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July 15, 2010

“I write like who?”
Posted by Teresa at 11:38 PM *

The I Write Like meme is running through blogdom like a virus through a second-grade classroom. Neil Gaiman tweeted,

I cut and pasted a couple of chunks of ANANSI BOYS into Write Like http://iwl.me. 1 was Stephen King, the other was J R R Tolkien. How odd.
That’s actually one of its more sensible results. Stephan Zielinski’s been testing it:
Is the code even trying?

If you like, you can enter text at http://iwl.me/, and it will generate an allegation that the text is written “like” that of someone famous. Now, I’m sure it’s doing something kinda computational with its input, but…

H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness (from here): George Orwell.

George Orwell, Burmese Days, chapter one (from here): Margaret Mitchell.

Charles Manson quotes (from here, both pages, with the words “Charles Manson” removed): Kurt Vonnegut.

Mao Tse Tung (in translation, sources of quotes removed, from here): Kurt Vonnegut.

Unabomber’s Manifesto (from here): Mario Puzo.

Hitler’s Mein Kampf, chapter one (in translation, from here): Ernest Hemingway.

And so forth. You see the problem.

Of course I had to test it. I started with the long passage about fanfic Patrick quoted from me in Fanfic: force of nature. It said I write like David Foster Wallace. That was okay; he was a good essayist. Then I tried it on Rowling’s being sued for plagiarism again, starting at “What’s really happening here” and ending at “sold to Bloomsbury.” It said I write like James Joyce. That was more puzzling. So I fed it the section on unreliable magicians from my entry at Tor.com on issue #1 of Sandman, from “Let’s look at Roderick Burgess” to “run out of time,” and it said I write like Dan Brown.

Aha!

I do not write like Dan Brown. What that passage has in common with Dan Brown is vocabulary. I don’t know what they’re using as their sample of James Joyce, but I’ll bet it matches vocabulary in my piece on Rowling and plagiarism. Likewise, I’ll bet the fanfic paragraph matches the vocabulary of their David Foster Wallace sample.

Fraud! Cheat! Writing an application that could analyze prose style would be a real achievement. Writing one that compares vocabulary (and probably a few other characteristics like sentence length) is trivially easy. I’m not saying I could do it right this moment; I’m just saying it’s not hard.

Foo. Wanted cool; got balonium.

Addendum:

#121 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:14 PM:

Maybe it has something to do with the author’s diet?

banana banana banana banana banana - Kurt Vonnegut
peach peach peach peach peach peach - Agatha Christie
watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon - Mark Twain
broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli - Chuck Palahniuk
steak steak steak steak steak steak - Ian Fleming
clam clam clam clam clam clam - Chuck Palahniuk
squid squid squid squid squid squid - Mario Puzo

And putting my previous comment into the mix:

word salad word salad word salad word salad word salad word salad - P. G. Wodehouse

Comments on "I write like who?":
#1 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2010, 11:47 PM:

It told me I write like Dan Brown, too, but I'm fairly certain Dan Brown can't write.

I think the popularity of the meme is more from people trying to push the results than from any actual expectation that some meaningful analysis will come out of it.

#2 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2010, 11:50 PM:

Also, I feel compelled to note that it told me Gregory Corso's poem "Bomb" was written like William Shakespeare, which still gives me a giggling fit to contemplate. Can you imagine the Bard uttering, "to die by cobra is not to die by bad pork"?

#3 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2010, 11:58 PM:

I wonder if it would have said that one bit of text was written like Joyce if it hadn't had the word "Bloomsbury" in it?

#4 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2010, 11:58 PM:

I think the obvious thing to do is to run passages in a chain to see how long it takes to say that the current author looks like the original author.

#5 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2010, 11:59 PM:

As an aside, my favorite result was when someone entered Mel Gibson's latest drunken, racist outburst into it, and it came up with "Margaret Atwood" as the answer.

Saw that one on Twitter, from Margaret Atwood, who was amused.

#6 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:03 AM:

It's as bad as the polls ("What kind of root vegetable are you?") which used to go around LiveJournal and now go around FaceFriendSpace or whatever the kids are using these days. It also reminds me of the Gender Genie and a few other "writing analysis tools" I've seen bandied about here.

If I were going to build something like this, I would take some random property of your entered text, possibly after doing some minimal processing to ensure that changing small things (spelling, white space, punctuation, single words) didn't change the results, thus giving the game away (only reason MD5 hash wouldn't work); assign ranges of the space to famous authors; and profit^Wbecome an overnight Internet meme sensation^W^W^W^W^W^Wprofit by becoming an overnight Internet meme sensation. Which is probably what even something as linguistically-based as what Teresa describes amounts to.

Apparently five paragraphs of lorem ipsum text is like David Foster Wallace. Only one paragraph is like James Joyce, however...

#7 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:05 AM:

You... You mean I don't really write like Kurt Vonnegut? (Or David Foster Wallace, William Gibson, or Chuck Palahniuk, depending upon the writing sample.)

Woe.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:07 AM:

Ray, I just ran the same text about Rowling, minus the last sentence, and it still said Joyce. It would be interesting to see whether we can use the remaining vocabulary to identify the passage from Joyce it's using.

#9 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Tried three separate passages from City of Roses. Got Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, and Jack London. Which, okay, flattered, but what? —Now I'll have to look into the vocabulary.

(At least I didn't get Dan Brown is the mantra of the hour.)

#10 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:22 AM:

I used my own writing for samples, usually about a page.

Horror-movie script: H.P. Lovecraft. Heh.
First-person story about an amnesiac with strange powers (currently on submission to Tor.com): J.D. Salinger. Whoo-hoo!
Melancholy story about an elderly man whose doctor has been murdered: Dan Brown. Ow.
Story about a monk who finds an injured man in the woods: Oscar Wilde. Wow.
Second-person story about a guy who meets a mysterious woman in a bar: David Foster Wallace. Who?
Scene from a pseudo-Shakespeare play, in blank verse: Lewis Carroll. Hmm.
First-person story about a guy sucking up to a dragon for financial gain: David Foster Wallace. Huh.
First-person story about an Army chaplain trying to communicate with a mortally wounded soldier: Margaret Mitchell. OK.
Story about a boy whose history of being sexually abused enables him to survive a strange apocalypse: James Joyce. Whoo-hoo!
First-(and second) person porn fantasy I wrote for a lover: Harry Harrison. Weird.
First-person Victorian vampire erotica: Edgar Allan Poe. OK.

Later, I discovered that if you put in "Dragon Dragon Dragon. Dragon?" and so on, you get J.R.R. Tolkien, and if you put in "Eragon Eragon Eragon. Eragon?" (or similarly with Fragon and Gragon), you get William Shakespeare.

#11 ::: Larkspur ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:28 AM:

Huh. I just smooshed in my last internet comment and it tells me I write like James Joyce. It must be true, yes? because I have never read anything by James Joyce, so there is some sort of purity there or whatever.

#12 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:29 AM:

I put in the essay I wrote (and just posted to my LJ) about a bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and it said that was like H.P. Lovecraft. I put in the long post I made to my LJ shortly after my wedding, and it said that was like Margaret Mitchell. It's funny, but I don't think it has any kind of real value.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:31 AM:

The thing has a real penchant for identifying Making Light's co-bloggers as writing like David Foster Wallace. I have yet to get it to identify a piece by Abi as anything else. It has relented long enough to identify Jim on British folk ballads as James Joyce, and Patrick on Kent State as Kurt Vonnegut, but that was all I could squeeze out of it.

#14 ::: Geri Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:32 AM:

This is the first meme I've seen move from blogdom over to two, count 'em 2, email lists I'm on. On one list, a clever member created a cascade from one writer to another that quickly demonstrated another list member is Homer. Not the one whose name ends in Simpson.

Teresa, I think we're all with you in wishing this particular meme was doing something truly cool. Instead, there's enough balonium to make sandwiches for everyone riding the New York Subway. I'm gladdened by how quickly we've jumped to trying to reverse engineer the meme, and to talk about what we'd like it to be.

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:32 AM:

I think you're right, David. That thing got smacked hard by the random fairy.

#16 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:39 AM:

From the beginning of a novel I'm shopping, I got Douglas Adams. So far so good. From the middle, I got Harry Harrison. Okay, I can deal with that. From the end of the same novel? Dan Brown. Yeah, it's a disappointing (and sometimes insulting) meme.

#17 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:41 AM:

I tried a bit from one of my games a few days ago, and got "Johathan Swift" [sic]. I'm not complaining, mind you, but I was *aiming* for "early George R. R. Martin". I don't *think* mentioned babies, either...

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:56 AM:

Geri, just so. It's the most fun we can have with it.

Andrew, you're the only person I know of who's gotten Swift out of it

#19 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:57 AM:

Anybody else get Oscar Wilde or Lewis Carroll?

#20 ::: Adam D ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:14 AM:

The guy who came up with this posted recently on Hacker News, basically to get advice on what to do with it next. According to the discussion it's currently just a Bayesian classifier based on word frequencies, but he's gotten so many suggestions on more sophisticated text-classification algorithms that he's actively looking into making it more interesting.

Basically the constraints are imposed by being an amusing Internet meme: he can't make it require anything longer than a paragraph or so, and it can't be so computationally intensive that it can't spit back an answer more-or-less instantly. So truly complex author classification is out, but it might do a better job distinguishing between Stephen King and Dan Brown. :-)

The other way to make it better is probably to feed more examples into it, but I don't know what the limitations on that would be. Availability of cheap/free ebooks, I would guess.

#21 ::: abi Foster Wallace ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Is it any comfort to know that the original post here gets "I write like HP Lovecraft"?

No, thought not.

#22 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:17 AM:

I input some particularly tricky tech writing I'd done on techniques for visualizing velocity fields, and it came back with Douglas Adams. This makes sense to me, since the Hitchhiker's Guide (the fictional book within the book) is written in the style of technical manual (present-indicative and impperative only).

I'm half tempted to enter ersatz Dan Brown to see what it comes up with. "Renowned automotive maintenance man Jack Pep rushed into the Halls of Medicine only to find Reddy Kilowatt already dead, lying in a pool of his own blood."

#23 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:20 AM:

Alright, it's a perfectly valid, intelligent algorithm. "Renowned automotive maintenance man Jack Pep rushed into the Halls of Medicine only to find Reddy Kilowatt already dead, lying in a pool of his own blood," does in fact, return Dan Brown.

This means that everyone who was surprised by their result needs to enter a period of self-examination.

