📙 #023 - Slow Computing, Kitty Writes
I've been working towards a thing. I'm not sure exactly what that thing is, but I kinda have the shape of it. It also feels like a thing I can explore for the next few years, which is pretty exciting.
I haven't found a way to describe it yet, but here are four threads/ideas/paths I'm following that I hope meet up at some point. They're a little scattershot, but fingers-crossed, they make some kind of sense.
# 1. Slow Computing
I've always been fascinated with the idea of Slow Computing, which, for my purposes, is "Stuff the computer can do while I'm sleeping". It always seemed a bit of a waste to me that when we finish the day and close the laptop, it means it's also finished for the day. I want it to spend a good few hours going through my email, newsletters I'm subscribed to, and files I've been working on to find ways to help me. Even if that's "Do you want me to file these things away? Here are some interesting emails, and do you want to say yes or no to this thing?".
I don't want it to be fast; I want it to be deep and triple-checked.
# 2. Little Printer
About ten years ago, BERG (British Experimental Rocket Group) created the Little Printer. A cute little "Internet of Things" printer that grew out of the idea of (basically) a better fax machine, with smaller, more tuckable in-your-pocket/purse/wallet printouts. One of the appealing parts of it was that you could connect to your friends and then send messages and images to them. Unlike fax machines open to anyone with the number, you had to jump through several Web2 hoops to prove you knew each other.
Another appealing thing was that it could sit in places away from your computer. We popped ours in the kitchen, and now and then, a message would pop out from someone I knew.
One aspect of Little Printer was the ability to sign up for services that'd send you daily or weekly digests, often overnight, so it'd be waiting for you in the morning.
Sadly, the Little Printer shut down a couple of years later.
# 3. Journaling - Questions & Reflections
Meanwhile, I've had Kitty, my AI PA (powered by ChatGPT), helping me in the studio for about four months. Mainly by asking me lots of questions about my day's plans at the start, how those plans panned out at the end, and random "What are you doing now?" questions throughout the day.
The fun part is that at the end of each week (and month), Kitty bundles up all the questions and answers and gives me a summary, patterns it's spotted and anything that stands out as new, interesting or different this week compared to previous weeks.
At the end of the month, Kitty gathers a whole month's worth of stuff and gives me a list of five ideas for projects, five productivity tips, and an employee of the month certificate with whatever it thinks my most outstanding achievement was. Because I think it's funny, but also because I like the validation 😅
Of course, Kitty does this overnight, costing me about $4 in API usage.
# 4. Handwriting
Most of you will know my attempts to work with generative handwriting. Pushing beyond a "handwriting font" to a point where, given a sample of someone's handwriting, the code can form new-ish letters based on the ones it knows. The handwriting will never stray far from the original; the personality remains, but each letter is somewhat unique within that range.
I now have a version of my own handwriting, which is passable, a couple of cursive styles and one "block letters" one (basically the opposite of joined-up-writing, rather than ALL UPPERCASE). I've assigned that last one to Kitty to use.
It's not perfect, but I'm a long way down this path and feeling good about it.
# Tying the threads together
So, in all that, we have an AI that works overnight, taking its time to interrogate information in a few different ways and cross-referencing them (and accessing resources on the internet), a printer that sits on a counter surface, and a generative handwriting system.
Earlier this week, I set up a dedicated pen plotter on the desk next to me that Kitty can talk to directly. I tested it by asking Kitty to write me a quick cake recipe and instructions. The results didn't appear on the screen but on an index card next to me.
Having an AI that can "hand write" me notes already feels a little strange.
There's more to do; I'd love a much smaller notecard-sized plotter; the AxiDraw V3/B6 seems perfect. Some form of automatic paper feeder. The ability for friends to send Kitty quick notes to write out. A daily itinerary waiting for me in the morning could be fun.
All this stuff takes me a long time because I'm always doing a bunch of different things, but I'll keep posting updates in various places, most definitely here.
# Aging Rock Stars and Authors.
When I've been talking to people about this, one thing I keep jokingly coming back to is the perfect productisation for this is encoding ageing rock stars and authors' handwriting before their hands get too shaky (you have to do a fair amount of writing on PDFs that my system chucks out to "learn" a handwriting style). So they can continue to sell "handwritten" lyrics sheets, letters and poems long into retirement.
Interesting aside, you can't copyright handwriting style, so if you thought all the complaining about AI art was bad, wait until
I ummm, people, have AI writing new Hobbit short stories in JRR Tolkien's handwriting, with fancy quill pens 😉
I'm just joking; the Tolkien estate is still too litigious. I guess it's new Winnie-the-Pooh stories in A.A.Milne's writing instead.
# Tracing the Line
Back to the here and now. A fantastic resource for anyone who loves pen plotters or drawing machines is out now. Tracing the Line is full of my friends!!
I already know how diverse pen plotting can be, but this book brings it home. The other thing it reminds me is that while I love the whole end result of a plot, there's also something extraordinary about a blown-up plot section: the texture and details. That kind of thing becomes a whole new artwork.
I'll add exploring that to my vast list of to-do items (actually, I'll just tell Kitty I've been thinking about it and wait until it eventually appears as something to do on a notecard).
In the last newsletter, I mentioned that I had a project about to launch. I'm thrilled to report that it sold out, meaning I get to extend my "OMFG, I'm going to run out of money" runway by a couple of months.
Alba is still in the process of adding a print service, so prints will be available soon™️
I have another project coming up called MONSTRRRR on the new version of fxhash, but I'll save that for the following newsletter, which will also have a bit about another cheeky small project that will have happened.
# THE END
There, it was all musing and self-promotion this week, speaking of which.
I make "Weeknote" videos each week (a kind of explanation is here: https://medium.com/job-garden/a-pre-history-of-weeknotes-plus-why-i-write-them-and-perhaps-why-you-should-too-week-16-31a4a5cbf7b0), mainly so I can...
a) Track what I'm doing so I can remind myself when I did stuff. "When did I first do that plot?" /action quickly scrubs through several videos.
b) Have some self-accountability. They're great for realising when I've had a week going down some rabbit hole rather than what I was supposed to be doing; "Ah, I see this is the week where I became fascinated by cheese."
c) Carry on learning how to edit video and not hate the sound of my own voice while doing so.
...I know it's almost become part of some people's weekly Friday evening, catching up on whatever nonsense I've done this week (usually me looking into the camera going, "I don't really know what I'm doing"). But it's not everyone's cup of tea.
However, even if you don't usually watch them, I'd say give the one above a try; it's nice and short, and I don't even talk in it, making it even better 😁
Right, that's it, time to go.
See you again soon; love you all