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March 24, 2022
[lol] Why We Use “lol” So Much … A deep-dive into LOL. ‘We use lol as a way of downplaying a statement; adding irony, levity, humility, empathy, or commiseration; expressing amusement; or just neutral acknowledgment. No longer simply an internet acronym that’s entered the mainstream, lol is an example of how language evolves over time, adheres to new grammatical rules, and creates community around the people that use it.’
March 23, 2022
[politics] Manufactured Culture War Outrage Calendar … created by @WebofEvil. ‘Easter Eggs, not Chocolate Eggs. But not Halal Easter Eggs.’

Manufactured Culture War Outrage Calendar

March 22, 2022
[war] “Z” Is the Symbol of the New Russian Politics of Aggression‘Graphically, the “Z” is clearly closer to the swastika than to any prominent Soviet symbol, such as the five-pointed star, the hammer and sickle, or the red flag. Its use seems to require a double inversion: first, the people of Ukraine—a nation that suffered some of the greatest losses at the hands of Nazi Germany and one that is currently led by a Jewish President—are rendered as Nazis; then, the Russians, who claim to be fighting for peace and “de-Nazification,” adopt a visual symbol that appears to reference the swastika.’
March 21, 2022
[comics] Zorro in Arkham: Reflecting on a Legendary Batman Saga With Writer Grant Morrison, Part 1‘Dan asked me to write Batman…. He likely saw more potential in Damian than I did, and he was right. I’d figured out that Batman as a concept was impervious to pretty much any assault. Camp Batman worked, serious Batman worked, Lego Batman worked. Dad Batman? That would work too. There had been a few ‘son of’ stories over the decades, some written by Alfred the butler as literary amuse bouches, imaginary tales of the next generation. I had the title Batman & Son in my head, like a family business, like Steptoe & Son or, for US readers, Sanford & Son. I gambled that having a deadly aristocratic ninja brat for a kid would only make Batman cooler and add some extra complexity to his mythos…’
March 18, 2022
[tech] His software sang the words of God. Then it went silent. … A really sad, powerful story about how software can die with it’s creator, teaching Torah, loss and about a million other things. ‘I first heard it played to me over the phone from a copy that hadn’t yet ceased to function. It was a voice unlike any I’d ever heard: not human but made by humans, generated by a piece of computer code dating to the 1980s, singing words of a text from the Bronze Age in a cadence handed down, from one singer to another, over thousands of years. TropeTrainer was software that had been taught to sing the words of God. Then it went silent…’
March 16, 2022
[tv] How tainted is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 25 years on?‘And then there were the show’s gender politics: for while it foregrounded many empowered women, it also featured a problematic male lead in the shape of Xander. There were other examples of toxic and fragile masculinity on the show, like the reprisal of teenage boy villains into The Trio in series six, but the difference was that Xander was positioned as a nice guy – and rewatching the series now, that’s something which leaves a particularly bad taste. A pretty girl couldn’t walk by without Xander oggling or pestering them, and it mostly goes unquestioned, especially where Buffy is concerned. His entitled attitude towards her and animosity towards every guy she dates is nauseating to watch.’
March 15, 2022
[tv] Artie Bucco Would Like You To Try Some Food … Mastercut of Artie Bucco from The Sopranos offering people food to try.

March 14, 2022
[life] UK Lottery Simulator – Playing The Lottery 1,000 Times Per Second … An animation on Reddit showing how little chance you have of winning the UK lottery.
March 10, 2022
[comics] The Lawsuit that Reshaped Sonic the Hedgehog Comics … I’ve always known that Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comics were long-running and complex, but I’ve never heard about the legal case that led to a complete reset of the series. ‘Things started looking grim in late 2012, when Archie suddenly fired its entire legal team. The company had been unable to produce Penders’ work-for-hire contract, which would have given control of his creations to Sega. Penders claimed the contract had never existed. A heavily circulated Tumblr post outlining the case (which has been corroborated as a reliable source by Penders) explains that while Archie did provide a photocopy of a contract allegedly signed by Penders in 1996, Penders claimed that the document was a forgery. That it was neither an original copy nor a contract from the beginning of the writer’s tenure at Archie meant that its validity was questionable. Making things worse, Archie couldn’t produce an original copy of any previous contributor’s contract, meaning that any writer or artist who had worked on the Archie Sonic line could potentially follow in Penders’s footsteps and reclaim their work.’
March 9, 2022
[tv] Charlie Brooker: ‘Mr Dystopia? That makes me sound like a wrestler’ … A catch up with Charlie Brooker.

