Interesting things

I still want AI that can help me write a novel

Just last month, OpenAI1 released a paper about their results with GPT-3, an AI human language model system which can be trained on many mountains of text, and then generate its own text based on given prompts.

It looks quite impressive! Impressive too are some of GPT-3’s creative writing results from freelance writer Gwern Branwen. Still has plenty of weaknesses, in humor and logic for example, so it won’t be replacing novelists yet, but I’m particularly impressed with GPT-3’s continuation of a scene from a Harry Potter fanfiction. I wouldn’t copy and paste the results, but it looks like it would be great for generating story ideas, both in a novel’s overall plotting stage, and at the actual scene-writing stage. I find the scene-writing stage to be the most tedious and mentally demanding (hence why I’ve procrastinated on doing it for a few years now); I would love to have a program that continually generated ideas for directions a scene could go, either by having it generate a possible continuation or answering prompts with ideas, such as “How might this character respond to this situation?”.

Other possibilities with GPT-3 (or future models) are equally exciting. I’d love to see GPT-3 or something like it applied to things like:

  • Dialog for non-player characters in video games
  • Cohosting a podcast with me
  • Generating comments for this blog so it looks like I have more readers
  • Being an imaginary friend because I’m sad and lonely

One weakness of GPT-3 (and most neural-network based AI for that matter) is that we may not be able to see directly how it generated its answers to prompts. That is, how do we know it’s not plagiarizing or stealing too many ideas from its training data? It may become a thorny issue for some uses.

David Cope’s older algorithmic music generating system, for example, had similar problems. This is I believe 20-something years old, but here’s a computer-generated piece in the style of Mozart:

Sounds great, but if you’re familiar with Mozart, it’s actually not that impressive; there’s just too much Mozart that’s been too directly copied; it’s just not “creative” enough. A patron of Mozart would likely be dismayed, “this is just a rehash of this and that symphony; I want something in your style, but more fresh!”

I doubt GPT-3 always copies from its training data that overtly, but the possibility could still be a problem.

The other big problem, from my perspective at least, is cost. GPT-3 requires too much computer power that I can’t afford to pay for. OpenAI will probably target enterprise users for their first customers, not poor novelists.

There will probably be other options though. For example, there is the recently launched InferKit which I believe is based on GPT-2. Maybe I’ll experiment with that as the pricing seems fair enough, but my previous creative fiction results with GPT-2 weren’t great, especially when it would have characters from other copyrighted novels like Gandalf pop into scenes. I probably just have to hone in on some good methods for idea-prompting.

Anyway, the future of AI continues to fascinate and excite me!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Non-fiction books

The Coming Illumination of Conscience

I recently started reading a book called The Warning : Testimonies and Prophecies of the Illumination of Conscience by Christine Watkins.

The book talks about a sort of yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy in which the sky will grow dark and Jesus will appear for all on earth to see. As the back of the book quotes: “With His divine love, He will open the doors of hearts and illuminate all consciences. Every person will see himself in the burning fire of divine truth. It will be like a judgment in miniature.” (Our Lady to Fr. Stefano Gobbi of the Marian Movement of Priests)

There’s a common phenomena among people who have “near death experiences” (which is perhaps a misnomer because they are sometimes just death experiences) of receiving a “life review“. In this review they are shown their past actions through the eyes of God; they see how their actions affected all those around them (being able to experience their actions from other people’s point of view), how their actions rippled into the world and into their own future, and how pleasing or displeasing it was to God.

Of course people interpret and describe these experiences differently, but I think it’s fascinating just how common it is, and experiencing such a “review” certainly fits with Christian theology.

So the “prophecy” seems to be that all humans on earth will experience such a review while still alive and in the flesh!

So… will this prophecy come true? Do believe in it? I don’t know, perhaps lacking direct evidence I’m more agnostic towards it. But does it matter? Though believing it may serve as encouragement, it really doesn’t change what any good Christian should be doing anyway in terms of repenting of sins, praying, growing in faith, etc., regardless of whether you’ll experience such a “life review” or “illumination of conscience” in this life or the next. We should be “getting our house in order” either way.

