Shared posts

10 Jul 11:02

Acceptable Risk

Good thing I'm not already prone to overthinking everyday decisions!
04 Jul 14:35

Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in U.S. history

by Andy Baio
between 15 to 26 million Americans participated in protests
03 Jul 10:54

CodeSOD: locurlicenseucesss

by Remy Porter

The past few weeks, I’ve been writing software for a recording device. This is good, because when I’m frustrated by the bugs I put in the code and I start cursing at it, it’s not venting, it’s testing.

There are all sorts of other little things we can do to vent. Imagine, if you will, you find yourself writing an if with an empty body, but an else clause that does work. You’d probably be upset at yourself. You might be stunned. You might be so tired it feels like a good idea at the time. You might be deep in the throes of “just. work. goddammit”. Regardless of the source of that strain, you need to let it out somewhere.

Emmanuelle found this is a legacy PHP codebase:

    // Congratulations, you has locurlicenseucesss asdfghjk
} else {
    header("Location: feed.php");

I think being diagnosed with locurlicenseucesss should not be a cause for congratulations, but maybe I’m the one that’s confused.

Emmanuelle adds: “Honestly, I have no idea how this happened.”

[Advertisement] Continuously monitor your servers for configuration changes, and report when there's configuration drift. Get started with Otter today!
30 Jun 12:32

Reddit bans /r/The_Donald, /r/ChapoTrapHouse, and 2,000 other subreddits

by Andy Baio
also: YouTube banned Stefan Molyneux, David Duke, Richard Spencer, and more, while Twitch temporarily banned Trump
29 Jun 13:54

Pokémon Grandpa’s Incredible Phone Array

by Jason Kottke

Chen San-yuan, a Taiwanese man who has been nicknamed Pokémon Grandpa, has affixed an array of 64 phones to his bike in order to play dozens of simultaneous games of Pokémon Go.

Pokemon Grandpa

When I first posted about Chen back in Nov 2018, his mere 15-phone setup looked like this:

Pokemon Grandpa

How much bigger can he go? He’s averaging adding ~2.5 phones per month to the array (assuming linear growth, which I’m not sure we can, but let’s start there) so he could reach 100 phones by August 2021. Stay tuned!

Tags: Chen San-yuan   Pokemon   telephony   video games
29 Jun 12:55

How the Virus Won

by Andy Baio
impressive NYT data visualization of the spread of Covid-19 in the U.S.
22 Jun 11:38

Today Is Juneteenth, the USA’s Second Independence Day

by Jason Kottke

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday that started in Texas that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. From Vox’s Juneteenth, explained:

A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. But, woefully, this was almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; the Civil War was still going on, and when it ended, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger traveled to Texas and issued an order stating that all enslaved people were free, establishing a new relationship between “former masters and slaves” as “employer and hired labor.” As much as Juneteenth represents freedom, it also represents how emancipation was tragically delayed for enslaved people in the deepest reaches of the Confederacy.

And freedom was further delayed, but the holiday stuck. From What Is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

When Texas fell and Granger dispatched his now famous order No. 3, it wasn’t exactly instant magic for most of the Lone Star State’s 250,000 slaves. On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news — or wait for a government agent to arrive — and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest. Even in Galveston city, the ex-Confederate mayor flouted the Army by forcing the freed people back to work, as historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner details in her comprehensive essay, “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory,” in Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas.

Those who acted on the news did so at their peril. As quoted in Litwack’s book, former slave Susan Merritt recalled, ” ‘You could see lots of niggers hangin’ to trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom, ‘cause they cotch ‘em swimmin’ ‘cross Sabine River and shoot ‘em.’ ” In one extreme case, according to Hayes Turner, a former slave named Katie Darling continued working for her mistress another six years (She ” ‘whip me after the war jist like she did ‘fore,’ ” Darling said).

Hardly the recipe for a celebration — which is what makes the story of Juneteenth all the more remarkable. Defying confusion and delay, terror and violence, the newly “freed” black men and women of Texas, with the aid of the Freedmen’s Bureau (itself delayed from arriving until September 1865), now had a date to rally around. In one of the most inspiring grassroots efforts of the post-Civil War period, they transformed June 19 from a day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite, “Juneteenth,” beginning one year later in 1866.

