A blurry image…

Ted Chiang, writing in the New Yorker (New Yorker link, Archive.org link) finds a neat analogy for what ChatGPT does with the information it was trained on:

Think of ChatGPT as a blurry jpeg of all the text on the Web. It retains much of the information on the Web, in the same way that a jpeg retains much of the information of a higher-resolution image, but, if you’re looking for an exact sequence of bits, you won’t find it; all you will ever get is an approximation. But, because the approximation is presented in the form of grammatical text, which ChatGPT excels at creating, it’s usually acceptable. You’re still looking at a blurry jpeg, but the blurriness occurs in a way that doesn’t make the picture as a whole look less sharp.

Lossy JPEGs served the World Wide Web well for the first decade or so of its’ existence, but nobody should mistake them for the original images. And yet almost everyone does precisely that. They’re good enough for most practical purposes, so long as they’re not littered with compression artefacts.

[Via MetaFilter]


David Friedman has had enough:

A few weeks ago, on April 14th, the theme of the New York Times crossword puzzle was “keming.” I think it’s time we talk seriously about elevating that word from internet joke and finally adding it to the dictionary. To that end, I’ve started a petition imploring Merriam-Webster to add “keming” to their dictionary, and you should sign to show your support for this important issue.

A fair point.

[Via Pixel Envy]

Dave Winer, Revolutionary

Dave Winer wants publishing platforms to stop locking writers into using the platforms’ own writing tools to compose content:1

I’d like to see someone like Substack or Medium, for example, who says “Write your stuff in your favorite writing tool, export it in Markdown, and give us the link. We’ll take it from there.”

That way you could:

  1. Use a tool that fits your writing style perfectly.
  2. Developers would be incentivized to create such tools.
  3. You could use more than one service, say use Substack to manage your mail list, and Medium to manage your web presence, and Facebook for discussion among your friends, Slack to discuss among your work colleagues. […]
  4. Great archival services could come about because they could be one of the services you cc on your writing.
  5. Service providers could make custom toolkits to make it easy for tools to adapt to this interface. […]
  6. Who knows what else will come about.


It’s amazing that we have this incredibly powerful network, but the business models of service providers protect their services by not allowing writers a choice in writing tools.

Everyone wants to make money and try to build an empire on the basis of their suddenly being an essential middle-man. Even if that entails complicating the task of providing access to (mostly text) files over a network, a process that the World Wide Web made a pretty decent start on resolving a couple of decades ago.

  1. Apologies to Dave Winer for the length of the quote from his original post, but I thought the points he was making about the implications of the basic concept he’s putting forward deserved to be spread far and wide. 

In Pain

With hindsight, it’s so obvious

Nowadays they’re screaming just as hard (even louder, if anything), but by default we’ve muted that sound. Clever us.

[Via RT by @BenHammersley]

The Soundtrack Of Their Census

Turns out that Canada’s 2021 Census has a soundtrack:

2021 Census soundtrack

As Canada’s statistical portrait, the census is a reflection of who we are and what makes us Canadian. Listen to our Spotify and YouTube playlists while you complete your 2021 Census questionnaire to experience the different facets of Canadian culture through the sounds of our celebrated musical talent. If these songs aren’t already among your favourite tracks, we hope that you have the opportunity to discover something new as you fill out your questionnaire online in May.

Get comfortable, press play, and let’s experience Canada’s musical talent together. […]

That seems like a really excellent idea.

I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t anything like that going on when I completed my UK Census a few weeks ago, so here’s hoping1 that’s on the To-Do list for the next census.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

  1. But then, I dread to think what varieties of music the current UK government would have chosen. Perhaps best not go there after all, at least until the current bunch of third rate chancers have moved on. 


Dan Hon reminds his readers of Layer Tennis:

Ben Hammersley [tweet] and Anil Dash [tweet] both chimed in later to remind me about Layer Tennis, which used to be both a website (perhaps initially community run, and then unsurprisingly and smartly sponsored by Adobe) and then a live event (Ben’s got a photo from 2009).

I was merely an utterly unskilled, unworthy spectator rather than a participant, but it’s still good to be reminded of something that used to be fun on the internet even though its’ days have passed. I see the last season of Layer Tennis was back in 2014.

I assume that sort of thing still goes on, but not necessarily in public.1

[Via Things That Have Caught My Attention]

  1. I see from Wikipedia that Worth1000.com, a take on the same general concept, is no more, stopping in 2013 and becoming a static copy of some of the content. Not surprising, but still a little bit of a shame. 

An experiment

Matt Webb is running an interesting little experiment on his site, aiming to build an awareness that someone else is reading a given page at the same time as you are) and letting readers highlight a portion of the content on that page for other readers who happen to be around at the same moment (e.g. participants in the same meeting, looking at the same document at the same time):

There’s no reason that Social Attention shouldn’t a one-liner to add to any website, or part of the browser itself. Maybe it should be part of a suite of social tools to make the web a well-lit, neighbourly place – with, naturally, good privacy-preserving fences.

That being said, I’m trying and failing to think of a circumstance where this would be useful to me. Given that the meetings I attend online generally lack an agenda or any minute-taking and mostly don’t involve everyone accessing a common document simultaneously to discuss/critique/pick apart, perhaps I’m just not the audience for this.

Doesn’t mean that the experiment isn’t worth doing.


How on earth did the World Wide Web ever get to the point where this needed to be written:

Newsletters; or, an enormous rant about writing on the web that doesn’t really go anywhere and that’s okay with me

I know it’s very pretty to look at, but that’s an awful design to actually use in a web browser if you want people to read the textual content.1 Despite that it’s a well written essay – though I think the attitude to RSS is completely wrong-headed – that’s certainly worth a read.

[Via Sentiers #156] 2

  1. Can’t help but add that that’s not “an enormous rant” by any reasonable definition of the term; it’s 1,755 words once you strip out all the HTML and CSS. It’s just made to feel enormous because of the mostly-one-sentence-at-a-time presentational approach. 
  2. And yes, I’m aware of the irony that I got this link via a newsletter. I’d have been happy to have got it from the RSS feed of the Sentiers blog, but that’s not how this worked out. 


Watching , I can’t help but notice that it’s unclear from the film’s storyline how far our protagonist’s lifestyle differs from that of a male social media influencer trying hard to keep their position near the top of the tree. In the near future the film depicts, are the menfolk participating in the influencer business under similar pressure to maintain a basic level of attractiveness to heterosexual followers and display a willingness to flash some flesh to keep followers on the hook?1 Or is it the case that the menfolk in that line of business are called something else, despite being every bit as superficial and vapid and mercenary as their female counterparts?2

Initially I didn’t even spot that our female lead in this short film was Gigi Edgley, who was great fun as Chiana in Farscape and who haven’t seen since then beyond a supporting role in one season3 of The Secret Life of Us. Looks as if she’s maintaining a steady career in Australian TV, which understandably is not something those of us in the UK are particularly aware of. Good to see she’s still going strong: understandable, perhaps, that I didn’t recognise her in this at first what with the lack of blue skin and the wig.

  1. I’m sure that Gigi Edgley, being a 42 year-old actress striving to keep a career going, is very conscious of the parallels with her chosen profession. 
  2. I don’t pay enough attention to the world of current-day social media influencers to have a good sense of how that works nowadays. (Well, I would think that, wouldn’t I?) 
  3. The third season, I think it was? A really good show that never got the audience it should have in the UK. Looking into it as I write this, I see that the UK’s Channel 4 was initially a co-funder of the production but that stopped after season 3, which presumably was part of the reason it disappeared from Channel 4’s schedules.