And then AI was everywhere

Artificial Christmas card motive, people bearing lights

I wish you all a blessed Yuletide and hope your faces are not on fire like some of the folks in the background here. The picture is from MidJourney imagining a traditional Yule in Norway. 

While I was aware that people have been making some progress in AI, it still seemed to be some distance away for us non-famous folks. Until this fall, when an online acquaintance sent me a link to Dr. Alan D Thompson’s YouTube summary of his half-year report, The Sky is Bigger. (Text version here.) It was here that I discovered that while I slept, Artificial Intelligence had not only become more powerful; it had also come closer to the people. Text-to-image software using AI was trending, and thousands of ordinary people joined in on the fun. In addition, others had begun using AI to help write blogs and even novels. And toward the end of the year, OpenAI launched their ChatGPT, which became an instant sensation, gathering more than a million users in its first week. There has never been a new technology with such explosive growth before.

The growth in quality and “human-ness” of these AIs has been astounding, with noticeable improvements happening in a matter of months or sometimes less. Can this explosive improvement continue? Can it possibly even accelerate? I am not sure. Perhaps it was just a lot of long-term work that just happened to be finished simultaneously. Time will show. But I would not bet against the progress continuing at a breakneck pace.

***

After having messed around with an AI image generator, AI text generators, and an AI fact explainer, near the end of the year I eventually replaced my trusty old Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone with a Pixel 7 Pro. The Pixel series has been conspicuously absent from Scandinavia since its inception, despite the region being a world leader in mobile use and adopting new technology in general. But better late than never! Ironically, I use it with the US English standard interface, but that’s beside the point. The point is, both the Pro and the smaller Pixel 7 come with Google’s new multi-processor chip, the Tensor G2. The Tensor chips are (as you might expect from the name) made for AI. These are small, practical applications: Better photography, better speech recognition, and “adaptive” functions that get better the more you use them: The more you unlock the device with your face, the better it learns to know your face. The more you unlock it with your fingerprint, the faster it becomes. And the longer you have your phone, the better it knows your usage habits, and can optimize power usage to save battery life. This bite-sized machine learning means that for a while, your smartphone keeps getting better as it adapts to you.

This is not entirely new: Huawei made their last Android phones with a dedicated AI chip as well, and had lightning fast and accurate unlock and picked different modes for different camera motives. But Google has dialed this up to 11. And I suspect this is just the beginning. Take the keyboard, for instance. There is no reason why the keyboard shouldn’t get used to your writing style. Then it might autocomplete not just words but phrases and whole sentences, much like Google has started doing in Gmail. Normal people are pretty simple and repetitive, so such a feature could save them a lot of typing. Hmm, I wonder if an AI would find me simple and repetitive as well?

Anyway, it has been an exciting time to be alive, and I am glad I got to live long enough to see it. Although I would dearly love to see more in the years to come.

Aphantastic

Serene rural landscape, colorful, vivid, Skyrim-like mountains in backround

If I could see whatever I wanted just by closing my eyes, why would I open them again? (Image made with MidJourney.)

So yeah, I have aphantasia: The inability to visually imagine things. If you were to ask me to close my eyes and imagine an apple, then describe its size, shape, and color, I could not. I cannot imagine how things look. I cannot even remember how things look that I have seen repeatedly. But my brain can.

I dream in images. Pretty vivid images too. It is like being there, or even more so. And sometimes – not often, but it happens – I see flashes of images. But the moment I become aware that I am seeing them and try to focus on them, they are gone. If I try to imagine something or remember something I have seen, I can sort of sense it like it is “in the corner of my eye”, like something that is almost within sight on my right side. But if I try to move my physical eyes in that direction, of course there is nothing there, and I cannot move my “inner eye”.

