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Incremental Improvements

Eventually the daily cutups at coalesce.me will be completely automated. But today we are not quite there yet. While a series of scripts create the cutups and collages, choosing and inserting the collage into the post each day remains a manual task. I don’t really know how to automate that part yet, but I have some ideas and realising those is a bit further down the road.

Since I knocked together some scripts to create the cutup each day last November I’ve only been making some small changes and tweaks here and there. Formerly the cutup job would run at a given time, and choose the 100 last stories sorted by the id the database assigned to a piece of content. Not necessarily the most recently updated stories by date. And besides, what I really wanted was something like a random selection of stories over the past day. Not the most recent 100 stories from a choose time. Which is what I was trying to achieve and kind of failing to get. So today I changed the query from this:

select content from FEEDENTRYCONTENTS order by id DESC,id desc LIMIT 100;

Which ordered the results solely based on the arbitrary id number the database assigned to the piece of the content. To this slightly more complicated query:

select content FROM FEEDENTRIES INNER JOIN FEEDENTRYCONTENTS ON content_id = FEEDENTRYCONTENTS.id where updated > DATE_SUB(CURDATE(), INTERVAL 1 DAY) order by RAND() LIMIT 100

Which is simply joining the entries table which has the date the entry was updated, and selected 100 random entries from the past day. I am not exactly sure how it is defining the past day, it seems like entries could be from the current day, all the way back to just after midnight for the previous day. So maybe the results from a little bit more that the past 24 hours. Which is good enough for me.

It’s also possibly for me to grab the url of each story, and the thought crossed my mind to fetch more text from the actual url that my RSS reader is serialising. Not all feeds provide the whole text of the story, just a summary and sometimes nothing but a title. But I am getting enough a text to work with so not really inclined to fetch more. Whatever is in the RSS reader’s database is what I have to work with.

There are more improvements I want to make on this long road to full automation. I would like to use those url’s for each story to randomly create hyperlinks to the source stories, and just randomly allocate them to bits of text in each post. No idea how to do that yet, but it will take some experimentation I am sure. I might be creating something like a staging.coalesce.me only I need to think of a better thing that staging to call it. Maybe next.coalesce.me to start experimenting more while keeping the current process going.

Welp, next incremental improvement might be to create some montages automatically when I have enough small images to work with. Something like…

MONTAGES=$(for i in coalesce-*; do identify $i | grep 150x150; done | wc -l)
if [ "$MONTAGES" -gt "100" ]; then
echo "create montages"
fi

And they say this isn’t work.

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Painting with Brain Waves

The City Gallery exhibit called The Algorithmic Impulse closed about a week ago which meant it was time for me to go and pick up my artwork that I had created as part of it.

Back in January I went to the City Gallery and donned an EEG headset and sat at a desk writing Chinese characters while Simon Ingram’s Monadic Device drew a picture from the output of my brain waves.

Here is the finished product:

This is a page from my notebook I was working on that day:

Not exactly any resemblance but the long stroke and small dots which for the bottom part of 意 (yì) and 思 (sī) do remind me of some of the long curving strokes and little dots throughout the work that the machine created.

Now what I am going to do with this thing? For now it is sitting on top of the piano in the hallway.

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Link

Eva & Franco Mattes

Some inspiration. I spent a day walking around MUDAM in early 2019. So that also brings back some pleasant memories.

The author observing art at MUDAM observing itself

I picked up in my RSS reader from their blog:

The MUDAM exhibition is also interesting:

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coalescing

Art over time

I mean, I really don’t know what I am doing. You try to develop a theory, or make some kind of sense out of reality, but then at some point you just have to do something. That something for me is taking the materials of the Internet and combining them in different ways and observing the results. It doesn’t really have to mean anything. It is an activity. One that constantly surprises me and I look forward to every day.

Every day I fetch images that come into my RSS reader and composite them. It will produce a sort of digital collage, like this:

This was the #27th image created in the batch of several hundred. Many of the collages that are created, I just discard because they are not very interesting. The one above stuck out because I liked it’s composition. The image with the figure of a man came from a contemporary art website I follow which posts photos of current gallery exhibitions. I can’t tell you for certain where the other images came from, they could possibly be images from the popular Buzzfeed website which is another one of the RSS feeds I subscribe to. Not because I like Buzzfeed or even read it, god no, but it is there and a constant source of material. Something I want to “cut up”. If I wanted to do some digging I could find out where the other images came from, and in fact I am thinking how I can automatically just embed the links to the source material in the image meta data somehow. I have not quite gotten there.

