Human Search Engine

Go ahead, give it a try: At Google.com, if you ask the question right, you can find and download the entire script to the oddball British comedy classic, “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” in just a few clicks on your mouse pad.
But remember this, fair knights and damsels of the information age, as they have always said about computers, if you put garbage in, you will get garbage out. When using an Internet search engines, you have to know something first. Because with these magical machines called meta-search engines, if the question is too broad or any part of the information is misspelled, there is a very good chance you will end up in the information abyss, swimming in a sea of sales pitches, pop-up boxes and who knows what else.
So do a “Boolean” search on “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” and “What is your favorite color?” which is just the name of the film and a line from one of its best scenes. Forget about who or what Boolean is (or was). He was some kind of 19th-century mathematician and why they call this kind of search that is “much too silly” to think about right now (to borrow another line from the movie). Just remember to put the question in quotes (or forget about it because you might find a better result without them).
Now click. A series of links will appear. And so will the “Holy Grail.” The entire script of the film, in fact, uploaded to the Web at some point, no doubt, by some film devotee with way too much time on their hands. The 2,000-year trail of one of the bloodiest, most legendary, most mythic quests in human history is reduced to two clicks on your computer’s mouse.
For the moment, let’s set aside the arguable fact this is not the actual “Holy Grail.” But, keep in mind, it is most likely the wrong one (or just a series a clues to the fabled relic), for later.
Now, during the film, “Monty Python & the Holy Grail,” the misfit knights and Arthur, King of the Britons, come to a crossroads when they meet an odd, grimace-faced old man who guards a bridge that crosses a gorge. This is the “Bridge of Death.” It is also, for the purposes of our story here, the passage across the information abyss. Standing in our way is the “Old Man from Scene 24!” He is the keeper of the Bridge of Death. If you are a researcher of any kind, you must face this curmudgeonly troll. He may appear as a schoolteacher. Or, as a woman at the window at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Or, what stands between you and that delicious recipe to Raspberry Torte. But surely, at some time in your life, you must face him, her or it many times.
He will ask you three questions, perhaps, the film debates, five. If you get the three questions right, you may pass safely. If you get any wrong, you are cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril.
Let the quest begin!

Alice Duncan is neither a king or a troll or a knight, but she is a traffic cop for a lot of questions asked at the crossroads to the information abyss. She is a reader’s advisory specialist. What is that? Well, somewhere between the burning down of the great library of fabled in days of yore B.C. Alexandria and the birthday the very first Dewey decimal, but well after Dewey had formulated a system for library categorization, Duncan became what they used to call a reference desk librarian.
“A lot of libraries have changed from calling it a reference desk librarian,” said the reader’s advisory specialist at the Driftwood Public Library in Lincoln City.
The Internet, for example. That faceless digital troll at the edge of the Gorge of Eternal Peril, in the fabled age of Google.com, has a counterpart with a human face at the library.
A face that’s happy, eager even, to help you.
“People have interesting questions,” Duncan said. “One local writer might be looking for the origins of an Indian word, or want to double-check on some information.”
Indeed, on the Internet, a great deal of information is splooged together into an amorphous mess. A universe, if you will, of unconscious data. You might be able to find a fact, but it will be in the form of numerous secondary sources. The real McCoy is often going to be buried in there, if it’s available at all, at a specific single location.
It takes a human mind to navigate and decide which bit of info is authentic, and which is from the source.
The trick is knowing what to ask. That’s the role of the human search engine.
“Sometimes people don’t know how to phrase the question,” Duncan said.


The “Holy Grail” film opens with the king traveling with a man clicking together two coconuts behind him in order to simulate the sound of horse hooves. He comes to the gate of a castle and already, in Scene 1, he is frustrated by two guards asking impertinent questions by two sentries to the gate of the castle about his so-called horse, and where he got the coconuts.
Now, a king has gone to school and knows knowledge is power. If he went to proper king school, he’s learned in the classics of Greek literature, and knows of Plato’s allegory of the cave, and its metaphor that he who rules sees the flame of the fire in the cave, while his subjects only see the flickering of the firelight from the shadows on the wall.
One of the guards suggests to the annoyed king that the coconuts could have been carried from Africa by a swallow. The king, irritated by the debate, is warded away, but a key to information needed in the movie is given away. First, there are two kinds of swallows that are relevant: African and European. Second: Only one migrates. And three: Lectures the guard: “Listen, in order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings 43 times every second.”


