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Beautifying Yelp

June 11, 2018


Is Yelp’s new user photo classification system a case of pattern recognition as a cultural form?


Some of the 100,000 pics snapped by Yelp users each day. Until recently, user-generated content like this has been made accessible as a database, timeline or data stream. Now, using a convolutional neural network, Yelp can identify and organise images much more accurately—sorting not just by image content but also by composition, tonal balance, color palette and overall aesthetic. It’s all about surfacing “beautiful” images, apparently—and burying the ones that look like Shitty Food Porn. Which kind of defeats the purpose of a review site, and leads to the depressively same-ish, faintly Leni Riefenstahl-ish effect above. Expect more aesthetics influenced by the power of deep learning to excavate similarity and analogy, though hopefully without the Stepfordy overtones.

Paintings of paintings of paintings

May 24, 2018


A curious chapter in art history is the sudden fad for meta-paintings that blew up in Belgium in the 17th century.

If you were a wealthy, fashionable member of Antwerp’s cognoscenti living in the 1620s, you not only owned paintings—you owned paintings of paintings.


In some cases you might even acquire paintings of paintings of paintings, as in the case of this picture gallery painting attributed to Hieronymus II Francken …


I tried to enhance but that’s the highest resolution I could find (and the original is in some private collection). But there is obviously some potential for a cool, hyper-dimensional Droste effect, like the gif I made below.

It’s actually an offshoot from a li’l side project I’ve been wasting time on about recursion. It’s made with this nifty little ImageMagick script by Mark Setchell.


h/t Alexander Marr for his neat explainer, “The Flemish ‘Pictures of Collections’ Genre: An Overview” ($)

A non-exhaustive list of horses that have fallen from the sky

June 11, 2017




The horse caused by a glitch in Skyrim


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The dead horse that kills Finn’s mom due to a freak accident in this YA novel.


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The one thousand horses that fall from the sky in this folk song from Siberia

Karl Marx’s great-great-great grandson is doing parkour outside McDonald’s

May 27, 2017


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That cherubic blond guy holding the skateboard? He’s a direct descendant of Karl Marx, according to Rachael Burford of the UK’s Surrey Comet.

I’m a little late to this story, but a couple of years back he spent a week sleeping rough with two of his mates to raise money for homeless people. Which of course is precisely the sort of mealy-mouthed humanitarianism Marx dismissed as bourgeois meddling.

It turns out the apple has rolled pretty far from the tree:

Mr Marx says he flirted with his great-great-grandfather’s socialist ideals, but ultimately decided that they did not work in practice. Kingston’s McDonald’s has been the group’s base.

That would be their base for their epic parkour busking squad.

The teenagers became friends through their shared interest in free running, the art of acrobatically jumping around urban environments, and have been doing “back flips for money” to buy food.

Mr Marx, who teaches gymnastics, said: “The public reaction to us hasn’t been too bad …”

Fuck yeah comrade!

Invisible, Soft, Green

April 29, 2017


I’m obsessed with the adjective quiz questions on this educational site, which are full of existential doubt and despair.


I want to meet an invisible, soft, green alligator. It sounds a lot like Chomsky’s colorless green ideas that sleep furiously, his example of a grammatically correct nonsense statement.

But this little guy is definitely my fav.

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How To Outrun A Katamari

April 17, 2017


I’ve been working on a bunch of troll articles for WikiHow.

Here’s a preview one of them:

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“How To Outrun A Katamari”


And another:


“How To Be More Recursive”

A revised typology of Internet memes

March 21, 2017


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Fan theories

March 21, 2017


Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?



Anna is the Grand Duchess Anastasia who’s hallucinating after being shot by the Bolsheviks in 1918


Pride & Prejudice
Kitty in Pride & Prejudice is Lydia’s cat that’s why everyone ignores her and she has no personality she’s a cat

A meta-trolley problem

March 21, 2017


I wasn’t aware of the trolley problem meme when I tweeted this back in April 2016:


A runaway trolley is about to create five Trolley Problems.
Do you pull the lever and divert it, so that it only creates one?


It ended up being shared a lot on Twitter and Facebook, and was eventually featured in this New York magazine piece. I haven’t quite decided whether little social media microprojects like this are a distraction from my “real work” or are, in fact, the real work itself. I’ve made a couple more since then. An election-themed trolley problem:


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Hey third-party voters in swing states! You’re in a real-life Trolley Problem. 


And a Trolley Problem fan theory:

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Fan theory: the Trolley Problem is happening in the mind of one
of the five victims tied to the railway track; the lever doesn’t exist.


Which, when you think about it, explains why the scenario is so implausible.

My own private multiverse

March 21, 2017


I found an artist on Fiverr, alysserin, who draws 1950s-style advertising mascots. So of course I decided to request a quantum multiverse. I think she totally nailed it. And the emails it came with were pretty good too:

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