work of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects). I was there — along with Wikipedians from 22 countries — to participate in GLAMcamp, an unconference about GLAMWiki collaborations, between Wikimedia volunteers and Galleries, Libraries, Archves and Museums (GLAMs), including my work as Wikipedia Outreach Ambassador to ARKive. Unlike most Wikipedia events, which are open, this one was an invitation-only event (though there was a public workshop on the Friday afternoon), so I was flattered to be invited.

I was asked to lead a workshop about QRpedia, the project with which I’m involved, which puts QR codes into GLAMs, linking to Wikipedia articles, but detects the language used by the GLAM visitor’s mobile device and serves them an article in that language or offers the alternative languages or a Google translation if none is available. Did you know Wikipedia exists in 272 languages? How many museums do you know that can afford to offer interpretive material in so many languages? Or even a few?

A square barcode

This QRpedia code links to the Hindi article about Qrpedia — but if you scan it with a phone set to use another language, such as English, guess what happens..?

Feedback about QRpedia was positive, and I was told of its use in India, though I’m still awaiting details. The biggest areas of concern expressed were the availability of statistics, so I was delighted to be shown this QRpedia stats tool created by the project’s developer Terence Eden; and the need to provide unique URLs for institutions, so we can distinguish, say, requests for the article on the industrial revolution from a museum in Amsterdam from one in Birmingham. We’re currently holding a consultation on how best to create custom URLs for that purpose, and input from museum colleagues would be especially welcome.

While at GLAMcamp, I also gave a brief talk on my work deploying , which aroused quite a lot of interest, and I’m now in discussion with representatives of a couple of non-English Wikipedias, who are looking to deploy them.

Our venue was Mediamatic, which doubles as an art gallery, and had an exhibition in progress about fungi. They kindly agreed to allow us, durng the event, to deploy the Netherlands’ first QRpedia code, on an exhibit about .

People using mobile phones to scan a QRcode, displayed above specimens of a fungus

Wikipedians from various countries queue to scan the first QRpedia code in The Netherlands

Of course, it wasn’t all work, and we managed to fit in two backstage museum visits, to the (whose staff were particularly accommodating) and , as well as some good meals and some local snacks, including broodje kroket, the moreish stroopwafel and the seasonal delights of banketstaaf, kruidnoten, and gevulde speculaas — all traditionally eaten on Saint Nicholas’ Day, the final day of my stay, when visits.

We also spent an evening at “Boom Chicago” an hilarious comedy improvisation show, delivered by US/Canadian crew, in English. And guess who they decided to pick on?

paunchy white male in blond wig, comedy glasses and massive false red beard

Boom Chicago: I have no idea who this is supposed to be…

Sarah Stierch kindly videoed “my” guest appearance, complete with references to an answer I gave earlier in the evening, when I was asked to name a profession, and replied “Saggar Maker’s Bottom Knocker “.

After my QRpedia presentation, I was surprised and delighted to be asked to repeat it — four days later, in Hamburg, Germany! A very quick turnaround by Wikimdia-DE, who kindly funded my trip, meant I was able to book flights immediately upon my return to Birmingham — flying out via Zurich and back via Copenhagen. Spending my first, brief, visits to Switzerland and Denmark wholly inside airports, was bizarre.

So, a few days after Amsterdam, I found myself delivering a localised version of my presentation to staff from the various museums that make up the Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg (Foundation of Historical Museums of Hamburg), as well as enjoying a tour of the Hamburgmuseum and even a little birdwatching (my German bird list now includes Grey Wagtail, Fieldfare, Peregrine and Buzzard, among more common species) But best of all, we were able to deploy Germany’s first QRpedia code at the museum.

Young white woman scanning a QR code using a mobile phone

Martina Fritz of the Hamburgmuseum scans the first QRpedia code in Germany

So, two national firsts for QRpedia, and five airports in five countries, in five days for me. I have to say, much as I enjoyed it, speaking about Wikipedia in Dudley a few days later wasn’t quite so glitzy!

My thanks to everyone involved for making the two trips both possible and memorable, and especially Peter Weis in Hamburg, who sacrificed two days of his own time to make sure I was kept entertained. I came away from GLAMCamp with renewed enthusiasm for working with the GLAM sector, and a bunch of new friends and contacts with whom I can share tips and requests for advice and assistance.

Poll: To at or not to at?

Today, while other people are out enjoying the warm sunshine, I’ve been sat at my computer, grappling with one of life’s big issues:

at symbol @

When we link to somone’s Twitter profile, should we include the liquorice allsort charcter, the “@” symbol, in the link, or not?

