On Wikipedia’s Stunt: Open Letter to Jimmy Wales

Peter Blume, The Rock, 1944

With false modesty after 19 January’s Wikipedia stunt (which I believe was a serious risk to world computing, and set a precedent for further such stunts), Jimmy Wales is breaking his arm patting himself on his back.

I’ve posted this comment at Jimmy Wales’ blog. It’s under moderation and may never appear.


Actually, Jimbo, I am making a post to comp.risks (Association for Computing Machinery, Forum on Risks to the Public) concerning your stunt.

By bringing down a facility that is widely used, not only by human beings but also by automated tools, you endangered the Internet.

It might not be good practice for a shell or script procedure to contact wikipedia to update a data base from the numerous tables of information provided by “your” site (which as you’ll be the first to admit, is really “ours”, the 99% who, working as virtual slave labor, built it and were bullied by the editors you seem to have retained commencing in 2006).

But given my own thirty years of experience in software, this happens all the time, and many incompetent programmers fail to check status or availability. Their shells and scripts would not turn Javascript off and would go unexpectedly to the special black screen, causing a failure.

Since in all probability thousands of such shells and scripts exist, this raises the possibility of a cascade of failures every time you turn Wikipedia off to make your point.

It is a point which I only somewhat support. Microsoft did after all create real jobs by being aggressive about intellectual property so as to pay its employees, whereas the hacker culture has in fact deprived good developers and academics (such as Andrew Tanenbaum, probably the real inventor of Linux) of both credit and payment, as Bill Gates pointed out in 1976. It’s replaced family-wage software jobs with a Maoist “cultural revolution”, accurately characterized as such by Jaron Lanier in his book You Are Not a Gadget, featuring, in place of family or fair wages, mob action and bullying, such as I have been subjected to, most recently in your serious violation of my privacy, when, as I have observed to you elsewhere, you published the IP addresses I use.

You may be inflating the seriousness of SOPA and PIPA simply because you don’t want to pay staff to automate search for copyright violation. Nothing in your Randroid based philosophy or personal behavior can convince me you are a revolutionary, working for the good of humanity. It is likely that most bloggers will be unaffected by SOPA and PIPA by way of the maxim, de minimis non curat lex: the law does not concern itself with trivia.

But not only did you create a risk of a cascading network failure as did our friends the bankers in 2008 with their toxic securities, monkeying around in an unexpected fashion with feature so widely used as to be an expected resource, you also created a precedent for Google, YouTube, Facebook, WordPress, and other widely used tools, which may be used by automated shells and scripts, to also pull this stunt.

Recall if you will that the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown of 1986 was caused by technicians making changes to and “testing” a system they did not fully understand.

I cannot help but remember the female and humanistic supervisor to whom I reported when at Princeton who strongly discouraged her programmers to make cute or dramatic changes to software facilities because even within the Princeton community there was no way of knowing whether distributed computers would use centralized computer resources and in what way.

As opposed to this dreary male culture of ersatz political protest, I should say.

Edward G. Nilges (spinoza1111)


One Response to “On Wikipedia’s Stunt: Open Letter to Jimmy Wales”

  1. spinoza1111 Says:

    As I expected, my criticism of wikipedia has been shitcanned. Wales can’t stand truth to power any more than Henry IV could abide the name of Mortimer.

    Speak of Mortimer!
    ‘Zounds, I will speak of him; and let my soul
    Want mercy, if I do not join with him:
    Yea, on his part I’ll empty all these veins,
    And shed my dear blood drop by drop in the dust,
    But I will lift the down-trod Mortimer
    As high in the air as this unthankful king,
    As this ingrate and canker’d Bolingbroke.

    Nay, I will; that’s flat:
    He said he would not ransom Mortimer;
    Forbad my tongue to speak of Mortimer;
    But I will find him when he lies asleep,
    And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
    I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
    Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him
    To keep his anger still in motion.

    Shakespeare Henry IV pt 1

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