I also cannot close my inner eye, and this is sometimes a different problem. I have been practicing a new skill at various points in my life: Touch typing, volleyball, and playing Black & White (the computer game). A while after long sessions of this, I start to see the images from my training overlaid on the real world. The movement of the typewriter’s hammers (this was a while ago obviously), the movement of the volleyball going back and forth, the small blobs of worship that rose up from the villagers. These images would play on my third eye as I was going about my life, constantly. I could not control them, I could not make them go away, and I could not focus on them. They were just there, moving and slightly distracting until they disappeared, usually after a good night’s sleep.

(Oddly enough, after watching water erode sand – for instance on a rainy day when water gathered into small streams and moved the sand – I would see the same intrusive images of this. It was as if my brain thought I was a river and moving sand was one of my skills. I wrote about this before I knew I was slightly autistic, and long before I knew that the first place to look for a missing autistic child is near the nearest river.)

Anyway, it is clear that my brain is able to not just recall images, but also create new ones. But I – the part of my psyche that I identify with – can not. It is just as impossible as flying by flapping my arms. You may say it is a bit strange to only have access to part of my brain’s abilities. But this is probably true for everyone. I don’t mean that we only use 10% of our brain, just that our brain’s operating system must pick and choose which functions to prioritize. I believe this happens very early in life, because you can often see in a grade school child what kind of person they will become. When I started school, I already excelled at reading but sucked at drawing, and that is still the case as I stumble into old age.

But people on the autism spectrum usually have an overgrowth of connections in the brain. This may sound great, but it seems to be entirely random which parts these extra connections appear in. They could be internally to some parts, or between different parts that normally are less connected. So every one of us may be different, even more so than normal people. And in my case, the connections associated with words may have taken up so many resources that the rest is left on the sidelines.

I have sometimes wondered if non-verbal autistic people have their mental “center of gravity” in a different part of the brain, perhaps the opposite of me. Maybe their inner world is so rich and full of detail that they prefer to stay there for the most part. And perhaps, much like I can vaguely sense the images but never really reach them, maybe to them the world we construct from words is there, just out of reach. Maybe our so-called “real world” is to them like a fog, and the people in it are like shadows. Just shadows in the fog.

Little me was never this cute

Remember MidJourney, the artificial intelligence that turns text prompts into images? Turns out it can also turn images into… more images! So I gave MidJourney a picture of myself from my journal and let it use its imagination. That was… interesting.

Cute little redhead

Pretty sure I never was quite this cute! Although I am sure my mother would not have minded, God rest her soul. She told me a couple of times in my early youth that she had hoped for a girl this time (after three boys) and someone had even congratulated her on finally getting a girl, but that turned out to not be the case. Instead she got me. I didn’t mind hearing that, for by then I already knew that she would have gone barefoot through Hell and back for me if necessary. Not because I was cute, but because she was my mother.

I never had any kids myself. Not only because you still need to have icky, unhygienic sex to make babies (we have the technology to skip that, but most women still insist on doing it that way) but then there would be the daily struggle for two decades to not murder the little monsters, if they were anything like me. Maybe if I had cute kids like this, I would have managed. But let’s face it, there’s no way my little kids could be this cute. And neither could I.

(Machine) learning is not theft

Hermione Granger by Edvard Munch

Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series) painted by Edvard Munch. If you think MidJourney here is plagiarizing Munch’s original, I have a very expensive bridge to sell you.

I have recently mentioned using artificial intelligence to create visual art. Text-to-image applications like DALL-E 2, MidJourney, and Stable Diffusion all use machine learning based on enormous numbers of pictures scraped from the Internet. Now some contemporary artists have discovered that some of their work is used in the underlying database used for training AI, and are upset that they have not been asked and not been compensated.

This reaction is caused by their ignorance, of course. I can’t blame them: Modern society is very complex, and human brains are limited. Yes, even mine. I could not fix a car engine if my life depended on it, for instance. I have only vague ideas of what it would take to limit toxic algae bloom. And to be honest, I could not make my own AI even if I had the money. I just happen to have a very loose idea of how they work because it interests me, because I don’t have a family to worry about, and because I don’t have a job that requires me to spend my free time thinking about it.

