Katyusha rockets made me believe in Wikipedia. First, let us first go back a few decades, before there was an Internet and few people had stood near a computer. I grew up with an Encyclopedia Britannica: twenty four heavy, deep burgundy, volumes sat in the dining room in a bookcase Dad had built. They gathered no dust: we look up everything from English history to critters living around the place.
The set of books seemed weak in technology and current events and grew more out of date with each passing day. My parents, mainly interested in the humanities, never replaced our early 1950s edition. One day, without telling them, I looked up the word “electrocution.” As a kid, I had a serious electronics hobby and wanted to learn more about potential dangers to my reaching adulthood. Electricity from a defective store cooler had killed a little girl and I dealt with far higher voltages than those found in an electrical outlet. The Britannica article gave a little history about the use of electricity for capital punishment – worthless for me.
Decades later, I discovered Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia, edited by anybody so inclined. (It has the information about electrical shock that I wanted so long ago but no longer need.) Britannica still exists, in book and CD ROM but both forms cost serious money.
Wikipedia has its critics. Controversial topics such as the legacy of George W. Bush or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have no simple explanations that everybody can agree on. Anybody with an agenda can slant an article to promote a narrow point of view. Most of my searches, however, dealt with topics lacking controversy. Pursuing a belated PhD, I found articles on mathematics and some luminaries in my field. When news came about China adding melamine to foodstuffs, I found that compound, its properties, and chemical formula. I looked up authors and history just as we had in the old Britannica. Wikipedia has many languages so you can always flip to a different one to find out how the rest of the world views things or just try to learn some new words.
My final conversion to Wikipedia came from news reports of Palestinian groups attacking Israel with Katyusha rockets. Something sounded strange. I knew a smattering of Russian and Katyusha sounded like a translation of the nickname “Katie.” The attacks continued so I ran the name. In World War II, the Russians fighting the Germans launched batteries of crude rockets from pipes mounted on trucks. I had seen them in TV war documentaries. At night, they lit the sky in great dazzling arcs: death at the end of the rainbow. The Germans called them Stalin’s organs because the launchers reminded them of pipe organs. The Russians, however, called them Katyushas after a popular song of a girl missing her soldier/lover. Somehow the name stuck to the homemade Palestinian rockets. Wikipedia gave a link to the song, complete with lyrics and translation.
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