Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wikipedia Warning

The day Ed McMahon died, I looked up his bio on Wikipedia.

Near the end of his entry I read the words, "Ed McMahon was known to cruise gay bars in Miami."

I suspected that this bit of info was a prank line snuck in by someone trying to get a cheap laugh or by someone testing how quickly the Wikipedia guardians would find and delete it. It's kinda like cyber-graffiti. Marking up a public space with your TAG.

At any rate, the line stood out as odd.

The next day when I checked, the line was gone.

"LOL," typed the prankster to his Myspace buddies. "They caught IT."

I'm sure Ed McMahon's family didn't find IT amusing.

Wikipedia is a great concept, though not a new one.

Read PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, and you will see that the idea of building an exhaustive body of knowledge by encouraging the masses to contribute is how the Oxford English Dictionary was put together, way back when.

To build the Oxford English Dictionary, the assemblers requested that lovers of words simply mail definitions to Oxford, England; then they, the assemblers, spent many decades sifting through the millions of entries sent in, checking for accuracy, of course, and selecting the best definitions and phrasings for this or that word.

In short, the assemblers of that great, seminal work were making sure that the wheat was separated from the tares, the good stuff from the junk, the serious contributers from the pranksters.

It was an overwhelming task that took many decades to accomplish as well as many succeeding teams of assemblers. In fact, those who began the work on the Oxford Dictionary were not alive to see the printing of its first COMPLETE set.

Wikipedia's attempt to maintain accuracy of information on its site is perhaps even more daunting (and, perhaps, ultimately impossible).

Wikipedia receives billions of entries on every subject in dozens of languages.

The Oxford people had the luxury, if you want to call it that, of having language experts sift through all of the entries for decades before they felt confident enough to print and bind their many-volume work.

Wikipedia's format is virtual, the absence of paper and ink allowing for a faster (perhaps immediate) "printing", or posting, of new (and unverified) information.

Nevertheless, when you want information fast, Wikipedia can't be beat.

I go to it, pretty much, every day, though I don't completely trust it.

The information is not always accurate, you see?

Furthermore, the mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar . . . okay, let's not even get into that.

So Wikipedia is always my first source.

Never my only.

Never my last.

This week, you are going to be reading a lot about MJ and Farrah on Wikipedia. But don't fret--the Wikipedia guardians will be watching those sites carefully for pranks and unintended falsehoods because MJ and Farrah were big.

Then again, Ed McMahon was big too.

Thanks,

Preston

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Editorial Reviews of All or Nothing

New York Times--". . . a cartographer of autodegradation . . . Like Dostoyevsky, Allen colorfully evokes the gambling milieu — the chained (mis)fortunes of the players, their vanities and grotesqueries, their quasi-philosophical ruminations on chance. Like Burroughs, he is a dispassionate chronicler of the addict’s daily ritual, neither glorifying nor vilifying the matter at hand."

Florida Book Review--". . . Allen examines the flaming abyss compulsive gambling burns in its victims’ guts, self-esteem and bank accounts, the desperate, myopic immediacy it incites, the self-destructive need it feeds on, the families and relationships it destroys. For with gamblers, it really is all or nothing. Usually nothing. Take it from a reviewer who’s been there. Allen is right on the money here."

Foreword Magazine--"Not shame, not assault, not even murder is enough reason to stop. Allen’s second novel, All or Nothing, is funny, relentless, haunting, and highly readable. P’s inner dialogues illuminate the grubby tragedy of addiction, and his actions speak for the train wreck that is gambling."

Library Journal--"Told without preaching or moralizing, the facts of P's life express volumes on the destructive power of gambling. This is strongly recommended and deserves a wide audience; an excellent choice for book discussion groups."—Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH

LEXIS-NEXIS--"By day, P drives a school bus in Miami. But his vocation? He's a gambler who craves every opportunity to steal a few hours to play the numbers, the lottery, at the Indian casinos. Allen has a narrative voice as compelling as feeding the slots is to P." Betsy Willeford is a Miami-based freelance book reviewer. November 4, 2007

Publisher’s Weekly--"Allen’s dark and insightful novel depicts narrator P’s sobering descent into his gambling addiction . . . The well-written novel takes the reader on a chaotic ride as P chases, finds and loses fast, easy money. Allen (Churchboys and Other Sinners) reveals how addiction annihilates its victims and shows that winning isn’t always so different from losing."

Kirkus Review--"We gamble to gamble. We play to play. We don't play to win." Right there, P, desperado narrator of this crash-'n'-burn novella, sums up the madness. A black man in Miami, P has graduated from youthful nonchalance (a '79 Buick Electra 225) to married-with-a-kid pseudo-stability, driving a school bus in the shadow of the Biltmore. He lives large enough to afford two wide-screen TVs, but the wife wants more. Or so he rationalizes, as he hits the open-all-night Indian casinos, "controlling" his jones with a daily ATM maximum of $1,000. Low enough to rob the family piggy bank for slot-machine fodder, he sinks yet further, praying that his allergic 11-year-old eat forbidden strawberries—which will send him into a coma, from which he'll emerge with the winning formula for Cash 3 (the kid's supposedly psychic when he's sick). All street smarts and inside skinny, the book gives readers a contact high that zooms to full rush when P scores $160,000 on one lucky machine ("God is the God of Ping-ping," he exults, as the coins flood out). The loot's enough to make the small-timer turn pro, as he heads, flush, to Vegas to cash in. But in Sin City, karmic payback awaits. Swanky hookers, underworld "professors" deeply schooled in sure-fire systems to beat the house, manic trips to the CashMyCheck store for funds to fuel the ferocious need—Allen's brilliant at conveying the hothouse atmosphere of hell-bent gaming. Fun time in the Inferno.

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Bio


Preston L. Allen is the recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature and the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Fiction for his short story collection Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press 2003). His works have appeared in numerous publications including The Seattle Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Asili, Drum Voices, and Gulfstream Magazine; and he has been anthologized in Here We Are: An Anthology of South Florida Writers, Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction, Miami Noir, and the forthcoming Las Vegas Noir. His fourth novel, All Or Nothing, chronicles the life of a small-time gambler who finally hits it big. Preston Allen teaches English and Creative Writing in Miami, Florida.