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[fifty-four] minus twenty-five: he’s definitely judging you

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I love San Francisco. In many ways, the city has become a mess since I first started visiting it twenty-five years ago, but in others it has not changed: you can go around the corner and find a quirky bit of history, like a restaurant mentioned in a Sam Spade novel that has the actual Maltese Falcon on display.

And, allegedly, that's what Sam Spade ate - lamb chops with baked potato and sliced tomatoes. I'll pass on the coffee and cigarettes, thanks, but it was a perfectly nice little meal. John's Grill is a tight space as viewed from above, but it uses every ounce of available floorspace quite efficiently:

The Falcon itself is on the second floor. Forgive me for not coming up with some pun about "The Last Millenium's Falcon" or some such, it's late and I have a presentation to work on for the AAAI Spring Symposium next week. But just so you don't miss it ... well, you can't miss it:

Ah, San Francisco, and John's Grill. I won't say never change, but some things should stay the same.

Since 1908, indeed.

-the Centaur

[fifty-three] minus twenty-five: momentum is real

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Now, see, this is what I was talking about last time. At the Game Developer's Conference today, after a long and informative series of talks, I ended up having an impromptu roundtable about language model planning, followed by a dinner with a friend talking about the history of the conference from a behind-the-scenes perspective.

The discussions were fascinating, and there are potentials for integrating these new language model technologies with older techniques like logic programming to very good results.

But, by the time the dinner was done, I was exhausted, and crashed back at my room, trying to sleep off some of the effects of two nights of rich dinners, no sleep, and hard-core information overload.

But I still had more work to do, creating my slides for the upcoming HRI in Academia and Industry Workshop at the AAAI Spring Symposium Series, not to mention my document updates on the main social navigation benchmarking paper itself. And, of course, all of that could not get finished in one night, not if I want to get up early enough to attend what are sure to be packed talks tomorrow morning.

But my point, and I did have one, is that if I had relied on myself to blog at the end of the day "when everything was done", I wouldn't have blogged at all, because everything is NOT done. But, since I had momentum from earlier in the day, it was easy to pull up the window and put together a quick post.

This post.

So, momentum is real. Once you start doing something, it's easier to keep doing it.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Various lines and slides from today's GDC, and a nice dessert from Amber India.

[fifty-two] minus twenty-six: oh yeah, gdc

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Oh yeah, I only offhandedly mentioned - back at the Game Developer's Conference!

Hi Mom! Oh wait, she's gone. That ... went dark fast, Francis. Well, hopefully she's watching up there and is not too mad that I'm still wasting my time on such frivolous things. But, I got my job at Google through the AI Programmers' Roundtable in ... 2005, I think it would have been, so this is not frivolous to me. And it's a great place to find out what's going on in the field ...

... and I must say, the first talk out of the gate got dense, fast!

Just how I like it.

Back into the fray!

-the Centaur

[fifty-one] minus twenty-eight: how can you make time if you do not take time?

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"How can we make time if we do not ever take time?" I love that quote. It's a riff on a line from one of my favorite movies, The Matrix Reloaded, in which a minor baddie, the suave Merovingian, mocks our hero's Neo's polite refusal to dine - and calls him out on his dogged insistence on getting to the point. "Yes of course. Who has time? Who has time. But if we never *take* time, how can we have time?"

The Merovingian is just mocking Neo. But he has a real point: All too often in our fast-paced modern lives, we say to others - or to ourselves - that we don't have time to do something. Or, at least, I do - your mileage may vary, as may the bricks in the wall of your calendar and your number of irons in the fire. But often what we really mean is not that we don't have the time, but that we don't want to take the time to do it.

Sometimes this is option cost. Sometimes, we really need to give up something better to make time for something. Right now, I'm out at GDC, the Game Developer's Conference, and I've already let some of my peeps know that I can't do dinner Wednesday night, because I'm planning to attend the Game Developer's Awards. It's a great show and comes around just once a year, so if I want to do it, I have to make time for it. That means taking time from something else, in this case, taking that off the calendar for meeting friends.

So, too, it is with blogging.

I've been trying to blog every day this year, and have already fallen almost a month behind, even though I've been posting two and three times a day - when I post. But the problem, I realized, is that I had been fitting blogging in as an optional task at the end of the day. If you stay up late because you've been flying, or working on your taxes, or attending a programmer's get together, then blogging likely gets the shaft - doubly so if you have to get up early to attend a conference. Stake that vampire! Or, blogpost. As the case may.

