Friday, August 31, 2018

"We're on the Road to Nowhere": Wikimedia Australia in retrospect

Before we can talk about the dual trainwreck that was/is Wikimedia UK, we should reveal what happened to a sister Wikimedia in a former British colony and present Commonwealth of Nations state, Australia.

A short prologue

Before there was a Wikimedia chapter in the country, Aussie Wikipedians posted what was going on to an "Australian Wikipedians' notice board" which was created in September, 2004. Except for announcements of Melbourne or Sydney meetups, it was rarely used from 2004 to 2008, and the main operators were Chris Sherlock and Ambi (Rebecca Leighton), well-known for their "abusive and arrogant behaviour" as Peter Damian put it in the notes I am working from. Beyond the "notice board" they also operated a mailing list called wikimediaau-1 they began in March, 2006. February 2006 saw the first "official Wikimedia Australia" meeting, which was on Internet Relay Chat for two hours. Angela Beesley made the event happen.


For whatever reason, possibly the drama over Essjay, possibly because Australian Wikipedia is as busy as the University of Woolloomooloo, but very little happened to WMAU until January 23, 2008 when an announcement was made that they were incorporating that year; they started a WMAU wiki on April 20th (not realizing it was Adolf Hitler's birthday.) Daniel Bryant (Daniel) was the first administrator, until he quit later that year. For some bizarre reason, Encyclopedia Dramatica has a page on Bryant's former girlfriend Riana (Riana K. Chakravarti). There should be some mention of Lankivail (Craig Franklin) who was a founder of Wikimedia Australia, he died this April. When he was alive he was one of those "deletionist patroller" users (joined Wikipedia in 2004); he ran for ArbCom in 2008 and didn't make the cut, but he was made an administrator in 2008. His Wordpress blog survives him.

By March of 2008 they had begun the incorporation process, which they documented (like everything else) on MetaWiki. They have a rules page, a page on how they voted to be an organization, eleven pages of their IRC logs, etc. We do not know if those rules were actually acted upon after approval. There was a bid for Wikimania 2009 to take place in Brisbane made by WMAU; Buenos Aires was chosen instead.

Things began to heat up in 2012 as "schisms" (as Peter Damian or Eric Barbour put it) began to form - John Vandenberg's protégé Laura Hale ran a slate of officers against Vandenberg's slate of officers in the WMAU elections that year, with Hale and Steven Zhang (Steve Crossin) nominating their slate. They lost on November 25th (34 votes were cast), then Laura Hale and her landlord Ross Mallett (Wikipedian Hawkeye7, who had run against Lankveil for the Treasurer's position) plus Bidgee (Robert Myers) jetted to a Colorado ski competition which would also include a stop at the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco. Before the election they had applied for a grant of $4,635 for the trip and were in flight when it was turned down. Hale quit WMAU, but somehow became an (unpaid) Wikimedian in residence with the Spanish Paralympic Committee, providing material on the Paralympic Games in London. She also got involved with Wikinews. There was a thread about the farcical election on the Wikipediocracy message board, which also brought up that there was a private WMAU mailing list.


Trouble in paradise: Tony Souter's Wikimediaau-1 email "AGM and new committee appear to have no legitimacy under the law and chapter rules" from November 2013 - Tony1 wrote the following:

At this point Crossin/Zhang was President of the WMAU. Of course there was a WO-MB thread on it. Souter was ignored, even though he tried to bring it up again.


This was where the dam broke, as  recounted in this Wikipediocracy message board thread:

Andreas Kolbe:  Recent disagreements on the wikimediaau-l mailing list seem to have led to a permanent split. As far as I can make out, all three wikimediaau-l list admins (Steven Zhang, Charles Gregory and John Vandenberg) have now resigned, to be replaced by David Gerard.

The March archive of wikimediaau-l is here; the relevant thread is "Apparently corrupt administration of this list".

At the same time, a new mailing list, wikimedia-au-members, has been set up by Steven Zhang, the current President of Wikimedia Australia. The March archive of that list is here.

The flashpoint was Steven Zhang's attempted banning of longstanding Wikipedia Signpost contributor Tony Souter (Tony1 (T-C-L)), who Steven felt was asking too many questions (sorry, let me translate that into newspeak: Steven called it "disrupting the list", "repeated personal attacks", etc.).