#24 ::: Saya ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:28 AM:

I put a chunk of a prologue to a fanfic I will never write (because its the only fiction I have written recently enough to have on hand)into it and got J.K.Rowling - went back and changed character names and references to things specific to the fandom, and got Stephen King, so I think you're on to something about the vocabulary.

I later put in a professional article I had written that had several citations to a book published in 2001, and it said Arthur C. Clarke.

#25 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:44 AM:

One long post got me Stephen King. Well, okay, lots of people got that result; I thought it might be a default. A poem got me Earnest Hemingway, and a short paragraph about Voyager spacecraft got me Vladimir Nabokov. About then I noticed I had other things to do.

Nice to see the brainy folks gaming it; it should be gamed, with chocolate sprinkles and a side of fireworks.

#26 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:54 AM:

Adam D @20 -- oh, good. I started to think of ways to improve it, but I imagine that thread is way ahead of me.

The one-paragraph constraint does make it tough. I was imagining metrics like "frequencies of different word types (verb, adverb, adjective, ...)" and "frequencies of different linking verb forms (is, was, would be, should be, shall be...)". But any sample of just a few sentences is going to be weak for those.

Average depth of sentence diagram tree... Relative frequencies of various obscenities... Frequencies of different forms of punctuation, such as for example ellipsis...

#27 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:05 AM:

I tried it yesterday with this quotation:

After getting home at five in the morning, and leaving a note for Fritz saying I would be down for breakfast at 10:45, I had set the alarm for ten o'clock. That had seemed sensible, but the trouble with an alarm clock is that what seems sensible when you set it seems absurd when it goes off.

That's Archie Goodwin in "The Rodeo Murder" from Three at Wolfe's Door, written by Rex Stout.

It told me that was Arthur Conan Doyle. At least it got the genre right.

#28 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:18 AM:

Re: #20, what Adam D. reported to be the constraints the code's author wants it to continue under: ". . . he can't make it require anything longer than a paragraph or so, and it can't be so computationally intensive that it can't spit back an answer more-or-less instantly."

So, basically, he's hoping the folks on Hacker News have an artificial intelligence implementing a solution to a natural language analysis problem that both responds to minimal input and runs fast enough to serve the entire Internet off a single machine? Were I one of they, I'd preen elatedly at the implied compliment. Or possibly attempt to sell him the Brooklyn Bridge.

#29 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:19 AM:

When I fed it my "Paarfi of Roundwood, author of the Quixote" post, it told me I write like Lovecraft. Which is much less entertaining than what I gave myself by cheating.

#30 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:26 AM:

Stefan (28), that's just what I was thinking, only not in those words.

#31 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:30 AM:

I fed it 2 different LJ posts. The first one was a review of a classical music concert, and it gave me Dan Brown *spit* -- I'm guessing because the concert had a piece by Respighi in it.

The second one was a long anti-bullying rant, and it gave me Vladimir Nabokov. I have absolutely no idea how that could have happened!

#32 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:37 AM:

You know, I try real hard to prune my writer neuroses before they can start to show blooms, but when that thing Dan Browned 4+ of my writing samples, some small part of me started exhibiting kudzu-like growth toward the glory of inflorescence. (Because all the Nabokov, Joyce, King, Atwood and Stevenson don't matter next to the cudgel of being Dan Browned).

But then I dug around in my spam until I found a nice, big chunk of word salad. I started feeding the thing digestible pieces. Every one was a unique little snowflake, and the whole thing was James Joyce.

#33 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:15 AM:

Xopher @19: I got Wilde for a sample of a man getting overwhelmed by sensory input. Other samples got Raymond Chandler and Arthur C. Clarke, as well as the usual assortment of Steven King/Dan Brown/David Foster Wallace.

One short story started as Ursula K LeGuin, had a middle like Wallace, and ended like Neil Gaiman!

This thing is way too much fun.

#34 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:20 AM:

Suzanne@2, of course Shakespeare could have written that - it probably would have been said by Polonius.

Xopher@10, the Fragon with the Gragon is the Bard that is marred?

My own fiction writing recently has been about IPv6 test plans, which probably resemble Lovecraft.

#35 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:22 AM:

The other day I took a big chunk of the chapter I'm writing at present and pasted sequential slices in. I oscillated wildly between David Foster Wallace and Lovecraft, with frequent veerings into Joyce and (wah!) Brown. Rowling, Homer, and Nabokov showed up once or twice each, and possibly also some other names I found less memorable.

I'm moderately curious to see what the text this describes would actually look like. Not curious enough, though, to back-construct it...

#36 ::: AlyxL ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:28 AM:

I fed it a selection of LiveJournal diary bits and was told I wrote like Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood and Stephen King (ah yes, popular but classy), but no Dan Brown, perhaps because of my fondness for long words. The one exception was the description of a family wedding in Dublin which got Joyce, which I suppose confirms the vocabulary suggestion.

#37 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:56 AM:

I don’t know what they’re using as their sample of James Joyce

I suspect Joyce is the default if it doesn't recognise a large number of words. I read somewhere else that a passage of Ovid in Latin came back as Joyce.

My work emails are apparently written in the style of Stephen King. I need a new job.

#38 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 04:06 AM:

"Renowned automotive maintenance man Jack Pep rushed into the Halls of Medicine only to find Reddy Kilowatt already dead, lying in a pool of his own blood."

I really, really like that sentence. Are they doing a 2011 Bulwer-Lytton competition?

(Says the man who has read The Haunter and the Haunted *twice*, and made it a third of the way into The Coming Race before giving up.)

#39 ::: Matt Collins ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 04:45 AM:

Um, hi everybody. Has anyone else got Ray Bradbury yet?

#40 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 04:53 AM:

This just doesn't seem as though it can give useful results. Even if a writer has a distinctive vocabulary, you're not going to get the numbers out of a short sample text. The common words are just that--common. All it can pick out is a chance coinicidence between the defining sample and the test sample: the rare word which happens to be in both. Otherwise, any similarity is lost in the noise.

I suppose that most of us know about letter frequencies. We may have cracked a cipher puzzle by trying "e" as the plaintext for the most common letter in the cipher. But there are only 26 letters in English, and the differences in frequency are large. Work with pairs of letters (as the "Playfair" cipher does) and the graph is flatter. There are 676 possible pairs, some vanishingly unlikely. Take a sufficiently large piece of text, measure the frequencies, and use that to feed an otherwise random process, and you get flashes of almost words.

Now consider words. How big a vocabulary do people use? How big a sample do you need to get a reliably distinctive frequency-list?

I don't know which word processors still include those bits of code which can calculate some measure of how complicated the text is. They're based on things such as sentence length. They won't do much to distinguish between authors, not on this scale.

Just on the basic requirement for fast results from a short text, this has to be meaningless.

At least I didn't get a Dan Brown.

#41 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:03 AM:

I mostly kept getting Nabokov or David Foster Wallace. Given I've never read either of 'em, I figure it's an achievement. I only got Dan Browned a couple of times; my one and only piece of femslash, however, came back as Anne Rice...

#42 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:08 AM:

Matt @ 39: I haven't tried to get Bradbury, but I've never understood why Bradbury parodies don't saturate the Internet. He seems so easy to parody, but I've never seen anyone actually do it.

"The Martians, so slim and fit, seemed to easily slip inside the back pocket of his dungarees. And then he walked down Elm Street with the casual confidence of a man who carried an entire civilization with him. Grandmother would be so proud."

(I Write Like says: H. G. Wells. Go figure, not that I'm complaining.)

#43 ::: pensnest ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:12 AM:

Ah, yes, *that* thing. I (apparently) write like James Joyce and Margaret Atwood. Flattering, but... since one of the "Atwood-esque" pieces I put in was a bit of versification imitating Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha" I was a leetle cynical about the results.

#44 ::: soru ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:18 AM:

The correct use for this is _vocabulary golf_. Pick an author, try to find the shortest sentence that classifies as that author.

The obvious hack doesn't seem to work, as it looks like it discards non-dictionary words before classifing.

_In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming._ comes up as Dan Brown.

but _The dreaming spires whisper of strange aeons_ does get Lovecraft.

#45 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:38 AM:

If you want to throw huge computation at this, the Google Prediction API looks promising.
Most of these things use n-gram analysis, ie extending Dave Bell's frequency comments from above to more letters, or working on a word basis. This API is a black box deliberately so Google can swap different algorithms in and out.

#46 ::: CathyP ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:42 AM:

Anyone else get Chuck Palahniuk?

I stuck a random chunk of my novel in there. Given it's supposed to be fantasy, should I be worried?

#47 ::: Greg Black ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:27 AM:

I fed it a number of recent blog posts. The first was Stephen King, the next seven were all David Foster Wallace and then I gave up. I've read King's "On Writing", but nothing else. And I've not read Wallace at all. It might be more fun if it showed a bit more inventiveness.

#48 ::: Hmpf ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:52 AM:

Definitely based mostly on vocabulary. I put in a mild werewolf sex scene from a fanfic and it gave me J.K. Rowling. Minus the key word, the same passage received a verdict of David Foster Wallace.

#49 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:59 AM:

Ha! The author of this just posted on Hacker News Network yesterday (I think it was yesterday; this week has seemed like one continuous day) - totally taken aback by the fact that it became a meme, and asking the assembled entrepreneurial gurus, basically, "WTF now?"

He didn't provide any details of the algorithm, which I take to mean they're hand-wavy "balonium", nice word. The most sensible suggestion I saw on there was to include Amazon reading lists for the author identified.

Always fascinating when something gets triangulated like this. I'm always used to the Internet being so vast that the different corners I frequent are devoid of any human contact besides myself.

#50 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:02 AM:

I ran some of my verse through it. Apparently I write the poetry of James Joyce, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Mario Puzo, and Ian Fleming. The name's Ledgister. Fragano Ledgister.

I ran two different versions of the final chapter of my latest book through it. I write, it seems, the academic prose of H.P. Lovecraft. But, when refined, corrected, and edited, it turns into the academic prose of Vladimir Nabokov. Creole nationalism, light of my life, fire of my loins. The ardours and arbours of C.L.R. James?

#51 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:05 AM:

For what it's worth, Teresa, for the last five paragraphs of your post, you were writing by H.P. Lovecraft. My guess is the exclamation marks ("Fraud! Cheat!") but I'm going to test it a little.

Hmm. No, just the first paragraph ("Of course I had to test it") reads Lovecraft; the other four, exclamation marks and all, read Wallace. Despite the first paragraph mentioning Wallace. Maybe Wallace wasn't very self-referential. Dead giveaway you're Lovecraft...