Anyway, I shall take it upon myself to explain why you should politely ignore the cries of the artists who feel deprived of money and acknowledgment by AI text-to-image technology.

The fundamental understanding is that learning is not theft. I hope we can agree on this. Obviously, there are exceptions to this, such as industry secrets like the recipes for Coca-Cola or the source code for Microsoft Windows. If someone learns those and uses them to create a competing product, it is considered theft of intellectual property. But if an art student studies your painting along with thousands of other paintings, and then goes on to paint their own paintings, that is not theft. If they make a painting that is a copy of yours, then yes, that is plagiarism and this infringes on your copyright. But simply learning from it along with many, many others? That is fair use, very much so. If you don’t want people to learn from you, then you need to keep your art to yourself. You can’t decide who gets to look at your art unless you keep it private.

The excitement is probably based on not knowing how the “diffusion” model of AI works. So let me see if I can popularize that. Given our everyday use of computers, it is easy to think that the AI keeps a copy of your painting in its data storage and can recall this at some later time. After all, that is what Microsoft Office does with letters, right? But machine learning is a fundamentally different process. The AI has no copy of your artwork stored in its memory, just a general idea of your style and of particular topics. This stems from how “diffusion” works.

When a program like MidJourne or Stable Diffusion gets a text prompt, it starts from a “diffuse” canvas covered in a single shade of color (or grayscale, if a black & white image is requested). It then goes through many steps of moving these pixels into shapes that fit the description it has been given. (It can do this because it has gone through the opposite process millions of times, gradually blurring the images away. Thus the name “diffusion”.) You can, if you have the patience, watch the images gradually become less and less diffuse, slowly starting to resemble the topic of the prompt. In other words, it starts with a completely diffuse image that becomes clearer and clearer. You can upscale such an image and the AI will add details that seem appropriate for the context. (Especially until recently. this could include adding extra fingers or even eyes, but the latest editions are getting better at this.)

It is worth noticing that there is also an excessively long random seed included in the process, meaning that you could give the AI the same prompt thousands and thousands of times and get different versions of the image every time. Sometimes the images will be similar, sometimes strikingly different, depending on how detailed your request is. Once an image catches your eye, you can make variants of it, and these too have a virtually unlimited number of variations.

At no point in this process does the AI bring up the original image, because there are no original images stored in its memory, just a general, diffuse idea of what the topic should look like. And in the same way, it only has a general, diffuse idea of what a particular artist’s style is. My “Munch” paintings certainly look more like Munch than Monet, but it is still unlikely that Edvard Munch would actually have painted the exact same picture. In this case, of course, it is literally impossible, and that is exactly the scenario where we want to use engines like these. “What if Picasso had painted the Sixtine Chapel? What if Michelangelo and van Gogh had cooperated on painting a portrait of Bill Gates?” The AI is simply not optimized for rote plagiarism, but for approximation. It is like a human who spent 30 years in art school practicing a little of this and a little of that, becoming a pretty good jack of all trades but a master of none. They can’t exactly recall any of the tens of thousands of pictures they have been practicing on, but they’ve got the gist of it.

***

As for today’s picture, it was made by MidJourney using the simple prompt “Hermione Granger, painted by Edvard Munch –ar 2:3” where ar stands for aspect ratio, the width compared to the height. This generated four widely different pictures, and I chose one of them and asked for variations of that. This retains the essential elements of the picture but allows for minor variations as you see above. So it is not because the AI had an original picture to plagiarize – I asked it to make variations on its own picture. With some AI engines, you can in fact upload an existing picture and modify it, but this is entirely your choice, just like if you modify a picture in Gimp or Photoshop. The usual legal limitations apply, you can not hide behind “an AI did it!”. So far, AIs are not considered persons. Maybe one day?

