TITAA #24: Christmas Poop Logs
In Barcelona over the Thanksgiving weekend, I found these little guys all over the Christmas market. I thought it was a little strange and eventually googled it, to find out... it's a Catalan Poop Log (wikipedia). Slate's piece on it:
On December 8 each year — the Feast of the Immaculate Conception — families bring out the happy log. Every night until December 24, children are tasked with “feeding” the log by offering him nuts, dried fruit, and water. Kids must also cover Tió de Nadal with a blanket to ensure he stays warm and comfortable.
On Christmas Eve, it is time for the little shit log to shine. Children gather around the red-hatted branch and beat him with sticks while singing the traditional Tió de Nadal song:
Hazelnuts and mató cheese,
If you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
Then comes the miracle: the kids look under Tió de Nadal’s blanket and discover that the dear log has pooped out a pile of candies and presents. (The end of the defecation session is signaled by the presence of a stinky herring.) When everyone has collected their gifts from Tió de Nadal, the family burns him for warmth.
Travel sure does broaden the mind. Happy holiday season, everyone!
For those of you who subscribed recently, I'm a data science consultant living in France. In this end-of-the-month newsletter, I summarize my favorite AI and procedural generation creative stuff, share links on storytelling & narrative and other fun tech (data vis, NLP, tutorials), plus review my favorite games, books, and TV from the month. I wrap with a poem, because we all need more poetry to survive. I try to only recommend things I really liked ("Things I Think Are Awesome" = "TITAA"). Huge thanks to the friends who recommended this newsletter.
AI Art & Creativity Stuff
Texture Generation with Ultra-Compact Neural Cellular Automata by Mordvintsev and Niklasson. So compact, there are little tiny webgl shader examples online here and here. Notebooks just got added to their repo here, look for the micro-NCA ones.
I'm very excited by DreamFields (Jain et al, Google and Berkeley) a kind of 3d object DALL-E-like generation from text alone. No code yet, but very cool video and examples. They do a clever background augmentation to get at the objects themselves. It's hard to make them out here, so visit their video.
NUWA from Microsoft for text-to-image generation and image editing looks fantastic, but the code isn't up yet. Same with Microsoft's VQ-Diffusion.
SketchEdit looks very cool too, although the online demo is pretty limited. Change the image with a tiny sketch addition for contours. A subset of the features promised in NUWA, though.
AI Dungeon plans to use @dribnet's pixray for pixel generated illustrations, apparently in real time? If you like procgen pixel art, check out the piece on Procedurally generating treasure maps with pixel art, by Mark Johnson. (Via Chris Foster.)
There is some CLIP-text-2-image generation stuff with fun styles going on at web app wombo here, which can be installed on mobile too. My usual test case:
Softology keeps updating their list of text-to-image CLIP-gen models and output examples, did I say it last month? Well, it's still true.
I've been loving @advadnoun's latest image generations on Twitter. Here's "Free from your own mortality":
Wave Function Collapse: Another article from BorisTheBrave since my last newsletter. Also see Tile Composer, using Wave Function Collapse for art generation, as a Unity plugin (it's pretty cheap).
Various Webgl Shader landscape and city generation: Lonely Waters (thanks Lionel Radisson), a timelapse of making a fractal city by Leon Denise here, plus version by @yonatan. And more jaw-dropping architecture shader stuff from @yonatan.
Generative fictional building plans based on Gothic French churches, by mrkswcz.
Games-y Narrative Stuff
Multimodel AI Companion for Interactive Fairy-Tale Co-Creation (by Liu and Nikolic) is a paper proposing a system for "interactive fairy tale co-creation that actively involves kids to create fairy tales with both the AI agent and their normal peers." They combine both NLP and image generation in this project. (Found via my own text-gen-papers search engine.)
There is some discourse analysis involved in this paper on story generation with VAE's by Xie et al: "We explore combining BERT and GPT-2 to build a variational autoencoder (VAE), and extend it by adding additional objectives to learn global features such as story topic and discourse relations."
Is This the Middle East? A view of game scenes and artifacts from "the middle east" - it takes a while to load, but the 3d views are super interesting. Thanks to Marian Dörk for this.
