Technology for Azimuth (Part 1)

A bunch of us want to set up a wiki associated to Azimuth, so we can more effectively gather and distribute scientific knowledge related to the overarching theme of “how to save the planet”.

It may also good to have a “discussion forum” associated to that wiki, in addition to the blog here, where I — and other people, once I find some good co-bloggers — hold forth. A blog is a good place for a few people to lead discussions. A different sort of discussion forum, more like the nForum, would be a more democratic environment, good for developing a wiki.

But what exactly should we do?

Let’s discuss that question here… I’m going to copy or move some comments from the welcome page to here, to get things going.

53 Responses to Technology for Azimuth (Part 1)

  1. Tim van Beek says:

    John wrote:

    When we were trying to get the nLab started, I asked the computer support people at UC Riverside to set up Instiki. It took them a month to get around to it, and then they set it up wrong, so it didn’t really work.

    I did not succeed to get it running under Windows, but it should be straight forward to get it running under Unix.

    One important point: Instiki is shipped with sqllite as a database, I expect that this will work for a couple of pages, but that it will lead to performance problems later on. That’s one reason why Andrew uses MySQL for the nLab instead.

    Given this experience I understand that you don’t expect much help from the “computer support” of UCR, but, well, clearly it would be the simplest solution of one of them would take care of the new Wiki, did you ask them?

    …but I probably can’t get them root access (since I don’t have it myself).

    No sane administrator would give any user root access :-) But that’s not necessary, anyway.

    I think it would be nice if you could tell me minimal set of resources that I need to give someone to let them set up a wiki.

    I’d try to ask the “computer support” to set up a “Wikipedia like Wiki” and let them figure out how to do it. There are installation instructions for MediaWiki, of course: here

    It’s a little hard to believe that the computer people of an institution like UCR are overextended by this request :-)

    Hudson wrote:

    I tend to favor ruby-based software because it’s a lot less complicated and rather more accessible to people who spend most of their time doing something else.

    That’s a matter of taste :-)

    The truly complicated systems are built with Java EE, of course :-)

    I’ll try MediaWiki because Wikipedia is very popular, so many people know the software already.

    • John Baez says:

      Tim wrote:

      Given this experience I understand that you don’t expect much help from the “computer support” of UCR, but, well, clearly it would be the simplest solution of one of them would take care of the new Wiki, did you ask them?

      I would be surprised if they’d do this. California is broke, the math department is the poorest of the science departments, and the math department UNIX system no longer has anyone supporting it. When I asked people why our Mathematica license had run out it took a week for anyone to find out what computer I was talking about. I think they’d forgotten it exists. Then they found out — and told me they couldn’t afford to run Mathematica on that computer anymore.

      So, I suspect that getting the computer guys to run a wiki for me will require that I get a grant and pay them to do this. While I think this is a fine idea, I think it might work better if I had some sort of ‘proof of concept’. Right now it’d just be “Hey, remember me, the guy who does n-categories and uses up tons of memory on a huge website? Well, now I’ve decided to save the planet. Will you run a wiki for me?” Later it will be “Hey, remember me, the guy who has a big NSF grant for a collaborative project on green technology? Will you run a wiki for me?” And I can guess which one they’ll like better.

      I’ll ask some of my colleagues about this, though. It’s possible I just need to proceed through the right channels and say the right words.

      In the meantime, I suspect that it’s easier to give people that I vouch for access to hardware, than to find computer people at UCR who can put time into this project on an ongoing basis.

      No sane administrator would give any user root access :-) But that’s not necessary, anyway.

      Okay: as you can see, I know nothing about this stuff.

  2. As my name’s been mentioned a couple of times, I should probably clarify what I am and am not prepared to do. It’s basically predicated on the following points:

    1. I agree with the basic idea of what John’s trying to do and would like to see it succeed.
    2. I strongly think that anything where mathematics appears on the internet should be done **properly** (ie the way that the mathematics is displayed should be done properly).
    3. But this isn’t my day job.

