These Macarons Are Not Real

I’m in the private beta for Stable Diffusion. Even with all the large language models of the past few years, there’s something akin to witchcraft when you’re able to type “a photo of macarons” and a Discord bot returns you images like this:

Stable Diffusion-generated macarons

It’s a large step above the VQGAN methods I was using last year and well up there with the output of DALL-E 2 and Imagen. Stable Diffusion has another advantage - soon it’ll be available for free and runnable on really quite low-powered GPU machines. I’m hearing that there’s even going to be a M1/M2 optimized version that will likely generate images in under a minute. When the weights get released in months? Weeks?, it’s Going To Be A Lot. As ever, 2000AD got there first, long ago, back in the Meg, a dark future where IPC sub-editors could dictate our youth without needing pesky writers or robots:

Kenny Who?

It’s interesting that Stable is looking more threatening than GPT-3 has turned out to be so far. I think that’s down to a few factors - where it and its successors fall down is in that longer context - even PaLM, going out of its way to be as helpful as it can (pretending to be sentient if you ask it to, even!), cannot generate a correct and coherent long-form piece. But you don’t need that with an image, because it’s just immediately all there — sure if you look closely at the macarons you’ll see the ganache line can sometimes get a little wonky, but your mind filters over that at a glance, whereas when you get to the first wrong fact in a GPT-X text, it’s pretty much over.

Additionally, the more impressive text models are really quite expensive to train and run, resulting in access to something on the power of GPT-3 being walled off behind OpenAI’s for-pay API. I think that is going to change in the very near future, though. Tim Dettmers’ work is going to bring some of those larger models to your desktop, and Facebook has already released publics weights for the equivalent of the largest GPT-3 language model. We might see a lot more weirdness and exploration in this area in 2023.

Anyway, Christmas cards this year are going to be fun.

Blackcurrant Ice Cream Sandwiches

A family visit means light blogging. See you next week…

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Kylie: Paid By The Word

May all of us commit to something as hard as Guy Pearce did for the filming of the Neighbours finale1.

Lots of big (and small) things happening right now…but not anything I can talk about just at the moment. My family will be arriving in a few hours, so I should probably go and make the beds!


  1. And bonus to one of the biggest movie stars in the world who still recorded something to remind us of the brilliance of the shrugalero ↩︎

The Big Skyrizi

If you’ve seen me in the past few years, you’ll know that my psoriasis has continued to get worse. I haven’t quite reached the state of Michael Gambon in The Singing Detective, but I was on my way. It was covering about 30%-40% of my body, over the back of my head, and in the last few months I had noticed that it had started on my face, one of the very few places it had left mostly untouched. We joke about my little ‘shame vacuum’, but it’s true: I have a rechargeable hoover hanging around so I can suck up flakes on my chair, the sides of the bed, the bed itself. Winter is always the worst, especially up here in the north of the US; it gets so cold and so dry that my skin turns into an even flakier mess than it is in the summer.

We tried many things! Back when I first got to the US in 2011, I had a variety of creams that helped my stomach. As the years passed, the creams just couldn’t keep up and things spread. When I moved up here, I admitted it was a problem and started seeing a dermatologist. There were more creams and for about six months, I’d drive into Kentucky once or twice a week to get zapped in essentially a very fancy sunbed. As January 2020 came around, the dermatologist suggested that it was time to look into drug-related treatment. There were some new drugs that she’d like to try but wasn’t sure that the insurance company would go for them without trying older ones first. So we were going to start with Humira, which has a reasonable success rate, but a side-effect of lowering your immune system’s effectiveness. We started the process, got approval, got a pharmacy ready to send the first doses…and…

Well, by then it was February or March 2020, and the one thing I didn’t want was a terrible immune system.

My dermatologist agreed with that, so the order was cancelled and things slowly got worse, held back somewhat by inventive use of topical creams and cling film. I got referred to a new dermatologist due to my current one leaving the practice…and I waited a year for an appointment. Never trust Americans that dismiss the NHS because of queues. We still have them, just in different forms.

