A personal favourite of mine are the Herculaneum Papyri. These charred scrolls were part of a private library near Pompeii that was buried by the eruption
of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. Rediscovered from 1752, these ~1,800 scrolls were distributed to academic institutions around the world, with
the majority residing in Naples’ Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III.
As you might expect of ancient scrolls that got buried, baked, and then left to rot, they’re pretty fragile. That didn’t stop Victorian era researchers trying a variety of techniques to
gently unroll them and read what was inside.
Like many others, what I love about the Herculaneum Papyri is the air of mystery. Each could be anything from a lost religious text to, I don’t know, somebody’s to-do list (“buy milk, arrange for annual service of chariot, don’t forget to renew
In recent years, we’ve tried “virtually unrolling” the scrolls using a variety of related technologies. And – slowly – we’re getting there.
So imagine my delight when this week, for the first time ever, a
complete word was extracted from one of the carbonised, still-rolled-up scrolls from Herculaneum. Something that would have seemed inconceivable to the historians who first
discovered and catalogued the scrolls is now possible, thanks to their careful conservation over the years along with the steady advance of technology.
Anyway, I thought that was exciting news so I wanted to share.
I’m probably not going to get you a Christmas present. You probably shouldn’t get me one either.
If you’re one of my kids and you’ve decided that maybe my blog isn’t just “boring grown-up stuff” and have come by, then you’re one of the exceptions. Lucky you.
Children get Christmas gifts from me. But if you’re an adult, all you’re likely to get from me is a hug, a glass of wine, and more food than you can possibly eat in a single
I’ve come to the conclusion – much later than my mother and my sisters, who were clearly ahead of the curve – that Christmas presents are for kids.
Maybe, once, Christmas presents were for adults too, but by now the Internet has broken gift-giving to the extent it’s almost certainly preferable for me and the adults in my life
if they just, y’know, order the thing they want than hoping that I’ll pick it out for them. Especially as so many of us are at a point where we already have a plethora of
“stuff”, and don’t want to add to it unnecessarily at a time of year when, frankly, we’ve got better things to spend our time and money on.
Birthdays are still open season, because they aren’t hampered by the immediate expectation of reciprocity that Christmas carries. And I reserve the right to buy groups of (or
containing) adults gifts at Christmas. But individual adults aren’t getting one this year, and they certainly shouldn’t feel like they need to get me anything either.1
I don’t know to what extent, if at all, Ruth and JTA will be following me in this idea, so
if you’re somebody who might have expected a gift from or wanted to give a gift to one of them… you’re on your own; you work it out!
Here’s to a Merry Christmas full of presents for children, only!
1 If you’ve already bought me a gift for Christmas this year… firstly, that’s way
too organised: you know it’s only October, right? And secondly: my birthday’s only a couple of weeks later…
In the parallel universe of last year’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Dr. Demento encourages a young Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) to move away from song parodies and start writing
original songs of his own. During an LSD trip, Al writes “Eat It,” a 100% original song that’s definitely not based on any other song, which quickly becomes “the biggest hit by
Later, Weird Al’s enraged to learn from his manager that former Jackson 5 frontman Michael Jackson turned the tables on him, changing the words of “Eat It” to make his own parody,
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This got me thinking: what if every Weird Al song was the original, and every other artist was covering his songs instead? With recent advances in A.I. voice cloning, I realized
that I could bring this monstrous alternate reality to life.
This was a terrible idea and I regret everything.
Everything that is wrong with, and everything that is right with, AI voice cloning, brought together in one place. Hearing
simulations of artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Kurt Cobain singing Weird Al’s versions of their songs is… strange and unsettling.
Some of them are pretty convincing, which is a useful and accessible reminder about how powerful these tools are becoming. An under-reported story from a few years back identified what might be
the first recorded case of criminals using AI-based voice spoofing as part of a telephone scam, and since then the technology
needed to enact such fraud has only become more widely-available. While this weirder-than-Weird-Al project is first and foremost funny, for many it foreshadows darker things.