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Two Decades

Two decades of largely living digitally. Two points in time where we all take a reality check. Thinking back to my twenty year ago self, I would never have guessed that I would be half way around the world and marking the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 by getting my second dose of vaccine to help protect against a virus causing a global pandemic. The fact that America was attacked by terrorists and that a global pandemic has happened are not surprising to me, I saw the warning signs for both well before they happened. Still no less shocking when these terrible things ultimately manifest. Things are not going to get much better I’m afraid. The cycle of violence in the world is set to continue. It may have been hundred years since the last major pandemic, but then next one might not stay in abeyance that long. What can you do. We can try to use less electricity. Burn less oil. I don’t think we are going to do a very good job of it. One thing I set out to do after the 9/11 attacks was to not own a car. I’ve only been partially successful in doing that. I share a car with my wife. I don’t drive to work, but she does. I still consume a great deal of electricity. My work is on the Internet and this is powered by electricity, with out the Internet well, I guess I would get by, but my life as I know it would be very different. I couldn’t make this digital collage for instance:

coalesce-Sep-11-2021-389.jpg

I wouldn’t be making “generative art” which twenty years ago I was just beginning to comprehend. I didn’t quite understand it as an art-form at that point but I was thinking about it. Now I have a daily art practice. I create at least 400 digital collages a day. Most of them going unseen, but when I get chance I try to review them and pick out my favourites. I’ve devised a scale for picking out the ones I think work well. Some people worry about taking copyrighted images off the Internet, but do traditional collage artists worry about where they get their material? If you are cutting up magazines to create collages do you worry about violating copyright? Maybe you are not scanning those collages and putting them online and trying to sell them. As electricity consuming NFTs no less. Let’s just say I will claim fair dealing if anyone asks. And go from there.

My goal is to begin working on floydwilde.gallery, inspired a great deal by this website:

I believe we need more sites like these that are just fun and promote the digital arts. There is blank piece of digital paper in front of me. More than that an empty digital space that I want to fill. The only problem is that I need to consume electricity to fill it. It’s purely a selfish need. I need art in my life and I want to curate it on my own terms. I’m doing research on green web hosting and advocating for it where I can. But I need power. Let’s just try to use less of it. One idea for a art project is to have a site that is not always on… A website that is only available for 8 hours a day for instance, and then shuts itself down. It’s a art site, not a commerce site, where you need to buy buy buy at all times. Make money while you are sleeping, is that your dream? Ha, see what I did there. Ok that’s enough writing for today.

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Chance Operations

One incentive for myself to write here more often, is that in the RSS reader that Coalesce.me draws upon to create the daily cutup, is a subscription to this very blog. I’ve idly thought about writing a script to go through and pull out random images from my personal photo collection and collage them together in some way. If I put some images into this post, there is a chance they will be selected for the daily cutup.

The National Museum of China

But how to select a random image? Well, are large portion of the photos I have taken, mainly w/ my Canon EOS M10, are in my ~/Pictures folder. So a quick google around for “linux filesytem pick random file” I found a suitable command mentioned here:

The actual recommended way did not work for me, but further down in the comments someone suggested using “shuf” which is a command I used in the cutup script also.

[email protected]:~$ find Pictures/ -type f | shuf -n1
Pictures/2017/08/24/IMG_6352.JPG

Yielded the photo I took from the inside of the National Museum of China a few years ago.

Sunset in New Zealand

It gives me a way to explore my photos directory and potentially insert them into the collage maker. It’s a slim chance but you can’t win if you don’t play. Unless it’s the lotto, in which case I agree with Fran Lebowitz on your chances there. Out of the 400 images generated each day, I usually only look at about 40 or 50 to insert into the daily cutup. But on some days like today, I’ll look at a few more. The ones that didn’t make it, like this one.

I should probably do something more productive with my time. But I don’t have much of it, time that it is, on this sunny and warm spring day. Above is image #1 generated today. Works for me as a basic digital collage. Here is #400, the last in the batch:

Welp, that is all the time I have for day. Someone just opened my door and said, “It’s a Norwegian Blue”. Time to go.

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Today’s Favourite Collage

Everyday I take random images from my RSS reader, and composite them with random options fed into ImageMagick. Which I’ve mentioned before. WordPress really doesn’t have a way interlinking posts does it? Anyway.

Just looking at the blocks of things you can do w/ WordPress, oh look a verse block. I did start writing a poem the other day.

Standing on the shoulders of giants
First of all they are not giants
They were just regular people like you and me
Sure, some of them were taller than others
But the point is they were just human like the rest of us
They may have been smarter or more talented 
But altogether human
And we are not standing on them, we are learning from them

Something like that, I’ve already thought up 1 or 2 other versions. Starting a few days ago in the shower. That is where poetry comes from. Not some muse or inspiration, it’s the shower.

So I didn’t start out planning to write that, but there it just happened. What I really wanted to write about is the collage selection process. In the daily cutup I don’t have a way yet of inserting the collages randomly. And honestly it’s just a crap shoot everyday, which is why the 400 are created. Sometimes the options don’t work and a collage is not really created. I’m certainly not saying my process is perfect, it’s just the best I could do in the time that I have. But sometimes the options do work and I’m pleased with the way several images are composited together. It’s quite a time consuming task to go through the images and judge which ones worked best. I’ve spent many hours looking at the images and trying to come up with a scale. The scale I came up w/ is called VOCA, for Vibe, Originality, Composition and Aesthetic.