#52 ::: soru ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:07 AM:

She said shoot him with your gun: Raymond Chandler

#53 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:08 AM:

"That was okay; he was a good essayist" is the core of your Lovecraftianism. Take that out, and you're Poe or Shakespeare.

More organized analysis is called for. I'll bet I can duplicate the algorithm given time.

#54 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:10 AM:

"That's okay; he was a good fish" is written like Margaret Atwood, though. I'm starting to put a little credence in your hypothesis.

#55 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:11 AM:

Dave Bell #40: That comment, however, read like Dan Brown.

#56 ::: soru ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:11 AM:

The jet dropped the bomb which exploded: Dan Brown

#57 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:21 AM:

Cathy #46: I got three Chuck Palahniuks, and I can kind of see where that comes from. (BTW, Stross' "Overtime" gets Palahniuk, too.)

One Dan Brown, which is a mystery to me, one Asimov for a deathly romance with aliens and cosmic powers, one King for a silly little piece about intelligent life evolving in the fridge, and one Rowling for a story with a dragon, a king, talking birds, no kids and no wizards.

#58 ::: JD Rhoades ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:05 AM:

I tried the first three chapters of my WIP and got Vladimir Nabokov. I tried one of my blog posts and got Kurt Vonnegut. I tried the first three chapters of my third novel and got Douglas Adams.

I cry bullshit on this site, although I was nearly taken in by the Vonnegut comparison.

#59 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:28 AM:

Fish fish fish; essayist essayist => Lovecraft.

"What if I were an essayist?" => Lovecraft.

I think we have a winner; "essayist" is a Lovecraftian word. Sentence structure seems to have nothing to do with it.

Sigh.

#60 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:54 AM:

Yup, it does seem to be purely vocabulary. I fed it my two papers from Mythcon, or at least the first couple pages of each. Both academicese with a bit of casual thrown in for oral delivery's sake, but both recognizably me, I think. The one on eucatastrophe and disobedience, with lots of theological terms like eschatology and Armageddon, free will and Providence? Dan Brown. The one on The Devil Wears Prada, with the word "devil" and references to Psyche and Cupid, Aphrodite and Persephone? Stephen King. Hmph.

#61 ::: Julia Rios ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:04 AM:

The other night I tried to make it give me Austen by putting in, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single chicken in possession of a good bosom must be in want of a roasting pan."

It came out James Fenimore Cooper.

Then I switched chicken, bosom, and roasting pan for the actual Austen words, and got Austen.

Then Moss tried with all the Austen words, but changed wife to duck. Result? James Fenimore Cooper.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged." -- Austen

"It is a truth." -- Orwell

"It is a truth universally acknowledged. Duck." -- Cooper

"It is a truth universally acknowledged. It is a truth universally acknowledged. Duck." -- Austen

Add another duck, and it's Cooper again.

"Universally acknowledged. Universally acknowledged. Duck." -- Arthur C. Clarke

So, definitely to do with vocabulary, and higher frequencies of certain key words. Meanwhile, somewhere, someone is probably writing Pride & Prejudice and Ducks.

#62 ::: beable ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:08 AM:

I had some fun demonstrating that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare.

All the sillier because Shakespeare is in the meme.

and an old "attempt" I posted at fortune telling:

Fear death by Abba.
I wish I remembered where that was originally from, I'm pulling it from somewhere.
It may not be a reference to real death, but rather to being Bjorn Again?
To be listening to Abba, or not to be listening to Abba. That is the question.

Was read as Agatha Christie.

If it is matching vocabulary that's at least a step up from what my friends and I thought it was doing - we figured it was just matching sentence length.

The fact that actual famous Shakespeare quotes do not get read as Shakespeare means it's not doing a very good job of matching vocabulary.

#63 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:10 AM:

The first section of Memories says it's like Stephen King.

I find this, in some ways, amusing (and in no ways depressing).

#64 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:12 AM:

The four stanzas of filk in this old post of mine come out as DFW, but if I take out the footnote numbers, it turns into J. K. Rowling. (I didn't include the footnotes themselves on either test; it's really just the digits 1 and 2 that make the difference between Rowling and Wallace.)

#65 ::: beable ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:18 AM:

@59 & @61:

"eassayist essayist essayist essayist essayist" - H. P. Lovecraft

Ok, if just repeating words, I had a Stephen Fry moment and tried

"interior interior interior interior interior" - Dan Brown

adding in the prerequisite duck:

"interior interior interior interior interior duck" - Neil Gaiman

"cthulhu cthulhu cthulhu cthulhu cthulhu" - James Joyce

I guess we know where Lovecraft got the idea.

#66 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:18 AM:

A few of us have been gaming it for a couple of days (over here if you want to see the attempts)--you only need to put in 4 to 6 words to get a result.

I got Dan Brown by putting in "crucifix mountain scientist handsome foggy climbed archives raced"

Fragano got Shakespeare by putting in "Thou thou thou art art art an an an ass ass ass."

Poppy Z Brite has a couple of hilarious, but failed, attempts to get William Burroughs over here. Presumably Burroughs is not in there.

#67 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:29 AM:

I got Vladimir Nabokov*, David Foster Wallace (who? sorry), and James Joyce for various stuff I've written.

And a comment I posted in Another Place was like Dan Brown, it seems.

*for this post too.

#68 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:35 AM:

tnh @#0: Wanted cool; got balonium.

Kinda like reading Dan Brown.

#69 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:36 AM:

I fed it today's horoscope. David Foster Wallace. I just bet he's spinning like a top.

#70 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:41 AM:

It's worth repeating something a friend pointed me at, by Zia Natora on LiveJournal: of 40 authors turning up in results, 37 are white men, 3 are white women. And the guy who wrote it is adamantly opposed to adding anyone because of their race or gender. (And as one of her commenters points out, there are more women and some writers of color on what he's citing as sources of her list.)

*sigh*

#71 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:57 AM:

A two-sentence post identifying my favorite china pattern: Robert Louis Stevenson.

A paragraph about going to the courthouse and what suit I wore for it: Stephen King. I suspect this one may be because I mentioned TV.

A post about the Quebec earthquake: Dan Brown.

Harriet and Peter's sonnet: William Shakespeare--big surprise.

#72 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 10:10 AM:

HP@22: Reddy Kilowatt! Haven't heard from him in ages and ages. In fact I think they're trying to get us to call NSP something else these days.

#73 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 10:17 AM:

I suspected the tool was based on vocabulary when I input pages from my light fantasy/romance and it told me I wrote like Isaac Asimov.

The hero is a geek and the first pages contain references to asymptotic and hyperbolic curves, but otherwise there's nothing like Asimov to it.

#74 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 10:36 AM:

So now we not only have this meme, we also have a new phrase: "to get/be Dan Browned".

(David Foster Wallace and Kurt Vonnegut. I can live with that.)

#75 ::: twif ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 10:56 AM:

it's sort of fun, but it's also a link to some guy trying to sell you (and get you to sell) books on how to pitch your writing to publishers. i did not investigate deep enough to see if the site owners were also the publisher they'd recommend you submit your work to.

#76 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 10:58 AM:

The incredibly racist letter from a tea party figure (about "coloreds" not wanting to be emancipated in a letter to Lincoln -- see www.marktalk.com/blog/?p=10387 for the original, which I don't want to make an active link) came out as H. P. Lovecraft -- appropriate considering Lovecraft's well-known racist leanings in his writings (I'm not saying HPL was a racist -- I'm saying his writings show racist attitudes, which is a different statement).

#77 ::: James Fraleigh ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 10:59 AM:

I put in about a third of an essay I wrote about Hunter S. Thompson's death, and got David Foster Wallace.

I then ROT13'd the text, input it with the expectation of being told to use English, and got Dan Brown.

#78 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:01 AM:

I tried to see how many words it could take. I put the whole first chapter in of my current novel (and got back Arthur C. Clarke) as well as sequential paragraphs from the same passage. I was told I write like Margaret Mitchell, Arthur C. Clarke, Dan Brown, Clarke again, Margaret Atwood, Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Dan Brown again, and again, Stephen King, and Raymond Chandler. I stopped there, because this is a science fiction murder mystery.

If we're going to reverse engineer the vocabulary sampling, I offer up the following clue:
"IA Kalyyx gestured her into the office. 'Special Inquisitor, this is the detainee.'" netted me Raymond Chandler.

When I replaced "gestured" with "led", I was told I write like Dan Brown. Ditto for "walked" and "shoved."

When I changed "IA Kalyyx" to a more generic "The officer" and left the verb as "shoved" I got Chuck Palahniuk.

"The officer shoved her into the room. 'Special Inquisitor, this is the detainee.'" is like Stephen King.

It looks like the key samples are taken from noun and verb combos. If it doesn't recognize the noun, it ignores it in a small sample. In a larger sample with a lot of unknowns, it looks like the program defaults to Clarke. I could play with these two sentences all day, but I have things I need to get done.

#79 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:07 AM:

twif @75 - no, they're not. The guy who wrote it is trying to make some money off a meme that surprised him at least as much as it's surprising everybody else.

#80 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:08 AM:

@61

But if you put in "duck, duck, duck, goose, run!" you get Lewis Caroll.

Theresa's "Foo. Wanted cool; got balonium." is like Mark Twain.

Hmmmm. Makes me wonder if punctuation has an impact on the outcome.

#81 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:13 AM:

A scathing review of Time-Warner Cable I posted on Yelp was pegged as Dan Brown-like. An introspective essay on music and religion I wrote on the face-book produced James Joyce. I think this meme is about as accurate as the "I look like" one that compares your picture to famous people on the basis of angle and color saturation of the photograph.

#82 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:25 AM:

I gave it two separate bits of fantasy fiction, and it told me I write like Ursula LeGuin. I gave it a third bit, and it told me I write like H. P. Lovecraft. I gave it a short essay on a religious theme, and it told me I write like Margaret Atwood. I gave it a second essay, and it informed me I write like David Foster Wallace.

Okay.

#83 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:33 AM:

This is a pretty hilarious investigation of a remarkably crappy algorithm.

For a non-technical blog post, I got Stephen King.

For a technically-oriented blog post and for a chunk of my most recent research paper, I got David Foster Wallace, so I deduced it was the scientific vocabulary. Or possibly the footnotes.

#84 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:46 AM:

I tried a few things. I got James Joyce (bits of a story) and Arthur C. Clarke (bits of an essay).

But the bestest was posting a short blog entry about cutting my finger, complete with a Shakespeare quote.

