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Wikimedian Jim Henderson

I'm Jim Henderson, a retired telephone switchman in New York City from 1969 to 2010. Also a bicycler and fan of technical history and astronomy, and a BBS operator from 1991 to 2005. Born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, lived as a child in Madison, Wisconsin, Knoxville, Tennessee and Plainview, New York, grew up in Manhasset, New York, dropped out of New York University. Thus I forsook suburbia to become a lucky resident of a small island off the coast of New Jersey, where life is so simple, the majority of islanders don't own an automobile, and hardly anyone has a lawn mower. When we want to visit a neighboring island or the mainland, we hop on our bicycle and pedal over a bridge, or take a quick ride on an underground train. Specifically, I am a denizen of Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan.


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Autumn 2006Edit

A friend messed up Crimean War in early September 2006 and I learned a bit trying to clean it up. First deliberate try at editing Wikipedia was the addition of new material to Juno Online Services article in mid September. Then came revisions of Reed relay, Marker (telecommunications), Wire spring relay, 5ESS, Signaling System No. 5 and others that an old switchman would know about.

In October, added to articles on History of Brooklyn and various parts of Brooklyn and other parts of Long Island. Also greatly expanded articles on New York Telephone and Panel Switch and reorganized the terribly disorganized DSLAM article even without knowing much about the topic.

You will notice I've got no bumper stickers saying where I eat and what's my religion and how I stand on political and Wiki issues. That's partly because I don't know how to do that, and mainly because I figure Wikipedia is for matters on which I am particularly competent.

 This user remembers using
a rotary dial telephone.
JUThis user remembers when telephone numbers began with exchange names, such as JUdson.

Ah. So, here's my first sticker, installed a few hours after dialing a phone call to Brooklyn with the rotary on my red Western Electric 500 type phone. And another, for an exchange I repaired.

Spring 2007Edit

Well, it's been an interesting winter and spring, more than a third of a year, learning how to do this by editing and adding large or small bits to about 2000 articles and making a few from whole cloth. Lately editing some bicycling articles, especially since getting knocked off my bike on April 3 by a limousine and thus having a broken collarbone and more time indoors.

I've let my watchlist grow to over a thousand articles, and vigilante duty towards graffiti now takes much of my time. Also moved the majority of articles out of category:telecommunications to more specific subcats, and did other things with related categories, not that cat work is the most important part of Wikipedia but it still ought to be done right. I ought to do more merger work with small stub articles. Did that with Main distribution frame, Borough President and a few others. Maybe the New York City water supply system and its related tunnel articles will be my next victim. Still having fun, and that's what it's about, right? Jim.henderson 06:30, 15 May 2007 (UTC)

Early 2008Edit

So, now my watchlist has grown to about 2,600 items. No discipline; most days about 500 are recent and leave no time to do much except check, revert and tweak them as they enter or leave the active list. Big Wiki news personally is that a couple months ago a relative gave me an old Nikon Coolpix 2200 camera with broken zoom, so I've been learning how to take wide angle photos of various places in easy bicycling range and uploading them to various articles. Come springtime my intention is to buy a new non broken camera and go to those places again and reshoot with better hardware and much better understanding.


On Feb 8 I bought a new, non broken Canon A570IS camera at a nice sale price (a later model came out). Springtime always means more bicycling, and now it means more pictures to review and upload.

Meanwhile on March 21 I added Carterfone to my watchlist, bringing the total to 3000! A few minutes later I removed but will certainly give in to the temptation to add more.

In late April 2008 I joined Commons so my pictures might be more widely used. During the summer Wikiphotography grew from a sideline to an obsession and detracted from the older Wikipedia obsession, which nonetheless saw my watchlist grow to 3800 articles including hundreds showing my pictures.

Oh, did you change my article?

Summer 2009Edit

4800 articles are on my watchlist, yet Wikipedia editing has taken lower priority. Photography for Commons is what my Wikilife is about nowadays, especially since I found out about free geotagging methods.

Kind-hearted, experienced editor encourages newbie

Million monkeysEdit

Friends in a mailing list were characterizing the articles they had seen, without understanding how Wikipedia's work is done. I decided to spice my explanation with a little humor:

SF> Wikipedia sometimes tries to collect all information - maybe
> at least when it is variant names. (I suppose the editors are
> less prone to take out variant names tahn anything else)
One of the pleasures of being a Wikidpedia editor is seeing the precision with which we illustrate the poetic hypothesis of the million monkeys. There really are a million editors, or a few million. We aren't trying to produce something as difficult as poetry, but on the other hand we aren't as polite as monkeys, so it evens out. Instead of each sitting quietly at our own keyboard blithely tapping out gibberish, we're all shrieking, constantly correcting each other, shoving each other around, biting our neighbor's fingers, frantically banging several keyboards as though one weren't enough, and generally getting a lot of exercise. Somehow out of all this comes a very large encyclopedia, and sometimes good in parts.
We like to think of ourselves as lone wolves, but really we've got all the fierce independence of a herd of sheep. When one of us puts "zip tie" as an alternate name in the Cable tie article, another has to add "tie wrap" and then comes "mouse belt" and "rat belt" and every other pleasantly silly nickname a work crew invented on their lunch break.
One might think when we reporters get too silly, a sober editor would come in and crack down on us, but remember we aren't reporters; we are the editors and there isn't much of anyone to crack down on us except each other. It's kind of like a computer that has installed too many "security" programs downloaded from Internet and all of them hitting each other on the head instead of looking for real viruses, except it works better than an overly "secured" computer. There are a couple thousand "Admins" who have powers such as banning an editor and locking an article from tampering by newbie editors, but they operate more like policemen than like newspaper editors; besides defining policy (theoretically not their job) they keep busy chasing genuinely malicious contributors, and have little time to worry about the merely incompetent majority.
And yet, it works. At least, often it works. The encyclopedia says much, seldom says things that aren't true, and sometimes says something intelligible; even useful.
:D Gosgood (talk) 20:37, 29 August 2008 (GMT)


Same old things. Too busy with photography, I cut my watchlist below 6000 by year's end, yet it grows back as though a thing alive. Was made "Reviwer" in June.