In other words, should my profile be linked to as:

@pigsonthewing

or as:

@pigsonthewing

What do you think? Have your say below (using the WP-Polls plugin for WordPress, which coincidentally I’m trialling); and please ask your friends to do so, too.

Where should the "@" go?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Thank you.

Don’t confuse your social media channels

Earlier today, Birmingham‘s O2 Academy (a large popular music concert venue, m’lud) posted this to Twitter:

Tuesday’s giveaway….Black Rebel Motorcycle club CD’s to give away! Just head over to the competitions tab for more information!

Unfortunately Twitter doesn’t have a “competitions tab”, and neither do the various Twitter clients that people use.

As you can see from the suffix I’ve highlighted in the screenshot, “via Facebook”, the tweet they posted was actually a Facebook status update. It turns out that their Facebook page has such a tab, and the Academy have simply piped their Facebook statuses into Twitter, without thinking about, or remembering, what they’ve done.

A salutary lesson to be careful about feeding content from one forum to another; and about writing for a specific context. Failure to do so can give confusing messages, and is not helpful to your audience

An open letter to Facebook, about their broken microformats

Dear Facebook,

Thank you for adding an hCard microformat to my profile on your site.

However, it’s broken, as you can see in this screenshot, made using the debugger in the superb ‘Operator’ add-on for Firefox:

Microformat contains bogus "org" and "title" properties and no ""URL" or "email" properties

My Facebook profile, with broken hCard microformat shown in Operator toolbar's debugger

You need to fix some things:

  • I am not an organisation, so please remove the org property (you may have some user accounts for organisations, contrary to your own polices. That’s their, and your, problem — individual users are by far the majority).
  • The names of six of my friends, chosen by you at random, are not my titles. My title is currently “Mr”. (I say currently; it might change to “The Right Honourable”, if ever gets to be PM and I threaten to publish the pictures).
  • Add class="url" and rel="me" to my web addresses, This is probably the single most useful thing you could do for me right now. Unless you like ironing.
  • Add class="email" to… oh, you guessed, To my e-mail address; that’s right. I’m sure that won’t be hard to do.
  • Add a machine readable date and mark up my birthday as such: I might get more cards if you do.
  • Mark up my address as such, or at least as a label.

If you do this for me, I promise not to refer to you as “Farcebook” again. Until the next time you screw up, that is.

All the best

Andy
— x —

25 things about Andy Mabbett

I’ve been wondering whether anyone would tag me to give “Seven Things you Never Knew About Me”, and how on Earth I would come up with that many. My friend and colleague Emma Routh tagged me on Facebook in a similar exercise, but requesting twenty-five factoids!

For the benefit of those of you not on Facebook (where I’ve already tagged another 25 victims), here they are:

