Thursday, May 12, 2005

No rudder

Karen and Jake drove to Ashland this afternoon. They met with the pediatrician who will be doing Jake's lumbar puncture tomorrow morning. The procedure will be done under IV sedation, so the worst part of the whole affair will (hopefully) be the IV. There's always the chance of spinal headache, however, and those are no fun. (Just what he needs: another headache.) On the other hand, when I had viral meningitis a few years ago, I thought the procedure relieved the headache. Or it might have been all the Demerol they pumped me with. This leaves me home alone without a rudder, or an anchor, or a sail, or all the above. Ideal writing opportunity, huh? Yet all I can manage to do is surf Wikipedia. I've done this a hundred times, but this time, for the first time, I looked a bit deeper. Here's where all the technical wonks (like Pat) are going to be stunned by my neutronium-like density . . . but maybe some of you will find this interesting. You see, Wikipedia is a dynamic encyclopedia. It changes constantly. Anyone can edit a Wikipedia article; anyone can write a new article. Anyone in the world. After you've written (or edited) an article, any other palooka can come along and edit your stuff. One other thing: Wikipedia articles are intensively hyperlinked to other Wikipedia articles. Two things strike me. First, the only error correction mechanism (as best I can tell) is that someone smarter than the writer will happen along, find the error, and correct it. I imagine this works fine if, for example, someone calls a Russian tortoise an amphibian, but what about more subtle errors? (Note to self: have Karen check out the entries on quantum mechanics. For my part, I looked up the entry on ear wax. Aside from an annoying tendency to write both 'earwax' and 'ear wax', 'eardrum' and 'ear drum', I didn't catch any obvious boo-boos.) What about urban legends, or hot button issues like Darwinism or abortion? The abortion discussion page is illuminating; I get the sense that this article shifts on a day to day basis. Second, when is this bit of software -- with its vast fund of knowledge, its enormous number of internal (hyper)connections, its ability to 'forget' untapped articles, and its ability to correct errors -- going to achieve sentience? Reminds me of a story I have yet to write. Premise: a new internet craze pops up, a website with animation so crude it makes South Park look like Allegro non troppo. The animated sequence depicts a young man showing up at a young woman's apartment to take her out on a date. All across the world, folks log on to give 'advice' either to the girl or the guy. In real time, the software synthesizes a consensus which then generates the actions and dialog of our cartoon protagonists. This happens once each evening; people become obsessed to find out what will happen on tonight's date. What happens next is anyone's guess. In my original conception, one night the boy and girl come to blows and murder one another; the following day, a world war begins. I dunno, but this feels awfully Twilight Zony (not a good thing, in my opinion). I could also go the Spielbergian route (night after night, the couple achieves a deeper and deeper love, a more mature, enduring relationship . . . and world peace breaks out). Feh. And then there's option three: folks of mating age become so wrapped up in the website they forget to have sex in real life. Egad, that's triter than the first two! I guess that's why I never finished that one. I'm still casting about for an ending. I have a few of those, which reminds me: one day, I really must get down to writing, "Borges, the Undead". D.


Blogger Pat said...

Here's where all the technical wonks (like Pat) are going to be stunned by my neutronium-like density...

Actually, Doug, I'm kind of with you on this. I'm flabbergasted that a site like Wikipedia can maintain any kind of useful information at all.

Which isn't to say I haven't signed up as a content author, and made my (very few) contributions, to things like my parents' hometown and my own hometown (which curiously enough, has since been edited by someone from Kansas).

Wikipedia is a strange bird, and I likes it a lot.

5/13/2005 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Winnipegosis? Winnepegosis? I'm gonna look that one up in my Oxford Medical text.

Crescent City isn't much better. I learned that we are 'prone to tsunamis'. One damned tsunami in the 60s, and we're prone.

And they didn't even mention Pelican Bay State Prison, erstwhile home to Charles Manson, or Walker Road, alleged Big Foot romping ground and one of the locations used for filming Lucas's Endor scenes.

5/13/2005 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger mm said...

Cool! I went on a fixed the spelling of the name of a guy I went to school with in my hometown.

Pat - are you voudou?

5/14/2005 04:01:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Maureen, don't you mean idee fixe?

5/14/2005 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Maureen -- why yes, I am "vodou" on the Writers' BBS. Heavens, you're a Canadian too? Ha ha, Doug, we outnumber you. Hand over your wallet and watch. Please.

Doug -- have you ever read Asterix & Obelix comics? (I kind of grew up on them, them and the Smurf, which in French is "Les Schtroumpfs".) Anyways, the little white dog in Asterix has the name, in French anyways, "Idéefixe".

5/15/2005 07:36:00 PM  
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