I tried to get ChatGPT to write jokes. It failed spectacularly.

“chatgpt doing stand up” by Midjourney

You’ve probably heard all about it.

ChatGPT is the latest machine learning bot that’s tearing up the internet (and apparently also passing exams at business schools).

It’s the latest piece of technology that people are going to want to ban, burn, or bury (and not entirely without good reason), but which – let’s face it – is not only likely here to stay, but actually become more prominent as the years go by.

So, with that mindset, I said “what the hell? Let’s give it a spin.”

Only, instead of using it to earn an MBA on the side I wondered what would happen if I asked a bot to try and tell me jokes.

ChatGPT – How Does it Work?

The bot is basically a chatbot.

When you boot it up from OpenAi’s website, you get what is basically a messenger system waiting for a prompt.

You’re then free tot type in whatever you want.

In my case, I started with this:

Tell me a joke that no one has ever heard before

And here’s what the bot gave me in return:

As a language model trained on a vast amount of text, it’s possible that some jokes I generate might have been heard before. But here’s one that might be new:

Why did the scarecrow win an award? Because he was outstanding in his field!


Well, the disclaimer wasn’t really needed. I knew I wasn’t talking to Don Rickles’ ghost here, but how about the joke itself?

Not exactly the most laugh out loud 1-2 out there, and certainly not entirely original either.

A quick Google search confirmed my feeling that I had heard that particular deadbeat, 1950s style joke before.

Forum, after forum, were filled with that setup and punchline.

A solid 1/5 rating. Yes, it was a joke, but no it wasn’t original.

Time for another try:

Make up a new joke

And its reply:

I’m sorry if my previous jokes were not to your liking. As an AI language model, I generate content based on patterns in the data I was trained on, which includes a large number of jokes, puns, and other humor. Here’s a joke that I generated just now, it’s not based on any existing material:

Why did the robot go to the bar? Because it wanted to oil up its circuits!

Well, that was actually surprising. Not the disclaimer, but the “joke.”

I’d certainly never heard it, and apparently neither had the internet. When I searched it, it turned up blank.

Points for originality. Only problem is, it looks like a joke, sounds like a joke, but is it a joke?

I mean, unless “oil up” is slang for “get shitfaced” it’s a bit flat. And not really funny, to be honest, not even in a dad-joke way.

Still – if it did write this without stealing something from a forum, that’s kind of impressive.

I suppose the alternative is that this joke is so bad that even the internet forgot it.

In any case, it also gave me hope that if I pressed it further, it might eventually write a better joke:

Tell me another original not based on existing material

The reply:

Certainly! Here’s another original joke that I generated just now:

Why did the math book look sad? Because it had too many problems!

Hold up.

I know the bot said it generated it just now, but that’s an old one too.

And yep, the internet confirmed I wasn’t crazy. It even found that one listed on a site listing dad jokes.

Dad jokes.

Well, there it is.

ChatGPT is a Dad Joke Generator

Realizing, I was going down a dark road into the kinds of jokes you overhear while camping in Ontario, it was time to switch gears.

This time I wanted it to conjure up Don Rickles’ ghost. If anyone could tell a mean stand-up joke, it was that old bastard:

Give me a joke like don rickles would tell

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, here was the reply:

Don Rickles was a legendary comedian known for his sharp wit and insult humor. Here’s a joke in the style of Don Rickles that I came up with:

Why did the chicken cross the playground? To get to the other slide!

I hope this joke brings a smile to your face!

Well, gotta hand it to the bot for pulling a fast one on me like that. It sets it up like it’ll be the real deal, only to hit me with another savage dad joke.

Honestly, it’s possible Don Rickles told that joke – and if he did, he definitely sprinkled in a few “assholes” along the way.

But even then… not sure if the Wikipedia entry opening was his style either.

A little saddened by my failure of getting a good joke so far, I tried one final time.

It was time to double down.

give me a better one

I made my demand short and sweet. Time for it to take the kiddie gloves off.

The reply:

My apologies, let me try again. Here’s a joke in the style of Don Rickles that I generated:

Why did the scarecrow win an award? Because he was outstanding in his field!

