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when i was a little girl, i loved nothing better than to curl up in bed with my little anodised-aluminium bedlight burning away above my head while i plunged headfirst into my precious copy of the children's illustrated encyclopedia.

i read about space, about nuclear fission, and about aztec human sacrifices. it was, by turns, romantic, inspiring, and scary. if i got too scared, there was always some other thing i could learn about, like how asbestos suits were inflammable, and yet you could wear them just like a pair of overalls!

i think my dad had owned the children's illustrated encyclopedia before me. it was a bit out of date, and a bit clunky to hold there on my lap while i read about the egyptian pyramids, or about the moon and how someday we'd send explorers there.

then i grew up a little and someone invented hypertext. suddenly, encyclopediae came on cd-rom, and i could spend hours and hours clicking from one topic to another, 'surfing' the content until i was mentally exhausted, beginning on tyres and ending somewhere in french literature.

now, happily, encyclopediae are online, and we can all add to them. or to this one, anyway.