John Vandenberg immediately said he did not want to have anything to do with the new list. Steven Zhang on the other hand said he did not want to have anything to do with the old list, and encouraged everyone else to consider unsubscribing from it too.
Down the thread:
Silent Editor: ....I read on the old list that WMAU is probably not going to apply for FDC funds this year, but they haven't really made up their minds yet. Of course, it's likely that time to apply will run out before they make up their minds, anyway.

But of course, Steven Zhang posted the note saying they probably wouldn't apply for funds to the old list several days after he'd posted saying he was unsubscribing from that list...

Great illustration of Sayre's Law.
On Vandenberg and Steve Zhang, Kelly Martin had this to say:

.....I only have vague recollections of Zhang and Vandenberg, but generally thought that Vandenberg seemed less nuts than average for a Wikipedian. Zhang, on the other hand, is a froot loop; I remember him quite well when he was Steve Crossin. I'd say that I don't understand how someone like him got to any level of authority, but this is Wikipedia we're talking about.....


In October, 2015 there was the "2016 annual meeting" and the following people were elected: Gideon Digby (Gnangarra), Pru Mitchell (Pru.mitchell), Tom Hogarth (TomH), Bidgee (R. Myers) again, and Caddie Brain (Tenniscourtisland). Digby is a professional photographer in Perth, made a promotional video for the Wikimedia Foundation that was ignored; Mitchell is a librarian from Melbourne and an Adjunct Lecturer at Charles Stuart University; Hogarth, a "researcher" in Belmont near Perth who used undeclared sockpuppet accounts to make over 100,000 actions; Myers is some sort of aviation tech or pilot for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and also involved with Charles Stuart University; Brain is an ex-journalist, now librarian with a large vanity website who has only been involved with Wikipedia since 2016 - they were so desperate for people they elected a rank noob. Of course there was a WO-MB thread, started by our good friend tarantino, sniping at how bad the essay Gideon Digby wrote was (it reads more like a rough transcript of spoken remarks than an actual polished document). In the thread Greg Kohs linked to a Business Insider Australia article "Fair use, or free use? Behind the interests and alliances that stand to gain from changes to Australia's copyright law" by Chris Pash. The most important point from the article was this:

"Lobby groups behind a high profile campaign on Wikipedia urging a switch to US-style copyright law in Australia have links to interests, including multinationals such as Google, which will gain substantially from any change to a so-called “fair use” system......The links are undeclared when Australian visitors to Wikipedia, which is run by registered charity Wikimedia Australia, are asked to email their local federal member of parliament......The Wikimedia Foundation told Business Insider: “Google is one of many donors that contributes to the Wikimedia Foundation, and their contributions have not influenced Wikipedia’s involvement in the fair use campaign in Australia.”"
That's the real importance of these national chapters of Wikipedia - pushing for American-style copyright laws so that Wikipedia doesn't have to pay for material. Meanwhile, the people elected to run WMAU have pulled a game of musical chairs and all of them are still there in 2018, with the addition of two people: Sam Wilson (Samwilson) and Robert Whyte.  At least we don't have to bring up Stephen Bain anymore....

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Guest Post: Wikipedia's War Against Journalism

As somebody who was chased around the San Diego Public Library by James Alexander's underlings I can agree that the WMF does not want to deal with anybody attempting to do any sort of journalism about Wikipedia at all.

Wikipedia's War Against Journalism

by CrowsNest 

Some may remember a prior incident where a Wikipedia Administrator, the rather hapless Dennis Brown (real name), just unilaterally decided one day to reinterpret the Wikimedia Foundation's Terms of Use, specifically their rules on disclosure of conflicts of interest, to mean that journalists seeking to contact Wikipedia users via their Wikipedia talk pages are acting as paid editors, either for their publication or themselves if freelance. Therefore, if they do not provide their full contact details, they can be blocked on sight. This was no theoretical exercise; Dennis, a light bulb salesman with a gambling addict wife, came up with this reinterpretation of the terms to justify his block of a user claiming to be a journalist.

Despite this being a gross and obvious distortion of the meaning of that disclosure requirement, which of course forms part of the legal contract between users and the Foundation, as far as I know, this was not an aberration. Attempts to clarify the situation with the Wikipedia community, in whose name this block was placed, to seek reassurance this really was just a mistake, were rebuffed as essentially a case of 'we don't know what you're saying, but regardless, Dennis is a great guy, and we are sure there is nothing to see here, so now only kindly fuck off'.

