Friday, 30 August 2013

Stephen W(ikipedia)

I just posted a knicker-throw about boy genius Stephen Wolfram. In the last edit, I had to check some fact about him in Wikipedia, and noticed a curiosity in the hierarchy of Wikiguesses.  Like many info-sites nowadays Wikipedia helps you along by offering you word completion so you don't have to type - and no typos! - every letter of, say, onomatopoeia,  but only the first three.  With o-n-o onomatopoeia heaves into view and you can cursor down to fetch it up.  Wikipedia is much less good than Google for dealing with spelinge errurs, but then the former doesn't have a million googledrones to inch us over our ignorance. Google's word-completion guesses about what you want to know are almost certainly tailored to your IP address - if you type "Carlow" from Silesia, Google may well respond "assume you meant Cracow" - but the following anecdote suggests that Wikipedia has a one-size-fits-all.

Here's the progressive wiki-zeroing in on my target
States and union territories of India
Stephen King
several dittos
Stephen W. Kearney
Stephen Wolfram

One of the disappointments with the old print Britannica was its over-emphasis on 19th century Generals to the exclusion (there were only 40,000,000 words after all) of whatever it was you wanted to find out about.  Stephen W. Kearney is another of those Generals: "father of the United States Cavalry" and Military Governor of New Mexico in 1846.  All very worthy and interesting but, I think you must agree, not so interesting as to pip Wolfram from the top of the Stephen Ws.  But get this - it's Kearney's birthday today 30 Aug 1794 - cue Twilight Zone theme.

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