From the NY Times’ collection of articles to mark the Juneteenth holiday, Veronica Chambers writes:

“Recently, I heard Angela Davis talk about the radical imagination,” Ms. [Saidiya] Hartman said. “And a fundamental requirement is believing that the world you want to come into existence can happen. I think that that is how black folks have engaged with and invested in and articulated freedom, as an ideal and as an everyday practice.”

I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has celebrated Juneteenth for a long time, I think we need it now — not in lieu of the freedom, justice and equality we are still fighting for — but in addition, because we have been fighting for so very long.

The elemental sermon embedded into the history and lore of Juneteenth has always been one of hope. The gifts of the holiday are the moments of connection, renewal and joy for a people who have had to endure so much, for so long.

Gina Cherelus shares how folks around the country celebrate, past and present — This Is How We Juneteenth:

Kenneth Timmons, who works for a federal government agency in Houston, said the first thing he usually does before every Juneteenth is take the day off work. Mr. Timmons usually invites friends over to cook and eat together.

“My co-workers know why I’m off, I tell them I don’t work Juneteenth,” Mr. Timmons, 47, said. “I don’t work on my Independence Day.”

Born and raised in Lufkin, Texas, a town more than 100 miles northeast of Houston, Mr. Timmons remembers attending community Juneteenth celebrations as a child, where he would watch rodeo shows, pageants, eat barbecue and participate in calf chasing contests.

“Even though the United States celebrates July 4 as their independence, we were still considered slaves,” said Mr. Timmons. “So for us, that is the day that our ancestors were finally released from servitude and slavery and could escape the South.”

Calls for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday have grown over the past few years. Here’s the case from the staff of The Root and Danielle Young — Juneteenth Is Finally Entering the Mainstream American Consciousness. Now Make It An Official Federal Holiday.

Forget the 4th of July! Juneteenth is the day that should be celebrated by all as a pivotal point in America’s freedom story.

93-year-old Texas resident Opal Lee is working to get Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday. You can follow her efforts here and sign her petition.

And finally, here are some ways to get involved in the movement for Juneteenth, including educational resources, events & protests, suggestions for how to invest in the Black community, places to donate, volunteer opportunities, etc.

Tags: Danielle Young   Gina Cherelus   Henry Louis Gates   holidays   Jr.   Juneteenth   Opal Lee   USA   Veronica Chambers   video
22 Jun 11:12

Wedding Bell Blues

by Madison Premo

I was a freelance video editor and worked from my home. A friend of mine was a cameraman, and his daughter was getting married. He asked how much it would be to edit her wedding video which he would shoot. I had known the guy casually for over 20 years so I said I would edit for free as the wedding present.

This was my first mistake.

After the wedding, it took months for the bride to come to my home to start the process.  The first meeting went well and I had a cut to her within a week.

Another month and she came back with changes. This happened two more times each with months in between the edits. By the third, I handed her a hand drive with all the footage and said ‘mazeltov’.  She was pleased and I assumed the job was complete.

Second mistake.

I moved from freelance to a regular day job which I fully enjoy. I put my editing system into storage and had no more home clients. 

A year and a half later I received an email from the bride:

Client: I’m ready to get to work on this! I’m available now!

I emailed her back:

Me: I’m retired. 

The post Wedding Bell Blues appeared first on Clients From Hell.

22 Jun 09:34

Biologists Have Found a Way to Convert All Donated Blood to Type 'O'

by Information is Beautiful
Without blood groups, transfusions would be way easier. A newly discovered enzyme in the human gut can strip the sugars from type A and B to transform it into O, the blood type most people can accept. If it proves to be safe, it could revolutionise donation. More blood available. More lives saved.
19 Jun 12:37

A disaster movie trailer for the year 2020

2020-movie-trailer.jpg YouTuber Grim Sausage cut together the year 2020 as a disaster movie trailer and it's one of the scariest things I've ever seen. If this was the trailer for World War Z you'd say the most realistic part was the zombies, because there's no way Earth could ever get that messed up. Keep going for the full, terrifying video.
19 Jun 09:51

Beautiful bastard Rickrolls the actual Rick Astley

rickroll-rick-astley copy.jpg In what can only be described as peak internet, Reddit user theMalleableDuck managed to Rickroll the actual Rick Astley. You can read the original thread here, though the screenshot captures the essence of it. Upon further inspection, there's no evidence Rick Astley actually clicked the link, so if we want to be as pedantic as possible about this, what we have here is a Rick Astley-approved attempt at Rickrolling Rick Astley. Although honestly, to even attempt it is worth applause. Somebody buy this guy some memes. They've earned it.
17 Jun 09:59

An Oral History of Mad Max: Fury Road

by Jason Kottke

Fury Road

The endlessly rewatchable Mad Max: Fury Road has become one of my absolute favorite films, so I really enjoyed digging into this oral history of the movie (with contributions from director George Miller, editor Margaret Sixel, Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and many others). It is a miracle this thing got made and downright impossible that it was so good.

