Monthly Archives: February 2011 is a successful, non-commercial fork of Camerapedia is a successful, non-commercial fork of Camerapedia. It was built over the span of about a month, with a small team of volunteers reconstructing the wiki and its image database in response to a sale of Camerapedia to Wikia. Steevithiak tells the tale from the inside, of late-night perl scripts crawling through the databases reconstructing the site and of coordinated action to rebuild the photo pool.

The challenge of running a wiki is not only that you have to maintain a large collection of encyclopedic content, but also that you have to keep a pile of funky software running. The enticing trade is to accept advertising on your wiki pages in exchange for "free" hosting. The hosting company gets your community's sweat equity, unless they rebel en masse and go and build their own sandbox. More power to them.


This mini essay is exactly 140 words.

The world of Twitter has an infinite demand for your 140 character episodes, but it's not a satisfying place to compose something that has depth or nuance to it. My daily column of 500 words on takes an hour or more to write, and I never have the sense that I can dash it off casually.

Perhaps the best approach is to aim for a happy medium. What if the unit of composition is 140 words, not 140 characters? That is three compact paragraphs, with enough space to advance a thought without dragging on forever. 

This mini essay is exactly 140 words. It's concise but not telegraphic, and in writing it I removed as many words as I typed in order to fit it into this small space. The form imposes constraints, but it also leaves enough room to utter more than chatty quips.

Notes from a construction project

An old bicycle wheel makes a good pulley wheel.

An old modem, of any sort, can be repurposed by attaching a single RJ-11 cord to both ends of it; you now have a loop, and the RJ-11 threads through the bicycle wheel.

An RS-232 cable should be thought of as a very strong wire rope with helpful screw connectors. 

A transformer makes an excellent counterweight.

There is no piece of old electronic junk that doesn't have some possible usefulness as a part of a kinetic sculpture, whether it works or not. Remember, kids, the connector is the artwork.

Guthery’s Law: “In an evolving man-machine system, the man will get dumber faster than the machine gets smarter.”

I quoted Guthery's Law in a 1986 contribution to Risks Digest about fast-food computing; here's the original citation from Scott Guthery, who was at ASCVX6 at the time.

He's now contributing a column to TMCnet, looking particularly at risks to the public from smart medical devices operated by less-smart humans.

My career in food service

As published in the Association for Computing Machinery’s Risks Digest, v4 n30, 1986:

 Fast-Food Computing


Tue, 16 Dec 86 16:15:04 EST

I must have been in the cycle early for McDonald's
fast-food intelligent man-machine systems, according to
Guthery's law:
>     In an evolving man-machine system, the man will get
>     dumber faster than the machine gets smarter.
McDonald's fast food computers (i.e., cash registers)
collect all sorts of data on the individual employee at
the counter and on all counter sales as a whole.  They also
do not have a <no sale> key that opens up the cash
register, probably to prevent theft.  That made it real hard to fix a
mistake without calling a manager to get a key to open the drawer.
Solution?  Well, the people I worked with at McD's had been
around thesystem long enough to figure out how to get around
it.  Without getting into too many details of why things were
as they were, the easiest way to open the drawer without a
manager was to ring up a sale that gave away a
tub of barbecue sauce for McNuggets and nothing else.
(Hit <promo> <barbecue> <promo> <total> .)
Of course, that messed up the daily statistics some.
Edward Vielmetti, Ex-McDonalds employee, Computing Center
Microgroup, U. Mich.