May 8

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

SIP Chains

I had a call on Sunday from an NPR reporter looking for more background on Amazon's Statistically Improbable Phrases. While talking to her, I had the idea of finding SIP chains: interesting sequences of books that are connected by their SIPs (think of it as "Seven Degrees of Jeff Bezos"). For example:

Discover the hidden transexual tie-in to Da Vinci Code. Take "Corporal Mortification" to Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei, take "million pesatas" to The Blind Man of Seville, take "sight lesson" to Genderqueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary.

Learn how Excel 2003 is connected to magical realism. From One Hundred Years of Solitude take "insomnia plague" to Breast Cancer, There and Back: A Woman-to-Woman Guide, take "toxic friends" to 365 Reasons to Stop Dieting, take "tie way" to Excel 2003 Formulas.

I also did some research into the SIPs of fiction vs non-fiction. As you might guess, fiction SIPs tend to be literary tics of the writer (Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist: "bookstall keeper", "merry old gentleman", "replied the girl") because while fiction has themes, those themes generally aren't made explicit and hammered home with repetition of direct phrases and newly-minted buzzphrases, the way non-fiction writers love to do.

This often means you can get wide leaps in your SIP chain by leaping through a fiction title, though it can be hard to find a fiction title with interesting enough SIPs. After all, you don't get bonus points in Word Geek Heaven by relying through "fat gentlemen". That said, it does get you to The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, which has the delicious "cannibal princess" as its first SIP and from which you can get to Musical Comedy in America: From the Black Crook Through Sweeny Todd. And that's a triple nerd score (kid lit, anthropophagi, musicals).

What are the coolest SIP chains you can find?

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Comments: 12

  Gavri Fernandez [05.09.05 09:20 AM]

Why did you make Six Seven? Seven is too long to be impressive...

  Pete Krawczyk [05.09.05 11:31 AM]

There's other ways to hook up those books, too.

For example, from The Da Vinci Code, use stone cylinder to get to Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners And Customs How The People Of The Bible Really Lived; take short hair for women to arrive at Contested Bodies (Key Ideas); and finally, stone butch to Genderqueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary.

I whipped up a script for automating these links that I'll probably include in the next Algorithm::SixDegrees release.

  Pete Krawczyk [05.09.05 11:34 AM]

Gavri: It has to be seven. These chains have to be an odd length due to their structure.

  gnat [05.09.05 12:33 PM]

Pete: that's brilliant! I love "stone butch". It sounds like a wrestling name: Stone Butch Steve Austin.

The hardest part of automating it (other than the path-finding algorithms) would be scraping to get the data, no? I'd hate to invest time in that. I wonder whether they'll expose this via API calls any time soon?

  Pete Krawczyk [05.09.05 05:12 PM]

One of the challenges involved in scraping is that the links are not shown both ways. Look at the short hair for women and Nelson's... links - while Nelson's is in the short hair page, it's not reciprocated.
So I hope they release an API that allows a full search throughout for better linking.I see potential for a tool like this to help people discover new books and new authors by looking through the chains of terms and books that appear.

  benadamx [05.09.05 11:15 PM]

totally offtopic, but i just saw the posting on boingboing and remembered talking now and then on #amiga! in 1992 or so

that's all

  mike beversluis [05.19.05 04:54 PM]

Sorry, I feel dumb, but why odd #'s?

  derek [05.23.05 10:56 PM]

Start with Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Take "telluric currents" to Earthquake Prediction: Seismoelectromagnetic Phenomena, then "crack apex" to Temporary Insanity, then "rat bastard" to Rat Pack Confidential, then "special lyrics" to Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time, then "your corral" to The Complete Guide to Dwarf Seahorses in the Aquarium.

  gnat [05.24.05 10:39 AM]

derek: that's awesome. I love the diverse selection of titles. I was trying to think of two divergent books to link as a challenge, and came up with the Bible and Psychopathia Sexualis. The Bible's SIPs are great: "one male goat", "tits father", and "answered hum" make it sound like a very interesting book indeed. Unfortunately we can't Search Inside Psychopathia Sexualis, and anyway Foucault's Pendulum to Dwarf Seahorses kicks Bible-to-Kraft-Ebbing's butt though. Nicely done!

  big cock [12.08.05 03:49 AM]

Three phrases should be among the most common in our daily usage. They are: Thank you, I am grateful and I appreciate.

  LeBain [07.20.06 09:52 PM]

I first ran across SIPs while looking up books on new urbanism. I thought Amazon was somehow pointing out all the oxymorons in a book. Here are a few from Peter Calthorpe's "The Regional City" that drew me to my mutually exclusive assumption:

community separators, maturing suburbs, walkable environments, regional city, greenfield development, regional design, urban growth boundary

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