Thanks for visiting! You’ll find a bunch of musings I’ve been writing around these parts since the early 2000’s. Lately, I’ve been reviewing a lot of books. But I also write about code. But really, you’re just here to see pictures of Benson.
Thanks to Reddit, I recently stumbled upon a cool project called Stable Horde. It essentially lets you generate images using a distributed cluster of GPUs donated by community members.
I had been creating my own web interface to remotely interact with a Stable Diffusion instance running on my own machine. I decided to quickly repurpose the web app and connect to the Stable Horde API. The result?
ArtBot, a Stable Diffusion demonstration that allows you to generate images using the power of the Stable Horde. It is awesome!
I think it’s time to end my AI art career on this high note. Generated with Stable Diffusion, running on my local machine.
The prompt: “beautiful portrait painting of Barack Obama with a purple mohawk on top of his head shredding on an electric guitar at a punk rock show, concept art, makoto shinkai, takashi takeuchi, trending on artstation, 8k, very sharp, extremely detailed, volumetric, beautiful lighting, wet-on-wet”
I’m just going to start off and say that this was a beautifully written book and it really struck a chord with me.
The Anthropocene Reviewed is a collection of essays adapted from a number of episodes from John Green’s podcast. I hadn’t actually heard of the podcast before, so the material in this book was new to me. Each chapter in the book is a review of a different subject on something created by or affecting humankind.
Everything from Dr. Pepper and Canadian geese to the Notes app on our phones and the Internet in general. The chapters are part review and also part historical research. I just loved it. I think part of the reason I enjoyed this book was because we’re roughly the same age. So, a number of his thoughts and experiences roughly correlated with my own. “Are you me?!” is something I thought a number of times in the book.
Take, for example, his review of Super Mario Kart:
I was in tenth grade when Super Mario Kart was released, and as far as my friends and I were concerned, it was the greatest video game ever. We spent hundreds of hours playing it. The game was so interwoven into our high school experience that, even now, the soundtrack takes me back to a linoleum-floored dorm room that smelled like sweat and Gatorade. I can feel myself sitting on a golden microfiber couch that had been handed down through generations of students, trying to out-turn my friends Chip and Sean on the final race of the Mushroom Cup.
We almost never talked about the game while playing it—we were always talking over each other about our flailing attempts at romance or the ways we were oppressed by this or that teacher or the endless gossip that churns around insular communities like boarding schools. We didn’t need to talk about Mario Kart, but we needed Mario Kart to have an excuse to be together—three or four of us squeezed on that couch, hip to hip. What I remember most was the incredible—and for me, novel—joy of being included.
That rang so true.
Another chapter of the book reviews Canadian geese. Fun fact: growing up, my mom had a flock of (non-Canadian) geese in our yard. The wings were clipped, so they couldn’t fly away. But I have distinct memories of them running after me in the backyard, pecking at my legs and back. And that awful honking. It’s no wonder that I really think that geese are the worst animals in the world.
But even though Canada geese are perfectly adapted to the human-dominated planet, they seem to feel nothing but disdain for actual humans. Geese honk and strut and bite to keep people away, even though they’re thriving because of our artificial lakes and manicured lawns. In turn, many of us have come to resent Canada geese as a pest animal. I know I do.
Image of how I remember what my mom’s geese looked like. Probably. Image generated using Midjourney AI.
The Anthropocene Reviewed is of my favorite books that I’ve read this year.
A problem that often happens to me: I get the inspiration to whip up something in Node.js (for fun, for experimentation, for a side project, etc) but then I realize that I need to go through the process of actually setting things up before I can even start writing some code.
Usually, I have to dig through previous projects and copy over my eslint and prettier config files, read through some documentation and remember how to setup TypeScript again, install the correct dependencies for running tests. Before I know it, I’m bored and tired and no longer interested in doing whatever I was going to do.
I decided to experiment with some command line tools and created a Node.js script that can help me quickly bootstrap a new project with common configuration parameters that I use. It’s available on GitHub: Bootstrap Node Project.
The GIF above shows this tool in action. I’m able to get the scaffolding for a new project up and running within about 20 seconds! After running, the project structure looks like this (with associated npm start and test scripts, all ready to go). That is pretty awesome.
Obviously, it’s highly opinionated and caters to configuration options that I personally like to use. But I figure it’s a great resource for anyone who wishes to roll their own utility to quickly bootstrap projects as well.
A few short weeks ago, I had downloaded a simplified model for generating AI-created images on your local machine. The internet (myself included) had a lot of fun with it, but the quality was definitely lacking, especially when compared to the more serious AI image platforms being created by some big companies.
I recently received my invite to the MidJourney beta and I am just blown away!
