Monday, January 23, 2006

Wikipedia Preference

I find myself going to the Wikipedia more and more. At first, the articles were all over the map, and sometimes a hacker would get in and deface an entry; however, the articles are getting better, and it has been a while since I've a defaced entry.

Why has the Wikipedia improved? Traditional media looked down on the Wikipedia because of its collaborative nature., but the Wikipedia's strength is that so many people have contributed to an article.

For example, my whining on the discussion board* for the "Quadratic Equation" entry resulted in an example of a non-second degree equation being taken out from its confusing place in the otherwise sensible introduction and to a more appropriate place later in the article under the heading of "Solving Equations of a Higher Degree."

What do I know about quadratics? About as much as the next math illiterate, yet someone was willing to listen to my question, another person was willing to come up with an edit that showed how use substitution to make a 6th power variable into a quadratic, and finally, the decision was that it was better to move the topic than to bring it up in the intro. Try that with another reference work!

* This was my question:

One of the issues I have with math text books is that at first I am thrilled to be learning this knowledge, and I am happy to be connected with truth, harmony, and the secrets of the universe, but then there's a quick switcheroo, and I am lost and confused, and I feel as if I am on the wrong side of an academic three card monte game. Now I see it, now I don't, and now I'm the chump.
For example, the into paragraphs on the quadratic equation are clear and make perfect sense, then this suddenly appears:
"Higher-degree equations may be quadratic in form, such as:
2x6th power + 3xthird power + 5 = 0
Note that the highest exponent is twice the value of the exponent of the middle term. This equation may be resolved directly or with a simple substitution, using the methods that are available for the quadratic, such as factoring (also called factorising), the quadratic formula, or completing the square."
Bringing in a non-second degree equation is a good idea, but only as an example against the previous and following equations. The note confuses me. Is it my imagination, or has that +5 also made this equation difficult? Also, could I see just exactly how one would solve "This equation..." especially with the quadratic formula?

1 comment:

Steve said...

I'll agree Wikipedia is getting better. In fact, I've found it often has better and more in depth discussions of certain topics than standard encyclopedias, as it allows for the drilling down in detail by devoted experts and enthusiast. An example I found this week was an extensive entry on WWII Italian light cruisers. An area I wouldn't normally expect to find in any encyclopedia.
In addition, the peer reviews and user comments are doing a better job of keeping out the garbage although, a good degree of skepticism is still needed.