Thursday, July 28, 2022

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a wonderful story: The man who cycled from India to Europe for love,

This is an angry read, but essential (and it's from FiveThirtyEight): How The Fight To Ban Abortion Is Rooted In The ‘Great Replacement’ Theory.

This is a wonderful read: How Leonardo figured out the beauty of anatomy.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and what a story: This World War I battlefield is on fire and exploding 100-year-old ordnance

From Wally, and this is spectacular: These 'Wizard of Oz' scenes remastered in 4K are stunning. Not my thing, but it does sound quite entertaining: My party of 4 spent $3,275 at a 3-star Michelin restaurant, and the 10-course meal felt like a fun tourist attraction

From C. Lee, and all I can say is "damn it": A neuroscience image sleuth finds signs of fabrication in scores of Alzheimer’s articles, threatening a reigning theory of the disease. For fans of the film, this is terrific: Production photo of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. A fascinating follow-up: NORTH BY NORTHWEST: HITCHCOCK’S HOUSE ON MOUNT RUSHMORE. This is tragic: What Pregnancy and Childbirth Do to the Bodies of Young Girls. I wonder what the prevalent theory will be now: A Decisive Blow to the Serotonin Hypothesis of Depression. This is infuriating but also correct (in a legal sense): Police Have No Duty to Protect the Public. A pertinent question: ‘Are the police capable of changing?’: Data on racial profiling in California shows the problem is only getting worse. This is a solvable problem that can't be solved soon enough: Tech companies racing to prevent more kids dying in hot vehicles.

Artist Weights In

Fredrik, of course, who was the artist for both Gridiron Solitaire and The Man You Trust. I'm not putting it in italics for readability, but everything below this paragraph is Fredrik.

AI generated artwork is an amazing tool that we will see used a lot more in the future. Let's look at the good things first.

Having the ability to generate concepts and visual ideas with just some keywords will make iteration and idea generation incredibly fast. I think every concept artist in the world will bring this tool into their toolbelt and start using the AI generated images as a starting ground/ideation quickly. Instead of spending an hour producing one or two images, I can spend an hour generating hundreds. They might not be perfect, but taking those seeds and iterating on them by hand is something we will see develop quickly in any industry that doesn't require perfection, such as architecture drawings, illustrations for medical textbooks, etc. 

I also really like that it allows non-artists to explore ideas that they have but may not have the skills to develop. AI generated tools will allow them to manifest these ideas, which might even push them to pick up a pencil or paintbrush to learn how to create art. That's very cool.

Those are the two main positives about AI generated art. 

The biggest con I see is that someone has to feed these machines. It's not like the AI actually creates these works. It has devoured the art world and is spitting back photobashed (think of photobashing as copying sections from many many art works and pasting them into a document to create something new) facsimiles of what the prompts is asking it to. But what about the artists who fed the machine in the first place? Are the works of Gieger or Beksinski just more food for the machine to regurgitate back to us? That's the moral question of AI generated art. Is the work generated by AI art? If we didn't feed it art, it would just spit back a blank page to the viewer. I fear there's a danger with AI generated art that hundreds of years of work by masters of their craft become devalued and just more fodder for the AI bots to spit back at us. 

Then there's the monetary question. I doubt that the creators of these AI bots asked permission from all these creators to use their art to create the AI generated works. Were the artists paid for their work? Should they get paid? I mean, photobashing has been around for ages and ages and the artists who helped create the backgrounds of greenscreen movies don't get acknowledged or paid. Should they with these AI generated works? And if you create an artwork using AI, do you own that piece of art? Can you sell it as your own art? There's a lot of murky legal waters that I have no answers for. 

Last thoughts. I don't think AI generated art is in any danger of replacing artists anytime soon. It's a tool that artists will use to work faster. What I do worry about is the devaluation of art and that the creators of the bots have shown little to no regard for artists whose work they have used.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

More Midjournehy

Midjourney is going to generate some excellent discussions about what "art" means and whether computer generated art is actually art. 

It seems like an easy answer: computer generated art is not art. 