Before he was Mr Interactive, Charlie Brooker was Mr Dystopia, creating disturbing, prescient vistas of the very near future. What if the prime minister had to have sex with a pig, live on air? What if anxious modern parenting turned into 24-hour hyper-surveillance? Even Nathan Barley, his 2005 comedy co-written with Chris Morris, came eerily to pass. That eponymous, portfolio-careered hipster could have been written yesterday. “That makes me sound like a wrestler,” Brooker says, not without satisfaction. “A really mean, horrible wrestler. Here he comes, in the blue corner: Mr Dystopia.”

It’s not so much that he predicted things, and then they happened, he says. Rather, Black Mirror plots were “extrapolations of whatever was already happening”. The pig plot was inspired by Gordon Brown’s Gillian Duffy moment, when he called a Labour voter a bigoted woman and “had to go and apologise, and it became this bizarre circus of calamity. I was just watching it thinking, ‘No one’s in charge here.’”

March 8, 2022
[weird] This Mysterious Computer Could Prove Time Travel Exists … The Dodleston Messages – a crazy story from the 1980s about a haunted, time-travelling BBC Micro!

March 7, 2022
[life] A must-read book? Go on, make me … Why is it when a friend or review recommends something as must read or must watch we often get annoyed and reject the advice. ‘When it comes to, say, TV shows about competitive baking, I resist the pull of the crowd because I’m confident I’m not missing much. In the case of Hamilton or Boyhood, I’m sure my perversity is costing me real enjoyment. So what’s going on? One explanation is what psychologists call “optimal distinctiveness theory” – the way we’re constantly jockeying to feel exactly the right degree of similarity to and difference from those around us. Nobody wants to be exiled from the in-group to the fringes of society; but nobody wants to be swallowed up by it, either. In toddlerhood and teenagerhood, this manifests as a bloody-minded refusal to do what we’re told, precisely to show we can disobey our parents. Perhaps it never entirely goes away.’
March 4, 2022
[watergate] How G. Gordon Liddy Bungled Watergate With an Office-Supply Request … An enjoyable profile of G. Gordon Liddy’s involvement in Watergate. ‘Liddy’s antics worried some in the White House, but rather than shut him down or block his wildest schemes, he was instead foisted on the president’s reelection campaign as 1971 ended, to head up intelligence gathering efforts. There wasn’t a great deal of mystery to Liddy’s new secret mission on the campaign. A few days after he started on the reelection effort, Liddy stopped back at the White House to complain to White House counsel John Dean: The deputy campaign director, Jeb Stuart Magruder, was going around introducing Liddy as the “our man in charge of dirty tricks.” As Liddy said, “Magruder’s an asshole, John, and he’s going to blow my cover.” As Dean later recalled, he, annoyed, called Magruder: If you’ve hired someone to carry out your dirty tricks, it’s best if you don’t advertise that fact.’
March 2, 2022
[comics] “True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee” Author Interview by Tegan O’Neil … Abraham Riesman discusses his new biography of Stan Lee.

You can try to glean life lessons from Stan’s arc, but I feel like they’re all relatively obvious: thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet, and so on. The harder thing to process is the twofold ambiguity of his life.

There’s the factual ambiguity of who created the Marvel pantheon, which is a dilemma that will probably never be resolved. And then there’s the moral ambiguity of asking whether he was a “good” man or not, which is a similarly unanswerable question, albeit for different reasons. The human mind wants to reject ambiguity; we want to say some things are incontrovertible facts and that the people we like or hate are objectively good or bad. But the reality of existence is uncertainty: constant, chaotic, and infuriating. You can either lie to yourself for certainty—and, to be sure, we all have to do that for certain aspects of life—or you can be honest and confront the answerlessness of the world.

March 1, 2022
[comics] Kevin O’Neill’s ‘Mek Memoirs’ … Scans from an obscure, early Kevin O’Neill robot comic. More details on Kev’s early work here.

Kevin O'Neil Mek Memoir Comic Cover

February 28, 2022
[podcasts] Death by Conspiracy? … I’ve really been enjoying this BBC podcast’s deep dive into the death from Covid of a UK man drawn into the web of online conspiracies.
February 24, 2022
[web] The adorable love story behind Wikipedia’s ‘high five’ photos … Occasionally the Internet can produce a wonderfully wholesome story. ‘Thanks to an overabundance of time alone with my laptop and a growing pile of responsibilities that I wanted to push off, I found myself fixated on these photos recently. I became increasingly convinced that there was nothing platonic about this high five — I mean, you can feel the chemistry through the screen. Just look at her smile in the first frame! Look at their gazes in the third frame! There’s no way two people so young and so beautiful could exchange such a flirty high five without feeling flutters of the heart. I couldn’t help but wonder what their story was — and what had happened to them. So I launched an investigation…’
February 22, 2022
[movies] Alien in 60 Seconds … A wonderfully condensed and low budget version of Alien. [via Kottke]

