ChatGPT can code pretty well. I created an extremely useful script this morning: when pasted into the Chrome developer console, it replaces all instances of “up” (a terrible word, one of the worst) with “cattywampus” (a far better word). I do this on every webpage I read, and all of my writing. Truly, the future of the human race is looking cattywampus.

This puts ChatGPT in competition with StackOverflow as a coding resource. When SO admins banned chatbot-generated answers in December, a recurring comment from the peanut gallery was “Well, I don’t need this dumb old site anyway, so there!”

Is it true? Will ChatGPT crush StackOverflow to rubble? It’s certainly faster: you can either ask ChatGPT your question and get a somewhat accurate answer in seconds, or post on StackOverflow and wait six hours for seven smug beardos to post eight contradictory answers, all of them dripping with naked, rancid contempt for your very existence. So there’s that.

But while it seems like ChatGPT could be a StackOverflow-killer, do traffic stats back this cattywampus? I read Developers seem to be ditching StackOverflow since ChatGPT launch, stats show (written by someone who doesn’t appear to know that different months have different numbers of days) and realized I’d have to research it myself.

Here’s SEMrush’s graph for StackOverflow’s organic traffic.

Whoops! I deleted the months.

Can you guess when ChatGPT was released, just from eyeballing the shape of the graph? Are you sure?

Well, it was released here.

No, I don’t know why StackOverflow got a big bump of traffic in mid 2021 and then fell off. I see a similar but smaller pattern for Github and W3Schools, so it may have been some exogenous factor that impacted a range of tech sites. I welcome viewer comments on this.

Here’s the graph again, with other potential inflection points noted. (imagine GPT3 floating in space, three inches from the chart’s left-hand side.)

But ChatGPT took a couple of months to truly gain traction. According to Google Trends, ChatGPT hit the big-time around February. That’s when we see the peak of the bubble.

You’d expect to see a corresponding hole sucked out of StackOverflow’s organic pageviews, but again, that hasn’t happened. If anything, StackOverflow’s traffic has stabilized since December.

Regardless of views, are fewer people actually using StackOverflow?

Good question.

Traffic is a very broad metric. People visit StackOverflow for a lot of reasons: To respond to PMs, to check old answers, to issue death threats to mods, etc. It’s not just people asking questions.

Perhaps total question volume per month would provide a richer signal?

The StackExchange Query Editor allows us to view the monthly total of questions asked on the site. Graphed, that looks like…

Question volume is definitely going down (though note that it’s not quite the 31th of March in the United States and I don’t know how old this data is, so it will undercount the March 2023 questions), but again, this merely continues a trend that began years ago.

Bottom Line?

StackOverflow’s traffic has been in slow decline for over 18 months. If ChatGPT is truly sucking away StackOverflow’s userbase, this is not evident in any way from publically-available data.

Or at least, not yet.

Even if StackOverflow is straight up worse, its sheer institutional mass will keep it above the waterline for a long time to come.

  • Some programmers still don’t know about ChatGPT (it’s true!).
  • Other programmers mistrust it, and think it hallucinates too much.
  • Others use StackOverflow as a learning tool.

Simple inertia holds the old in place – for many, StackOverflow’s where their bookmarks and browser autocompletes go, and where they feel at home. It’s flawed, but it’s not bad enough to drive them to seek out an alternative.

You’d be surprised at how long obsolete things stick around. We still use COBOL, a sixty-year-old language from the days of punched cards. In tech, it can take something half a century to die.

This isn’t a battle royale. There’s room in the world for both ChatGPT and StackOverflow. Let’s ease off on the hype, and be growncattywampuses about this.

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When you read early erotic novels (1748’s Fanny Hill, 1747’s Les Bijoux indiscrets, 1787’s Justine, etc), something sticks out. No, not that. Don’t be disgusting.

I’m talking about the authors: Cleland, Diderot, Sade, etc. They’re all men. Female-written erotic work in the Western canon literally crosses from Sappho’s poetry (~570 BC) to Pauline Réage’s Story of O (1957) in one step, with nobody in the intervening 2,527 years. Early erotica authors were literally all male.

