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8:36am on Tuesday, 23rd August, 2011:

Picture This


There's been a Wikipedia page about me for several years. It's generally accurate, the only inaccuracies being because the world has changed, not because they were wrong in the first place (for example my University job title of "principal teaching fellow" became "Senior Lecturer" after a bout of rationalisation).

One thing that the page was always missing, though, was a photograph. Every time some journalist took a photo of me at a conference I always asked them to put it on Wikipedia, but they never did. Of course, I have plenty of photos of me myself, but Wikipedia sensibly forbids people from making changes to their own entry (for fear it would turn into an extended CV or even a full-blown autobiography).

Earlier this year, I was approached by Elonka Dunin, whom I know because of her role as the Official Simutronics Historian but she's actually a famous cryptanalyst. She's also a Wikipedia editor and had noticed that the page about me was lacking a photo. She asked if I had a suitable one.

Well, as it happened I have two official photos, taken by the Essex University photographer, Mike Sansom. Here they are:

These photos have the rare benefit of actually looking like me, doubtless because Mike is a professional portrait photographer.

Well, I say is, but he retired earlier this year. To use the photos, I needed to get his permission (Wikipedia is fussy about this). Wishing to avoid being pestered by the university, he had not left an email address by which he could be reached, and I had to coax it out of a former colleague. He said it was OK to use the photos.

Unfortunately, this isn't good enough for Wikipedia: you have to say which licence you wish to release the photos under. There's a particular form of words you need to use. Mike wasn't happy at being bothered to agree to something he'd already agreed to, but wrote the words anyway and asked if I could leave him to enjoy his retirement in peace now please.

Also unfortunately, Wikipedia insists that the people who give permission for a photo are the actual people who own the rights to the photo. The email address I had for contact with Mike was his wife's. Wikipedia's senior editors asked for an email from Mike confirming that he was, indeed, Mike. This being the kind of petty bureaucracy that Mike had been keen to see the back of when he left the university, he said he wasn't answering any more emails and we should contact the university's external affairs office about it. Naturally, when we did, they didn't know what we were talking about (I suspect because they were paralysed by an inability to sign anything on the university's behalf without putting it before the university's lawyers at some expense, but I suppose they could have been ignorant about Wikipedia).

My elder daughter, Jenny, was 21 this year and as a birthday present she got a camera much better than any of the rest of us have. I asked if she'd take a photo of me for use by Wikipedia, and she took several. OK, so the day she chose to do it it was raining (sigh) so my hair was all wet, and as a result my head looks a funny shape. Here, have a look:

Yes, it makes me look fat, too. OK, so I am actually fat, but I like to pretend I'm not. Cropping it so it only shows the head would work better — then I'd only be complaining about looking as if I have a receding hairline.

Jenny took another photo, too, which I much prefer:

The umbrella makes me look like Zeus with lightning bolts coming out of my head. This is the picture I sent to Elonka. All that remained was for Elonka to receive Jenny's permission to use it. I emailed Jenny, telling her that her photograph of me with the umbrella was due to go on Wikipedia and could she give permission?

Here's her reply: "Even though Dad said the umbrella one I didn't like that one as much as this.". She attached the picture of me against the yellow/pink wall, gave permission for its use, and that's the one that is now proudly looking at you from the Wikipedia page about me.

I'm pleased that after several years of having no photo and several months of trying to get one I now do have a photo. It's just — my poor vanity!

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).