There are complications, though. I remember when people started creating art on computers and traditional artists were screaming that it wasn't really art. Now it's just called digital art, and I don't think anyone denies its place. That took a long time to happen, though. 

Now we have this new era, which is equal parts brilliant and terrifying, and what does it mean, exactly? Oh, and this:

"H.P. Lovecraft diorama, ultra detailed, volumetric lighting." It took a few iterations, but all in less than ten minutes. 

I'm guessing there are multiple ways people will use this tool. Many, like me, will just be thrilled to generate images from their ideas. I'm so happy to be able to do this, because I always regretted that I have no artistic talent. I still have no artistic talent, but this is awesome!

The second category will be people who master this tool and become a kind of artist, using this in a commercial sense. It would be controversial, at first, but if the creator is upfront about the process and presents his work as a new kind of art, it doesn't seem unreasonable. 

The third category will be existing artists would could use this tool to generate new ideas or generate images that they could then modify. It seems like it would be a way for artists to greatly increase their productivity, particularly for local artists whose income, to a large degree, depends on output. 

One more:

"Little girl in a fairy tale world, background ultra detailed, volumetric lighting."

Wait, I thought of a fourth category: people like me who are now going to get into color theory and technique because they love art but were very intimidated trying to learn the dry basics of theory. Now the basics aren't dry, because I can do cool stuff while I learn. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


Fred, I really want an artist's take on this after you read the post. 

I wrote a few months ago about how I applied to be in the beta for Midjourney, an AI-powered art generation tool. 

I didn't hear back and forgot all about it. 

This morning, though, I received an invite to the beta. 

After a few hours, it's fair to say my mind is totally blown, and so is Eli 20.11s. It's incredible, and I'm not even using 1% o the capacity of this tool, because I know so little. 

Basically, you use keywords to generate art.

They could be simple, like "giraffe in desert," or incredibly complex, like "render of a futuristic Time Machine, blue fog ,dark, YELLOW LIGHTNING energy, epic, steampunk, metal, wood, presented nicely, rendered in octane, realistic, film grain, 35mm, 1600 ISO, Sony a7riv, 8k, unreal engine, dark arts, mythical, surreal. cinematic by Tsutomu Nihei ::Photoreal, Hyper real, ultra real, ambient occulsion, anti-aliasing, tessellation, volumetric lighting, dark, high contrast, sub-surface scattering."

I actually cut a few lines from that second description. It went on forever. 

The program will generate four versions of the image, and you can choose to upscale any of them (adding detail). You can also choose to generate up to four variations of one of the images. It's fascinating to watch people on the server refining an image in real-time. 

I thought of Gloria, who loved Frida Kahlo, and typed in "Charon ferrying souls across the river Styx in the style of Frida Kahlo." After a little upscaling, this was the result:

Interesting, but not great. Striking, though. 

This next one, though, is off the charts. Eli 20.11 put in "giraffe in the style of mad max," refined the result, and got this:

I love how the giraffe and the car are merged. Pasting the image into the blog makes it lose a little of its vibrancy, but the full size version is incredibly striking. Here's another one of Eli's:

What's most amazing about this is we both generated these images after barely even knowing how the program works. I've watched people who have a strong grasp of the program's potential generate stunning images. I honestly would not be able to distinguish them from "real" art. 

This is incredibly disruptive technology, and I'm going to spend way more time than I should working with it over the next week. Eli, too. 

Monday, July 25, 2022


All we had available for lunch was a large protein bar or five small chocolate chip cookies. Eli 20.11 was working in the study and I didn't want to bother him. 

Sophie's choice, but magnified. What was the best thing to leave for him?

I went with the cookies, due to some complicated reasoning. 

Two days later, Eli discovered the theft. "Wait, you ate all the cookies? What?"

"I had to choose between the protein bar, which I wanted to save for you, and the cookies. Allow me to step you through the decision-making process."

Eli is already laughing. "I can't wait to hear this."

