More on AI

I’ve been thinking about LLMs like ChatGPT, which I’m experimenting with right now.

After a hazy recall of a dream last night, it occurred to me, in my experience, LLMs are dreamlike in their oddities and quirks. They put things in that don’t make sense, like in a dream where something out of place is right there, being believed by your sleeping mind.

They’re also stubborn, and seem to have a hard time admitting error.

I’ve definitely been rethinking using my ainimal images for publication or profit. It’s not something I want to do. I expect artificially generated images will take work away from skilled human artists. This is a valid argument. I understand it’s my personal view and also understand others’ use of such images can be justified.

So why is “dreamlike” a good descriptor? It’s the suspension of disbelief LLMs share with the common experience of dreaming. It’s the apparent assumption by the LLM that everything’s fine and correct, when a human can detect it isn’t.

Another thought about the danger of LLMs is simply, we’ve been damaged by technology in many different ways, from the dawn of technology, which is a very long time ago. So the damage being caused by LLMs is just more of the same type of thing. Getting upset by this is a common human experience. It hasn’t been the end of the world up to now. I expect LLMs won’t be the end of the world either.

AI likes the transformer shape, so it puts in extras. And I specified “sparks at the very top of the pole”. It kept putting them in the middle. AI doesn’tunderstand power transmission, at all.


I’m experimenting with one of ChatGPT’s image generators. Here are some results. I’ll be writing more about this.

To begin with, it’s not anything close to human intelligence. Kind of dumb, actually, and prone to getting itself stuck in blind alleys. It also has quirks that make it obvious it’s an LLM. Many times I’d ask it to remove a unwanted image part and it would say it did it when it clearly hadn’t.

It’s very plain I’m interacting with just another computer program, a powerful one, of course, but still just a program. It’s quickly clear my input is the most important part of the interaction, needing a lot of thought and careful noting of what the program does with parts of the input prompt.

I went into this experiment to explore ChatGPT’s creative or artistic possibilities. I found it worked well if I simplified a great deal. This isn’t surprising, and fits within my usual aesthetic or design approach of simplify, simplify, simplify. The images here are defined as “image of an animal, 20th century linoleum cut style, contained within a simple circular frame, with lots of white space around the circle, muted colors, only three or four colors maximum, in a square screensize”.

Defining the basic style, such as engraving, lithograph, oil painting etc., gives the program a narrower set of things to choose from when it constructs an image. I’ve been avoiding anything with words, as graphical LLMs have a very hard time, oddly, with words and letters, and can be quite stubborn about insisting it’s spelling or forming letters correctly. It’s good to remember there are humans behind the programming of ChatGPT, who make human decisions based on all kinds of circumstances, such as intellectual property.

Simplification removes some of the quirkiness of LLM, or at least makes the quirks more acceptable. The more complex and realistic renderings tend to have weirdness in the odd place, signs of non-human presence. I’m also not attracted to the discernable AI Style. It’s quite possible I’m just not putting the right words into my prompts.

The program can create some very attractive visual elements, impressively so. Frames, strokes and flourishes are often aesthetically pleasing.

I’m also narrowing down the subject matter, envisioning an “A is for Aardvark” type of sequence. These images appear to be well suited to book or picture form, as well as the web. Children will like them. And everyone likes critters.

More later.


Later: I’m not going into the social or economic parts of LLM graphical programs. That’s a vast issue by itself, and we’re at the very early stages. We don’t know what real-life impact LLM will have on artists’ fortunes. I’ll write about it at some point, but want for the moment to look at technical and aesthetic aspects of this new thing.

I’m a technologist who’s earned a living in information technology since 1982, so the technical puzzle appeals to my curiosity and I want to see if I can put it to use. I have friends who are very upset at graphical LLMs, coming from an arts professional place. I’m no arts professional, and can be a bit of a money-grubber at times, so it doesn’t feel as dire to me.

P is for Pig

Q is for Quetzal

G is for Gerbil

C is for Cat

Weekly Woody, February 11, 2024

1913 Massacre

One of Woody’s greatest songs. A great story, told simply. And his usual lesson: “The parents they cried and the miners they moaned – see what your greed for money has done.”

Richardson, North Side

This is a snapshot of the west end of the north side of the Richardson Complex. The Admin building is off the frame to the left; the brick wards are partially visible at the center. The stone wall in the middle is, I believe, the remnants of a greenhouse, of which there were two behind the hospital.

