FOTI #37: How To Pronounce Horse_ebooks


Fortnight on the Internets is photobombing Lena Dunham!

On this episode, we explain what happened when a mysterious Youtube channel counted down to ZERO — and how the big reveal shocked the denizens of Weird Twitter. But first, we run through a report card filled with the best and worst of personal relationships, from two brothers who created the best Best Man toast ever, to a boyfriend who holds love hostage for sandwiches. We have AMAZING music from Bombino, who brings rock from West Africa via Nashville. Plus another Internet Challenge Surprise and lots of great finds from our Likers!

Four ways to listen:

If you subscribe or become a Liker on Facebook, you’ll be able to get to new episodes faster than everyone else. You’d also be wise to follow us on our @FOTIpod Twitter account, where we often have fun interactions with the people and sites we talk about on the show…

Dispatches from Awards Season


Khaleesi chatting with Denise Huxtable? Must be the HBO party.

Alison was recently squired to the HBO post-Emmys party, and at the start of the show, she shares her experiences with us — watching random celebrities and icons interacting, checking out surprising Hollywood relationships, and desperately trying to keep cool in the proximity of Lena Dunham. Thanks to Liker TJ for making it all possible…

Internet Report Card

Surely one of our most jam-packed report cards in an age — although I think I may claim that every time.

#1. “We Are Brothers” by Rufus Starlight and Baddy Paris

When a British guy named Robin got married, his two brothers and co-best men “Rufus” and “Baddy” came up with the best idea for a toast ever. They were afraid they were going to cry if they tried a conventional speech, so instead they mounted a grandiose 1980s-inspired electropop music video in the style of Gary Numan in which the two brothers beg the groom not to abandon them for holy matrimony. Hat tip to director Ferris Ferhat for the impeccable visual style of this masterpiece in matrimonial media.

#2. Three Hundred Sandwiches

This is one of a million cutesy homemaker-oriented websites, but one with a theme so seemingly backward, it lit up the Internet this week with its headscratching blend of 50s-style misogyny and desperate engagement-ring-thirstiness. Perhaps the best way to explain this blog’s MO is to direct you to the “About” page. Caity Weaver’s takedown was magnificently scathing. Don’t click on the Forbidden tag unless you want to fill your mind with wrathful rage.

#3. Bat Dad Vine

An Atlanta-area guy named Blake Wilson decided to take advantage of the Vine video-sharing platform and a Batman mask he bought for a few bucks to liven up domestic life for his wife Jen and four kids by transforming into his alter ego, Bat Dad. After watching this compilation, I can only conclude that Jen is a saint.

Our Musical Guest: BOMBINO

Omara Moctar, known as Bombino, is a Tuareg guitarist and singer born in Niger. The nomadic Tuareg people have periodically been involved in battles with the governments of West African countries over independence, mineral wealth and other such concerns. Moctar has clearly grown up in the shadow of these struggles, particularly the hot war that raged from 2007-2009 which forced him to flee into exile; these events are reflected in his music, which both celebrates his people and calls for peace.

Moctar is a former child prodigy who was noticed for his playing from a young age, and “bombino” means “young child,” which is what the older musicians called him when he first burst onto the scene. He’s a badass guitarist, lays down sweet grooves and licks, and shreds like a mo-fo. His new album Nomad was recorded in Nashville and produced by Dan Auerbach, the guitarist from The Black Keys. There are so many sounds and styles that come together in this record…you hear everything from  traditional Saharan rhythms  to delta blues, and at times even a hint of an Irish jig. It’s simultaneously so fresh and so rooted in history, and it brings a light to a people and a struggle that most American music fans probably know nothing about. Most of all it’s an incredible listen, and we’ll be rocking his music throughout the show.

Internet Challenge Surprise!

We’re talkin ’bout STAIRWAY TO STARDOM. It’s a public access show from New York City from 1979 to the early 90s — and perhaps the greatest example of that genre EVAH. An amazing find by Liker Roddy.

AOL.TV described it thusly: “Starting in 1979, Brooklyn resident Frank Masi created and hosted a program on local New York television called Stairway To Stardom. Filmed in what appeared to be a freshly carpeted Staten Island basement, Stairway was an especially early, low-budget predecessor to Star Search and American Idol, but sprinkled with the key element of hometown appeal.”

A few of our favorites:

BJ The Messenger — “Crackhead”

Lucille Cataldo — “Hairdresser”


Horowitz & Spector — “Boiled Chicken”

For a treasury of Stairway to Stardom performances, click here.

EME: Bear Stearns Bravo — The Big Reveal

Image via Mashable

We’ve got answers on what happened with the Pronunciation Book countdown we previewed in our last episode:

  • It was indeed marketing for a game created by Thomas Bender and his Alternate Reality Game posse, Synydyne. The game is called Bear Stearns Bravo.

  • It’s a sort of choose-your-own-adventure-style video game of a campy comic bent, where you play a “Regulator” trying to take down a malevolent financial company on the eve of the 2008 financial collapse.
  • It’s fun to play, but on its own, not that big of a story.