HARDY: Charlize arguably laid down the finest lead character in an action movie, and that credit is much deserved, in my opinion; both to her as a phenomenal talent and also to George for recognizing from the very start that it was time to pass Mel’s shoes onto Furiosa.

THERON: At first, Furiosa was this very ethereal character, with long hair and some African mud art on her face. It was a different costume designer back then, before Jenny Beavan, and the costume felt a little more Barbarella-y. I worried about it.

JENNY BEAVAN (costume designer): I am not into fashion, and I don’t particularly care what people look like — the clothes have to come out of the stories they tell. Since she travels long distances, Furiosa needed very practical clothing, and when I met with Charlize, that was one of the things we talked about. That, and what on earth would she do with her hair?

THERON: George was really incredible in just hearing me out. I called him and said, “I don’t know how she’s getting by in the mechanics’ room with all this hair. I think we need to shave my head, and she needs to be a more androgynous, grounded character.” You know, he trusted me so much that it kind of makes me emotional. In that sense, I feel like I let him down.

Sixel won an Oscar for her editing of Fury Road:

SIXEL: There was this constant thing from the studio: “How much shorter is it?” That’s all they wanted to know. I just got so sick of it. They were just obsessed with getting the film under 100 minutes, which I knew was impossible.

MILLER: When someone is directing a film, they’re thinking about it every waking hour, and even processing it in their dreams. The problem is, if you’re a studio executive, you tend to think about it for 10 minutes on a Wednesday.

SIXEL: It was an incredibly painful film to cut. I think the studio didn’t believe in it, so it was really difficult to keep going. Eventually George and I decided, “We’re just going to make the film we want to make, and if no one else likes it, that’s fine.” And that last four months is when the film really came together.

And it blew people away and was taken seriously when it came out, which surprised the filmmakers:

MILLER: In Japan, there was a critic who was telling me about the film, and I was astonished by the degree to which he read the subtext, all the stuff you hope is there. I said, “How many times did you see the film?” He said, “Only once. Can I show you something?” And he opened up his shirt, and he had the logo of the Immortan tattooed in red on his chest. So when you see things like that, you’re sort of humbled by it.

(thx, david)

Update: The author of the oral history shared some outtakes on Twitter.

The first time Charlize Theron saw FURY ROAD, it was a 3-and-a half hour cut, and she fell hard for it: “I felt like for the first time in my career, I was part of something where you could truly say, ‘This feels original.’”

And Theron herself posted some photos, videos, and memories of the filming, including this:

I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing my war rig for the first time and realizing holy shit, George is not f*cking around.

She also posted the photo at the top of this post. (via @thatneilguy)

Tags: Charlize Theron   George Miller   Mad Max   Margaret Sixel   movies
17 Jun 08:45

A Microscopic Chemical Reaction Goes Supernova

by Jason Kottke

This short film by Roman Hill shows a chemical reaction at microscopically close range, all filmed in a single shot over an area of a third of an inch square. The result looks like a tour of a vast colorful cosmos, a reminder of how similar the different scales of our universe can appear sometimes. (thx, cs)

Tags: mesmerizing   Roman Hill   video
16 Jun 11:02

John Cleese on Extremism

by Jason Kottke

In a clip from a TV advertisement for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, John Cleese entertainingly talks about the benefits of extremism.

The biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good — because it provides you with enemies. Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies and all the goodness in the whole world is in you.

Even if you don’t believe that moderate politics is the way forward (and I wonder if anyone does anymore), you can appreciate the truth that having external enemies can prevent you from discovering and addressing your views and practices that are harming others and that you need to work on.

Tags: John Cleese   politics   video
15 Jun 08:56

You Should Be Feeling Miserable

by Jason Kottke

WNYC editor and critic Rebecca Carroll on what she wants white people to do for Black Americans (besides stop killing them):

The other day, a childhood friend of mine who now lives abroad called me out of the blue in tears: “How can this be happening? I’m so sorry about what’s happening in America, but more so what’s happening to black people in America. I don’t know what to do. I just feel miserable and I can’t stop crying.”