"I wanted to optimize the situation for both of us, so I asked myself which one of us was better suited to have cookies for lunch. Given my nutritional history, I thought it was absolutely clear"--I'm laughing now, too, and I can barely even talk--"that I was the one who would could handle it better."

My eyes are watering. He's leaning onto a wall for support as he laughs.  He looks at me. "That's the worst explanation I've ever heard."

"Also," I said, "cold cookies from the refrigerator are delicious. Why did you never tell me about that?" 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Kevin W., and it's mind-blowing: The Great Fiction of AI: the strange world of high-speed semi-automated genre fiction. With this happening in music and art as well, I wonder what percentage of creative content will be entirely human-generated by the end of the decade.

Based on the first link this week, this will be even easier to do in the future. The depth of this story is amazing: A Bored Chinese Housewife Spent Years Falsifying Russian History on Wikipedia.

From Steve Davey, and it's both ingenious and ridiculous: Man builds motorised bed with wheels so he can go anywhere while lying down

From Wally, and it's comprehensive: Gaming the American Revolution – Ranking the Games We Have Played – 2022 Edition. I didn't know the extent of the French mustard craze: The French Mustard Shortage

From Meg McReynolds, and it's a fascinating read: Inside the Mind-Boggling World of the Antiquities Theft Task Force. This is excellent (and used by the James Webb telescope): What is gravitational lensing?

From C. Lee, and it's frightening: CDC: US infants are falling sick with a life-threatening virus that triggers fever, delirium, seizures, and sepsis. This is disgusting: ‘Have you recently had an abortion?’ Australian transiting through US questioned then deported. P.T. Barnum was an optimist: American tourist trying to take selfie injured after falling into Mount Vesuvius crater. This is a bad, bad idea: In era of transparency, Arizona law limits filming police. This will fall on deaf, slightly intoxicated ears: Alcohol is never good for people under 40, global study finds. An excellent retrospective on a wonderful film: Princess Mononoke: The masterpiece that flummoxed the US. I don't think I'd make it through the first three steps without screwing up, but if you're so inclined, what a cool project: Get Impressive Audio and Style With Your Own DIY Sound Bar. Hard pass: Andouillette: One of the things you must never try eating in France. With an andouillette follow-up: Stanley Tucci is savoring it all.


I finished a plot summary for This Doesn't Feel Like the Future (the prequel to The Man You Trust) on Monday. It's 30 pages, single-spaced, and it's a full story. 

It took about two months, which is over a year less than it took for the first book. I've learned a ton in the last six years, and I'm going to leverage it all this time. 

The drafts are where characters fight amongst themselves for print time. Some become more interesting as they evolve, while others shrink in significance. The story reveals itself to you in ways you didn't understand. I feel like I'm more ready to handle the process this time.

I'm also reasonably confident that while the first book took over six years, this one will only take four, and I'm being conservative when I say that. I'll inevitably be wrong, but I'm so, so far ahead of where I was last time after a few months. 

I'll spend the next month revising this (in consult with Eli 20.11 and John Harwood), and then I'll start writing in late August when he goes back to school. 

In other news, there's no news on the licensing front, although someone is working the issue on my behalf. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Coming Home

Eli 20.11 will be flying in from Washington, D.C. this afternoon. Via Bogota and Panama City and Miami. 

I can't tell you how happy I'll be to have him home. I've only seen him for a week since January, when I went to Oxford and London. It was just like it's always been between us, and it made us both realize how much we miss each other. 

He's only going to be here for four weeks, and he'll be gone for one of those weeks. Still, that will be the most I've seen him for over a year.

Here's a picture of the view from his Airbnb in Panama City. $50 a night.

And here's a picture of the Panama Canal, or Panama Canal-adjacent:

In spite  of the hideous history of how the Panama Canal was built, I have a hard time thinking of any engineering feat that changed the world more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022


I've been thinking about cities, because I'll be moving somewhere after the house is sold next summer. 

Grand Rapids is fine, in the same way that cars and houses and games are fine when they're serviceable but not what you really wanted. Grand Rapids is a highly serviceable city.