    However, I consider running the nLab/nForum to be part of my day job. So what I’m prepared to do is anything that I can do as a part of that, or as an extension of that. Anything that is radically different is something that I won’t be able to devote as much time to as it deserves. In order of ease, that involves:

    1. Setting up and maintaining a forum/blog based on the nForum software (more on what this is capable of in a moment). This would be really easy because I’ve recently modified the software so that I can run multiple fora from one installation (because I’m going to use it for my next lecture course) so I can just add an additional one for John.
    2. Setting up and maintaining a wiki running instiki. This would be really easy because instiki is so _darn_ simple! From my experience of running the nLab, there’s really no difficulty in doing it once it’s set up. The only catch here is to find a place to put it, but any hosting service that offers Ruby-on-Rails will do. We picked RailsPlayground for the nLab and I’m more than happy with that, but plenty of others are also available. You could *ask* the nLab steering committee if you could share the hosting if you really didn’t want to find one yourself. Maintaining an instiki installation is really easy because it’s been built with mathematicians in mind – which is pretty unique.
    3. Maintaining the MathML plugin for wordpress. As I don’t run a wordpress installation myself (apart from a test installation to show that it is possible), I don’t have any real incentive to spend any time on this. I did it as a proof-of-concept and because it’s easy to do, but the creases are less likely to get ironed out than for the other stuff.

    The last comment in the bit on instiki there is worth saying again. As far as I’ve found, instiki is the only piece of software of this type that has actually been designed with scientists and mathematicians in mind. All the others have had it tacked on afterwards. That’s why I’ve spent more time developing the software underlying the nForum than that underlying the nLab.

    And so to the capabilities of the software underneath the nForum. It really is awesome, and I can say that because the stuff that makes it truly awesome isn’t anything to do with me. It can act like a forum, it can act like a blog, and it can do both at the same time. It’s possible to have a “front page” where only John can post, whilst having places where anyone can start a discussion elsewhere. It’s easy to sort discussions according to theme, and to tag them, and more.

    So there’s considerable overlap between the software running the nForum and wordpress; enough that I would recommend only running one of them – otherwise it’ll be confusing. However, the point made by someone above is important: the nForum exists to support the work on the nLab. Just having a piece of software isn’t enough, you’ve got to have the right vision for how to use it (the success of mathoverflow makes this point: none of the other SE sites were nearly half as successful).

    Lastly, let me echo another point made above. It would be **fantastic** if there was someone else technically minded who was willing to do the maintenance for John. I’d happily do the “knowledge transfer”. It feels as though mathematicians have just properly discovered “the internet” and are exploring its possibilities for helping them do their day jobs. More people involved in the technical side of that can only be a good thing.

    • phorgyphynance says:

      I was going to suggest the very same thing Andrew just suggested, but he said it better than I could have.

      Initially, I think it makes sense to just extend the nLab and the nForum. This can be done using whatever URL you desire (as long as it is available). From the outside, it wouldn’t need to appear connected to the nFamily at all (as if that were a bad thing).

      One benefit of this would be as the nFamily and your effort grows, they’ll grow together. Eventually, if we do get “professional help”, that professional help could similarly take care of BOTH communities.

      Andrew says it is a part of his day job, but who knows if it will always be part of his day job. How do we know it doesn’t become a full time job. When the day comes that Andrew is overloaded, we’ll need to find an alternative solution for the nFamily. It is already too big to let go unattended. So whatever solution we find (and we will find one) would also be a long term solution for you.

      Being joined at the hip makes sense to me. This way, a solution for one of us is a solution for both. We do not need to duplicate technical effort.

  3. Hudson Luce says:

    once the proof of concept is successful (getting it running locally), the next step is to get your system administrator at UCR to download it and get it running on your machine, or to find someone who can do that. I’d be available, if necessary. The next thing to do is to get a group of people appointed as moderators to run the thing, at least one of whom should have experience in system security/anti-spam areas. I’m open to a certain degree of altruism, btw, and I’m sure others are as well, so I think this is doable. So that’s my prognosis.

