They See Me (Blog)Rolling

Tracy Durnell’s post about blogrolls really spoke to me. Like her, I used to think of a blogroll as a list of people you know personally (who happen to blog)1, but the number of bloggers among my immediate in-person circle of friends has shrunk from several dozen to just a handful, and I dropped my blogroll in around 2008.

A white man wearing a spacesuit sits on a pebble beach using a laptop.
On the Internet, a blogger is only as alone as they choose to be.

But my connection to a wider circle has grown, and like Tracy I enjoy the “hardly strangers” connection I feel with the people I follow online. She writes:

While social media emphasizes the show-off stuff — the vacation in Puerto Vallarta, the full kitchen remodel, the night out on the town — on blogs it still seems that people are sharing more than signalling. These small pleasures seem to be offered in a spirit of generosity — this is too beautiful not to share.

Although I may never interact with all the folks whose blogs I follow, reading the same blogger for a long time does build a (one-sided) connection. I may not know you, author, but I am rooting for you. It’s a different modality of relationship than we may be used to in person, but it’s real: a parasocial relationship simmering with the potential for deeper connection, but also satisfying as it exists.

My first bloggy pan pal, Colin Walker, who I started exchanging emails with earlier this month, followed-up on this with an observation that really gets to the heart of the issue (speaking as somebody who’s long said that my blog’s intended audience is, first and foremost, me):

At its core, blogging is a solitary activity with many (if not most) authors claiming that their blog is for them – myself included. Yet, the implication of audience cannot be ignored. Indeed, the more an author embeds themself in the loose community of blogs, by reading and linking to others, the more that implication becomes reality even if not actively pursued via comments or email.

To that end: I’ve started publishing my blogroll again! Follow that link and you’ll see an only-lightly-curated list of all the people (plus some non-personal blogs, vlogs, and webcomics) I follow (that have updated their feeds within the last year2). Naturally, there’s an OPML version too, and I’ve open-sourced the code I used to generate it (although I can’t imagine anybody’s situation is enough like mine for it to be useful).

The page is a little flaky and there’s things I’d like to do to improve it, but I’d rather publish a basic version now and then come back to it with my gardening gloves on another time to improve it.

Maybe my blogroll has some folks on that you might recognise? Or else: maybe you’re only a single random-click away from somebody new you never heard of before!


1 Possibly marked up with XFN to indicate how you’re connected to one another, but I’ve always had a soft spot for XFN.

2 I often retain subscriptions to dormant feeds and it sometimes pays-off, e.g. when I recently celebrated Octopuns’ return after a 9½-year hiatus!


AI as an Author

I’ve been watching the output that people machines around the Internet have been producing using GPT-3 (and its cousins), an AI model that can produce long-form “human-like” text. Here’s some things I’ve enjoyed recently:

I played for a bit with AI Dungeon‘s (premium) Dragon engine, which came up with Dan and the Spider’s Curse when used as a virtual DM/GM. I pitched an idea to Robin lately that one could run a vlog series based on AI Dungeon-generated adventures: coming up with a “scene”, performing it, publishing it, and taking suggestions via the comments for the direction in which the adventure might go next (but leaving the AI to do the real writing).

Today is Spaceship Day's slapping contest
Today is Spaceship Day starts out making a little sense but this soon gives way to a more thorough absurdism.

Today is Spaceship Day is a Plotagon-powered machinama based on a script written by Botnik‘s AI. So not technically GPT-3 if you’re being picky but still amusing to how and what the AI‘s creative mind has come up with.

The holy founding text of The Church of the Next Word, as revealed to Frank Lantz takes the idea in a different direction. Republished on his blog by Matt Webb (because who wants to read text, in an image, in a Tweet?), it represents an attempt to establish the tenets of a new religion, as imagined by GPT-3. The seventh principle of Nextwordianism is especially profound:

Language contains the map to a better world. Those that are most skilled at removing obstacles, misdirection, and lies from language, that reveal the maps that are hidden within, are the guides that will lead us to happiness.

Yesterday, The Guardian published the op-ed piece A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human? It’s edited together from half a dozen or so essays produced by the AI from the same starting prompt, but the editor insists that this took less time than the editing process on most human-authored op-eds. It’s good stuff. I found myself reminded of Nobody Knows You’re A Machine, a short story I wrote about eight years ago and was never entirely happy with but which I’ve put online in order to allow you to see for yourself what I mean.

Upside Down Landscape, drawn by Janelle Shane following a prompt by an AI
If I came across these hills – with or without deer running atop them – I’d certainly be thinking “yeah, there’s something off about this place.”

But my favourite so far must be GPT-3’s attempt to write its own version of Expert judgment on markers to deter inadvertent human intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which occasionally circulates the Internet retitled with its line This place is not a place of honor…no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here. The original document was a report into how humans might mark a nuclear waste disposal site in order to discourage deliberate or accidental tampering with the waste stored there: a massive challenge, given that the waste will remain dangerous for many thousands of years! The original paper’s worth a read, of course, but mostly as a preface to reading a post by Janelle Shane (whose work I’ve mentioned before) about teaching GPT-3 to write nuclear waste site area denial strategies. It’s pretty special.

As effective conversational AI becomes increasingly accessible, I become increasingly convinced what we might eventually see a sandwichware future, where it’s cheaper for an appliance developer to install an AI into the device (to allow it to learn how to communicate with your other appliances, in a human language, just like you will) rather than rely on a static and universal underlying computer protocol as an API. Time will tell.

Meanwhile: I promise that this post was written by a human!

Permission to Write Stuff

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

I would say treat the web like that big red button of the original Flip camera. Just push it, write something and then publish it. It may not be perfect, but nothing ever is anyway. I write all sorts of crap on my blog — some of it really niche like snippets for Vim. Yet it’s out there just in case someone finds it useful at some point — not least me when I forget how I’ve done something.