I hope this one is closer to the style of humor you were looking for!

Ah yes, the fabled Don Rickles joke about the award-winning scarecrow.

And worst – already recycling jokes five minutes into the set. Classic.

I guess in a way, ChatGPT is a little limited when it comes to original humour.

But maybe that’s the real joke here – having this dad joke chewing bot take me for a spin.

I hope someone is laughing at least.


I Rolled Character Portraits From My Cyberpunk Novella Using Midjourney

I enjoy using Midjourney.

There’s the mindless time sink, where you roll out whatever nonsense comes into your head, as well as the more thoughtful moments of trying to churn out something kind of interesting and dazzling that could make a good wallpaper or backdrop.

Earlier this week, however, I wondered if I could use it to create something that wasn’t so spur of the moment. If it could help me illustrate something a bit more tangible.

I started wondering what would happen if I used it to try and generate portraits for the characters from my recently published cyberpunk crime novella Heist.

A few questions that came to mind were:

Would it be possible to create images similar to what I had in my head? Or would I end up only getting things that were wildly different?

And what about if I used snippets of text from the novella. Would that make it easier or would Midjourney have one of its classic misunderstandings and spit something hilarious out?

John Barker

Our antihero protagonist, Barker is something of a one time criminal mastermind who’s already a couple years past his prime. He’s experienced, practically fearless, but by the end of Act 1 of the novella, finds himself broke, grievously wounded, and likely betrayed.

The first difficulty in rendering him in Midjourney was actually the scant few scenes where I described what he looked like.

While the story was told over his shoulder, most of his appearance was fed in bits and pieces when it seemed relevant (and I did consciously try to avoid an info dump with him… can’t say I did the same with the others).

In this case, I typed up a prompt describing him as a sort of elevator pitch, and the result after a couple of rolls was honestly not far off the mark of how I imagined him looking and hopefully described him enough in the novella itself.

This man has seen some shit and has likely come to accept it.

Meera Galatas-Sarwar

The first of our two femme fatales in the story. Meera is another antihero who has a tangled past with Barker and is now running a crew of her own (and much more successfully than our protagonist).

She approaches him at the end of Act 1 with an offer he can’t refuse, and helps take us off to the races as our crew puts together an impossible heist against the city’s top mega corporation.

In this case, I filled the prompt with a good chunk of her description when she first walks into the book and meets Barker (who’s hiding at a rundown Neo-Manichaean temple).

Would she even trust herself?

Midjourney has a tendency to do wonky things with people’s eyes, and if you look closely enough there’s a bit of that here, but overall not too far off.

In the story, she’s someone with questionable loyalties and allegiance, and I think our art bot did a decent job at giving her both a sense of allure as well as danger.

Eva Richter

Richter is our snarky, eager-to-piss-people-off corporate security agent. For much of the story, she’s a foil to Barker’s character and persona. Maybe by the end they come to somewhat trust, if not at least respect one another?

Okay, to be fair, calling her a femme fatale isn’t exactly accurate. She has some of the characteristics of the trope, but in this case she’s also a turncoat from the corporation who joins our crew in the heist.

No shits to give, not today.

Getting Midjourney to generate a good version of her was tough. The main issue was getting it to generate someone who looks like they’ve been around the block a few times.

Richter, after all, is also a disgruntled war veteran, so I wanted Midjourney to get me someone who didn’t quite look they were last year’s homecoming queen. Still, it took a few rolls.

Josef Lenczycki

“Joe” is an aging Neo-Manichaean adept who runs a run-down temple in the lower levels of the city. He takes Barker in after his run goes to shit and nurses him back to health.

The Neo-Manichaeans in these world are primarily a religious movement that’s focused on escaping the body and embracing the technological future. Many of their adherents are more machine than muscle, and Joe is no exception.

What can I do for ya?

In this case, I used some of the direct description from the novella and it gave the bot some interesting things to work with. Here we have a man who’s not quite gone over to the other side, but has had no shortages of body modifications in the meantime.