  4. Hudson Luce says:

    I’ll download instiki on my mac os x box and also on a ubuntu box and see if I can get it running, and see if I can access it OK on my local network. Then I’ll try it using someone’s static IP (I know someone nearby who has a static IP…) and see how it works.

    fwiw, I’ve got a PhD (Chemistry, U.Florida 1987, Alan Katritzky & Mike Zerner). Right now, I practice law (criminal defense, never a shortage of clients; patent law, very few clients; and a bit of general practice (contracts, non-profit orgs). I’ve got sufficient time to do other things, too.

    • John Baez says:

      It’s great to meet you, Hudson. One of my best friends is a patent attorney — it seems to be a profession that attracts independent-minded people.

      I am starting to poke around looking for places where I could keep a wiki at UCR. Meanwhile I hope you and Andrew and Tim and other people who know their way around computers can sort of dream up a nice plan. If I can’t easily figure out how to keep a wiki at UCR, maybe there’s an easy way for me to pay for space somewhere and let you guys do stuff there?

  5. Tim van Beek says:

    John said:

    In the meantime, I suspect that it’s easier to give people that I vouch for access to hardware, than to find computer people at UCR who can put time into this project on an ongoing basis.

    If we do as Andrew suggested:

    …any hosting service that offers Ruby-on-Rails will do.

    we won’t need any hardware from UCR: a hosting service is a part of what I referred to as “cloud computing”, you pay some company to provide you with all the infrastructure you need, hardware included. The big benefit is that you don’t have to care about maintaining hardware, software, or backup and recovery strategies. From your description about UCR’s current situation I’d say 20 bucks per month for a professional hosting service is a good investment.

    Andrew said:

    It would be **fantastic** if there was someone else technically minded who was willing to do the maintenance for John.

    Okay, a personal note: First of all, I’m not a mathematician :-)

    Second: Developing software is my bread-and-butter job, which means I’d really love to do something else in my spare time. But I’ll try to help with this project nevertheless.

    Andrew wrote:

    We picked RailsPlayground for the nLab and I’m more than happy with that, but plenty of others are also available. You could *ask* the nLab steering committee if you could share the hosting if you really didn’t want to find one yourself.

    That’s interesting, what are you paying to RailsPlayground, what kind of contract do you have? What does it mean to “share the hosting”?

    • John Baez says:

      Tim wrote:

      From your description about UCR’s current situation I’d say 20 bucks per month for a professional hosting service is a good investment.

      Sure, I’d happily pay that.

      Andrew wrote:

      By “share the hosting”, I mean that technically it would be possible to use the same (virtual) machine to host another wiki, even with another domain name. It would need approval from the nlab steering committee, and there would presumably need to be some deal on the costs. I imagine that it would take a while before this wiki built up the same level of usage as the nLab has, so this would be a relatively low-hassle method of finding out if this part of the scheme worked or not. As far as technical support of the wiki goes, this would be by far the simplest.

      That would be great! Another domain name might make sense, since I don’t want nLab people to feel like they’re being forced to lend their reputation to this quite different and potentially more controversial project.

      (I want to avoid controversy, but everything about climate change is more controversial than anything about n-categories.)

      Tell me, guys: what should I do?

      (Take your time to figure it out, if you like. I haven’t even begun writing the new This Week’s Finds and using it to advertise the Azimuth project. When I do, I expect more people to join in and help out.)

  6. With RailsPlayground, we [the nLab] have a virtual host that we pay for in quarterly instalments (monthly and annually are also possible, I chose quarterly since at the start it’s never clear if a host is good or not, but it would take a quarter of a year for me to get round to changing it if necessary!). We’re on the 1024 plan so pay just shy of $180 per quarter. Memory turned out to be the main factor and that gives us plenty.

    By “share the hosting”, I mean that technically it would be possible to use the same (virtual) machine to host another wiki, even with another domain name. It would need approval from the nlab steering committee, and there would presumably need to be some deal on the costs. I imagine that it would take a while before this wiki built up the same level of usage as the nLab has, so this would be a relatively low-hassle method of finding out if this part of the scheme worked or not. As far as technical support of the wiki goes, this would be by far the simplest.

