This is going to be a provocative post 🙂 <dons flameproof gloves>

I just read a couple of articles, posted by friends on Facebook, both describing how women’s liberation has hurt women. (Both were posted on The Atlantic website, which may be a very conservative/biased source, although Wikipedia calls it Liberal).

I had a strong reaction to these posts, because I consider myself to be liberal, pro-choice and modernist (and perhaps slightly leftist). And these articles claim that these principles, which I hold dear, are harming women, who make up half the world’s population and for whom I have immense respect. So I can’t help but take sides in this argument. But I think the articles are wrong and misleading, promoting straw-man arguments. Here’s why.

The first article says:

The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of Unwed Mothers: An Economic Mystery… The real question here isn’t “Why so many babies?” It’s “Why so few marriages?” And we have an answer…

This is a complex economic mystery that we’ve explored often at The Atlantic, but we can take a big bite out of it by focusing on three factors: (1) The changing meaning of marriage in America; (2) declining wages for low-skill men; and (3) the declining costs of being a single person.

[1] Once upon a time, the typical marriage … involved special roles for the husband and wife. He would work. She would stay home. It was an efficient arrangement where opposites attracted. Men who wanted to be executives would marry women who wanted to be housewives … Today women expect to work much, much more than they used to. They make up the majority of new college graduates… Since 1950, hours of work by married women have increased by roughly a factor of three…

Modern marriage has changed from an arrangement where men marry for a housewife to a “hedonic” model where both partners can be the breadwinner. As marriage has shifted from opposites-attract to like-attracts-like, researchers have found that sorting has increased all along the educational scale. College graduates are more likely than ever to marry college graduates, as Charles Murray has written. High school dropouts are more likely to marry high school dropouts… We should expect marriages among low-income Americans to decline if women perceive declining gains from hitching themselves to the men around them.

[2] Low-skill men have had a rough two generations. The evaporation of manufacturing work has gutted their main source of employment, while globalization has held down their wages. Marriage has declined the most among men whose wages have declined the most… In a dating pool where poor women are more likely to be surrounded by men with low and falling fortunes, more women have ditched a union for good economic reasons: It could be a financial drain. High rates of unemployment and incarceration meant that the local dating pool was populated by unmarriageable men–and the result was that women chose to live independently.

[3] It is relatively easier to raise a child and keep up a home with modern household innovations… The development of time-saving technologies — cheap prepared foods, cheap clothes, machines to wash, dry, and vacuum … has made it relatively easier for single parents to raise a child…

[4] That women find themselves drifting “unintentionally” into parenthood with men they have no intent of marrying creates another generation of problems.

I’ll rebut this one point at a time, and try to keep it short:

[1] Everyone is only allowed to marry one person at a time. If some lose out, others gain. So some women (A) don’t get to marry a high-flying business executive (X) anymore. That business executive marries someone (B). X is happier with B than with A. B is happier with X than with anyone else. A might be unhappy being forced to marry someone less wealthy (L). But previously, what would B have done? Would she have met someone who appreciated her college degree? Or would men have found her intellect threatening? In the old system there was no room for her to get an education and a career and still get married; she had to choose one or the other.

Because liberation allows smart women to have careers and children and to marry smart men, it increases their chances of success and hapiness. Admittedly not everybody can make the most of those opportunities. But some can and will. B gets to marry someone rich and successful, have children, and give them the best chance in life. A might be unhappy that she has to marry a “low-skill man” or stay single. But I argue, without presenting evidence except communism as a counter-example, that having some extremely successful women as role models benefits all women more than “women marry up” traditionalism. X and B’s children get  better genes and more financial investment from their parents than X and A’s children would have done.

The end result: X partners with someone smarter and more his equal (B) than he could have done before (A). B partners with someone smarter and more her equal (X) than she could have done before. A loses out relatively, but has a better role models to aspire to (B). L has a partner, when previously, given point 2, he would be “unmarriageable”. Sum total human happiness: greater.

[2] This has nothing to do with womens’ liberation. The decline in production industries seems to be an inevitable consequence of globalisation and national development. If a woman chooses not to marry, that is because she has a choice, which she didn’t have before. And she thinks that marriage would not benefit her. If she acts rationally, then she’s made a better choice than she would or could have done under the old system, where she had no choice but to marry.

