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Wikipedia shows signs of stalling as number of volunteers falls sharply

Murad Ahmed, Times online
It was one of the internet’s most ambitious, radical and ultimately successful ideas.

Eight years ago Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia that allows anyone to write and edit articles, declared that it would provide access to “the sum of all human knowledge”. It soon became one of world’s most popular websites.

The site assumed that facts and information could be provided by all. Anyone was allowed to log on, write and change articles. Any subject — from Barack Obama’s election to characters in the Star Wars films — was considered worthy of inclusion. The pages have been updated and improved upon thousands of times and they are used more than 300 million times a month by everyone from primary school pupils to speechwriters — even if they should know better.

Surprisingly to sceptics, who have long warned that inaccuracies abound on the website and that they can come to be regarded as fact, the project seems to have proven the wisdom of crowds. A recent study suggested that its pieces were just as accurate as those in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

…The research found that in the first three months of this year the English-language version of the site suffered a net loss of 49,000 contributors, compared with a loss of about 4,900 during the same period last year. Many experts believe that the trend could threaten Wikipedia’s future…
(25 Nov 2009)

Car culture: Some snapshots

Toban Black, blog
(28 Nov 2009)
Thanks to Toban for these thought-provoking photos of one of our most entrenched cultural obsessions. -KS

The story of cap and trade
Annie Leonard,
The Story of Cap & Trade is a fast-paced, fact-filled look at the leading climate solution being discussed at Copenhagen and on Capitol Hill. Host Annie Leonard introduces the energy traders and Wall Street financiers at the heart of this scheme and reveals the “devils in the details” in current cap and trade proposals: free permits to big polluters, fake offsets and distraction from what’s really required to tackle the climate crisis. If you’ve heard about cap and trade, but aren’t sure how it works (or who benefits), this is the film is for you.
(Nov 2009)

Available Now! The 2 Disc Special Edition of ‘In Transition 1.0′!
Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
You saw the online test screening, you’ve seen it shown at a Transition initiative near you, you may even be in it, but now it is properly released…. ‘In Transition’ is the first detailed film about the Transition movement filmed by those that know it best, those who are making it happen on the ground. The Transition movement is about communities around the world responding to peak oil and climate change with creativity, imagination and humour, setting about rebuilding their local economies and communities. It is positive, solutions focused, viral and fun.

‘In Transition’ has been show in communities around the world to enthusiastic audiences, and is now available as a special edition 2 disc DVD set, beautifully packaged in entirely compostable packaging, featuring the film itself (with subtitles in Deutsch, Español, Français, Italiano,and Nederlands) and an embarrassment of outtakes and extras, with interviews, films about Transition you’ve been searching high and low for quality copies of, and other gems. It is a must-have for anyone with an interest in this new take on responding to the challenges of the 21st century…
(8 Dec 2009)

Christmas insanity unwrapped

Laura Miller,
Every year, Christmas is directly responsible for some of the worst books to cross a reviewer’s desk: stale, overfrosted sugar cookies loaded with the literary equivalent of artificial coloring and high-fructose corn syrup. But now all is forgiven because the season has inspired Hank Stuever to write “Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present,” a portrait of the holiday as it’s celebrated in the booming Dallas exurb of Frisco, Texas. A delicately calibrated combination of rigorous reporting, observational humor and old-fashioned empathy, “Tinsel” is the book that saved Christmas for this curmudgeon. The first two sentences alone, with their vivid evocation of big-box America and the promise of more crackerjack prose to come, did the trick:

Before the Black Friday dawn, the sky is still a mix of dark blue and the sick sodium-vapor saffron of the suburban night. I park by the Beijing Chinese Super Buffet and walk across the lot to Best Buy, where hundreds of people — some in their twelfth or thirteenth hour of standing in line — await the day-after-Thanksgiving doorbuster sale.

“Tinsel” explores the considerable gap between the Christmases most Americans have and the ecstatic holiday nirvana they long for. One of the three Frisco families that Stuever follows is the Parnells, specifically Tammie Parnell, a 44-year-old mother of two whose titanic drive has been insufficiently tapped by the (supposed) dream job of affluent stay-at-home mom. The overflow of her energy goes into a business she calls Two Elves With a Twist (the second elf quit a couple of years ago, but who needs her?), which puts up interior Christmas decorations for McMansion dwellers who are too exhausted or aesthetically challenged to do it themselves. Rocketing around Frisco in an “enormous, Coke-can-red GMC Yukon XL” she calls “Big Red,” Tammie’s conversation reels from rhapsodies about how “blessed” she and her clients are to sassy capitalist mottoes: “Moving the merch! That’s what I’m all about.”

Stuever also got to hang out with the Trykoskis (Jeff and Bridgette), who erect one of those huge synchronized flashing light displays that attract visitors (and traffic) to the neighborhood from miles around. Possibly the most consistently gratified of all Stuever’s subjects, Jeff lives to construct this elaborate system, employing 50,000 lights and “$10,000 worth of sixteen-channel control boards” as well as a short-range FM transmitter so that spectators can tune their car radios to the soundtrack. (The song is “Wizards in Winter,” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a number Stuever describes as “‘Stairway to Heaven’ for the men of America who put tens of thousands of Christmas lights on their suburban homes and program them to blink to music.”) Hired to design the lights for the faux Main Street of a local New Urbanist development called Frisco Square, Jeff becomes so obsessed that by the end of the book he’s buying a shipping container filled with 27,000 sets of LED lights from a factory in China.

Lastly, Stuever spent time with Caroll Cavaso, a single mother of two who has to finance her family’s Christmases on a considerably tighter budget; he meets Caroll and her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa, in the line for that Black Friday doorbuster. Tagging along with her, he attends a megachurch, where the pastor “casts himself as a fast-quipping, badass warrior for Christ. He is not above driving a bulldozer on stage to make his point.” Frisco is crawling with this breed of preacher; Stuever dubs the typical specimen “Reverend True Religion Jeans” purveying “Venus-and-Mars-style jokes about women and men and relationships, with props. (Don’t you hate it when your wife puts the toilet paper on the roll backwards? Don’t you just sit there and say, ‘Help me Lord’?)”…
(22 Nov 2009)