It said I write like P.G. Woodhouse.

#85 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:48 AM:

Michael Roberts (53): Semicolons are Lovecraftian?

#86 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:54 AM:

HP @ #42: I've never understood why Bradbury parodies don't saturate the Internet. He seems so easy to parody, but I've never seen anyone actually do it.

I don't believe it's on the internet anywhere, but Kim Newman's short story "Swellhead" contains a brief extract from the novel Ray Bradbury wrote in the timeline where he, and not Arthur C. Clarke, collaborated with Stanley Kubrick.

#87 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 11:59 AM:

Teresa - that's exactly what I thought! So I falsified it by removing the semicolon. Sadly, there seems to be nothing at all eldritch about the punctuation. Just the mention of the word "essayist".

It makes me want to write a random-walk algorithm, but I never have time to do anything fun. I had to walk the dog on the banks of the Danube, is all.

#88 ::: Neil Gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:09 PM:

I took The Graveyard Book. Chapter by Chapter, it's David Foster Wallace over and over again. However, the whole book is by Ian Fleming.

Someone on Twitter let me know that "Once upon a time there was a duck, and it flew away." comes up as being by me. "Once upon a time there was a duck and it flew swiftly away" is Tolkien. Adverbs are hobbits.

#89 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:15 PM:

Nabakov, Joyce, Palahniuk and King, depending on sample. Which is a nice range to be sure, though the King and Palahniuk baffle me. I couldn't tell you the last piece of writing by Stephen King I read but I'd wager it's been 15 years at least, and that sample was the first chapter of my novel in progress. So very strange.

#90 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:17 PM:

the four most recent posts on my weblog got:
Margaret Atwood
Robert Louis Stevenson
Kurt Vonnegut
James Joyce

so much for my distinctive authorial voice. At least I didn't get Dan Browned. That would have been dispiriting.

Stephan @28 - indeed. If it worked it would be a kind of AI..

Linkmeister, thanks for the Rex Stout - I enjoyed
"the trouble with an alarm clock is that what seems sensible when you set it seems absurd when it goes off."


#91 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:23 PM:

I was told that Jane Austen writes like Shakespeare and Kurt Vonnegut writes like Stephen King. I decided to go have a baloney sandwich and stop worrying.

#92 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:43 PM:

I fed it a short technical strategy/specifications document that I wrote recently, with riveting prose like:

"Migrate functionality required by key CSR use cases to a consolidated interface. This interface will provide streamlined task flows for primary use cases and support other basic CSR functions."

Apparently, this is writing like David Foster Wallace. Heaven knows what it's matching on here.

#93 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 12:50 PM:

No writing-classifier can be remotely accurate if its repertoire of responses does not include "Jim Theis" and "Stephen Ratliff."

#94 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:21 PM:

That the code is "not even trying" seems about right. I was curious enough to past a text in French in the IWL box, just to see if it would recognize the language. Sure enough, it didn't! But it said that I wrote like Shakespeare!

Argh.

#95 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:26 PM:

Rather than "not even trying", I suspect it's faithfully working out an algorithm that doesn't actually do the job very well. Sort of a different concept.

#96 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 01:29 PM:

Neil Gaiman #88 ::: Adverbs are hobbits.

LOL!

Seriously, this is a classic example of technology that's grossly inadequate to the task it's been set to. Using Bayesian filtering in this context is barely more appropriate than a magic 8-ball, and the results are predictably no more consistent.

#97 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:08 PM:

I got P.G. Wodehouse when I tried it. Then again, that may have been because my only recent piece of writing long enough to test was a rough draft of an essay comparing the roles of Jeeves and Alfred Pennyworth.

#98 ::: Clay ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:13 PM:

I put an introductory letter I wrote for daycare describing my son's behavior, likes and dislikes at seven months. It told me I write like H.P. Lovecraft, thus explaining a good deal about my now three year old.

#99 ::: Eunoia ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:14 PM:

I plugged in 15 of my blog posts on a wide variety of subjects one after another and got 14 different answers. WTF?

So I guess I have no style and the programm is just guessing :-(

#100 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 02:52 PM:

Laramie Sasseville @73:

Not necessarily. see: Asimov's Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan.

#101 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:18 PM:

Of course, I tested it, but I didn't really need to see it working to know what it was about. The advertisements on the the results page confirmed for me everything I already expected. The fact that its results appear to be the output of an irreversible function, e.g. f x -> HMAC-SHA1(x) modulo $NUMBER_OF_AUTHORS, came as no surprise at that point.

#102 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:32 PM:

I plugged in bits a pieces of a building program for replacing a heating and air conditioning system I wrote at work.

Numbered lists are Arthur C. Clarke, but specifications (written in outline form)are David Foster Wallace. Sections and individual paragraphs have the following "authors": David Foster Wallace, Dan Brown, Arthur C. Clark, James Joyce, and Edgar Allen Poe.

The last one is perfectly ironic because the building in question houses a dairy research and teaching facility. I didn't know at the time that I was writing "The Fall of the House of Udders."

#103 ::: Dr. Phil ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:41 PM:

Yeah, I wasn't impressed when people started posting their results, so I did some tests:

(1) One of my stories scored a William Shakespeare. Really? Ol' Bill certainly had a way with those 29th century hard military SF war stories, complete with marines in armored fighting suits, didn't he?

(2) I ran the text from the Declaration of Independence and it came back H. P. Lovecraft. Not useful, unless you are into the Mother Of All Conspiracy Theories.

(3) I dumped in a directory listing of 352 zip files and it came back as Ian Fleming. Had no idea that James Bond was related to MS-DOS.

You can't fool a Physicist who knows both writing and programming. (grin)

Dr. Phil

#104 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 03:44 PM:

I put in my most recent blog post which happened to be about an odd dream, midnight drummers, and rain, and got George Orwell. (I would have been less bothered to get Dan Brown, but possibly that's because I haven't read anything of his.)

What I was particularly offended by, though, was the result of clicking the link labeled "proof," which manifestly provides nothing of the sort.

#105 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 04:03 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 76: "I'm not saying HPL was a racist -- I'm saying his writings show racist attitudes, which is a different statement."

I'm curious— why not? I expect most folk of that time period to be racist. It's one of the cultural markers of that time period, and fish have no word for water...

#106 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 04:44 PM:

B. Durbin@105: So you think it's a good idea to go ahead and say everybody in a period is the same? Especially if it's a despicable characteristic that's under consideration?

#107 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 04:55 PM:

"I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I Am." -- Ernest Hemingway.

#108 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:01 PM:

@105/@76 et seq

I wonder if this is a good moment to pop in with the reminder that systemic racism != personal bigotry, and that the word 'racist' (noun and adjective) is used interchangeably for both concepts.

'Cause otherwise I'm going to think I'm in one of the other blogs I read, and the default font size is bigger over there, and I'm going to be confused.

#109 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:28 PM:

Irene @94:

Shakespeare is good in English, but you need to read him in the original French.

#110 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:46 PM:

Bruce, #70: I had considered tossing some of my fanfic at it just for shits and grins, but reading the guy's response* to the suggestion that he broaden his database a little has more or less killed the fun for me.

Tom, #76: I get what you're trying to say there, but it's so clumsily phrased that it becomes almost a tautology -- "I'm not saying that he's a racist, only that he writes like one." And ddb @106, I think it's perfectly reasonable to assume that writers who consistently demonstrate attitudes which are typical of their period are themselves typical of their period WRT said attitudes. If they weren't, the presence of those attitudes would not be a consistent element in their writing. What would surprise me about Lovecraft would be to find a story in which the tropes of casual and accepted racism were refuted.

* It's just COINCIDENCE that all the people he picked were white and most of them male; he doesn't CONSIDER race and gender at all in making his choices, and REFUSES to add anyone else simply because they're non-white and/or female, and the REAL racists are the people who NOTICED what he did, because if you were REALLY color-blind you wouldn't notice it AT ALL. Ptui.

#111 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:50 PM:

ddb: She didn't say that everyone was, just that it's her default assumption.

I don't think that's all that unreasonable. The baseline culture was racist. One may reasonably assume the general majority of a culture will share that baseline, ergo; by default(at least in modern terms), one perhaps ought to so assume.

#112 ::: MrWilson ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 05:56 PM:

I entered text from Orwell's 1984 and it said the writing was like J.K. Rowling. I added the word 'fuck' to the end of the entry and suddenly it says the writing was like J.D. Salinger.

#113 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:22 PM:

First try with my latest blog entry gave me Dan Brown. *mope* Second try with an old essay gave me Margaret Atwood. Is this an indication of early-onset Alzheimers?

#114 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:26 PM:

ddb @106, hold on a minute. B Durbin's actual words were "I expect most folk of that time period to be racist." You replied with "So you think it's a good idea to go ahead and say everybody in a period is the same?"

Do you think "most people" and "everybody" are synonyms?

#115 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:36 PM:

Avram@114: No, of course not. But that was said in the context of defending the assertion that Lovecraft was racist. If you defend the assertion that Lovecraft was racist by saying most people were back then, it seems to me you're implicitly asserting that all people were back then; and I objected to that.

#117 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:46 PM:

Mary Dell - the Poppy Z. Brite link doesn't seem to go where it's meant to. (Takes me to the 'page not found' for nielsednhayden.com)

#118 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:48 PM:

I think it never occurred to the creator of "write like" that any of the included authors would find it and test their own work.

And yet, that's what makes it so funny!

#119 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 06:56 PM:

Mary Dell @ 66:
Presumably Burroughs is not in there.

That's a shame. As soon as someone here mentioned "word salad" I thought of Burroughs.

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:06 PM:

ddb @115:

I can find no way of parsing If you defend the assertion that Lovecraft was racist by saying most people were back then, it seems to me you're implicitly asserting that *all* people were back then that doesn't come out as tremendously insulting to B Durbin. Either you're saying she's weaselling or that she's incompetent with language. Otherwise, surely she'd have said all in order to assert all. Most means most. Why am I even having to say this?

Engage with what is said, not what you think was meant, at least until we've all got our telepathy modules warmed up. If uncertain, ask rather than assuming.

#121 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:14 PM:

Maybe it has something to do with the author's diet?

banana banana banana banana banana - Kurt Vonnegut
peach peach peach peach peach peach - Agatha Christie
watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon - Mark Twain
broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli - Chuck Palahniuk
steak steak steak steak steak steak - Ian Fleming
clam clam clam clam clam clam - Chuck Palahniuk
squid squid squid squid squid squid - Mario Puzo


And putting my previous comment into the mix:

word salad word salad word salad word salad word salad word salad - P. G. Wodehouse

#122 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:33 PM:

ddb @115, what? That makes no sense.

