“Raise expectations to a new intention”

For the past few months, the local vintage clothing store has been hosting a mostly-weekly vinyl record night, where friends and neighbors are invited to bring records to play, or to just hang out and listen.

Sometimes it even gets on ds106 radio. We’ve heard a bit of a variety of material. Being vinyl, it all tends to be vintage, but perhaps that’s fitting for the location.

a collage of photos of record albums

The experience reminds me of the distant past, when listening to music was more of a communal experience. It was bonding as well. Has that been lost? Once upon a time I would see people gathered in parks or on porches around boomboxes. Now all I see are people with air pods. It is great that people get to listen to what they want, when they want, rather than what broadcast radio served up. But I also wonder if we haven’t lost some common cultural vocabulary, and become more disconnected.

AI generated image of a battle between air pods and a boombox

I thought of this when reading That Mathers Aesthetic. The record store, for some of us, was also a place of community. Parts of the web were as well. There’s a benefit to small and close-knit over massive, one that prioritizes people over profit. Reclaim is a community. Ds106 is a community. But rather than being web-scale communities, they operate at a human scale on the web. I love the way that Bryan captures that, in a way that looks effortless.

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Radio on a roll

animation of Abraham Lincoln bobbing his head while listening to a portable radioWith a few exceptions, it sounds like everyone’s ds106 radio groups are running smoothly, and everyone is on track. I look forward to hearing the finished projects this weekend.

Dr. Oblivion’s advice here on sound quality and transitions is very much on point. (And bravo for making use of him.) A common issue is one of sound levels and balancing. When layering voices and background music and sounds, the background needs to be loud enough to be effective, but not so much as to be overpowering. This may require some experimentation. One of the benefits of having a group is you can get an objective opinion from them.

The Isaiah Beacon audio bits make good examples. The second one is interesting because the voice and background music are so familiar, like they’ve been used elsewhere, multiple times, so it feels like exactly what one would expect in a commercial.

One comment that normally comes up repeatedly during audio weeks in ds106 is how much people are bothered by the sounds of their own voices. But this semester, so many people are using artificial voices, so far,  that that hasn’t happened. Some of the voices have a computer-generated quality to them, unlike Dr. Oblivion. It will be interesting to hear how that impacts the shows.

Radio listening, part II

The plan is to broadcast the completed radio projects on ds106radio during week 11. I’m hoping to bring Jim into the loop, which would necessitate a different broadcast schedule. My question for everyone is: Who would be available to participate in live listening and discussion at noon on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, April 1-3? I made a Doodle poll for this purpose, which will go out via email.

Depending on people’s availability, we may schedule noontime listening in addition to or instead of 7pm listening. I would like to get as many people as possible listening to as many shows as possible, because I am sure everyone will be impressed with everyone else’s work.

Behind the bot

I also need to share this video from Reclaim Today:

Michael Branson Smith talks a bit about what’s going on behind the scenes with Dr. Oblivion, and explains some of his occasional odd behavior. I would be very interested to hear people’s thoughts on this. In particular I’d like to know how Dr. Oblivion’s voice affects people’s reactions to what he has to say. Personally, I think the voice, cadence, inflection and accent all work together to convey a significant amount of information that is not included in the text of his responses, but familiarity colors my reaction.

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Here’s the windup, and here’s the pitch

a baseball pitcher throwing ballsYou can see everyone’s AI pitches here: https://ds106.ai/category/aipitch/. I recommend looking them over because you may find a tool you can use in the upcoming weeks. I noticed some people didn’t link to the tools they promoted, which is surprising for a couple reasons. One, it’s like trying to sell a car without letting the customer see it, let alone take a test drive. And more importantly, hyperlinking is a fundamental element of digital text. This is the web, people! Without links, a post is just a strand of silk floating in the breeze.

I asked the great and wise Dr. Oblivion for his thoughts on this, and he responded in full attitude:

I didn’t specify that the pitch should link to the product because, to me, that’s just common sense. But maybe it’s not. Also, I suspect people have been trained to look for rules and rubrics and may not be used to the kind of freedom of interpretation they have here. But in any case, links to the tools are on the Week 8 page,  and there is a good variety so take a look and see if you can make use of any of them in your creative endeavors.

