A Conversation with Darwin (Webmaster of the Darwin Awards)
I got together with Darwin at 2 am her time and we chatted for an hour and a 1/2 or so. I have a hunch that she was about to keel over by the end of the interview =] If you are one of the 3 or 4 people that haven’t heard of the Darwin Awards, make sure you check out the link at the end of the article. After all, her site pulls over 300 thousand users per month for a reason…
John Hawkins:: Tell us a little bit about yourself to get things started…
Darwin:: Sure. I’m 37 which is a prime number so it must be the prime of my life. I live in Silicon Valley and commute about twenty feet to work. I roll out of my bed on Aleutian Time (noon in California.) What do you want to know?
John Hawkins:: I heard you started the Darwin Awards back in 1994.
Darwin:: My cousin Ian sent me a chain mail and got me started. …
John Hawkins:: So how did you decide to do a web page about morons killing themselves in stupid ways? =]
Darwin:: Well I am a scientist, studied Neurobiology of all things, and cancer research and telomerase (anti-aging). And it just made sense that we humans clearly have a long way to evolve. Scientific hypotheses proven supported by research into stupidity. Do you want the kind of people around you who don’t stop at red lights? People who are really stupid get what they planned.
John Hawkins:: Well I’m a b@stard so I’m happy to see our gene pool cleared =] So did the page basically have the same theme when it started?
Darwin:: Yes all along it was Evolution in Action. Survival of the Fittest. Tragic Proof of a Missing ‘Why’ Chromosome. Etc., Population Control Volunteers, Nature’s way of saying goodbye.
John Hawkins:: lol….you’ve collected a lot of those over the years =D So how long did it take for the page to break out and start to become really popular?
Darwin:: Everybody loved them right away, from the minute I put the website up at Stanford, people started sending me their local Darwins, asking for voting, discussing rules, etc. I kept getting criticism for having kids in the Darwins, nominating old people, stuff like that. I had to work out a lot of issues, Brass.
John Hawkins:: Do you get a lot of criticism of the page for being cruel?
Darwin:: Yeah here and there, I got massive flames from the World Wrestling Fans when I considered nominating Owen Hart. Sometimes people complain about a friend. When I hear a complaint like that, I take a look and if it’s truly and accident and not really a Darwin…If it’s unpopular in the VOTE…
John Hawkins:: Yow…u wanted to nominate Owen Hart? You evil, evil woman =P But I was thinking more along the lines of “You are making fun of tragedies, etc”
Darwin:: I often get the funniest complaints, somebody really mad saying “I used to looove the Darwins man but now you got Jimmy up there and it just ain’t right.”
John Hawkins:: Hahaha
Darwin:: I mean, it’s funny until it’s in your backyard? Bwah hah hah hah hah.
John Hawkins:: Other than over Owen Hart, did you have any other major protests?
Darwin:: Yeah thousands of emails a day were stuffing my inbox over the Texas A&M Bonfire fiasco. It was brutal. I would be afraid to meet most of those Aggies in a dark alley. They were mad. Shall I be specific, Brass? Can I call you Brass?
John Hawkins:: Actually, John, John Hawkins, Archie..anything but Brass…well almost anything =] Was that the one where those nimnods were dancing around a bonfire and fell in… and do be specific =]
Darwin:: Those were the nimrods, righto, they were apparently drinking and carrying on. Unlicensed drivers on bulldozers. Sex. You name it. But you know the architects in the Engineering school thought it would be safe. The kids were working overtime and getting a buzz, but had no reason to think the bonfire would collapse on them. So in the end I made the call that it wasn’t a Darwin. And it was really an impartial decision. But I am glad the fellow with the rusty spoon can’t get it anywhere near my testicles, for he said what he would do.
John Hawkins:: Testicles?
Darwin:: Ha ha ha…little knowing I don’t even *have* testicles! I’m Darwinia. With a flower. Power. Girl.
John Hawkins:: Hehehe =] Oh no..you aren’t a big Spice Girls “Girl Power” fan are you?
Darwin:: Hell no! I’m a heavy metal rocker, grew up in the early 70′s when Pink Floyd was young, and Charles Manson just put in prison. We could have sex back then, without worrying (so we thought) about AIDS.
John Hawkins:: Well yah..things have gone downhill in certain respects…but at least Jimmy Carter isn’t still president and the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd have retired =] So How long have you been working on the page full time?
Darwin:: I left the lab bench in 1998, spent a year as a webmaster until in September 1999 (on my birthday), I started Internet consulting as a webmaster, and improving the website in the time I had leftover. Lots of cool improvements!!! I am working on the next edition now, and I: uh, I really would like to win a Webby!
John Hawkins:: I refuse to give those guys a $100 just to review my site but I’m surprised you haven’t won one already…
Darwin:: Yeah I don’t want to pay for it either, but I hope they will consider me anyway…
John Hawkins:: Oh and you do internet consulting as well? What does that consist of?
John Hawkins:: Do they get a free copy of your book per each 10k and up website designed =]?
Darwin:: YES absolutely, each client gets a free autographed copy. Ha ha ha, actually I sent out a copy to all of my Personal Accounts contributors who sent me their address. I put a dried flower in each one, and it really is a beautiful hardbound book.
John Hawkins:: So how long ago did the book come out?
Darwin:: It just came out on Monday! As of October 23 you can get the book in stores. Staceys, Borders, Amazon, etc.
John Hawkins:: Oh so it’s that new? How did you manage to get a book out? Did you get an agent or did a publisher contact you?
Darwin:: It was so cool about the publisher, John Hawkins, see editors kept writing to me. One (Trevor) even said, let me shower you with money and publish your book! But I never had time to answer, so learn a lesson from me and always answer your letters!
