Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Answer 1: Can you find characters from Moby Dick in other places?


Another way... 

 As I mentioned last time, there are multiple ways to think about answering this question.  I'll give one way today, and then ANOTHER answer later this week.  (I promise that next week we'll move to another Challenge.)  

Reminder: Our Challenge was... 

1. Can you find a way to identify other major works of fiction (leaving out fan-fiction for the moment) in which the names of "Starbuck" and "Queequeg" appear (either independently or together)?  

Last time we showed how to use Wikipedia to find mentions of Starbuck or Queequeg by looking at the Wikidata entry for each entity.   

Here's that page for the character Starbuck: 

We noticed the right hand side is a column with all of the Wikipedia articles about Starbuck in different languages. But look at the Wikidata entry for Queequeg! 

Note that there seem to be entries only in English and French (looking at the right hand column). BUT if you look at the main table (in the middle), you can see there are entries for English, Spanish, and NOT French.  What gives?  

In the previous post I asked the question for you to consider:  Is there another way to identify the Wiki pages that DO mention Starbuck, rather than relying on Wikipedia's own search function?  

Well, yes, of course there is, let's try it this way: 

     [ "starbuck" -starbucks ] 

Notice that this will search all of the Wikipedia languages.  (To search just within the French Wikipedia, you'd search with: 

     [ "starbuck" -starbucks ] 

If you search both the French and Spanish Wikipedias ( you'll see that they both have multiple hits for the name Starbuck AND for the name Queequeg.  For instance, both French and Spanish Wikipedias mention Queequeg in connection with the story La Grotte Gorgone (FR), aka La cueva oscura (ES), which is aka The Grim Grotto (EN) the eleventh book in the series The Disastrous Adventures of the Baudelaire Orphans by Lemony Snicket (aka A Series of Unfortunate Events).  When I browsed through the list of hits, I also found another mention of Queequeg in Italian, etc etc.  

Interesting that the Wikidata page on Queequeg doesn't cover all this. This tells us that the Wikidata might not be complete over the sweep of the Wikipedia landscape.  

But the should get most of the hits.  The search page for this site: query should look like this: 

This says there are about 498 results (although only 304 of them can be actually read).  By clicking on each link and opening in parallel, it's pretty simple to quickly assess what each of these hits actually represents.  

Quickly scanning the top 100 or so results leads me to this list.   (I'm only looking for literary references and ignoring fascinating asides like the insect from Guinea, West Africa , Queequeg flavibasalis.)  

In La Grotte Gorgone (French), Lemony Snicket book #11,  Queequeg is a submarine.  

The 2013 film "A Spell to Ward off the Darkness" features a Norwegian metal band named Queequeg.   

In the television show, The X Files, the character Dana Scully has a dog named Queequeg.  

Queequeg is the name of a shapeshifter, a kind of super-villian in the DC Comicbook universe who works with his buddy Ishmael.  Strangely,  both of them work for Tobias Whale...  

A 1926 silent film gets the whole crew together for a slightly different telling of Moby-Dick, the Sea Beast.  (Does this really count as a different work?  Maybe.  Unlike Moby-Dick, it has a happy ending.)               

In 2011, a fantasy film, Age of the Dragons, has the crew chasing dragons on land.  Queequeg is along for the ride with Danny Glover as Ahab.  

And in 1977 the book Queequeg's Odyssey came out, telling the (true!) story of the trimaran named for the harpooner that was built in Illinois, floated to the ocean, and used to sail around 

I could go on, but you see my point. A simple site: search on Wikipedia can reveal ALL of the pages that mention a given person's name.  

My point:  (and I do have one) 

... is that no single source is going to give us everything we want in a single search.  For complex search tasks like this, the best you can do is to assemble data from multiple sources.  It's going to be really really hard to get a complete list of all the uses of Starbuck or Queequeg in literary works.  

On Friday of this week I'll write one more post that pulls everything together along with a way to do a query of Wikidata using a tool that might surprise you.  

Search on! 


  1. If you subscribe to National Geographic – it has an article in the October 5 newsletter “This Real-Life Whaling Disaster Inspired ‘Moby-Dick’”.

  2. languages… tucansaywhocansay? strangebrew אז גרמת לי לסקרן לגבי הלוויתן הלבן... וסטארבק
    Shebrew… Ivrit
    from tweetbrew
    Yom Ha’Ivrit

  3. (TILT - Things I've Learned Today)… & another Starbuck, via twitter, that links to this… kinda — who knew JB went back that far? hasn't aged…
    some history/time slippage & nexus (I know, beluga whale)
    a Starbuck on twitter
    Charles Curtis
    Kaw Nation

  4. off topic, but related… 2022 MacArthurs… all on the right playlist… some below
    deceptive & bias & AI — comet graph
    Yejin Choi
    Paul Chan
    Sky Hopinka
    June Huh
    Moriba Jah
    Joseph Drew Lanham
    Melanie Matchett Wood

  5. a bit for Dan, to take his mind off Moby monikers… learning, memory, anticipation, beyond silicon… text Pandora
    In vitro neurons
    neural dishes
    cortical labs

  6. Moby Duck - the curse of the curious…
    "But questions, I've learned since, can be like ocean currents. Wade in a little too far and they can carry you away. Follow one line of inquiry and it will lead you to another, and another. Spot a yellow duck dropped atop the seaweed at the tide line, ask yourself where it came from, and the next thing you know you're way out at sea, no land in sight, dog-paddling around in mysteries four miles deep. You're wondering when and why yellow ducks became icons of childhood. You want to know what it's like inside the toy factories of Guangdong. You're marveling at the scale of humanity's impact on this terraqueous globe and at the oce­anic magnitude of your own ignorance. You're giving the plight of the Laysan albatross many moments of thought."
    Harpers account
    author's site
    more recent writings