Sudowrite: Writing with Artificial Intelligence

Robin Sloan described a process for “writing with the machine” back in 2016 that I tried in 2019. The interesting part of doing it yourself is that you could select the corpus that the A.I. was trained on and get writing in that style of subspecialty. But, it took a bit of work to set-up correctly, and these text generative models have gotten a lot better with GPT and other efforts.

So, if you have never tried writing with A.I., and it will likely become a standard feature in word processors and text editors within five years or so, you can try Sudowrite, which makes the whole process easy to set-up and try out.

Success: Deserve Has Nothing to Do With It

“It’s fashionable now to object on principle to the idea that writing is hard. Writing isn’t hard, this camp says; working in coal mines is hard. Having a baby is hard. But this is a category error. Writing isn’t hard the way physical labor, or recovery from surgery, is hard; it’s hard the way math or physics is hard, the way chess is hard. What’s hard about art is getting any good—and then getting better. What’s hard is solving problems with infinite solutions and your finite brain.

….The thing about success, good fortune, and maybe even happiness is this: You can see that there are people who “deserve” whatever you have as much as you do but have less, as well as people who “deserve” it less or equally and have more. So, at the same time, you want more and feel you don’t deserve what you have. It’s a source of anxiety, guilt, and resentment and troubles the very idea of what one “deserves.” In the end I believe you don’t deserve anything; you get what you get.”

-Elisa Gabbert, “Why Write?The Paris Review. July 6, 2022

A number of nice nuggets in this piece. The second paragraph reminded me of that scene from The Unforgiven.

Black Hole as Metaphor for Climate Change

“Imagine a black hole. Humanity’s lined up before it. Everyone has to march through. Some are at the front of the line. They reach the other side first. Some are at the back of the line. They’re still laughing and joking and pretending, maybe. Nobody much hears from those who’ve gone through, because, well, it’s a black hole. But on the other side, nothing is ever to be the same again.

This is where we are now. We are at the threshold of the Cataclysm. Some of us are now crossing over to the other side, of a different planet, one that’s going to become unlivable. This isn’t “going to happen” or “might happen,” it is actually happening now.

Those are my friends, for example, in the Indian Subcontinent, where eagles are falling dead from the sky, where the streets are lined with dead things.

Extinction. The Event. You can literally see it happening there.

They are the first ones through the Event Horizon, if you like — the lip of the black hole. They are canaries in the coal mine, my Indian and Pakistani and Bengali friends. They are on the other side, and are experiencing the world in the Event. And that world is coming for us all.

-Umair Haque, “The Age of Extinction Is Here — Some of Us Just Don’t Know It Yet.” eand.co. May 21, 2022.

There’s a couple of things about this article that struck me. For one, while I’m not a physicist, I’m pretty sure a black hole would represent total annihilation. It’s not some kind of phase change. So, it’s a bad metaphor.

Good metaphors use relatable experiences. Some that occur to me is climate change is like having a heart attack. Climate change is like fighting in a war. Climate change is like a Super Fund site. All of these have tradeoffs in effectively communicating an idea, but at least people understand them from their personal experience or from the experiences from those around them. But a black hole? It’s clear the author doesn’t really understand what it means, and the audience probably less so.

The other thing is that while I fundamentally agree with the author’s point, climate change and the current state of geopolitics, suggests that we, as a species, are in for a very hard time ahead. But, what’s the take-away for the reader? No sense in driving now? Ship has already sailed, nothing to do. Train has left the station?

Perhaps these are true. if so, then why even talk about it? If you cannot do anything about the problem, you must bear it. What point is there in talking about it?

Online Techno-Polymath Guy

“I was discussing with Sam the “genre,” so to speak, of the Online Techno-Polymath Guy. You know this guy. He (and it’s usually a he) has his own website, probably hand-crafted in Kirby, Github, or WordPress, as well as a well-regarded, personable Twitter presence. 

He keeps track of everything he reads, writes pithy blog posts on esoteric subjects. His personal philosophy is progressive with a futurist bent.  He has worked in a variety of fields, though you are unsure what he actually currently does for a living. He is knowledgeable, authoritative, but eccentric, which you can tell by the fun colors he’s used to design his fun little homepage. 

You can have fun clicking around his carefully maintained archive, witnessing the dynamic interplay of his disparate areas of interest. You can ooh and ahh at his reading lists, his quirky, inventive stances on issues like quantum computing and social media moderation. 

It’s all very inspirational.”

-Allegra Rosenberg, “Fear of the Archive.” tchotchke.substack.com. July 29, 2020.

When I read this, I thought I’d probably met the definition of this archetype for this person. Then, he goes on to say this.

“Better to be inconstant in one’s archiving (or forgo it completely) than to constantly be faced with the dirty dishes, the nauseating, living ‘matter’ of one’s past interests, pasts opinions, past genius lying guilelessly buried under strata of increasing idiocy.”

The weird thing about keeping a daily blog like this one is it is a process and a bit of a discipline. Here it is on Saturday morning, and I’ve nothing on my blog for the day. What do I do?

I have a Wallabag list that I put everything interesting I came across – in newsletters, RSS feeds or from wherever. I just look for something especially interesting or that I’d like to make a short statement about or would like to remember. Curation, and sharing of the things you think are interesting in this moment is a kind of love, a sharing of oneself.

