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Wikipedia for Schools

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The Wikipedia for Schools project is an effort to distill the vast content of Wikipedia onto one DVD. This single-DVD version is very portable, and can be used in schools worldwide, though its focus on articles written in English probably limits its global appeal. The project focuses on children, and what's most interesting (and appropriate) for them in a school environment; project volunteers selected articles for quality and appropriateness, then manually reviewed them for content (avoiding "adult" topics and obvious vandalism). But what happens when Wikipedia is compressed like this? Is it really a useful encyclopedia when it's whittled down to only 5,500 articles (versus the 2.5 million plus available online in English)?

Well, have a look for yourself. The project includes both a Title Word Index and the aforelinked Visual Subject Index. As a test, I thought of a few potential study topics and then tried to find them on the Wikipedia for Schools site. Here are the results:

Afghanistan

There's a lot going on in Afghanistan these days. A student could do a paper on the country's history, the current war, its relationship with Pakistan, influence of drugs on the economy, and so on. So let's see what we can find on the country. Starting with the visual index I wasn't sure whether to choose Geography or Countries, but I went with the latter. From there I selected Asia, and Afghanistan. The article is quite good -- it's truly an encyclopedia-quality entry on the country, with tons of detailed information, images, and specific data. All the topics I mentioned above are at least mentioned, and there's certainly enough information for a complete school report on the country. So that's one win.

Space Shuttle: Challenger

I'm a student of disasters, so I wanted to see whether Challenger ranked highly enough to be included in the selection. I wasn't sure where to find this in the visual index -- is it under History, Design and Technology, Science, or what? So I turned to the title word index and chose "S" and "p" to form a search beginning with "Sp" (for Space Shuttle). Sure enough, entries entitled Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Challenger disaster were right there. The articles are excellent, particularly the one covering the disaster in detail. This is college-level material.

Sarah Palin/Joe Biden

Since the Wikipedia for Schools selection requires a manual effort to select and review articles, I wondered whether recently-prominent people would make the cut. Is it possible to get relevant information on Vice Presidential picks (particularly Sarah Palin, who wasn't nationally known until quite recently) from this encyclopedia, or would we have to go online? As it turns out, the online source is clearly better for these people. Palin isn't mentioned at all in the Wikipedia for Schools selection (at least, according to a Google Search over the selection). Biden is mentioned six times but doesn't merit his own article. The most prominent mentions of Biden come in the articles on Barack Obama and the US Senate in a section about age qualifications for joining the senate (Biden had just turned 30 when he was sworn in). So I suppose the online version of Wikipedia is still necessary for some research topics. (For the record, the online articles on Palin and Biden are stunningly detailed.)

So the Wikipedia for Schools project is definitely useful, and its price (zero dollars) makes it a serious competitor to traditional encyclopedias. I can see it being of particular interest to schools (and homes) that lack internet access, or in which parents are particularly worried about their kids coming across inappropriate content. While it's possible that some inappropriate content has found its way into the selection, it's far less likely that a kid would find it there than on the equivalent live Wikipedia article on the web.

One major concern is article quality and accuracy. Wikipedia's superpower is the fact that it's constantly updated; taking a static snapshot means that articles are frozen and cannot be updated. If a factual inaccuracy exists in the selection, it may not be fixed for up to a year (when the next full selection is released), though the selection is updated as needed if major errors or vandalism are found. Having said that, to some extent the same problem exists for traditional encyclopedias -- and they aren't free (though they are professionally edited and, one hopes, thoroughly fact-checked). So the question there seems to boil down to whether the crowd of editors at Wikipedia does a "good enough" job at editing and fact-checking to compete with professionals.

A final failing I see in the selection is its lack of citations and references; they were excluded because volunteers couldn't verify each of them. I'd prefer that students had access to the references and could check them out themselves -- this process is, after all, one of the core functions of academic research!

You can browse Wikipedia for Schools online, or download the whole thing via BitTorrent. (If you're not familiar with BitTorrent, read the bit on downloading in the site's press release.)

Have you used Wikipedia for Schools? Do you have an idea for how this selection could be used? Share your experiences in the comments.

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Wired, YouTube
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technology
Watch This Robot Crack a Safe in 15 Minutes
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Wired, YouTube

When Nathan Seidle was gifted a locked safe with no combination from his wife, he did what any puzzlemaster—or, rather, what any engineer with a specific set of expertise in locks and robotics—would do: He built a robot to crack the safe. Seidle is the founder of SparkFun, an electronics manufacturer based in Denver, and this gift seemed like the perfect opportunity to put his professional knowledge to the test.

The process of building a safecracking robot involved a lot of coding and electronics, but it was the 3D printing, he said, that became the most important piece. Seidle estimated that it would take four months to have the robot test out different combinations, but with one major insight, he was able to shave off the bulk of this time: While taking a closer look at the combination dial indents, he realized that he could figure out the third digit of the combination by locating the skinniest indent. Thanks to this realization, he was soon able to trim down the number of possible combinations from a million to a thousand.

Watch the video from WIRED below to see Seidle's robot in action, which effectively whittled a four-month safecracking project down to an impressive 15-minute job.

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iStock
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Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
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iStock

How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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