Do I want this prophecy to be fulfilled while I am living? That’s a tough one, because we don’t know what will happen immediately after.

On the one hand, I would love to experience such a review myself while alive for my own spiritual growth. I also think it would be nice if we humans were closer to each other in terms of spiritual beliefs, especially with contentious issues that cause disunity and emotional distress like abortion and sexual morality, and perhaps even identity politics. Our modern lives have become very secular and Jesus can easily seem like more of a mere historical figure or a strictly personal friend with whom we share a strictly private relationship.

On the other hand, the books warns that upon receiving this illumination of conscience, some people will literally die of horror, and others will “deny the Warning and attribute it to new technologies. … Some of my children will deny that the Warning came from My Kingdom and will rebel against Me, uniting with evil” (pages 42-43). I’m guessing that those who unite with evil may double-down on persecuting believers and we will see a far worse spiritual-turned-physical battle than any social unrest we’re witnessing now. There may be a great deal of suffering. Perhaps I would not like to experience such a world-wide miracle in my lifetime.

So… I don’t know.

Fortunately it’s not up to me!

Anyway, I still find it to be a fascinating book. I had never heard of this “Warning” before, so it’s very interesting to read various testimonies from different times and places that seem to agree with each other on this prophecy (though the interpretation of vagueness may account for some of that).

I’ll also mention that it’s written from the point of view of a Catholic and I think most or all the testimonies shared are from Catholics as well, so as far as I can tell there’s nothing in the book that is directly incompatible with Church teaching. That said, it’s not necessarily Church approved either. But, as mentioned before, the “Warning” doesn’t obligate a Christian to do anything more than he should be doing anyway, so I’m not sure belief, uncertainty, or rejection regarding such a future event matters too much.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

Short Violin Duet

I composed a very short and simple violin duet this past Sunday. I wrote it for the YouTuber violinists known as TwoSetViolin. They are training to be violin pros, but their videos are hilarious and accessible to everyone, so if you haven’t heard of them, check them out!

They had posted a submission form for composers to submit their short violin duets for possible use in some upcoming video. I only discovered the request shortly before the deadline, so my duet was composed in about an hour, hence it’s very simple nature. (Granted, most of my music is pretty simple anyway, even when I have plenty of time.)

The violinists have almost 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube, so I’m sure they got a ton of submissions and I won’t be surprised if my humble attempt does not make the cut or goes unnoticed. Still, it was a fun little exercise!

Here’s the piece:

And here’s a PDF of the score.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

The Evil System

Someone on social media posted that they received a message saying something similar to:

What happened to George Floyd is a metaphor for how the system holds black folks down; people don’t care.

It is horrible, appaling, tragic, and frustrating to learn how Floyd lost his life. However, I don’t understand the quoted response that sees the incident as a metaphor for a greater, more heinous, yet more vague and nebulous evil. What specifically is the “system”, how specifically is it keeping you down, and how specifically can it be fixed?

As with the notion of privelege, people tend to point to statistical disparities as evidence of racism. But statistics in and of themselves never explain causes; one can always interpret the numbers to imply victimhood. Nor do they determine probability; each point of data is the sum of a vast number of unique variables. That is, your chances of being murdered by police, for example, cannot be calculated with statistics. It makes no sense as a foundation of fear.

Nor will the “system” ever be perfect. Another incident is bound to happen. We humans are stupid, sinful, and imperfect. That doesn’t justify the next incident or morally excuse those involved. But the quoted mindset preconditions one’s response to be that much more torment, as the incident will once again provide metaphorical evidence for the evil of the “system”. (Should supposed evidence to the contrary, such as police brutality against non-black folks or the success of other black folks, be ignored?)

That is, if what you require to be unafraid is a world without incident, you will be afraid forever.

(On a side note, there was once this guy who told his followers that they’d be unjustly hated and persecuted, and yet he encouraged them to not worry and to be at peace. Wow, that’s a tall order! Who was that?)