[3] Again, women have a choice that they did not have before. Previously, if they had chosen to have children, they would have been confined to a life of servitude in looking after them until adulthood. Now they can spend less time cooking and cleaning, and more time earning to pay someone willing to perform those tasks for them, and with money left over to invest in a better future for their children.

I don’t think you can argue that this situation is worse for women in any way, except that they feel more pressure to return to work and pay someone else to look after their children rather than do so themselves. Less parental attention might harm their children, but more opportunities in life might benefit them too. Given the choice which they never had before, and assuming that women act rationally, we have to conclude that they will make the choice that benefits their children most.

[4] I doubt very much that women in a progressive society are unaware of the consequences of intercourse, or are unable to choose whether or not to have children. If they choose to have children, that is their right and their choice, and they alone are responsible for the consequences. Before liberation, as is currently true in many parts of the world, married women are indentured slaves to their husbands, and unmarried women are dangerous pariahs. It’s hard to see how liberation has harmed women by offering them the choice, and freedom to plan and create their own futures as they wish.

The second article says:

The girls of the counterculture Left were wrong; not about civil rights or the Viet Nam War or imperial Amerika, but about sex and men. It is fair to say that the silence of the mothers hid a real, tough, unsentimental knowledge of men and intercourse, and that the noisy sexuality of the daughters hid romantic ignorance.That passage from Andrea Dworkin’s 1983 book Right Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females could almost serve as an epigraph for Sally Potter’s new British Cold War coming-of-age film Ginger & Rosa. The book, is Dworkin’s effort to understand the position and commitments of anti-feminist conservative women. Her conclusion is that conservatives, correctly, view the sexual revolution for women as in many ways a scam, and that free love is not so much an escape from the inequities of domesticity as an intensification of them.

I haven’t read Dworkin’s book or seen Potter’s film. But the sentiment riles me.

I agree that “free love” ideas, as promulgated by many men in the 1960s, tried to take advantage of womens’ new-found control over their fertility, by encouraging them to sleep with as many men as possible. Of course, that was in the interests of men and not beneficial or helpful to women. People still have the same biological urges and imperatives despite changes in technology.

But the situation today is far removed from the 1960s. Anyone who says that women have not learned from 50 years of living in this scientific world, insults women massively. Of course Roland saying “I am free and autonomous!” as an excuse to break his marriage vows and sleep with whoever he wants is evidence that he’s a liar and a cheat. But to taint all men with the same brush is pure libel, and I won’t accept it.

The film seems to portray women failing to stand up to men in several ways, at least according to the article (I haven’t seen the film):

  • Roland is, as far as his family is concerned, a giant, selfish prick.
  • When confronted, he starts babbling about autonomy and how he can’t be held to the man’s rules, man, and how he suffered when he was in prison.
  • When his wife gets upset because he’s treating her like dirt, he tells her that her tears are “emotional blackmail,” designed to impinge on his freedom and drag him into stultifying normalcy.
  • His political commitments are both a justification and a form of bullying, and his radical rejection of domesticity doesn’t free his wife, but simply means that he can take her cooking and her service without any return of fidelity or affection.
  • Even his principled pacifism ends up as an emotional bludgeon.
  • In the confrontation at the end of the film, when Roland justifies himself through his usual “I am free and autonomous!” spiel, Bella doesn’t put forward any kind of feminist alternative to the boilerplate hippie leftism.
  • In fact, when she starts to argue, Roland tells her she has no right to judge him because she doesn’t know him.
  • Ginger’s politics are not just a way to separate herself from her mom, though. They’re also a way to separate herself from herself.

And a brilliant non-sequitur:

  • Feminism’s insistence that the private experiences of women are political and public…

The article is mainly a review of a film that fails to advance the feminist cause. It’s only mildly critical of that fact. Which is a shame, and a disappointment in my view, because so much needs to be done to achieve equal rights and opportunities for men and women. It seems that this film actually, subtly, undermines womens’ rights: by portraying an outdated stereotype of the way that men and women once behaved, with implied applicability to the present, it may encourage men and women to behave that way today. And that is not to be encouraged at all.

