Tag Archives: QRpedia

My interview, about Wikipedia, with Jamillah Knowles, for BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘Outriders’

A couple of weeks ago, I reached out on Twitter to Jamillah Knowles, and asked her to kindly record her voice for , as part of the Wikipedia voice-recording project I initiated.

This she generously did; then surprised me by asking if I would talk about Wikipedia for her Outriders show on BBC Radio 5 Live.

We pre-recorded the interview, and it was broadcast at the unsociable hour of 3am this morning. Fortunately, it’s also online, as part of the Outriders podcast (indexed under today’s date, 20 November 2012), so you can hear it at your leisure. It takes up the first twelve minutes of the show.

We discussed , my current role as Wikipedian in Residence with Staffordshire Archives and Heritage Service, and my favourite Wikipedia article, .


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Day 8 (Wednesday) in Washington DC

I started yesterday by joining a guided walk around . The hostel I’m staying at offers regular tours to various venues and areas, led by local volunteers. A short Metro hop took us under the Potomac River and into Virginia, the state from which the cemetery overlooks Washington. In fact, from the top of the hill there, you can see three states, the third being Maryland.

Arlington is as sombre and as impressive as you would imagine, and impeccably maintained. As well as its famous military burials, dating back to the civil war, it has the graves of John F Kennedy and wife Jackie, and his brother Edward. There’s also a monument to those lost in the Lockerbie bombing and a tomb for unknown soldiers from various conflicts. Before leaving, I was lucky enough to see a very smart, male (Spizella passerina).

My next call was George Washington University, venue for the Wikimania conference. After a great lunch and yet more catching up with friends, I attended a “Wiki Loves Libraries” event, to which librarians from other institutions had been invited. I gave a lightning talk on QRpedia, and had some useful discussions about Authority Control and Wikidata.

Then it was time to turn to the hostel, which I did by bike, to freshen and smarten up, before travelling to the Library of Congress for the formal reception event kindly sponsored by Google. Fine food and free beer certainly helped the mood, and I caught up with more people I’d met in Amsterdam, and met the official Archivist of the United States.

I particularly enjoyed viewing a display of significant American books including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which was written in my home town, Birmingham, England!

The view of the sunset behind the Capitol building was breathtaking. A courtesy bus took us to Dupont Circle, where a group of Brits and one German-Namibian found a bar for more refreshments (I enjoyed the best beer I’ve had here so far, an oatmeal porter), and put the World, or at least Wikipedia, to rights. There are some very interesting issues for Wikipedians in Namibia, where internet connectivity is patchy, and where source material is often not readily available. Work is underway to provide a self-contained, offline version of Wikipedia for schools there. We also enjoyed some pretty loud rock music, including the sublime ‘Freebird‘. The 18-year-old me who bought that on a 12″ single, would never have dreamed he’d one day listen to it in an American dive bar.

Day 7 (Tuesday) in Washington DC

I started today by cycling east, up (and I emphasise up!) Capitol Hill, and to The Capitol Building or, rather, past it, as there is oddly no stand for hire bikes near that building. I found one a couple of blocks beyond The Capitol, where the streets are filled with picturesque residential buildings, of greater age than the anodyne office blocks in much of central Washington. It felt a bit like finding Notting Hill where Whitehall should be. I walked back to the Capitol for the first Wikimania activity — a guided tour of that building. We visited the interior of its vast rotunda, and its crypt, as well as a hall full of statues which was once where the House of Representatives met. The audio-visual presentation and museum-type displays in the new, underground, visitor centre gave me a much better understanding of the history and working processes of the US democratic system than I’d previously held. We also saw a real live congressman (I have no idea which).

Afterwards, I walked a couple of bocks to the north-east, to Union Station, to take a look at some real American trains (I’d only so far seen those on the metro).

On leaving, I asked a passer-by for directions to my bus stop, and he offered to walk with me as he was going that way. He turned out to be US government attorney and professor of law, and we had an interesting conversation about the pleasures of travel, and the use of Wikipedia in education.

I used the Circulator, a bus which runs across town, and costs only a dollar per trip, allowing one to hop on and off as often as desired within two hours. As it passed my hostel, I nipped in for a wash and brush up, and stopped at a roadside farm produce stall to buy a peach, picked in nearby Loudon County, Virginia, just three days ago. It was without doubt the best peach, and possibly the best piece of fruit, I have ever eaten.

I hopped back on the Circulator to George Washington University, to register and and pick up my delegate pack and speakers’ badge for Wikimania, the conference I’m attending. I had intended to depart again immediately, and walk around Georgetown for an hour or two, but more of the UK contingent had arrived, as well as some more of my friends from last December’s GLAMseterdam, and I finally met the delightful Lori Phillips, the Wikipedian in Residence at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, with whom I’m co-presenting on Saturday, so I lingered to chat, instead. The provision of free muffins and bagels, and drinks, did not influence my decision, at all.

