Thinking about monkeys and engineers and copyright

I just love this. First, take a folk song popular in the 1960s, written by someone born in 1896.

Once upon a time a engineer had a monkey and everywhere he go why he’d take the little monkey along and so the monkey would watch everything the engineer would do so one day the engineer had to go get him something to eat and so the monkey got tired of waiting so he thought he’d try out the throttle and down the road he went.

Once upon a time there was an engineer
Drove a locomotive both far and near
Accompanied by a monkey that sit on the stool
Watchin’ everything that the engineer move

One day the engineer wanted a bite to eat
He left the monkey settin’ on the driver’s seat
The monkey pulled the throttle, locomotive jumped the gun
And made ninety miles an hour on the main line run

Well the big locomotive just in time
The big locomotive comin’ down the line
Big locomotive number ninety nine
Left the engineer with a worried mind

Engineer begin to call the dispatcher on the phone
Tell him all about how is locomotive was gone
Get on the wire, the dispatcher to write
Cause the monkey’s got the main line sewed up tight

Switch operator got the message in time
There’s a north bound limited on the same main line
Open the switch, gonna let him in the hole
Cause the monkey’s got the locomotive under control

Well the big locomotive right on time
Big locomotive comin’ down the line
Big locomotive number ninety nine
Left the engineer with a worried mind
Left the engineer with a worried mind

It’s not just any old folk song, it’s a Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller song. [Do read about him, he’s a fascinating character].

Then, take that song and make it even more popular: make sure that the Grateful Dead play it regularly. In fact make sure they play it 31 times. For good measure, make sure that Bob Dylan also plays on it with them.

My thanks to for the wonderful photograph of Jerry above.

To make it a little more interesting, make sure someone, David Opie, writes an award-winning book about the song.

So now you have the song. The lyrics. The book. Some dead people. And some Dead people. And some alive people.  Make sure someone makes a video about the song/book/whatever it is by now. In fact go one better, make the video using Lego pieces.

Then get your children to draw what they see.

Song. Book. Video. A bit of Lego thrown in. More people involved than you can shake a stick at.

I think the Copyright Police should try and work stuff like this out every day. Because they’re going to have to.

Crowdplaying: Of Three Wolf Moons, Caroline of Brunswick (and Complete and Perfect Tutnums)

The internet’s been an interesting place this week. Particularly for crowdplaying. Crowdsourced humour.

First off we had the almost-rained-off first day’s play at Edgbaston for the Third Ashes Test. [Now for people who don’t know anything about cricket, that’s a biennial cricket match between England and Australia]. Play was scheduled to begin at 11am; it rained all day; play did begin at around 5pm. But in the meantime:


The Caroline of Brunswick article in Wikipedia took a mighty hammering, despite stout defence from William Avery, who did everything possible to justify his Senior Editor with Platinum Editor Star status. [Incidentally, I now have a new ambition. To become a Complete and Perfect Tutnum of the Encyclopaedia. It was a joyous morning without a ball being bowled, with edits blazing from end to end, so much so that Caroline of Brunswick was rumoured to have become the 5th most searched item on Google that afternoon.

Not quite the place to look for humour. But hey, this is the internet, where anything’s possible. Laughter in the TMS inbox I could believe, but in an article on Caroline of Brunswick?

Then, today, thanks to Chris Brogan, I found an unlikely streak of humour in an even more unlikely place: The Mountain Men’s Three Wolf Moon Short Tee Shirt.


No, it’s not on the t-shirt. Just take a look at the reviews of the item on Amazon. 136 customer reviews. 13,171 finding the first review helpful. 181 comments on that review. Don’t stop there, you must take a look at some of the other reviews. Preferably while sitting down in a comfortable position.

Culture comes in many shapes and forms; the internet is a land of wondrous promise as people find old and new ways to do old and new things. If we let them.

Twitter from Aristology to Zeuglodont

Aristology: The science of cooking and dining. Abjured, even denigrated, by Nero Wolfe, on the basis that both cooking and dining are arts, not sciences. Now more commonly defined as both an art and a science, covering the preparation, cooking, presentation and eating of food.

Zeuglodont: A type of carnivorous whale. Now extinct. Also referred to as phocodontia.

Aristology. A word I first came across when I was about ten, when I started reading Rex Stout. Although Stout first used it in Three At Wolfe’s Door, that was not where I happened upon it. It was when I was reading The Doorbell Rang, surely one of the ten best mystery novels ever written.

It was in the reading of Nero Wolfe that I developed a keen interest in food, in all aspects of food. And, I daresay, sometime in my life I will start growing orchids for similar reasons.

What has any or all of this to do with Twitter? It’s like this. Some time ago, during the debate on continuous partial asymmetry triggered by James Governor’s post, Stu Berwick, an old friend and colleague, made a crucial comment. By keeping it short and to the point, he crystallised something that everyone knows but not everyone appreciates. Twitter is both a communications medium as well as a publishing platform.

Now for me one of the ways of testing something as a publishing platform (as opposed to a communications medium) is the depth of language used, the breadth of subjects covered. So I started “testing” Twitter. What I did was enter “random” words into Twitter search, and observe the results. I converted that into a game. The rules were simple:

  1. I had to know the word and what it meant
  2. It had to be a word that had found its way into the language proper, as opposed to one that was “technically” included, that made its way only because it formed part of an obscure branch of science.
  3. The number of results returned had to be zero.

I read a lot. I have been reading voraciously for over forty years. I read widely. And I have a good head for words, coupled with a decent memory. Years of playing around with crosswords and Scrabble have, if anything, sharpened my vocabulary.

Yet it took me several attempts before I found a zero. Aristology was my best for some time, with just one result returned, until I tried zeuglodont. Bugloss returned two, which was pretty good.

Try it. You’d be amazed at just what Twitter already contains. Which bodes well for its existence as a publishing platform, despite the number-of-characters limit.

[Why would I even know a word like zeuglodont? Simple. The way I remember words is by remembering their size and “shape”, where the shape is a pattern represented by the consonant-vowel sequence. When I try and recall a word, the first thing that comes to me is the size of the word. Then sequences of letters come. And finally the whole word emerges. That process is not alphabetical, although I can sometimes help it by going through the alphabet once I have the word’s length and shape. -UGLO- is a very unusual shape in this context, occurring only in two words as far as I know, bugloss and zeuglodont.

It’s that time of year: something for young children

Take a look at this:

A mashup involving Google Earth, local time and Santa Claus. So that you can show your children precisely where Santa is at a given time. [The rest of the year, Santa lives at the North Pole, located just off 1 Infinite Loop, where his elves make iPhones, iPods and Macs].

My thanks to Scott Beale over at Laughing Squid; his tweet brought this to my attention.

Going with the flow

I nearly did myself an injury when I saw this:

Randall Munroe is a truly gifted individual. We need to knight him. Or something.

So make a New Year’s resolution you’ll actually keep to. Read xkcd every day. You won’t regret it.

My thanks to Dawn Foster for tweeting it to my attention. [By the way, Dawn, I’m still jealous. Still haven’t met anyone else whose blog is an anagram of their name!]