The person who made that enquiry, on behalf of the blocked journalist, is of course also now blocked by Wikipedia. That decision was upheld by a Wikipedia Steward, the aptly named There'sNoTime (identity hidden), and it has been suggested elsewhere that this means that act has some legitimacy beyond merely being the act of a private individual. In short, she may have exposed the WMF to liability. I am sceptical, but if that information helps anybody concerned by this and looking to take it further, there it is.

Fast forward to today, and in another spectacular example of over-reach which seems to cast Wikipedia as an enemy of the press, yet another Wikipedia Administrator, C.Fred, another pseudonym, has unilaterally reinterpreted a Wikipedia policy, one that nominally stops users issuing legal threats to each other as a way of chilling discussion, as also encompassing any mention of contacting the media.

Again, this is not an exercise in theory, this Administrator issued the following ultimatum to a blocked user, as part of the appeal process for them to gain an ublock, having been blocked for making legal threats. To get unblocked, as well as promising not to make any more legal threats, they also included this condition, to declare that......

Either that you have not made any statement to the press about conduct on Wikipedia or that you have withdrawn such statement. ... =855241852

The might just be two examples, but given their seriousness, and that it involved different Administrators, and the likelihood neither are seen as mistakes by either other Administrators or the wider editor base who trust these people to enforce their rules for them, I think it is safe to say the Wikipedia community wishes to create a hostile environment for journalists.

They want to make it as difficult as possible for journalists to contact Wikipedians, in particular making investigative journalism almost impossible. You can't feasibly investigate any Wikipedia issue if you are restricted to only contacting people who have enabled email or otherwise posted contact details, which the vast majority do not. And perhaps understandably, being required to announce yourself as a member of the press immediately puts people on guard and potentially denies the public information that Wikipedia editors, be they witnesses or bad actors, might otherwise freely volunteer.

Secondly, they want to ensure Wikipedia editors are frightened of the consequences of speaking to journalists. There's nothing to stop them doing it privately of course, but if they need to get others to talk as well, perhaps to help journalists verify elements of a story prior to publishing, they are in the same bind if those editors don't give any way to privately contact them.

So, why would the Wikipedia community want to be hostile to journalists? Well, it's simple. They got shit to hide. A lot of shit. Read our forum if you doubt this. The thing Wikipedians fear most, is the outside world ever figuring out how it all really works. This ironically leaves the media space free and clear, to be used for the broadcast of the views of Wikipedians who are more than happy to speak to the press. You might get the idea what that entails, when you consider just how closely the Wikipedia community resembles a cult. The ability to redefine your own rules to say whatever you want for the purposes of maintaining internal security and rebuff any protestations from those deemed outsiders or troublemakers, being an obvious and pertinent example.

As far as their external image goes, the Wikipedians would have you believe you can edit Wikipedia without disclosing your identity, as long as you aren't violating the Terms of Use. And they would have you believe editors are never punished for doing something as socially beneficial as explaining to the public how Wikipedia really works.

Try it. Any journalist out there, please try it. If you need story ideas on which to base you enquiries, if you need to know which Wikipedians to contact to ask questions of, or get witness statements from, drop us a private message. We are nothing if not eager to learn of your success. Or failure.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Not Wikipedia: The Astronomer-Nudist of Black's Beach

As long as we are talking about academia in San Diego county and it's still summer, the subject of Lloyd Johnson and his unique website seems fitting. Johnson was an adjunct professor of Astronomy at a number of community colleges in the area; he may have burnt out and quit in 2011*, his Rate My Professors pages end that year. Whatever the case, his 1990s website Nudism Resources by Lloyd (warning, page background is a repeated nude shot of him freediving taken from above) used to be linked to his professors' page at Cuyamaca College back when it was much smaller than it is now, a former "technology annex" of Grossmont College slowly becoming a free-stranding institution.

The URL of the site ( gives away Lloyd's true love, Black's Beach. The beach (named after the family that owned the land) has been quietly nudist since May of 1974, though a New York Times article from 1976 was noting that tourists from NYC were showing up in San Diego just for Black's Beach - the word had gotten out. Johnson had this to say about the beach circa 2006:

As of July 2006, I have been to Black's thousands of times. There has been recent change, just after July 4, 1999. Signs were posted stating that nudity is illegal. These signs are sometimes missing, due to theft, but the law can still be enforced.  Put your clothes on when on the city beach, which begins somewhere south of the trail head, perhaps 100 meters.  In the past there have been cones with a sign marking the nudity line.  As of May or June of 2003 lifeguards have not been putting these markers up.  Instead there is a square, yellow post with the letters T P C B, marking the boundary for Torrey Pines City Beach.  The yellow post has been missing since about November 5, 2005, but there have been orange cones there lately. New visitors planning to spend time south of the Burro Trail, should locate the northern-most "nudity prohibited" sign and keep it in mind when going for a walk. The southern boundary is marked by a very unofficial sign against the cliff, indicating the boundary between the city and state beaches.  Beyond is the city beach, Black's Beach, where nudity is prohibited.  The rock is near, on the nude side of the boundary.  The post and cones mark the point where you should dress.

