📙 #007 - What happens when you summon a demon with your pen plotter?





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📙 #007 - What happens when you summon a demon with your pen plotter?
By Daniel Catt • Issue #7 • View online
Last week I took my own advice, whisked myself off to a hotel in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales and took a few days planning and reflecting. 
The part that stuck with me from this trip was the gardens.
Which triggered a whole train of conciseness which I swear I’m going to try and keep as short and bullet-pointy as possible this week

Gardens as Alchemy
In Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, there’s a section about those fancy gardens in stately homes being somewhat of a magical incantation. A garden can be “read” as a spell from its start to end, the angles of the paths, the way they trace through the land, the earth, water, air and fire of the plant types in their arrangement and the sculptures put in place.
Each part of the garden contains symbols and meanings revealing secrets when understood correctly and followed.
It makes for a fantastic plot point, but I suspect there are no insights to be found in the rhododendron, no matter how deep you go.
But it did get me in the mood for alchemy, something I’ve mentioned before in this interview on generativehut: https://www.generativehut.com/post/interview-with-dan-catt
The set of rules used to convert words to sigils vs our sets of rules to convert code into lines.
“In the above example of the Rosicrucian cypher, from the book "Sigils, Ciphers and Scripts” (highly recommended), you can see the logical steps taken to get from the name “Micheal” to the final design, which has code and pen plotting written all over it. 
I think it’d be fun to have the pen plotter endlessly creating mystical incantations and circles, attempting in its way to cast spells and bring forth magic.“
9 Billion Names of God
The Nine Billion Names of God is a short story by Arthur C. Clarke; you can find the whole thing over here: https://urbigenous.net/library/nine_billion_names_of_god.html, and you can find a good summary, along with a little bit of maths over here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nine_Billion_Names_of_God
Without spoiling the ending (which is a good one), the story’s main thrust is a group of monks enlisting the help of a computer to, well, iterate and print out all the possible names of God. A task well suited to “modern” computers, compared to the method of doing it by hand they’d been using for the previous three centuries.
It’s interesting to note that the computer is called Mark V in the story, which I’m assuming is a play on “Markov chain”, Markov/Mark V.
Remixing Noon
Markov chaining is a [google says] “is a stochastic model describing a sequence of possible events in which the probability of each event depends only on the state attained in the previous event.
I’ve written an explainer here: “Notes on remixing Noon, generative text and Markov chains.”
One way I explain it is by stating I’ve thrown loads of fairy tales into a system, then say “Once upon a” and ask you to predict what the next word will be. You’ll probably say “time”. You’re guessing the next word based on the previous ones and your experience with fairy tales. We then move on to “upon a time”, next word is probably “there” at which point the sentence may continue with either “was” or “were”, as in “Once upon a time there was a…” or “Once upon a time there were…”, at this point we’ve got a split and there’s nothing more ahead except forks and probability.
Each time you give it three words, it looks up all the following possible words it’s seen and then randomly picks one based on how often they all show up. So you have a new set of three words, two of the previous ones and your new one, repeat forever.
You can see an example of it in action here: https://revdancatt.github.io/CAT780-remixing-noon/
Where Markov chains break down is that it can only give you the next-words that it’s seen. Meanwhile, recent Neural Networks and AI learning systems have jumped to “understanding” the connection between words and strings them together in a much more coherent fashion.
Tools for assisted writing
Robin Sloan wrote about “Writing with the machine” back in 2016. Going back further to 2012, we have @Horse_ebooks tweeting, “Everything happens so much,”, more here by Kaitlyn Tiffany.
More recently, I’ve been using GitHub’s Copilot to sit alongside me as I write code, and it’s slightly spooky how good it gets after dealing with your code for a few days. It made me laugh out loud with delight the other day when I was going through the monotonous task of entering co-ordinates I would need to join up lines to make, well, glyphs, and after the first four, it was “Oh, I see the pattern here, the next nine are going to be this…” and it was right.
Tools for assisted illustration
VLOG #016 - My Midjourney Journey, using an inspiration machine
VLOG #016 - My Midjourney Journey, using an inspiration machine
I made a video (https://youtu.be/TVBbFEQyQFI) about using Midjourney as an “Inspiration Machine”, a phrase coined by Amy Goodchild: https://www.amygoodchild.com/ 
An AI that makes images for you based on whatever you type in. So we now have AIs that…
  • Write stories for you
  • Creates illustrations based on words
  • Writes code
There will no doubt be whole sections of Amazon print-on-demand children’s books created by AI.
The more exciting part is throwing an editor into the mix and having an AI understand words, character arcs, and story structure.
AI Sigils and Symbols
Why spend all that pesky time creating glyphs, sigils and symbols and combining them into magic circles and incantations when you can train an AI on a whole corpus of them. Your witches familiar is now the front-end of a cloud computing system, [meow].
Why spend all that pesky time writing them out when you have a handy robot that can hold a pen and draw for you.
Generative Glyphs
While I haven’t gone down that rabbit hole yet, I brushed off some old code (and let GitHub Copilot finish some of it) that connects lines in a glyph-like fashion. Breaking some apart here and there, appending circles and squares as it sees fit.
It’s been a while since I published a new tool, it’s unfinished, unoptimised and generally designed for just me to use, but if you scroll down to tool #042 over here: https://revdancatt.com/penplotter/ you can spit out your own SVGs full of glyph like shapes.
My robot has been spending a few hours endlessly writing out symbol after symbol; tomorrow, I’ll set it away on a huge A1 sheet of paper tasked with drawing thousands of them.
So if you don’t hear from me for a while, please send for the Hex Girls
And this is where you end up when you spend a few days in a hotel with a fancy garden.
Looks like I’m going to need to do something about that Instagram. It was so much easier when it was just photos, but Reels, good Reels, that’s hard work each day, but we’ll give it ago.
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Daniel Catt

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