    Technical point: changing instiki from the default of sqlite3 to mysql is really easy, especially if it’s done right from the start. The “performance problems” with sqlite3 are that it can only access the database one request at a time, so all attempts to do stuff on the wiki have to form an orderly queue. With a small number of users, that’s not a problem, but quickly becomes one as it grows in number of users.

    • phorgyphynance says:

      As noted above, this would be my suggestion as well. Note: I probably should read all comments before beginning to comment, but… that will never happen :)

  7. Robert Smart says:

    Running on google app engine must make life easier in many ways. Not much chance of going over the free quota, and if it was that popular I reckon they’d allow it to run for free since the subject matter is close to their heart as well. Anyway here are some links:
    appgallery search for wiki: http://appgallery.appspot.com/results?q=wiki
    stackoverflow question on wiki: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2434185/whats-a-good-wiki-that-works-on-google-app-engine
    stackoverflow question on cms: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/478760/what-cms-runs-on-google-app-engine

    If you are interested I can investigate more. I can also run it from my app engine account if you like (I have my own slightly relevant app that nearly works).

  8. I recommend that you use the same software for the wiki and the discussions. Something like Google Wave (but I’m not recommending Google Wave because I don’t know enough about it to recommend it). Also, please deflect your RSS feeds, e.g. for this blog, to Twitter and Identi.ca. Those are my (and many others) main tools for following people & projects these days. Good luck! –Nancy (@nm)

    • John Baez says:

      Nancy wrote:

      Also, please deflect your RSS feeds, e.g. for this blog, to Twitter and Identi.ca.

      How do I do that? Please assume I know nothing of such things and want to learn as little as possible to accomplish the job of making you happy. Step-by-step instructions suitable for your grandfather would be greatly appreciated. ;-)

  9. Robert Smart says:

    Google has various relevant but probably not ideal stuff. At google sites (sites.google.com) when you go to “create new site”, then one of the templates is for “Project Wiki”: don’t know anything about it. Google Docs has sharing/publishing options and has an equation editor. Knol is still alive, though google don’t push it any more. Wave (as mentioned) aims to be the be all and end all of collaborative editing.

  10. John Baez says:

    Someone from UCR writes:

    Regarding the wiki, I had not been lucky with the computing group either, even for more simple requests… They may lack the support infrastructure to allow a wiki. They will be glad to grant you a special group on iLearn, but then it will not be available to the public.

    This person suggests a publicly available site such as Wikia or Wikispaces. Unless you techno-gurus out there set up something better, I may go with something like that.

    On related news: Andrew Stacey has begun to set up something called the Azimuth Forum, which is similar to the nForum. This could be great for discussions among people working on serious collaborative projects like:

    • setting up a wiki packed with useful information on ecological issues;

    • actually doing science together to better understand ecological issues;

    • actually doing engineering together to help tackle ecological problems.

    But, I don’t think it’s a substitute for a wiki.

  11. Tim van Beek says:

    Unfortunately I don’t have any experience with google apps, so I can’t say anything about that.

    Here is a comparative study of centrally hosted wiki software :-)

    1. Hosting: UCR seems to be ruled out, commercial hosting systems seem to be the future of the industry, as far as I know. IMHO the costs should not be a central aspect, as long as we talk about “free” versus “180 dollars per quarter”. Either way, using a commercial hosting system solves a lot of issues (which is why this business idea is supposed to be/become a success), like taking care of hardware, software updates, scalability, availability, backup and recovery etc. Professional hosting services will be better and more reliable than universities in this respect anyway.

    So my first recommendation: Use a commercial hosting service (free or not, as long as it is not exceedingly expensive, we won’t need the resources that google or amazon do :-) .)

    2. Technical aspects of the software: The software should be open source and well known, so that you get both the software and maintenance like bug fixes for free on a regular basis. (And then there are of course the usual non-functional requirements like scalability etc. where none of the wikis I know are remarkably better or worse than the others).

    This applies both to MediaWiki and Instiki: Both RubyOnRails and the PHP framework are two of the best known frameworks for web development and will be in use for at least another 10 years, both use well known open source databases (well, both – can – use MySQL) etc.

    So, as far as Wiki-Software goes, my recommendation would be use either Instiki or MediaWiki. Of course, Instiki has the distinguished advantage that we already have a devoted expert.