“Lean into that,” I said. “That’s the appropriate response.” Miserable is exactly how the white people who want to help should be feeling right now, and then they should sit with that misery until something breaks in their brain, the narrative changes in their psyche, and the legacy of emotional paralysis lifts entirely. I don’t mean self-serving sadness or performative tears, but rather a bone-deep sense of agony and grief that forces the humanization of black people. We can’t matter unless we are seen as human beings first.

Tags: Rebecca Carroll
10 Jun 08:54

New Bill & Ted Movie Gets Its First Trailer

new-bill-and-ted-trailer.jpg This is the first official trailer for Bill & Ted Face The Music, coming out this summer. From what I could gather, the plot involves Bill and Ted attempting to travel to the future to steal the song that unites the world and saves reality as we know it from their future selves, since they're having trouble writing it in the present and figure it will already exist in the future. That is some sound logic. But will they take Napoleon to another water park?! If they're hoping for a fresh Rotten Tomato rating from me they will. Keep going for the trailer.
05 Jun 13:05

Five Quick Links for Wednesday Noonish

by Jason Kottke
03 Jun 13:53

Caught on camera, police explode in rage and violence across the US

by Andy Baio
"the most comprehensive live picture of police brutality ever"
29 May 10:43

I Love Appetizers: Impressive Tapas Making LEGO Machine

This is a video demonstration of the LEGO Tapas Factory constructed by LEGO builder The Brick Wall. The machine is capable of slicing bread, then loading each slice with a variety of ingredients via two conveyor belts, then impaling the bread with a skewer, attaching tomato and cheese. Simple! And by simple I mean it would have been infinitely easier to just ask your mom if she'll make you a snack. I remember when I was a kid whenever I'd take a nap my mom would leave a bowl of berries outside my door for when I woke up. Those were the days. Now? These are not the days. *liberally pouring gasoline in the dumpster that is 2020* Not by a long shot. Keep going for the full video demo.
13 May 07:57

Guy Inhales Helium And Sulfur Hexafluoride Simultaneously To See What He'll Sound Like

helium-and-sulfur-hexafluoride-at-the-same-time.jpg This is a video of Cody of Cody's Lab (previously: flushing 152 pounds of liquid mercury down a toilet, floating an anvil in liquid mercury, and taste-testing mercury a few times) inhaling helium (low molecular weight, creates high speed of sound) and sulfur hexafluoride (high molecular weight, creates low speed of sound) simultaneously to see (hear) what he sounds like. Do they even each other out? Not really, his tone sort of alternates between high and low, which he attributes to preventing the gases from mixing the best that he could (he references other people who have tried this on Youtube ending with an average tone, which he says is a result of the gases mixing in the lungs due to talking, and, despite it sounding counterintuitive, not breathing the helium first). So, there you have it, science at work. And later? *opens side of overcoat to reveal graduated cylinder and volumetric flask shaped sex toys* Science at play. Keep going for the video while I walk by the nearest gas station for a little heavy breathing.
13 May 07:57

Oh, Internet: Seals Perform Seal's 'Kiss From A Rose'

seals-bark-seal.jpg Because the internet never stops churning out the hits, this is a video of seals barking edited to perform a snippet of Seal's 1995 Batman Forever closing credits classic 'Kiss From A Rose'. I insisted my girlfriend watch it and she hated it. Although as a rule anything that I laugh out loud watching on my phone next to her in bed, she hates. I don't even wait for her to ask what I'm laughing at anymore because I know she doesn't want to see it. It's heartbreaking really. Great now she's glaring at me. Keep going for the video.
11 May 08:45

The Plan Is to Have No Plan

by Jason Kottke

This short description by Jay Rosen accurately describes the Trump administration’s plan for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible — by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign.