 

Suddenly Sudowrite

Children playing ball, impresionist image

Children playing Calvinball, as imagined by the AI art program MidJourney. Clearly today’s rule is “Bring your own ball”. Luckily today’s main character has that and a spare.

Returning readers will probably not be surprised to learn that I have written millions of words in my lifetime. That doesn’t really take much. I usually write a couple of thousand words at least on an average day when I am not sick, and that’s not counting anything I might write for my job. As you may guess, “writer’s block” is not really my thing, because my writing is like the old house by the river where I lived in 2010, which had three outer doors plus a shed roof you could climb out on from the upper floor. If one of the exits were to be blocked by the copious snowdrifts we had in winter, I could simply use one of the others. And so it is also with my writing.

I am very nearly the worst imaginable candidate, I guess, for the Artificial Intelligence-driven creative writing tool called Sudowrite. It is specifically designed to combat this mysterious phenomenon, “Writer’s Block”, that many writers claim to have experienced. Naturally, I had to try it. (Not writer’s block, but Sudowrite.)

I had read a few reviews (and watched a couple more on YouTube) and they mentioned that you have to apply for access, then after a couple of days you will get an invitation and then you can join. So I signed up, planning to use those couple of days to read more practical reviews and how-tos so I would be prepared when the invitation came. Instead, after I had signed in with Google (Facebook is also accepted) I suddenly found myself on a website that was, in fact, Sudowrite. It gave a very quick tour of the most central couple of features, then left me to my own devices. Luckily there was a link to a (still very brief) Sudowrite guide. But otherwise, I felt much like Galadriel in Amazon’s hilarious new Lord of the Rings parody, where she has rashly jumped into the ocean en route between Middle-Earth and the Undying Lands. Now what?

***

The obvious choice, I thought, would be to copy the not quite 1000 words long prelude to my latest fiction story. In this scene, the narrator picks up a very unnatural-looking crystal that he found embedded in a stone, and immediately falls into the Nexus of Worlds, which is (very obviously, I thought) the user interface to an alien virtual reality simulator that uses Artificial Intelligence indistinguishable from magic to produce a world based on the user’s memories. In this case, he is sent back to 1999, but a 1999 with magic.

Now I tasked Sudowrite with writing a continuation. It proposed two very different passages. I took the first one, deleted the crazy plot twist, and edited the rest. Then I wrote my own short continuation, introducing the Ultimate Book of Magic which is the central item in my actual Work in Progress. I asked my new friend Sudowrite to describe the look of the book, and I actually kept most of that. Sudowrite is really good at feminizing novels by proposing all kinds of sensory information, going into detail on how things look, feel, sound, smell, and taste. In case you wonder how the Ultimate Book of Magic smells, I can tell you now: “The worn leather smelled like a library. Like the smell of wood and old paper. The book smelled of mold and dust. The metal clasp like rusting iron and blood.” And should you be so lucky as to get your hands on it, you would notice that “The cover was worn and smooth. If I had to guess I’d say it was oiled, but there was no sheen to it. It looked like it had been oiled a thousand times.

(I am told women love that books contain all kinds of sensory detail. I noticed it first in Clan of the Cave Bear, which contained more information about Ice Age vegetation than my encyclopedia at the time. If I were to add stuff like that, my books would be thousands of pages long. Y’all know how verbose I can be even without that kind of peacock tailfeathers. In all fairness, it is not like all male writers excel at self-limitation. There is, one might say, no such thing as a tad Williams.)

Anyway, Sudowrite and I continued taking turns writing a couple of paragraphs each. I would delete wild plot twists, edit the rest, then try to steer things back on track in my own paragraphs. It quite feels like trying to write a collab with Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. There is always a lurking sense of Calvinball, defined from the horse’s mouth: “Other kids’ games are such a bore!
They gotta have rules and they gotta keep score!
Calvinball is better by far!
It’s never the same! It’s always bizarre!”