    So much for the technical side.

    3. Usability of the software: As Andrew said, Instiki was developed specifically for Mathematicians. I’d guess that many users who are not Mathematicians would wonder why the Azimuth wiki has a different look and feel than the wiki software they know best (whatever that is, but most likely MediaWiki via Wikipedia). Beside that, I suspect that MediaWiki has a lot more features than Instiki, but don’t know, because I used Instiki always in the way it was meant to be, and found nothing lacking :-)

    Anyway, I’d say that Instiki is easy enough to use so that new users, who would like to contribute to the project, won’t be scared away. And the software is simple enough to be extend-able, so that I expect that we will be able to add the features we’ll need (though this wouldn’t be necessary for a software like MediaWiki, because any such feature would have been requested and added years ago).

    So, although Instiki is at a disadvantage here, I don’t think it is a critical one.

    All in all I agree with Andrew that the simplest and best way to start would be to set up a wiki parallel to the nLab with Instiki on the same virtual machine (with a separate domain name). Migrating the wiki to it’s own virtual machine later should’nt be a problem.

  12. Hudson Luce says:

    It looks like in Tim and Andrew we’ve got enough technical expertise to do this thing with instiki, and since Andrew knows how to make instiki work with mysql, that particular problem should be of little or no concern. I’d be glad to help on the technical end as well. As for server issues, I’ll also agree with Tim that “the simplest and best way to start would be to set up a wiki parallel to the nLab with Instiki on the same virtual machine (with a separate domain name).”

    What we might need is some sort of moderation and some policies to follow with regards to moderation, and also spam blocking/blacklisting. In order to keep the blog and wiki content-dense and of high interest and usefulness, perhaps we could adopt the following policies:

    1. No spam or advertising
    2. No political argumentation
    3. Keep the conversation polite, it’s possible to have a vigourous discussion without being rude or incivil
    4. Comments ought to be substantial, “me too” comments and the like should be avoided (or moderated out).

    That’s a suggestion to get the ball rolling. Another perhaps more controversial suggestion is to set out certain maxims or first principles, such as:

    “1. The overwhelming consensus of scientists who do active work in the fields of climatology and allied sciences is that global warming is primarily, if not solely, anthropogenic. This forum/blog/wiki is not intended to be a place to debate anthropogenic global warming.”

    and suchlike.

    I think we’ve got a good start on the technical end of things, it’s the content we’ve got to be concerned about now… and how it is regulated to provide the highest signal to noise ratio while at the same time allowing a relatively unconstrained discussion of ideas.

    • Hudson Luce says:

      btw, I think the moderation will be done on a daily basis and by a group of moderators, since this wiki/blog is a worldwide thing, a world-wide group might be a good thing to work towards. That will be the labor intensive part of this thing, aside from spam floods and the like which will have to be dealt with by more technical means.

  13. John Baez says:

    Tim wrote:

    So my first recommendation: Use a commercial hosting service.

    Sounds good to me! As long as the price is in the range people have mentioned, I’m willing to pay for it.

    So, as far as Wiki-Software goes, my recommendation would be use either Instiki or MediaWiki.

    Sounds good to me!

    Of course, Instiki has the distinguished advantage that we already have a devoted expert.

    As Andrew said, Instiki was developed specifically for Mathematicians. I’d guess that many users who are not Mathematicians would wonder why the Azimuth wiki has a different look and feel than the wiki software they know best (whatever that is, but most likely MediaWiki via Wikipedia).

    I can’t tell how much of a problem that will be. In my vision, ultimately most contributors to the Azimuth Wiki will be scientists but not mathematicians. The goal is to “help scientists to help save the planet”, so unlike the nLab, catering to mathematicians should be a very minor consideration. This suggests that MediaWiki is better. But having a ‘devoted expert’ — how do you like being called that, Andrew? — makes Instiki sound better.

    I guess we can wait and see if would-be contributors find Instiki annoyingly unfamiliar. I hope that if they do, some of them will be willing to implement MediaWiki.