A reader’s advisor, like a king of the information age, needs to know things. Indeed, Duncan is a master researcher.
“I’ve had lots of interesting new questions. Here's one of them: ‘What is ambergris, and can we find a picture of it?” ” she said. “I've had a vague idea of what it is, ever since I was a kid ... Weird chunks of a waxy substance chundered up by whales, bobbing around in the ocean and washing up on beaches, and had heard that people once collected it for concocting exotic perfume. ...”
When the library visitors asked about it, she looked it up in several whale books and encyclopedias and articles, and learned that it's a “biliary concretion” formed in sperm-whales' intestines, thus helping protect their digestive tracts from sharp objects – such as indigestible squid beaks (... This may sound funny, but it isn't to the whales.)
“Ambergris has been used for ages as a stabilizer in perfume-making, to slow down evaporation, although many modern makers of perfumes use synthetic substances instead,” she said.
“Apparently freshly-ejected ambra-grisea smells whalishly fecal – but sun-exposure and sloshing about in the salty sea makes it oxidize, and the scent mellows out to a sort of mix of musk and rubbing-alcohol.”
They even found a picture. It looked like “a cross between oil-blobs and horse-poop clumps, although it also can look like slabs of beat-up wax or chunks of concrete; sometimes pieces are found that weigh 100 pounds.
“One source estimated the current price at $20 a gram. So dogged beach combers may want to keep an eye out for it ... though it's said to be more common in the Atlantic ocean, and the shores of Asia and Africa and New Zealand and the Bahamas and South Seas ... (almost everywhere but here!)”
With such good service, the library visitor is satisfied, getting more than a chunk of both experience and information by asking to the right question from the right person.
Now, that’s service.

At the Bridge of Death, each knight is asked a series of questions. The results vary. Sir Launcelot of Camelot is only asked “What is your favorite color?” He answers it and is allowed to pass. Sir Robin is next, and gets a tough question and, failing to respond correctly, is thrown into the abyss. Sir Galahad is asked about his favorite color, waffles on his answer, and is thrown into the pit, too.
Indeed, it’s a lot like Google.com. And you can wind up wasting a lot of time, and energy, in the process.

At the library, Duncan is a multi-tasking reader’s advisor.
Students ask a lot about the Periodic table. Kids want to find books proving or disproving whether “dragons are real,” she said, since for whatever reasons the legends of yore are still very much on their minds. People who rent their homes often ask about locating information about landlord / tennant laws. Builders are often pointed to the “Construction Estimator,” a popular set of books and CDs for building projects. A lot of the information and assistance she gives out has as much to do with how to use the computer as where to locate information.
“The Internet is great, but my job is leading people to the books,” she said. “There’s a feeling you get in the brain ... there’s just something that happens with a book. At a computer, it’s just hard for many people to read for too long online.
“People are overwhelmed by the amount of information that’s on the Internet, and they prefer to speak to a real person.
“Sometimes you need to ask me a question before you need to know what to look for online.
“You need an answer back before you can ask the real question.
“If you help people find a piece of information, they will thank you for helping them find it. It feels good to help them to find it faster.”
Indeed, a reader’s advisor is a way to put a human face on the information age.

Completely annoyed, King Arthur faces the old man at the Bridge of Death.
He is asked, “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”
“What do you mean?” he responds. “An African or European swallow.”
The keeper, not knowing, is thrown into the information abyss himself.
He’s asked, “How do you know so much about swallows?”
“Well,” Arthur answers, “you have to know these things when you are a king, you know.”
During the 1960s, the world was asked to take a “sad song, and make it better” by the Beatles. And by another high-water mark from the era, “The Graduate” we learned from the iconoclastic film that if you were a young man looking for a career, there was one thing, and one thing only, to look into: “Plastics.”
The director of “Rumor Has It ...,” Rob Reiner was a member of that generation, and the first place we saw him was as the hippie dippy “Meathead” in the show, “Archie Bunker.” In this film, the creature of an age of questioning values and of outright revolution asks us the question, can a good film be made about an even better film?
Well, it certainly plays homage to “The Graduate,” which starred Dustin Hoffman as the post-college graduate trying to come to terms with the new plastic world, and Anne Bancroft as a seductress twice his age. The real-life legend of the Pasadena, Calif., pair that inspired a novel by Charles Webb, is “the rumor” addressed in “Rumor Has It ...”
And the screenplay by Ted Griffin is pretty darn good. It’s a good story with a number of witty lines and surprising turns. Even better, Shirley MacLaine makes the most of the part, overcoming the fact Bancroft is no longer with us to reprise the role, by delivering one of the supporting actress perfomances of the year. Her portrayal of the real “Mrs. Robinson,” made famous by the Simon and Garfunkel song usually associated with “The Graduate,” is completely believable. And Kevin Costner is a warm friend to have around in the film, too.
One critic for the Boston Globe slammed the film because Reiner has political inclinations in the Democratic Party. The reviewer, Wesley Morris, wrote Reiner chose a pre-millenial, “Internet Gold Rush” era setting only because he “couldn’t stand to set the picture during the Bush administration.” Maybe. Maybe not. You could make points either way, since the Bush era is about crushing a revolt, and both the “Graduate” and the Internet are about revolution. But this film doesn’t work for one reason, and one reason only: “Plastics.”
Such as the performance by Jennifer Aniston, everybody’s sweetheart, yes, but with no more range than the pre-packaged nervous nelly we all know and love (or is that loathe?).
Which is why this film may inspire a new motto for these troubled times. And that motto should be: “Brad, we forgive you!”
Promotional Rescue

