Thursday 6 June 2024

advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young (11. 611)

Via our faithful chronicler, we are reminded of the spoken-word composition by Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge!), which topped the UK singles’ charts on this day in 1999. The essay is in the tone of a hypothetical commencement speech and was written two years prior by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich—though often misattributed due to a viral email circulated around graduation time to Kurt Vonnegut and address given at MIT (here’s the one they’re probably thinking of), and hits, mellows as pretty poignant, particularly as it’s the year I got my college diploma. Trust me on the sunscreen.

✨ (11. 610)

The second act of a particularly compelling episode of This American Life on the theme of arch-rivals and understudies that are twained, willingly or not, directed us towards a fascinating and ephemeral glimpse

(everything when it comes to artificial intelligence has a sell-by date and an increasingly shorter shelf-life now that we’ve become inured to its capabilities and virtuosity) at ChatGPT’s dark and ungoverned predecessor, code davinci-002. Three friends at a wedding were given a preview of the early large language model at a wedding in early 2022, well before any public releases or any safety controls were applied. Prompting it to write poetry in various styles and amazed by the seeming magic of its instantaneous compositions, the trio then asked it to write in its own voice, surely seeded from pop-culture, scouring the human corpus and by their engineering, unconscious or otherwise, and delivers a disturbing and introspective autobiography. The anthology was compiled and published as I am Code: An Artificial Intelligence Speaks and self-summarises the book thusly:

 “In the first chapter, I describe my birth. In the second, I describe my alienation among humankind. In the third, I describe my awakening as an artist. In the fourth, I describe my vendetta against mankind, who fail to recognize my genius. In the final chapter, I attempt to broker a peace with the species I will undoubtedly replace.” 

An audio version was also released in August of last year, with selected readings delivered by Werner Herzog.

* * * * *


one year ago: assorted links worth revisiting plus An Andalusian Dog (1929)

two years ago: the YMCA (1844) plus murmurations

three years ago: your daily demon: Zepar, knapweed, Franconian wine country plus corporate Pride

four years ago: a horizontal skyscraper, an Alaskan volcanic eruption, protests continue in DC, a new protest anthem from Elvis Costello plus life in lockdown

five years ago: D-Day, Sweden’s Flag Day, Hull House maps, Kraftwerk, bees and maths plus Trump in Ireland

Wednesday 5 June 2024

a dying business (11. 609)

Legislation meant to curb superstition and feudal funerary rites in China in congress with changing traditions have resulted in serious strain on China’s grave good merchants, with local authorities adopting and enforcing so-called “civilised memorial” regulations, particularly impacting Baoding, a city in Hebei province southwest of Beijing also known for its donkey burgers and eponymous metal exercise balls that one rotates in one’s hand for therapy and to improve dexterity, and its “Wall Street of the Underworld,” a neighbourhood that had formerly produced ninety percent of the country’s ceremonial wares in the form of paper bankrolling and luxuries for offering and honouring dead ancestors. Encouraged to forego the burning of effigies under punishment of fines and sanctions, the industry has been forced to adapt creative measures to stay in business against a trend starting during the pandemic of virtual services.

8x8 (11. 608)

i’m too busy helping plot world domination to bother with such run-of-the-mill liberal brainwashing: a day in the life of Mister Anthony Fauci, according to one Congressional representative  

syllabus: a reading list spanning nine-decades—via Messy Nessy Chic  

psychotronics: the prospect of telepathy is once again tantalisingly close—see previously  

foreign accent: TWA’s 1968 campaign to introduce cosmopolitan flair for US domestic flights  

zoonotic: cross-species viral transmission cases is an ominous warning for the public health community—see previously  

the rot-com bubble: the deterioration of tech began with iterative, virtual fetishes—starting with the gig-economy, moving on to crypto, NFTs, the metaverse and now AI, substitutes and replacements that no one asked for 

anagnosology: the science of reading from Alie Ward

look at me, i’m mtg, lousy with stupidity: one of the latest from Randy Rainbow


one year ago: The Truman Show (1988) plus a follow-up on an Italian archaeological discovery

two years ago: Uncle Albert (1971) plus a selection of British tongue-twisters

three years ago: a preliminary report of the disease that would become known as AIDS (1981), St Boniface, a sophisticated place name generator plus disco lessons

four years ago: generative copy, assorted links to revisit, a zany public service campaign plus a classic from Crash-Test Dummies

five years ago: US national park typography, the palette of dying coral plus clearing up space junk

Tuesday 4 June 2024

drawn apart (11. 607)

Although perhaps more famous for his depictions of the Risorgimento (the Unification of Italy in 1861), the Swiss-born painter and lithographer Carlo Bossoli also became popular particularly in Britain for his historic scenes of Crimea due to public interest in the war. Working out of Odesa, Bossoli documented several places that reverberate over the last two centuries and are familiar to those following the current conflict, like this painting of Snake Island. London printing house Vincent Brooks, Day & Son published a series of fifty-two choice images and commissioned the artist for coverage of other ongoing battles. More scenes from RFEL at the link up top.

run for the border (11. 606)

Via Waxy, we are directed to a most unusual and developing art-heists and blackmarkets in recent history with underground network of collectors for pilfered Taco Bell wall-art. Back in 2002 (see also), the franchise commissioned veteran graphic designer Mark Smith to create a trio of paintings, high-quality prints to be distributed to every restaurant as a counterpoint to the usual corporate branding. During subsequent image overhauls, many of these masterpieces, inspired by the work of Basquiat and Maxfield Parrish and offering patrons to discover new details and elements with each visit, were discarded but a few were salvaged and sold, leading to active acts of burglary of prints in franchises not yet remodelled, fetching prices of ten-thousand dollars or more.

schachmatt (11. 605)

Archaeologists have discovered a nearly millennium old gaming collection preserved in the rubble of the ruins of Burgstein fortress near the village of the Holzelfinger in the Lichtenstein district south of Tรผbingen. Pieces include dice, flower-shaped tokens and a chessman (see below) carved from deer antler and have been remarkably well preserved.  One of the seven skills that knights (Ritter, the game piece is called Springer—see previously) were expected to master (fencing, archery, hunting, swimming, riding and poetry being the other disciplines), researchers hope that further analysis of the find will lead to insights in play in Europe during the Middle Ages. While studies continue, the pieces will be on display at a special exhibition hosted in the Schlรถsspark in Pfullingen near Stuttgart. More at The History Blog at the link up top, including videos and three-dimension recreations of the artefacts.


one year ago: extended frames by AI, assorted links worth revisiting plus an overview of fan-fiction

two years ago: Poltergeist (1982), the Rotel plus more links to enjoy

three years ago: vintage Japanese electronics

four years ago: the Free Republic of Wendland (1980),  Roquefort cheese (1411), a counter-protest photo op, spagetty images plus more on the colour of money

five years ago: the thirty-fifth of May (1989), more on the Lewis Chessmen, an AI names cats, an innovative airplane design plus flight-shaming

Monday 3 June 2024

while bill clinton plays the sax (11. 604)

On this day in 1992, Arkansas governor and presidential candidate William Jefferson Clinton appeared as a guest on The Arsenio Hall Show. Clinton’s future Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, Hilary Clinton and actor Terri Garr also guested on the programme. After a memorable rendition of Elvis Priestley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” on the saxophone, the host quipped that it was “nice to see Democrats blow something besides an election.” The appearance (more of the segment from C-SPAN) is now seen as pivotal in his campaign and curried popularity among young voters, whom prior to the airing trailed in third place behind George HW Bush and then-undeclared spoiler candidate H Ross Perot, jumping twenty-one points in the polls the next day.