The VOCA scale.

So if I really had time, I would first quickly go through and select my favourites. Then from my favourites narrow down to a even smaller batch, the short-list, and then judge them on the scale. And that is how I would choose which one I would make into a NFT, my selection for June 6th here.

I’m done with the NFTs for now though. Now I have decided to just focus on my blog here. It’s time to write and just journal things here for now. I am of course interested in what’s going on here:

But not enough to learn how to use Tezos and a new blockchain wallet etc… Oh, I just randomly found an article from one of my new favourite sites looking for that. There is so much interesting stuff going on in the world…

Anyhow Today’s favourite collage on the VOCA scale. Also I cheated and only looked at the last 100 or so collages, but this is what I came up with:

https://coalesce.me/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/coalesce-Sep-05-2021-319.jpg

Vibe: You know the vibe of the thing. How does it make it you feel? This image above had the vibe of the collage of the day.

Originality: Does it take the source material and do something new with it? Does it look unique? I think this image scored higher on that:

https://coalesce.me/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/coalesce-Sep-05-2021-313.jpg

Where the first image has more recognizable elements from the source material. I mean you can recognise a chair in 313 but there is a still from the upcoming Dune movie which forms the basis of the 319 collage. And if you look closely the other figure superimposed on the man in the hat is Jemain Clement from What We Do In The Shadows. I don’t normally like recognisable people in the collages but it’s unavoidable and the composition on the left side of the image is good. Could use more work on the right side, where it’s interesting but just the set design of the film coming through.

Composition: Do all the elements of the collage work well together? Are they combined in an interesting way that doesn’t look like a random computer program assembled it? Having a hard time finding an example of that today, but this might have a higher score in that area:

https://coalesce.me/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/coalesce-Sep-05-2021-299.jpg

Okay it still looks a bit random, but there is some sort of composition there. There are hard edges from the layered images, but they work better than in the first or second images. And finally:

Aesthetic: Basically, does it look nice? Do the colours work?

The above images would also score highly for me in this category. I think the blues and reds work well together and there is some nice patterns in there. In fact I think 299 might be my favourite of the day. There was one more I think deserves honourable mention:

https://coalesce.me/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/coalesce-Sep-05-2021-388.jpg

I mean it looks like there is a Apple watch in there, you can’t get much more aesthetic than that right? Since I don’t have time to go through the 400 collages each day, I just randomly upload an assortment which get put into the daily cutup. The last one here, 388 was included in that batch but the other three I have mentioned here, 299, 313 and 319 were not and on most days they would just go ignored and unseen. Since today I have some time I was able to go through all the images and pick some favourites.

So you tell me, what the hell is this? A waste of time. Well be that as it may, it happens. This is how I consume and regurgitate the Internet in 2021 and try to make art.

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Too lazy to categorize

Some cats I’d like to buy

Searching for collage on OpenSea this morning, I found:

https://opensea.io/assets/matic/0x2953399124f0cbb46d2cbacd8a89cf0599974963/47381297343834251554447485538334712152815840020733518414048122919960551882753/

The first time I tried to buy it the gas cost was around $60. I waited a few minutes and then it went up again. I guess I’ll come back later.

This photography is amazing:

Today an interesting title:

I had never heard of the Haim sisters. I enjoyed this live set from last year:

Today I am learning me some Kubernettes.

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Express yourself

This is a concept that is easier said than done. Although it certainly brings this song to mind.

You have to choose your art form. Mine happens to look something like this today.

https://coalesce.me/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/coalesce-Sep-04-2021-364.jpg

A collage which was generated for, but not included in the daily cutup. One of 400 collages I generated today. Why? Why not, someone has to do it. That is my philosophy anyway, about digital collage. Like the mountain when asked why he climbs mountains. Because it’s there.

https://coalesce.me/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/coalesce-Sep-04-2021-394.jpg

For me it’s the adoption of an art practice that keeps me going. No one else would be looking at these images and constructing this textual sculpture in exactly this way. The generated text seems to be a narrative. It’s not, but my mind wants to make it into one. With out any real conscious effort it tries to make connections and meaning.

I reach out and she clasps my hand. “Stay same thing. Someday, maybe.”

I visualise a scene in some unmade Anime, a women shot, in broken English farewells her would be foreign lover. I don’t mind telling you the text for the titles are plucked out from a mass of text, which is later further processed and recombined.

Los Angeles polite post assumes that this will be the result of these changes of dual workers and caregivers, and some “gender baggage” will have an impact because they can escape people from provoking future wealthy people. Shot, she took my hand. “Keep it as it is. One day, maybe.”

This text has been shuffled and translated in and out of Chinese, but you can recognize some of the source material is the same. It’s rough text that doesn’t really make sense. The point is to de-construct the text and recombine it in an unexpected way. A way to generate new ideas. A daily oracle based on the text and images being published on the Internet, that I might look at but don’t have the time. Digested and regurgitated into a slightly gross pattern. There is no meaning but what you make of it — what you can derive from it. It’s just a thing that I do, a service I provide.

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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.