Open AI and Director Jordan Clarke tell a story about an AI who wanted to be famous:

On the video’s Vimeo page, Clarke writes:

A story about an A.I. that wanted to be famous, also written and performed by an A.I. (paraphrased and edited with liberties from a human). Visualized by a human (me), flipping the norm of what we see in the AI-driven art world today. Special thanks to Amie Bennett for letting me bounce off all my ideas, Adam Kirschner for his nft bro performance, and Des Hume for his awesome music as well as featuring a track from the Midnight.

“Six Guys”

When I encountered this video from animator Ripley Howarth, I was convinced that I had seen it before yet if so it could not have been the entire video as this left me happily fulfilled. Who could imagine this effect from something firmly within the horror genre? But Howarth squared my circle.

The other thing Six Guys reminded me of was the 1965 film by Polish Director Wojciech Has, The Saragossa Manuscript. Well… they do have in common a magically surreal journey as a central part of the storytelling, but Six Guys is very much a horror movie.

The Internet Is Dead

the first one is always free

I ran across the Masyanya Kuvaeva YouTube channel through The Russian Reader blog, a site of interest, political or cultural, to anyone interested in whatever is going down in Eurasia. In fact, it’s interesting even if you’re not much interested in whatever…

The CC should have an English translation for this episode; other episodes, you’ll rely on Google.

Ubuntu Upgrade

actually more of a mildly sulpherous vent than review

I’m a semi-willing user of Ubuntu / Linux on my home desktop, though I also have a Mac G4 with OS 10.4x and OS 9.x installed and a Compaq Prolinea 486sx with Windows 95 installed.* The Compaq generally gets used as a DOS box rather than for old Windows programs as I still have a dBase IV application that I still use. I sometimes use the Mac as a CD / DVD player as the iTunes light show is fun. But Ubuntu / Linux on a System 76 mini about the size of a candy box is my main machine.

Semi-willing? Well, I’m willing because first of all, the price for Ubuntu / Linux is so right for a poor boy. Free. And as an interface / operating system, it’s not bad and even deserving of a contribution ($) of some sort from me. As a cheap and penurious geezer, that’s a recommendation. There are also some reasonably adequate home office applications that come with it, as well as others that are about what you might expect for the price (free). Depending upon what task is at hand, that may be all that you need. Or it may be a pain in the ass.

I recall starting out with Ubuntu 14.x. For the past several years, I’ve been using version 16.04 LTS. I’m given to understand that LTS = “Long Term Support” and, just as with commercial operating systems, periodic updates have been available for download. Generally, I’d wait until there were at least 100 megabytes of download pending before updating: once or twice a month, effectively. But version 16 was almost old enough to be considered quaint. Version 20 was the happening thing or, for the experimental DIY types, Version 21. This last April, the “long” in LTS finally came to an end for version 16; it was time to upgrade.**

After looking at the upgrade options, it seemed to me that upgrading to version 20 directly from 16 was going to involve rather more DIY than I was willing to do, but upgrading to 18 looked to be pretty much automated. It was but it took a total of three hours to accomplish, and one did need to be on hand to answer an occasional installer questions. Apart from that, it was only minimally painful.

Version 18, however, is rather different in layout and function than version 16. Some of the changes seem aimed at making the interface more consistent. Generally, most of those changes are annoying but not particularly burdensome. Others speak directly to one of my pet peeves: sure this New and Improved version has useful new features, but suddenly a few important things that were once simple to do have become awkward, at least. This has been so typical of my experience with software for the past several decades, and don’t get me started about the WordPress block editor: another example.

So far my major disappointments about version 18 concern work spaces and file management. Work spaces basically allow you to have separate desktops open, four of them in version 16, giving you the equivalent of a single desktop four times the size of your screen with ease to shift between them. Heck, you could have an open window spanning different work spaces. (Why would you do that? Ease of resizing an oversized window, for one thing.) With version 18, additional work spaces are available as needed, but opening a new work space now requires extra steps. Shifting between them might still be easy with keyboard shortcuts but otherwise that, too, is extra work. I may very well be missing something, but right now it looks like my desktop has effectively shrunk to a single screen.

