Categories
AI

An AI Thanksgiving

I asked my new friend GPT-3 to help with tell a memorable Thanksgiving story – and complemented it with a painting of a family Thanksgiving dinner generated by DALL-E.

Here was the request I made to my AI friend:

write a long story about a memorable family thanksgiving with an odd uncle on a snowy stormy day and his wife my aunt sally

Here’s the story:

Uncle Bob’s Thanksgiving

It was Thanksgiving day and the snow was falling gently outside. The family was gathered around the table, enjoying a delicious Thanksgiving feast. Uncle Bob was there, as always, with his wife Aunt Sally. But there was something different about Uncle Bob this year. He seemed odd, almost like he was in a trance. His eyes were glassy and he barely said a word.

Aunt Sally was chatty as always, but even she seemed a bit off. The family tried to make conversation with Uncle Bob, but it was like talking to a wall. Finally, after an awkward silence, Uncle Bob spoke.

“I had a dream last night,” he said, “a dream about a turkey.”

Everyone stared at Uncle Bob, not knowing what to say.

“In my dream, the turkey was alive and it was talking to me. It said, ‘Uncle Bob, you have to save me. The farmer is going to kill me and turn me into Thanksgiving dinner.'”

Uncle Bob paused and looked around the table. Everyone was still staring at him, not knowing what to say.

“So, I went to the farmer’s house and I begged him to spare the turkey’s life. He laughed at me and said, ‘No one is going to eat a talking turkey. I’m going to kill it and sell it to the grocery store.'”

Uncle Bob paused again and looked around the table. No one said a word.

“So, I went to the grocery store and I begged the manager to spare the turkey’s life. He laughed at me and said, ‘No one is going to eat a talking turkey. We’re going to kill it and sell it to the customers.'”

Uncle Bob paused again and looked around the table. Everyone was still staring at him, not knowing what to say.

“So, I went to the customers’ houses and I begged them to spare the turkey’s life. But they all just laughed at me and said, ‘No one is going to eat a talking turkey. We’re going to kill it and eat it for Thanksgiving dinner.'”

Uncle Bob paused one last time and looked around the table. Everyone was still staring at him, not knowing what to say.

“And that’s when I woke up,” Uncle Bob said.

There was a long silence around the table. Finally, Aunt Sally spoke up.

“That was a very strange dream, Bob,” she said. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”

Uncle Bob just stared at her and didn’t say a word.

The family finished their Thanksgiving feast in silence. Uncle Bob never said another word and Aunt Sally just seemed to be in a daze. It was a very strange and memorable Thanksgiving for everyone.


I hope you and your family have a lovely Thanksgiving – and share lots of good stories too!

Categories
AI Writing

Using AI to Help Write

I’ve been observing the evolution of AI-based tools from a distance. I’m not very experienced with using these tools myself, but I thought I’d share some of my excursions into this fascinating domain of AI-assisted or generative AI tools.

One of the text-based AI tools is GPT-3 from OpenAI. Late last year, OpenAI opened up a playground where one can experiment with using GPT-3 to assist with text – helping create text, edit text, summarize text, and more. One of the illustration AI tools is called DALL-E and it’s also provided by OpenAI. I’ve been experimenting and learning with both of these tools.

Here’s an example of using GPT-3 to help write. This morning I happened to see a tweet where the author was talking about an article he’d pulled together about how writers should focus more on niches – it’s titled 7 Simple Ways to Niche Down. It’s a good article worth reading. As I was reading it, I began wondering how GPT-3 might help with writing an article on this subject – so I asked it:

write an article about how to niche down your writing

Here’s what I got back from GPT-3 just using the default settings:

If you’re a writer, chances are you wear many hats. You’re a wordsmith, a storyteller, and a communicator. But in order to be a successful writer, you need to be able to niche down your writing.

Niche writing is a specific type of writing that appeals to a specific audience. It’s about writing for a particular market or genre, and it requires you to know your audience inside and out.

The first step to niching down your writing is to identify your target audience. Who are you writing for? What are their needs and wants? What do they like to read?

Once you know your audience, you can start to focus your writing. What topics will appeal to them? What type of writing will they respond to?

