Monday, October 29, 2007

Wikipedia in Volapük, an "exponential" growth

After doing a quick visit to Wikipedia, the widely-known free online encyclopedia edited by users and available in hundreds of languages, I noticed something curious (probably after millions of people already did): Among all the languages in which Wikipedia is available, only 15 have a collection of more than 100,000 articles ready to be read (and edited) by users. Those languages are: English, German, French, Polish, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Russian, Chinese, Finish, Norwegian, and Volapük.

Volapük? What on Earth is Volapük anyway? I did some research in Wikipedia itself to find more information about that widely-unknown language, and to understand why is is so popular in Wikipedia in terms of amount of articles available.

According to the Wikipedia article about Volapük, it is an artificial language created during the 19th century by a German priest named Johann Martin Schleyer. It was actually the very first attempt (and failure) to introduce a language to be spoken globally. Schleyer based his language in vocabulary borrowed mostly from English, French and German. But the complexity of its grammar and the development of a much easier global language, Esperanto, quickly turned Volapük in a decaying language. In fact, there are currently only between 20 and 30 Volapük speakers worldwide.

That being said, it doesn't make much sense that the 100,000+ Wikipedia articles in Volapük can be only understood by 20 or 30 people worldwide, when other languages with far more speakers in the world, like Korean, (which is spoken by approximately 78,000,000 people) barely reach half that amount of articles. Moreover, it doesn't make much sense that 20 or 30 people could write 100,000+ articles for Wikipedia, unless all of them are intellectuals and geeks. Thus something is odd here.

I made a bit more research to understand a bit more about the origins of the articles of the Volapük version of Wikipedia. Not very surprisingle, I found the answer to my inquiries in Wikipedia itself once again, in an article named "Volapük Wikipedia": The administrator of the Volapük Wikipedia thought that he "could try to get some new people interested in learning the language and contributing by doing something a little crazy -- like increasing the size of the Volapük wikipedia as fast as I could, with Python programs for copying and pasting information onto pre-translated templates". This, because he is the only contributor of Wikipedia in Volapük and he hoped that, by doing this, he would attract more people to learn Volapük and hopefully to contribute to the Wikipedia in that language as well.

His idea did attract the attention of people, indeed. By adding thousands of stubs to the Wikipedia in Volapük, he created a bit of awareness about the existence of the language among Wikipedia readers. Will that encourage some of them to learn Volapük and to contribute to the Wikipedia in Volapük? That's difficult to answer, it is a matter of time to know whether that will happen. But the strategy to increase exponentially the amount of Wikipedia articles in Volapük proves once again the ease with which information can be manipulated there, and the low quality that certain articles may have because of automated translations. But Wikipedia is still, essentially, a beautiful thing.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

'Grandiose' plans for a 'grandiose' threat

Julius Caesar said in the year 47 BC: Vini, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). Many, many years have passed since then. One would assume that a mentality from the year 47 BC is outdated in the 21st century, and that the world leaders of today should have a different kind of philosophy in their minds.

Wrong. Reading the latest international news makes me think that there is something wrong with some of the individuals who are actually ruling nations. It looks that the well-being of societies is not a priority anymore in the minds of some leaders, so they are turning towards twisted thoughts and ideas that they could as well cheerfully share with Julius Caesar, or heads of State of the 16th and 17th century: Strengthen your army, dominate foreign lands, rule the world. War is the key to victory.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, for instance has boasted about having 'grandiose' plans to restore the Russian forces. Some of his 'grandiose' plans include the development of new, more sophisticated nuclear weapons, which will certainly relaunch the nuclear race. That will give some other countries, such as Iran or North Korea, the perfect excuse to restore or enhance their nuclear activities.

Mr. Putin also talked about some supposed plans of the US to invade Russia in order to gain control of the oil reserves in Siberia. But his 'grandiose' plans not only will allow Russia to defend its territory, but also "other regions in the world". Those "other regions of the world" probably include the melting North Pole which, instead of attracting nations around the world to take measures to reduce or stop global warming, has rather become a nice opportunity to the eyes of many leaders to seize more natural resources for their countries and control possible future shipping routes. And Russia has taken a very anticipated step on this by placing a submarine flag right at the sea bottom corresponding to the Pole in an attempt to eventually control the oil and gas resources that are located right there.

Putin also spoke about his retaliation plans regarding the "Son of the Star Wars" defence shield that the US is setting up in Poland and the Czech Republic (and which is supposed to be in operation by 2013), mentioning that "if a decision is made without taking Russia's opinion into account, then we will certainly take steps in response to ensure the security of Russian citizens". He also demanded the US to set a specific date to withdraw its forces from Iraq, arguing that the fight has turned to be against the Iraqis and it's not against a tyrant's regime anymore.

All these statements and frightening comments come more or less simultaneous to George W. Bush's warning of having the world headed towards World War III. Bush just declared that if the world wants to avoid 'WWIII', then the international community should take the necessary steps to avoid Iran of having the necessary knowledge to develop nuclear weapons. Not surprisingly, Bush's statements came after Vladimir Putin visited Tehran and showed his support to Iran's 'peaceful' nuclear program.

All this situation looks bad. Very bad. When it looked that our twisted world couldn't get any worse after being threatened (and attacked) by terrorism anywhere, we have to painfully find out that the light is not yet at the end of this tunnel. We're actually heading back to the mentality of previous centuries, proving ourselves that history tends to repeat itself. Oh well.

