This is my weblog... clicky on the linkies

New Hobby

By John, 23 May, 2023

Every time I get mad or frustrated about AI, I post something to my website. Or edit one of my existing pages, or make some progress on one of my in-progress articles. 

I’m only a few days into this but it seems to be working out.

Sometimes I just post photos. A lot of times I sit there, in front of an empty text box, not knowing what to write. But hey, if the machine can write crap, I can write crap.


Fishing at Bass Ponds

By John, 21 May, 2023

Against my better judgement (I’m not feeling well) the kids lured me out to go fishing at the nearby national wildlife refuge. Now I’m sitting here getting bit by mosquitoes, listening to frogs as a plane takes off from the nearby anirport every few minutes.

Geese just flew overhead. There is a muskrat that keeps swimming around. And there is a great blue heron I didn’t even see until it majestically took off 20 feet away from me.

Small muskrat swimming

Addendum: on the way home, one of the boys found a frog.

A boy with long hair in a red plaid shirt holding a frog

Exciting city wide garage sales

By John, 21 May, 2023

This weekend was the city wide garage sales and my kids all kind of went nuts. They did some chores and spent money and did more chores to get more money, and one kid even did a koolaid stand to get even more money. 

One sale went down to "25 cents for everything" and they had a whole bunch of giant plastic kid toys so now my house is filled to the brim with giant plastic things. Workbenches and race tracks and what looks like an aircraft carrier. 

The youngest child now has no less than five Elmos, two of which are Tickle Me Elmo, because the older kids kept buying him Elmos. 

A block down they had a "Guy Sale" instead of a "Garage Sale" with fishing lures, tools, all kinds of manly things (there was a sign for it on the corner by our house. But because of work, and other commitments, I wasn't able to get down to it until the last hour. The lures were all fairly picked over (which I know because my kids came home with some great stuff on Friday) and there were no knives by the time I got there.

I did get 8 bucks worth of lures (one of which has already nearly caught a fish for one of the kids) but the star of the show was an external frame backpack (7 dollars, it's in great shape if a bit outdated) and a free gas grill. I was just looking at the backpack and they wanted 10 dollars for it and I was waffling but she said make an offer so I offered 7 and they took it. When I got home I looked it up, it's a Kelty Trekker, but there are a bunch of models from 100 - 250 bucks new. It seems in good shape. 

Today I took the backpack to the Aldi's near the house and came home with 35 pounds of groceries (I weighted it on the new scale that one of the kids got for 50 cents). I just was putting things in the cart but it wound up completely filling the backpack and I had to carry the bread home in my hands (didn't want to squish it). 

And the grill was cheap, cheap, cheap, they wanted 5 dollars, but I was waffling on it and they saw it and said, look its the end of the sale, why don't you just go home and take it (I had 5 of the kids with me and a stroller so I couldn't just take it home.)

Found a spot in the back yard for it. It's my first gas grill. I already did hot dogs and burgers on it and it's a grill, it works, I gotta get used to it instead of charcoal, and it's going to need a deeper cleaning than the first wipe down cleaning I've given it already. But it's so freeing to just fire it up instead of waiting for the charcoal. 


Morning thoughts

By John, 20 May, 2023

Wow, I typed up a whole post, and went to add a photo at the end, and the browser on the phone deleted my in-progress post while I went out to get an image to add at the bottom.

ah well. These flowers were my companions this morning as I sat on the landscaping wall across the street while I was waking up and thinking. 

Close up of little purple flowers in morning sunlight

If I tilt my head back, the sunlight can directly hit the back of my skull

By John, 23 January, 2023

Mom said get some Afrin and use it the day before you’re flying and the day of. Keeps the eustachian tubes from collapsing (I had that problem last time I traveled.) Two puffs in each nostril.

Well I did it. After 15 minutes I turned to my wife and said “my nostrils are so open I can smell God!”


Arduino Micro based sequencer

By John, 10 January, 2023

A while back I made a "deconstructed sequencer" out of logic chips. Its funny to go back and read that post because the post says the sequencer is "awaiting repairs", and that is definitely still the case.

