Put Up a Parking Lot

Classes ended yesterday.  I went to Maine today, my first trip north in almost two months.  I planned to get on the road by 11:30, a plan as successful as most of my scheduled departures–which is not successful at all.  I worked all morning, making progress on some stalled projects, doing laundry, packing the car, and pulled out the driveway at 1:50 pm.   Leaving then, before rush hour on a non-holiday weekend, should have meant arriving about 4:30, plus whatever time I spent shopping for groceries.

I got here at 7 pm.  A tractor-trailer fire on the Maine Turnpike between the York and Wells exits stopped and backed up northbound traffic for miles.  I mean cars-parked-in-the-middle-of-the-highway, dogs-being-walked-in-the-breakdown-lane, w-t-f-is-going-on stopped.   I sampled everything the experience offered.  I let the dogs roam the grass beside the road.  I  strolled southbound and commiserated with fellow travelers.  I made phone calls, checked email, and went to the Maine Turnpike website for news.  I considered a power nap.  It was like the New York Turnpike at Woodstock minus hippies, rock music, drugs, rain, and fun.  Duty made me open my laptop to write exam questions.   Two or so hours after stopping we all started up and began slowly to move, miles of cars, motorcycles, RVs, trucks, buses, flatbeds, and wreckers.  We crawled for miles, three lanes of traffic squeezing left into one lane to pass the accident site.  And what a sight:  a small, charred, twisted pile of metal identifiable as a tractor-trailer cab only because it was hitched to the burned-out hulk of a trailer.  I don’t know if the driver or anyone else was hurt.

Merge Your Enthusiasm

While crawling in bumper-to-bumper highway traffic last week I was thinking about the differences between those drivers who wait in line to merge and those who cut the line to merge at the last possible point. I try to avoid binary thinking but yield when it comes to highway-merging behavior: I fume about line-cutters 85% of the time. The other 15% of the time I cut the line. (What this says about my values I’ll leave aside for now.) Everyone who drives has an opinion on merge behavior, which is why The Urge to Merge in today’s paper will likely be the most-emailed article from the New York Times this week. Cynthia Gorney’s article, on what she calls “The Caldecott Tunnel Problem” (in pre-Ted Williams Tunnel Boston we’d have called it the Callahan/Sumner Tunnel problem), is quite funny and breaks (brakes?) the binary-thinking barrier, explaining why the most efficient merging pattern uses both “lineuppers” and “sidezoomers.”

What’s the Wikipedia Entry for “Quality?”

Yesterday Law.com (subscription required) had an article titled The Patent Office: Getting Wiki With It about the Patent & Trademark Office’s decision last August to remove Wikipedia as an acceptable research source for prior art searches. The article notes that “the surprise was not that the Web site had been banished, but that examiners had been using it at all.” Since banishing Wikipedia the PTO has been criticized for leaving on its list of acceptable research sources other websites that also can be easily modified. What could the PTO have been thinking when it allowed examiners to use Wikipedia in the first place? I refrain from taking constant whacks at Wikipedia’s flaws because it’s too easy. One can’t rely on it for anything remotely important. It is probably quite good for researching Dungeons and Dragons, but even there I wouldn’t cite it as my only source. Apparently not everyone has gotten the message.

For instance, last week I searched for articles on “Internet Crime.” Google returned Wikipedia on the first page of search results. I looked at the Wikipedia entry, wondering if it pointed in directions I had not considered. It certainly did. I learned:

Internet crime is crime committed on the Internet, using the Internet and by means of the Internet.

Hey man did you know that you smell . “Knock knock” whos there? “Me” me who? “Meow”.. Computer crime is a general term that embraces such crimes as phishing, credit card frauds, bank robbery, illegal downloading, Industrial espionage, child porn, kidnapping children via chat rooms, scams, cyberterrorism, creation and/or distribution of viruses, spam and so on. All such crimes are computer related and facilitated crimes.

Why keep reading after this gibberish? For the same reason our eyes are drawn to accidents on the highway. The entry continued:

With the evolution of the Internet, along came another revolution of crime where the perpetrators commit acts of crime and wrongdoing on the World Wide Web. Internet crime takes many faces and is committed in diverse fashions. The number of users and their diversity in their makeup has exposed the Internet to everyone. Some criminals in the Internet have grown up understanding this superhighway of information, unlike the older generation of users. This is why Internet crime has now become a growing problem in the United States. Some crimes committed on the Internet have been exposed to the world and some remain a mystery up until they are perpetrated against someone or some company.

After listing new Internet crimes such as phishing and “virus immistion” the entry’s language soared briefly to biblical heights and returned to the prosaic:

Then the light rained down on the innocent and the sinners were smeared across this paghe of hell alsothe expansion of already existing crimes on the Internet starts with credit card fraud. The crimes go on from there to cyber terrorism, illegal pornography, and copyright infringements. All of these crimes have mostly been in the spotlight because of the socially repulsive crimes committed by child molesters and the events of companies like Napster which were involved in copyright infringement law suits a couple of years ago.

One hopes that even a dull middle-school student would immediately see this to be illiterate slap-dash crap.

A die-hard Wikipedian would say “instead of taking cheap shots, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and rewrite the article to your standards?” I’d take the time to put this article out of its misery, far from innocent web browsers (particularly among the “older generation of users”) if were confident it wouldn’t come back to life. I’m not, so I won’t. Thanks, but I’ll take my research with a super-sized order of actual substantive knowledge.

Wikipedia gets a free pass from too many people who should know better.