A good article, Procedural Storytelling Is Exploding the Possibilities of Video Game Narratives, in the Verge (thanks, Jacob). Storytelling is harder than setting/scene generation: "They’re slippery, simulation-driven configurations of plot, setting, conflict, resolution, and people." I like the referenced tips on story trees in the Sims 2, from Matt Brown, and I find myself unsurprised by these observations:
In their experience, the important thing here was the authoring tools, not the AI: given good tools, a few human authors can quickly create and maintain lots and lots of story trees. Important features were sorting of story trees by roles, easy searching/comparison/etc., batch creation/edits, and variable bindings.
Local intelligence is good enough, at least for something like The Sims. Just focus on making sure everything makes sense in relation to what comes immediately before and immediately after, and players will fill in appropriate long-term stories themselves.
Related, this is a fun take on the messy procgen expansive wildness of settlements in No Man's Sky: Settling Down in No Man's Sky, by retrorob.
Walk through exported Townscaper models, by Meli Harvey: import your Townscaper OBJ files into three.js and walk through them. (And some folks are working on VR adaptation for Townscaper which I WANT.) If you haven't gotten Townscaper yet (what's with that?), you can play a demo on the web now!
This free Doodle Rogue Tileset is adorable.
Two AI-poetry talks, a loose conversation with Charlotte Geater and a conference talk by Allison Parrish (on her variational autoencoders poetry - it's the Saturday at 4.25 talk if the link doesn't resolve). If you like Allison's VAE poetry talk, you might like my own follow-up talk/work making visualizations of her VAE model and driving poetry from the vis, plus some notes on the tool issues for doing this kind of creative AI work.
I worked on the algorithmic poetry generated for the UK's Dubai 2020/21 pavilion designed by Es Devlin, shown here.
A reminder that my weekly-updated arXiv text gen papers search has a page on poetry and lyrics generation, which currently has some links on Vietnamese poetry, Hindi poetry, modern Chinese poetry, and collaborative pop lyrics generation.
James Ryan's Aleator Press has some good generative poetry books, a recent one being Work, Life, Balance by Matt Nish-Lapidus.
Work, Life, Balance results from a simple combinatorial procedure that produces variations on the template A hammer for [. . .] / made out of [. . .] / wielded by [. . .] / for smashing [. . .] / for building [. . .], whose gaps are programmatically filled with associated textual elements that were likewise authored by Nish-Lapidus.
Random Fun Tech: Vis, NLP, 3D, DS
58 Ways to Visualize Alice in Wonderland by Richard Brath. Plus a few more, too. And an arXiv paper. Text vis is One of My Favorite Things. Thank goodness for Richard (and buy his book).
BookNLP from David Bamman is a python package of tools for analysis of book-length fiction, including finding mentions, dialogue finding, semantic roles, coreference. He and his colleagues have been working on the parts for years, and I happily used his command-line coreference annotation tool and advice for annotating Pride & Prejudice for my #nanogenmo project this year (although it took me a year to annotate it, it required concentration :). I'll write more about my project, goals, and the process during the holidays.
Learn PostgreSQL with a space-based mystery game, the SchemaVerse. (See also the older SQL Murder Mystery.) Truth in advertising: I've played neither but would teach with the latter for sure.
Blender Proc 2: A procedural Blender pipeline for photorealistic rendering. Lots of examples. A long article by Bilal Himite on making block worlds a la Minecraft in Blender using Voronoi diagrams and perlin noise for the landscape simulation.
A new pandas tutorial shows you visuals of what happens in your code chains.
imgs.ai - Code for building a search engine over images using CLIP and annoy k-nn. I also liked this very fast semantic search through wikipedia for Q&A with weaviate.
⭐ The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. YA Fantasy. These held up as an adult, with some great settings in Cornwall, Wales, and the Thames valley. For fans of children being given very serious quests, random people who turn out to be in thrall to the Dark, really great dog characters, and timeless myths like Arthur and Merlin.