This post is not really about International Development, or developing regions, or technology. It’s about my interest in all these things. It’s a kind of confession. I hope that others will stumble upon it, and gain something from it.

If you think I’m crazy or lying, please write a comment! I want to know if these words strike you as truth or not!

What just happened?

I’ve been doing some work on myself (personal development) recently, including attending the ISA Experience. One thing they asked us to do, before we arrived, was to write a personal statement about what we hoped to gain from the Experience. I had no idea what to expect, or what was possible. But I remember reading in the brochure:

What if you could not fail? How would you approach every day? What would you achieve? You could be anything, couldn’t you?

So I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, and wrote the following (other parts I might share another day :-):

If I could do anything I wanted, I would:

  • Reduce unfairness and unhappiness in the world
  • Make a noticeable positive impact on the human condition

The question was one that we participants discussed often during those days. Someone on the course asked me why I was there. I said that I wanted to make the world a better place, that I couldn’t imagine anything better to do with my limited time on Earth. And she told me that she had once wanted the same thing, and she’d learned that we, who desire to change the world, often need to change ourselves first.

And she told me about Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, psychotherapist, spiritual guide, writer and public speaker. When she told me that de Mello’s work had been banned by the Catholic Church, I was hooked. I’m not a fan of religious institutions, and a natural rebel. She told me that his work was available online, and I found a recording of a 1986 conference (lecture series). I highly recommend these lectures to you.

I also want to point out that I am not religious or spiritual. I will quote from religious and spiritual people, because they are wise gurus, not because I follow the religions started in their names.

Development 2.0

I learned much from ISA, De Mello and Don Miguel Ruiz, and I will list some of these learnings here, in the hope that they may inspire others to follow these same paths, at least for the journey, and that they will share their experience with others. In particular, I now think that:

  • Improving the human condition depends on awakening or self-discovery.
  • There are gurus whose wise words deserve attention and deep thought.
  • This knowledge is not new, but thousands of years old, and yet few understand it even today.
  • Our society offers us convenient, empty distractions from the truth: consumer goods, entertainment, news, gossip, wealth, therapy, etc.
  • We must awaken ourselves, encourage others, and spread knowledge of the truth.
  • This is the real development: personal, national, international and human.

My understanding of development has changed completely since I entered this sector with a desire to do good and relieve suffering. I thought that we in the West did not suffer, while the starving in Africa do. I have learned that this idea was wrong:

  • Many people in Africa are happy despite material problems (money does not buy happiness);
  • “Development” based on copying our society is a lie, a trap;
  • We are not more developed, just differently;
  • Let us not forget that “developing” nations are the oldest on Earth, and have had the most time to develop themselves.
  • Let us not judge who is “developed” or not.
  • Let us explore and share the truth and enlightenment instead.

On Happiness

I learned some keys to being happy in my own life:

  • I choose whether to enjoy or to hate, to be happy or miserable, every moment of every day.
  • That choice is usually made automatically by my programming (conditioning).
  • It’s really hard to override the conditioning and reinterpret my world.
  • It’s even harder to remember to do it all the time!
  • Suffering is caused by our desire or craving for something.

Many wise people have said these things, and yet most of us are still asleep:

“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” – Martha Washington

“Happiness is not a matter of good fortune or worldly possessions. It’s a mental attitude. It comes from appreciating what we have, instead of being miserable about what we don’t have. It’s so simple, yet so hard for the human mind to comprehend.” – Bits and Pieces

A Cherokee elder was teaching his children about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to them. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandchildren thought about it and after a minute one of them asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The elder simply replied, “The one you feed.” – Unfolding Leadership

On Others

I used to think that it was important to please others. I still think that my parents gave me this name, Christopher, for a reason, not just because it started with the letter C. They wanted me to be a good boy and to help others. I struggle every day to decide whether I am helping others for my own sake or for theirs. I struggle every day not to take personally the insults and compliments that others give me, and to do what I feel is right, to be authentic.