#123 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:39 PM:

ddb - in addition to what others have said, B. Durbin said that in the context of Tom having said that there were racist attitudes at play in Lovecraft's writing.

The statement 'it's OK to assume that someone was racist if he comes from a racist time AND writes like a racist' is not unreasonable. In fact, I think if someone's writing is racist it's reasonable to assume they were racist, which is what B. was asking Tom about.

Tolkien, for example, much as I like his writing, has a strong racist thread in his writing, and I don't consider it at all unfair to say that I think he was probably somewhat racist personally.

#124 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:49 PM:

If you defend the assertion that Lovecraft was racist by saying most people were back then, it seems to me you're implicitly asserting that all people were back then; and I objected to that.

You said this in reply to Avram saying that isn't so, and after Lee and Terry pointed out that it wasn't what B. said.

I'd like to see you address some of the arguments people have made against that assertion, because right now it seems like you're convinced that your rightness is intrinsic to you, rather than dependent on the quality of your evidence.

#125 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:57 PM:

I just heard the programmer on NPR. He's Eastern European.

Attitudes toward race are comparatively primitive in Eastern Europe. People in general are more openly racist there. Probably more sexist too (though I haven't seen as much direct evidence of that).

And no, ddb, that doesn't mean EVERYONE in Eastern Europe is a racist.

#126 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:01 PM:

David Goldfarb #12:
"I put in the essay I wrote (and just posted to my LJ) about a bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and it said that was like H.P. Lovecraft."

Well, Monty Python and The Holy Grail does have references to: a party of explorers being eaten one by one in a cave, cannibalism, monsters running amok, people involved in the occult, and maybe a few other things. So perhaps it is shades of Lovecraft there.

#127 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:07 PM:

David (106): Don't. Just don't. I went through weeks of depression and avoiding Making Light after your last round like this.

I swear to God, and with all due friendliness and respect to you, that you are suffering a memetic infection from people whose opinions on guns you may rightly value, but who are themselves victims and vectors of that infection. Said memes were cobbled together by paid flunkies who aren't worth a twentieth of what you're worth. Resist!

#128 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:16 PM:

@88: Apparently I read post content before author name. "Where'd they get a softcopy of The Graveyard Book? ...oh."

#129 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:26 PM:

Semicolons are Lovecraftian; adverbs are Tolkienesque. What are apostrophes -- Woodhouse?

My latest adventure: I typed in

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named Baby Tuckoo.
"You write like Ernest Hemingway," said the application.

#130 ::: 17catherines ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:33 PM:

I spent a pleasing morning typing bits of Shakespeare into that little program, on a similar principle to you. I only managed to catch Shakespeare writing like Shakespeare on one occasion (the rest of the time, he was writing like the Earl of Oxford...) (actually, at one point he was writing like Stephanie Meyer, which seemed a little uncalled-for).

I still want to run 'The Second Maiden's Tragedy' through that site, to see if it turns out to be Shakespeare's Cardenio. This program is clearly very accurate and could provide great insight into authorship debates...

#131 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:34 PM:

TNH #129: Wodehouse, ma'am, Wodehouse.

Sincerely,
R. Jeeves, Esq.

#132 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:38 PM:

Didn't anyone else get Kipling?

Don't tell me I'm the only one here who's Kippled!

#133 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:50 PM:

So many of these comments are making me want to read the texts they allude to! It's delightful to see the variety of things that people around here have been writing.

#134 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:50 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) #121:

The string "Cassava cassava cassava cassava cassava" got Daniel Defoe.

"Mango mango mango mango mango mango" got James Joyce.

"Passionfruit passionfruit passionfruit passionfruit passionfruit" was Ernest Hemingway.

"Pomelo pomelo pomelo pomelo pomelo" was Joyce again.

"Avocado avocado avocado avocado avocado" was Chuck Pahlaniuk.

Finally "Sapodilla sapodilla sapodilla sapodilla sapodilla" was the recurring James Joyce.

Joyce, it seems, really gums up the works.

#135 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 08:57 PM:

Thank you, Fragano. I already knew I was overtired, but I didn't spot the forms it was taking.

#136 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 09:37 PM:

So I plugged in the "Philosophy of Teaching" essay I wrote for the current job search, and it came back as William Shakespeare. Heh. Too bad I don't have any of the tech stuff I do for work handy.

I then plugged in chunks from five short stories I'm currently circulating. Three DFW, one Chuck Palahniuk, and one James Joyce (the urban fantasy, appropriately enough).

#137 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 10:05 PM:

17catherines: I spent a pleasing morning typing bits of Shakespeare into that little program, on a similar principle to you. I only managed to catch Shakespeare writing like Shakespeare on one occasion (the rest of the time, he was writing like the Earl of Oxford...) (actually, at one point he was writing like Stephanie Meyer, which seemed a little uncalled-for).

Please, never post this again anywhere. Twilight moms and tweens are bad enough: if they start loudly proclaiming how similar Meyer's books are to Shakespeare I think I'll throw myself out of a tree. And probably hit every branch on the way down.

#138 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 12:32 AM:

Cat @97: [..] my only recent piece of writing long enough to test was a rough draft of an essay comparing the roles of Jeeves and Alfred Pennyworth.

That does suggest an interesting variant of Batman.

#139 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 12:54 AM:

Some people want explanations, and some people don't, and I guess I'm going with "not" just at the moment.

#140 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 01:20 AM:

spam spam spam spam... -> Daniel Defoe.

#141 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 01:58 AM:

On Lovecraft, and racism -- there's a great deal of racism in Lovecraft's writing, both fiction and non-fiction. There's a lot of anti-semitism. And he married a Jewish woman (Sonia Greene). It's been demonstrated by his actions that his racism was at least somewhat conflicted, and that his actions were not as pernicious as his words might indicate.

#142 ::: Chris Sullins ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 02:30 AM:

Coming in a little late here, but from their blog: "Currently it analyzes vocabulary (use of words), number of words, commas, and semicolons in sentences, number of sentences with quotation marks and dashes (direct speech)." (Also: an interview with the creator.)

---------------------

So what would make a better one? Probably throw out word frequencies altogether, though perhaps we should include the universal ones like the gender genie (he, she, I, it, of, is, etc). I mean, probably Dan Brown is only so common because of his garden-variety prose. Perhaps some metric of how varied their vocabulary is. Is anything going to be accurate at a rate of a few paragraphs? Probably none. But you could do better than such a vocab-centric model.

On a side note, I'd love to see some infographics on what words are used uncommonly often by certain writers, or sets of writers. Group them by time period, genre, school, etc. I suppose it might be hard to distinguish subject-matter words from style words.

Also, I'm curious about how much of each author's corpus was fed to the Bayesian classifier.

He must have used Gutenberg + torrents, if he used the works in any quantity. Perhaps torrent-ability has something to do with which books he selected from the sources he had?

#143 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 04:06 AM:

With all this n words in a row repetition going on,
"badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger
mushroom mushroom a snake"
is like Neil Gaiman.

My recent Slashdot postings have mostly been by David Foster Wallace, but a few by others.
The antepenultimate part of this posting writes like
Chuck Palahniuk

#144 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 07:41 AM:

At this point I'm not willing to even believe in the real existence of this eastern-European software person who supposedly wrote the program.

#145 ::: Kate Y. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 07:58 AM:

I feel like Sheldon Cooper for saying this, but--I don't understand the time and attention being given to this quiz. Example after example is held up to demonstrate that it's gibberish; yet that somehow drives people to feed in still more strings of text, and then talk about the results as if they meant something.

What part of "no clothes" are we not getting?

The news story about statistical analysis of Agatha Christie's vocabulary, though--that's pretty cool.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127211884"

#146 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 08:06 AM:

Chris Sullins #142 But what would make a better one?

Well, that's kind of the point here. Recognizing writing style would be at least weak AI, if not strong. Bayesian methods aren't even in the running. Adding more authors, more of their work, more rules, and such, might get it to recognize actual quotes, and maybe a few pastiches. But it's never going to pick up on style.

#147 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 08:14 AM:

Kate Y. #145: The narrative fallacy is very sticky -- even when you know it's out of place, there's a "wet paint" temptation to keep poking at it.

#148 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 08:55 AM:

James 144: Well, they found someone to interview on NPR. They said he was in Montevideo.

#149 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 10:16 AM:

Kate Y @145: People chat about it because the results are so silly. Feed in one famous author and you get another: the cognitive dissonance of trying to reconcile the two brings laughter, the human substitute for primate grooming. There's also the mortification of being told you write like Dan Brown, even if it's by a dumb app.

#150 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 11:00 AM:

I am starting to find this meme very disturbing. I didn't even try the site, but then I don't bother with most memes these days, for the same mysterious reason they have started to make me feel just a tad sullied. And no, I can't explain why.

Maybe it all started when I started studying personality testing, which is at the moment very high in my list of pseudoscientific nonsense that somehow managed to pass itself off as good true science.

From what I know, a lot of personality testing is nowhere near more accurate than this meme. And yet it is used to hire or promote people, and even to decide on their guilt, innocence, and length of incarceration.

I think this is why a meme that purports to tell you which Tolkien character or kind of vampire you are makes me all uneasy now.

The style of writing, though, I find insulting. I don't have "one" style: my style varies a lot depending on what I write. And all of them are me, just as all Egan is Egan and all Tolkien is Tolkien, even though you might not be able to tell that the beginning of The Hobbit and The Ride of the Rohirrhim is written by the same hand unless you are familiar with him.

#151 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 06:11 PM:

Fragano @134: Joyce, it seems, really gums up the works.

My guess is the thing has a fairly small dictionary. It also counts any word it doesn't recognise as if they were the same word. The Joyce sample probably has the highest proportion of words not in the dictionary, so if you stick in text with a lot of words it doesn't recognise you're very likely to get Joyce back from it.

Not sure why David Foster Wallace seems so common, though.

Bruce @137: Twilight moms and tweens are bad enough: if they start loudly proclaiming how similar Meyer's books are to Shakespeare I think I'll throw myself out of a tree. And probably hit every branch on the way down.

Funnily enough I was watching the film of Twilight only a few days ago... there's a scene where Edward & Bella are way up in a tree poking out over the canopy of a thick pine forest, and I was kind of wishing the same fate might befall them. OK, so he's immortal, which would half spoil the fun...