I call the process “coalescing”, but that is just my romantic notion of it. These words, “the images coalesce” echoing back at me from a discarded poem I wrote over twenty years ago. Technically I am compositing the images. The command looks like this:

composite $OPTION $RANDOM_IMAGES coalesce-$DATE-$IMAGE_NUMBER.jpg

The random option function looks like:

Random Gravity
 function random_gravity () {
 There are 10 Gravity Options
 gravity[0]="None"
 gravity[1]="Center"
 gravity[2]="East"
 gravity[3]="Forget"
 gravity[4]="NorthEast"
 gravity[5]="North"
 gravity[6]="NorthWest"
 gravity[7]="SouthEast"
 gravity[8]="South"
 gravity[9]="SouthWest"
 gravity[10]="West"
 size=${#gravity[@]}
 index=$(($RANDOM % $size))
 GRAVITY=${gravity[$index]}
 }
 random_gravity
 echo "Gravity option selected is: $GRAVITY"
 OPTION="-gravity $GRAVITY"

Here is the entire script:

!/bin/bash
 DATE=$(date +"%b-%d-%Y")
 IMAGE_NUMBER=$1
 EXPECTED_ARGS=1
 E_BADARGS=65
 if [ $# -ne $EXPECTED_ARGS ]
 then
   echo "Usage: Needs a number to put on the end of the file name."
   exit $E_BADARGS
 fi
 Random Gravity
 function random_gravity () {
 There are 10 Gravity Options
 gravity[0]="None"
 gravity[1]="Center"
 gravity[2]="East"
 gravity[3]="Forget"
 gravity[4]="NorthEast"
 gravity[5]="North"
 gravity[6]="NorthWest"
 gravity[7]="SouthEast"
 gravity[8]="South"
 gravity[9]="SouthWest"
 gravity[10]="West"
 size=${#gravity[@]}
 index=$(($RANDOM % $size))
 GRAVITY=${gravity[$index]}
 }
 random_gravity
 echo "Gravity option selected is: $GRAVITY"
 OPTION="-gravity $GRAVITY"
 function the_images_coalesce () {
 RANDOM_IMAGES=$(ls .jpg | shuf | tail -3)
 echo "compositing these images:"
 echo $RANDOM_IMAGES
 composite $OPTION $RANDOM_IMAGES coalesce-$DATE-$IMAGE_NUMBER.jpg
 echo "I made you this: coalesce-$DATE-$IMAGE_NUMBER.jpg"
 }
 the_images_coalesce

Then you just put it in a directory full of .jpg images and run it in a loop:

for i in {1..100}; do bash composite_three_random_images.sh; done

It is just a gross bash script, and I plan to move on from here using other ImageMagick libraries to develop new techniques. The bash script was the quickest way I could start doing what I wanted to do, which was to illustrate the randomly created bits of text, also taken from the stories in the RSS reader, with “coalesced” images. Here is today’s cutup:

There are two things I haven’t done before in this post, one is creating a link to some source material and the other is including an animated gif version of several static images that I created in the usual way. While browsing the images and experimenting with including one image in the script and combining that with other randomly chosen images. There is a persistent frame of reference in each image with changing elements:

Again using the ImageMagick command line tools, a command like this does the job:

convert -delay 10 -loop 0 coalesce-Mar-06-2021-541.jpg coalesce-Mar-06-2021-542.jpg coalesce-Mar-06-2021-543.jpg coalesce-Mar-06-2021-545.jpg coalesce-Mar-06-2021-546.jpg coalesce-Mar-06-2021-547.jpg coalesce-Mar-06-2021-548.jpg coalesce-Mar-06-2021-549.jpg coalesce-Mar-06-2021-55 animated2.gif

I’m not certain yet how to glob the image numbers to avoid typing all the image names in succession, but I’ll figure it out eventually.

