Weird A.I. Yankovic, a cursed deep dive into the world of voice cloning

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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 anybody, ever.”

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, “Beat It.”
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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.

Out of the Trees

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After “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” ended, Graham Chapman worked with an up-and-coming young writer named Douglas Adams on a new sketch comedy show for the BBC. It was called “Out of the Trees,” and it bombed. Only one episode was made, and that aired only once, on January 10, 1976.

Once the Beeb gave up on “Out of the Trees,” they did to it what they did to so many other programs of that era: they erased it.

Chapman had recorded the show on one of the very earliest home videotape formats… it took two years to build a compatible player.

It’s neither Chapman nor Adams best work, and you can see how it got canned after only a pilot episode. But it’s not terrible.

But the lesson here is one about the challenge of archiving non-print media. Anything that needs a device to “play” it, whether it’s as simple as a vinyl record or as complex as a videogame, is at greater risk of being lost forever. And the faster the pace of technology moves, the more stuff gets left behind as technology moves on. Is a digital dark age looming? Are we already in it, but that won’t be known until some future date?

Groundhog Day

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Partial comic frame showing a groundhog popping its head out of a hole and shouting "RUN!".

After a break of nine and a half years, webcomic Octopuns is back. I have two thoughts:

  1. That’s awesome. I love Octopuns and I’m glad it’s back. If you want a quick taster – a quick slice, if you will – of its kind of humour, I suggest starting with Pizza.
  2. How did I know that Octopuns was back? My RSS reader told me. RSS remains a magical way to keep an eye on what’s happening on the Internet: it’s like a subscription service that delivers you exactly what you want, as soon as it’s available.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised before when my feed reader has identified a creator that’s come back from the dead. I ❤️ FreshRSS.

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Woodward Draw

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Screenshot showing a completed game of Woodward Draw; the final word was "goat".

  • Explore the set of 4 letter words
  • Either change one letter of the previous word
  • Or rearrange all the letters of the previous word
  • Find all 105 picture words!

Daniel Linssen (via itch.io)

Woodward Draw by Daniel Linssen is the kind of game that my inner Scrabble player both loves and hates. I’ve been playing on and off for the last three days to complete it, and it’s been great. While not perfectly polished1 and with a few rough edges2, it’s still a great example of what one developer can do with a little time.

It deserves a hat tip of respect, but I hope you’ll give it more than that by going and playing it (it’s free, and you can play online or download a copy3). I should probably check out their other games!

Footnotes

1 At one point the background colour, in order to match a picture word, changed to almost the same colour as the text of the three words to find!

2 The tutorial-like beginning is a bit confusing until you realise that you have to play the turn you’re told to, to begin with, for example.

3 Downloadable version is Windows only.

The Miracle Sudoku

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I first saw this video when it was doing the rounds three years ago and was blown away. I was reminded of it recently when it appeared in a blog post about AI’s possible future role in research by Terence Eden.

I don’t even like sudoku. And if you’d told me in advance that I’d enjoy watching a man slowly solve a sudoku-based puzzle in real-time, I’d have called you crazy. But I watched it again today, for what must’ve been the third time, and it’s still magical. The artistry of puzzle creator Mitchell Lee is staggering.

If you somehow missed it the first time around, now’s your chance. Put this 25-minute video on in the background and prepare to have your mind blown.

Making a Home of Each Other (The Eggs)

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I dislike recipe posts that, before you get anywhere near the list of ingredients, tell you what feels like the entire life story of the author and their family.

“Every morning my mother would warm up the stove, and this was a wood-fired stove back in the day, and make these. We lived in Minnosota…” I don’t care. I can’t begin to tell you how much I don’t care. Just tell me how to make the damn muffins ‘cos the picture’s got me drooling.

This is different. This is the latest and so-far only exception. This, I care about:

When we moved into a house of our own, I bought us a tea kettle that whistled in harmony when it boiled. Rent was cheap, and we were happy. Those were the days of sweet potato hash, wilted kale, and increasingly exotic baked goods. There was the Me-Making-You-Tea-in-the-Morning-Because-You-Hated-Mornings Phase, but also the You-Making-Me-Tea-in-the-Morning-Because-You-Went-to-Work-at-5am Phase.

Lucy tells a story so rich and personal about her and her wife’s experience of life, cohabitation, food, and the beauty of everyday life. I haven’t even read the recipe for The Eggs, even though it sounds pretty delicious.

Over the years I’ve found words for people who have done what we’re doing now, but I’ve also found a deeper truth: our queer community doesn’t demand a definition. They know that chili oil can change a life just as much as a marriage. That love is in the making and unmaking of beds. The candlelit baths. The laughter. The proffered feast that nourishes.

Queerness makes room within it for these relationships, or rather: queerness spirals outward. It blooms and embraces. That is the process by which we broaden our palates, welcoming what might seem new to us, but which is actually older than we know.

It’s a great reminder about focussing on what’s important. About the value of an ally whether the world’s working with you or against you. And, of course, about how every relationship, no matter what shape, size, or form, can enjoy a little more queering once in a while. Go read it.

Thoughts on Editing Posts

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I edit all my posts before I publish them – I look for poor grammar, me rambling on (something which I’m terrible for) and things like typos, although some do still get through. I think that kind of editing is fine.

But when it comes to opinion pieces, I don’t think they should be edited. Yes, you should (in my opinion) check the spelling/grammar before posting, but I don’t think you should go back and edit your opinions retrospectively if they change.

Kev speaks my mind.