While his actions often have complex effects, Trump has never been a complicated person. This “plan” fits with what we know about Trump’s personality & behavior, plays to his strengths by relying on reactions & tactics and not strategy, is consistent with Occam’s razor, allows his administration to continue pursuing his aggressive agenda (restricting immigration, strengthening big business, weakening public institutions, enriching himself, consolidating power, getting re-elected), and whips his base into a frenzy. As Dave Eggers put it in a satirical opinion piece for the NY Times:

Having no plan is the plan! Haven’t you been listening? Plans are for commies and the Danish. Here we do it fast and loose and dumb and wrong, and occasionally we have a man who manufactures pillows come to the White House to show the president encouraging texts. It all works! Eighteen months, 800,000 deaths, no plan, states bidding against states for medicine and equipment, you’re on your own, plans are lame.

There’s no galaxy brain here, only a twitchy muscle attached to a frayed nerve.

Tags: COVID-19   Donald Trump   Jay Rosen   politics
06 May 10:07

Hummingbird Spy Copter Flies Through A Monarch Butterfly Swarm

This is a video from Nature on PBS partially shot by a spy copter disguised as a hummingbird so it can fly through a monarch butterfly swarm in Mexico with minimal disturbance. There's so many of them -- they look like flying leaves. Moths? Moths are flying dead leaves. I refuse to even donate one to Blathers in Animal Crossing because I don't want it in my museum. Keep going for the full video while I suggest next time they try to outfit that hummer with a nicer camera because some of that footage looked like a scrambled cable channel.
06 May 09:26

User Submitted Post

by Gabriel

I’m an industrial and interior designer. For a client’s research project, I designed and built an interactive installation, with VR and physical interactions. Everything went quite well for this part, but at the end when I offered to create promotional content (high-quality photos and videos), the client told me there was no more budget, and asked me if I could still create the content.

Client: I have no research budget for the photos and videos. Can you still do it?

Me: Well… I have to do it for my portfolio anyway… But it’s going to be more “modest” than what I would have done with budget, and it’s going to be focused for my personal use. But I can share the content with you once it’s done!

Client: OK! I just need it for my PhD defense. 

Me: OK! If you don’t mind I will ask you to pay the costs 50-50 with me. So just like 80$ to pay a photographer friend a little bit and rent some additional filming equipment. He will bring his cameras for free and we will be the models in the videos and photos.

We did everything and ended up with good footage and photos, which I shared with her right away.

Three weeks later:

Client: Hey! So, is the video done? I need it in 3 months.

Me: Well, it’s not. I am sorry, but the thing is… I learned that I have cancer. So I will not be able to edit the footage and make a quality video. I need to focus on my health. But I can refer you a friend to help you with the video, it’s due in 3 months, it’s really doable.

Client: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that! But you put me in trouble, you know. I don’t have any money to pay your friend. You told me you could make the video. I was relying on you!

Me: Well, like I said, I have CANCER. 

Client: I know and I am really sorry for you and wish you the best, BUT… When I tell someone I can do something for them, I try to be true to my word…

Me: Well… How long do you want your video?

Client: 10 minutes.

Me: What? Sorry, it won’t be possible and I think there was a misunderstanding. I offered to share a video I would do for MYSELF, for my portfolio. Something 1 minute long, max. You can’t possibly think that for $80, you would get professional quality photos and footage, and get me to work like 20 hours to make a professional 10 minute video, right? Already, you got the content and you paid practically nothing for it.

Client: WHAT? I paid nothing? I paid $80 and you told me you would make me a video! I was there for 4 hours when you filmed and took photos. I modeled. I worked and helped you, you know, it’s worth something! 

Me: I was there as well, directing the video without a scenario because you couldn’t pay me to prepare one. I was there for more than 4 hours, and managed everything. And… I HAVE CANCER, REMEMBER?

Client: If I knew you would drop me like that, I would just have taken pictures and videos with my iPhone.

What. The. Hell. 

The post User Submitted Post appeared first on Clients From Hell.

04 May 17:00

Spying on the Scammers

by Andy Baio
next-level exposé of tech support scammers with complete access to CCTV and internal systems, eventually ending in arrests
04 May 16:22

Watch a Monarch Butterfly Swarm (Filmed by a Drone Disguised as a Hummingbird)

by Jason Kottke

For an upcoming episode of a show called Spy in the Wild, PBS’s Nature used a tiny drone disguised as a hummingbird to capture footage of a swarm of half a billion monarch butterflies as they overwinter in Mexico. The butterflies pay the hummingbird robot little mind:

Hummingbird Drone

The monarch butterfly is under increasing pressure due to habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change, driving down their population.

