Virtual remake

June 16th, 2019

As machine learning advances, it becomes progressively easier to transfer styles from one work of art to another. For example, if you supply enough side-by-side examples of photographs and impressionist paintings of those photographs, an ML algorithm will then be able to produce an impressionist painting from any photo.

I’ve been wondering whether we will eventually be able to broaden the reach of ML for style transfer. For example, suppose we took the brilliant 1934 film The Thin Man starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Many young people today might find that film inaccessible. It’s in black and white, the styles, attitudes and cultural variations are more than eight decades old, and the humorous banter and double-entendres that once worked so well might seem incomprehensible to Millennials.

But suppose we could run that movie through a style-transfer machine. Instead of a brilliant 1934 film, we might get a brilliant 2019 film. The algorithm would find a modern equivalent for every clever line of dialog, every flirtatious look, every subtlety of class distinction.

We might very well end up with a modern classic. Or maybe it wouldn’t work at all — maybe the result would be simply painful to watch.

That would be interesting too. After all, an outright failure might suggest an upper limit on the powers of machine intelligence to replicate the nuances of human culture.

Day of rest

June 15th, 2019

It’s been so long since I took a day to rest and recover from the craziness. I had forgotten what it feels like to chill just for a little while, rather than working like crazy, all the while running around making a mad dash from one thing to another.

Today I finally allowed myself to slow down, be with people I love, and take in the wonder of simply being alive.

I am happy to report that it feels great.


June 14th, 2019

New Yorkers rush by
Like a flurry of snowflakes
Each one is unique

Dinner conversation

June 13th, 2019

I was having dinner with a friend this evening. At one point my friend said “Maybe I’m just terrified of life.”

I considered my answer carefully. Clearly my friend was sharing something very important with me, and it was important to be respectful of that.

“Yes,” I replied, “life is the second most terrifying thing.”

It turns out that we both heartily agreed on that point.

Books as gifts

June 12th, 2019

A book is rarely the most expensive gift you can get someone. Sure, you can give somebody a first edition, and that is an entire thing unto itself.

But when you just gift somebody a book simply because you think they will enjoy reading it, you’re making a powerful statement. You are saying things about the receiver of the gift, but also about yourself.

Books are very flexible as gift objects. I like to give books to help celebrate a friendship that is doing well, but also as a balm when a friendship is in trouble.

Of course the book itself is not the true gift. The true gift is the thought and care that went into choosing just the right book.

Assuming, of course, that the recipient knows how to read between the lines.

Only those

June 11th, 2019

only those you love
can truly cause you sorrow
that’s why you love them

On the use of bad puns

June 10th, 2019

I have a tendency, when I find myself in a room where everybody is being very serious, to not be serious. Sometimes this gets me into trouble. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Today I was in a strategy meeting, and somebody pulled out a document. “These,” he explained solemnly, “are the four pillars that underlie our strategy.”

Everybody looked very serious. After all, these were the four pillars.

“Oh good,” I said, probably without having given it sufficient thought, “I love pillar talk.”

Fortunately, everybody laughed. Bullet dodged.

Maybe somebody should do a study on the use of bad puns to lighten up a serious mood. When do they work? And when are they just a BAD IDEA?

Or maybe somebody could just write about all of the bad puns suggested by the phrase “pillar talk”. It’s worth at least a column.

Algorithms and immortality

June 9th, 2019

There is something philosophically interesting about coming up with a new algorithm. I’m thinking about this right now because I came up with one just today, whilst trying to solve a research problem.

I created this algorithm for a very specific purpose. But it’s also very general. So there’s a good chance it is going to be used by other people for other purposes.

And here is where it all gets interesting. In all likelihood, many of those people will find clever new uses for this algorithm — uses I would never have thought of — long after I’m gone from this earth.

Which means that an algorithm is, in a funny way, a kind of immortality. When you give the world a new thought or idea, you are passing down your intellectual DNA, setting it free to mingle with the intellectual DNA of future generations.

Well ok, it’s not literal immortality. But it’s still pretty good.

Credit sequence

June 8th, 2019

I really love the opening animation sequence for Good Omens. That sequence was created by Peter Anderson Studio in London. It captures the flavor of the show perfectly.

The character animation style in that sequence is a direct quote of the groundbreaking character animation style of the video for Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men. That earlier music video was created in 2012 by WeWereMonkeys in Montreal, run by Mihai Wilson and Marcella Moser.

As far as I can tell, there is no connection whatsoever between the two sets of creators. It seems that the highly innovative style of the earlier piece was simply lifted wholesale to create the later piece.

I realize that there are no copyright laws protecting “style”. Still, the whole thing gives me an uneasy feeling. As far as I can tell, something truly new and innovative was simply taken from its original creators, and my gut tells me that there should have been some sort of legal protection for those original creators.

Perhaps I am wrong, and there was indeed some sort of collaboration between the two studios. If so, that would be delightfully good news.


June 7th, 2019

No you won’t go all at once
There are hints, intimations
Someone whispers in your ear
Gives you the cheat code
When nobody’s looking

One day maybe
A piece goes missing
Nothing too important
A tiny detail
In the vast mosaic

But this time you notice
And something you’d heard
About a friend of a friend
Comes back to haunt you
Then it all comes together

No you won’t go all at once
But one day you wake up and know
In the marrow of your bones
That sooner or later
You will go