The audience for these blog posts is the future me. It’s capturing a moment, and in some future moment, stumbling across it while looking for something else, I don’t think past me is some brilliant standard I’m no longer living up to. More often than not, I’m looking at the flaws, mostly spelling and formatting mistakes, and correcting them.

You see, future me remembers some of what it was like to be past me. There are wisps of memory of that particular moment, where I wrote something or did something, but much of it gets lost. But, being able to read these bits helps me to remember. Helps me to see how I’ve grown and changed. Whereas without taking the moment to write the post, it would be forever lost, like salt in the ocean.

Memory flavors everything, but it is its own kind of experience. It is always flawed and incomplete, like trying to see ocean salt when you can only taste it.

When I look at this blog, I see a few really good things. But, most of it is very mediocre. But, Sturgeon’s Law reigns everywhere. It doesn’t have to be good. I’m allowed to say dumb things – past, present and future – because I’m a flawed human being. And, every once in awhile, there’s gold in this swill bucket. But, you never get a chance to find it if you don’t stir it on a regular basis.

Lower your standards. No effort is lost of wasted. It’s this kind of dialogue, mostly with ourselves, that makes blogging worthwhile. I recommend it to everyone.

Smol Pub

Smol Pub is tiny blogging service.

– Web interface and CLI to manage your posts.
– Accessible from Web, Gemini and Gopher.
– Storage for your images.
– Write custom CSS for web.
– Attach your custom domain with SSL.
– Export your posts.
– No JavaScript, ads, or tracking technology.

On the back of My Writing Advice post from yesterday, a suggestion. If you want a low stakes online venue to just start a daily writing practice, Smol Pub would fit the bill. It’s $5 to get a key to start using it. Try it out. It’s nothing complicated, and you could try it for 30 days (or longer) and see if it works for you.

I find WordPress easy to use. But, there is a bit of a noodling period, particularly in the beginning, where you mess around with templates and so forth. There are templates on Smol Pub too, but it looks like it is much easier to set-up.

PSA: Tics, lol

There has been plenty of discussion of verbal tics: such as standpoint modifiers, fillers, endpoint modifiers, softeners, up talk, fast talk and vocal fry. The funny thing about that kind of discussion is that it normally assumes the speaker is not aware of what they are doing and/or it reflects the speaker’s internal emotional state.

But, I have some of these problems. Sometimes, I’ll use a “softener” because the person I am talking to doesn’t like conflict. The reality is sometimes you do these things out of consideration for others, not unconsciouslessly or because of personal anxiety, insecurity or whatever.

However, I recently noticed someone that uses “lol” after every sentence in an online forum. I’ve known a few people that do that, and I’m sure you do too. It’s generally a very clear sign that there is no point interacting with that person beyond a surface level, and there isn’t much interesting they are going to say. Perhaps that is unfair, but it seems true. It’s the first writing tic that I have noticed. Now, I want to start discovering others.

Working Backwards

“The two-page (or one-page) mock press release format is also a writing genre common to Amazon, although it’s less often discussed than the six-page memo. What’s interesting to me about Limp’s invocation of the six-page memo in this Decoder interview is that 1) he describes how the two writing forms are, at least for his group, a combined genre and especially 2) how the memo has actually become a roadmap for product development. In short, the Devices group not infrequently begins with the press release, expands into the six-page narrative memo, and uses that document as a tool to decide which new products to develop and release.”

-Tim Carmody, “Working Backwards: Dave Limp on Amazon’s Six Page Memo.” The Amazon Chronicles. October 12, 2021.

Related to the Write: More Frequently, Less Long post from yesterday. The one, two and six page memo strikes me as an interesting model, where we take the less long pieces and start merging them together into single pages and than up to six. Of course, there’s no need to stop there, but I think the six page discipline would probably improve everyone’s writing considerably.

Interactive Fiction: ink & inklewriter, et al.

“* inklewriter is an easy-to-use online tool to write basic interactive stories.

* ink by comparison is a more powerful narrative scripting language that is primarily designed for professional game development, though it can also be used to write and share choice-based interactive fiction. It is also surprisingly easy to learn, though for ease of use it’s hard to beat inklewriter!

https://www.inklestudios.com/ink/

h/t to Interconnected and the post “Filtered for some text-based virtual realities.” I could have easily made posts for

The whole post is gold for anyone interested in what’s going on and the tools in current use with the interactive fiction community. My knowledge of the tools stopped at Inform 7.

Newsletters & The Web

“My friend Lucy once told me that she falls in love with the way that someone thinks…and that’s what newsletters make possible for me; they’re a record of how strangers see the world…[But] I guess there’s something about newsletters that bugs me, and I can’t put my finger on it…[proceeds to put finger on it, i.e., newsletters are easy to write, notify people of new work and provide a way to pay for content, which are all things they web should do and doesn’t.]

—Robin Rendle, “Newsletters; or, an enormous rant about writing on the web that doesn’t really go anywhere and that’s okay with me.” RobinRendle.com. January 1, 2021.

I agree with everything Robin Rendle writes in this essay. And I appreciated the irony that when I wanted to subscribe to his site’s RSS feed, I learned he probably doesn’t have one. He is using netlify, which has some github projects that can generate RSS for a netlify site, but probably not given how his site is set-up without trying to rewrite plug-in code. I guess we can call this Exhibit A for the point he is making?