  1. I come from a long line of horsemen (following the paternal line). My grandfather was a cavalryman in India in the 1920s, then delivered bread from a horse-drawn cart. His father was a carriage driver for a wealthy Birmingham family, before that, my ancestors were stablemen for a Duke; and were from Fairford in Gloucestershire. I’ve contacted someone called Mabbett whose family has been in New Zealand for generations, but also harks from Fairford.
  2. I love flying and watching or reading anything to do with aeroplanes. I had an hour piloting a helicopter as a 30th birthday present, I’ve been up in a microlight, and I sweet-talked my way onto the cockpit of a commercial airliner for the landing at Birmingham International Airport on the return leg of my first flight (to Amsterdam) in 1989; yet I haven’t flown since a business trip to Dublin in 1996.
  3. I’m a pacifist.
  4. My spelling is appalling. I particularly have trouble using double letters when I should not, and vice versa. This is, apparently, typical of people of my generation, who were taught to read using the “” (ITA) system, which had no double letters. Nonetheless, I’ve always been a good and voracious reader (my reading age was over 16 when I was 9), and could read “proper” English while still being taught ITA. Forbidden, as a child, to read at the meal table, my mother says I would read sauce-bottle labels.
  5. I am a published writer: I have written two books on Pink Floyd ( an update of a previous work by ; all my own work), contributed to another, and written articles on the same subject for Q and Mojo, among others. When Pink Floyd were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Seattle, I wrote the programme notes. I was subsequently invited to the induction ceremony in New York, but couldn’t go as I was in the middle of buying my house. My second book is a set text on a university course in the USA.
  6. My hair used to be waist-length. Female friends were aghast when I cut it. I sold it to a wig-maker.
  7. I used to be a professional computer programmer, in COBOL and suchlike, for Cadburys. There was a time when every bar of chocolate which left their factory at Bournville had been counted by a stock control programme which I wrote. I haven’t coded for many years, though. I’d like to learn to programme again, for the web, perhaps using PHP.
  8. My books came about because, for ten years, I published and edited, with friends, a fanzine about Pink Floyd, ““. It was read in every continent except Antarctica (I really must get around or sending a copy to our research station there) and even smuggled behind the iron curtain. We had a subscriber in Kuwait, but sadly I never heard from him after the Iraqi invasion.
  9. I hold a certificate in counselling skills. I was encouraged to take my training further, but a job change took my career away from working with unemployed adults and towards on-line work. And how does that make you feel?
  10. I absolutely love dogs, but my domestic situation means I can’t keep one. My friends laugh at how often I stop to pat dogs in the street.
  11. Through my writing, I’ve met many famous people, and become an unashamed name-dropper. JohnRabbitBundrick, the Texan keyboard player with Free and The Who, once cooked me chilli and cornbread. James Galway and the London Symphony Orchestra played just for me (but he still owes me £15). The picture researcher on my first book was Mary McCartney, daughter of Paul. Bob Geldof once called me a cynic.
  12. I am a certified first-aider, and once saved a man’s life with CPR.
  13. I’ve always done voluntary work. I now do so for the RSPB, such as entertaining children at events (I’m very skilled at making dragonflies from pipe cleaners), and as a trustee of the West Midland Bird Club, for whom I am also webmaster and chairman. In my schooldays, I did conservation work at Moseley Bog Nature Reserve. Later, I was a volunteer for the Birmingham Railway Museum, doing almost everything from engine cleaning to shop sales, and from manning a level crossing to booking guest speakers. I also acted as steward on mainline steam trains, looking after the passengers as we went all over the country. The only place I never worked was on the footplate.
  14. I only passed my driving test at the third attempt, and have since been involved in four collisions requiring insurance claims. Only one, the most minor, was my fault.
  15. I’ve been managing websites since 1994 — the year Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented them founded the W3C (he invented the web in 1991, of course). I’ve been using on-line fora for work and socialising since 1995 since October 1994.
  16. I’ve been stalked online for years. If you search the Usenet archives, you will find fake accounts (including someone pretending to be me) announcing that I’m both a convicted “cottager” and a child abuser (I have a police safety-check certificate which says otherwise), have been sacked by the people who still employ me, and more.
  17. I collect things. If I had unlimited space, I’d collect everything, but I really have to stop myself, and limit my collecting to books, original artwork showing birds, fossils, and old artefacts related to Birmingham, such as bottles and badges and beermats and coins and 78-record sleeves and… Oh dear.
  18. I’m a grammar pedant: I say “fora” not “forums”, and detest the use of “bored of”. I love copy-editing and proof-reading, too.
  19. I had the job of demonstrating the World Wide Web to Michael (now Sir Michael) Lyons; the first time he saw it. He’s now head of the BBC Trust, and ultimately responsible for bbc.co.uk, ““.
  20. The Guardian‘s Ben Goldacre once referred to me as “the ever-vigilant Andy Mabbett“.
  21. I own an original drawing by Bill Oddie, from one of his books, “Birdwatching with Bill Oddie”. It cost just a couple of pounds on e-Bay, in a job lot with a signed photo of Liberace.
  22. I love old street furniture, especially the old cast-iron stuff we have inherited from the Victorian era. One of my achievements was to save the street-urinal from where Birmingham‘s International Convention Centre now stands, for Birmingham Railway Museum (though I don’t think they’ve yet re-erected it).
  23. I hate bananas. I really wish I didn’t as I know they’d be good for me, and are handy to carry when out in the countryside, but I can’t stand the taste or texture. Even the smell makes me feel nauseous. I love almost all other fruits and, as a child, would usually prefer fruit to sweets.
  24. If I go near fresh paint, I can still smell it for a week or more afterwards.
  25. The Duke of Edinburgh once trod on my cousin’s toe.

Triple tags on Twitter

Triple tags (known as Machine Tags on Flickr) are a way of tagging web content with tags having three parts: a namespace, a predicate and a value. This means that we can differentiate between content about a (tagged taxonomy:vernacular=beagle) and (tagged maritime:vessel=beagle). Of course, that relies on everyone using the same tagging schema (my two examples could also be tagged with, say, pet:dog=beagle and history:ship=beagle). Fortunately, communities of web authors are agreeing on such schema.

One schema that is widely used is for geo- (or location-) tagging, where posts such as my picture of a Kingfisher on Flickr are tagged with (in that case):

  • geo:lat=-1.56403
  • geo:lon=53.60913

In other words, the coordinates of the place where I took the picture (pages using that schema are also often tagged with ““).

Kingfisher at Bretton Lakes, South Yorkshire

It is then possible for Flickr to display that picture overlaid on a map of the location.

The Flickr page is also tagged:

taxonomy:binomial=Alcedo_atthis
taxonomy:genus=Alcedo

which gives the scientific name (binomial or binominal) of the Common Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis, including the Genus, Alcedo.