It's not that I haven't tried, I have, it's just that I get as far as taking off that first clock panel, looking at the big ball of tape holding everything together, and then I kind of retreat back and say hang on a minute. I even re-designed the circuit from scratch (I lost my original schematics, no idea where they are, and it's possible I never wrote them down anyway) and started constructing a new one in its place, but you know, this is one tiny sliver of one of my hobbies and I only got as far as "half of this is wired up on a protoboard", so certainly I don't have anything functional. 

At the moment, however, I would like a sequencer. And when I say "at the moment", I mean, I decided I wanted one a few days ago. It doesn't have to be great, "barely functional" would be fine.

So I figured I would code one into an Arduino Micro. 

I've got a user interface, on paper, I don't think it's going to be very good but all of the features are there. I mean, lets be totally honest, I am far better at building synthesizers and cigar box guitars and other weird instruments than actually using them musically. So I don't know how well it will work, in part because I don't even know what I'm doing.

The deconstructed sequencer has a very big chunky tactile user interface with 16 switches and 16 knobs. This one is not going to have the same kind of physicality. It's going to be a "set a note, advance to the next beat, set the next note", etc. I don't know if I am going to like it, but I suppose I should use it before I knock it. 

However, it occurs to me just now that I could decide to, after I get it mostly up and running, make a couple of quick modifications and then insert the Arduino Micro into the deconstructed sequencer, and kind of bodge them together. Then I could have a functioning sequencer, with the chunky UI for pitches, but the Micro being the brains, then I could extract and remove the original front end of the deconstructed sequencer entirely, and unwind that massive ball of tape, and maybe make some progress on it. 

Anyway, as far as the Arduino Micro Sequencer goes, I've gotten as far as "it has.a free running loop at a fixed tempo, and it advances through all 16 steps and outputs a different control voltage for each step". Next step (ha ha thank you brain for bringing that pun to my attention) is going to be making the LED visualizer for each step. Or maybe I'll do tempo changes next. Also I need to go through my junk pile and find a prototype VCO of some sort (I have a few generations worth of 8-bit VCDO circuits laying around somewhere, I'm sure I can pluck one up and dust it off and get it working). A few months ago I very nearly finished a new cigar box amplifier, so that's ready to go for the most part. 

Then I'll have a working end-to-end synth again! It won't be much but hopefully I can make a lot of beeps with it. 


By John, 8 December, 2022

Fabrizio Ferri-Benedetti ( posted on Mastodon about how similar the output of ChatGPT is to certain types of technical writing:

The writing bits of my job are not that different from what #ChatGPT does: sometimes I can feel the predictive text popping in my mind while writing, remembering words I didn’t even know I remembered, and I repeat and reinforce certain patterns, especially when speaking in a non-primary language. It’s almost unconscious. What’s different, perhaps, it’s the twist and turns, the organic detours dictated by my fragile, oxygen-hungry brain and the needs of its emergent mind.

I have noticed the same thing when writing. Sometimes there is a part of the brain that is just churning out a template and there are a small handful of actual words or concepts I'm trying to get across. Every now and then I throw one into the paste as I smear it on the page.

So I've invented a new usage of the word paste:

Paste (n): (1) the output of a machine learning algorithm designed for human consumption, especially in the context of generated writing or generated art, or (2) the reflexive output of boilerplate writing

It comes from my realization the other day that ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion and all of these writing and generative art AIs are, on a mathematical level, ingesting all of human culture, grinding it up into a very small paste, and feeding it back to us. 

I've started using it in all sorts of contexts, like the other day when I was googling the top uses for horse chestnut wood, and the top results were all pages that were thick with ads, and the text on them was obviously generated with GPT-3. GPT-3: does good on individual paragraphs and can string a few together, get more than a bunch and the seams start to show; you can see where it loses its train of thought and repeats itself over time, etc. 

But yes, paste. When I google, and get AI thrown back at me, I say oh shit I've been pasted. When I'm churning out words on a deadline I notice myself slipping into generating paste instead of writing.