One tool I’ve been using regularly is the MP3 to TEXT tool from Converter.app. It saves me the trouble of transcribing Dr. Oblivion, which is great for adding grammatically correct captions to Youtube videos. It’s a great timesaver on podcasts too, when they don’t offer transcripts. There are a lot of other converters, but converter.app gives you something the others don’t: Free sentences! For example, at the end of Dr. Oblivion’s response above, it added “At this point we have some scenarios that are interested in producing the vision of the AI’s team.” I have no idea where that came from or why it did it. Does it hallucinate like ChatGPT? Does it go a little off the rails every once in a while like Dr. Oblivion? It’s an AI tool that goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Speaking of above and beyond, in a conference call the other day with Dr. Oblivion’s creator and inspiration, I shared the Aggressive Technologies website that Feli created. They were as impressed as I was. When we say ds106 is it is because people get inspired to go above and beyond and create amazing things like this. Now the challenge for the rest of the class is to see if there are ways to tie the site to their stories. Not that anyone has to, but it would be wonderful if they can.

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“this mission is too important for me to allow that to jeopardize it.”

Making this week’s video was an experience. Being radio week, I had the idea to incorporate the DJ from The Warriors and wanted to use Wav2Lip to see how the syncing would work in a tight close-up. I used a generic synthetic voice for the audio because I didn’t think replicating the original voice would matter. The syncing script wouldn’t work though, because it said it couldn’t find a face to sync. Was it because it couldn’t find a nose and eyes to orient itself? In a previous video, the tool found non-face elements to sync, but maybe that happened because there had been a face in that part of the screen. So I opted for old-school dubbing, where they didn’t even try. It was nice that “boppers” almost lined up where it should though. For the music I used a Bob Ross mashup left over from a few semesters ago.

Then I wanted to bring Dr. Oblivion in, but found that he wasn’t answering his screen. It just went to static and stayed there. He’s since been found and is in good health, so don’t worry, but in the meantime I thought I’d enlist HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey to act as a sub. I had previously cloned his voice because I had been thinking about staging a HAL vs KITT AI rap battle, and I wouldn’t have to worry about the lip syncing.

If HAL was really going to sub for the doctor, he should inhabit the TV. So I took a screenshot of the TV and put it in Photopea. I also found a GIF of HAL and brought that in as well. I checked the image sizes and made them both the same height. The HAL GIF was wider, but I could crop it later. I copied the TV and pasted it in as the top layer of the GIF, then erased the static on the screen so you could see HAL underneath. Since the TV was not an animated layer and it was on top, the animation, such as it was, would play underneath as if it was on the TV. Then I cropped it to the width of the TV layer and exported it as a GIF.

But I don’t think a GIF would work in iMovie, so I googled for a GIF to MP4 converter and used the first one that came up. I imported all the bits into iMovie – my part, the Max Headroom background, the Warriors DJ, the HAL MP4 and an MP3 I made with ElevenLabs. A nice thing about the MP3 is that the voice cloner picked up HAL’s background hum. The MP4 was only 4 seconds so I copied and pasted it a bunch of times. I had to split clips and move things around to get it in order for the video, and then I had to redo it because in all the confusion I left HAL with a lengthy stretch of dead air.

So it’s something, but naturally could be better. As much as I like HAL, he’s easier to take in shorter bits. The video could be more coherent, and certainly needs a better conclusion, but it’s a one-off that probably won’t get much play anyway. But it was a good experience to work  through because I get to see what works and what doesn’t, and I can use that in the future.

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“I’d Like To Help You With Your Problem”

I spotted this the other day and noted all the generated imagery,  like AI meets CGI or something. It occurred to me that the title is a bit of a sales pitch.

We have a variety of AI pitches this week, covering a range of apps from writing assistants to ChefGPT. So far it doesn’t look like anyone has made an attempt at a hard-sell blackmail style pitch or a poison-pill deal, even though some are admittedly unfriendly to Aggressive Technologies. The main point of this exercise was to look over some of the tools that are out there to see what we might be able to use in the coming weeks. I was curious about AI video, so I played a bit with the Colossyan Text-to-Speech Video Generator.

I had a text generator output the script and used some basic settings in the Colossyan system. It said the video would take about 11 minutes to generate. I had to leave the office after 37 minutes, when it was still processing, but it finished within two hours when I returned. Could I have produced this with my phone and a couple helpers in 11 minutes? Probably. Except then I would have superior voices and more realistic movements.

This is not a comment on anyone’s sales pitch, but rather a reflection on AI generated “art.”

If we look at any aspect of the video – the setting, the character visualization, the animation, the voices, the editing, the background soundtrack – in my opinion, I think we would conclude that they are exceptionally lame. It’s free, so we would expect it to be closer to Blabberize than Ice Ice Matrix, but I’m not sure that the video offers anything more than the script does. On the other hand, one could take advantage of the bland, static nature of their video templates. I remember newspaper comic strips, like Red Meat, would often have static images of two people talking. Something like that could translate into short videos, with bland production contrasting with insane dialogue to humorous effect.

