(FYI: If this gets cut off in your mail, here’s the page link.) In Barcelona before the omicron madness, I visited the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, which has a large collection of Romanesque church art from the Pyrénées. The chapel art featured lots of these angels covered in eye-ball wings. I knew they were something ending in “-im,” but not much else.
Some investigation revealed they are the “seraphim,” who have six wings. The Museum itself has a great blog article titled “not all angels are the same, art shows us this.” Regarding the six wings, the Book of Isaiah describes them:
Seraphim were standing above Him, each having six wings: with two each covered his face, and with two each covered his feet, and with two each flew.
In the apocryphal Book of Enoch, they inhabit the 7th Heaven (heaven is a layer cake but with politics):
AND those two men lifted me up thence on to the seventh Heaven, and I saw there a very great light, and fiery troops of great archangels, incorporeal forces, and dominions, orders and governments, cherubim and seraphim, thrones and many-eyed ones …
AND the cherubim and seraphim standing about the throne, the six-winged and many-eyed ones do not depart, standing before the Lord's face doing his will, and cover his whole throne, singing with gentle voice before the Lord's face: 'Holy, holy, holy’…
The other “-im” are cherubim and ophanim. Cherubim are originally 4-winged and also covered in eyes, hybrid creatures with the faces of ox, lion, eagle, and man. Like the seraphim, they are found in the Jewish and Islamic traditions of angels. In later Western Christianity, they are associated with Cupid (somehow) and get their plump baby look. Sometimes they are not material, just bits, perhaps, on a network. Like the seraphim, if they stop praising God, “they fall.” A grim employment situation!
The ophanim are wheeled, non-human beings, who carry the throne of God. You can see a wheel with flames in the lower left of the picture above. “They are in charge of keeping a register of mankind’s acts” (source). They are the hard-drives and self-driving cars of God, albeit directed by the higher cherubim and seraphim. They are also generally covered in eyes: “their rims were full of eyes round about.”
In the Jewish mystical tradition based on Ezekial’s vision of the Chariot of God (see “Merkabah”), the seraphim are the energy who power the throne while the cherubim direct the wheels, which are the ophanim. On the throne, controlling it all, whilst being sung praises, is “the Likeness of a Man.”
I leave you to ponder alternative technical or science-fictional explanations for this fabulous history.
AI Art & Procgen
Welp, just when you thought the text2image space might calm down for the holidays, we got GLIDE.
Here’s @ai_curio’s colab for it (and here’s the official repo notebook as colab). I get very good results with my usual test of “a ruined castle on a hill under a stormy sky,” but less so with “angel with 6 wings and many eyes beside the throne of God.” I mean, still compelling?
With the official CLIP-guided GLIDE notebook, I just get moths when I try without the “throne of God” part, but with that I get something more abstract and interesting:
The Vector-Quantized Diffusion Model (from MS) produces more photo-realistic output. I got best results with the COCO-based model, of the ones I tried with the 6-winged angels and many eyes prompt. I hadn’t thought of the drone surveillance plane on the right and I think that’s an excellent render interp.
FuseDream. More GANs and CLIP. The angel I got was kind of cartoony. There’s a colab.
Here’s Katherine Crowson’s & JD Pressman’s v-diffusion-pytorch colab (colab by BoneAmputee). This got the closest to a solid 6-winged angel in my attempts, but is a bit cartoony too.
Message to AI Artists: We have too many things with “diffusion” in them that are getting hard to tell apart — what about giving them snappier identifiers like “lightning GAN” or “mega-genclip” or “diffused amazement” etc.? Just a thought, carry on.
Artist Studies by @remi_durant. Remi says he has about 600 artists and 4 different CLIP models sampled, to illustrate how a model “sees” the style of an artist. You can search and recommend artists. I liked what I saw.
SLIP is supposed to be better than CLIP. I don’t know yet.
This tool to animate drawings is pretty amazing. It does require arms and legs, though.
Russian DALL-E. I especially like the “emojich” text-to-emoji generator. My results with the ru-DALL-E colab were quite cartoony, anime-esque in style.
A reminder that mini-DALL-E is on HuggingFace with a demo. (Interestingly, with my “ruined castle” prompt I get watermark evidence, but not with a 6-winged angels prompt. I guess it depends how close your prompt is to actual scraped training data?)
Smooth Voxels. “Are you a developer and not a designer with crazy (or any) Blender skills? But you would still like to create your own 3D models, for instance for a great little WebXR game? Then Smooth Voxels is for you!” It might be for me.
SigHack articles on generative art techniques.
In Praise of Messy Design, by Tanya X Short. “Every ‘messy’ game design is a testament to a creative vision that won out over “sense” — whether that vision is actually an inspired artistic gift or a shamblingly short attention span is a separate question.”
A thread on games in spreadsheets or Google sheets. Eeee. (From Alexander King.)
Translated playable Slovakian games from the 1980ies.
Liza Daly’s Windrift for hyptertextual game design.
Jupyter Games: games in jupyter notebooks using Box2D, by Thorsten Beier.
NLP and Data Science
The excellent spaCy course has been updated to v3 and includes coverage of their config setup. Here’s a long, meaty how-to article on using spaCy to identify health supplement effects, with many components and customizations, by Edward Schmuhl.
An online book about NLP and Semantic Search, with lots of code.
Workshop materials on using HuggingFace with Amazon Sagemaker in production.
Pandas tutor, visualize pandas operations.
Handbook of Graph Drawing and Visualization (pdf chapters from 2013).
⭐ I read Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, One Good Turn, and When Will There Be Good News (mystery), her first Jackson Brodie mysteries. They are very literary in style, and feature complex characters (and histories) that eventually intersect. Good reads for mystery fans.