I know what I am doing is not new or novel or unique. Today I did a little research, I was actually trying to find a project where some painters did a serious of various brush strokes, and then in software combined those strokes to make many thousands of variations of an abstract painting. I couldn’t find that artwork, but I came across another that is very similar to what I am doing:

Which is a project started by Cornelia Sollfrank way back in 1997. And lo and behold they are embracing Free and Open Source software as well, this is certainly something I am going to look into further:

About the same time I tried to start making net art, the way back machine capturing my first site back in January of 1999, but I had started working on it sometime in 98. I began putting a loose conception of what I wanted to do here over the past twenty years but only now have realised this sort of baseline activity. Coalesce.me being just one small part in a larger portfolio I’m hoping to build.

The real art for me about this particular project I’m working on now is in the ongoing activity. Inspired by David Lynch among others, the commitment to some daily creation like his “Weather Report”. It’s not that I want to do the same thing over an over again though, there is a current process to produce the text and images I generate everyday but it also forms a kind of narrative. The process will change over time, so the work too, will evolve over time. I’m only 5 months in, but over time, over years, it is then I hope that the art will emerge.

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User Story

Even though I am the creator of Coalesce.me, I am also it’s number one user. The process is currently an automated job runs at 6:30 am in the morning about 30 minutes before I typically wake up and takes the last 100 stories from my RSS readers, folds and rearranges lines of text and creates a unpublished blog post of that. The second thing that happens is that all the image urls are stripped out from these stories, downloaded and then randomly what I call “coalesced” but really they are composited or superimposed over each other 3 at a time. Sometimes images that have already been composited are composited w/ other images so the various layers can sometimes appear to be more than 3 images blended together. I create 100 of these images, then randomly, as in the computer selects 25 of them sight unseen by me, which are imported into the WordPress media library. Then I look at these 25 images and manually pick the ones I like and insert them into the blog post. Usually about 5 – 10 images in post or whatever I feel like putting in that day.

A “coalesced” image from today’s cutup.

Some days are better than others. Also sometimes there are less than 25 images to choose from, because the script I have so far written to randomly select the images and import them into WordPress is not smart enough to know it has already chosen an image. Which is an enhancement to the project planned for the future. The goal is to fully automate the process so that in the morning, I would just look at the cutup that has been produced for that day. The only thing I would control is the feeds which the RSS reader is subscribed to.

I guess it’s worth thinking about what is in the RSS reader, and overwhelmingly they are just websites who’s content I am interested in. But over time I have just included popular sites and not so popular sites I randomly come across. Some are even sites that I do not necessarily want to read but I want to try to include a diverse range of viewpoints.

Which maybe gets me to the point of this post today. The surprises that happen. The latest feed I have subscribed to in the reader, posted this story recently:

And the reason I discovered this blog was because one of the images that got randomly created caught my attention.

A composited image featuring Robert Anton Wilson.

I was surprised and pleased to see the late Robert Anton Wilson staring back at me from one of my coalesced images. Maybe not that surprised, I mean a lot of the feeds I subscribe to might mention him. I was also pleased w/ the aesthetic quality of the composited image. I think RAW himself would have thought it was a pretty neat collage. So eventually I got curious where the image came from, so I plugged “Robert Anton Wilson” into the search function of my RSS reader and found the story it came from.

It was from Wil Wheton’s Tumbler and look it embeds in WordPress nicely. But Wil Wheton picked it up from, yep you guessed it that blog I previously linked. And I would have not noticed that story if I hadn’t created the random coalesced image. And further reading the new blog I became aware of led me to find an inspiring project that has a similarity to me own:

It reminds me of reading many of RAW’s books, it was not so much his original writing and ideas I subscribed to but the many references to other writers and thinkers he introduced me to that had a lasting effect on me.

So the point is, the thing that was not so apparent to me when starting this project — the project of cutting up my RSS feeds — gives me another entrance into the information morass which it actually is. Instead of doom scrolling through all the stories let random chance operate and allows me another way into the content which is aggregated there. A creative way of dealing with the information overload. Cut the information up.

