Stanley Kubrick and WordPress

July 8, 2009

Today’s geek moment for web designers is brought to you by Stanley Kubrick and the WordPress content management system.

While scrolling down to line 625 of style.css in the default WordPress theme called “Kubrick” today, I noticed this little piece of commented-out doggerel:

/* “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.” */

What could this be? I wondered. Could Michael Heilemann, the author of the default WordPress theme, have hidden this in his CSS so he could later track down everyone who was using code based his theme? Yes, I’m paranoid. And the answer is, well, possibly. Googling style.css Kubrick “Daisy, Daisy” certainly brings up some interesting results.

But upon further research, I found the following two links. First is Heilemann’s info about the Kubrick theme. Apparently he titled it in honor of Stanley Kubrick, “my favorite director of all time.” And Kubrick, as we all should know, directed 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal novel of the same title. 2001 contains a climactic scene in which Dave, the intrepid explorer, deactivates the homicidal computer known as HAL. HAL offers to sing Bicycle Built for Two, a song from my grandmother’s day, which has the above lyrics. You can watch the scene at this link.

As a link off the YouTube video explains:

One of the more famous moments in Bell Labs’ synthetic speech research was the sample created by John L. Kelly in 1962, using an IBM 704 computer. Kelly’s vocoder synthesizer recreated the song “Bicycle Built for Two,” with musical accompaniment from Max Mathews. Arthur C. Clarke, then visiting friend and colleague John Pierce at the Bell Labs Murray Hill facility, saw this remarkable demonstration and later used it in the climactic scene of his novel and screenplay for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” where the HAL9000 computer sings this song as he is disassembled by astronaut Dave Bowman.

Variations in WordPress themes are mostly driven by their cascading style sheets, so it makes sense that Heilemann, seeking to honor his favorite director, would drop these lyrics into his CSS file. At the time he designed this prototypical WordPress theme way back in version 1.5, it must have felt like a pioneering act, something on the frontier of computer development — just like those IBM programmers nearly 50 years ago. WordPress has certainly powered a revolution in web design with its free and open-source technology, so the analogy feels appropriate.