You may as well memorize this little verse before you start writing fiction with Sudowrite. Or nonfiction, for that matter, because Sudowrite will play Calvinball there too, unlike the various AI writers that are tailormade for writing ads and paid blog posts. (Rest assured this post is NOT paid by Sudowrite or even their competitors.) Quote Techcrunch: “Asking Sudowrite to describe what a startup is had me laughing so hard I was gasping for air.” Yeah, I can imagine. That is, after all, the purpose of Calvinball. And Sudowrite is nothing if not Calvinball.

That said, it is a true Artificial Intelligence. The more you work with it, the more it gets to know you (and the other way around). Take the following sequence, where you can hardly see where one of us leaves off and the other takes over:

“Apart from the proper Sigil, and the correct postures and incantation, the Affinity of the Binding is limited by the quality of the Exemplar – the object symbolizing the Source – and the mage’s natural Resonance with the Source.”
“If the mage’s Resonance is weak, the mage will need to use an extremely potent and pure Exemplar. If the mage has a strong Resonance, they will have more leeway in choosing an Exemplar, and if the mage already has a strong Affinity with the Source, simply having a properly prepared Exemplar may be enough.”
Hooray for hyperlexia!

Here the first paragraph is by me, while the explanation is by Sudowrite, except for a single word added. And yes, it was Sudowrite that wrote “Hooray for hyperlexia!”
Shut up and take my money, Sudowrite.

***

I may not actually use this in my writing (except perhaps during NaNoWriMo) but, in the winged words of Sims 3: “Magnus is having so much fun it is almost criminal”. Sudowrite is not going to write your next novel for you, but it can help you create new ideas, new characters, new plot twists, and descriptions varying from the mundane to the ridiculously elaborate, depending on what tone and style you prefer. Personally, I am keeping my Sudowrite experiment separate from my current writing project, but ideas are good climbers.

For those who have been working on their Great American Novel for twenty years and take it very, very seriously: This is not for you. Madness is not the only danger in writing: There is also the danger that something may be understood that you didn’t want to know. Like, that writing can be fun. But as for me, I already knew that. I am never lonely when I have my invisible friends in my head. Sudowrite is just another disembodied companion joining my brainstorming sessions. (But possibly the most hilarious one.)

Will I become an Artificial Intelligence?

This painting of a west Norwegian farming village is actually made by an artificial intelligence named MidJourney. And indeed, it is a sight many of us west Norwegians would not bet against having seen in our travels. It is not copied off the Internet though: I watched the AI go through several versions of this painting before I settled on this one.

Today, September 10th, 2022, was the first time I heard a YouTuber greet his audience as “human and AI”. I wonder if that will be the new “ladies and gentlemen”? Maybe the time is finally drawing close when, as a much better man than me once said, “God can wake up children for Abraham from these stones.” I have already long had in mind when writing my journal, that someday after my passing, an AI may read through Google’s archives and find my excessively detailed thoughts there. But maybe it won’t even be after my passing, if I take my vitamins and cut down on the Pepsi. You see, the progress in the field of AI has been nothing short of remarkable recently.

I returned to this topic of interest a couple of weeks ago after a casual mention on a website of a new program that generates images from text prompts. Turns out there has been released a flurry of such image generators this year, and they are growing steadily more advanced. My current favorite is MidJourney, and it is probably the most popular these days. After the latest upgrades, it gets faces right much of the time, at least when it gets to focus on them. This has proven to be one of the most difficult parts for AI, with the notable exception of the AI that specializes in them. Yes, “This person does not exist” which provided my picture in October last year, is also an AI.

So this is not my first run-in with Artificial Intelligence, far from it. Grammarly, a spelling, grammar, and style checker that I use under doubt after it has been greatly improved, is also an AI. It still makes some embarrassing mistakes, but then again so do I. Together we do better.