Or were they? It’s possible (though unprovable) that one of the shadier early manuscripts was written by a woman, and either published anonymously or under a man’s name. Note that that the two prominent female erotica authors of the postmodern era – Réage and Anaïs Nin – both took active steps to conceal their identities. Réage was a pen name. Nin’s stories in Delta of Venus (which were written in the early 1940s and published posthumously in 1977) were intended for a private collection.

“Death is a mystery, and burial is a secret,” Stephen King wrote in one of his books. So is sex, at least where women are concerned. We accept with a shudder that they have sex (that’s where babies come from), but writing or reading about sex? That’s just too weird. Men are beasts and can’t help themselves, but why would a lady write about something that should be hidden?

Well, the hiddenness makes it attractive. The box you most want to look inside is the one you’re told to leave alone. It’s the censor’s paradox: people want forbidden fruit.

The increasingly explicit content of the mid 20th century ruined erotica, in books as well as film. It’s rather like Johnny Rotten’s observation that you demystify the swastika by wearing one: if everyone dressed in Nazi regalia, it wouldn’t trigger the cultural acceptance of fascist ideas: it might actually do the reverse. Could anyone feel awe at the sight of a sonnenrad, after seeing the lamest dork in the neighborhood wear one?

Anaïs Nin’s early writing actually has more shock value than modern porn; you can see her hands bleeding as she pulls walls down.

As I’ve said, we were never meant to read Delta of Venus. This adds the reader’s unintended voyeurism to sins on the page, which are legion: incest, buggery, rape, bestiality, and pedophilia. Nin writes about all of this with an praeternatural lack of judgment. She just documents human iniquity on the page, the way a camera obscura might.

It’s certainly diverse. One wonders what Nin’s collector (probably a heterosexual man) got out of stories like “The Boarding School” (“The experienced boys penetrated his anus to satisfy their desire, while the less experienced used friction between the legs of the boy, whose skin was as tender as a woman’s. They spat on their hands and rubbed saliva over their penises. The blond boy screamed and kicked and wept, but they all held him and used him until they were satiated.”). Sometimes the tales are gruesome and excessive. “Mathilde” and “The Ring” feature genital mutilation. Horrible stuff. You shouldn’t want to read it. I forbid that you read this book. Please don’t open the box.

It seems to me that erotic writing has gentrified itself. It now possesses rules about what subjects are okay, what subjects are off-limits, trigger warnings, and so forth. Some AO3 stories have lists of tags and disclaimers that are nearly as long as the stories themsevles. By contrast, Delta of Venus offers a look back at a weirder, wilder time: where erotica was so far from the pale it was almost in the black.

Nin, like Tolkien, was rediscovered in the 70s. She cuts a confusing figure: it’s hard to know what to make of her. She was of Hispanic descent, yet her settings of Brazil and Peru seldom rise above exoticism (her descriptions of Paris in “Marcel” are far more vivid). She rejected the Catholicism of her youth, yet it hangs across her writing like the Shroud of Turin (“The Boarding School”, for example, gets most of its punch from the emotional repression of its setting).

She’s hard to claim as a feminist figurehead. She lived under the shadow of men all her life: Henry Miller, DH Lawrence, her father, and the anonymous “collector” who made all of this possible. The stories are all written for male consumption, although with shards of her personality poking through the pornographic narrative like iceberg-tips. She stands in two epochs: old-fashioned yet modern. This make her captivating: she can’t be captured for some political cause.

“I will always be the virgin-prostitute, the perverse angel, the two-faced sinister and saintly woman.”

Anais Nin, Henry & June

Even her descriptions of sex embody this contrast, with high romantic verbiage clashing with gutter crudeness.

