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Odds and Ends

Just to close the loop on last month's note about students returning to school at this time of year. Reports are that the average freshman moving into a college dorm is bringing along 17 gadgets—all of which need electrical outlets. Mind you, that's the average. While I have all my fingers and toes to count with, I can't come up with what these gadgets are. Cell phone, computer, monitor, printer, TV, MP3 player, DVD player, fridge, microwave oven, hair dryer, electric toothbrush. That's it. I'm stumped, and I still have lots of toes to go. Somebody help me, please.


The death of Wikipedia? Could this be true? Well, it might as well be, what with all the anonymous editing that's going on. Actually, "editing" isn't the right word here. "Revisions" might be a better fit. I like to think that "editing" involves making something better (although any number of Dr. Dobb's authors who have graciously put up with my editing of their articles might not agree).

In the case of Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), anonymous revisions have changed entries ranging from the long-term health effects of Pepsi Cola to links to newspaper stories about Ireland's Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. At least, they used to be anonymous. Thanks to Virgil Griffiths's WikiScanner program (wikiscanner.virgil.gr), we now know that computers at Pepsi Cola were used to delete entries about the negative health effects of Pepsi Cola, and that computers at the Vatican were used to delete links to Gerry Adams articles. What Griffiths, who is a grad student in the Computation and Neural Systems department at CalTech, did was compare 5.3-million edits against more than 2-million public Internet addresses. In doing so, for instance, he also learned that computers at Anheuser-Busch were used to edit a negative Wikipedia entry about SeaWorld. SeaWorld is owned by Anheuser-Busch.

No, Wikipedia isn't dead, but we now know why university professors don't encourage its use as a valid bibliographic source. As for Griffiths, he thinks Wikipedia is okay for noncontroversial topics, and that techniques (such as colored text) can be implemented to combat disinformation. Color coding is a technique researchers at the University of California, San Diego, use with their software (trust.cse.ucsc.edu) that computes the reputation of Wikipedia authors according to how long their contributions last. And yes, there is a Wikipedia entry for both Griffiths (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgil_Griffiths) and WikiScanner (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WikiScanner).


As luck would have it, I recently turned to Wikipedia, looking into a topic that I thought was benign, but that turned out to be, well, mildly controversial. I used the term "cross-platform" in a posting about Silverlight, the "cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in from Microsoft." Silverlight plug-ins are available for both Windows and Mac OS X (www.microsoft.com/silverlight/downloads.aspx), which to me means "cross-platform." According to Wikipedia, cross-platform is a term that refers to "software [that]...can be made to work on multiple computer platforms." Dictionary.com is more specific, in that cross-platform describes "software...that works on more than one system platform."

But some readers didn't agree, saying that Windows and Macintosh do not constitute cross-platform. My guess is that Windows and, say, Linux would be cross-platform, however. In any event, Microsoft now says it will be delivering Silverlight Media Codecs for Linux, and Novell will be building a 100-percent compatible Silverlight runtime implementation called "Moonlight."


Finally, in the spirit of either disinformation or marketing hyperbole, I received a promotional e-mail trumpeting "the largest library of downloadable source code on the Web!" Now, I don't know what metrics were used—the number of files, total number of lines of source code, cumulative file size in megabytes, or whatever. I do know that Dr. Dobb's has a fair-to-middling online source-code library, going back nearly 20 years. If you toss in the C/C++ Users Journal source code, which is part of the Dr. Dobb's library—that's another 17 years worth. No matter how you slice and dice it, that's a lot of source code. Then, if you look at, say, SourceForge.net and other such sites...Well, metrics aside, I'd be interested in what you see as the biggest and/or best source-code libraries available on the Internet. Drop me a note and let me know what you think.

Jonathan Erickson


[email protected]

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