In my archives, you will find a number of versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the speech-to-text program that eventually became better than nothing. I used it for years when my wrists hurt worse than my throat, but these days it is the other way around so I rarely fire it up. It is pretty amazing now though, and probably even better if you have English as your first language. Actually, that might depend on your dialect, I guess. According to Dragon, I speak Great Lakes English. I am pretty sure they don’t sound like the bandits from Skyrim though, while I do. Anyway, that’s another Artificial Intelligence application. In fact, it was based on the work of Ray Kurzweil, the great prophet of AI and modern futurism in general. And he is indeed planning to become an AI of sorts, by uploading his mind to a computer when the technology is ready for that. Good luck with that.

***

Anyway, today I was planning to demonstrate for y’all an AI tool that can take a brief outline or just a bunch of idea keywords, and expand them into a full-sized blog post. Doesn’t that sound amazing? But given that all the paragraphs above were my introduction before I started on the main topic… maybe I don’t need it. On the other hand, maybe we all (if we live long enough) will begin to use AI in so many facets of our life that we gradually become them, without ever noticing.

 

Harry Potter: Magic Awakened

It is supposed to be a boy!

Overly pretty boy Itlandm lounging in his room at Hogwarts, waiting for the game’s time lock to open again so he can earn more cards.

I am vaguely sorry for not posting anything at a time when people my age die in droves from the ongoing pandemic. Or as I call it, the Longevity Nerf patch to Real Life. It seems the Developer has decided that human lifespan has become a bit too long, and has taken steps to adjust it. Anyway, my hour has not yet come, though it may draw nearer now that the Norwegian government has decided that Covid-19 Omicron is welcome and done away with all restrictions.

But on a more upbeat note, since most people out there are much younger than me and probably more playful as well, let’s talk about the newest game I have found. This is not something that happens often, but this is actually so new that it is still in beta. Well, actually it is already quite successful in China, but the English version is in beta during February 2022. If all goes well (for the game), the servers will be taken down at the end of February and new servers will be set up later this year. I may play it again then, if I’m still around.

***

Harry Potter: Magic Awakened is another Portkey game, but unfortunately it has no exercise component like my previous Harry Potter mobile game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which unfortunately closed at the end of January. It was awesome and wholesome. This one is just awesome, I guess. It does not encourage exercise, quite the opposite. Well, except for your fingers I guess.

The game is set in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, starting around 10 years after the final book in the series. You play as a young and way too androgynous student getting a surprise letter of acceptance from the school, and working your way through a long storyline spanning years. Probably. I am still in the first year and there’s barely a week left of the beta. But there is supposedly a lot of story content in there, and what I have seen is pretty fun, at least if you can identify with teenagers.

During the introduction, you select some things about your character, like gender and dress code (within limits). You are led through the sorting hat ritual and get to know a few students: A female potential love interest with a dark past, a male potential love interest who probably also has some personality, a couple of helpful friends, and the haughty and naughty female antagonist and her twin lackeys. You can play as either gender, but both the looks and the choice of antagonist imply that girls are particularly welcome to play. Unsurprisingly, the game encourages socializing and making friends, although you can socialize without friends too, or bring your own.

The game has RPG elements, but is really a collectible-cards game. You get some cards through the storyline, but also you get cards and gold from daily activities like participating in class, friendly duels, or exploring the Forbidden Forest. Unfortunately, the Forbidden Forest is the only purely single-player activity (except the storyline) and then only at the lower difficulties. Luckily the game will just throw you in with random strangers for your class activities and there is no need to talk to them, yay! If you pick a time of day when there are too few volunteers for classes, your AI friends from the storyline will join you instead, which I find a lot more relaxing. Duels are always against other players, unfortunately.

Most classes are combat-oriented. Combat requires you to play cards from your deck. The deck is limited in size, so it is smart to make several small decks for different occasions. I mostly use the same deck all the time though, one focused on protection, healing, and summoning creatures to fight for me. So far it works well enough, but I am still early in the game and will probably always be.