My personal development has given me some insights that help me when I remember them:

  • Other people do not really know us.
  • They think they do, but they observe us filtered through their own values.
  • They assign these filtered, judged attributes to our character in their own life story.
  • When they talk to us, they are really talking to that character in their own story.
  • Who is talking is not them, but their character in their own story, not necessarily the same, unless they are authentic
  • If we derive happiness or unhappiness from the words of others, we set ourselves up to be manipulated by them.
  • If we hate them, we poison ourselves and our lives with hate.
  • If we deny or condemn them, we give them power over us.
  • Let us confront our demons, observe and appreciate their strengths and weaknesses.

(Edit) After listening to a little more Anthony de Mello, I will quote him directly:

Any time you have a negative feeling towards anyone, you’re living in an illusion. There’s something seriously wrong with you. You’re not seeing reality. Something inside of you has to change.

But what do we generally do when we have a negative feeling? We’re saying “He is to blame, she is to blame, she’s got to change”. No, no. The world is all right. The one who’s got to change is you.

I have much more to write, but this article is already too long. I hope to write a second part soon.

Life on the Move

February 10, 2011

A friend of mine asked me to write her a bit about my thoughts about immigration, for a paper she’s working on. She knew that I’ve lived in a few countries in Africa for more or less time, and wanted to know more about it, and how I thought people might feel about moving to Europe.

I ended up writing more than I had planned, so instead of leaving it to rot in a private message, I thought I’d publish it to get some feedback from others. Comments and criticisms are welcome.

What do I think about migration: I think it can offer many new opportunities, as well as many risks for the migrant. The people who migrate (to live) are the ones who have least to lose, or the most to gain.

The less they have in their own country, the more likely they are to migrate. At the bottom of the luck pyramid, people are most likely to migrate to escape war, and then in roughly decreasing order, famine, poverty, physical aggression (violence) or oppression (e.g. sexual, sexuality, race, nationality or freedom).

In the middle, diplomats and aid workers migrate because it’s required by their work; volunteers migrate to meet their calling and improve their skills and employability.

At the top of the pyramid, consultants migrate because they get paid fantastic sums, far more than most of us could hope to earn, to offer their unique expertise.

In many countries, immigrants are unpopular or even persecuted, as people feel they are taking advantage of better healthcare without paying taxes, or stealing their jobs. Denmark has a large immigrant community who don’t mix with the Danes, and they are very unpopular in a country that extremely tolerant and liberal in every other way imaginable.

Why did I live in other countries: so far because of work, but I also chose a job which offers me this opportunity regularly and I take it at every opportunity, simply because I love travel, new experiences, meeting new people and learning about new cultures.

Did I have any difficulties? A few:

I was mugged twice in Ghana and robbed once in Italy;

I’m not allowed to walk around at night in Kenya, so I have to travel everywhere by taxi;

it’s expensive living abroad (I got a supplement from my work which helped a bit);

food poisoning is a risk (I just ignore it and be prepared to be sick occasionally);

malaria is a risk in Africa (I always have to take antimalarial drugs, which are expensive);

it doesn’t affect me, but Africans have an acquired semi-immunity to malaria, which they lose if they spend too long living abroad, and is impossible to get back, so if they move back to Africa tey tend to get very sick;

hot humid weather is uncomfortable for me (air conditioning and fans help);

I miss my family, especially my brother’s kids, and my friends and colleagues when I’m abroad, especially for a long time (I return to the UK every so often);

it can be difficult to build a new social life, especially if you’re not staying for long (learning the language helps);

people treat you like an outsider and they can be aggressive towards you if you have more money than them, or if they think you’re taking their jobs (learning the language helps, and learning to ignore beggars and brush off insults);

moving money is expensive (travellers’ cheques, bank charges) (not much you can do about this one, except change as much as you can in one go);

cash machines won’t take your card or they swallow it, cutting off your supply of ready cash (you might have to courier in a new card or return to your own country to collect a replacement);

What’s it like to live in Africa:

Services are very basic to nonexistant. There is usually no hot water for showers unless you stay in a hotel. If there is some, it’s not reliable. You can’t buy soap or beer or wine or any vegetables except local produce in the towns and villages. Electricity is unreliable, sometimes only a few hours per day, so fridges don’t work well. There’s no TV or radio in rural areas.