    All in all I agree with Andrew that the simplest and best way to start would be to set up a wiki parallel to the nLab with Instiki on the same virtual machine (with a separate domain name). Migrating the wiki to its own virtual machine later shouldn’t be a problem.

    Sounds good to me! Let’s do it! I think a separate domain name is important, to clearly indicate that this project has goals utterly different from that of the nLab. We don’t want climate change deniers spamming those poor n-category theorists.

    Andrew: how should I raise this with the nLab steering committee? An email, a post at the nForum or nCafé?

  14. John Baez says:

    Hudson wrote:

    What we might need is some sort of moderation and some policies to follow with regards to moderation, and also spam blocking/blacklisting.

    Right, I worried about those issues for months before starting this blog.

    By the way: right now, in case it’s not obvious, the way this blog is supposed to work is that comments are moderated — but once I “approve” someone, their posts get through instantly until they do something naughty and I “de-approve” them. It seems to be working, though I accidentally changed the setting for a while, which meant that all posts needed to be approved, even from pre-approved authors. So far I’ve only needed to reject a few posts from aggressive flamers, but I know from prior experience as a moderator that it’s very important to do this, to set a civilized tone.

    In order to keep the blog and wiki content-dense and of high interest and usefulness, perhaps we could adopt the following policies:

    1. No spam or advertising
    2. No political argumentation
    3. Keep the conversation polite, it’s possible to have a vigorous discussion without being rude or uncivil
    4. Comments ought to be substantial, “me too” comments and the like should be avoided (or moderated out).

    I’m certainly following all these policies on the blog.

    That’s a suggestion to get the ball rolling. Another perhaps more controversial suggestion is to set out certain maxims or first principles, such as:

    “1. The overwhelming consensus of scientists who do active work in the fields of climatology and allied sciences is that global warming is primarily, if not solely, anthropogenic. This forum/blog/wiki is not intended to be a place to debate anthropogenic global warming.”

    On the blog I in fact do plan to have some forums to discuss anthropogenic global warming. It’ll be tough to do this while keeping the conversation civil, but if I can succeed, it will be useful.

    The Azimuth Wiki, however, is an entirely different matter: I don’t envision that as a place for “debates”, so much as “presenting trustworthy information”.

    I imagine the Azimuth Forum as something intermediate, where contributors to the Wiki get to argue about various issues, but only within certain parameters to be determined by the community. Certainly endless rehashing of old arguments is not what I would hope to see here.

    On another minor issue: I’ve decided the blog should be called “Azimuth”, and I think “Azimuth Forum” sounds kind of classy for the discussion forum, but I’m not sure I like the name “Azimuth Wiki” for the wiki. It has the advantage of being clear, and its a crucial part of my plan that it include the “Azimuth” brand name — but saying “Wiki” makes me wonder if it’s really necessary for every wiki to have “wiki” in the title. It makes me wonder whether, once upon a time, every book said “Book” on the cover.

    • phorgyphynance says:

      By the way: right now, in case it’s not obvious, the way this blog is supposed to work is that comments are moderated — but once I “approve” someone, their posts get through instantly until they do something naughty and I “de-approve” them.

      Nice. A case where I read a comment before making the very same suggestion :)

      That sounds great.

  15. Contacting the nLab steering committee: err, in a sense you already have since I’m on it! As yet I’ve not involved the rest of them in this but I easily can. I guess the key thing that I need to know is what you would regard as a reasonable way to share the costs. Probably simplest to shift this to email to me to firm up a proposal and then I’ll put it to the rest of them.

    Regarding the blog/forum/wiki division; I’m coming round to your view of needing all three! I think that one thing that makes the nForum work is that it doesn’t exist for its own sake, but to support the work on the nLab. As we know that that set-up works, let’s keep it. That actually makes moderation a little less antagonistic, I find. I don’t have to say ‘Your comment is foul, I’m going to delete it’ but can get away with ‘That doesn’t help us in our work on the nLab, sorry’.

    No ideas on name, sorry.

    • John Baez says:

      Andrew wrote:

      Probably simplest to shift this to email to me to firm up a proposal and then I’ll put it to the rest of them.

      Okay, done.

      No ideas on name, sorry.