If you’re not sure where to start, consider writing guest posts for blogs or magazines that your target audience reads. This is a great way to get your name and your work in front of them.

Another option is to create a blog or website of your own and focus on writing articles, tips, or tutorials that will help your target audience. This will not only help you attract readers, but it will also show them that you’re an expert in your field.

Finally, don’t forget to promote your work! Make sure your target audience knows about your writing by sharing it on social media, submitting it to directories or list-serves, or even just telling people about it in person.

Niche writing can be a great way to build a successful writing career. By targeting a specific audience, you can become known as an expert in your field and attract a loyal following of readers. So if you’re ready to niche down your writing, start by identifying your target audience and then focus your writing to appeal to them.

Not bad. I had a subject and was looking for help putting together an article on the subject. I did minimal work but left with the bones I might consider fleshing out if I actually wanted to write an article on that subject. I also asked GPT-3 to help me clean up the opening paragraph above – which it rewrote for me.

To add to this post, I wanted an illustration that captured a writing theme so I asked DALL-E to generate one for me – asking it to generate:

an Edward hopper painting showing a writer at work in front of an old typewriter

That’s the image you see above.

The power of this kind of AI-based technology is mind-blowing to a layman like me. And its capabilities seem to be accelerating rapidly. I’ve got so much more to learn – and I’ve having fun just beginning to wade in. If you’re doing any experimentation similar to this, let me know what you’re learning!

Categories
iPhone 13 Pro Max Optimism Photography Photography - Fujifilm X70

On Optimism, the News and Technology

I’m enjoying listening to an interview with Kevin Kelly on edisode 110 of the 3 Books podcast wiht Neil Pasricha. Kevin’s optimism is a delight – and a great reminder of how to sustain positivity.

I really enjoyed Kevin’s discussion about news – that bad news (like almost everything we read/watch daily) travels fast while good news travels slowly. He says if we had headlines every ten years, instead of every day or every hour, those headlines would be more optimistic. Such a good point.

2022 for me has been a year of very consciously turning my news consumption way down – especially video news which I’ve essentially eliminated. I still do follow a lot of RSS feeds and read too much news from those print/online sources – but getting rid of the talking heads on TV news has been very rewarding this year!

I also very much enjoyed the recent Cool Tools episode that Kevin did recently with my photography guru Christopher Michel. Chris is a wonderful teacher of photography and his abilities with portraiture continue to amaze me.

On Cool Tools Chris recommends one camera (beyond the Leica’s he typically uses) – the Ricoh GR3. The GR3 is a camera I’ve resisted buying – preferring my iPhone’s camera for the kind of casual street photography that I enjoy. But the GR3 gets very high marks from Chris, Eric Kim and others.

Eric says that the

“RICOH GR III/IIIx is probably at least 1000x better for photography than even the newest iPhone Pro.”

Maybe he’s right. He continues:

“The iPhone Pro camera is not for ‘pros’– it is actually for grandmothers who want to make better landscape photos, millenials/zillenials who want to shoot better selfies of themselves and their ‘lifestyle’, or for people who just want the most long-lasting battery on a phone (which happens to also shoot photos).”

But for now and the kind of photography I’m doing, I’m more than satisfied with the computational photography power of my iPhone Pro.

There was one camera that I owned previously that was in the same genre as the GR3 – the Fujifilm X70. I owned the X70 for a couple of years and really enjoyed using it. Chris Michel talks about how his tools (especially his cameras) must inspire him – and the X70 did that for me. Unfortunately, I sold my X70 a few years ago and then Fuji stopped making that model – so they’re hard to find in decent condition. That X70 of mine is one camera I really wish I’d held on to!

Both of these episodes (with Kevin and Chris) are great to listen/watch. Two masters at work!

Categories
iPhone 13 Pro Max Photography San Francisco/California Street Photography

Back to The City

For many years, I met my good friend and photo buddy Doug Kaye almost every week on Fridays in San Francisco. We’d meet at the Ferry Building and head out walking from there – exploring the streets of San Francisco in a most leisurely way. Taking our time when we saw something that captured our interest, a scene that seemed particularly interesting.

As our tastes evolved, we became increasingly drawn to finding places with the best light, the most interesting light. Chasing the best, most interesting light and then slowing down to capture slices of time – as people would pass through while we watched and waited.