For now, I’ve just been putting in ridiculous prompts that simulate styles for various artists (oh, man. I have a feeling this is going to piss off a lot of artists in the future…)
For example: “Apocalyptic wasteland with crumbling buildings and debris, thomas kinkade painting”
The potential here is pretty crazy — for people who aren’t artistically inclined, they can start generating images and scenes based on what they come up with. Some people can probably use this as a base to get to rapidly start iterating on new ideas. And of course, others are going to be mad.
A lot of the detail in creating these images is how you create the prompt. You’re already seeing the phrase “prompt engineering” being used in various places — check out this Twitter search.
For me though, I’m excited about this new technology and it’s something I’ve been eager to play with.
Josh Foer’s book starts out by looking into an esoteric competition featuring mental athletes competing in various memory competitions. Along the way, he discovers interesting mnemonic tricks for memorizing various types of things and follows a group of people who frequently compete in these events. With dedicated practice, he uses this effort to win the United States Memory Championship just a year later!
While Foer’s book documents his journey in becoming a mental athlete, it also features a number of interesting asides that dive into the latest research in memory and explores how and why humans are good (and not so good) and remembering various types of things.
The book opens with what seems like a non-sequitur:
“Dom DeLuise, celebrity fat man (and five of clubs), has been implicated in the following unseemly acts in my mind’s eye: He has hocked a fat globule of spittle (nine of clubs) on Albert Einstein’s thick white mane (three of diamonds) and delivered a devastating karate kick (five of spades) to the groin of Pope Benedict XVI (six of diamonds). Michael Jackson (king of hearts) has engaged in behavior bizarre even for him. He has defecated (two of clubs) on a salmon burger (king of clubs) and captured his flatulence (queen of clubs) in a balloon (six of spades). Rhea Perlman, diminutive Cheers bartendress (and queen of spades), has been caught cavorting with the seven-foot-seven Sudanese basketball star Manute Bol (seven of clubs) in a highly explicit (and in this case, anatomically improbable) two-digit act of congress (three of clubs).”
You read this and immediately think, “what?!” But! There’s a method to this madness. It’s a specific technique that Foer describes later in the book. He’s built a “memory palace” to make recalling a list of items easier. It’s something I hadn’t heard of before and is an interesting concept.
Foer describes a memory palace as:
“The idea is to create a space in the mind’s eye, a place that you know well and can easily visualize, and then populate that imagined place with images representing whatever you want to remember. Known as the “method of loci” by the Romans, such a building would later come to be called a “memory palace.”
When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvelous. But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonorable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable, or laughable, that we are likely to remember for a long time.
The more vivid the image, the more likely it is to cleave to its locus. What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I was learning, is the ability to create these sorts of lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any that has been seen before that it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Which is why Tony Buzan tells anyone who will listen that the World Memory Championship is less a test of memory than of creativity.
When forming images, it helps to have a dirty mind. Evolution has programmed our brains to find two things particularly interesting, and therefore memorable: jokes and sex—and especially, it seems, jokes about sex.
While there’s no secret to easily unlocking a flawless memory, I found this book really enjoyable to read and thought some of the techniques for recall were pretty useful.
As far as the title of the book goes — it ultimately has nothing to do with Einstein. It’s related to using a mnemonic technique he used for remembering a set of cards (in this case, a four of spades, king of hearts, and three of diamonds).
More recently, an ambitious engineer named Boris Dayma created an open source version of the service called DALL-E mini. While it isn’t able to generate results as impressive as DALL-E 2, it’s still pretty crazy!
It’s recently taken the internet by storm and you can see people post DALLE-mini generated images and memes everywhere. The official website has been under heavy load, so it’s been pretty tough to try out the service.
Fortunately, you can download the model from Github and get the service setup on your local machine (providing you have a graphics card beefy enough to run the models).
Who has two thumbs and a graphics card just begging to be used? Hello.
I was able to get the service setup on my machine and start playing around with it.
In this example, I used a prompt to essentially create a Bob Ross painting generator. “Alpine forest with river running through the middle, snow capped peaks in the background, Bob Ross style painting.”
Pretty neat! The images that services like DALL-E 2 and Midjourney can create are miles better and I’ve applied to both services.
While I anxiously await my acceptance, I’ll have to continue generating various memes on my own machine.
Thanks to a coworker, my latest obsession is Redactle. Each day, it takes one of the 10,000 most popular articles from Wikipedia and censors every word that isn’t a common preposition or article. Each time you make a correct guess, the word is uncovered, slowly revealing more and more of the article. It’s sick and it’s fun.
Essentially, this turns into an all day affair as I take breaks and then come back to try and solve the puzzle. Yesterday, I determined the article was about “Sparking Wine” after about 276 guesses… 🙀