      Anyone else have ideas? Otherwise it’s the Azimuth Wiki.

      • phorgyphynance says:

        Similarly uncreative, but maybe a little better

        “Azimuth Lab”

        ?

        Although you may attract attention from the DEA :)

  16. Hudson H Luce says:

    How about AziWiki ? It would be the second word in the English language beginning with the letters “azi”…

    • John Baez says:

      AziWiki does not have a ring of grandeur. Azimuth does, but AziWiki does not. I was wanting to replace the icky tricky little “Wiki” by something with more power, but AziWiki goes the other way: it takes the word “Azimuth” and kneecaps it.

      Something that sounds cool but doesn’t really mean the right thing: “The Azimuth Files”.

      These things matter. You want someone, upon hearing of this thing, to instantly think “That’s cool!”

      • Graham says:

        The Azimuth Reference
        Azimuth Knowledge
        The Book of Azimuth
        The Azimuth Library

      • Graham says:

        The Azimuth Collection
        The Azimuth Volumes
        The Azimuth Articles

        Stop me, somebody!

      • Hudson Luce says:

        The Azimuth Dossier …
        The Azimuth Records …
        The Azimuth Palimpsest …
        Codex Azimuthi …
        Azimuth Memex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memex)
        Azimuthal Annotations
        Azimuth Intermedia

        What makes anything cool is the content, the name becomes cool because of the content. If the Sex Pistols were a bar band playing lame covers, the Sex Pistols as a name would not bring up any cool connotations; instead, Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious did what they did and acted the way they acted and dressed the way they dressed and when sober enough to do so, managed to play the music they played… the content is what made them cool.

        • John Baez says:

          Okay, I get your point, Hudson — let’s call our wiki The Sex Pistols.

          Seriously, I get your point. I will do my best to make the content cool. I plan to spend years on that. But I can’t help but want to pick a cool name.

        • Dylan Wilson says:

          I think the names are missing the “experimental” vibe of a wiki. “Files” and “records” seem too static. I don’t have anything too good, but maybe:

          (The) Azimuth Workshop
          (The) Azimuth Conference
          The Azimuth Project
          The Zenith Project (considering the etymology of Azimuth)…
          “Early Azimuth Recordings and Theoretical Heuristics” or anything else with the initials EARTH :)

          @John- Totally understand the need for a cool name.

        • John Baez says:

          I like “The Azimuth Project”!

        • Doing a quick google search I find no one else using “The Azimuth Project” for anything, including a wiki. There is an “Azimuth Project” listed here: http://www.now-us.eu/Azimuth/index.html but the link is dead. btw, streamfortyseven is the same person as Hudson Luce … it’s just what I use for some things like a flickr page and so on.

        • John Baez says:

          Cool. Okay, let’s call it The Azimuth Project.

          Sometimes I think the reason I’m so well-known is that I don’t use pseudonyms like the rest of you guys.

    • Blake Stacey says:

      “The Azimuth Codex”? Sounds a bit Dan-Brown-esque, but maybe it’s better than sticking “wiki” onto everything in sight . . .

  17. bane says:

    This looks like the best place to post this. Whilst this blog is in its early stages, would it be possible to change the theme so that quoted material appears in something other than dark grey on very light grey? It’s very difficult to read, particularly in adverse lighting conditions. (Unfortunately I’ve never found a way to override these wordpress themes that actually works in the client browser. As you can probably tell, whilst I can write hardcore numerical algorithms I’ve never figured out web-programming, so I can’t effectively help out with the technology powering the site.)

    • John Baez says:

      I too am annoyed by the dimly visible gray quotes, especially since I quote a lot of stuff. I don’t know how to change this.

      Does anyone know if it’s possible to change this without paying money for the full-fledged blog service from WordPress? And how?

      Their free service seems to give me access to a CSS Stylesheet Editor page. In theory, a sufficiently advanced civilization could figure out how to use this to make quotes come out darker. But I don’t know how.

    • John Baez says:

      If I go into that editor and copy in something like this, could it do something good?

  18. bane says:

    Thanks for all your work on the blog John, particularly the annoying techy bits.