(I know this is way offtopic, but is it just me who thinks that film could and should be about 20 minutes shorter without losing anything significant?)

Chris @142: So what would make a better one? Probably throw out word frequencies altogether

I'd agree with that. Separate into sentences. Stick sentences through a diagrammer and use individual diagrams (and fragments of diagrams) as your input. Add in a few other bits and pieces (sentence length, paragraph length, proportion of verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc). Feed these through a bayesian classifier, or perhaps something more interesting (self-organising feature map, anyone?).

Problem with this approach is it almost certainly needs more processor time than you could plausibly throw at it. Oh well.

#152 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2010, 10:55 PM:

Bruce Baugh #70, I counted six women last night: Le Guin, Atwood, Mitchell, Rowling, Austen, and Christie.

#153 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 12:49 AM:

Teresa - it's good to see you back at your own party

#154 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 01:01 AM:

On the subject of Twilight, an interesting question from Tim Walters last night at the meetup:

Why did the badly-written Harry Potter books get a pass because they were "getting kids reading", while the badly-written Twilight books don't? Is it a result of the target audience being primarily female rather than male*, or an essential difference in the books themselves?

----
* And if so, is that because getting boys to read is seen differently than getting girls to read, or is it a variant of the "romance ghetto", where books of interest to girls are discounted more than those of interest to boys?

#155 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 01:17 AM:

abi, I haven't read either series, but from what I hear Twilight is full of really bad messages about how a girl should behave toward a boy. Harry Potter is just an adventure story with no polemic for good or ill.

So I'm told.

#156 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 01:21 AM:

abi @154, I think that the Twilight books are coming in for more criticism because the objectionable content (Edward behaves like an abusive, controlling stalker, etc.) is much more obvious on a casual reading than the objectionable content in Harry Potter (many characters presented as heroic or sympathetic behave in ethically indefensible ways, and we're supposed to accept it or cheer it because they're the good guys, or because the actions result in bad outcomes for unsympathetic characters -- the fate of Dolores Umbridge at the mercy of the centaurs, the Weasley twins' extremely hazardous practical jokes especially when perpetuated on Dudley who has no magical remedy available), and, so, writing fluency aside, there are more people willing to object to Twilight purely on content.

Also, the earlier part of the Harry Potter series is aimed at a younger audience than Twilight. It's easier to defend a poorly-written but highly engaging story aimed at seven-year-olds, on the grounds that they'll learn to associate reading with pleasure early on, and develop more discriminating tastes as they grow. When the intended audience is 12-and-up? One assumes they've been reading with some proficiency for a number of years already, and are ready to tackle books that have some literary merit along with their story.

#157 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 02:21 AM:

Abi @154, "get a pass" from whom? I've seen plenty of people complain about the Harry Potter books -- most famously Harold Bloom, who said "Rowling's mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing." At a less famous level, friends of mine complained about the sexism in the books ("wizard" is both the term for a male magic-using person, and the generic term applied to the whole magical world, much like "man" is a male person and a person in general), and the way Hermione's house-elf eights efforts seemed like mockery of real-world civil rights campaigns. And Hogwarts's tolerance for abusive teachers, and the flaws of the house system, have all drawn criticism over the years.

While it does seem to me like the Twilight books get criticized more, and read less, within SF and fantasy fandom, that may be because they more closely resemble romance novels, while the Potter books look more like the sorts of novels we usually read. Out in the general culture, I have no idea how the two series are judged relative to each other.

#158 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 03:29 AM:

Avram: Nothing "gets a pass" (not my term) from everybody, but I've heard people defend HP by saying "at least it gets kids to read." (Of course some people just like it.) Anecdotally, Twilight is having some of the same effect on teenage girls, but I have never heard this offered as a defense, and in general Twilight seems to draw a lot more hate.

It may be that it's just that much worse than Harry Potter, or it may be that the "it gets kids reading" defense just got stuck to Harry Potter and passed around. Or it might be because Twilight is coded as "for girls," the way pop music aimed at teenage girls gets derided a lot more than equally dumb pop music aimed at teenage boys (or so it seems to me, anecdotally).

I was wondering aloud which of these (or what else) it might be, rather than trying to argue in favor of any of them.

The moral critique of Twilight may be valid for all I know, but isn't really what I'm talking about. It's the general mocking of "sparkly vampires."

#159 ::: Chris Sullins ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 04:01 AM:

David Harmon @146 My guess is that style recognition would be similar to (though perhaps more complicated than) speech and image recognition, etc; by recognizing enough of the markers by which we begin to evaluate style, a program might get a good portion of the way there. Speech recognition, as I understand it, has plateaued around 80% or 90% accuracy. I imagine this due in large part because a lot of our speech and hearing is inaccurate, requiring a lot of context-based evaluation. It would take strong AI to get all the way there, but I doubt noticing basic style markers is beyond the reach of weak AI.

Of course, it probably requires greater than human-grade AI to consistently recognize good writing. Then to also appreciate it requires another aspect of strong AI. ;)

(This assumes for kicks that "good writing" is a definable quality, rather than an organic product of the artistic zeitgeist. This is probably a false assumption.)

#160 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Tim Walters: I think it's a good question. But I'm not sure that a dislike of Twilight is the same as a generalised dislike of 'sparkly vampires': I certainly know people who are enthusiasts for the latter but dislike the former.

#161 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 04:37 PM:

Jules #151: The sap of the Sapote tree, which produces the sapodilla fruit, is a very thick gum. It's called "chicle" and is related to the very similar gum of the Chicle tree from which natural chewing gum is made.

Explaining puns does, I find, make them less funny.

#162 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 05:27 PM:

It's not trying at all. I put it the same text twice and got two different answers. I put in text that had been Rot-13 encrypted and got "Mark Twain."

#163 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 05:46 PM:

Tim @158, I think the Twilight books are also aimed a few years older than the Potter books, which may explain the difference in "get kids to read" reactions.

The mockery of "sparkly vampires" is pretty explicitly disdain for "girly" stuff. The mockery of the weird sexual dynamics (like the werewolf character falling in instant love with Bella's newborn baby) is typical alien-fetish squick factor. (You know, how a fetish you don't happen to share generally seems bizarre and incomprehensible.)

#164 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 07:17 PM:

Avram: Fetishizing female infants *is* gross. I don't see it as YKIOK, IJNMK--it's much closer to pedophiles who groom their victims.

#165 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 08:10 PM:

The mockery of "sparkly vampires" is pretty explicitly disdain for "girly" stuff.

I don't agree, at least not all of it. It's making vampires pretty instead of scary and dangerous. It's making them My Little Pony.

It's INFANTILIZING them.

Also, it's pretty evidently a reference to the Book of Mormon, which (to me) adds an additional ick factor (propaganda, though not as blatant as Narnia).

#166 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 08:20 PM:

But the magic in Harry Potter is pretty infantilized too, Xopher.

#167 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 09:03 PM:

Tim, #158: I can't speak for anyone else, but my extreme distaste for "sparkly vampires"* is on a par with my equally-extreme distaste for racism wrapped up in a pretty bow and presented as patriotism**. In each case, something intrinsically evil is being presented in an inaccurate -- nay, downright fraudulent! -- way as normal and good, targeted to people who don't have the experience necessary to recognize the scam.

Yes, vampires have often been portrayed as sexually attractive. But in most of the major pop-culture vampire tales (Dracula, Dark Shadows, Buffy/Angel are the ones I'm thinking about here because I'm familiar with them), the vampire's capacity for evil is made clear even when he is presented as a sympathetic character, and mortal women who get involved with vampires generally don't get happy endings out of it.

Twilight, AFAIK, turns this on its head, encouraging young girls to think that evil is good, and that abusive behavior is a symbol of love. That can do permanent, real-life damage (frex) to someone who is caught in an abusive home situation, by teaching them that this kind of thing is normal and nothing to worry about. TexAnne mentions the practice of sexual predators grooming their victims; IMO, the entire Twilight story from start to finish is designed to groom young women for eventual absorption into abusive relationships.***

Also, this.


* Are there sparkly vampires anywhere but in Twilight? If not, then it doesn't make sense to separate the two.

** I considered picking something else fictional, such as Disney's portrayals of dangerous wild animals as friendly and cuddly. But I chose this analogy for reasons which should be clear by the time I get to the end of my argument.

*** As are many other books and movies in the "romance" category, but far fewer of them are aimed so explicitly at girls in the 10-14 age range.

#168 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 09:14 PM:

Lee #167: the entire Twilight story from start to finish is designed to groom young women for eventual absorption into abusive relationships

I've seen that mentioned before; has the author publicly addressed that issue?

#169 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 09:29 PM:

abi, infantilizing kids seems OK to me. Even making magic childish in a book intended for kids doesn't seem so bad.

But making VAMPIRES into pretty playthings makes me retch.

#170 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 09:43 PM:

Earl: This is one of those things where the author need not be aware of the structure.

From what I've seen of analysis, the stories make abusive men into "good" partners. The author may thing abusive relationships are bad, but she's making them look good.

#171 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 10:37 PM:

I'm with Xopher here. It seems like some of us are trying to suggest that Rowling and Meyer are equally bad writers, and that the greater fannish disdain for Meyer is an expression of some sort of deep-seated unfairness.

I think this is bullshit. For all her faults, Rowling is ten times the writer Meyer is. Yes, Rowling's writing is shot through with clichés; also, nobody in genre SF or fantasy has a greater mastery of _pace of revelation_ than she does. The techniques of which she has fantastic command just happen to be the techniques most needed by new readers of fantasy. Thus: big win. Meyer can claim no such accomplishment. If you share her fetishes, you enjoy her work, and more power to you. (I'm entirely in favor of people enjoying their fetishes.) If you don't, you don't.

#172 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 10:56 PM:

Without disagreeing in the least about the subtext of the Twilight series*, the basic thing that readers of Myers' books are getting is the experience of reading connected prose for pleasure.

If all you read is Seventeen magazine, tackling a several hundred page book and finding out that you enjoy it is a non-trivial matter. It may lead to trying other books, not all of which will have the same themes and subtexts.

And many of the stories I heard about the Harry Potter books are the same: kids who didn't read at length started to do so, because they got hooked on them, goofy characters and improbable scenarios and all.

-----
* based on what I have heard; I have not read them. Here's the salt cellar.

#173 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 11:29 PM:

Xopher @165, for someone who claims not to agree, you're doing an awfully good job of agreeing. What's "My Little Pony" if not "girly stuff"?