So anyway the what I call the collage project, which is Coalesce.me is not exactly operating how I want it to, but I now at least have a MVP, the minimum viable product of what I want it to become. Right now it takes me anywhere from a few minutes to an hour to create a post and the goal is to get it fully automated. I’m wanting to go work on another project now but I am committed to creating one cutup a day if possible. Looking at new ways of rearranging the text and bringing in some machine learning techniques is what I intended to do, but I have to build from the point I’ve gotten to now.

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Yī píng xī lā zǐ

I have been making a lot of collages lately and am indeed publishing a whole other blog full of them on a daily basis:

https://coalesce.me

Today there is some overflow like this one:

一瓶西拉子

What I would say if I was not afraid of reprisals to from China.

Dear China,

Yes we want your money. But slandering Australia is New Zealand’s job, why are you all up in our business?

Sincerely,

Someone who disclaims all opinions expressed in this blog, please don’t revoke my visa I love your country.

In other news, this:

Lucid Musk Couple

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Buckley on Mcluhan

I found this interesting, listening to a debate from 1967 between William F. Buckley and Timothy Leary.

It surprises me on one hand how I think Leary is a bit far out, but then on the other hand being far out is good. I am not sure why he clung to comparing the psychedelic experience to religion, but then again I am pretty far removed from any psychedelic experiences right now. Maybe if I was allowed to have them, from a legal standpoint, I would be a bit more religious. I have been enjoying these videos, the many debates Buckley had. From James Baldwin to Allen Ginsberg.

I’d sure like to read more about this arc of Buckley’s encounters with these sort of progressive intellectuals and what we can gather from it today.

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Why I voted

To my memory I had not voted in an American general election since 2004 and I didn’t think I would ever vote in one again. As far as I can recollect I have never voted for a Democrat before either. Nor a Republican for that matter of course. You see I am what they call the radical left. In 2004 I voted for a man named David Cobb. I didn’t know much about the candidate but I supported the party he represented, yep the Greens. Mainly I support their platform around social justice. Don’t get me wrong, I think taking care of the environment is important also, but mainly it is supporting under represented minorities that is the most important work we can do for society. Diversity in a word. That is the thing I most want to support.

Obviously there is one candidate in this presidential race that values this less than the other. And I was resigned to the fact that this country which I no longer even live in should get what it’s broken political system will give them. It wasn’t until the vice presidential debate that I made up my mind. The fly debate. When that fly landed on Michael Pence’s head, I knew I had to vote.

The blinding white light…

It was like a message from god. Only I don’t use the term god, let’s substitute Universe with out the in front of it as Bucky Fuller would. It was a message from Universe, that I had to do something.

Just like that fly thought Mike Pence’s head was a light bulb, the light bulb lit for me that I had to do something. I was also seeing my own close relativities announcing on Facebook they were voting, and some of them appeared to be voting for the other guy, so that was another factor, but the fly was the tipping point. It wasn’t like I was undecided on who I wanted to vote for, but I hadn’t even really considered voting up until that point. I couldn’t wait to get down to the post office to mail in my absentee ballot.

I also couldn’t wait for Stephen Colbert to state the obvious.

I had no idea how to vote and I just googled it of course and found a website that seemed legitimate:

Read some things, printed out some forms and took them to my local post shop. The post man there was like, it’ll never make it, especially if a Republican gets a hold of it. But like a prayer I paid my 7 or 8 bucks and sent it off. Sure enough I got a message from the elections office a few days before the absentee mail in dead line with them informing me I was not registered in my former home county. And they attached the form you need to fill out and told me to just scan and email that back to us and then you can vote by email. I had to sign a waiver that my vote would not be private, but well you know who I’m voting for anyway. So I got registered and I voted by email and it was not horribly difficult.

I would call it vote for sanity.

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Local Selection Mask

I have a new quest to understand what it is. Local Selection Mask. In Krita. All I know was I was working on a digital painting, and I applied this thing and produced an effect which I liked. But it’s not part of the image it’s just how the mask looks, but it’s more an editing device than an affect applied to the image.

A Krita painting composed of several layers with green, red and light purple colouring.

I had a vision of a green painting, there were several layers of different shades of green and in the centre bottom of the image were two figures. A black and white photograph was collaged in between the layers, a portrait of two people. The photograph seemed old and worn. Of course I completely failed to capture what I saw in the vision here but I was somewhat pleased with the result. I looked for a suitable image that matched the one in my vision, but I could not find it in the creative commons or Internet archives databases I know of.