Another form of tagging, using hash tags, is used by the social media text-messaging service Twitter. Tags in twitter are prefixed with a hash symbol (#), hence the name. A “hash-tagged” message might look like:

I live in #England

Hash tags are parsed by three sites that I know of (there may be others — if so, please let me know): Hashtags (e.g. ), Summize (Summize for “#blog”) and Twemes (Twemes for “#blog”).

All well and good.

It occurred to me recently that it should be possible to use Triple tags in Twitter messages, so I posted these “tweets” as they’re called (I find that rather, er, twee):

#tagged post about #Kingfisher #taxonomy
( #taxonomy:genus=Alcedo,
#taxonomy:binomial=Alcedo_atthis )

(See
http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing/statuses/849630924)

and:

Is anyone is parsing #geotagged posts like this: #geo:lat=52.478342 #geo:lon=-1.895389 ( #birminghamuk #rotunda #geo #geotag #tripletag)

(See
http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing/statuses/853592240)

(line breaks have been inserted to improve readability)

Disappointingly, none of the three hash tag parsers above managed to understand these. They all see “#geo:lat=52.478342” as just “#geo” and “#taxonomy:binomial=Alcedo_atthis” as just “#taxonomy”.

Worse still, Hashtags wrongly displays my two posts without the second two-thirds of the tag content, as:

#tagged post about #Kingfisher #taxonomy ( #taxonomy #taxonomy )

(see http://hashtags.org/tag/taxonomy/)

and:

Also wonder if anyone is parsing #geotagged posts like this: #geo #geo ( #birminghamuk #rotunda #geo #geotag)

(see http://hashtags.org/tag/taxonomy/).


See also:

Wouldn’t it be great if services which parse hash tags in Twitter messages also recognised “hash-triple-tags”?

[Update: Summize was bought by Twitter and is now absorbed by them as Twitter’s own search.]

[Update: Hashtags.org now parses the triple tags as, for example, just “#taxonomy”]

[Update: David Carrington of Dabr tells me that some of these triple tags are too long for Twitter’s search API. I’ll try to find out what the limit is, and raise the matter with Twitter’s support people]

[Update: There is now a tool to automatically generate tags for Flickr images of living things; iNaturalist tagger.]

This one's for you, Adrian

My good friend Adrian B., who is a bit of a technophobe, complains that he doesn’t understand most of what I post because “it’s too technical”.

Here’s a post just for you, Adrian.

[picture of an abacus]

(Picture courtesy of Claudecf, via Flickr, Some rights reserved.)

Spotted Mimics

As a child, I was often taken to our local shopping centre in Perry Barr, north Birmingham (since replaced by a tin shed with pretensions of being a mall) to see a Mynah bird (Acridotheres tristis). It resided in what I now realise was a ridiculously small cage, on the counter of a petshop, and would delight all and sundry by asking repeatedly, “Where’s George?”, wolf whistling, or performing another of its many acts of mimicry.

Now my ears are more attuned to such things I realise that the journey was unnecessary. Still living in Birmingham, I can hear the avian equivalent of Rory Bremner any time I wish, simply by opening a window and listening to the Mynah’s relatives, my local Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). With the onset of autumn, they flock in ever increasing numbers, resplendent in new, strikingly sleek and spotty plumage, and very vocal. As well as having an uncanny ability to sound like any number of other birds, they have been known to imitate car alarms and mobile phones, and even children’s playground screaming.

The quiet suburban road where I live is rarely without Starlings, at any time of day, but the city-centre skies are no longer darkened by the flocks which came in to roost there in my childhood. A backfiring car would see thousands take off at once, and have pedestrians reaching for tissues to remove their supposedly “lucky” deposits from clothing or — worse — hair.

The birds in my garden are far better behaved, except when treated to their favourite delicacy: leftover, raw, shortcrust pastry. They descend from my and my neighbours’ rooftops the second I step back from the bird table, and the food disappears in moments, in a cloud of flying feathers and squawking and pecking bills, the birds mingling too rapidly to count accurately.

One particularly convincing, if annoying, individual has perfected the art of reproducing a Buzzard‘s (Buteo buteo) mewing call, no doubt heard in more open country. Ever gullible, I rush into the garden each time it performs this trick, in the hope of adding the real thing to my “garden list”. So far, without success.

[The above was written some time ago, with the intention of emulating the Guardian’s Country Diary column. As such, it has exactly 200 words, not counting the subsequent addition of scientific names. These are marked up with the draft Species Microformat, which I developed, and which is already being used on Wikipedia.]

Oops


A WindowsXP error message, projected onto a building in Birmingham, for all to see.