And what's wrong with infantilizing vampires? It's not like they exist. "My Little Pony", not to mention teddy bears and other stuffed animals, are babyish, cartoon versions of actually existing dangerous animals.

#174 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 11:34 PM:

Avram, it's BABY stuff, that's what.

Twilight vampires are DUMBED DOWN. That's what I don't like about them.

#175 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2010, 11:48 PM:

Abi @ 172... the experience of reading connected prose for pleasure

What I've heard about Twilight gives me no desire to read it, but... But I wouldn't say so to someone who obviously enjoys it. It's none of my business what gives them pleasure. The high-school kids who made fun of the whole genre of SF, which gave me so much pleasure had no such business either. I have no wish to do that to somebody else.

People might say that those stories will harm F/SF. The same thing was said about Star Trek. The same thing was said about Star Wars in 1977. The field survived them.

#176 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 12:05 AM:

Xopher @174, but it's not. I mean, sexy sparkly vampires appeal to teenaged girls, not to infants. (You're aware that these kids today often wear glitter when they go out dancing to their music which is just noise, right?)

Come to think of it, Star Trek was pretty dumbed down (especially The Next Generation), and yet lots of SF fans like it just fine.

I haven't read any of the Twilight books, and don't think I'd like them, but personally, the sparkling thing? I think it's pretty clever. Meyer's taken a traditional bit of vampire lore (avoidance of sunlight), and put a new spin on it that's appealing to her target audience, and is genuinely novel.

#177 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 12:24 AM:

Of course I meant My Little Pony is baby stuff.

Avram, you're entitled to like Twilight if you want to. And if you want to play with My Little Pony, you're entitled to that, too. Hell, if you want a BINKY I'm not going to say you nay.

I don't think teenage girl stuff is any stupider than teenage boy stuff. Sparkly vampires: stupid. Frodo doesn't have a pool: stupid.

And heroic sparkliness isn't novel; she got it from the Book of Mormon. To my mind, the repressive misogynistic culture in which she was raised gives some hint about why her books have a heroine who is obedient to an abusive controlling stalker male.

#178 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 12:38 AM:

#165 Xopher:

Twilight a reference to the book of Mormon?

If I were a cartoon character you would see a large question mark over my head.

#179 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 12:52 AM:

Xopher @177, I'm losing track. @165, sparkly vampires are like "My Little Pony", and @174, they (or something) are "baby stuff". @177, it's the Ponies that are the baby stuff, and sparkly vampires are teenage girl stuff, which implies that you're once again agreeing with my ct @163 that "The mockery of 'sparkly vampires' is pretty explicitly disdain for 'girly' stuff", but raises the question of why you brought up the Ponies to begin with, seeing as how teenagers aren't babies.

I have no idea what "Frodo doesn't have a pool" means, or why it's stupid.

Do vampires sparkle in the Book of Mormon?

#180 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 01:04 AM:

My Little Pony is a dumb-down (for little kids) of horses.

Sparkliness is a dumb-down (for teenagers, but to my mind too young for them) of vampires' vulnerability to sunlight. Meyer can't have them DIE of sunlight, no, that would mean someone besides another good strong Mormon male vampire could take one of them out.

"Frodo doesn't have a pool" is a reference to this. Teenage male friends tell me this sort of conversation is absolutely typical among them, though they claim they're absolutely not serious.

AFAIK there are no vampires in the BM, but there is "sparkliness," though it's called something else. I can't find a reference to it just now. There's a whole troop of adolescent males who are so righteous that they're glorified and sparkle in the sunlight (or something very like that). They're JS's idea of a perfect teenage boy (i.e. utterly obedient to him/God).

#181 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 01:17 AM:

I don't know whether the Book of Mormon has guys sparkle, but if they're just shining then it may very well be an echo of Exodus 34:29, when Moses' skin shone as he came down off of Mt Sinai.

#182 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 01:38 AM:

It's not a "dumb-down" -- the idea that vampires die in sunlight isn't any more complicated or difficult to understand than the idea that they sparkle in sunlight.

Bram Stoker didn't have his vampires die of sunlight either. (Dracula's powers didn't work during the daylight hours, so the protagonists needed to kill him during that time to keep him from coming back, but sunlight didn't kill him directly, like it does vampires on Buffy.) Is that a problem?

#183 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 02:29 PM:

The diversity of American vampire lore (that is, what has developed in 20th century popular culture, which borrows from multiple sources and makes up a lot of stuff) is fascinating.

I'm still wondering if vampires show up on film. Some versions of the mirror thing require the "silvering" to be actual silver, and the argument that author (I forget who naturally) made was that silver, being a "noble" metal, would not reflect the evil creature. Well, then it probably shouldn't capture their image on film, either. If the camera viewfinder path uses mirrors, they wouldn't show in the viewfinder; but for a simple optical viewfinder like in most snapshot cameras they would, just not on the film.

Digital changes things; they still wouldn't show in DSLR viewfinders (if we still use actual silver for mirrors and pentaprisms?), but they should show up in the actual image captured with CMOS or CCD sensors, no silver required. And so they'd show on the LCD screens too.

Somehow this level of detail is not what a lot of vampire authors are focusing on, for some reason :-).

#184 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 03:13 PM:

ddb, in Moonlight, vampires didn't show up on film, but did show up in digital photographs/video. I think the explanation had something to do with the silver, but I can't remember the details.

I thought that was cool.

#185 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 03:22 PM:

Xopher@184: Moonlight the short-lived CBS paranormal romance TV series? (That seems to make sense, but I had to go looking for things called moonlight since I didn't previously know of it.) That's cool!

I do remember one author disposing of a vampire with a large tank of exhausted photographic fixer (silver-laden solution).

#186 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 03:25 PM:

Yep, that one. With the hunk actor who later briefly played a doctor on a transplant show. Every week the ads for the show had him saying "this is a second chance. Take it!" to someone.

Hence the 'briefly'.

Personally, I don't think silver should bother vampires. That's werewolves, though why it should bother THEM isn't clear to me either.

#187 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 03:29 PM:

Personally, I don't think silver should bother vampires. That's werewolves, though why it should bother THEM isn't clear to me either.

Especially since werewolves are associated with the moon, and silver is the moon's metal.

Current World of Darkness has it that the werewolves pissed off Luna, but then She forgave them. She wasn't able to completely lift the curse She'd laid to make silver harm them, so to compensate She gave them power linked to Her phases.

Which is a total hack, but hey, it's a White Wolf rpg. What can you expect. :)

#188 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 03:39 PM:

Tim Walters #158: It's the general mocking of "sparkly vampires."

Well, that's another issue... besides the issues of the writing skill, the moral messages, and so on, the author tried to personally reinvent a popular archetype in terms of her own religion... without bothering to learn about the original. Combine this with the issues about making the vampires heroic and the whole abusive relationship thing, and an awful lot of people are getting one button or another pushed.

ddb #183: The Christianized version I heard was that silver received powers against evil as compensation for being dragged into the whole Crucifixion thing, with the "thirty pieces of silver". I assume that as usual, this is a syncretic absorption of an older tradition granting the "moon-metal" power over creatures of the night.

#189 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 03:45 PM:

Prophets shine,
Vampires sparkle,
Women glow,
Men perspire,
and horses sweat.

Is that how it goes now?

#190 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 04:49 PM:

Vampires glitter;
Werewolves growl;
Zombies litter;
Banshees howl;
Ghosts don't travel,
And never forgive;
Mummies unravel;
You might as well live.

#191 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 04:59 PM:

I thought the silver weakness of werewolves was an invention cooked up by Universal's movies of the 1930s.

#192 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 05:00 PM:

Avram #190: Ooh, nice one!

#193 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 05:35 PM:

So this has been staring me in the face in my IRC client for the last week:

"Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.” — Stephen King [allegedly]

So who of you are hanging out in my other hangouts?

(nearly OT, I live near forks. We just got a new (to us) chicken, named Buffy. Very useful creature to have in these parts)

#194 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 05:37 PM:

ddb @ 185 -- Then there's Joe L. Hensley's short-short, "Argent Blood". (Which I now realize, on rereading, probably wouldn't work because of solubility issues.)

#195 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 05:48 PM:

ddb @ 185: there was also Ultraviolet, the short-lived British paranormal definitely-not-romance TV series. The vampires didn't show up on digital viewfinders, which, attached to a handgun, allowed the wielder to correctly identify targets. For a change, the secret government conspiracy were the good guys, as were the Vatican. A shame it didn't last longer, really.

#196 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 06:26 PM:

Mike McHugh@195: So you could shoot anything you couldn't see? Glad I wasn't in the neighborhood while that was going on!

Mind you, a few handgun bullets wouldn't do much good against most vampires anyway.

#197 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 06:50 PM:

ddb: No, you could use the "scope" to ID the target and then engage with iron sights.

One of the things which I've heard about Twilight is the "sparkly" (and pale) vampires vs. the dark (and native american) werewolves.

The former are good, and the latter are evil; apparently intrinsically.

As for killing vampires... there are all sorts of ways (romanian, as I recall, require a nail in the skull).

#198 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 08:08 PM:

Terry Karney @ 197:

One of the things which I've heard about Twilight is the "sparkly" (and pale) vampires vs. the dark (and native american) werewolves.

The former are good, and the latter are evil; apparently intrinsically.

With the caveat that I haven't read the books, this doesn't match any of the detailed summaries and explanations I've read of the books, or the movies made from them.

It's pretty explicit that most vampires are the evil guys: the Obligatory Boyfriend is from a family who are regarded as deeply peculiar by all the other vampires for their insistence on not actually eating humans. Conversely, the werewolves, while hitting the unpleasant Noble Savage tropes pretty hard, are still presented as overall being good people, who fight against evil vampires.

There are certainly problematic racial issues in the book, don't get me wrong. But "vampires are inherently good, werewolves are inherently evil" is very much not what's presented in the series.

#199 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 08:27 PM:

Did using silver bullets against vampires/werewolves/etc. come before or after the Lone Ranger was using them as one of his trademarks? (He made them in his silver mine back in the wherever-it-was mountains.)

Vampires vs. werewolves has been done by other authors as well, such as Underworld, though I haven't kept track of whether the Lichens\\\\\\ lycans were still the bad guys by movie #3. And long before that there was Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros with demons vs. witches.

#200 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2010, 09:28 PM:

Our friend Matthew Skala— who very probably lurks here— has written an authoritative explanation of why any kind of "I Write Like" thingy almost certainly, always, will be pure balonium. Sure, it's possible the horse was already dead, but I think he should be commended for stepping up to make a conclusive diagnosis possible.