Like many similar products, Ubuntu includes a dock wherein you can park shortcuts to your favorite software. Obviously the file management software should have a place there; only if you make it so is it there in version 18. My beef is that with version 16, one could right-click the icon and get a list of your top level folders to go to but no longer. Now you need to open the manager first then choose your destination. One is tempted to describe version 18 as being the product of minds unreasonably obsessed with consistency.

Some of the software that gets distributed with Ubuntu also gets updated but it’s far too soon for me to have much of an opinion about it, though I will say: It took far too much noodling around to get Firefox properly configured. Though I’ve had worse experiences with early versions*** of Windows: an endless, fruitless cycling between dialogue boxes that promise yet are never quite what one was looking for. Firefox was nowhere near as bad but still. I am also looking forward to seeing what this new version of LibreOffice can do as the versions included with version 16 were not really ready for prime time (useful enough for home and maybe some microbusiness), and Scribus barely qualified as a useable page layout tool but maybe that’s changed.

Likewise this barely qualifies as a review. Ubuntu 18, after all, is almost as much history as version 16 and I’m not sure how much time is left on its support clock. A further upgrade to version 20 may be on my agenda for later this year. Nor are my software needs so diverse as to give everything a fair workout. But this has been my experience so far.

* There are, I’ve read, Ubuntu / Linux programs to run a virtual DOS box, and given that they seem to be intended for nostalgia gamers, it sounds pretty sophisticated. But I haven’t been inclined to even explore the issue. Aside from whether the dBase IV installation disks are still readable or not (from age), the particular version I have would not have run on a DOS box running faster than 66 MHz. (It wasn’t impossible but it required some lame workarounds.) The problem, IIRC, was a time-saving feature that turned into a bug when run so fast.

** Apparently version 16 is hard to kill. Security updates will continue to be available. This is more than what could be said for Apple’s support for older OS versions.

*** Come to think of it, early versions of Windows is all that I have experience with.

Coup de Idiots

C’est pire qu’un crime. C’est une faute.

— attributed to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (disputed)

The attempted coup on January 6 should not have been much of a surprise to anyone but maybe the most naive. As I wrote back in 2016, Night of the Living Trumps:

“A geezer I am. I have lived through Nixon, Reagan and Dubya. Should I mention LBJ? One might think of this as yet another spell of really bad weather and verily the sun also rises. But there is a stink of existential threat from Trump that hasn’t been so strong in the air since Nixon.

“Part of it is Trump’s so nakedly disordered personality. Nearly everyone who aspires to be President is likely to be a bit insane, but until now most have been able to simulate normality. Part of it is the enthusiastic bigotry used to motivate Trump’s electorate; there’s no putting that back in the bottle while Trump holds office and the Republican caucuses control the legislature. Part of it is the solid wall of chaotic uncertainty about just what a governing Trump actually means in terms of policy.”

This post is written in early days post-riot, but my impression from a great distance is that the riot was essentially a clusterfuck, to use a bureaucratic term of art: The organizers had no plan beyond yelling and marching and consequently people went where anger and hysteria led them or the organizers had no plan beyond yelling and marching but others at the rally did have a plan or some (or all) of the organizers had a plan but it wasn’t shared with everyone. You might think of additional possibilities but regardless, people did bring young children, infants in fact, to the rally and march. What expectations do you think they had?

One ongoing discussion that I find particularly interesting is the examination of conspiracy theories as role-playing games. A good introduction to this (lots of links) is Reed Berkowitz’ A Game Designer’s Analysis of QAnon, posted back in September of 2020 at the curiouserinstitute. Berkowitz begins his analysis with:

“When I saw QAnon, I knew exactly what it was and what it was doing. I had seen it before. I had almost built it before. It was gaming’s evil twin. A game that plays people. (cue ominous music)

“QAnon has often been compared to ARGs and LARPs and rightly so. It uses many of the same gaming mechanisms and rewards. It has a game-like feel to it that is evident to anyone who has ever played an ARG, online role-play (RP) or LARP before. The similarities are so striking that it has often been referred to as a LARP or ARG. However this beast is very very different from a game.