After a couple of hours walking the streets, we’d find one of our favorite places for lunch, kick back a bit and take a breather, perhaps do a quick review of the images we’d captured, and enjoy each other’s company over a shared table.

Then Covid hit… and everything changed. Those walks on the streets of San Francisco just stopped. Our photography interests changed during Covid – they had to change! The circumstances forced our hands – we had to abandon our love of street photography. We no longer had our favorites streets to walk. The people were gone. You know the feeling…

Last week we reinvigorated some of those old memories – meeting up in San Francisco again after over two years of being absent. We traveled light – no heavy camera gear – and we did do a lot of street walking. We stayed along The Embarcadero, shared lunch outdoors at Waterbar and went to see the new exhibition that’s just opened at Pier 24. We had a great time – it brought back memories of those years we’d walked the streets.

Doug summed our time up nicely:

Yeah, it was a great day. Good weather, good food, good friends. Hard to beat.

Here are a few images from our time in San Francisco – all taken with my iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Categories
Memories Sydney Travel

A Fond Goodbye

I’ve done a lot of airline travel over the years – accumulating over 1 million miles on two US airlines. That’s a lot of flying! Every once in a while I’ll calculate just how many hours of flight those numbers translate to – and that’s when I reflect on just how happy I am that those miles are behind me and not somewhere out there ahead! Over the last two years, I’ve done exactly one trip – thanks to Covid-19!

Over those many miles in the air, there is one airline experience that I’ll never forget – the one and only time I ever flew on Alitalia, the Italian airline that flew its last flight a while back. On that occasion, Christopher Buckley shared a satiric “remembrance” to Aliatalia in the New York Times. In his piece, Buckley noted the airline’s nickname: “the Pope’s airline.” That triggered my memory…

My memory of flying Alitalia begins in Sydney, Australia. I had spent a few days on business in Sydney – one of my favorite cities. I was on a multi-week business trip around Asia.

We were about to check out of our hotel in Sydney to catch a morning flight to Bangkok where we were going to meeting with a large group of clients the following day. As we were checking out of the hotel, the front desk manager asked: “Have we heard about the strike underway at the airport?” We replied: “No! Strike, what strike?”

Turns out there was a labor dispute that had flared up involving the airport baggage handlers who were refusing to work that morning. In sympathy, other union workers at the airport had also gone out on strike – including the aircraft refuelers. We decided we’d better call our airline (Qantas) before leaving the hotel to verify that our flight to Bangkok was still going to fly that morning. Qantas assured us that while all of their domestic Australia flights were being cancelled because of the strike that our flight to Bangkok wouldn’t be – our flight was the first leg of Qantas #1 to London and they assured us they were doing everything possible to avoid cancelling that flight. With that reassurance, we finished our hotel checkout and grabbed a taxi to the Sydney airport.

Our ride to the airport was uneventful – until we left our taxi with all of our bags and headed into the terminal building to check in for Qantas #1. Literally as we were walking into the terminal, the overhead display showing all of the flights began clicking away (I love those old clicking airport and railway terminal signs!) and the display for Qantas #1 changed from On Time to See Agent – not very encouraging! This was years before iPhones – so we didn’t have airline schedule information in the palm of our hands!

We lined up at the Qantas checkin counter and got the bad news – the flight had indeed been cancelled. No good alternatives were offered by Qantas – we were stuck. “See you tomorrow!” was the best they could offer but by then we would have missed the first day of our big meeting with clients in Bangkok! We were desperate for a better solution.

Fortunately for us, we happened to notice on the overhead display in the terminal that an Alitalia flight that was coming into Sydney from Bangkok and scheduled to arrive in about 90 minutes. We rushed over to the Alitalia check-in counter (fortunately there was no line!) and spoke with the Alitalia agent – asking him if this inbound plane might be heading back out to Bangkok on a return trip? Would the airport worker strike also result in the return flight also being cancelled?

I’ll never forget the agent’s reaction when he told us that he was going to do everything possible to keep this flight on schedule and to not have it impacted by the strike. He looked at us and said simply, with a strong Italian accent: “No one screws with the Pope’s airline!”

