Laurie Anderson is addicted to an AI version of Lou Reed

Laurie Anderson is addicted to an AI version of Lou Reed

From The Guardian: "Laurie Anderson, the American avant garde artist, musician and thinker says she has grown hopelessly hooked on an AI text generator that emulates the vocabulary and style of her own longtime partner and collaborator, Velvet Underground co-founder Lou Reed, who died in 2013. She fed a vast cache of Reed’s writing, songs and interviews into the machine. A decade after his death, the resulting algorithm lets Anderson type in prompts before an AI Reed begins “riffing” written responses back to her, in prose and verse. “I’m totally 100%, sadly addicted to this,” she laughs. “I still am, after all this time. I kind of literally just can’t stop doing it, and my friends just can’t stand it." The results, Anderson says, can be hit and miss. “Three-quarters of it is just completely idiotic and stupid. And then maybe 15% is like, ‘Oh?’. And then the rest is pretty interesting. And that’s a pretty good ratio for writing, I think.”

She can tell whether someone has Parkinson's based on the way they smell

From the BBC: "A Scottish woman who found she could detect Parkinson's through smell has inspired scientists to develop a swab test that could be used to diagnose it. Researchers in Manchester have created a new method which they say can detect the disease in three minutes. Their work was inspired by Joy Milne, a retired nurse from Perth. Joy, 72, knew her husband Les had Parkinson's more than 12 years before he was diagnosed when she identified a change in the way he smelled. "He had this musty rather unpleasant smell especially round his shoulders and the back of his neck and his skin had definitely changed," she said. She only linked the odour to the disease after Les was diagnosed and they met people at a Parkinson's UK support group who had the same distinctive smell. Now a team in the University of Manchester, working with Joy, has developed a simple skin-swab test which they claim is 95% accurate under laboratory conditions when it comes to telling whether people have Parkinson's."

Have Leonardo da Vinci fans worshipped the wrong portrait for centuries?

From The Guardian: "The Mona Lisa Foundation in Zurich, which is championing the painting showing in Turin on behalf of its anonymous owners, is suggesting that it is the original Mona Lisa. It argues that it’s the first version of the famous painting, depicting a younger Lisa than the one Leonardo worked on all his life and had with him at the chateau of Amboise where he spent his last years, and which now attracts an unending selfie-snatching crowd in the Louvre. The difference in facial appearance, says the Swiss foundation, is that the Isleworth Mona Lisa depicts its subject when she was young. It claims to have proof that Leonardo did two versions of his masterpiece and this is the first, begun in Florence in 1503. A Florentine government employee wrote in 1503 that Leonardo was working on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a Florentine merchant. But was it the Isleworth Mona Lisa or the Louvre one?"

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Sam Bankman-Fried wanted to buy the island nation of Nauru to build a bunker

12 facts about Nauru, the tiny island without a single Covid case

From Disconnect: "Nauru is the third-smallest country in the world with a population of about 12,000 people on an island in the Pacific that’s just 8 square miles, a little south of the Equator. It was revealed that Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced former CEO of crypto exchange FTX, was hoping to buy the sovereign nation to build a doomsday bunker. A decade ago, the tech libertarians were talking about becoming seasteaders — setting up platforms in international waters where they could live outside the laws of any state — or buying citizenship in countries like New Zealand. Some of them also lobbied to be able to set up communities within sovereign countries. Bankman-Fried’s plan was significantly more ambitious: he wanted to purchase an entire country through the FTX Foundation, where he would build a bunker to be certain that he could survive if there was an "event where 50-99.99% of people die.”

In the late 1800s Ella Williams was the world's tallest woman at seven foot six inches

From Face2Face Africa: "Ella Williams, otherwise known by her stage name as Mme Abomah, was in the late 1800s described as an extraordinary woman who stood over eight feet in height and could easily support the weight of a man on her outstretched arm (newspaper accounts gave her recorded height as seven foot six inches). Born in South Carolina in the USA in 1865 to slave parents, she became an international celebrity due to her abnormal height, something she gained after being struck with malaria when she was around 14, and she travelled all over the world. Growing up, Williams was contacted by various circus and show promoters to sign a contract and tour as a giantess, but refused these offers until she agreed to be hired by Frank C. Bostock for a tour of the British Isles in 1896. He gave Williams the stage name Abomah, a name which came from Abomey, the capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin)."

This 10-year-old received a vampire burial to prevent them from coming back to life

From The Smithsonian: "According to myth, it takes a specific set of tools to successfully battle a vampire: a wooden stake, a clove of garlic designed to repel evil, and sacred relics ranging from crosses to crucifixes. But the recent discovery of a malaria-stricken 10-year-old buried in a 5th-century Roman graveyard suggests that vampire-fighting strategies weren’t always so complex. The child was laid to rest with a stone inserted into its mouth, marking the grave as a so-called “vampire burial” site likely intended to prevent the deceased from returning to life and infecting others with a deadly disease. Researchers unearthed the skeleton at the Necropoli dei Bambini, or the Cemetery of the Babies, which is situated atop the foundations of an abandoned 1st-century villa in Lugnano, Italy. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” University of Arizona archaeologist David Soren said in a statement. “It’s extremely eerie and weird.”

Young bird wonders why the food doesn't jump into his mouth

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as "serendipty engines," such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg's Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis's Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton's The Browser, Clive Thompson's Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy's Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova's The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me.