Anyway, it was May of this year that I finally got to see the new doctor. Such a short visit - barely even ten minutes. They looked at me and said “we’re going to put you on Skyrizi.”

Skyrizi is one of the new class of psoriasis treatments that you’ll see advertised if you spend more than an hour watching American television these days. They’ll tell all the wonderful things it’ll do, as well as the usual litany of side-effects. What they don’t tell you is that it costs roughly $19,000 a dose. Yes, that’s not a typo. Nineteen thousand dollars. And that’s the wholesale price! Actual retail is closer to $30k.

Needless to say, I wasn’t all that confident that the insurance company was going to approve that, but the dermatologist was rather blasé about it. And sure enough, the company did reject the initial request, but a weird test result got us to reject their substitute. What’s weird is that nobody tells you the real price you’re going to pay right up until they’re actually ordering it. Having already looked up the numbers above online weeks before had, I was prepared for the worst, so when they said “it’s going to be a lot…$150 a shot”1 I did almost laugh. I am very lucky that’s not going to cause me an issue every three months.

I took my second shot of it this week, and well, things are progressing. All the flaky skin is gone. I’m no longer leaving bits of me all over the house. My head is pretty much completely clear. My body still has lots of pink patches all over it, but they seem to be getting fainter and fainter with every passing week. It’s basically witchcraft. There are caveats, of course - it can stop working, and I still have to hope that every 12 weeks I don’t have to fight with my insurance company for the next shot, but I hate my body a lot less for the first time in years.


  1. The schedule is that you take two doses a month apart and then a further shot every 12 weeks. ↩︎

Jury Service

Quick Jury Service review: A lot of sitting around and doing nothing except waiting for somebody to tell you that you can go home. But! I have at least tried Decibel, and I can recommend their somewhat generous portions of Korean fried chicken.

Otherwise, I’m too tired to write much of anything else this week.

20-Up

This blog is now 20 years old. Which is somewhat terrifying. Not only is this two decades of uninterrupted blogging, somehow managing to muddle through when so many vast titans of the blog craze have fallen by the wayside, but it’s also the same amount of time since I went to UNC for my ill-fated attempt at a doctorate. Yet it was a part in a chain of events that started with me taking a card off the third year noticeboard in the Kilburn Building and ending up here in Cincinnati. And the blog has been a haphazard chronicle of that.

Ideally, I would have gone back through the archives to give you a list of my favourite pieces1, but I absolutely hate going through my older work so…no. I will say that I think one of my regrets is that I didn’t really post a lot during my time in California from 2011-2012. I know that there were multiple reasons for that: I was somewhat downcast at being stranded in Santa Monica for months and months; I was worried about the NDA issues surrounding talking about my work with Activision at the time…but it wasn’t like I was doing a lot during the evenings, and while I did try to get out and about in the surrounding areas at the weekends, I should have added more entries while I was trapped2. These days, I’m pretty good at adding an entry once a week, even if it ends up being little more than an Instagram embed, and I think that’s a decent cadence for the time being.

I’ve also been thinking about the technology behind the blog a little. Over the past 20 years, the blog has been powered by:

  • A home-grown system written in Perl, based on Slashcode designs — this didn’t last more than a day, thankfully
  • Movable Type — I stayed on this after I think everybody on the internet had moved to WordPress
  • Jekyll — I don’t think I ever did make the jump to WordPress; I just moved onto the crazy hotness of static-site generators instead. It was good, but eventually, the long list of files that had to be regenerated each time led me to:
  • Hugo — Hugo has been powering the blog for a fair few years now; it just does what it does in a few seconds and then I just rsync all my files to the web. I should really update things so I don’t have to be at my laptop to post new entries, but otherwise it’s a pretty good setup these days.