“It is the differences that shed the light on how QAnon works and many of them are hard to see if you’re not involved in game development. QAnon is like the reflection of a game in a mirror, it looks just like one, but it is inverted.”

While the technology Berkowitz writes about is ideologically neutral (like Alinsky’s organizing techniques), this particular exercise was targeted:

“Another major difference between QAnon and an actual game, is that Q is almost pure propaganda. That IS the sole purpose of this. It’s not advertising a product, it’s not for fun, and it’s not an art project. There is no doubt about the political nature of the propaganda either. From ancient tropes about Jews and Democrats eating babies (blood-libel re-booted) to anti-science hysteria, this is all the solid reliable stuff of authoritarianism. This is the internet’s re-purposing of hatred’s oldest hits. The messaging is spot on. The “drops” implanted in an aspic of anti-Semitic, misogynist, and grotesque posts on posting boards that, indeed, have been implicated in many of the things the fake conspiracy is supposed to be guilty of!”

If Berkowitz’ analysis is even approximately accurate, it has important and existential implications for democracy, media, journalism, and politics generally. Yet that isn’t quite what got my attention. Berkowitz’ description of the QAnon phenomenon (“A game that plays people.”) suggests that it is a genuine meme, the first that I’ve actually heard of.

Wait. Meme? Don’t we see these every day, those graphical and sometimes comical little factoids that people trade back and forth? Well, yes and no. Richard Dawkins gets credit for coining the term in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. As Wikipedia helpfully explains:

“Dawkins wrote that evolution depended not on the particular chemical basis of genetics, but only on the existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission — in the case of biological evolution, the gene. For Dawkins, the meme exemplified another self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution.”

So “yes” in that an internet factoid could be a trivial example of the concept, “no” in the sense that some folks felt that these “replicating cultural entities” could do much more than entertain. They could conceivably warp human history, indeed even human evolution, as part of their process of natural selection. So if conspiracy explanations on the internet are in fact “memes,” QAnon is a research opportunity of major importance.

Alas, the study of memes hasn’t prospered, has failed to be naturally selected if you will for obvious (to me anyway) reasons: How do you operationalize the concept? How do you define and measure a meme so that it is possible to trace its ecology, evolution and spread? Also IMHO the concept carries an alarming burden of social Darwinism.

But if, conceptually, “meme” has such social Darwinist baggage, is discounting it as social science so unfortunate? Well, maybe, because there are analogous phenomena in the physical sciences: “quasiparticles” and “collective excitations.” These “are emergent phenomena that occur when a microscopically complicated system such as a solid behaves as if it contained different weakly interacting particles in vacuum.” Yeah, your computer and phone and any electronic solid state thing depend on an “emergent phenomenon.” Human consciousness is sometimes speculatively described as an emergent phenomena, a consequence of neural size and complexity. It may be that mass culture has emergent properties as well.

I think we’re in the process of finding out, through experience rather than research.

Postscript: Among the people who took memes seriously is the science fiction author John Barnes. He wrote a series of speculative novels around memes, wherein he turned memes into something resembling computer viruses. All of the books are good albeit some are seriously depressing. I’d recommend (in order) Candle and The Sky So Big and Black. Barnes has gotten favorable cover blurbs from both Poul Anderson and Steven Brust…


I’ve been known to complain about genre fiction, about how so much of it consists of variations on the same old elements with maybe popular concerns thrown in for seasoning… or maybe to justify, socially redeem, the whole project.

On the other hand, occasionally someone like Gökalp Gönen comes along to take the same old (in this case, quite old: Isaac Asimov, but also more recent: steam punk, and 2001, not to mention a certain kind of wordy play I might have attended back in the 1970s) same old and do something quite creative none-the-less. For me, this video is wow… just wow.

Note that subtitles in various languages, including English, are available.

I think the title is intended to add another dimension of meaning to the video, but I’m not competent to pursue that. My Sanskrit is a tad rusty, begging your pardon. Apparently avarya is used as a feminine name, implying sweetly irresistible.