Mar 15, 2012

facts matter

Encyclopedia Britannica died this week. About the only surprising thing about this is, what took so long? I'm all for forward progress and I think Wikipedia is an ample (and free) substitute for EB.  But I'll miss two things about it.
  1. It's written for normal human beings. Here's the entry for diode in Wikipedia.  It's correct but not entirely illuminating for the novice.
  2. In electronics, a diode is a type of two-terminal electronic component with nonlinear resistance and conductance (i.e., a nonlinear current–voltage characteristic), distinguishing it from components such as two-terminal linear resistors which obey Ohm's law.
  3. I'll miss the serendipity of just flipping through it. I hated school as a kid. I thought it was boring because quite frankly it was boring. But EB was one of those things that taught you that the world was big, old, and far more interesting than your high school teachers would have you believe. It's possible to 'peruse' Wikipedia but not necessarily as easy or random or fun.
Of course I checked out the entry for EB in Wikipedia.  Some interesting tidbits
  • It was first published in 1768
  • It reached 20 volumes in size by 1801
  • The final print edition (the 15th edition) was 32 volumes
  • Over the last 70 years the set has averaged 40 million words and 500,000 topics
  • Around 1880 James Clerk Maxwell and Thomas Huxley were the science advisors
  • In total 110 nobel prize winners wrote for EB and 5 U.S. presidents
  • Geographical topics make up the largest share of topics
  • In the late 1700s EB rejected the theory of Newtonian gravity. It stated instead that it was caused by the classical element of fire.
  • Shortest entry in 1771 release - "Woman - The female of man"
  • Ernest Shackleton’s crew, while marooned in Antarctica, smoked pages from Britannica.
  • The 1768 edition listed California as 'Callifornia' and described as ‘a large country of the West Indies. Unknown whether it is an island or a peninsula.’

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