So what’s a person to do? Well, there are a few ways to help. You can post a black square or something on social media to show you care. You can donate some money to some organization that will hopefully do something. You can vote for the socially approved candidates. If you’re white, you can be racist against yourself to help equalize things. And of course there’s always protesting. If you feel that none of these seem to help much because the problem is too vague… (answer to be inserted here)

my virtue

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Note-taking app launched at Trovedex.com!

I spent Friday and Saturday launching the first version of the note-taking app I’ve been working on, live now at trovedex.com. Woohoo! I’m glad I was able to get it up just before the end of May.

As stated before, there are still quite a few features I’d like to add. But even before I go about adding new features, there are a number of glitches that need fixing. It’s really annoying how some things that work fine in production (when running on my computer) suddenly stop working or glitch out when live on a server.

Deploying the Vue app wasn’t too difficult in and of itself, though I will need to develop a more efficient deployment strategy than just uploading files. The trickiest part for me was getting the API back-end server, which manages requests from the app to the database, to use the more secure “https” protocol. The front end, built with Vue, was easy; you can just set a variable in its config file and *poof* it works. The back-end API, however, needed info about a valid SSL certificate to be recognized as secure. Googling around, just about all the info I could find involved creating a self-signed certificate, which most browsers won’t trust, so that didn’t help me much. I finally figured out how to get the “key” and “cert” files from my server’s certificate. A simple solution, but difficult to find. Also, if you know how to look at your browser’s javascript console, you’ll see that my implementation of firebase, which I’m using for user authentication (hence why you can log in with Google or Facebook without having to create a new account), outputs a warning about my code using a “development build” of the SDK. I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of that. It probably also has a simple solution I just haven’t found yet.

At the moment, I know this note-taking app is nothing amazingly innovative, but it’s been great for learning “the stack” (the layers of tools used to build a web app) and I think continuing work with it (and on it) will be fun. Now that this is up, I’m going to switch my focus back to TuneSage, my in-development music-writing app. I’ll still work on Trovedex to fix the current glitches, add features, and make improvements, but I’d like to launch TuneSage before Christmas and there is a ton of work to do on that.

Happy note-taking!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Interesting finds

Monk in Quarantine

Read an article somewhere that said Tony Shalhoub was recovering from COVID and couldn’t help being shocked, shocked! that Mr. Monk would allow such a thing to happen. But I thought this little skit featuring Monk was funny.

They really need to do a TV special or something.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Note-taking app update 5

My note-taking app is almost ready for release! Upon release it will support the following:

  • tag notes and filter by tags
  • embed html
  • create todo lists
  • create timers
  • create info tables
  • insert or embed images (from url or upload)
  • create flashcards (for self-studying, e.g. language learning)

My current todo list before release includes:

  • Design for mobile (make it responsive to browser width)
  • Get links to other notes working
  • Finish basic search functionality
  • Create a “reminders” icon (which only works with the reminders set by the flashcards widget at the moment)
  • Add click & drag to re-order stuff functionality
  • Create a “storage space” check (so limits can be set)
  • Create an “about” landing page / log in page
  • Create a sign-out button
  • Finalize API back-end settings

So quite a bit still to do. Some of that stuff won’t take long, but some stuff may (like designing for mobile, especially since design work tends to be slow and tedious for me; I’m not so great at it). I still hope to launch it before the end of May.

Of course, even after launching there are quite a few features I’d like to add, but I want to launch it first and see if anyone else even finds it at all useful. (I definitely want it for myself though, so I’ll be using it regardless.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
My life

1 Second Everyday : April 2020 & App update 4

1 Second Everyday

Here’s my 1 Second Everyday for last month. Lockdown made for another boring month with mostly programming and cats (though I guess most my months are pretty boring anyway). But I did buy a used 3D projector from eBay which is great. It’s too bad 3D blu-rays (and 3D movies in general) are quickly becoming a thing of the past just as used 3D projectors become actually affordable. Oh well.