A pleasingly coherent photograph. The snow and bright sunshine work well to simplify the image. The brick wall unifies it and emphasizes its horizontal nature. There’s an abundance of separate parts that fit together well.

Richardson Complex, January 2024
Richardson Complex, January 2024

Machines and Creativity

Doc Searls wrote about AI and feeling – “Feeling is human” – and the lack of human creativity in the new technologies.

My mind immediately connected his post to David Hockney’s video “Photoshop is boring“, where the artist rambles on in his intelligent and humorous way about art, photography, imaging technology and where technology has brought us.

Hockney, of course, paints and draws. He says people don’t draw anymore, it’s all photography, and it all starts to look the same, stale and boring. “Magazines used to be full of drawings, now it’s all photographs”, he says. Photoshop and other technology helps us get to this boring state, faster all the time, and I expect AI is increasing this exponentially.

Hockney is also a photographer, indeed has for many years explored the edges of what photography can do. He approaches the act of photography in a painterly way, meaning he’s seeing more intensely than a lot of photographers are capable of. He was unsatisfied with the flatness of most photographs, flatness both in space and in time. The decisive moment, a flat image and a flat point in time.

Photographers break out of the boring state by being unhappy/unsatisfied with the single image most photographs consist of. Duane Michals broke out of the decisive moment, which he spoke of with scorn, by doing sequences. He also started writing and drawing on his photographs. The art world was shocked. His sequences are analogous to Hockney’s collage of photographic images, both of them multiple images expanding the photographer and the viewer’s passage through time and space.


This seems a bit trite, but I’m not trying to do much here except get some words out. I could make it less trite with a bit more work, most likely in additional posts. Hockney has long been a favorite, and his videos are relaxed disquisitions on art, observation, technology, a whole bunch of related activities, all coming from his uninhibited expression, his enjoyment of life and his constant, focused work. I recommend listening to Hockney (many short videos are online) if you want to have new thoughts about art, creativity and technology.

I like how writing a blog post slows me down and throttles back the usual over-stimulation the web produces in my brain. An exercise in exploration and focus. More of this would be helpful to me. Art, and I’m not claiming this is art except in the sense putting words together can produce aesthetic feelings and thoughts, is not so much in the viewing as in the doing.


Back to Hockney and AI – Hockney’s productive. Work work work, smoke smoke smoke, 86 years old and still blasting along. Would AI’s sped-up “productivity” create anything like what Hockney does every day, at his own steady pace? No way. The human’s out in front. AI’s trying and failing to catch up. Hockney doesn’t “make content”, he makes art, which he explains in the phrase, referring to an owl sculpture by Picasso “that’s not an owl, that’s an account of a human being looking at an owl”.


“We were just in the Picasso show, you know, and looking at that owl, that marvelous owl, and today I pointed out, some people just stuff a real owl and put it in a case. [makes a sour face] Not very interesting. I was explaining to my young friend, why Picassos are so marvelous is, it isn’t an owl, it’s a human being looking at an owl. It’s an account of a human being looking at an owl. That’s what thrills us, and there’s more owlness there than in the stuffed owl.”


A later post about machines and creativity: AInimals. And another: More on AI.

Hockney talking
Hockney talking
Pearblossom Highway
Pearblossom Highway, David Hockney
Death Comes to the Old Lady, Duane Michals
Death Comes to the Old Lady, Duane Michals
The Decisive Moment, Indeed (Cartier-Bresson)
The Decisive Moment, Cartier-Bresson
Picasso's Owl
Picasso’s Owl

The Reclaimed Materials Biz, Two

Well, that was more of a break between posts than I was hoping for. I can blame Buffalo’s preposterous Christmas Blizzard, but the big storm actually gave me plenty of time to write, being housebound with electric, internet and heat.

But then I have to say I’ve never been anything close to a natural born blogger. Just not voluble enough, at least on a web platform. In person I can talk with the best of them (and sometimes the worst of them). I need to remember writing is just another form of talking – if I want to write more, that is.


Anyway, I’m always thinking about the reclaimed materials business, of course, as I earn my living in it. The recent events have reinforced a number of principles I’ve learned over the past fifteen years.

It comes down to a concept common to most businesses dealing with physical objects – it has to FLOW. If it stops at any point there better be a good reason for stopping, usually it’s an indication of a problem. Hardly rocket science, but I find it helpful in beginning to identify problems.

“Has this item or group of items been in one intermediate place for too long?”

“Are these things selling?”

“Does anybody (potential buyers) know about this thing?”

All questions I ask every day.