This guy was one serious, dedicated agent. When the flight arrived from Bangkok, he kept it parked out on the tarmac well away from the terminals – isolating it from the striking airport workers. We were escorted to buses (no union drivers apparently!) who bused us out to the plane (a 747-Combi – part airliner and part cargo plane).

As we waited in our bus to board, the agent told us to watch the unloading door on the side near the back of the plane. Slowly they unloaded two cars from the big door on side of 747 and lowered them to the ground. On our bus were the soon-to-be owners of those two cars – both Ferrari’s – who cheered as their cars were unloaded. After that bit of excitement, we left the bus and walked up the stairs to board at the front of the 747.

Once boarded we got the usual briefing and started taxiing for takeoff. As we turned the corner and starting rolling (not a lot of other air traffic that morning!) the big 747 picked up speed and started to lift off – with a big round of cheers and applause erupting in the cabin as we heading out of Sydney. Sort of like “escape from Saigon”! Only we weren’t headed back to Bangkok. We were on our way to Melbourne. Turns out that this was this flights regular route. Rome to Bangkok to Sydney to Melbourne back to Bangkok back to Rome. Our time in Melbourne was brief – we did pull up to the terminal, some passengers deplaned, others boarded, and we were off for Bangkok. Oh, one other thing – we also refueled in Melbourne after being kept from refueling in Sydney because of the striker airport workers!

We made it to Bangkok a few hours later than originally scheduled on Qantas #1 – but in time for our big meeting the next day. Alitalia saved us! My one and only flight on that now defunct airline.

There was one other time I encountered Alitalia. But this time it was from a distance. I had a layover for an hour or so at the airport in Denver. Turns out I was there waiting the same day that the Pope was flying in on one of his tours of the U.S. And, of course, he was flying “his” airline – Alitalia. I was able to see his plane land and taxi in just before I had to board my next flight.

Ciao Alitalia! The Pope’s airline indeed! Thanks for the very fond memories I have of your service!

Categories
Creativity Photography

Just throwing some paint around…

For a while I’ve been enjoying being a member of Story Club by George Saunders. I’ve enjoyed his writing a lot and find that the kind of interaction that Story Club enables deepens my appreciation of his work. In addition to the insights George shares there, the comments shared by other members also add a lot of value.

One of the regular weekly things George does is to answer a few member questions. His most recent Office Hours post was good fun where he talked about having a recording session to capture a snippet of music to include on an audiobook version of one of his books. He wrote:

What I found electrifying about this experience was the way it shot me back to the early days of my writing life.

— George Saunders

That triggered me to think about the similar feelings I get when I’m doing some of my photography work – in particular, when I’m re-editing an old photo perhaps years after I originally made it. There’s something about the re-editing process that takes me back to the time I made the image – including how I felt that day, what the location was like, anything usual about the lighting or the smells of the place, perhaps any music around – that kind of stuff. There’s also often an element of serendipity at work drawing me back to a particular image and even thinking about editing it.

I find one of the most enjoyable things about photography is a certain left brain/right brain aspect it brings me. For me, the process of making an image often begins in the creative side of my brain – being drawn to the light, color or shadows of a scene – but my mindset than quickly shifts to being an analytical one as I consider the specifics of things like settings, composition, etc. required to capture the image. And maybe I become captured myself by the scene and my creative side pops back in and out.

What’s wonderful later about the editing process is re-awakening that initial creative vibe that brought me into image making in the first place. And, while that original image is static – frozen in time when I snapped the photo, the editing process can be very dynamic and non-destructive. I can play with adjustments, try different things, perhaps make some severe manipulation or just a light tweaking.

As Saunders wrote in his post: I’m really “just throwing some paint around…” and it’s such fun!