I thought about Grand Rapids and what puts it in the fine category, and I realized there are two different kinds of cities. 

The first kind is a city you'll move to on spec. No real plan, no job yet, but the city is so damn enticing that you'll figure it out as you go. You have enough money and you're going to take your shot. 

Cities like Vancouver and San Diego fall into that category. Almost anywhere on the West Coast, really, at least when it's not actively burning down. Vibrant cities, bustling with life and culture. Austin used to be in that category before it became so overcrowded.

Those are "spec" cities. 

Then there's the other kind of city. This is the kind of city you move to for only two reasons: love or a job.

There's no third reason.

Grand Rapids is in this category. Most of the people who live here were born here, and every person who didn't (at least every person I've ever asked, and I'm in the dozens now) moved here for love or a job.

Spec cities and "jove" cities, and I don't want to live in a jove city anymore. I came for love (love of Eli 20.11 and to help him pursue his dreams), but once he's out of school, this won't be his home base anymore.

Time to find the right spec city, stat. Also, please wait for the inevitable post in a year where I explain (in a quite disgruntled manner) why spec cities are way too expensive to actually live in.

Monday, July 18, 2022

If Only

I was watching the World Track and Field Championships last night and was struck by an impossibility.

The first 400 meters of a 1500 meter preliminary heat were run, as heats often are, in a cagey manner. The first lap was only run in 60 seconds, which is quite slow for world-class runners. The only objective, though, is to qualify for the next round or (in the finals) win the race, and I've seen many 1500 meter races where the first lap was this slow.

Far, far back in the day, when I was a freshman in college, I could run a quarter mile in 57 seconds. It didn't seem like a big deal, and it wasn't, because it's not really that fast, at least not compared to people who actually run track. 

I realized, though, that back then, I could have run with this pack for roughly 450-500 meters before my heart exploded. And during that time, at least for the first 400, I would have looked like a world class athlete, running with the pack.

Could anyone fake it that long in any other sport? It doesn't seem like it. I can't think of a single sport where you could look world class for a a minute+ when you were just an enthusiastic amateur. Not even university level.

Golf, if you were a scratch player, perhaps, but even then, not for very long. I wasn't the equivalent of a scratch runner, though. I was well below that. I never broke 18 minutes in the 5k, and my best mile was only 5:12. That's pedestrian, even though it's not slow. I was never going to be a great runner, or even a really good one.

Still, though. 70 seconds of glory.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and what an expose, it's: Uber emails: Exec admits “we’re not legal,” another claims we’re all “pirates”

Mike G. sent in a link to a free app that identifies bird songs after my post earlier this week, and here it is: What bird is singing? Merlin Bird ID app offers instant answers.

From Christopher S., and it includes the great line "If you have the right people hating you, it makes you stronger": How Cult New Wave Band Devo Predicted Our Doom-Scroll Era.

From C. Lee, and if you can stand being cold in the morning (I can't), it's a great idea: How to Supercool Your Home and Why You Should. Assassinated last week, Shinzo Abe was many destructive directions at once: Shinzo Abe Was ‘Trump Before Trump’—Except He Pulled It Off. This is a fantastic read: Mary Sears’ Pioneering Ocean Research Saved Countless Lives in WWII. I hadn't even thought about this: The Danger of License Plate Readers in Post-Roe America. An interesting question: Does Plan B Have a Weight Limit?  This is important; The Suicide Prevention Lifeline Is Getting a New Number. Welcome to the era where you buy something without actually owning it: Sony removing purchased Studio Canal content from PlayStation libraries. Gridiron Solitaire is unfortunately not part of this revenue stream: What income can you get from your old indie PC games?

From jdv, and it's quite odd: Sunlight Might Make Men Hungrier Through Hormonal Changes, Study Suggests.

From Wally, and it's useful (and quite accurate): How to survive a knife attack. I've never had any of these: The Best Regional American Candy Bars. For science fiction/fantasy poetry fans: 2022 Rhysling Award Readings: Short Poem Nominees.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and my sodium level is usually too low, so I hope I get away with it: Adding salt to food at table can cut years off your life, study finds.