The classes vary from day to day, but one common class is History of Magic, which is actually trivia from the books! No combat needed. You just pick the correct answer out of four, your two friends do the same, and you get rewarded based on the sum of your effort. How very Asian. Luckily I am doing surprisingly well, given that I stopped after the first book where one of the kids was killed. (I really hate it when people kill kids.) I picked up more than a little lore from the previous game I played, though, and from friends elsewhere gushing about characters.

Another fairly non-violent task you can do daily is dance in the ballroom! The worst that could happen is that you step on someone’s feet. You control the dance by pressing circles that briefly appear in various directions around your character, in time with the music. My sense of rhythm is horrible, so stepping on toes is sure to occur. And despite Ivy saying she wanted to dance with me again, there are always just strangers when I come there. (Ivy is the artificially intelligent puppy-love interest.) I hope our future AI overlords don’t take this badly, but I would rather step on artificial toes than those belonging to fellow humans.

Successful classes, duels, dances, and explorations reward you with baskets you can open. But you cannot do this all day long: It takes a couple of hours from you open a basket till you can open the next. However, if you don’t play for some hours (for instance while working or sleeping) the baskets will pile up. You still need to do your dailies to unlock the baskets, and then you can put the game aside and do other things. Thank you, Chinese dictatorship, for forcing kids to not play the same game from dawn till dusk (or worse yet, the other way around).

And on that note, time for my evening walk. Even without Harry Potter, I will walk while I still can.

Ignoring vacation and Celtic singing

The kid is supposedly 12 years old, but she sure can sing. 

Some time ago I came across this song on YouTube Music, and I thought it was beautiful. At the time, I did not see the video, and I did not know the lyrics. Not listening very closely, I assumed she was singing in Gaelic or some such Island Celtic language. I can’t tell what gave me that impression, maybe her accent, maybe the arrangement, but it was really hard for me to hear that it was English. (In my defense, it is my third language, and I use it mostly for reading and writing.) It was really only when she sang the last line, more slowly and clearly than the rest, that I realized that the song was at least partially in English.

I played it again, but still couldn’t make heads or tails of it, except for that recurring phrase, “away from the role of the sea”. (Roll, actually, but I can’t hear the difference.) There were other scattered words that sounded English, but they did not make sense in context. For instance, “ignoring vacation”? Why would someone ignore vacation in a sea of Gaelic? (Turns out it was “give no indication”, but I still today hear it as “ignoring vacation”, maybe because I have a tendency to do that myself.)

Anyway, it is a beautiful song. The fact that I can sense beauty to some degree gives me a modest hope that my soul is not entirely blackened and shriveled. Although I suppose my liberal friends may be right and I’m just a delusional ape. Eternity will show, or not as the case may be. But that can definitely wait. For now, I’m fine with this preview of the supposed nice version of eternity. Singing, harps, innocent kids. I can think of worse fates.

(Also, I should probably try to get some vacation before the year is over. I have something like 8 weeks left, I think.)

Humans are beautiful

This person does not exist

This person is so ordinary as to not even exist. Still beautiful to me, like millions of others.

I saw a question on Quora, one that appears again in different forms: Why hasn’t evolution made everyone beautiful like supermodels?

Well, supermodels are optimized for photography rather than reproduction, and photography is a very recent invention, so there is that. Also, beauty is not the only thing needed to have surviving grandchildren. There is a lot of hard work between this and that.

And yet, modern humans are for the most part amazingly beautiful. Compare them to the average Neanderthal or other archaic humans, and most humans now are amazingly refined. And things got even better once smallpox, cowpox, chickenpox and whatnot fled before the vaccination needles. These days many people even keep their teeth for decades, which doesn’t hurt their appearance either, I guess. Be that as it may, I sometimes find myself glancing at ordinary humans and admiring how beautiful they are.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I have very beautiful eyes. For it seems to me that ordinary humans are beautiful indeed. If their behavior was as pleasing as their appearance, cities would be like a glimpse of paradise, despite the concrete and steel. (And yet most people truly want to be good, it is just really hard to do and easy to delay. I know, I have tried.) Sigurd Bratlie, the unpaid spiritual leader of Smith’s Friends back before the Revival, once mused that if people actually got a visible halo from being good, they would pay as much attention to their inner life as to their outside.