The red was not even a colour I had intended to use, and the layer comes from a random image I inserted into the painting layers I had created. The image was not working in the painting until I clicked on this Local Selection Mask option and I liked how that looked. But I could not export the image the way it looked with the mask applied so I just took a screen shot of it.

Well we are fortunate to live in a country where red is not a bad colour politically. Green is more my colour but the reds are not terrible, like they are elsewhere. I dedicate my humble digital artwork to their success. And to Chloe’s win, that was amazing.

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TheWork

There is work and then there is TheWork. Work is what you do to make money and make a living. TheWork is something personal that is important to you and may even define you. For some lucky few people work and TheWork may be one and the same. For most others I believe there is a blending of things.

What goes into TheWork?

Indeed the more I think about it, for those great artists who spring to mind like Picasso, Monet, Dalí etc… They spent their lives on TheWork. Art for them was their primary occupation. Well, and maybe gardening. They did not have to work somewhere else during the day is what I am trying to say. It does not have to be art of course, in science you might think of Einstein being someone who spent his life on TheWork. David Bowie would be another, sure he was involved in other forms of art like acting, but generally TheWork for him was a body of music. Not to mention political figures which I won’t. Ok, Abraham Lincoln springs to mind. When you look at a politicians career you see there are many aspects to the job, but there may be one cause or another that would be TheWork for them. We could just call this your passion, but that would upset my Venn diagram. Passion sounds kind of corny also, let’s call it TheWork. Or if you are not a very good typist, TheWrok.

A “normal” person is more likely to be working for a living, but also may have this side hustle we call TheWork. Side hustle is one way to think about it, but that implies the purpose is financial gain. Which is clearly not always the case. Ok this may be stretching “normal” but thinking beyond these high profile cases, the first person I think of who fits in this category of having a day job and on their own time working on TheWork, is Henry Darger. Darger was not creating art as a profession. But there was an artistic vision and an enormous body of work that he felt compelled to create.

Not to say TheWork wasn’t influenced by his work, or at least by what he observed in his day job. So possibly there is an argument to be made that he falls in this third category I propose which is: people who work, but there is some synergy between the work they do to earn a living and TheWork which is their artistic practice. I am not only thinking about artists, but just everyone in general. Every person has some thing that makes them unique, some interest that is theirs alone to keep.

TheWork may be a religious conviction or an intellectual pursuit. It may be a competitive desire to be the best at some thing or another. Often it is that creative impulse to be an artist. Whatever it is we all have it — that thing that drives us — keeps us striving toward some goal.

For many of us it is a desire to communicate. Communicate the intangible mundane things about life. To write, to paint, to perform and be heard. This is why we create art. Is there a reason for it all? A point to this thing called life? There are many religious and philosophical answers to this question. Of course Douglas Adams ultimately solved it, and I note now that the answer is also Jackie Robinson’s number. Was there a point to this? No, not really, this is a blog no one reads and I can write what I want.

I believe in chance operations. It is like a religion for me. What is consulting the oracle but a chance operation. Should I cast the yarrow stalks? It’s too complicated just look at twitter. This is what caught my attention as I scrolled through a few tweets.

I’m not sure why I even found this interesting. It was more the fact that someone was looking into this, that I found interesting. It rekindled my own interest in the sociology of the Internet. Some of the other articles on the site were more interesting to me, and I read and dug a bit more until I found the “Founders Statement” page here.

She cites another piece as contributing to the inspiration for starting this publication:

by Marc Andreessen

And the mention of the “Information Gap” has my mental gears spinning up. It’s got me thinking about how I’ve spent the past 10 years. The past 20 years really. Starting with an idea about creating a website called newimprovedmedia.com. To explore and connect with this new found Internet publishing technology. In the beginning I didn’t know anything. Didn’t even know how to register a domain name. But I learned, and have continued to learn and now have been working in it — what you would call the IT industry — for over 15 of those years. It’s a living but I still want to get back to that original idea. Back to TheWork. Just what it is I am still not quite sure, but it something akin to this “Rest Of World” publication.