With some information from Times Online and Tehran Times

Monday, October 15, 2007

Quit smoking in Niue, and get some cash!

Are you willing to quit smoking? Don't do it for free, move to Niue and get money for it!

Yes, it is absolutely true. The government of Niue, an Polynesian island free-associated with New Zealand, has offered to pay US$1,500 dollars to each citizen that quits smoking. It is as simple as that.

The Niuean Prime Minister is convinced that paying cash to Niueans that quit smoking is cheaper than paying for their smoking-related medical services. Niue is a tiny island that lacks enough infrastructure to handle the health issues of all the patients who develop problems because of smoking. Usually, what happens is that the patients are transferred to hospitals in New Zealand (2,400 kilometers away), and the government of Niue pays for the airfare plus the medical attention that its citizen receives in that country. Moreover, the authorities in Niue have claimed that these cases are becoming more frequent, ranging from 2 to 5 transfers per week.

Smoking has become a serious issue in the tiny Pacific island. The authorities are currently working in laws that will prohibit the consumption of tobacco in any public place in Niue, just as happens in some other countries around the world, like Ireland or Norway.

There you go. Go to Niue, quit smoking, get some cash and live smoke free from then on. Sounds like a great deal, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Berlin marathon 2007: records, feats, and miracles

The marathon of Berlin 2007 will be remembered in the years to come. Particularly, two names will be linked forever to such event: Haile Gebrselassie and Roberto Madrazo.

Haile Gebrselassie
The Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie, 34, is undoubtedly one of the best known men in the athletics field. He has participated in many international championships in athletics, and also in three versions of the Olympic games (Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004), winning gold medals in two of them. In recent years, he has become one of the most prominent people in road racing and marathon, winning constantly and breaking time records for disciplines in which he performs. Gebrselassie was by far the favorite athlete to win the marathon that took place on September 30, 2007 in Berlin, and he definitely didn't disappoint: not only he won the competition, but he broke the world record with a time of 2:04:26, defeating the record of 2:04:55 set by Paul Tergat on the same course in 2003.

Gebrselassie is now considered the fastest marathoner in the world.

Roberto Madrazo
On the other hand, Roberto Madrazo, 55, used to be quite an unknown individual in the athletics world. In fact, he is best known for his career as a politician in Mexico, and for running for president of such country in 2006, being defeated by the current head of state Felipe Calderon.

Nevertheless, Roberto Madrazo is also an amateur marathon runner and he has participated in some competitions around the world. His participation in Berlin was, for instance, outstanding: He crossed the finish line in 2:40:57, wearing a red jacket, a red baseball hat, and black tights. He ranked 146th overall (out of 40,000 contestants) and first place in his category (55-59 years old). Surprisingly good for an amateur runner who timed 3:44:00 and 3:39:00 in two other marathons earlier this year.

The most incredible and amazing part of Madrazo's performance came after he hit 20 kilometer mark. Until that point, his time was of 1:42:42, which means that his average pace was more or less of 5 minutes per kilometer, or about 12 km/h. Mysteriously, there is no track of Madrazo in the checkpoints located at the 25 and 30 kilometer marks, but his records reappeared when he hit the 35 kilometer checkpoint... only 21 minutes after crossing the 20 kilometer mark!

But how did he achieve that? If he only took 21 minutes to run 15 kilometers, it means that he improved dramatically his pace and speed in that stretch of the course: 7 minutes every 5 kilometers... or about 42.8 km/h!!. That even beats Gebrselassie's performance in the same stretch, who was able to run at an average speed of just 21.4 km/h. It looks that Roberto Madrazo has some supernatural powers that give him enough speed to race against horses as well! Can his supernatural powers be called "taking an illegal shortcut"? Because, coincidentally, the course map shows that the checkpoints at the 20 and 35 kilometer marks are only a few blocks away of each other through a street that was not considered to be ran by marathoners, so that might explain Madrazo's superpowers.

This is a good example of how the dark abilities obtained in politics fit in the sports world.

More information about Madrazo's marathon performance in The Independent.

Monday, October 01, 2007

New headquarters for the United Nations?

If you thought that Evo Morales' proposal to force Coca Cola to remove the "Coca" part from its trademark was funny and ridiculous, you have to check this note.

The Bolivian newspaper "La Razón" revealed that the government of such country, led by Evo Morales, does not like to have the United Nations headquartered in New York. Therefore, they'll launch an international campaign to relocate the UN elsewhere. According to Juan Ramón Quintana, Minister of the Presidency, the government decided to launch this project because some of the Bolivian representatives at the UN have had problems to enter the United States recently.

Quintana said that "the United Nations should be moved to a country where every country of the world can be granted the same citizenship status (sic) and not as they do in the US with so much arrogance". He boasted about having support from other nations, especially in Africa, for this awkward initiative. He obviously didn't give any details of who those mysterious supporters are.

In any case, I wonder if there is a country in the world where people from every single nationality can clear immigration without any formality, as Evo Morales' government suggests, to serve as the ideal place to move the UN. Is it that Bolivia grants these rights to visitors from around the world? That's not the case, especially after the Bolivian government decided to require tourist visas for US nationals visiting the South American country. Thus, according to the Bolivian government's rationale, La Paz or any other Bolivian city is discarded to be the future location for the United Nations' headquarters, should their initiative have any success at all. But they might have a plan B, which may consider cities such as Havana, Caracas or Tehran.

I look forward to the results of this doomed-to-failure adventure.