⭐ Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones, (fantasy) by Micah Dean Hicks. This is modern American horror and magical realism, a fab fantasy metaphor about rundown, dying small towns with no hope. But it also has a lot of heart. Jane and Henry are black kids in a town literally haunted by the angry and hopeless dead. Henry’s ghost makes him “fix” things in a fugue state and he turns a pig at the local pork factory into “Walter Hogboss,” a pig-human manager with a sentient pig family. There’s also a robot and an alien.
Magpie Murders (mystery) by Anthony Horowitz. A good nested mystery story. Couldn’t put it down!
Light from Uncommon Stars (sf) by Ryka Aoiki feels bubbly and light but has a demon who is collecting souls and a formerly abused trans woman who has some pretty bad memories. Also a lot of violin music, many immigrants (including aliens who sell donuts), and California burbs full of good Asian and Mexican food. You will finish hungry, but not sad.
Summer Sons (fantasy) by Lee Mandelo is a Tennessee-based queer ghost story, marred slightly by too much of the main character running away from useful conversations for the first half. Lots of gay denial. Not quite enough folklore for me.
My favorite reads of the year (things I gave 5 stars to):
Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series (YA/children’s fantasy)
Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories (mystery)
Bridget Collins’ The Betrayals (fantasy)
Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories (mystery)
Jack McDevitt’s Infinity Beach (sf)
JS Dewes’ Divide series - Exiled Fleet (I also liked prequel The Last Watch) (sf)
Joanne Harris’ Gentlemen and Players (mystery)
Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Firebreak (fantasy/sf)
Kate Hope-Day’s In the Quick (sf)
Mary Robinette Kowal’s Relentless Moon and Fated Sky (sf)
Kazuo Ishigura’s Klara and the Sun (sf)
Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling series (fantasy)
Other ones worth mentioning again (4 star):
Arkady Martin’s Desolation Called Peace (sf)
Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute Book (fantasy)
Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary (sf)
Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy (fantasy/ya)
Linden Lewis’ The First Sister (sf)
Terry Miles’ Rabbits (fantasy)
Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays (fantasy/sf)
Natalie Zina Walschot’s Hench (fantasy)
Alison Stine’s Road Out of Winter (fantasy)
Naomi Novik’s The Last Graduate (fantasy)
Lauren Groff’s Matrix (literary?)
Tade Thompson’s Far From the Light of Heaven (sf)
⭐ Witcher s2, finally! I binged it in a day. I’m going to rewatch s1 now. (Yennefer breaks my heart.)
⭐ Lost in Space s3. I really liked this show. I am not a fan of family shows in general, but I do love this one and the science fiction is fun.
Dickinson s3. Smart and sad and funny and magical realist. The episode with Walt Whitman was especially good. Wrestling with how to be an artist especially in a time of Civil War, and being in or out of the world while doing it.
Shetland s6. Good crime set in good scenery. Duncan and Perez are still so cute.
Some TV I liked the most over the past year, as far as I can remember:
Dickinson - magical realism history, on Apple TV+
For All Mankind - sf, Apple TV+
Mare of Easttown - crime, HBO Max
The Other Two - comedy, HBO Max
Candice Renoir, all 9 seasons - crime, Acorn then DVDs then Salto streaming in France
This month I’ve most happily played The Forgotten City (a narrative time-loop adventure game about a lost Roman city) and in VR, Lone Echo 2. I also really enjoyed the Museum of Other Realities, a kind of online VR art gallery (thanks to Marylène Ricci for the pointer).
A year ago, I got my Quest 2 to get me virtually out of my apartment. It was a gateway to upgrading my gaming PC, since there is more VR content for streaming than there is in the Quest shop. This past year I’ve caught up on a lot of classic games.
My Fav PC Games
Call of the Sea for the story and puzzles and beautiful art setting. Get thee to a south sea island, everyone.
Kentucky Route Zero for the magical realist atmo and music and writing.
What Remains of Edith Finch for the individual chapters with delightful different gameplay, gothic storyline, and atmo of the creepy old house.
Firewatch for the story and scenery - take yourself away.
Outer Wilds with caveats for how hard it is and it will eat your life but amazing story and visuals/design/setting.
Cloud Punk for atmosphere of a Bladerunnery city with music to match and forgiving mechanics when you drive like a tired, crazy person.
Fav VR Games
I played with a lot of VR apps and games and still love them for taking me away, Calgon! I liked many of the highly rated family/children’s puzzle adventure games, like Down the Rabbit Hole, but my favorites for the year were:
Lone Echo: fab sf story and setting. Part 2 is excellent as well. Only found via Oculus store. You too want to jetpack around a ruined mining site in Saturn’s rings, fighting a biohazard.
Red Matter: great cold-war style sf story, good puzzles and atmosphere.
Time Stall: fun sf-based game with physics puzzles, quite funny (“why, Bob, why?!”).
I also spent lots of time with the puzzles in Talos Principle too and still enjoy it.
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying. .... But if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars took even one step down toward us: our own heart, beating higher and higher, would beat us to death. Who are you? Early successes, Creation's pampered favorites, mountain-ranges, peaks growing red in the dawn of all beginning,-- pollen of the flowering godhead, joints of pure light, corridors, stairways, thrones, space formed from essence, shields made of ecstasy, storms of emotion whirled into rapture, and suddenly alone: mirrors, which scoop up the beauty that has streamed from their face and gather it back, into themselves, entire. —Rilke, Duino Elegies (trans Stephen Mitchell - apologies to German readers who think the translation is bad, I’ve heard they’re all iffy)
Well, it’s been a year. Another one. Take care of yourselves. At least we have some good escapist entertainment out there. Feel free to comment with recs!
Best wishes for a better one, Lynn