Quick note-taking app update 4

I’m just about done the functional programming for the initial release of my note-taking app:

  • Complete functionality of the sub-menu
  • Allow attaching or inserting media (at least images) to notes
  • Sort / search notes by tags
  • Create note with tags pre-filled (like adding a post to a category)
  • Allow some js widgets in notes, at least checkboxes and timers
  • Allow creation of new notes with bracket links (e.g. “[[]]”) as in MediaWiki (standard wiki feature)
  • Open related notes by clicking on these bracket links (without opening a new page)
  • Search and sort notes by content / data / date (only basic queries for now)
  • Create user login / registration system
  • Create user stats page (notes created, storage space available, etc.)
  • Collect user usage stats (for studying how users use the product)
  • Overhaul / finalize designs, make responsive and usable on mobile
  • Write Terms of Service, privacy, cookie use policies
  • Offer subscriptions, launch!

I mostly just have to work on the design and then the final launch preparations! There are plenty of features I’d like to add after launching, of course, but development will probably slow so I can get back to work on TuneSage. Building this note-taking app has been a great experience for learning how to develop a web app using Vue and MongoDB, which I can definitely use while continuing to build TuneSage. (Plus I hope to use this note-taking app for my own note-keeping purposes.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Quick note-taking app update 3

Made some decent progress this week and knocked out a few of the todo’s; here’s what the list looks like now:

  • Complete functionality of the sub-menu
  • Allow attaching or inserting media (at least images) to notes
  • Sort / search notes by tags
  • Create note with tags pre-filled (like adding a post to a category)
  • Allow some js widgets in notes, at least checkboxes and timers
  • Allow creation of new notes with bracket links (e.g. “[[]]”) as in MediaWiki (standard wiki feature)
  • Open related notes by clicking on these bracket links (without opening a new page)
  • Search and sort notes by content / data / date (only basic queries for now)
  • Create user login / registration system
  • Create user stats page (notes created, storage space available, etc.)
  • Collect user usage stats (for studying how users use the product)
  • Overhaul / finalize designs, make responsive and usable on mobile
  • Write Terms of Service, privacy, cookie use policies
  • Offer subscriptions, launch!

Working on a simple user login / registration system now, so that should be done soon. After that, the last piece of actual functionality to add will be some sort of usage-data gathering system. The rest of the todo list mainly concerns design and content.

And it definitely needs some redesign because it looks very bad at the moment. I’ve been much more focused on coding functionality than finding visual appeal. Ultimately I want it to look as minimal, simple, and intuitive as possible, on both desktops and smartphones.

I will have to go back and polish some functionality though; I’ve been skipping over some of the finer details.

Anyway, I’m guessing it may only be two or three more weeks before the app is ready to debut!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Quick note-taking app update 2

Been a while since I gave an update on my note-taking app progress, so I shall proceed to do so.

I’ve been able to knock some things off the to do list:

  • Complete functionality of the sub-menu
  • Allow attaching or inserting media (at least images) to notes
  • Sort / search notes by tags
  • Create note with tags pre-filled (like adding a post to a category)
  • Allow some js widgets in notes, at least checkboxes and timers
  • Allow creation of new notes with bracket links (e.g. “[[]]”) as in MediaWiki (standard wiki feature)
  • Open related notes by clicking on these bracket links (without opening a new page)
  • Search and sort notes by content / data / date (only basic queries for now)
  • Create user login / registration system
  • Create user stats page (notes created, storage space available, etc.)
  • Collect user usage stats (for studying how users use the product)
  • Overhaul / finalize designs, make responsive and usable on mobile
  • Write Terms of Service, privacy, cookie use policies
  • Offer subscriptions, launch!

Not nearly as much as I’d’ve liked to have finished by now, but progress is being made. Uploading files turned out to be a bit tricky (and there are still some small issues with it to work out), as was supporting javascript in each note. And looking ahead, I’m thinking everything else will also be tricky. But we’ll get there!

By S P Hannifin, ago