Categories
Books Libraries Reading

Reading Books in 2022

In a post last week, David Sparks (MacSparky) wrote about his book purchasing and consuming choices. David’s post motivated me to share some of my approaches to reading – which I’ve been doing a lot of during this Covid era. Here we go…

  • eBooks make highlighting easy – Like David, I prefer reading most books on either my Kindle Paperwhite or in the Kindle app on my iPhone or iPad rather than reading a paper book. Amazon has made the Kindle “ecosystem” seamlessly available on all of my devices. I’m a big fan of using highlighting on Kindle and I can move from device to device continuing to read the same book while my highlights are captured online in the Amazon cloud. I have found that highlighting in a digital book is so much better than the old school way of highlighting paper books.
  • After finishing a book – When I finish a book, I can easily download my highlights from the Amazon cloud and save them in my digital journal where they’re easily searchable – along with my comments on the book. Highlights made in a paper book aren’t nearly as useful as those highlights are left buried on the paper pages of the book and not readily searchable or re-discoverable. There are also services like Readwise which can make use of your highlights and remind you of them on a daily basis.
  • Text vs Audio – Sometimes, but not often, I’ll use Audible to get an audio book version of a title I think I’ll want to “read” in the car or in my headphones while traveling, etc. Since I like to highlight, audio can be problematic for that so much of the time I’m actually reading and not listening to books.
  • Libraries not booksellers – With the Libby app on my iPhone I can checkout an eBook from a local library and then download it to my Kindle. A few years ago I made some trips around the Bay Area to pickup library cards from various local libraries. In California, you can get a library card if you’re a California resident – even if you’re not a resident in the local area of the library. Having multiple library cards is especially useful when using the Libby app to search for books in electronic form. Libby makes it easy to see which local library might have a particular book available or, if not immediately available, where the hold time might be shortest. I’ve found that some local libraries are much more responsive to eBook requests than others with my holds often being satisfied very quickly – especially for the most popular titles.
  • Downsides – While there are a lot of pros to my approach but it’s not without downsides. The biggest is that by relying primarily on reading eBooks rather than paper books I’m not often supporting my local bookseller with book purchases. I also frequently used to donate physical books after reading them to local libraries – something that’s not possible with eBooks.

I have some similar processes for managing the rest of my daily reading. At some point, I’ll share what I’ve learned from doing so.

Categories
Musings

Electricity

Electricity – just flip a switch and the light comes on. Is that battery on your mobile phone running low? Plug it into a charger. Such a simple thing – electricity – we’ve come to just assume it’s there and it works.

But sometimes I wonder whether we as a country can get our electricity act together – or not. I’m not suggesting government actions are the desired solution – but we’re clearly lacking something and paying a price as a result – and likely to pay an even bigger price given the forecasts.

Two recent examples from this morning’s press:

  • In California, the Independent System Operator (responsible for managing all of California’s electricity market), is warning that “it anticipates a shortfall in supplies this summer, especially if extreme heat, wildfires or delays in bringing new power sources online exacerbate the constraints.” In a Wall St. Journal story headlined “Electricity Shortage Warnings Grow Across U.S.”, writer Katherine Blunt notes that “the risk of electricity shortages is rising throughout the U.S. as traditional power plants are being retired more quickly than they can be replaced by renewable energy and battery storage.” Beyond California, grid operators in the midwest and Texas have also recently warned about supply issues expected when summer demand kicks up. Ironically, another headline on the same page as Blunt’s story reads “High Winds Fuel Spring Wildfires in New Mexico.” High winds, how about that?
  • In a story in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle titled “California wants more electric cars. But many public chargers don’t work“, writer Julie Johnson writes that “more than a quarter of public charging stations in the Bay Area don’t work…” The survey she cites didn’t include Tesla charging stations “because those are only available to Tesla drivers.” Apparently the issues aren’t just broken kiosks but other problems like kiosks “blocked by a parked car with a sleeping man inside.” Good grief.

In a society that can’t function without electricity – and which is transitioning toward even more reliance on electricity for electric cars, trains and even airplanes – these problems with electricity supply and distribution are important issues that can’t be ignored.

Categories
Applications Drafts iOS iPad iPadOS iPhone Mac Productivity Tools Utilities

Drafts – a tool for idea capture

I’ve been using this handy utility for a few years now – but increasingly so over the last year. It’s kind of magical in the functionality it provides. While there are other good note taking apps – including Apple’s Notes app – Drafts is especially useful for capturing spur of the moment ideas for later processing. The developer describes Drafts as “where text starts. Quickly capture text and send it almost anywhere.”

Because Drafts is available everywhere in the Apple ecosystem – Mac, iPad, iPhone and Watch – it’s universally available whenever you need it. Apple Notes is mostly everywhere – but weirdly not on the Watch.