Want to talk about an apparent act of genius in marketing, a total reinvention of the pop process? Think “American Idol” had taken the idea as far as it could go, to excess, even. Think again.
Yes, “American Idol” improved upon the way a star can be invented in the post-MTV world with grinding, repetitive shows that hatched new stars with the up--and-coming buzz by marketing them in a “Survivor”-like series of elimination rounds.
In the end, after a televised season that was more like a truncated baseball campaign with a glitzy, overexposed finale, you came up with a “star” who had yet to even record a single note of music, other than a promotional jingle or two. Once the show was complete, the winner of the “Idol” title was handed over to the big wig music producers, who are now, even as we speak, marketing a new generation of performers who mostly sing other people’s songs, thus making the idea of a “cover” song hip again.
Maybe it was somewhere during the rising appeal of long-haired and barefooted southern rock “rebel” Bo Bice, who placed second in the most recent “American Idol” pageant but changed the game all the same, that the genesis of the “Rock Star: INXS” show was born. Though it had less appeal and appeared to be an obvious copy cat, the show had one thing working for it “Idol” may never achieve: INXS was already a name-brand act. With a serious, proven backlog of material to perform. A huge, dedicated fan base that, even after the death of lead singer Michael Hutchence due toan apparent suicide on Nov. 22 1997, continued to live on in the form of an extensive and sophisted Webring of fan sites.
Yes, the band had lost a lot of momentum. The Australian acts best days appeared to be locked in the 1980s, despite recruiting ex-Noiseworks lead singer Jon Stevens in 2000 to attempt to replace Hutchence, who, at his best, was a phenomental frontman during the band’s heyday.
He was a hard act to follow. Even though the core of the rest of the band remained remarkably intact with the Farriss Brothers still at the helm in after 23 years of playing music together as INXS, something was missing.
Seven years after Hutchence’s death, the lead singer job for INXS was available again, like a for sale sign in front of the fabled mansions of post-New Wave, pre-alternative pop-rock. Enter the show, “Rock Star: INXS,” which included 15 contestants vying for the job last summer in an extended televised audition.
Fortune, a Canadian, was actually chosen in a controversial move for the band. To replace Hutchence at all and keep the band alive was rather like trying to replace a Mick Jagger or Bono. It tested the credibility. In fact, to seek a replacement under such tragic circumstances may remain anathema to many hardline fans of INXS’s legacy in Aussie-bred rock.
But bassist Garry Gary Beers believed all the signs were right to bring the mouthy, charismatic Fortune to the mic for another round on the road. As he recently told E-Online:
“At Michael’s funeral, it was a clear day. As we were putting the coffin into the hearse, there was a lightning strike ad defeaning thunder clap out of nowhere, and it poured rain as we drove.” Then, two years later, a sudden thunderclap struck again as they were scattering Hutchence’s ashes in the Himalayas. “Let’s put it this way,” E-Online reported last week, “if Michael’s spirit was against us, he would’ve made his voice clear during the auditions.”
If there has been any echoes of thunderclaps at all, it has been in the resurgent popularity of the band, which comes to Lincoln City’s 1,300-seat Chinook Winds Casino venue for two sold-out shows Jan. 20 - 21. According to Matthew Mingrone, marketing director for the casino, the booking staff took a shot at bringing the band to town for the second stop of its tour, just as the “reality show was in its final week.”
“We’ve always looked at different acts for the younger customers that haven’t been here in the past,” he said. But this was too good to pass up, a band with a popularity base going back to the 1980s, thus, appealing to the perfect demographic, adults in their 30s and 40s. “That’s a good core group for our casino,” he said. In a way usually reserved for the likes of Wayne Newton, announcement on Oct. 15 of the INXS shows here melted down the lines for reservation ticket sales in three days.
Thus proving INXS, too borrow a line from one of its songs, “New Sensation,” is now a view sensation.