Today I was wondering about the orientation of titles on the spines of books. That let me to the corresponding standard (ISO 6357) on the list of ISO standards. Looking at the next few standards above and below, it appears that the list is numbered by order of arrival and has nothing at all to do with the content of the standard: the previous, ISO 6344, is about grain size of abrasives, the next one , ISO 6429, about control functions for coded character sets. If I had not been in the middle of three other things with a dozen tabs open I could have got entirely lost in this list of things to look up. It made me laugh when I realized that a random click in my browsing history would be likely to come up with a similarly eclectic (or flighty?) list of subjects.

I usually think of a hobby as something you decide to start doing one day. So, I would not have thought of wikiwandering as a hobby of mine. But I guess it is. And, having seen the similarity of that list of standards, I can own that: I am a wikiwanderer.

Judge by their covers

Difference in orientation of writing on the spines of German and English books

The writing on the spines of continental European and south American books generally faces up (tilt your head left to read), the writing on north American and other English language books down (tilt head right).

That sent me on today’s wiki wander.

One reasons given for the US way are a book lying face-up will have the spine in the right direction to be read (a continental book’s title would be upside down).
Another reason is that, to walk down the usual left-to-right direction of a shelf, one is going forward rather than backwards as one would be reading the continental style.

A reason for the continental way would be that, books of a series (eg multi-band encyclopedias) would be read in order when faced this way.
Another one is that the left-tilt of the head when reading continental-style titles puts the (statistically more likely dominant) right hand in a more ergonomic position to reach for the book. And, of course, walking past a continental shelf, the titles will stream past like the intro on Star Wars, so that must be the right way…

Actually, Star Wars or not, it turns out there has been a standard for this (ISO 6357) since 1985. It says that titles should be written the north American way, facing down. Looks like this is one of the few ways where the standard-loving Germans have not jumped on board and implemented it. Makes me wonder why, but there were no good explanations in the wandering.

Some part of me now wonders if this different direction, and the different head tilting that goes with his, could have any relationship to our reception of the book. Could our head tilting to read the title lead to a different brain hemisphere being active in analyzing and choosing titles? Could it be that the left-tilting Germans are so literal and exacting because of the way they have always needed to lean to choose their books? ;-)


Semantic Mediawiki for documentation

I support several Mediawiki web sites. One of the best features of the tool in my mind are categories. Something doesn’t have to be filed as green or round, it can be categorized as green and as round. Combined with hyperlinking it allows you to only write data in one place and then link and find it from anywhere.

Sometimes, though, you would like to be able to see the information in a different format. For example, you might have articles about individuals with contact information, but it would be nice to have a list of fax numbers to put over the fax machine. Generally that would mean maintaining a separate document and all the problems that come with maintaining duplicate information.

This is where the Semantic Mediawiki extension to Mediawiki comes in. It allows you to designate certain information on a page as attributes that can be accessed from elsewhere. For example, I can put a “faxnumber” attribute on every person’s page. I can then write a bit of code on a different page to do things like list all pages that have fax numbers, and their fax number. Of course when you update a fax number, the list is updated automatically.

The syntax to make all of this happen would be somewhat difficult to understand for most basic users, but some of the details can be hidden in templates so that all a user would need to do is copy the template use code from another page and update the parameters.

We have been using this for a few months now. If I actually want to change the usage of the parameters it takes some thought. We have about 10 people who regularly edit these wikis, and so far none of them have engaged with the guts of Mediawiki, and only some have used templates involving it without prompting.

So, Semantic Mediawiki is a powerful tool but will probably not work on any wiki without a champion that is willing and able to figure it out and make sure that, as information is added to the wiki, it is encoded into it.