I’m going to publish this to get something out there, and continue later when I don’t have to get out the door to work.

Part One is here.

First of a series of posts . . .

. . . about the reclaimed materials business.

Too Much Stuff

I’ve been thinking of writing about various parts of the business of acquiring and selling building materials. I’ve been working in this industry since 2007, have been running a store for most of that time, have worked on deconstruction and salvage teams and have discussed and analyzed all its nooks and crannies with my colleagues at great length.

My first topic is suggested by recent events, namely the shutdown of Buffalo ReUse in late November 2022. We (ReUse Action) swooped in when they lost their lease, offering to clean out their building in exchange for control of the non-profit organization. They accepted our offer, and we’re in the midst of the cleanout.

The disposition of the materials at the Buffalo ReUse store is a huge job. We’ve hardly begun the removal to the landfill, but I expect us to fill and send away 15-20 dumpsters before we’re through. About 90% of the materials at the store is worthless and will have to be landfilled; the rest we’re either bringing to our store or selling cheap/giving away to the public.

I could write about this episode for hours, but the specific point I feel compelled to write about is the recent common reaction among supporters of both Buffalo ReUse and ReUse Action – “Oh, how sad! All that good material going to the landfill!”, with a subtext of “We thought you were a green organization, and here you are throwing away good material!”

Too Much Worthless Stuff

Let me back up a little. I said “about 90% of the [Buffalo ReUse] materials at the store is worthless”.

What do I mean by “worthless”? That a whole building full of carefully saved material has no value? Yes, but let me expand on that.

I refer to our reclaimed material operation as a business. When we started and ran Buffalo ReUse, as a non-profit, it was a business.

Businesses, in this society, need to make a profit, or, put another way, have a margin sufficient to remain in operation. So worthless means something that won’t make money for the business. This is because it can’t be sold, because nobody wants to buy it.

So why is it worthless, and how did we end up with a building full of worthless material?

For years, customers and visitors to our store have said to me “It must be really cool to work with all this wonderful material!” I try to be polite and agree, but I’ve been known to say “It was really cool for about six months, then it was more like “Oh no, more material in the unending flood of stuff!'”

Once things get rolling, and people know you want their unwanted things (because you remind them without ceasing) it truly becomes an unending flood.

So, you learn to say no, and as time goes on and the pile of material gets bigger, you say no to more things, things you used to take.

I’d say it’s Rule Number One, because if you aren’t picky about what you take, you soon have a real problem. Too much material, and particularly too much unwanted material (people don’t buy it) becomes a storage and disposal problem.

I’ll continue in my next post. This is about five hundred words. Can you tell I could talk about this for hours?

Part Two is here.

It's a big mess.
It’s a big mess.

Low Traffic Neighborhoods

George Monbiot on traffic calming and control, in The Guardian

Summary: Direct, physical changes to neighborhood streets that reduce the volume and speed of traffic increase personal safety and community quality of life. Some drivers get very angry when they feel their need to move swiftly through city neighborhoods is impeded.

My take: We’re getting a little of this with the speed humps the City’s putting in. It’s just a beginning. GoBike’s bike lane tests are showing us another part of the way forward. Monbiot makes a good point about how the effects of reducing traffic volume and speed are different for bigger and smaller streets. Also, efforts to calm biggers streets can push it through neighborhoods, to bad effect. Neighborhood streets are full of those pesky pedestrians, cyclists, old and disabled folks and little kids, often because they’re avoiding the local stroad.

“There could scarcely be a more reasonable policy. Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) seek to stop residential streets being used as escape valves for overloaded arterial roads. They replace a privilege exercised by a few – rat-running through local streets – with rights enjoyed by the many: cleaner air, less noise, safe passage for children, cyclists, users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters, stronger communities.”

“The angry drivers insist that LTNs have been imposed on them. Well, whether they agree or not, there are consultations. But no one was consulted about their streets being used as short cuts. No one was consulted about facing a higher risk of asthma and dementia as a result of air pollution, or seeing their communities split by walls of traffic. No one was consulted about losing the places where neighbours could talk and children could play.”

An Odd, Disordered Dream . . .

. . . that I interpreted as being about privilege. One group of people was “all right”, the other group couldn’t win for nothin’. Rained on, pushed aside, not ignored exactly but not acknowledged.

NPH told me about privilege when I was in my early teens, as I remember. She quoted someone, Ingrid Bergman perhaps, who said “they won’t tolerate our privilege and their lack of privilege forever”. A long path to that reality, gaining speed in the present because of communication and recording.