I write all kinds of crap on my blog, too, and for mostly the same reasons: my blog is for me, first and foremost. Hopefully others, from time to time, find it interesting or useful, but I can’t in good faith argue that I keep the shit I wrote in the 90s or early 2000s here for the benefit of the Internet as a whole! It’s for me first.

Good analogy with the Flip camera (follow the link through to Brendan’s post for the full explanation).

Note #11897

The Prime Minister’s New Bill

With apologies to Hans Christian Andersen and thanks to JTA, both of whom deserve the credit for this more than I.

Once there lived a Prime Minister, and she loved to wear clothes made of strong international relations. One day a Swindler came to the Prime Minister and he promised that he could equip her with clothes of the best and strongest international relations. The Swindler claimed that all the people of the realm loved the new material he was producing, and the Prime Minister was delighted. She appointed a man to be in charge of ensuring that the Swindler did the job he had promised, and then she got back to her important work.

Her man soon reported to her a most alarming fact: the Swindler wasn’t at his loom. He was just sitting in the pub, sipping distinctly-English beers and seemingly making no progress on the bill at all. The Prime Minister was alarmed, but didn’t say anything: after all, she would soon be on the way to wearing clothes of the most beautiful and strong international relations. Besides, she’d been promised that all the people loved the new material that the Swindler worked with. So she appointed a second man and asked him to keep an eye on the Swindler, instead.

The second man checked in on the Swindler, and then reported that the Swindler still wasn’t weaving. The Prime Minister challenged the Swindler, but he claimed that he’d had car trouble while returning from France, where he’d been acquiring supplies, and would be getting back to his work soon. Clearly the second man had been too hasty in his judgement, so the Prime Minister appointed a third, who’d surely be less-judgemental as he saw the job through.

The third man checked on the Swindler, and discovered that while he was at his loom, he didn’t seem to be working at all and the loom stood bare. “The Prime Minister is concerned,” said the man “That no progress has been made whatsoever on her new clothes of strong international relations.”

“But progress has been made,” said the Swindler, “Can’t you see? I promised the Prime Minister that I would weave, and weave means weave! I am making clothes of the finest international relations; they’re made out of a Bill so lightweight and flimsy that it’s almost invisible. Only the cleverest of people can see it.” The Swindler reached into the loom and scooped his arm under the place where the fabric should appear, and raised it to show the third man.

“Ah yes,” said the third man, “I can see it.” But the third man could not see the Prime Minister’s new strong international relations.

Soon the clothes were ready, and the Swindler brought them to the Prime Minister to try on. She seemed confused at first: where were the clothes? But then the swindler explained: “These clothes are made of the finest international relations, in the fashion that is most-popular with the people,” he said. “Only the most-intelligent of people can see how beautiful, how elegant, how economically-viable they are!”

“Oh!” said the Prime Minister, and examined her new clothes. “I… um… see you’ve put a lot of work into stitching the hem: these borders will surely be well-protected.”

The Prime Minister tried on her new clothes, and observed that they were so light that she might as well have been wearing nothing at all. She wasn’t sure that she wanted to be seen wearing these new clothes because they made her feel naked and vulnerable, but she didn’t want people to think that she was stupid by confessing that she couldn’t see them. She resolved to show them to everybody she could find.

First she went to her Cabinet. “Do you like my beautiful new clothes?” she asked, “They’re made of strong international relations, and only the cleverest of people can see them!” And her Cabinet all nodded and said that yes, of course they liked them. But they could not see the beautiful new clothes. (It’s worth noting that half a dozen of them walked out at this point without saying a word.)

The Prime Minister went to see the Old People, and she said, “Do you like my beautiful new clothes? They’re made of strong international relations, but only clever people can see them.”

“Yes, they’re wonderful,” said the Old People. But they could not see the strong international relations.

The Prime Minister went to talk to the Emperor of America, and she said “Do you like my beautiful new clothes? They’re made of strong international relations, but only clever people can see them.”

The Emperor of America looked the Prime Minister up and down, and made a strange face that made the Prime Minister suspect that the Emperor didn’t even WANT to see the strong international relations, but he said: “Yes, they’re great clothes. The best clothes.” But the Emperor of America could not see the strong international relations.

The Prime Minister went to talk to the Racists, and she said “Do you like my beautiful new clothes? They’re made of strong international relations, but only clever people can see them.”

“Yes, they’re fantastic,” said the Racists, and they genuinely meant it, because they’d already persuaded themselves that because the new clothes had been made in their own country they were inherently superior to any clothes that might have been made by foreigners. But still, they had to admit, they couldn’t actually see any strong international relations nor did they want to.

The Prime Minister went to talk to the Under Thirties, and she said “Do you like my beautiful new clothes? They’re made of strong international relations, but only clever people can see them.”

The Under Thirties stared at Prime Minister, and then looked at each other, and then looked back at the Prime Minister. “You’re not WEARING any clothes,” they said. And the Prime Minister knew that they were right.


You’re probably already familiar with the concept of a drabble (if not, where were you in February?), a piece of fiction of exactly one hundred words. Today, I was introduced to the concept of a hemi-demi-semi-drabble: that is, a piece of fiction totalling exactly twelve-and-a-half words. Seeing as, no matter how I try, I can’t ever seem to write a piece of fiction totalling more than seven or eight thousand words, this appeals to me. Surely I can manage twelve-and-a-half?

Here’s my first:

The Goddess

Seeing her there, I finally understood how beaut- no; she was a goddess.

And here’s another:

Courting Disaster

Coldly, the judge made his verdict: guilty. Disconsolate, the defendant cried out, “Noo…”

It’s harder than it looks. Give it a go.