Random thoughts

Thoughts on Trovedex

It’s been about two months sinced I launched and starting using Trovedex, and so I’ve got some thoughts on some improvements I’d like to make at some point. As of this writing, the site only has 7 registered users. One of them is me, half of the remaining are also me testing from different email accounts, and the rest are others who just tested it. So I’m pretty much still the only “real” user. Which is fine, because it means if I make some drastic changes, nobody will care.

One of big things I’d like to do is organize notes into “Notebooks”, as other note-taking apps do, just so things are a little more sorted, and perhaps look a bit more wiki-ish. I’ll probably have the full-page view be the default. I’d like to see it perhaps look more like Observable‘s notebooks. It doesn’t need to be as complicated, although being able to insert interactive javascript code would be nice. (I actually wanted the released version of Trovedex to allow user-provided javascript, but it’s not a very trivial feature to add with Vue, so I moved it to the wishlist.)

Of course, even though I’m using Trovedex for some things, it still does not beat using pen and paper, mostly because they allows me to draw little diagrams and arrows and stuff, which isn’t so easy to create on the computer (possible, but not nearly as easy). Perhaps giving Trovedex an SVG overlay shape creator would help. This note-taker on YouTube seems to really like an iOS app called Notability:

It’s only available for iOS though, and I don’t want to shell out money for Apple’s overpriced hardware for the sake of one app. Also the guy’s handwriting is super sloppy, and I’m not sure if he’s just got naturally sloppy handwriting (he’s studying medicine after all, and doctors are required to have sloppy handwriting), or if a digital pen on a digital touchscreen is contributing to the sloppiness. I’m writing this post on an HP Spectre laptop, which has a touchscreen with pen-writing capabilities, but it’s not great for drawing, much less writing; the precision just isn’t good enough. Although perhaps I could try the paper-like screen protector he recommends.

All that said, I’m not sure when I’ll actually get around to updating Trovedex; my focus is back on TuneSage for now!

By S P Hannifin, ago

Thrift store finds

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this here before or not, but for the past few years I’ve been making some money by selling stuff on eBay, usually flipping thrift store finds, which is fun and easy. Today I thought I’d start vlogging some of what I found.

Not sure if I’ll keep vlogging my finds or not, but it may actually be good speaking practice for me, which I think I need.

I was also thinking about filming something for YouTube’s upcoming Life in a Day project. I have no expectations that anything I film will be found interesting enough to highlight in their final product (just as TwoSetViolin ignored my beautiful violin composition), but it could be interesting to look back on in 2030.

By S P Hannifin, ago
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