BUT!! This ended up shocking a lot of the internet because it revealed that one of the most popular and iconic “Weird Twitter” accounts, Horse_ebooks, was actually being controlled by a person!.

  • The final PB video was called “How do you pronounce Horse_ebooks,” and it was revealed that both the PB channel and the far more popular Twitter feed were controlled by the same people and leading up to the reveal of Bear Stearns Bravo.

  • This blew everyone’s mind, man!
  • Horse_ebooks, for those not schooled in strange internet memes, is an acclaimed twitter feed that by all appearances was a “bot,” or a computer-controlled account, that randomly spit out weird passages of text every two hours, some of them pretty hilarious in their randomnessIt seems that Jacob Bakkila, an advertising guru for Buzzfeed and a powerful influencer within the weird twitter comedy world, bought the Horse_ebooks feed around the time it became popular in 2011, and has been posting on it MANUALLY every two hours for two years.

Why was the unmasking of Horse_ebooks as having been written by a human since 2011 such a shock to bloggers, internet nerds and so called “Weird Twitter” aficionados?

  • In an age where everything is immediately met with skepticism and accusations of fakery, a LOT of cynical calculating people really really thought Horse_ebooks was controlled by a computer, not a person. Wrong!! (since 2011)
  • Internet people apparently harbored a deep belief in the non-human nature of Horse_ebooks as an almost religious experience, proof that hilarity could emerge from the random quirks of a software program, that the Internet had a soul. Turns out it was just a dude in their midst setting up an art project slash videogame. A lot of top bloggers in NYC and LA actually know Jacob Bakkila and nobody, not even the people at BuzzFeed, knew he was working on this project. They were just as shocked as everyone else, which led to a greater impact when the truth came out.

Given that a lot of people were following Pronunciation Book and trying to solve the mystery, how did they keep it a secret?

  • It seems that in some cases, they aggressively manipulated bloggers who came close to sniffing out the story, coopting them with lies to keep them from going public — and then selling them out by giving the scoop to the famous journalist Susan Orlean from the New Yorker.
  • The most notorious case was the Daily Dot’s Gaby Dunn, who wrote about our pal Jeni Sue’s dating site ghostwriting business a while back. She figured out that Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender were behind the project in July and confronted them with her suspicions, so they lied to her and said it was leading up to a Battlestar Galactica movie, feeding her made-up details in exchange for her silence. The conspiracy eventually extended to a bunch of people she knew who were working on the project and they all basically worked together to trick her into keeping quiet. She told her harrowing tale to new Internet podcast TLDR, which is from NPR, so ya know it’s good.

The moral of the story is, never trust an internet.

Shoutout to the Likers

So many Likers to thank this fortnight. Let’s get to it.

As always, we enjoyed Jeni Sue Gems — She was way ahead of the curve on posting the Liker-favorite HuffPo article about Surviving Whole Foods (which, in its intro, harkens back to the video we covered on a previous pcast – “It’s Gettin’ Real in the Whole Foods Parking Lot.”). She also finally posted her long awaited COACHELLA DAY 3 ROUNDUP!

Likers Amani S. and Mike A. – The webseries they created, “The United Colors of Amani,” has been blowing up. Congrats you guys!

Liker Mike D. for alerting us to the online NEW YORKER article about the final reveals of Horse_ebooks and PronunciationBook. Even the most skeptical person on the internet didn’t see this Horse_ebooks thing coming!

Liker Brett W., pointing out that “our moms apparently run CBS’ social media campaigns,” with their weird series of posters promoting…the fall comedies…as if they were ice cream flavors…some of which don’t exist in real life? Prompting Alpine to respond, “this utterly validates my pledge to boycott everything on CBS that doesn’t involve sports or Bob Schieffer.”

Liker Laura T. for making us all feel a little better about the sense of community we can find in our Sad Desk Lunch, by sharing the Tumblr of the same name.  Our fave?  The SPAM & Red Beans with Rice dish that someone left out for his coworkers to take because “TOO SPICY FOR ME!”

Liker Doan B., for making us wrap our minds around the “Wait But Why” infographic about “Putting Time in Perspective.” and for introducing us to the Burlington Coat Factory’s Weird Ass Twitter Account, maybe run by a 5 year-old, or just someone fresh off a sub-par ESL program, with gems like: “How was your day today?  Was it yesterday?  #coats” and “Can you believe fall fashion is!”

And then there were the amazing comments about the early-days 90s internet game MYST from Likers Andrew G, Jesse M and Brian S. We had a pretty great comment sesh with those guys.

And now…

THE LIKER OF THE FORTNIGHT IS LIKER RODDY K! A stealth Liker who sends his submissions in via email, he found the amazing joys of Stairway to Stardom and instantly made our show better. This is just one among many great finds he’s passed along since our show started 18 short months ago. Thanks for your ongoing support, Roddy, and congratulations on the LOTF crown!

Big ups for listening — we’ll be back in 2 weeks.

Thanks to Eric Herman for musical assistance.
Our theme song is by Snowplows.
Cover art by Vicious Rumors.

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