The current state of the smaller western population of monarchs that overwinter in California is more dire than their eastern counterparts. The western population crashed by 99% in the latest count, reaching a historic low of fewer than 30,000 butterflies for the second year in a row, down from 1.2 million two decades ago.

Both butterfly populations are below the threshold at which government scientists predict the migrations could collapse. Federal scientists estimate there is nearly a 60% chance the monarch’s spectacular, multigenerational migration in the eastern half of the country could completely collapse within the next 20 years.

(via @MachinePix)

Tags: butterflies   drones   video
04 May 16:14

With questionable copyright claim, Jay-Z orders deepfake audio parodies off YouTube

by Andy Baio

On Friday, I linked to several videos by Vocal Synthesis, a new YouTube channel dedicated to audio deepfakes — AI-generated speech that mimics human voices, synthesized from text by training a state-of-the-art neural network on a large corpus of audio.

The videos are remarkable, pairing famous voices with unlikely dialogue: Bob Dylan singing Britney Spears, Ayn Rand and Slavoj Žižek dueting Sonny and Cher, Tucker Carlson reading the Unabomber Manifesto, Bill Clinton reciting “Baby Got Back,” or JFK touting the intellectual merits of Rick and Morty.

Many of the videos have been remixed by fans, adding music to create hilarious and surreal musical mashups. Six U.S. presidents from FDR to Obama rap N.W.A.’s, Fuck Tha Police, George W. Bush covers 50 Cent’s In Da Club, Obama covers Notorious B.I.G.’s Juicy, and my personal favorite, Sinatra slurring his way through the Navy Seal copypasta, a decade-old 4chan meme.

Videos Taken Offline

Over the weekend, for the first time, the anonymous creator of Vocal Synthesis received a copyright claim on YouTube, taking two of his videos offline with deepfaked audio of Jay-Z reciting the “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

According to the creator, the copyright claims were filed by Roc Nation LLC with an unusual reason for removal: “This content unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our client’s voice.”

Both videos were immediately removed by YouTube, but can still be viewed on LBRY, a decentralized and open-source publishing platform. Two synthetic Jay-Z videos remained online, in which he raps the Book of Genesis and the Navy Seal copypasta. (Update: The videos were temporarily reinstated by Google. See updates below.)

The video’s creator announced the takedown in a creative way: using the voices of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, JFK, and FDR.

Here’s an excerpt transcript from the video:

“Over the past few months, the creator of the channel has trained dozens of speech synthesis models based on the speech patterns of various celebrities or other prominent figures, and has used these models to generate more than one hundred videos for this channel. These videos typically feature a synthetic celebrity voice narrating some short text or a speech. Often, the particular text was selected in order to provide a funny or entertaining contrast with the celebrity’s real-life persona.

“For example, some of my favorites are George W. Bush performing a spoken-word version of “In Da Club” by 50 Cent, or Franklin Roosevelt’s powerful rendition of the Navy Seals Copypasta.

“The channel was created by an individual hobbyist with a huge amount of free time on his hands, as well as an interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. He would like to emphasize that all of the videos on this channel were intended as entertainment, and there was no malicious purpose for any of them.

“Every video, including this one, is clearly labeled as speech synthesis in both the title and description. Which brings us to the reason why we’re delivering this message.

“Over the past two days, several videos were posted to the channel featuring a synthetic Jay-Z rapping various texts, including the Navy Seals Copypasta, the Book of Genesis, the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel, and the “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet.

“Unfortunately, for the first time since the channel began, YouTube took down two of these videos yesterday as a result of a copyright strike. The strike was requested by Roc Nation LLC, with the stated reason being that it, quote, “unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our client’s voice.”

“Obviously, Donald and I are both disappointed that Jay-Z and Roc Nation have decided to bully a small YouTuber in this way. It’s also disappointing that YouTube would choose once again to stifle creativity by reflexively siding with powerful companies over small content creators. Specifically, it’s a little ironic that YouTube would accept “AI impersonation” as a reason for a copyright strike, when Google itself has successfully argued in the case of “Authors Guild v. Google” that machine learning models trained on copyrighted material should be protected under fair use.”

No Intent to Deceive

At its core, the controversy over deepfakes is about deception and disinformation. Earlier this year, Facebook and Twitter banned deepfakes that could mislead or cause harm, largely motivated by their potential impact on the 2020 elections.