At almost 25 years ago, my blog’s ancient, and covering more than half my life it inevitably includes posts that I feel don’t accurately reflect me any more (or, perhaps, didn’t reflect me well even when I wrote them!). My approach has long been that it’s okay to go back and modify a post to:

  • Correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar, or improve readability without changing the meaning.
  • Add content (in a clearly-marked way) to improve context, update information, or prepend/append hyperlinks to updated information.
  • Make changes that protect an individual (e.g. removing the name or photo of somebody who doesn’t want to be identified).

But like Kev, to me it just doesn’t seem right to change opinion pieces after your opinion changes. I’m happy to write a retraction and link to it from the original, but making-out like I never said those things in the first place seems disingenuous.

Kev links a disclaimer from his older posts; that’s an interesting idea that I might adopt.

Satoru Iwata’s first commercial game has a secret

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Codex (YouTube)

This was a delightful vlog. It really adds personality to what might otherwise have been a story only about technology and history.

I subscribed to Codex’s vlog like… four years ago? He went dark soon afterwards, but thanks to the magic of RSS, I got notified as soon as he came back from his hiatus.

Automattic Acquires ActivityPub Plugin for WordPress

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Automattic has acquired the ActivityPub plugin for WordPress from German developer Matthias Pfefferle, who will be joining the company to continue improving support for federated platforms. Pfefferle, who is also the author of the Webmention plugin, said his new role is to see how Automattic’s products can benefit from open protocols like ActivityPub.

This is so exciting I might burst. Want to know why?

  1. Matt Mullenweg‘s commitment to ActivityPub makes me happy. WordPress made Pingback and Trackback take off, back in the day, and I believe that – in the same way – Automattic can help make ActivityPub more accessible and mainstream too.
  2. Matthias Pfefferle is both an IndieWeb and an ActivityPub star; I use (and I’ve extented upon) a lot of code he’s written every day and I sponsor him on Github! The chance that we get to work directly together is pretty slim, but it’s a chance right?

Susan A. Kitchens expressed concern that this could increase the level of ActivityPub spam out there (which right now is very low). I worry about that too. But I’m still optimistic that we can make something awesome off the back of this acquisition and keep the interpersonal Web federated, the way it ought to be.

The tape library robot that served drinks

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This is an IBM tape library robot. It’s designed to fetch, load, unload, and return tape media cartridges to the correct bay in large enterprise environments.

One fateful ‘workend’, I made one serve drinks.

It went back into prod on the Monday…

In a story reminiscient of those anecdotes about early computer science students competing to “race” hard drives across the lab by writing programs that moved the heads in a way that vibrated/walked the devices, @SecurityWriter shares a wonderful story about repurposing a backup tape management robot to act as a server (pun intended) of drinks.

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Kev Quirk: Ten Years of Blogging

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If you read a lot of the “how to start a blog in 2023” type posts (please don’t ever use that title in a post) the advice will often boil down to something like:

  • Choose a niche
  • Start collecting email addresses immediately (newsletter)
  • Write on a regular schedule

I don’t do any of those things. 😂

Kev writes about what he’s learned from ten years of blogging. As a fellow long-term blogger1, I was especially pleased with his observation that, for some (many?) of us old hands, all the tips on starting a blog nowadays are things that we just don’t do, sometimes deliberately.

Like Kev, I don’t have a “niche” (I write about the Web, life, geo*ing, technology, childwrangling, gaming, work…). I’ve experimented with email subscription but only as a convenience to people who prefer to get updates that way – the same reason I push articles to Facebook – and it certainly didn’t take off (and that’s fine!). And as for writing on a regular schedule? Hah! I don’t even manage to be uniform throughout the year, even after averaging over my blog’s quarter-century2 of history.

Also like Kev, and I think this is the reason that we ignore these kinds of guides to blogging, I blog for me first and foremost. Creation is a good thing, and I take my “permission to write” and just create stuff. Not having a “niche” means that I can write about what interests me, variable as that is. In my opinion the only guide to starting a blog that anybody needs to read is Andrew Stephens“So You Want To Start An Unpopular Blog”.

And if that’s not enough inspiration for you to jump back in your time machine and party like the Web’s still in 2005, I don’t know what is.

Footnotes

1 I celebrated 20 years… a while back?

2 Fuck me, describing a blog as having about a quarter-century of history makes it sound real old.

Transferring to a new phone network, 2022 edition

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…removing a SIM tray is harder than it looks when you don’t wear earrings. I had to search everywhere to find one of those little SIM tools…

Stuart writes a fun article about his experience of changing mobile network. It’s worth a read, and there’s only one “Dan pro tip” I’d add:

If you have a case on your mobile phone, tuck one of those SIM extractor tools into the case, behind your phone. It’s exactly where you need it to be, if you need one yourself (you probably need to remove the case to access the SIM tray anyway), but beyond that: it means you’re always carrying one for when a friend needs one. They’re also useful for pressing those tiny “factory reset” buttons you see sometimes.

A SIM extractor has been sneakily part of my “everyday carry” for about a decade and it’s proven its value time and time again.

When Twitter Loses, WordPress Wins

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You know who’s having a killer month? Automattic. Everyone who’s leaving Twitter seem to fall in at least one of these three camps:

  1. They have gone back to the blogosphere. (using WordPress, or WordPress.com)
  2. They have gone to Tumblr
  3. They have gone to the fediverse (of which a fairly large percentage are WordPress installs)

In all of these cases, Automattic wins.

Some smart observations here by Alex. A fourth point worth noting is that Matt has openly suggested that former Twitter engineers might like to come join us in Automattic and help make the web a better place. We’ve changed our careers pages a little lately but we’re still the same awesome company!

Alex went on to say:

I’ll be downright shocked if Matt isn’t working very hard to get Tumblr on the fediverse ASAP. He has so much to gain in supporting this movement, and very little to lose.

That’s definitely on his mind too, which I can safely say without leaking anything because he’s hinted at it himself. Exciting times.