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I ran into this error message when trying to run Wav2Lip last week:

screenshot of Connection Failed messageI did file an appeal, asking what was suspected of being abusive, without expecting a response. Under their usage limitations they list deepfakes.

screenshot of which activities are restricted in ColabAnything I’ve made is too transparently faked to be considered deep, but some may argue otherwise. I wonder if it was Bob that busted me. Can’t trust those painter types. It got blocked in some countries due to copyright, so that’s why I’m suspicious. It’s better to work with public domain material anyway though.

I managed to do this with Frank and Vinny. So it should be possible with Grant and Hepburn. I’d have to down load the video, cut the parts before and after the phone conversation, and then separate the two sides to make training videos. After putting words in their mouths I’d have to piece it back together as a conversation. Seems tedious, but possible.

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Life imitating AI imitating Art

A few weeks ago we watched the Black Mirror episode, “Be Right Back“, in which a widow has an AI chatbot of her deceased husband. Yesterday I heard that performance artist Laurie Anderson actually has one of these. I guess he wasn’t kidding when he wrote “I’ll Be Your Mirror.”

The idea of characters react to propaganda was a bit of an afterthought last week, but it seems to have worked out well. Some people are using it to find connections, which can be useful as we start to come up with longer narratives and group projects.

We had some nice propaganda too. I especially liked this poster, for several reasons. The letterpress character of the typeface gives it an antique, handmade feel which contrasts to the circuitry in the image. The subtle texturing also gives it an aged feel. But the empty spot inside the image is my favorite part, as it suggests something about the soullessness of the corporate world, or the emptiness of AI. And it plays off of ideas from another post by borrowing one of Dr. Oblivion’s quotes. Of this one, it was said, “This creepy poster will haunt my nightmares forever now,” which may be the nicest comment I’ve seen.

One thing that surprises me is that no one has brought up the environmental costs associated with AI. It seems like a natural for propaganda, and it connects to the broader climate movement. But if that’s not where people want to go, so be it.


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NAGging feeling

Today’s Daily Create asked us to play with the Net.Art Generator. Maybe I should have read the home page, but instead I clicked the Create button as soon as I found it. Moments earlier I had been thinking about AI-generated images and art and Van Gogh’s Starry Night, so that’s what I put in. The output was somewhat interesting to me, reminiscent of Jasper Johns and some of my own adventures in rectangularity. But not good enough. So I tried Starry Knight, just to see what might happen. The text stencilled on the image also reminds me of Johns, but I was able to find the source. To take it one step beyond, and in keeping with the AI theme, I tried Starry Knightrider. I couldn’t decide which to use, so why not all of them?
Now I’m wondering what I might be able to do with KITT and HAL-9000. Apparently MadamBlackWolf thought of this already.

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Bot you see is bot you get

When we were kids playing hockey in the driveway, we used to blast this song out of the window and chop our sticks on the pavement in time with the beat. Of course, we were too young back then to truly appreciate such deep and meaningful lyrics. So it’s great that we have sites like SongTell around to give us AI-powered insightful analysis. I just discovered this thing this morning when looking for info on a different song. The thought that something “could symbolize unfulfilled desires or unmet expectations” really resonates here. Is my sarcasm showing?

I asked Dr. Oblivion if the lyrical analysis wasn’t exceptionally lame.

His reaction makes me suspicious. I wonder if I’m the only one.

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A frank warning

I wondered about the ethics of working with Bob, so I looked up a list of public domain movies and saw that Suddenly, the old Frank Sinatra assassination classic, was on the list. I downloaded it and skimmed through looking for Sinatra monologues, or anyone’s for that matter. There were a few clips that might be useable, with a little editing. I picked one, then needed something for him to say. I asked Dr. Oblivion how he might warn people about the conglomerate Aggressive Technologies and downloaded his response. I ran it through the Converter App to get a text file, with I fed to ElevenLabs after giving them a sample of Frank’s voice. I ran into some hiccups with the lip syncing script this time. It got hung up on the MP3 upload section and failed 2 or 3 times because something couldn’t connect, but I kept trying and eventually it worked. Then when the video was done, I discovered that the audio was longer than the video, which made the video loop back to the beginning and ruined the effect. I went back to the MP3 file and used Audacity to close up the many pauses. I like the walking towards the camera and talking effect and think it would work well with the right lines, so this works as a proof-of-concept. The key is to have less than 25 seconds of audio so it doesn’t loop. Unless you want it to.

I find it interesting that what he says sounds like something Dr. Oblivion would say, but it doesn’t have the same effect in Frank’s voice.

If anyone wants to puppeteer Frank, you can download the frank.mp4 and use it instead of the train.mp4 with the Wav2lip script.

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