It's time for a new bot! Unlike my Trove bots, this one isn't useful or even historical; it's just for fun. @TTAships tweets out an image of a spaceship (mostly), once(ish) a day.
Putting the AI into Airminded
Recently I've been playing around with AI-generated images. This is far less impressive than it may sound: there's a small community on Twitter and elsewhere doing this stuff already, many using scripts and tutorials which mean you don't need any more skill than the ability to log in to Google Colab, type in some keywords and hit execute. The particular AI model I'm using is VQGAN+CLIP. The AI doesn't 'know' anything about anything, to begin with, but (as I understand it) it trains from a huge image dataset drawn from the internet (imagenet_16384 seems to work best for me) and uses the associated text metadata to iteratively generate images which could be described by your keywords. You can also try starting from (or aiming towards) a selected image (which I haven't tried yet). I let them run for 500 iterations which seems to be enough to converge to something stable.
The results are usually almost, but not quite entirely, unlike whatever it is that you have in mind: not so much an uncanny valley as a whole uncanny landscape with uncanny hills, uncanny trees, uncanny streams, and uncanny clouds. (Actually it does very well with clouds.) I've got a thread going on Twitter of mostly aviation-related images; here are some that I find interesting.
The first prompt I tried was 'a phantom airship'. And it's pretty good! Like any good phantom airship, meaning is in the eye of the beholder, but to me that looks something like an airship floating over an impressionistic grand house with trees, mountains and clouds....continue reading
Daddy, what did YOU do in the climate emergency?
Heavy rains are finally starting to extinguish the distastrous bushfires that covered a last part of eastern Australia during the last couple of months (and of course, bringing floods). Back while they were still burning, James Raynes tweeted a series of images he adapted from Australian recruitment posters from the First World War, which I think lampoon the state of right-wing climate politics in this country rather brilliantly:
The reason why they're so clever is that they subvert denialist arguments against effective climate action by redeploying them against Australia's most sacred myth: Anzac. The above image, for example, points out that on the argument that Australia's carbon emissions are so much smaller than those of the United States or China that reducing them will make no difference, then logically we shouldn't have bothered sending our tiny army against Germany's much bigger one, either. Check out Raynes's other images below (the Boer War credits one is particularly amusing).
It's been nearly four weeks since I farewelled my friends and left Armidale, which somehow seems both very recent and very distant. Before I left, I'd planned to post some of my favourite photos of the town, but in the press of events didn't manage to. And after, I found it difficult to decide which in fact were my favourites! But here are some that I like.
From Web 1.0 to the Golden Age of Aviation
This a Boeing (Stearman) Model 75, built in 1941 for use as a primary trainer for the US Army Air Forces. After a postwar career in the US as a cropduster, it was registered in Australia as VH-JLW and is now operated by Fleet Adventures, based at Armidale Regional Airport. And last Friday, as a surprise, and very touching, farewell present from my friends (aided and abetted by my partner), I flew in it!
And back again
In two weeks from today I'll be leaving Armidale for good, and heading back to Melbourne, my hometown. It's mostly for excellent personal reasons, but in part it's also because of the usual early-career academic story of precarious employment. My colleagues at the University of New England have supported me as much they could, but work is drying up and it's clear that any kind of secure position is, at best, a long way off. In addition, with a faculty restructure and as a casual, access to research support is increasingly limited (unfortunately, I had to give up my KCL fellowship). So, after 5 years it's time to leave.
Not that there's a job waiting for me down south, but there are five or six times as many universities in Melbourne as there are in Armidale, so that must help my chances! In the short term I'll have to readjust to life as an independent historian again. I will continue to research and to write, including as part of the Heritage of the Air project, and attend conferences when I can (starting with the International Society for First World War Studies conference in Melbourne, as it happens). Airminded will likely see more activity than it has in the past few years, too.
I will miss my friends here in Armidale. But there's a lot to look forward to in Melbourne!
Keep calm and disburse contiguum
With war comes confusion, and with confusion comes a need for clarity. So it was with simple, determined messages like this that the National Office of Information kept the undersieged civilians of Britain in a robust frame of mind during the teething pains of the Second World War.
The language may be arcane, but the message is plain: disburse contiguum against yet the most squamous bulwark. Firm and reassuringly steadfast, it is a call to action that still resonates today, during times of national pandæmonium. Will Self has a tattoo of this poster on his tongue.
Source: National Office of Importance.
A tweet from William J. Turkel alerted me to the possibility of using 18th century-style fonts in LaTeX. The most noticeable difference from modern typesetting is the long s, but there are different ligatures too. There are a number of ways to do it but the easiest way is with the inbuilt Kepler Fonts package. (The Fell Types are far prettier, but look difficult, or at least tedious, to install. Font management is one of LaTeX's biggest weaknesses.) Just insert the following in your preamble and you're done:
Well, almost. This simply replaces every s with a long s, which is not right. Most importantly, long s is generally not used at the end of a word, so you need to replace these with 's='. Here's what the first paragraph of my thesis looks like when done this way:
I wish I'd known about this before submitting it.
When did people wearing monocles stop being taken seriously in public life?
Noel Pemberton Billing, independent candidate for Hertford, in 1916. From N. Pemberton-Billing, Air War: How to Wage It (London: Gale & Polden, 1916).
That was unexpected
Today, I was reading an account of the Cambridge Scientists' Anti-War Group in Gary Werskey, The Visible College (London: Allen Lane, 1978). On p. 230 I came across the following passage:
The Association of Scientific Workers strongly endorsed their work,48 as did J. B. S. Haldane.
I turned to the endnotes to check the reference, and found the following:
48. B. Holman, 'Anti-gas Research', Scientific Worker, vol. 10 (April 1937), pp. 150-52.
I don't think I actually need this, but I'm tempted to track it down just to see what the B stands for!