Sometimes They Come Back

Featuring bonus Tabs lore, due to Circumstances.

“I’m a pleaser, and I want to appear powerful enough as a creator to deliver my best material every day,” [Onstad] tells me in an email. “(this is a great way to annihilate yourself, btw).”

Ha ha, I’m laughing! And all my Professional Feelings are here with me, just out of frame, laughing too. Onstad seems most excited about an aggressively mid AI-powered version of Ray’s advice column that he is currently financing with “a series of 26-by-36-inch canvases to auction,” which strikes me as kind of grim. “Cat and Girl” is also back, so I guess we’re just waiting for “Hark! A Vagrant” to reëmerge now.

Speaking of things that are back, it’s been 857 days since Today in Tabs re-launched on January 1st, 2021. If you’ll permit me to indulge in some lore, the original run of this newsletter was September 25th, 2013 to January 29th, 2016, which is 856 days, so the Tabs reboot has now existed for longer than its initial run. If you joined us any time since 2021, here’s the rest of the backstory. I remember how burned out I was in January 2016, and how ready I was to stop writing, and I’m so glad that I feel absolutely none of that now. Let’s do 857 more days and check in again on Sept. 11, 2025?

Casey Johnston: “Just wanna say happy 5/8 to all you short kings out there”

It’s a good day on The Verge, which also has Adi Robertson on Something Awful’s Great Imgur Download Caper and David Pierce recapping the rise and fall of Google AMP, a scourge on my bookmarks that is happily almost dead:

“The problem was that when Google launched it, they also said, ‘You have to use AMP. We built a standard, it’s shit, it’s terrible, it’s not ready, it does only like a quarter of what you need it to do, but we need you to use it anyway because otherwise we’re just not going to show your articles in mobile search results anymore,’”…

So basically things online come and go, and sometimes they come back. But Intern Camille has been thinking about what it means when that ephemerality is built into a project on purpose, rather than the result of burnout or failure.

11:11 Make a Fish

“Ephemeral media” are websites that build off of small distinctive moments, and reward some patience on the part of the visitor., for example, provides users with a randomly generated fish at 11:11 but no other time of day (unless you solve “a fun code-deobfuscation puzzle” and reverse engineer the site’s JavaScript). Or Spencer Chang's HTML Garden, part of The HTML Review, which asks users to come back each day, to see a garden blossom and slowly collect new odd plant species in a record that is saved on-site. There is no way to rush the creation of fish or flowers, they only respond the passage of time.

http://a procedurally generated fish from

In some ways, the deliberate friction in these sites reminds me of what Guy Debord writes in The Society of the Spectacle (1967), which may seem pretentious until you learn that I discovered it via a forum discussion of this video on machine elves. Debord argues that “[i]n societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles" i.e. constant and overwhelming novelty that only asks you to be astounded by it and to consume more of it, rather than taking time to sit with it or contemplate it.

These ephemeral websites, which force quiet moments of engagement, feel like a resistance to spectacle. They do not overwhelm with a grand display of technological capability, but instead reward an act of engaging and living—there's something lovely in knowing that the site is transient and changing. They provide an immediacy of delight that isn't meant to astound, but instead be revisited.

The archaic word of the day is woggin: another word for penguin.

—Camille Butera is quietly counting the minutes until 11:11

Is BeReal the most Situationist social media? And if so, is it ironic that according to Casey Newton, it’s dying due to lack of novelty, or is that just inevitable in the society of the spectacle?

Either way, this weekend’s biggest spectacle was Amy Chozick getting—and I quote her own editor, as quoted in her own piece—“rolled” by the inveterately fraudulent Elizabeth “it’s just Liz now” Holmes in a New York Times profile that’s long on gauzy maternal doting and short on details of Holmes’s many crimes.

Day 43: the morning we went for breakfast and Ms. Holmes breastfed her baby, Invicta (Latin for “invincible”) and sang along to Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants” on the loudspeakers (“This is the first album I ever owned.”).

Aw, she’s just like people! Here’s another anecdote:

I can’t shake an earlier story that Mr. Evans relayed. In the waning days of Theranos, Ms. Holmes got a dog, a Siberian husky named Balto. Last year, when a mountain lion carried Balto away from the front porch, Ms. Holmes spent 16 hours searching in the woods, digging through brambles and poison oak, hoping to find him alive. Everyone knew Balto was dead, but Ms. Holmes kept searching. The relentlessness. The certainty. The fanaticism. It’s the same way Ms. Holmes kept hanging on at Theranos.

Of course at the time, Holmes insisted that Balto was a wolf (who “frequently urinated and defecated at will throughout Theranos headquarters,” lol). It’s almost like Holmes and her husband (who does seem well-suited to her) are experts at telling stories in whatever way best serves their interests in the moment. Chozick does seem to understand this by the end of the profile, but I’m not sure whether “knowingly credulous” is a much better authorial stance than “inadvertently credulous,” when you’re profiling a world-class con artist.

Zack Silberberg: “yooo how was the date last night? cant help but notice that your leitmotif has incorporated a playful glockenspiel this morning 👀”

Also Today in Things That Are Gone: RIP BuzzFeed News, and I can’t believe Tabs outlived you. It feels wrong. The BuzzFeed sickos went out with this e-doorstop of an oral history post:

Katie Notopoulos, senior tech reporter: I like to imagine Elon Musk’s face if he ever finds out that Twitter paid to run a BuzzFeed News morning show. That’s worth it all.

And Micah Lee deleted his Twitter, six months after “Elon Musk threw one of his first tantrums as the King of Twitter and banned [him] (along with a bunch of other journalists) for tweeting about him censoring Mastodon,” because no one actually needs Twitter anymore.

Finally: Ted Chiang wrote another banger about AI for The New Yorker.

I would like to propose another metaphor for the risks of artificial intelligence. I suggest that we think about A.I. as a management-consulting firm, along the lines of McKinsey & Company.

McKinsey / AI for jail, 2023. Please read this one, if for nothing other than the way Chiang allows questions to answer themselves simply by precisely defining terms like “AI” and “capitalism.”

Today’s Song: Linkin Park, “Faint”

Music Intern Sam tells me that nü-metal is undergoing a critical reëvaluation. This song does rip pretty hard. Thanks to Intern Camille, and thank you for joining me on 857 relatively enjoyable days of tabbing, and hopefully 857 more to come. As always, paid subscribers keep it going. If today is the day you join us, hit the button and:

Registered at the Post Office as: “still kind of terrified this won’t work.”

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