February 21, 2022
[cannonball] Is This the End of the Cannonball Run? … How Covid-19 killed the Cannonball Run. ‘The following March, the world shut down, and the nation’s empty highways looked enticing to potential Cannonballers. Bolian said the record was broken 12 times during the early months of the pandemic. “It was just an unimaginable set of circumstances,” he says.’
February 18, 2022
[web] Resurrecting the old Wordle for procrastinators … How to avoid NYT Wordle and carry on using the original version.
February 17, 2022
[radio] Cataloguing BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time using Dewey Decimal Classification … Stuart from Feeling Listless has categorised every episode of In Our Time. ‘Classification is automatically a compromise. You’re applying a numerical label to an object which it wasn’t really designed for, so on some occasions, especially with something like In Our Time which revels in obtuse topics, there isn’t a perfect place for the episode to go. Also I’ve only used the a heading when it pertains to an episode which is why it looks like there are gaps in the sequence. Melvyn and the gang haven’t covered every sub-division in the DDC.’
February 14, 2022
[valentines] AI Generated: Love Hearts and Valentines Day Cards … Some good, some Bizarro World. More love hearts here.

Ai Generated Love Hearts

February 11, 2022
[cummings] What Dominic Cummings Gets Wrong … More analysis of Dominic Cummings. ‘Ultimately this is what Cummings gets wrong. Regulation, institutional norms, information transparency, processes, are more important than brilliant people. Because it is only those things that stand in the way of bad actors destroying systems. It is the current absence of these things causing America so many problems because Trump is a really bad actor.’
February 9, 2022
[experts] Why Is It So Hard to Predict the Future? … A look at why experts find predicting the future correctly difficult. ‘The integrators outperformed their colleagues in pretty much every way, but especially trounced them on long-term predictions. Eventually, Tetlock bestowed nicknames (borrowed from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin) on the experts he’d observed: The highly specialized hedgehogs knew “one big thing,” while the integrator foxes knew “many little things.” Hedgehogs are deeply and tightly focused. Some have spent their career studying one problem. Like Ehrlich and Simon, they fashion tidy theories of how the world works based on observations through the single lens of their specialty. Foxes, meanwhile, “draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradiction,” Tetlock wrote. Where hedgehogs represent narrowness, foxes embody breadth.’
February 8, 2022
[fb] The end of the metaverse hopefully … Some analysis on the future of Facebook/Meta. ‘Basically, Facebook and Instagram is Squid Game, the algorithm is the big piggy bank, and the last three traumatized contestants in tuxedos armed with knives are an out-of-work magician, an antivax chiropractor, and a QAnon mom from Tuscon who runs a drop-shipping pyramid scheme. Which, of course, is not a platform that users will want to use. But it’s all Facebook has to fall back on now that its attempts to “build the metaverse” have been exposed as an absolutely ridiculous bluster.’
February 7, 2022
[tv] The FBI is going crazy-stringboard crazy … Slate takes a look at the Crazy Wall trope often used in TV and movies. ‘Nowadays, some might chalk up the explosion of this trope to prestige television and cinema trying to advance a complicated plotline. This is why journalist Richard Benson in 2015 called our age the “Post-it Procedural.” For example, the Baltimore detectives in The Wire, now almost 20 years old, tried to crack a complicated drug ring using a board to pin up all the photos, press clippings, and index cards with information on the suspects. The board—and the data flowing in from the detectives—became the focal point of the investigation and the show, helping the audience to know who and what was important. If it was on the big board, it mattered.’
February 3, 2022
[comics] Leo Baxendale: Bash Street UnPlugged … A Radio 4 documentary from 1995 about Leo Baxendale the creator of the Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx and Sweeney Toddler comic strips.
February 2, 2022
February 1, 2022
[tech] Watch an AI Outplay Tetris … There’s something slightly uncanny about watching this AI coolly and efficiently beat NES Tetris. More details here. ‘Like human players, Cannon’s impressive StackRabbit AI gets better at playing Tetris through repeatedly playing and analyzing the game to develop improved strategies. But unlike human players, StackRabbit has nerves of steel and doesn’t start to panic as the ever-growing stack of tetrominoes approaches the top of the play board, which it pairs with lightning-quick reflexes to play one of the most mesmerizing and impressive rounds of Tetris you’ve probably ever seen.’
January 31, 2022
[comics] “We Get To Do Whatever We Want!”: An Interview with Sean Phillips … Covering Phillips long career. On Vertigo Comics: ‘Looking back I can see Vertigo was something special and changed comics for the better, but I couldn’t see that at the time. When I’m drawing a comic I’m focused on one panel at a time and it’s difficult to see the bigger picture.’