John Hawkins:: Oh? Tell me about it so I can dream of what it’s like to have a popular website =] hehehe
Darwin:: [Darwinia gathers her notes and pushes up her spectacles] So it was weird, I had editors naming prices and agents jockeying for my favor, and it was quite exhilarating. …
John Hawkins:: I bet it was…
Darwin:: We had a bidding war! Workman and Dutton both wanted me. Dutton gave me an advance and said they would publish it in cloth binding. I sold it to Orion House in England first, then in US/Canada, Germany, Dutch! I spent months polishing it and there are twelve philosophical rants and a history of (or evolution of) the Darwin Awards, rules, culture.
John Hawkins:: Does the page have a culture?
Darwin:: Definitely. They are for the most part firmly in favor of the debating approach. Everyone can vote on the awards, and people tend to think of a favorite as their own personal pet. I find out which Darwins have flaws of reasoning, have errors in the scientific process, are just plain likely to be bogus. And I boot the bogus crap out, and we judge the rest based on the rules. It’s a sliding scale of 1. Veracity (gotta be true) 2. Reproduction (gotta be dead or sterile) 3. Self-selection (dead at your own hands) 4. Maturity (candidate has to be capable of sound judgment) 5. Excellence (of such magnitude it makes us groan with laughter. Ideally.) I have nothing but blessings to shower on my team at Dutton, Mitch, Jordan, and Brian who started it all. Come to my website and check out the chapters:: http://www.darwinawards.com/book/
John Hawkins:: So Dutton won the Darwin lottery eh? When does your book tour start and how long will it run?
Darwin:: I have a non-stop radio tour going, of MORNING SHOWS of all the no-good time slots. One guy was aggressive and kinda mean. I guess that’s their gig sometimes. I just think he had a chip on his shoulder. I was prepared for an interview, and he wanted me to shoot off nonstop Darwins. I seriously needed to pause and drink water but he just started sniping at me.
John Hawkins:: Well they put all kinds of yabbos on the air…
Darwin:: Blessedly I don’t know his name, and everyone else has been just nice as ducky can be. I especially like the men with an accent. Scottish, Texan, Lithuanian. Mmmm.
John Hawkins:: The men with an accent? That leaves a lot of room for speculation =]
Darwin:: “Fish Called Wanda” accents drive me wild! Are you in Silicon Valley, o fiendish one?
John Hawkins:: I am in Charlotte, NC kiddo….and I have a Southern accent as in “Y’all hear about that there guy that accidentally through himself out of a window..wheehaw that was funny uncle Jessie!”
Darwin:: Pitter patter! I have good luck as a matchmaker, my friend Janet just married my friend Joe, and they’re as happy as two peas in a pod. In need of romance, sir? Darwinia hands John Hawkins two tickets to her book party. I hope you can come!
John Hawkins:: If it’s in the Silicon Valley it’s probably a bit of my range Darwinia =]
Darwin:: Oh well you would have turned out to be a psychopath anyway, like everyone you meet on the Internet. Are you a social deviant? _VVV_
John Hawkins:: That depends on how you define social and how you define deviant =]
Darwin:: So you’re neither admitting nor denying!
John Hawkins:: That would be correct madam scientist.
Darwin:: Is there anything specific I should know?
John Hawkins:: Specific “you” should know? Oh noooo!
Darwin:: Hey have you heard of spam Haiku?
John Hawkins:: No actually I haven’t =]
Darwin:: Glistening pink meat / O how I love to eat thee / Meat of pig snouts, yum.
John Hawkins:: Ooooh….the horror of poetry mixed with horror of spam.
Darwin:: So I have some GREAT Darwin Haiku for you!
Darwin:: Stupidity kills / Absolute Stupidity / Kills Absolutely…..Silverback on the Philosophy Forum. But that one’s pretty good, dontcha think?
John Hawkins:: Shouldn’t a haiku like have more words or something =D
Darwin:: It has three lines with five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. And it’s about nature.
John Hawkins:: On the road was a cat / then I heard a splat / my car ran over it /and made it flat / ta-da =]
Darwin:: Clap clap clap! Hearty effort old fellow.
John Hawkins:: Well I know it’s getting late for you kiddo and I can’t hold you up all night ….let me ask u just a few more questions…What pages do you regularly hit each day on the net?
John Hawkins:: Tension jewelry? Hahahahah That’s a good term for engagement rings =]
Darwin:: Oh and I do role playing games, I was Lady Kiera the Thief, I was Godiva… I was the 1000-year-old superpower of all that was loathsome and fetid…
John Hawkins:: What role playing games do you play?
Darwin:: They are weekend adventures, with a beginning script laid, but all the action hangs upon what you do with your wiles over the weekend.
John Hawkins:: So live action role playing games?
Darwin:: Yes! I’ve done three and a half now. Starfire. Secrets. Dragon.
John Hawkins:: Well Darwin….using my incredible interviewing intuition I have determined that you are getting sleepy..very sleepy..so is there anything else you want to promote or anything else you want to say before we finish up?
Darwin:: Yes that is true I am getting verry sleeepy. Yes, here’s something else. You can win a book or a T-shirt or a Darwin Fish if you visit this secret URL!http://www.darwinawards.com/misc/free.html
Darwin:: I think I’d better toddy off to bed now,
John Hawkins:: Darwin it was a pleasure to meet you..
Check out one of my favorite sites on the web,: The Darwin Awards?
On Friday of last week, I was pleased to get an opportunity to interview Karl Rove about his new book:
John Hawkins:: One of the promos for your book reads:: “Disproved: the common myth that women with similar education, skills, and job