Though it’s worth nothing that the use of deepfakes for fake news is largely theoretical so far, as Samantha Cole covered for VICE, with most created for porn. (And, no, Joe Biden sticking his tongue is not a deepfake.)

In this case, there’s no deception involved. As he wrote in his statement, every Vocal Synthesis video is clearly labeled as speech synthesis in the title and description, and falls outside of YouTube’s guidelines for manipulated media.

Copyright and Fair Use

With these takedowns, Roc Nation is making two claims:

  1. These videos are an infringing use of Jay-Z’s copyright.
  2. The videos “unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our client’s voice.”

But are either of these true? With a technology this new, we’re in untested legal waters.

The Vocal Synthesis audio clips were created by training a model with a large corpus of audio samples and text transcriptions. In this case, he fed Jay-Z songs and lyrics into Tacotron 2, a neural network architecture developed by Google.

It seems reasonable to assume that a model and audio generated from copyrighted audio recordings would be considered derivative works.

But is it copyright infringement? Like virtually everything in the world of copyright, it depends—on how it was used, and for what purpose.

It’s easy to imagine a court finding that many uses of this technology would infringe copyright or, in many states, publicity rights. For example, if a record producer made Jay-Z guest on a new single without his knowledge or permission, or if a startup made him endorse their new product in a commercial, they would have a clear legal recourse.

But, as the Vocal Synthesis creator pointed out, there’s a strong case to be made this derivative work should be protected as a “fair use.” Fair use can get very complicated, with different courts reaching different outcomes for very similar cases. But there are four factors judges use when weighing a fair use defense in federal court:

  1. The purpose and character of the use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market.

There’s a strong case for transformation with the Vocal Synthesis videos. None of the original work is used in any recognizable form—it’s not sampled in a traditional way, using an undisclosed set of vocal samples, stripped from their instrumentals and context, to generate an amalgam of the speaker.

And in most cases, it’s clearly designed as parody with an intent to entertain, not deceive. Making politicians rap, philosophers sing pop songs, or rappers recite Shakespeare pokes fun at those public personas in specific ways.

Vocal Synthesis is an anonymous and non-commercial project, not monetizing the channel with advertising and no clear financial benefit to the creator, and the impact on the market value of Jay-Z’s discography is non-existent.

There are questions about the amount and substantiality of the borrowed work. But even if the model was trained on everything Jay-Z ever produced, it wouldn’t necessarily rule out a fair use defense for parody.

Ultimately, there are two clear truths I’ve learned about fair use from my own experiences: only a court can determine fair use, and while it might be a successful defense, fair use won’t protect you from getting sued and the costs of litigating are high.

Interviewing the Creator

As far as I know, this is the most prominent example of a celebrity claiming copyright over their own deepfakes, the first example of a musician issuing a takedown of synthesized vocals, and according to the creator, the first time YouTube’s removed a video for impersonating a voice with AI. (Previously, Conde Nast took down a Kim Kardashian deepfake by claiming copyright over the source video, and Jordan Peterson ordered a voice simulator offline.)

I reached out to the anonymous creator of Vocal Synthesis to learn more about how he makes these videos, his reaction to the takedown order, and his concern over the future of speech synthesis. (Unfortunately, Roc Nation didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

How do you feel about the takedown order? Were you surprised to receive it?
I was pretty surprised to receive the takedown order. As far as I’m aware, this was the first time YouTube has removed a video for impersonating a voice using AI. I’ve been posting these kind of videos for months and have not had any other videos removed for this reason. There are also several other channels making speech synthesis videos similar to mine, and I’m not aware of any of them having videos removed for this reason.

I’m not a lawyer and have not studied intellectual property law, but logically I don’t really understand why mimicking a celebrity’s voice using an AI model should be treated differently than someone naturally doing an (extremely accurate) impression of that celebrity’s voice. Especially since all of my videos are clearly labeled as speech synthesis in both the title and description, so there was no attempt to deceive anyone into thinking that these were real recordings of Jay-Z.

Can you talk a little about the effort that goes into generating a new model? For example, how long does it typically take to gather and train a new model until it sounds good enough to publish?
Constructing the training set for a new voice is the most time-consuming (and by far the most tedious) part of the process. I’ve written some code to help streamline it, though, so it now usually takes me just a few hours of work (it depends on the quality of the audio and the transcript), and then there’s an additional 12 hours (approximately) needed to actually train the model.

Are you using Tacotron 2 for synthesis?
Yeah, I’m using fine-tuned versions of Tacotron 2.

