Life Stories

The New York Times reports that Amazon is being flooded with AI-generated biographies every time a celebrity dies, with such compelling titles as Tom Smothers: Revealing 4 Untold Truth About Half of Smothers Brother. As you’d imagine, they’re badly written, full of errors, and shameless money-grabs that take advantage of Amazon rules around only allowing partial refunds on Kindle ebooks.

How could this possibly be? Surely the entrepreneurs behind them aren’t using an AI author bio generator or AI Biographer™ or a free AI social media bio generator or Simplified’s bio generator or the professional bio generator Jasper or 10 AI professional bio generators to try in 2024. Surely.

19 February 2024 · Infotech

Hard Talk

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a couple of thousand words about Trump, the hard right, immigration, and Israel and Palestine, which I thought I’d post here, but which need some context first about why I wrote them.

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19 February 2024 · Politics

Binary Dominion

AI is back in the news—in truth, it’s rarely left it since the heady days of 2022—with the latest development being the emergence of Sora, OpenAI’s new video generator. Sora can produce minute-long clips that almost look real, assuming that people’s legs really flip from one side to the other, and that their hands really clap in slow motion and flap around like a seal’s.

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18 February 2024 · Infotech


We document our whole lives online, but is it even worth it anymore? A 2024 article about Insta and TikTok referencing a 2012 article about Facebook talking about things bloggers were wondering about in 2001.

No one likes hacks and oh God, we do care. “We’ve spent the past decade with our knickers in a twist because we collectively find it hard to believe that we may just be part of the last generation of our kind.”

Hope for Russia has died with Navalny, Putin’s most formidable opponent (archived and archived). Someone I follow on social media linked to the speech that Navalny’s daughter Daria gave on his behalf when he was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize, two months before Putin invaded (the rest of) Ukraine. It’s worth reading.

18 February 2024 · Weblog

A House Full of Bees

Berthe Morisot comes into her own (via Mefi). I’ve seen a few of Morisot’s paintings in galleries, and they were always as good as the other Impressionist canvases around them; I guess I assumed that she hadn’t painted much, and that that was why there weren’t more on show. Learning that “an astounding proportion of [her] most important work” is still in private hands explains a lot, and sexism would explain the rest—what’s the bet that even some of her paintings in public collections are sitting in storage rather than being on display. It’s good to learn that her peers were so supportive of her work, and celebrated it after her death—the fault lies with posterity, but fortunately that can change.

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12 February 2024 · Art

Warm Bath

With the unsettling news that Atlantic Ocean circulation is nearing a devastating tipping point, a 2006 article on the source of Europe’s mild climate is a helpful reminder that the Gulf Stream isn’t everything (via Mefi). The author doesn’t deny that the Gulf Stream has a warming effect, but points out that the effect is on coastal regions on both sides of the Atlantic. The idea that Liverpool is mild compared with Edmonton at the same latitude because of the Gulf Stream, though, is a myth—one that still prevails in the UK almost twenty years later.

I was fascinated to see just how much the Rockies affect climate not only in North America but also in Europe—not because of ocean currents, but because of air currents. But most eye-opening was the article’s opening, pointing out when and how the idea originated that the Gulf Stream is what makes Northern Europe warm: it was one man’s best guess in the mid-19th century, and has been received wisdom ever since. I’d always assumed that it was a product of oceanographers’ and climate scientists’ findings since, say, the mid-twentieth century. Nope. One guy a century earlier, in a single book. Science has progressed a fair bit since its publication four years before The Origin of Species.

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12 February 2024 · Environment

Make It Stop

A blog post I saw at Mefi the other day gave me the unsettling sensation, like so much web copy nowadays, that it had been written by AI. Perhaps it was auto-translated from another first language, or perhaps it’s AI all the way down. The blog as a whole gave no hints of any human or humans who might be behind it, no About page or first post introducing the project or anything like that. It made odd turns of phrase like “a truly emotionally gripping experience of this modern classic” land even more oddly.

It feels wrong to be told what to feel about a piece of music by a predictive text algorithm—if that’s what it is. That’s the trouble: you can’t trust that anything on the web is actually human now.

On that depressing yet increasingly familiar note: AI-generated obituaries are turning private individuals into clickbait, whether they’re dead or not (via Mefi).

Film Crit Hulk argues that the internet is an empty labyrinth.

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12 February 2024 · Infotech

Pardalote Note

Some random web-surfing the other day reminded me of Tasmania’s forty-spotted pardalote, the rarest of Australia’s four species of pardalotes or peep-wrens. Unlike the other three species, the endangered forty-spot is confined to Tasmania, mainly to Bruny Island and Maria Island in the state’s southeast and east. The dots on its wings run closer to sixty than forty, so whoever named it clearly gave up counting too soon.

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12 February 2024 · Whatever

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