The way that Drafts works is simple but takes a bit of learning to grow accustomed to using it regularly. When you open Drafts on the Mac or iOS/iPadOS, it opens as a blank note – waiting for you to enter something. It’s designed for that quick capture – type in some text – or dictate it – and away you go. Sometime later you can come back to Drafts and review all of the notes you’ve captured – and decide what you want to do with each one.

I’ve put a complication for Drafts on my Apple Watch face so that with one tap I can open Drafts and begin capturing an idea using dictation on the Watch. After I’ve captured my idea, Drafts on the Watch will sync the note containing my new idea via iCloud and make it available to Drafts apps running on my other devices – Mac, iPhone, or iPad – where I can open it later and decide what to do with it. For example, if I have an idea for an email I need to send or a blog post I want to write, I can capture those initial thoughts using Drafts and later go back and “revise and extend” those thoughts as I choose – and then send that final version of the text out via email or into my blog application. It doesn’t get any handier.

Drafts has a number of additional features that continue to evolve as the developer releases new versions and as members of the Drafts community contribute actions and themes which extend the functionality of the app.

Drafts is no youngster – this month the developer is celebrating the app’s 10th anniversary. The app is available for free – but the advanced features require a Pro subscription which is available on a special deal this month (through April 2022) for $4.99 for the first year.

I’m a big fan of Drafts – and a Pro subscriber. It’s become a regular part of my daily tech life. I’m such a fan that I just wanted to highlight how useful it is to me – thus this post – which itself began on Drafts! Perhaps you’ll find Drafts a useful tool as well if you’re an Apple user.

Categories
Books Living Musings

Turning Off the Braindead Megaphone

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Way back in 2007, author George Saunders published his first book of essays with the curious title of The Braindead Megaphone. In the title essay, he describes going to a very enjoyable party where the guests are all having a great time – until another guy shows up with a megaphone in his hands and starts talking about random stuff – like how the flowers bloom in early springtime and more. The megaphone guy’s stupid voice drowns out the many otherwise enjoyable conversations being had among the guests.

I read that essay for the first time a few weeks ago – and found it to be a beautiful reminder of the influence that loud voices can have on us and on how we feel. For me, TV news has become that megaphone guy ruining the party. Who needs that?

In his latest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, Saunders writes about how a writer can be likened to a music producer sitting in front of one of those big mixing boards connected to many different microphones picking up the sounds of the many instruments and voices. The mixing board has rows of fader switches to adjust the sound coming from those many different sources – the music producer uses those faders to “mix” those sounds into the final production.

Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Saunders writes that “a story can be thought of as a version of that mixing board, only with thousands of fader switches on it—thousands of decision points.” The author’s role is to adjust the levels of those faders to create the best story. Doing so, Saunders counsels, involves a repetitive revision process – “going through a story again and again, microtuning the adjustment of the existing fader switches…” to make the story the best it can be.

Saunders’ mixing board is a metaphor for life – for how we go through our days, constantly adjusting up or down the many inputs that make up our daily experiences. Choosing to play a video game involves cranking up that fader switch while turning down other activities competing for our time. Taking a photowalk to help refocus and experience the world differently is another mixing board adjustment. So many other inputs are part of that big mixing board of our life.

Each day our mixing board gets tweaked – hopefully producing pleasing “music” that’s delightful to us. But some days there may be a cacophony of sounds (experiences) instead – with our mixing board somehow mis-adjusted and out of whack. That’s when it’s time to step back and re-examine our inputs and re-adjust them – or to find new ones to add to our mix or to eliminate others.

About a year ago I made a choice for my life mixing board – choosing to eliminate the input of television news. I turned the volume completely down on my mental mixing board, choosing to eliminate that input from my life. My choice to do so resulted mostly from my frustrations with the events occurring in our country during that time – events that I couldn’t influence and which I didn’t need to have repeated over and over again. So I flipped that switch and the TV news was gone.

One other thought. Many years ago I remember the book titled Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson. While the content of the book was a bit over my head, that title has always stuck with me. What are the steps that might lead to an improved ecology of my mind? A year ago eliminating television news as a regular input in my life was one of those steps. One that has worked out very well for me.