I saw you’ve struggled getting enough dialogue to fully develop some models, like with Mr. Rogers. Have there been other voices you’ve wanted to synthesize, but it’s just too challenging to find a corpus to work from?
Yeah, several. Recently I tried to make one for Theodore Roosevelt, but there’s only about 30 minutes of audio that exists for him (and it’s pretty poor quality), so the model didn’t really come out well.

The Crocodile Hunter (Steve Irwin) is another one I really want to do, and I can find enough audio, but I haven’t been able to find any accurate transcripts or subtitles yet (it’s very tedious for me to transcribe the audio myself).

How do you decide the voices and dialogue to pair together?
I try to consistently have all my voices read the Navy Seals Copypasta and the first few lines of the Book of Genesis, since it’s easier to hear the nuances of each voice when I can compare them to other voices reading the same text. Other than that, there’s no real method to it. If I have an idea for voice/text combination that I think would be funny or interesting enough to be worth the effort of making the video, then I’ll do it.

What do these videos mean to you? Is it more of a technical demonstration or a form of creative expression?
I wouldn’t really consider my videos to be a technical demonstration, since I’m definitely not the first to make realistic speech synthesis impersonations of well-known voices, and also the models I’m using aren’t state-of-the-art anymore.

Mainly, I’m just making these videos for entertainment. Sometimes I just have an idea for a video that I really want to exist, and I know that if I don’t make it myself, no one else will.

On the more serious side, the other reason I made the channel was because I wanted to show that synthetic media doesn’t have to be exclusively made for malicious/evil purposes, and I think there’s currently massive amounts of untapped potential in terms of fun/entertaining uses of the technology. I think the scariness of deepfakes and synthetic media is being overblown by the media, and I’m not at all convinced that the net impact will be negative, so I hoped that my channel could be a counterexample to that narrative.

Are you worried about the legal future for creative uses of this technology?
Sure. I expect that this technology will improve even more over the next few years, both in terms of accuracy and ease of use/accessibility. Right now it seems to be legally uncharted waters in some ways, but I think these issues will need to be settled fairly soon. Hopefully the technology won’t be stifled by overly restrictive legal interpretations.

It seems inevitable that, at some point, an artist’s voice is going to be used for other uses against their will: guesting on a track without permission, promoting products they aren’t paid for, or maybe just saying things they don’t believe. What would you say to artists or other public figures who are worried that this technology will damage their rights and image?
There are always trade-offs whenever a new technology is developed. There are no technologies that can be used exclusively for good; in the hands of bad people, anything can be used maliciously. I believe that there are a lot of potential positive uses of this technology, especially as it gets more advanced. It’s possible I’m wrong, but for now at least I’m not convinced that the potential negative uses will outweigh that.

Thanks to the anonymous creator of Vocal Synthesis for their time. You can subscribe to the YouTube channel (for now) for new videos, follow updates and remixes in the /r/VocalSynthesis subreddit, and the video mirror on LBRY.

Update: I just heard from Vocal Synthesis’s creator that the copyright strike was removed, and both videos are back on his channel. I initially suspected that Roc Nation dropped the copyright claim, but Nick Statt at The Verge reported that Google reviewed the DMCA takedowns.

“After reviewing the DMCA takedown requests for the videos in question, we determined that they were incomplete,” a Google spokesperson tells The Verge. “Pending additional information from the claimant, we have temporarily reinstated the videos.”

If Roc Nation provides the missing information to complete the DMCA requests, the videos will go offline again. Or, given the press coverage, they may choose to let it go. We’ll see!

04 May 16:05

ICANN rejects sale of .ORG to private equity firm

by Andy Baio
ridiculous that it ever got as close as it did
24 Apr 14:01


by Andy Baio
a CSS library for building interfaces that look like Windows 98, because why not
24 Apr 13:54

Build Your Own Magically Floating Lego Tensegrity Sculpture

by Jason Kottke

Ok, take a look at this short video of a Lego structure. Whaaaaat kind of sorcery is this?!

The top part of the structure appears to be floating, held aloft by plastic chains seemingly incapable of supporting the load. This is an example of a tensegrity sculpture, in which tension (and not compression) is used to carry weight.

If you want to build your own, the instructions and parts list are available and you can watch this tutorial as well:

(via colossal)

Tags: how to   Legos   video