Moby-Monday – “Absolutely Hilarious”: The Twittering of Moby-Dick

“How many tweets would it take to tweet all of Moby-Dick?” cartoonist Adam Koford mused on Twitter last July.

The answer, it turned out, was 12,849, or about 45 Twitter posts per day for nine-and-a-half months—as programmer Dan Coulter, a Twitter follower and prior collaborator of Koford’s, discovered after he took the cartoonist’s question as a challenge.

Coulter’s robotic Moby-Dick Twitter feed started on July 28 and ended last Wednesday, May 13. While it was running, the robot (a script Coulter wrote in the PHP computer language) spit out one paragraph of Melville’s beloved and dreaded tome every hour during the business day, with the text sliced into Twitter’s signature 140-character-max dispatches. The account—with Twitter handle “publicdomain”—has attracted 418 followers, and today it begins blurting its next out-of-copyright text, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Why start with Moby-Dick? Koford says he was inspired by Twitter’s “fail whale,” the blissed-out white cetacean that appears onscreen whenever the micro-blogging network is overloaded. Though he had never read the full book on paper, Koford says, he’d read an “amazing” graphic adaptation by Bill Sienkiewicz. He had also endured an audiobook version narrated by actor Burt Reynolds. “He basically screams the whole book,” Koford recalls in an email. “Looking back, I’m not sure how I made it through that.” Still, Koford says, he loved the book.

Programmer Coulter was less enthusiastic. “I’m not a Melville fan,” he confesses. “I tried reading Billy Budd once, and I got about five pages into that. The language and the pacing has never been able to grab my interest.”

Reading 140 characters at a time, however, Coulter made it through Moby-Dick. And with the text in that format, he was able to appreciate Melville’s artistry with language. “It surprised me how poetic he could be at times,” Coulter says. “Stuff would come through that was really amazing.” Even more than the poetry, though, Coulter appreciated the humor inherent in the medium. “Twitter turned the book into this weird series of non-sequiturs—things that, taken out of context, were absolutely hilarious,” he says. “I don’t know that I would ever want to read Moby-Dick as a book, but as a Twitter feed, I really enjoyed it.”

A list of Coulter’s favorite funny Moby-Dick tweets appears in a wrap-up he posted to his blog last week. Fans of the book may recognize a few lines that are as amusing in context as out. This July 31 tweet, for example, follows narrator Ishmael’s first encounter with Queequeg, the Polynesian harpooner: “But I don’t fancy having a man smoking in bed with me. It’s dangerous. Besides, I ain’t insured.”

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

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Twitter, It’s All About The Whale

Twitter Fail Whale

If you’ve been part of Twitter for any period of time, you have to be familiar with the most famous white Cetacean since Moby-Dick, the Twitter Fail Whale. Even Captain Ahab would have cursed the sight of this dreaded monster of the world wide web.

For Internet eons we’ve believed that the name “Twitter” was derived from something to do with the noise small birds made or something. But leave it to the scholars at the New Bedford Whaling Museum who have the waterfront covered when it comes to whale research to dredge up the following reference on page 197 of the dusty “Report of the Commissioner for the year ending June 30, 1902 : Aquatic products in arts and industries : fish oils, fats, and waxes. Fertilizer from aquatic products” by Charles H. Stevenson.

“The term ‘twitter,’ which has been previously referred to as applied to the thread-like or membranous substance ranging through the contents of the case, is also applied to the lining of that reservior.  This is from 2 to 3 inches thick, glutinous, and extremely tough.  In decapitating the sperm whale, especially in severing near the bunch of the neck, a very sharp spade is required to cut through this tough and elastic formation.  Although it is very difficult to manipulate, an economical whaleman never throws this substance away.  Since it can not be boiled out with the case, for the reason above given, it is saved and run through the pots with the fat-lean after the case and junk have been cooked.” (New Bedford Whaling Museum post)

Eureka! The crack staff of New Bedford Whaling Museum has done it again in discovering another pearl in the world of whaling wisdom (www), and now Twitter. While it all makes much more sense and the Fail Whale has new meaning, it does beg the question of how did they get to page 197 and stay alert enough to notice the word “twitter.”

But all is not calm seas in the www (world of whaling wisdom). It seems that the American Museum of Natural History’s Blue Whale’s tale is a little bent out of shape over this breakthrough as can be seen from its bitter tweet yesterday.

@NatHistoryWhale on Twitter

Whaling has not occurred in this country for over 100 years, so I hope that @NatHistoryWhale can migrate to a happier place and learn to forgive and forget.

Now that you know that “twitter” is not named after bird sounds but rather a “thick, glutinous, and extremely tough thread-like or membranous and elastic formation from a decapitated sperm whale” I’m sure you’ll want to be part of it. If you join make sure you follow @NatHistoryWhale, @whalingmuseum and me.

In case you want some real Internet reporting on this topic, the great Read Write Web had a comprehensive post on The Story of the Fail Whale – How An Unknown Artist’s Work Became a Social Media Brand Thanks To the Power of Community and Caroline McCarthy covered this story yesterday on cnet’s The Social blog in a post titled Oh, the irony: ‘Twitter’ used to be whaling slang.

Finally, if you’re into whale stuff, and you should be if you read this blog, the New Bedford Whaling Museum launched a blog a few months ago which is pretty awesomely educational. Check out this video which they brought to my attention on the important debate underway about whale education.

YouTube – The Onion: Are Our Children Learning Enough About Whales?

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Messing About In Ships podcast espisode 32


(64 minutes)

Download MP3: Messing About In Ships podcast episode 32

Subscribe Via iTunes HERE

Shownotes @ Messing About In Ships blog

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Richard Branson Answers My Questions About Adventure Sailing and Business

Richard Branson

Several days ago I posted about Virgin Money’s failed attempt to set the transatlantic crossing record under sail. Interestingly Sir Richard Branson was taking questions about this adventure via his blog, Richard Branson: Business Stripped Bare, and Twitter. Along with 20 other people, I submitted 3 questions via both media channels and Sir Richard answered 2 of them directly and all 3 in 2 his responses. Here they are:

  • How do you and the crew feel being outward bound ahead of a storm that causes most other mariners to look for safe refuge?
  • How do you balance the exhilaration with the concern about undertaking this type of high risk adventure with your son and daughter knowing that if something catastrophic happened to the boat there would be slight chance of rescue in the weather in which you choose/have to sail?

  • How does Virgin get away with you undertaking these high risk adventures when Apple stock goes in the tank when Steve Jobs sneezes?

Take the time to listen to all of Sir Richard’s answers, he’s quite an unique leader. I plan on posting more on that later on Weekly Leader, but for now I hope you enjoy this social media exchange.

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