    It looks like if you’ve got access to the CSS Editor you should find a section that opens with

    blockquote {

    In there, there are probably lines that begin “color:” and “background-color:”. It looks like it should work to edit them, or add them as new lines if they aren’t there, to something like

    color: #000000;
    background-color: #ffffff;

    (The the basic come from http://www.cssnewbie.com/six-ways-style-blockquotes/ , which is 2 years old so things might have changed.)

    • Good and bad news. Good: I’ve just signed up for a free wordpress account, and pasting in lines like that (you might possibly even need to add a whole blockquote section like

      blockquote {
      color: #000000;
      background-color: #ffffff;
      font-weight: normal;
      font-style: italic;
      margin: 1em 3em; }

      ) does change the blockquote style. Bad news: the CSS editor it gave me won’t allow you to save changes without upgrading to a paid service. I presume it’ll be the same for you. I’ll keep looking around.

    • John Baez says:

      Bane – it seems to work! Thanks!

      However, it turns out that WordPress will charge me $15 per year for the ability to change my CSS file (as opposed to just preview the effects of changes).

      That would be fine — but there is a chance that I will move this blog over to a site run by Andrew Stacey, or something like that.

      So, I’ll wait a bit before doing this.

      It seems that when I do it, the changes will be visible for old posts and comments, not just new ones.

      • Tim van Beek says:

        It seems that when I do it, the changes will be visible for old posts and comments, not just new ones.

        CSS are declarative layout prescriptions that are interpreted by the browser when it renders the html it gets, and a CSS entry applies to all matching html nodes: So any change in the CSS will affect every matching html elements instantly.

      • John Baez says:

        Hey, folks – check out the new more readable quotes!

        Orthochronous wrote:

        Good and bad news. Good: I’ve just signed up for a free wordpress account, and pasting in lines like that (you might possibly even need to add a whole blockquote section like

        blockquote {
        color: #000000;
        background-color: #ffffff;
        font-weight: normal;
        font-style: italic;
        margin: 1em 3em; }

        ) does change the blockquote style.

        Indeed it does, though I decided to go with “normal” rather than “italic” font-style.

        Now I can waste hours making this blog more beautiful. Suggestions welcome… though I sure don’t promise to do what you want!

  19. Nathan Urban says:

    This isn’t a Wiki-related question, but I was wondering if the WordPress software lets you enable comment previewing before submitting. I sometimes write long comments and it would be helpful to see the whole thing at once, test the links, etc. before I submit.

    • John Baez says:

      That’s been on my to-do list — thanks for reminding me.

      Does anyone out there know if I can enable previewing? I paid my 15 bucks, so I can edit the CSS now, in case that helps. Peter Woit has a kind of previewing for comments on his WordPress blog, but that’s on his own website — not sure that matters.

    • Me wondering the same. I haven’t even found decent HTML documentation for users wanting to comment. After my latest HTML debacle I’ll use my own blog for testing.

      Perhaps John could open a “Test your Post” thread, too?

  20. Graham says:

    I have a request: please disable snapshots. This link explains how and why.

    http://www.blork.org/blorkblog/2008/03/31/how-to-disable-snap-shots-on-blogs/

  21. Nathan Urban says:

    Another question: is it possible to enable comments to be sorted in reverse chronological order, rather than threaded? It could be a convenient way to check out recent comments in a thread. (I prefer this over subscribing to comment feeds, which becomes overwhelming.)

    • John Baez says:

      Personally I prefer threaded comments, since it allows people to develop a number of distinct lines of conversation in the comments to a given blog entry.

      Over at the n-Category Café it’s easy for the reader to switch between whether they see a chronological view and a threaded view. That’s nice. Since I’m paying WordPress to have a ‘custom Cascading Style Sheet’, maybe there’s a way to accomplish this by adjusting the CSS. Anyone know how?

      Barring such trickery, it seems the only choice I get is a global choice to make comments threaded or make them chronological. If that’s my only choice, it’ll be threaded. Sorry.

  22. [...] for Azimuth (Part 2) A while back we agreed to set up a wiki and also a discussion forum associated to this blog. The idea is this: [...]

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