The simple joys of Wikipedia
Google’s dumb investment, the genius of the Baha Men, and other discoveries
I consider myself a lifelong learner of pointless trivia. I have a late-night habit of following hyperlinks on Wikipedia until I find something that strikes me as surprising or illuminating or vaguely poetic.
Here are seven Wikipedia articles that caught my attention in 2019. I hope to make this a holiday tradition, sort of like Drew Magary’s annual hate-reading of the Williams-Sonoma gift catalog. Please send me your personal favorites; I live for this kind of stuff.
I recently remembered that we as a species were supposed to be tooting around town on recumbent monorail bikes by now. How did we lose our way?
Back in simpler times, the certified brain geniuses at Google announced they were going to give $10 million to a slate of supposedly groundbreaking companies and organizations. This was known as the 10^100 Project, originally planned to commemorate Google’s 10th anniversary in 2008, although a series of technical snags and delays pushed the announcement back to late 2010. (The website Google used to announce the winners is dead now.)
Anyway, amid the rapid crumbling of U.S. infrastructure, Google selected a company called Shweeb to “drive innovation in public transport.” Shweeb’s idea was to set up monorails with single-seat pedal-powered pods dangling off them, cased in clear plastic bubbles.
It sounded Green and Healthy! It had the added advantage of looking Dorky and Uncomfortable, while at the same time ensuring that public transit would be Inaccessible to Handicapped People!
It, uh, never happened. There’s a metaphor here about the rot of neoliberalism and the crumbling hopes of the 2010s, but I’m not going to force it. I’ll yield the final word to Wikipedia editor Royalcourtier, who had this to say on the Shweeb Talk page:
Having driven the Shweeb, I can vouch for the fact that there is no possibility that it could be used for a rapid transit system, or that anyone would seriously suggest this.
This guy right here:
is the longest-running Disney character, introduced three years before Mickey Mouse
does not have a defined species (sometimes a bear, sometimes a cat, sometimes ... just, like, a guy)
goes by many names, my personal favorites being Captain Blackheart and Percy P. Percival
played the role of a Nazi Gestapo henchman in a 1943 comic strip and a Soviet intelligence officer in the style of Lavrentiy Beria in 1950
had two girlfriends in the '80s, a cat named Trudy and a canary named Chirpy Bird, who were somehow merged into a single character named Gertrude in French cartoons
was, in the '90s TV series Goof Troop, one of the best-known frenemies in a children's cartoon
Coined by the Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky, the recency illusion is “the belief or impression that a word or language usage is of recent origin when it is long-established.”
Examples include the use of “they” as a singular pronoun (Shakespeare did it!), the pronunciation of the word “ask” as “aks” (Chaucer wrote it this way in Middle English), and the word “recency” itself (it dates back to 1612).
Someone at my kids’ school introduced them to “Who Let the Dogs Out,” the scourge of early-2000s children’s movie soundtracks, and they came home yipping the chorus at full volume.
I was annoyed at first, until I looked up the lyrics and realized the song was a scathing indictment of misogyny in the Bahamian club scene (I think?):
Gonna tell myself, "Hey man no get angry" (Hey, Yippie, Yi, Yo)
To any girls calling them canine, hey! (Yippie, Yi, Yo)
But they tell me "Hey man, it's part of the party!" (Yippie Yi, Yo)
You put a woman in front and her man behind (Yippie, Yi, Yo)
I heard a woman shout out
“Who let the dogs out?” (Who, who, who, who)
I came to find out the version we’ve all heard by the Baha Men is not the original. Trinidadian composer Anslem Douglas wrote and performed it in 1998 before the Baha Men found international fame with their 2000 cover version of the song.
All this led me to read the History section of the Baha Men Wikipedia page, and boy howdy it did not disappoint. Consider this timeline:
Formed in 1977 as a funk and disco band, they were originally known as High Voltage. They played in hotels and nightclubs in the Bahamas, and they self-released a few albums.
Signed to an Atlantic Records subsidiary in the U.S. in 1991 after one of their tapes ended up on an A&R guy's desk. They had some international success with a cover of "Dancing in the Moonlight." (It’s really good; you should look it up.)
Dropped by the label in 1998 after releasing an album called "Doong Spank" that sold 700 copies. They were briefly popular in Japan, initially releasing their 1999 album "2 Zero 0-0" only in that country.
Achieved worldwide fame in the year 2000 with another cover song. The name of that song? "Who Let the Dogs Out."
In 2019, after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Bahamas, the Baha Men released a new music video for their song “Let’s Go” and pledged to give the proceeds to the Bahamas Red Cross. Good on ya, Baha Men.
This list is a perennial favorite in Cool Freaks’ Wikipedia Club, a Facebook community that at one point counted the novelist Michael Chabon as an active participant. (I’m in there too, obviously.)
OK, I’m just going to pick my favorites from the list. The citations section of this page is a testament to the power of collaborative information-gathering.
Russian President Vladimir “Pootie-Poot” Putin
Italian Prime Minister Silvio “Shoes” Berlusconi
Senior Advisor Karl “Turd Blossom” Rove
Physician to the President Ronny “Scrote” Jackson
CIA Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer “Flies on the Eyeballs Guy” Black
My mid-2000s-vintage TV was on the fritz after more than a decade of reliable service, so I started Googling around and learned about the capacitor plague, "a problem related to a higher-than-expected failure rate of non-solid aluminum electrolytic capacitors, between 1999 and 2007, especially those from some Taiwanese manufacturers, due to faulty electrolyte composition that caused corrosion accompanied by gas generation, often rupturing the case of the capacitor from the build-up of pressure." Yikes.
There are apparently kits out there that contain every capacitor you’d need to replace in specific devices from that era, but it was a free TV and I don’t know how to solder, so I ended up putting the old faithful beast out at the curb. Someone picked it up and gave it a new home before garbage pickup day.
If you’ve been walking in the woods and looked up, you may have noticed this phenomenon in certain types of tree canopies. Nobody knows exactly why it happens, but it looks like this:
I think that does it for this year. I’ll be back to the usual Wednesday newsletter next week. Peace.
Image credits for this issue:
“Dryobalanops Aromatica canopy” by Wikimedia Commons contributor Patrice78500 (public domain)
“Shweeb drawing” by Wikimedia Commons contributor PRZ (shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
“Peg-Leg Pete” by the Walt Disney Company (fair use)
“Bush shoeing incident” via White House video (public domain)
“River of Blue” by Dag Peak (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)