“For the first time, the hunger that had been on the surface of her skin like an irritation, retreated into a deeper part of her body. It retreated and accumulated, and it became a core of fire that waited to be exploded by his time and his rhythm. His touching was like a dance in which the bodies turned and deformed themselves into new shapes, new arrangements, new designs. Now they were cupped like twins, spoon-fashion, his penis against her ass, her breasts undulating like waves under his hands, painfully awake, aware, sensitive. Now he was crouching over her prone body like some great lion, as she placed her two fists under her ass to raise herself to his penis. He entered her for the first time and filled her as none other had, touching the very depths of the womb.”

Artists and Models

The stories are mostly fast and short, thrashed out quickly, establishing a scenario that swiftly builds to an explosive climax (or climaxes). None take more than a few minutes to read. Nin was supposedly paid a dollar a page for this stuff: one admires her restraint in using so few paragraph breaks.

And while the stories seem bold and incredibly revealing, they’re nothing of the sort. Nin wrote this stuff for money. She was pushed at every turn by the “collector” to focus more on sex, more on body parts, more on the beast with two backs. Her natural inclination toward poetry was throttled. The introduction contains a letter, written by Nin to the Collector. It’s basically history’s first “men only want one thing, and it’s disgusting”.

Dear Collector: We hate you. Sex loses all its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You have taught us more than anyone I know how wrong it is not to mix it with emotion, hunger, desire, lust, whims, caprices, personal ties, deeper relationships that change its color, flavor, rhythms, intensities. You do not know what you are missing by your microscopic examination of sexual activity to the exclusion of aspects which are the fuel that ignites it. Intellectual, imaginative, romantic, emotional. This is what gives sex its surprising textures, its subtle transformations, its aphrodisiac elements. You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood. “If you nourished your sexual life with all the excitements and adventures which love injects into sensuality, you would be the most potent man in the world.


Delta of Venus is well-written, but its stories often have a note of cynicism, or contempt. “The Hungarian Adventurer” describes a man of incredible attractiveness, charm, and virility (perhaps how the Collector liked to imagine himself?) before turning him into a bloated, aging pig, abandoned by his children. “Lilith” involves a woman trying to spice up a marriage with Spanish fly. The ending is such a thudding anticlimax that I think this must have been the intended effect.

These little rebellions against form are as fascinating as the form itself. Like Nin, the book is complex, with many layers.

“There is a perfection in everything that cannot be owned,” he said. “I see it in fragments of cut marble, I see it in worn pieces of wood. There is a perfection in a woman’s body that can never be possessed, known completely, even in intercourse.”


By her own standards, Nin was perfect. Worn, broken, weird; selling prose for a dollar a page.

Yet she could not be possessed.

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What did they think of “Talk Talk” in 1966? In 2023 it uncoils from your speakers like a cobra: alive and evil and glaring with death. It’s just 1:56 in length – short, even for the time. The tempo is punishing. The instrumentation is just lunges and stabs of fuzz; flames leaping from a barely-existent structure, as though the song’s burning down while still half-unwritten.

The lyrics are fragments. Ugly, mean thoughts, articulated with the stumbling self-seriousness of a teenager who’s drunk for the first time. “My social life’s a dud! My name is really mud!” Far from poetry…but people have thoughts like that. I used to. Sometimes eloquent phrasing doesn’t capture stupid, sullen emotions, “Talk Talk” may have been the first song they’d heard that truly sounded like the inside of their own mind.

The band was a five-piece called The Music Machine. One year earlier, they’d been playing folk rock.

They were fronted by Sean Bonniwell, a restless self-reinventor who never found a home. “Talk Talk”‘s success (#15 on the Billboard charts in 1966) proved a fluke. They had no followup hit. They were driven first aground and then apart by royalty fights, label disputes, and internal discord.

Bonniwell tried to regroup, but the window he’d exploited was now gone and his moment had passed. The Music Machine’s legacy is 1:56 of brutal noise and an unfulfilled promise. From the outside looking in, it was as though they’d come from nowhere and then gone back into nowhere. They did not become a Great Band.