Fixed line phones don’t really exist, nor do mobile contracts. Everyone is on pay as you go, and you can buy credit everywhere (almost every shop sells it, from butchers to bars), even if there’s no signal. Sometimes you have to go to one spot in the village where there’s signal to make or receive a call.

Everyone wants to talk to you. Kids point at you because you’re white. Some of them have never seen a white person before. People don’t like being photographed. Education tends to be rough, violent, rote learning, in schools with no glass in the windows and wooden benches that are falling apart. Kids have creativity and imagination beaten out of them. I think this is the biggest tragedy of the continent.

In the capitals you see rich people living and working in high-rise flats and office buildings, and just outside, on the street, will be people walking through the traffic (usually gridlocked), selling apples, maps, toys, phone credit, fried plantain chips, meat pies, football shirts, newspapers, anything you can imagine, or just begging from car to car. Taxis have no seatbelts and most are over 10 years old, second-hand from Europe or Japan, and have chipped or smashed windscreens.

Public transport is virtually nonexistent apart from minibuses that usually carry up to 30 people, cheaply and dangerously, from 6am to 7pm. All have taxis and some countries have motorcycle taxis. Taxis are absurdly cheap, usually a few dollars for a 10 minute ride. US dollars are universal currency (good for emergencies) although the exchange rate is terrible. Bicycles are fairly common, as are carts pulled by donkeys.

Government is usually corrupt and useless. You can’t usually get anything from a government office without paying a bribe. You also can’t expect your local representative to do anything for you or your village, town or state, unless it builds their prestige. Government officials pay themselves very highly, often as much as in Europe, and drive the most expensive cars, although most of their electorate survive on a few dollars a day.

Police earn virtually nothing, and you can only expect trouble from them. They’ll stop your car as an excuse for a bribe. They won’t lift a finger over a crime unless there’s a bribe or someone important was robbed or hurt. Hospitals are few, insanitary (never let them inject you unless you bring your own needles), paid for (although not expensive), overcrowded and disorganised. There is no fire service.

Sewage often flows through open gutters on the street, into the nearest river or the sea, when they have running sewage at all. Most villages have no running water, only hand pumps on a well of uncertain quality. Some people walk for hours every day to fetch water.

Generally do you think that an african coming here would find a great difference in attitudes, civilization level etc?

Capital cities tend to have a lot of wealth and infrastructure compared to the rest of the country. I guess that someone coming from a village would be shocked and awed at the level of civilisation that we have, and someone coming from a city would probably take it in their stride.

People think that the UK had very good, efficient government, but Italy for example doesn’t, so maybe an immigrant would not be surprised. Perhaps an immigrant from Asia might even find that some European countries function less efficiently than their own.

Many African countries have restricted freedom of speech. In most it’s illegal to criticise the monarchy, if there is one; in Uganda it’s illegal to be homosexual; in Zimbabwe and Rwanda people are very careful what they say. Two journalists in Rwanda were recently sent to prison for saying that “some Rwandans were unhappy with the country’s rulers.” Many immigrants would be shocked at the level of honesty and criticism of officials in our press.

Regarding attitudes, I’m not so sure. People in Africa seem to be very religious, and shocked at how secular we are. I’m regularly asked which church I go to. People dress very brightly in Africa, particularly women, and they might find our clothing dull. Men in Africa tend to dress smarly, wearing three-piece suits in 40’C heat, and they might find our slack office dress insulting.

Most Africans are probably used to people being very friendly, open and having plenty of time for everyone, and they might find a highly efficient, ordered and controlled society like Denmark or Germany to be oppressive, boring or just unfriendly. People also tend to get married young, and have more children than we do, and several people have been surprised that I’m not married with kids by age 30.

I hope that’s an interesting and not too biased or untruthful report.