I tried getting something like the above while also clothed in some old robes, but after a couple of tries I stuck with this image and moved on.


Our boy Marek here is the muscle of the crew. One of Meera’s people who carries something a chip on his shoulder, and acts like he has a grudge against Barker.

Say hello to your new best friend.

Pairing him up (or even putting him in the same room) with Barker doesn’t always go well. You can’t have cyberpunk crime noir without angry emotionless men sometimes getting into fights, after all.


Meet the tech head of the crew.

One mean techno granny

As is apparent, she’s also the oldest of the bunch – and in a cyberpunk setting where people are obsessed with youth and beauty – the fact that she looks her age is itself some sort of near criminal rebellion.


A man of few words and a sort of classic gunslinger – albeit one who’s given a cybernetic eye and drug-enhanced reflexes.

Looking for the next vantage point

For the first few rolls, I tried my hardest to get one of him with a cigarette (he’s perpetually hand-rolling his rigs – something the others find quaint and dated).

However, while Midjourney can do a lot of things, it can’t do people smoking cigarettes very well. The closest I got was something like a vapourizer, albeit with a tube stuck up his nose. That’s a post for another day.

Colburn Randall

The patriarch sitting at the top of the city’s mega corporation.

Colburn is the progenitor to dozens, if not hundreds of offspring – a man who is impossibly aged and using all his powers to prolong his life past what should have been its natural conclusion.

Let’s play guess my age.

Through most of the story, he’s an elusive figure – more myth than embodied person – until a pivotal scene near the end that puts most of what happened up until that point into context.

He’s also another one that gave me a hard time.

Every time I described the character using passages from the novella, he came out looking like a grumpy, possibly alcoholic, ex-university professor sitting on a bench and waiting for the last train to the suburbs.

Not quite the figure I had in mind.

The best I could get was by really changing my descriptions. In the end, I got something pretty close – albeit with strangely metallic monster hands. Not sure where Midjourney pulled those from.

Gabriel Randall

Another from the Randall famo;y- Gabriel is the golden boy of the corporate can, and has an important connection to Barker’s past. Like most of his family (and even characters in the novella) he’s the type who lays plans into plans into plans.

He’s got big plans.

This one actually got churned out with almost no alterations from the way he was described as looking in the novella.

Minakshi Randall

And lastly, to have a bit of fun, I generated someone who isn’t exactly a character in the novel, so much as fixture.

We’re talking about the overhyped goddess whose image is seen peeking out of holograms, plastered on old-style billboards, and who everyone obsesses over in the metaverse – Minakshi Randall, the consumer-facing element of the family whose purpose is to keep entertained and shopping, rather than doing literally anything else.

Perfectly ludicrous.

She’s one part-Kardashian, one part-Bollywood star, and possibly only exists in advertising. Describing he wasn’t difficult, and the images that Midjourney churned out were as aptly gonzo and over the top as I imagine most of the advertising in this world to be.

In Conclusion

Overall, I’m fairly happy with the results of my Midjourney experiment. Obviously, using a bot to generate character art isn’t as top tier as one would get from a professional artist.

In my case, I am neither a professional artist nor know any out in the wild. Until I do, having a tool where I can prompt out images based on some of my own descriptions from the novella has at least led to a pretty enjoyable afternoon of experimentation.


Books I Read in 2022

In 2022, I read 30 books (novels, graphic novels). The complete list looks like:

Last House on Needless Street – Catriona Ward
1777 BC the year civilization collapsed – Eric H Cline
The Marco Effect – Jussi Adler Olsen
The Hanging Girl – Jussi Adler Olsen
Summer Bludgeon – Various (Unsettling Reads)
The Crystaks of Mida – Sharon Green
Talking about Detective Fiction – PD James
The Death of Stalin – Nury & Robin
Batman Year One – Frank Miller
Ronin – Frank Miller
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman – Haruki Murakami
Malorie – Josh Malerman
Mirror Man – Lars Kepler
Maus – Art Spiegelman
The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides
The Cathars – Sean Martin
Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Fall of Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Endymion – Dan Simmons
Rise of Endymion – Dan Simmons
Terror – Dan Simmons
They Thirst – Robert R. McCammon
The Devotion of Suspect X – Keigo Higashino
Technocolor Time Machine – Harry Harrison
Cibola Burn – James SA Corey
Nemesis Games – James SA Corey
Babylon’s Ashes – James SA Corey
Persepolis Rising – James SA Corey
Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang

Some highlights:

I’ve again gotten hooked on The Expanse series by Corey. For some reason, when I started reading these the other year, I stopped at book 3 (probably because the TV show season 4 had just come out and I wanted to binge it without thinking). This time around I finally got around to continuing the series (since the TV show ended) and it’s been quite pleasant and surprising – particularly book 7 with the surprise time jump and new narrative direction.

Olsen’s Department Q series continues to be addictive and enjoyable Scandinavian Noir with its wonderful cast of characters revolving around curmudgeony detective Carl Morck.

Revisiting my love of graphic novels has also been a nice change of pace.

The Disappointments (and there were many)

The first book of the year was also, well, the worst.

The Last House On Needless street was an incredibly hyped “horror” story. Everyone sang its praises, including apparently Stephen King. It even started off strong, with intriguing ideas tossed in all over the place and the promise of going somewhere but…

I think it was around page 30 where I realized how the book was probably going to end. I hoped that I had gotten it wrong – no way the book would end like that, the author would have seen through and lined up some other twist. After all, the ending that came in my mind was probably the dumbest way the book could end. It had to be something else.

But unfortunately not the case. Not the case at all.

Very early on, the novel made it clear it was using the “unreliable narrator” trope pretty liberally, and being no stranger to having apparently read other books, it jumped out that more likely than not this wasn’t a true horror book but that everything was in the main character’s head more or less.

And it was. After over two hundred pages of build up, it pulled out the big “gotcha” that was neither a surprise, nor pleasant, nor anything really. I suppose some folks must have found it surprising (such as people who have never read, say, a book like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), but it was sadly just a confirmation of my first fear of what would be the worst ending to the book, and then the slow pain of watching it actually be the case.

Not great.

The second biggest disappointment was another book that pulled a “gotcha” out right at the end which I also guessed (albeit, about 50% of the way through the book) – The Silent Patient. While this “twist” was also unfortunate, predicatable, and kind of unfair, the book was nevertheless written with a fun sort of manic, no-shits-to-give energy up until that point that I would probably read another book by Michaelides… but not so with Ward.

The third true disappointment was 1777 BC The Year Civilization Ended. True, it was about 1777 BC, but a more appropriate name for the book would have been “A brief history of royal paperwork from the ancient world” or “The exciting hidden lives of financial ledgers.” Yes, there is an interesting narrative in there somewhere, but it’s largely buried under the authors (most likely) graduate work on papyrus, tablets, and other material remains.

And the final pair of disappointments in the year of many, were books 3 and 4 of Simmons’ Hyperion series. For some time I had ranked the first book of the series as one of the all time great science fiction novels. I still might, but it was inevitably lessened by the catastrophes that made up the final two books. Where the first was a brilliant collection of literary science fiction stories bound together by mystery and thematic beauty, and the second a more traditional space opera, I have few words of praise after that.

Book 3 (Endymion) had some promising elements but it is ultimately reduced by the appearance of a direct sequel fourth book that is one part meandering, two parts auteur excess, and a sprinkling of bloviating kumbaya. I can compare it to Moby Dick in the sense that both books fill up more pages with descriptive, fascinating nothing that does little to propel a story along and in fact more often than not kills it on the spot.

And then there’s the creepy voyeurism of a middle aged author having a strange fixation on teenage heroines (both here and in Terror too, for that matter). In the age of #MeToo and more awareness of sexual misconduct, it’s hard to read any story about a much older man who befriends a teenager only to later become lovers with them. Making the teenager a willful, “adult” spirit does little to hide the sense of grooming that goes on and what comes across as some honestly creepy wish fulfillment on part of the author.

Needless to say, it was hardly a powerful conclusion to the series, nor a strong incentive to come back to it any time soon.