There’s also been quite few different designs and sideblogs. There was a photography sideblog, a different blog which ran longer pieces on obscure Britpop songs that literally only existed so I could try and become a music journalist3, Twitter embeds, Disqus for comments for quite a long time, a custom XML-RPC Python blogging app I wrote that added what music I was playing automatically to the post, and probably a bunch of other things that I’ve forgotten. When I moved to Hugo, I ditched all my custom CSS designs and just used the Hyde theme which you see today. I am tired of it, but I don’t see myself sitting down and fixing up something new in the immediate future. I think if I switch out the body font from Open Sans to something else, it might be a little more appealing to me again.

Anyway, yes, twenty years! The domain is renewed through 2030, so hopefully I’ll continue to be here at least until then…and who knows what new things there will be to talk about in the future?


  1. It’s not a great piece, but it is one of my favourite days of the 2000-2010 decade ↩︎

  2. Look as I wander around Santa Monica trying to find somebody to take my health insurance! ↩︎

  3. I’m not saying it was a good idea, but I got a lovely email from Johnny Boy, pissed off a couple of terrible American bands, and Paul Morley recognized me at the old Oxford Borders, so I’m claiming victory. ↩︎

Land of The Free*

On this somewhat downbeat celebration of ‘freedom’, have a picture of a cat that just wants to go to bed.

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Green Lantern Is Back

For some reason, it seems to be popular with a certain group of people to blame Obama for…something. He didn’t pass a bill codifying Roe, despite of course most of these people being around for the Obamacare battles in the House and therefore should remember how strong the anti-abortion Blue Dogs were during that. But somehow Obama should have waved a magic wand across the House before moving onto the Senate to do the same magic trick on people like Joe sodding Lieberman. And that’s not even getting into the fact that there’s nothing that protects a codifying law more than Roe anyway, but again, it’s Obama’s fault. The ostensibly anti-imperialist leftists then go on to post a bunch of anti-Ukrainian slobber that makes you wonder why they don’t just carve a ‘Z’ on their cheek and be done with it. And then signal-boost Pizzagate accounts as a cherry on top.

Yes, it has been an angry few days, and I’ve been mostly trying to focus my anger on the people how did just tear up 50 years of settled law, but it turns out I have a lot of rage to go around. Yet it has also been a weekend of hope and joy? We went to the Cincinnati Pride Parade on Saturday, and watched thousands being able to enjoy their lives in a way that wouldn’t have been possible even 20 years ago. And everybody there is ready to keep fighting against turning the clock back (except while dancing to Running Up That Hill).

And finally for the week - two other pieces of good news! We finally, on the third year of trying, managed to harvest some blackcurrants ahead of the squirrels eating them all. I even made a Bakewell Tart with them! Plus, again, after three years, Blood On The Clocktower arrived. Even if we never actually play it, it is a great memento for reminding us of the time Tammy fooled an entire bunch of strangers for two hours and killed them all (…and in the game? — Ed.)

Now, back to staring at NDCG scores and cursing, sometimes at Twitter, sometimes at the screen…

Blackcurrants!

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RESIN PANDA!

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3D printing is witchcraft in general, but resin-based UV-curing printing? It slowly rises from a liquid to form the shape. It’s basically a replicator but instead of being able to produce food…it produces little models and eventually lots of additions to my Transformer toys (firstly: finally replacing this lost piece from decades ago). Or printing out a 40K Tyranid Epic army one weekend.

It really is quite amazing and not something I don’t think I could even dreamed existing, let alone having in the house when I was little. And so many children will just grow up thinking that’s just the way things are, which is terrifying waves stick at cloud and looks for his VHS tapes1

That’s basically the end of the good news for the week. COVID has finally caught up to us, blowing apart everybody’s plans and leaving us in the worst sort of limbo.


  1. And yes, I do feel a bit annoyed that I have to deal with people going “Stranger Things!” anytime Running Up That Hill is played in the future, but I’m trying to put those feelings aside. waves stick at cloud again ↩︎