Fouad Bajwa writes of an unusual deal between the Pakistani government and Microsoft, on the s-asia-it mailing list:

To all members of the IT Industry & Technical Community,

Everyone is well aware that global financial recession has hit even the Tech Giants where companies like Microsoft and Intel have being saying goodbye to thousands of their employees. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting better but interestingly our Pakistani National ICT R&D Fund is thinking about helping Microsoft in Pakistan and we from the industry feel that it is sad that instead of supporting local Hi-Tech Start-ups and struggling IT Entrepreneurs [they are]  funding the usual “Non-Useful” activities like conferences [and] so-called accelerator programs for Pakistan…

To be fair, they have funded a number of open source projects, and funding for conferences and other networking activities is always in short supply for those without a significant marketing budget.

I have come to know through my friends in the IT Industry that the National ICT R&D Fund has signed an MoU with Microsoft to fund the Microsoft Developers Conference and something called an “Innovators Accelerator Program”. The funds haven’t been disbursed yet but it definitely annoys me and many of my friends in the IT industry that our government should fund Microsoft initiatives which is already a global giant. I have heard that around 5 million rupees [about USD 60,000] or thereabouts for the innovation accelerator program which will involve Microsoft training, entrepreneurship training and connecting with Microsoft partners and similar amounts related.

I also find it strange that Pakistan would choose it invest money in Microsoft at this time, despite their obvious experience and competence with open source. Others come to the Fund’s defence, saying:

ICT R&D Fund is one of the few institutions in the country that are doing an excellent job… [it] is the role of a funding agency to encourage collaborations for promoting research cultures and provide help in bringing the best minds closer.

But nobody has denied that the Fund has signed an MoU with Microsoft, or argued for its benefit to Pakistan. Fouad also writes:

When will our national institutions support its people, the vulnerable, not the already empowered? Why doesn’t it support the local entrepreneurs, the ones that don’t have large companies or university backings? Why does it have liabilities to include universities whereas it knows what the state of R&D in universities has been except for a few handful? Why doesn’t it include this money for Social Enterprise and created a NATIONAL INCUBATION AND ACCELERATION CENTRE where people like me or you or anyone can walk in and build their ideas and companies?

Ashiq Anjum replies that “No funding agency can build incubators for industry, probably this is outside of their scope.” But the Fund’s stated goal is “To transform Pakistan’s economy into a knowledge based economy by promoting efficient, sustainable and effective ICT initiatives through synergic development of industrial and academic resources.”

It sounds entirely reasonable on this basis for them to assist university graduates in gaining skills that are useful in the knowledge industry, and in setting up their own companies in the knowledge industry. Indeed, another stated goal is to “make Pakistan an attractive destination for service oriented and research and development related outsourced jobs.”

We can establish centres like
and help local entrepreneurs in business development and social innovation with the same amount of money[.] That helps and benefits our people and companies directly as well as innovate for local and international markets.

I agree that all countries should support local development, training and entrepreneurship as much as possible.

Offline Wikipedia

November 21, 2008

I’m working on making Wikipedia, the (in)famous free encyclopaedia, available offline, for a project in a school in rural Zambia where Internet access will be slow, expensive and unreliable.

What I’m looking for is:

  • Completely offline operation
  • Runs on Linux
  • Reasonable selection of content from English Wikipedia, preferably with some images
  • Looks and feels like the Wikipedia website (e.g. accessed through a browser)
  • Keyword search like the Wikipedia website

Tools that have built-in search engines usually require that you download a pages and articles dump file from Wikipedia (about 3 GB download) and then generate a search index, which can take from half an hour to five days.

For an open source project that seems ideally suited to being used offline, and considering the amount of interest, there are surprisingly few options (already developed). They also took me a long time to find, so I’m collating the information here in the hope that it will help others. Here are my impressions of the solutions that I’ve tried so far, gathered from various sources including

The One True Wikipedia

The One True Wikipedia, for comparison

MediaWiki (the Wikipedia wiki software) can be downloaded and installed on a computer configured as an AMP server (Apache, MySQL, PHP). You can then import a Wikipedia database dump and use the wiki offline. This is quite a complex process, and importing takes a long time, about 4 hours for the articles themselves (on a 3 GHz P4). Apparently it takes days to build the search index (I’m testing this at the moment). This method does not include any images, as the image dump is apparently 75 GB, and no longer appears to be available, and it displays some odd template codes in the text (shown in red below) which may confuse users.