But in a weird way, that helps me appreciate Music Machine more. There’s a long list of “classic” Rolling Stone approved acts (The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen) that I either can’t appreciate or appreciate in an academic thinking-things-through way. Part of it is their critical reception: they’re so adored and revered that it triggers suspicion in me. And it distances me from the music, I feel like I’m listening to it from across a GREAT BAND cordon line. The immediacy is gone.

Rock music was never supposed to be a canon, or an establishment. It was supposed to shake your bones. So I enjoy listening to bands like The Music Machine, that doesn’t have a Rolling Stone-appointed crown weighing it down.

If The Music Machine is remembered, it’s for either their heaviness, their earlyness, their subtle influence on other bands, or their rapid collapse. The entire band left soon after their first LP, aside from frontman Sean Bonniwell. He changed the band’s name, changed their style, and then left the music business altogether. It was as though the Music Machine had packed a thirty-year career into one minute and fifty-six seconds.

In other words, they were the Sex Pistols, ten years before. Which brings up the p-word.

Music journalism as we know it barely existed in the mid sixties: as a result, some history is barely-written and misremembered. A lot of people seem to think that punk rock was a seventies phenomenon. That was actually the second wave of punk. The first wave happened ten years earlier, with US “garage rock” bands like The Sonics and MC5, as well as UK acts such as The Downliners Sect and the Kinks. This was raw, aggressive, cheap-sounding music, driven by jangling guitars, powerful drums, and farfisa organs. Much of it was retroactively classified as “punk” in the early 70s – the first recorded reference to the genre is in the March 22, 1970 issue of The Chicago Tribune.

Unlike the second wave of punk (conspiracy theories about “God Save The Queen”‘s UK #2 aside), garage rock actually got some singles to number one. “”(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Stones and “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians both reached #1, among others. It’s disputable to what extent these songs are punk. The lines between a garage rock band and, say, The Troggs or The Beatles could be pretty blurry. And their 1960s mod and greaser fashions have left less of an impression in the popular memory than the edgier styles pushed by Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood.

The Music Machine were among the heavier of the 60s garage rock set, but soon psychedelic rock and heavy metal left them behind in sonic firepower, and Bonniwell proved unable to keep the band on the charts on the strength of his songs.

He was a clever and inventive songwriter, pulling inspiration out of the air, but maybe not actually a good one. “Talk Talk” is sonically impressive but soon wears thin. “Trouble” and “Wrong” are the best songs, particularly “Trouble”, with its dense and rubby rhythms and melodic complexity. “Masculine Intuition” has a really awkward chorus that doesn’t fit the verse. And it’s too short to develop its ideas much: all of these songs are sonic mayflys, dying before they can progress or go anywhere.

The album was recorded quickly to capitalize on a hit single. Most of the tracks were laid down at RCA Studios at three in the morning (on a hand-built ten-track machine built by engineer Paul Buff) after the band had been touring for thirty days, back to back, which explains Bonniwell’s hoarse, ragged voice. A surprising amount of punk aesthetic comes from what is ultimately accident and circumstance. Only in the aftermath does anything seem planned.

The band’s limited stock of originals is padded with covers, which are sometimes great (“Hey Joe” rivals Jimi Hendrix’s version. Bonniwell would later lament that his label wouldn’t release it as a single), sometimes pointless (“Taxman”), sometimes really stupid (“See See Rider”). The cover of “96 Tears” is pretty ironic, as ? and the Mysterians also failed to follow up their one hit.

The Music Machine is a fascinating curio, but they were riven by image and identity conflicts that they never figured out. Were they art, or yeah-yeah-yeah teenage music? They were initially presented as mods, but Bonniwell soon got into transcendental meditation and eastern mysticism. There was little sense of musical history to the Machine. You couldn’t obviously pick out their influences, the way you could for the Beatles or the Stones. This made them seem fresh, but also a little disconnected in time, as though they were visiting aliens. There wasn’t an easy “story” you could apply to the band, which made it easy for music history to not give them a story at all.

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