And He's Gone And Done It

One of Eli's favorite English phrases is "And he's gone and done it," which is both a description and a bit of a joke, if I understand it correctly. 

I wrote a few years ago about how it would be great to have a weightlifting program that consisted of weights with constantly shifting loads. In a glamorous reveal, I got the idea while I was carrying in a 40-lb. bag of cat litter--pine pellets, which moved constantly as I tried to carry the bag. Eli agreed, and we both forgot about it. 

I saw last night that someone had done, it though, in exactly the way I imagined. It's called Tidal Tank, and it's basically just a transparent cylinder partially filled with water, which is going to go all over the place when you lift it. 

Of course I ordered one. It was only $69, and after all it was my idea (sort of).

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

A Sentence

For the crime of "refusing to yield resulting in the death of a pedestrian," the seventy-six year old woman who hit Gloria (and came within inches of also killing two of her best friends) received the following sentence:
--suspension of  license for one year
--one year of probation
--a $2,300 dollar fine
--100 hours of community service

Eli 20.11 and I talked last night and we agreed that depending on anyone else's actions for comfort or consolation is a fool's philosophy. All it does is lead to frustration and interferes with your own healing. So this sentence seems very light, and it will pass, and we'll move on.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

A Letter

I think I mentioned last week that the sentencing hearing for the woman who struck Gloria is tomorrow.

Last Thursday, I received a letter forwarded by Gift Of Life from the woman who received one of Gloria's kidneys. It saved her life.

I'm going to include a few excerpts below, just as a reminder that organ donation is very, very important, and doesn't get nearly the attention it should. Sometimes the loss of one life saves others. 

I have waited 5 1/2 years for my transplant. The wait was very hard and long for me and my family. I was doing peritoneal dialysis for 8 hours a night...every night...lots of medications, sleepless nights, and not being able to spend much time with my family because of dialysis. 

Thanks to the transplant, I can enjoy life. I am grateful to be healthy and to be able to spend time with my family for many more years...I am sorry for your loss, but very thankful for this kidney, as it gave me another opportunity to life.

I am looking forward to many things, most of which I was unable to do before, such as traveling, swimming, staying up past 5 pm. Watch my kids and grandkids grow. I expect to work again in May. My family and I are forever grateful. 

Finding meaning in tragedy is always incredibly difficult, but organ donation is incredibly special.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Bird Songs

I was up early on Sunday. 

Really, really early. So early I found out that light starts to come into the sky (ever so slightly) just after 5:30 a.m. 

I pulled into the driveway, stopped the car, and got out. And heard this: Bird songs

This isn't a word I use often, but it was magnificent. I was surrounded on all sides by bird songs, and it was beautiful.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Friday Links!

I always thought the overdose claims sounded staggeringly implausible: Cops Are Still Fainting When They Touch Fentanyl.

This is such an amazing technical achievement: How Zelda fans changed the ending to Ocarina of Time on a vanilla N64. The Chicago Dog is not my dog: The Unbreakable Rules of the Chicago Dog--and When to Break Them

This is so good: 44th resignation from Boris Johnson's government. 

From C. Lee, and it's brilliant: How scientists predict famine before it hits. Next, and good god we're living in the worst timeline, it's State education board members push back on proposal to use “involuntary relocation” to describe slavery. This is intriguing: Protein Blobs Linked to Alzheimer’s Affect Aging in All Cells. This could be helpful: The abortion privacy dangers in period trackers and apps. Unbelievable: Spam Alert: Google Asks Feds for Permission to Flood Inboxes With Campaign Emails. An excellent data visualization: Household Income Distribution in the U.S. Visualized as 100 Homes.

From Wally, and this is terrific: One More Try – an experimental skate video. A pretty solid depiction of America in the last month: Fireworks gone wrong!

High Heels

I saw someone on television wearing four inch high heels (at least), and one thing led to another, and here we are. 

I can't imagine anything dumber than the emergence of high heels as some kind of fashion statement. I know, there are a LOT of dumb fashion statements, but high heels seem like the worst. 