Mediawiki local installation

Mediawiki local installation

Wikipedia Selection for Schools is a static website, created by Wikimedia and SOS Childrens Villages, with a hand-chosen and checked selection of articles from the main Wikipedia, and images, that fit on a DVD or 3GB of disk space. It’s available for free download using BitTorrent, which is rather slow. Although it looks like Wikipedia, it’s a static website, so while it’s easy to install, it has no search feature. It also has only 5,500 articles compared to the 2 million in Wikipedia itself (about 0.25%). Another review is on the Speed of Creativity Blog. Older versions are available here. (thanks BBC)

Wikipedia Selection for Schools

Wikipedia Selection for Schools

Zipedia is a Firefox plugin which loads and indexes a Wikipedia dump file. It requires a different dump file, containing the latest metadata (8 GB) instead of the usual one (3 GB). You can then access Wikipedia offline in your browser by going to a URL such as wikipedia://wiki. It does not support images, and the search feature only searches article titles, not their contents. You can pass the indexed data between users as a Zip file to save time and bandwidth, and you may be able to share this file between multiple users on a computer or a network. (thanks

WikiTaxi is a free Windows application which also loads and indexes Wikipedia dump files. It has its own user interface, which displays Wikipedia formatting properly (e.g. tables). It looks very nice, but it’s a shame that it doesn’t run on Linux.

WikiTaxi screenshot (

WikiTaxi screenshot (

Moulin Wiki is a project to develop open source offline distributions of Wikipedia content, based on the Kiwix browser. They claim that their 150 MB Arabic version contains an impressive 70,000 articles, and that their 1.5 GB French version contains the entire French Wikipedia, more than 700,000 articles. Unfortunately they have not yet released an English version.

Kiwix itself can be used to read a downloaded dump file, thereby giving access to the whole English Wikipedia via the 3 GB download. It runs on Linux only (as far as I know) and the user interface is a customised version of the Firefox browser. Unfortunately I could not get it to build on Ubuntu Hardy due to an incompatible change in Xulrunner. (Kiwix developers told me that a new version would be released before the end of November 2008, but I wasn’t able to test it yet).

Kiwix (and probably MoulinWiki)

Kiwix (and probably MoulinWiki)

Wikipedia Dump Reader is a KDE application which browses Wikipedia dump files. It generates an index on the first run, which took 5 hours on a 3 GHz P4, and you can’t use it until it’s finished. It doesn’t require extracting or uncompressing the dump file, so it’s efficient on disk space, and you can copy or share the index between computers. The display is in plain text, so it looks nothing like Wikipedia, and it includes some odd system codes in the output which could confuse users.

Wikipedia Dump Reader

Wikipedia Dump Reader

Thanassis Tsiodras has created a set of scripts to extract Wikipedia article titles from the compressed dump, index them, parse and display them with a search engine. It’s a clever hack but the user interface is quite rough, it doesn’t always work, requires about two times the dump file size in additional data, it was a pain to figure out how to use it and get it working, and it looks nothing like Wikipedia, but better than the Dump Reader above.

Thanassis Tsiodras' Fast Wiki with Search

Thanassis Tsiodras' Fast Wiki with Search

Pocket Wikipedia is designed for PDAs, but apparently runs on Linux and Windows as well. The interface looks a bit rough, and I haven’t tested the keyword search yet. It doesn’t say exactly how many articles it contains, but my guess is that it’s about 3% of Wikipedia. Unfortunately it’s closed source, and as it comes from Romania, I don’t trust it enough to run it. (thanks

Pocket Wikipedia on Linux

Pocket Wikipedia on Linux (

Wikislice allows users to download part of Wikipedia and view it using the free Webaroo client. Unfortunately this client appears only to work on Windows. (thanks

WikiSlice (

WikiSlice (

Encyclopodia puts the open source project on an iPod, but I want to use it on Linux.



It appears that if you need search and Linux compatibility, then running a real Wikipedia (MediaWiki) server is probably the best option, despite the time taken.