The clothing optional tradition is alive and between these boundaries.  However, it is not actually Black's Beach, but rather Torrey Pines State Beach. We still call it Black's. The boundaries for the clothing optional area of the beach stretch from Mussel Rocks in the north to Salk Institute Road in the south.  Salk Institute Road does not actually reach the beach, but the boundary is where it would reach the beach, if it was extended.

The beach is at the base of a cliff, which tends to isolate it. The hike down, and especially the hike up, is "challenging." Children often manage it better than adults.

The beach itself is very flat. The beach can be very wide at low tide and very narrow at high tide. I've been there twice when the tide was all the way up to the cliff. Check the tides before you go and if it gets above 6 feet in the winter, there will be little or no beach left. You can also get an indication of the weather and surf from the Scripp's Pier Cam. It shows an area just south of Black's Beach. Check my weather page.

The waters can be hazardous. Rip currents and sting rays are the most common problems. I see lots of sting rays and guitarfish. Many of my friends have been stung. I have been stung once. Rip currents can take you way out. I managed swim back to shore against a ripe current at least once, but it was tiring. If you find yourself in such a current, don't try to swim against it. Swim parallel to the coast, then swim back. Lifeguards are present, making patrols, but they have only a few posts on the beach. Black's Beach is a pack it in, pack it out place. You will find no trash cans. Fortunately we have a beach cleaning team. These guys go to Black's nearly every day. They arrive early, walk the whole length of the beach, typically filling a dozen grocery bags with trash. They carry it up the trail to the dumpster, then come down to enjoy their clean beach. If you figure out who these guys are, don't offer them your trash. Don't use them as an excuse to litter. Carry your own trash out. Do thank them for sparing your eyes of the horror of a littered beach.
There are out houses at the top, courtesy of the glider port.  There are no toilet facilities on the beach.  Some people pee in the same place as the dolphins.  Others climb a little ways into a canyon.
There is a constant parade of tourists, especially on weekends. Single men tend to be shunned and single women tend to get more attention than they want. I do see single women there and I also see children there. It is easy to fall prey to gawkers. If you follow some simple guidelines, you can avoid those problems. 

Besides being a nudist beach/climbing expedition, Black's Beach is a great surfing area (thanks to a submarine trench offshore) and was known for that in the 1960s before it became a nudist beach. He also has pages on San Onofre beach, Rincon beach (only a partial-nude photo of Lloyd on the sand), Silver Strand beach (all words, no photos; he was not impressed. To be cute he used the Periodic table symbol "Ag" [short for argentum, its Latin name] in the URL.)  And we should mention his "No Disclamer Needed" disclaimer link at the top of the welcome page.

This website is a time capsule for how frameless personal websites looked like from 1995 to 2007, especially if the owner knew how to make webpages and digitize photos. It's also a window into a San Diego community that is rarely heard from. As Indiana Jones once said, "It belongs in a museum!"

The site used to have a photo of Lloyd Johnson standing full frontal, and for a long time as a joke I would take the chorus of Ogden Edsl's "Dead Puppies" and sing "Lloyd's, Lloyd's johnson, dum-dum-dum, Lloyd's, Lloyd's johnson, dum-dum-dum, Lloyd's johnson has a kink." I'm still amazed that he was brave enough to link his private page to his Cuyamaca instructor's page, especially in an era when professional bluenoses like Rebecca Clark were on the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Governing Board.

Thanks to Eric Barbour for pulling the site out of the murk using search engine voodoo.


* Truth is always stranger than fiction - Lloyd is still out there, running a diving business in Hawai'i. Eric did some looking and found that somebody else was running another website at that address in the 1990s, so the website I remember was taken down by Johnson in 2001 and when he could get an address with "Black's beach" in it, he just rebuilt he website over there, probably the same day. To make matters weirder, there are two commingled websites at the older version whose intro page is and the newer page which lacks that fork. Some of the pages are shared between the websites, which can be distinguished by their tab markers: the newer website is called "Black's Beach Bares" the older "Nudism Resources by Lloyd."