Dan Sinker, the @MayorEmanuel Tweeter, Charts Jingles for Ice-Cream Trucks

By Ted Cox on June 22, 2013 9:19am 

 Dan Sinker, the man who gave Twitter voice to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's middle finger, is now charting ice-cream jingles nationwide.
Dan Sinker, the man who gave Twitter voice to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's middle finger, is now charting ice-cream jingles nationwide.
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Flickr/CC Chapman, Dan Sinker/Twitter

CHICAGO — I scream, you scream, first he screamed Rahm Emanuel's innermost thoughts, and now he's trying to find out what songs most make ice-cream eaters scream.

Dan Sinker, the man who put into words the soon-to-be mayor's most profane — and profound — ideas at the Twitter feed @MayorEmanuel, is now trying to discover what ringing bell jingles make ice-cream eaters salivate across the nation. As head of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, Sinker is undertaking a national crowd-sourcing study of what songs ice-cream trucks use to attract children and others screaming for a cool summer treat.

The early leaders are Scott Joplin's ragtime classic "The Entertainer," best known as the theme to the movie "The Sting," and the American folk song "Turkey in the Straw," which most kids recognize as "Do Your Ears Hang Low?"

"To me, what's been interesting is to see how truly regional the music is," Sinker said in an email exchange Friday. "You get people in New York City who are insistent that there is no ice-cream-truck music except the Mr. Softee theme. You have people in the South who say it's all 'The Entertainer.' Chicago is strongly 'Turkey in the Straw' territory.

"There's not a lot of science involved. Just curious people helping each other out," Sinker added. "Because doing fun things is fun. And being able to play with scale at national and international levels to find out information like this is super fun."

Sinker executed the @MayorEmanuel Twitter feed anonymously during the mayoral campaign two years ago while teaching at Columbia College. He came forward after Emanuel won the election and soon left the college, producing a book compilation along the way, and eventually taking the position to head Knight-Mozilla OpenNews. "It's a project that's dedicated to growing the ecosystem around the software-development community in journalism," Sinker said.

This particular project grew too out of Twitter — and Sinker's natural curiosity. "I was walking my dog in the afternoon and walked by the ice-cream truck that is regularly in my neighborhood," said the Evanston resident. "It occurred to me that it always played the same song, 'Camptown Races,' and that, to save my life, I couldn't think of a single ice-cream truck that didn't either play that or 'Turkey in the Straw.' So I did what I often do — Tweeted that question. Then, as a follow-up, Tweeted that it would make a great crowd-sourced map. I was still walking the dog when Ian Dees, who's a pretty great developer and mapping specialist here in Chicago, Tweeted back at me that he'd created a form for people to fill out. So I tweeted that. We're up to around 500 submissions now."

The online poll is ongoing, and also allows for racial differences such as "La Cucaracha" and the jingling bells, without a song, that usually signal the presence of a helados ice-cream bicycle.

We'll see who wins overall, but in Chicago is appears "Turkey in the Straw" doesn't hang low but sits on top of all other ice-cream jingles.

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