At 5pm, a bunch of Wikipedians met up and took the Metro to the impressively maintained (and vandalism free, unlike many in the UK) , where I was pleased to see an extensive deployment of QRpedia, by , whom I had been happy to advise remotely. It was great to meet him too. We had a guided tour of the cemetery from its Program Director, Rebecca Boggs Roberts, during which we observed monuments to, and the burial places of, many notable characters, including J. Edgar Hoover and composer John Philip Sousa. There were plenty of birds (no new ones) and a new Swallowtail butterfly, and I finally managed to find one of the big and noisy cicada-type insects which one hears here every evening.

We returned by Metro, timing our trip perfectly, as it started to rain just as we entered the station. When we came to leave at the other end, it was coming down like a tropical monsoon, and we were forced to shelter in the station entrance. While we did so, two metal manhole covers were noisily blown out of their seating by the air pressure inside the drains.

Eventually, the rain subsided and we made a dash for the hostel, thankfully arriving without a soaking.

My second day in Washington DC

Following on from yesterdays post, in which I forgot to mention that I saw a clear though distant view of New York from the aeroplane on the way in…

Yesterday morning, I had a bit of a wander this found a lovely butterfly garden next to the Natural History Museum, but with only two species. I photographed both, so might be able to identify them later.

Next to that was an interesting sculpture garden, where I heard and saw a (aptly, Melospiza melodia). I then made a quick pop into the National Portrait Gallery & Museum of American Art, which deserved a longer stay. At least they had air conditioning and a faucet (I’m learning the language, see) from which I could top up my water bottle. Yesterday was again ridiculously hot — I drank more water in a day then I ever have before.

I covetously examined a Scottevest jacket in the nearby Spy Museum Shop, but I’m still deciding whether the use I’d get from one justifies the cost.

After that, I was off to the Smithsonian National Zoo. On the way there, an elderly local woman on the Metro — did I mention Washington’s efficient Metro? — enquired about my accent “Oh”, she said, “I from Birmingham too. Until the mid 1960s, when I married an American, I used to live off the Coventry Road at Small Heath”. So did I, in the mid 1960s.

Like all of the Smithsonian venues here, entrance to the zoo is free, which is excellent. I had time for a quick look at my first (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) — which was luckily, quite active — and to watch the wild Night Herons being fed. A (Buteo lineatus; a cousin of the buzzard I see at home) flew through to steal one of the dead mice they’re given. Wild Chipmunks (exact species not yet determined) were running about on the footpaths.

I then had a meeting with staff from the zoo, including a director, who seemed very keen to hear about .

Another Metro ride took me back to central Washington, from where walked to The White House, to see if President Bartlet was about. He wasn’t, but a very confiding (Turdus migratorius; actually not a Robin but a relative of our Blackbird) was entertaining. It was also interesting to see (Sciurus carolinensis) in their natural habitat, rather than as the feral pests which they are at home. Another walk brought me back to the hostel, stopping only for ice-cream.

After a rest and catching up on email and Twitter, I joined a group of people from my hostel for a bus ride to historic Georgetown, with a guided walk. Georgetown is the Handsworth Wood or Notting Hill of Washington, with fantastic private houses, including the one where John F Kennedy and Jackie lived and had their children immediately prior to his election as President. We wandered around Georgetown University, which could easily double for Hogwarts. It was frustrating to see swifts and martins hawking for insects, but not to be able to identify them. Afterwards, we walked down the steps which feature in the closing scene of the Exorcist. The evening ended with an obligatory bar stop and a bus ride home.

[Pictures to be added later]

Transport Scotland/ ScotRail refuse plaque marking Jordanhill Station as subject of one-millionth Wikipedia article

A railway station in Glasgow, Jordanhill, is the subject of , as noted in Wikimedia’s 1 March 2006 press release.

Screenshot as of 19 January 2012

Because of this, the article has been translated into Wikipedias in many other languages, including:

Screenshot of language links

Alemannisch, Arabic, Welsh, Danish, German, Greek, Spanish, Esperanto, French, Indonesian, Italian, Latin, Dutch, Japanese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Simple English, Finnish, Swedeish, Thai, and Chinese

(you can see links to these in the left-hand column of the article; please let me know if you can translate it into other languages).

Last December, I wrote to , an executive agency of the Scottish Government’s Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department and as such accountable to Scottish Ministers, suggesting a plaque be erected on the station, noting this milestone, in collaboration with WikimediaUK, the registered charity that supports Wikipedia and related projects in the United Kingdom. I proposed that the plaque would include a barcode, allowing overseas visitors to see the article in their preferred language.

I have today received their reply, which appears to employ a stereotypical bureaucratic lack of imagination.

Jordanhill station is owned by Network Rail and leased along with the vast majority of all other railway stations in Scotland to First ScotRail to manage and operate on a daily basis.

I have discussed with ScotRail your proposal to install a plaque at the station to mark the one-millionth article on Wikipedia about Jordanhill. We do not wish to take this forward.

ScotRail has been delivering a comprehensive station re-branding programme which began in 2008 and will be complete in 2014. There are Brand Guidelines in place for this programme which aims to simplify and unify all station branding and this includes the removal of information from third parties.

I’m open to suggestions as to how to proceed, and who (and whether) to lobby to have the matter reconsidered. What do you think?

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.