Jan 18, 2012 blackoutEdit

I disagreed with the one day blackout, especially I thought the decision making process was inadequate:

I am mildly disappointed with the result of our deliberations. I sympathize with the conservative viewpoint against SOPA and their ilk, but also take a conservative view for keeping the faith despite hardships and provocations. I prefer standing by our commitment to illuminate the world.
In contrast, my disappointment with the process is deep, even to the point of resentment though not quite outrage. A greater effort is often made to solicit opinions on proposals of lesser reach such as Wikipedia:Binding RFCs. Most of the several hundred editors who responded to the shutdown poll said yes, but respondents were a minority of those who were alerted that the discusion was underway. They were a large minority, and it is usual for only a minority to respond, so this doesn't bother me.
What bothers me, what deeply disappoints me, is the smallness of the effort to put out the alert, to solicit participation. Every day, several tens of thousands of users edit some little thing or other, and millions read, but only a few thousand were alerted. By the chance of watching one of the peripherally related talk pages in which it was mentioned, I was one of those who noticed when a little group of a few dozen tried to pull off a midnight coup. I immediately spoke up about the need for due consideration. Agreement on this question quickly ensued, so I didn't pay much attention, trusting that the Admins and other dutiful editors who organize the various decision making processes would handle it with due deliberation. I pursued my happy little photographical and geographical activities.
Next thing I knew, a big black banner came up, along the top part of any page I was viewing, saying the decision had been made and the blackout was xx hours away. Oh, too bad, I thought. That may or not be a wise decision, but if it's the will of the community then it's okay, but why wasn't the discussion more widely trumpeted beforehand? Alas, a look into the process revealed its scantiness. Yes, it is more than the effort that has gone into the question of whether geographical coordinates should be outlawed (See Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject Geographical coordinates#Proposal for the closure of this project) but only a small fraction of us can be expected to take an interest in longitude and latitude anyway. Much more should have been done for a proposal to shut down the whole Wikipedia.
First, that bold black banner telling all readers about the closure should have been shown to all a week ago, with different wording, or at least to all editors, and two or three days ago to all readers. Second, a poll on such a question should be organized in a way that can accept tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of votes if need be, not just a couple thousand. This should be something similar to the recently implemented page rating software, though of course accessible by clicking on the banner among other methods.
Alas, the process I trusted wasn't there. More important, the trust the outside world holds for Wikipedia, never complete of course (why should it be?) is going to be seriously eroded. The saving grace is, maybe our Wikicompetitors will be strengthened. Even if we were more trustworthy, we shouldn't be a monopoly.

Looking back later I remain disappointed with the process, but my misgivings about the results seem excessive. For one thing, acquaintances whom I tell of my Wikiobsession no longer assume I mean Wikileaks.


Goodness; been a long time and I've been doing more in Commons than here. I do want to point out two articles in the dead tree press:

  • This NY Times piece, Wikipedia vs the Small screen, hints to me that we need to avoid making articles too big.
  • This NY Review of Books piece, The Charms of Wikipedia, flatteringly analogizes us with, "some vast aerial city with people walking briskly to and fro on catwalks, carrying picnic baskets full of nutritious snacks."

At the astronomy seminar, May 2016Edit

"So, Jim, who writes those Wikipedia articles?"

"I do."

"What, all those millions of articles?"

"Something like a million of us have written at least a little bit of Wikipedia. Tens of thousands of us around the world do it every day."

"Well, how do we know who wrote which article?"

"It says so."

"Where, down at the bottom?"

"No, look at the top of this Beethoven page." Why was Beethoven open at the astronomy club? Well, everything's connected, y'know. "You see those tabs, including the 'History' tab? Click that. There's the past 50 changes anyone made. See, a few times a week someone changes something in this article."

"But, who originally wrote it?"

"See where it says "Oldest" at the bottom? Click that. Now you see the first fifty versions, in 2001. Click the bottom, earliest date. That's what the article was then. A little bit of biography and a long list of works. In 15 years it's been changed and added to, thousands of times, by probably hundreds of editors like me, but not me because musicians are not my thing."

"What, experts?"

"Some of them, probably, but it's not easy to know and we get along without knowing. I edit some astronomy, but other editors do a good job on that. Probably professors or other experts. I know more about Cycling in New York City than other editors. You might call me an expert and anyway I pretty much dominate that. But, if someone else pushes in there, I'll pull out, at least partially, and do more Arab history or organic chemistry or Beaux Arts architecture or whatever."

"But, if anyone can edit anything, and nobody knows who's an expert, what happens if they add something wrong?"

"Tens of thousands of vigilantes watch out for that. We pounce and it's gone quickly. I've got 5,600 articles on watch." And showed my watchlist.

"How often do you check this?"

"Few times a day."

"Isn't that a lot of time?"

"Sure. It's my hobby. Most editors do less and many, heaven help them, do more than I do."

So the topic turned to Monday's Transit of Mercury and the later Opposition of Mars and how astrology programs chart ascending and descending nodes. Astrology? Their doctrines are nonsense but their software does some things more handily than scientific programs do. The astronomy club meets again in two weeks and maybe I'll recruit a new Wikipedian.


Box CityEdit

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