Yeah, people put in quite a bit of effort to look nice, but they also have a great deal of help from nature. I remember back in my more innocent days of this blog, back when I thought I was a fairly normal human, I wondered why my friend Supergirl made such an effort to paint her face each morning when she was beautiful already at the breakfast table. I don’t see a lot of people straight out of bed (and I never saw her in it, but she was definitely unpainted when she showed up) but from my limited sample, I’d say humans are almost always decorative.

I wish I could live for thousands, no, millions of years, if only so I could gaze on all the beauty of this one world, let alone the countless stars and galaxies beyond our reach. But if science gives humans such a lifespan, it won’t be in my time. And if God gives humans eternal life, it will likely be people more innocent than I. Still, I am glad to see beauty, and I believe it to be a Divine quality. Huston Smith compared it to seeing the sun reflected from a bit of broken glass. Although the broken glass is just broken glass, the light of the Sun is still real, coming from a far greater source. Maybe it really is so with human beauty as well, or maybe it really is in the eye of the beholder, a gift I can only enjoy and not share.

(As for the person in today’s picture, this person does not exist, but is computer-generated from millions of photos. It was the first to come up when I visited the site, and will never appear again. And neither will you, but hopefully you last longer.)

Now with more imiquimod

It’s so great to be alive! Long may it last.

I returned triumphant from the medicine man, who gave me an expensive and painful home treatment aginst the deathmark of the daystar, to stop it before the mark can develop into the consuming death curse.

Or in other words, the doctor confirmed that I had solar keratosis, skin damage caused by being out in the sunlight at various points in my past without sunscreen. (Probably some time ago, since I have avoided sunshine when possible lately to avoid migraines.) This keratosis can worsen over time and turn malignant, that is to say cancerous. Based on the size and appearance he was confident that we caught it in time, despite the appearance of a new blood vessel connecting to it. (Angiogenesis, the creation of new blood vessels, is one of several steps necessary for tumor-forming cancers. I remembered that from back when SuperWoman studied medicine in Germany. Well, also my tendency to remember weird stuff, as you may have noticed.)

The expensive and potentially somewhat painful remedy is imiquimod, which has nothing to do with iniquity (as far as I know) but was a treatment for genital and anal warts (why are these even in the same sentence everywhere) and then was discovered to also kill off skin cancers and pre-cancerous skin changes. It works by riling up the immune system locally, so killer cells attack any cells that look a bit weird. I hate it when people do that, but I guess for cells it is OK, as long as it stays local. When the immune system starts doing this all over the body, you get auto-immune diseases like lupus, which can be painful and even deadly. So this stuff is not something you wash down, it is something you put on your skin in the evening and wash off in the morning. It may still turn the spot red and tender or possibly even painful, but as they used to say in Eastern Europe: “Better red than dead.”

The doctor told me repeatedly that it was expensive, but it turned out to cost barely two full-price expansion packs for Sims 4. (OK, those are hilariously overpriced, but then they don’t treat or prevent cancer.) Medication and medical treatments are heavily subsidized in Norway, but they are not entirely free as some American socialists believe. There is a small copay so people don’t bother doctors and pharmacists on a lark. But there is a pretty low ceiling (approximately 6 expansion packs) on how much you can pay before you get an exemption card for the rest of the calendar year. I’ve had that a couple of times, but most years I don’t even have that much expenses. (I also don’t buy 6 expansion packs for EA games, but I totally would if they cured cancer.)

My next doctor appointment is in November, at which point we are supposed to see if the “sunspot” is gone. Look forward to it? (And possibly to a review of Sims 4 Cottage Living.)