⭐The Betrayals by Bridget Collins. Fantasy? This reads like a fantasy novel about a monastic magic school in the mountains, revisited by a former student now exiled in political disgrace... but the "magic" is a kind of "glass bead game" of math and art and dance, based on The Glass Bead Game/Magister Ludi by Herman Hesse. We get the story of our bitter main character shunted back as his political world has gotten more and more fascist; intercut with the story of his dead friend and rival told via his stolen diary. Plus his complicated attraction to the sister of the dead friend, now the Master of the Game, the only woman teaching there. Some fantastic gender and queer desire issues. (CW: suicide.)
The Scavenger Door, Suzanne Palmer's latest in the Finder series. SF. This one is set mostly on (many different places on) earth, which was for me a bit of a letdown after the other two had such amazingly weird settings (asteroid field, under water on Enceladus). But the aliens and AIs remain cute or scary and/or fascinating. The wrapup is great. More please.
The Cabinet, by Un-Su Kim. SF/fantasy? A kind of magical realist mix of office banality and weird stories of physical evolutions or devolutions (some body horror stuff here). The narrator works in a government office with no job to do at all; he becomes entranced by the X-Filey stories of transformation he finds in a locked cabinet. Interesting counter-point to Squid Game; you feel a similar sense of futile desperation fueling the characters. But it's also sometimes funny.
⭐☠️ I played A LOT more Outer Wilds this month, like, to the point where the game and I became frenemies. I resorted to walkthroughs for tips, but that didn't solve all the difficulties related to navigation and precision jetpacking under a time limit. Some of it is really just too damn hard, in ways it didn't need to be; there was a lot of cursing as I failed the 100th time to get to the Southern Observatory or into the jellyfish's head or down the right lethal branch inside the comet. I'm at the end-game now, relying on the walkthrough, but not sure I can manage in the time limit. We probably need to break up. Grrr.
Donut County was my adorable breather game, to relax after playing OW. So cute. You create little holes that suck up the inhabitants of a desert town, getting bigger and bigger as they consume things with 2d physic. The underworld conversations scenes remind me a little bit of Kentucky Route Zero only with more talking animals and lower stakes.
Unpacking is also cute, although you might wait for a sale on that. Finally, I played some Dorfromantik, which is a great casual, pretty, landscape-creation tile placing game. It reminds me a little bit of Townscaper. (Don't miss the links above to playing with the TS obj models etc!)
In VR, I dipped into Gnomes & Goblins, which is a very casual but pretty magic woods setting populated with little people and fairies. Enchanting, honestly.
I also went through a Lovecraft illustrated story in VR, Dagon, which was linear but well voice-acted and illustrated, and offered you the chance to click on things to learn a little more (like the copy of the Necronomicon). I really enjoyed it, actually. The prose is over the top, the tentacles are tentacular.
I spent my month watching Candice Renoir, a French dramedy cop show with 9 seasons (I'm on season 7). I started it with 2 seasons on Acorn TV with English subtitles, then [edited to remove my saga of trying to find it with subtitles and desperate resorts]. It's helping my French a lot - dog-related vocabulary, swearing, criminal behavior, arrest procedures. Fantastically helpful!
There are a bit too many blonde jokes but I like the supporting characters and writing otherwise. Candice is a bit goofy but savant-esque in her ability to see unusual details; I enjoy her kids, and the romance(s) are painfully entrancing. The end of s6 featured a body-swapping episode which was basically self-fanfic. It takes place in the sunny coastal south of France, so, eye-candy!
Ok, sure, while waiting for DVDs, I watched the end of Foundation which a generally enjoyed (especially the epic sf scenery) but by the end I hated Hari Seldon.
my house’s stairway is seized with vertigo. Matter having forsaken its laws, we land in hell, ascending to heaven. * Shadows move along ladders under the silence of ordinary things there is another silence: it belongs neither to the leaves nor to the dead with a crown of birds circling him a child is running in an abandoned house the stairway takes the measure of its own emptiness
from The Manifestations of the Voyage by Etel Adnan.
Hope you are all well, considering. And taking time off for the holidays to bake, watch TV, and eat.
If you like this newsletter, please share it, reply and let me know, buy me a coffee, or say hi on Twitter. It means a lot to get feedback. I'm having lots of problems with the formatting in tinyletter and I'll probably move us to somewhere else next time, sorry about that.
Best, Lynn (@arnicas)