From Wikipedia:
Platformed footwear have a long history dating as far back as ancient Egypt, though it is unknown when the platforms made their first appearance. In ancient Egypt, wearing very thick soled sandals was an indication of upper class status.

Pretty pedestrian (groan at your leisure). Then it gets much more interesting: Butchers in ancient Egypt also elevated themselves by platformed sandals to keep blood away from their feet.

Even better: During the Medieval period in Europe, both men and women wore platform shoes (the women's variant being known as chopines) to raise themselves out of the trash and excrement filled streets. Can they make an equivalent for politics?

Leave it to us, though, to come through with the big banger: A 17th-century law in Massachusetts announced that women would be subjected to the same treatment as witches if they lured men into marriage via the use of high-heeled shoes.

I only made it to 1700 and that's enough to give me nightmares for months. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2022


The Man You Trust has been completed for almost two months now. 

Why can't you read it? Because I used three lines from two different songs, and I can't get the publishing companies to respond to my request for a license to use them. 

It should be fairly straightforward. You send an email to the publisher, they respond, you pay a small fee, and it's all fine. 

Except this time, it's not fine. 

Five written requests in the last two months to one publisher (Round Hill Music), as well as two phone calls. Two requests to the publisher of the other song (Sony). 

Not one answer in return. All my requests--through their official channels for such a request--have landed in the Licensing Black Hole. 

It's incredibly frustrating, because those same companies will sue the pants off you if you use lyrics without a license. So they'll sue you, but they ignore your requests to do it legally. 

As I work on the plot for the next book, This Doesn't Feel Like The Future, which will be ready to start writing in September, it's driving me crazy that I have a finished book I can't proceed to publish. 

I'm going to give it another few weeks, then find songs before 1925, because those will be royalty-free. The problem, though, is that the two songs I'm using are the ideal songs to use. 

I may just have to get over it. There are 80,000+ words in this book. Three sentences can't matter that much. Well, to me they do, but not to anyone else.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022


An excellent article about the jaguar: The Jaguar Is Made For The Age Of Humans.

A Jaguar

One of the many things I never thought I'd write is "Eli 20.11 saw a jaguar."

Chicaque Natural Park is 100 square kilometers of dense cloud forest. It's also still part of the natural range of the jaguar in Colombia, although it's very rare in the northern part of the country. Scientists estimate that 1-2 jaguars live in Chicaque Natural Park, and they're rarely seen. 

Eli was hiking on Sunday as soon as the park opened. He was literally the first person on his trail. He'd been walking for about half an hour when he saw a tree move ahead of him, to the side of the trail. Branches parting, which got his attention. 

He moved forward slowly and saw a jaguar looking at him from its perch in the tree, about fifteen feet up and roughly twenty yards away.

Eli said he was stunned, because he knew the chances of seeing a jaguar were almost zero, plus he could get eaten. He knew, though, that jaguars are only rarely aggressive toward humans. And this particular jaguar, he said, seemed very chill, just watching him from its perch in the tree, not tense in any way. 

Eli looked back, and they just watched each other for a little while. Then he slowly began walking along the trail. The jaguar stayed in the tree, though, and showed no inclination to leave. 

Once he passed the jaguar, Eli turned around and walked backwards so that he could continue to face it. Then, after he was beyond the point where he could be seen, he said he turned and ran the fastest fifty yards anyone could possibly run. 

He also said it was one of the greatest moments of his life.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Chicaque Natural Park

There's a beautiful nature park 30 minutes outside of Bogota called Chicaque Natural Park.

Eli 20.11 went there on Sunday, hiking thirteen miles in total (down into a valley, then back, with elevation changes of 2,000 feet). 

I'm leading off with the best picture first because it's so beautiful. This is what it's like inside a cloud forest I (if you double-click to enlarge it's amazing):

A very famous waterfall:

Just a routine, breathtaking view:

This is a picture of two eagles side-by-side he took through binoculars. It has this dreamy, magical quality that I really like.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about the jaguar.

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