#201 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 12:55 AM:

Re: the Twilight/Mormon connection, the only things I know about it I found here, which I have a vague recollection of having seen originally on ML. Haven't read the books because I've seen enough samples to know Ms. Meyer's writing style is right up there with Dan Brown's. And if the film clips in that Buffy vs. Edward video accurately reflect the Edward of the novels, it's another good reason to give the series a pass.

OTOH, I'll grant you that Rowling's all too fond of weird adverbs ("beadily", anyone?), and I found the sheer number of alliterative names occasionally trying, and it's possible the later books might have been improved by a few cuts...but on the gripping hand, she told a story that kept me coming back through seven volumes, plus multiple re-reads. It could boil down to a matter of taste.

#202 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 01:54 AM:

There's plenty of discussion and speculation to be found by just googling the terms Twilight and Mormon.

#203 ::: rienzi0711 ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 09:04 AM:

Amazingly, "martini martini martini martini martini martini martini" also yields Ian Fleming.

#204 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 09:26 AM:

Apart from the expense, silver bullets are hard to make to modern dimensional standards. Silver behaves differently when cooling and solidifying than lead does, so casting them (assuming you can even melt the silver; much higher temp than lead) in the same mold will produce bullets that are enough smaller to matter in a modern gun (a few thousandths of an inch). I suspect it's a literary trope rather than anything anybody ever took very seriously, so that's not too important; or else it's old enough that expected tolerances were looser (and despite memories to the contrary, what I've found online says they come out smaller than lead bullets from the same molds, so they wouldn't be disastrous to the shooter, or hard to load).

#205 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 10:23 AM:

ddb @ 204: I take it you're familiar with Jack Lewis' article on the subject?

#206 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 10:33 AM:

ddb @ 204: I take it you're familiar with Jack Lewis' article on the subject?

#207 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 10:34 AM:

I am pretty sure I didn't use any Words of Power, so I must have borked the html on the single link in my post held for the moderaptors....

#208 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 10:49 AM:

Mark @206:

Yes, malformed link.

Everyone:

Look at the HTML Tags section above the posting window to see how to form links if you are in any doubt whatsoever. Or even if you're sure, to be sure you're sure about the right thing.

#209 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 11:40 AM:

Mark@205: I've seen the Lone Ranger one, but not some of the more recent work also near there on that site; thanks!

Clearly a lot of people watched that show. I even did sometimes.

#210 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 12:04 PM:

Abi@207: I find it a useful test to actually follow the links from the preview. Usually I use "Open link in new tab" so I don't need to rely on the "Back" button to get to the preview.

I've occasionally neglected to test the links. To my regret.

#211 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 12:42 PM:

abi @ 207: ...and no matter how often you've done this and how sure you are, proofreading is still your friend. Missed keys and simple distraction can happen to anybody. :-P

#212 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 01:00 PM:

Many years ago, at an SF convention, I was told about the machinegun which fired wooden bullets.

This was .303 Bulleted Blank. There was a muzzle attachment which shredded the wooden bullet. The idea seems to be that the bullet gave a high enough gas pressure to cycle the action on a Bren gun.

This isn't likely to be very accurate, if you didn't fit the muzzle adaptor. But a burst from a Bren gun at close range is going to be something of a shock to a wood-sensitive vampire.

#213 ::: Chris Winter ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 07:20 PM:

I took a look at the HTML on the "IWL" page. Gah! It doesn't even have "head" or "body" sections.

I'm not interested in exploring the site further.

#214 ::: Travis Cottreau ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 09:26 PM:

I also ran a few tests using the Gutenberg project libraries. If you put enough in, they seem to successfully recognize Twain and Dickens. :)

It didn't take long before it was obvious that it's a pretty simple algorithm, but I stopped after that.

No matter what algorithm you use, short sentences like the ones used in the examples above will be useless. The samples are too small, but you will get a closest match, even if it's a bad match.

#215 ::: Brian Dean ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 09:40 PM:

I typed the following text from Empire Falls

____________
How does it feel, Francine to know your husband shot himself in the head rather than spend one more minute on this earth with you?

Francine Whiting.

Was she surprised when her husband returned after 10 years in exile? Many people thought he'd gone mad. What sort of man travels all the way from Mexico to shoot himself in Maine? But maybe what he went was sane. He had long ago stopped blaming God for everything. It was his wife who was responsible. It was she who'd made him so angry that afternoon that he had backed out of his garage without looking and run over his infant child. It was his wife who had kept him from the daughter who had needed him so desperately. She who had concocted the story of the hit-and-run driver then held that lie over him for the rest of his life using it to deny him love when at last he'd found it.


Can it be that in the darkest of waters the sun never penetrates? Or that it penetrates just enough to make that darkness visible?
______________

It said that I write like Kurt Vonnegut (I guess Kurt Vonnegut has a similar style to Richard Russo?)

#216 ::: Brian Dean ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 09:45 PM:

By the way, does Stephen King really write like the following?

__________________
He who poops is full of pee. And he who pees, is the pea carrot monster. The pea carrot monster poops cream style corn which hardens, which indicates that the saying "The pea carrot monster shits bricks." is true. It also means that this monster is the primary inspiration behind the pea shooter.
__________________

#217 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2010, 10:02 PM:

Brian Dean -- structurally, he frequently does. It's a very simple declarative style, which King is quite good at.

#218 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:27 AM:

About vampires and DSLRs: I once cooked up a theory to explain the Ultraviolet type of vampire, or for that matter any vampire that was visible, but did not have a reflection, thus not obeying the laws of physics. I explained it to a friend, who then mentioned it on an rpg board, but I have never seen it since.

1. All vampires are invisible. (This solves the reflection problem.)
2. All vampires can project an image of themselves into the minds of people they are aware of. Instruments are too difficult, so nothing in lenses or small mirrors. This also means that the vampire cannot be seen over long distances.
3. Most vampires are unaware that they can do this, but they all have a default image that resembles them from when they were alive. A small number eventually find out about this, and start using it to their advantage, projecting images in mirrors and so on. They do not let it on though.

I think that makes sense.

#219 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 10:59 AM:

Stephan Brun@217: This also explains the ability to transform (into bats or whatever) rather neatly.

#220 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 11:33 AM:

Since the thread's expanded to include them: I suppose I've already recommended cleolinda's LiveJournal deconstructions of the Twilight books / movies here enough - but has this blog discovered the joys of the Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fanfic yet? If not, have at it...

Also: this is just to say

i have consumed
the sparkly vampire fiction
that was on
the bookshelf

and which
you were probably
saving
for a desert island

Forgive me
it was repetitious
so fraught
and so cold

--Dave

#221 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 12:14 PM:

Just projecting an image would make it impossible to shoot the bat, however, so we would hear about bats being invulnerable. If one assumes the transformation takes place and that the self-image changes, one gets a consistent process. All this happens without the vampires being aware of it, too, so they believe they are visible also.

Of course, a vampire who has figured out how to project their image elsewhere, could become really scary...

#222 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 01:21 PM:

David DeLaney (219): Michael Roberts (iirc) linked to that in a recent Open Thread. But it's well worth referencing again.

#223 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:04 PM:

David Harmon @ 188 - Do you have a citation for the Christianised story about silver's property? I read it in my teens and haven't been able to find it again anywhere. Since it's a crucial plot element in my current novel (which, incidentally, got Vladimir Nabokov on iwl, despite being set in Stuart England) I'd really love to check it against my dim memory.

Melissa Mead @ 132 - I got Kipling! from a short post-battle scene set in medieval China. But the story I wrote in intentional imitation of Kipling ranked as Mark Twain (so did my story intentionally written in imitation of Mark Twain).

A short scene of milking a sheep, cut at my agent's request, got me Neil Gaiman. Do you think that would be a good argument for reinstating it?

#224 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:10 PM:

Chris Winter #212:

I took a look at the HTML on the "IWL" page. Gah! It doesn't even have "head" or "body" sections. I'm not interested in exploring the site further.

Actually, the start tag and end tag for HTML, HEAD, and BODY are all optional. The shortest valid HTML document is “<title></title>”; a proper HTML(/SGML) parser will infer the HEAD and BODY from the child elements, and can do so since everything(?) but SCRIPT is only allowed to occur in one or the other, not both.

It may be good practice to include them, but it is not mandatory.

#225 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:26 AM:

Oh, The Methods of Rationality made me laugh.

#226 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 10:47 AM:

The Methods of Rationality is really excellent; especially the first chunk.

#227 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:25 PM:

Barbara Gordon #222: Sorry, no citation -- for me also, it's something I read long ago and far away.

#228 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 10:02 AM:

ddb, I had a rethink, and you are right about casting images explaining the bat-transformation. It would so easily explain that most vampires cannot transform into anything; in particular, e.g. whedonite vampires. If it's a limited skill that few know the full implications of, that would indeed explain so much.

So vampires give no reflection in mirrors, cast no shadows and transforms into bats and wolves, not because they are vampires, but because they are invisible and send out images using PSI. See? It all makes sense, now. ;D

#229 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 01:46 PM:

Faher Brown refers (disapprovingly) to the legend that one who has sold his soul to the devil can only be killed by a silver bullet, in 'The Dagger with Wings' (published in collected form in 1926, probably written earlier). So there was some kind of silver superstition at large then, though it's not explictly linked with vampires (though vampires are also mentioned in the story) or werewolves.

#230 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 02:29 PM:

Add me to the list of those who have been enjoying The Methods of Rationality. And thanks to those who have, at intervals, provided a link (since I keep forgetting to bookmark it).

#231 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 05:43 PM:

Faher Brown

That should of course be Father Brown, the Chesterton character, just in case anyone is looking for the mysterious Faher.

#232 ::: Susan Kitchens ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 07:58 PM:

Inspired by wordsalad wordsalad wordsalad, I looked up Sarah Palin's resignation speech from a year ago, entered it in and lo, she writes like Nabakov.

!!

#233 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2010, 01:06 PM:

Chipping in late (I haven't been keeping up with Making Light, sadly) to say that I really like Stephan Brun's theory about vampires.

Orthogonally, it reminds me of the way Barbara Hambly does vampires. Her vampires also project an image of themselves, based on the way they looked when alive, into the minds of onlookers. The difference is that, without the glamour, they're not invisible; rather, one seems them as they really are. Which is not a pleasant thing to see, and explains why they avoid mirrors.

#234 ::: Serge sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 06:58 PM:

A casino that's not very royale.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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