SO, I've decided to try to be more like the Merovingian, at least, in his philosophy of time. If you don't take time, then you can never make time for anything; so I've decided to try taking out some time during the day to blog, rather than making it an end-of-the-day task. Like so many things, it's hard to say how long this will last, but at least for today, it produced one more blogpost than I would have otherwise.

-the Centaur

Pictured: My favorite table at one of my favorite breakfast joints, Mo'Z Cafe in San Francisco, where this blogpost was authored between sessions at GDC.

[fifty] minus twenty-five: no blog for you

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So, I just finished a three-leg plane flight, the longest leg of which was five and a half hours. Whas that twelve hours of travel time? I think it was twelve hours of travel time. I know that's nothing compared to people who fly to Australia or Singapore, but I feel like having a nap. So no blog for you.

-the Centaur

Pictured: A temporary fix which, yeah, didn't do so well in the rains.

Announcing the Embodied AI Workshop #4 at CVPR 2023

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Hey folks, I am proud to announce the 4th annual Embodied AI Workshop, held once again at CVPR 2023! EAI is a multidisciplinary workshop bringing computer vision researchers, machine learning researchers and roboticists to study the problem of creating intelligent systems that interact with their worlds.

For a highlight of previous workshops, see our Retrospectives paper. This year, EAI #4 will feature dozens of researchers, over twenty participating institutions, and ten distinct embodied AI challenges. Our three main themes for this year's workshop are:

  • Foundation Models: large, pretrained models that can solve many tasks few-shot or zero-shot
  • Generalist Agents: agents capable of solving a wide variety of problems
  • Sim to Real Transfer: learning in simulation but deploying in reality.

We will have presentations from all the challenges discussing their tasks, progress in the community, and winning approaches. We will also have six speakers on a variety of topics, and at the end of the workshop I'll be moderating a panel discussion among them.

I hope you can join us, in the real or virtually, at EAI #4 at CVPR 2023 in Vancouver!

-the Centaur

I’m scared of Homebrew’s installation procedure, but I still love Homebrew

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This is a followup to my Making Computers Useful series, started all the way back in 2014. (Funnily enough, the 2013-era iMac featured in that series is now pretty damn useless as it has fallen out of update range, and locks up if you run Dropbox and Google Drive at the same time).

But, the overall goal here is to document some of the stuff that I need to do to make computers work for me. Typically, there’s a lot of friction in software, and it takes a good bit of work to make that all function on a new machine. Sometimes that becomes a deep dive.

This is one of those stories.

So today, while updating the Embodied AI Workshop’s website prior to the launch of the 2023 version, I wanted to run the tree command. Tree is great because it can help you understand the structure of a directory tree, like so:

I felt I needed this because the Embodied AI website is built on yarn and gatsby, and it turned a relatively simple site into 1.6 gigabytes of generated junk (which I noticed when one of my older computers started literally wheezing as it tried to mirror all those unexpected files):

As it turns out, you can get tree via Homebrew. Homebrew is a “package manager,” kind of like an “app store for the command line,” and Homebrew helps you get standard Linux tools, like tree, onto your Mac so you can take advantage of all the hidden Unix goodness in your Macintosh. 

However … I’m a bit leery of Homebrew because this is how it installs itself: 

I mean, WHAT? curl a file and run it with bash? Seriously. Now, look, I’m not saying Homebrew isn’t safe - every indication is that it is - but that this METHOD of installation is a recipe for disaster. 

Why? Well, in case you’re not in the know, what this installation instruction is suggesting is to DOWNLOAD RANDOM CODE FROM SOMEWHERE ON THE INTERNET and RUN IT ON YOUR COMPUTER WITHOUT CHECKING IT AT ALL!

Nothing can go wrong with this plan.

Now, I’m no expert, but I’m familiar enough with this stuff to know what I’m doing. SO, first I checked with a few quick searches to see [is homebrew for mac safe] and it appeared to be.

SO I downloaded the software with JUST the CURL part, like so:

curl -fsSL >

... so I could examine it more closely.

Folks, seriously, never do this on a site you do not trust.

After I had the code, I then inspected this file to find out whether it was safe. I didn't see any obvious malware, but when I ran it, it wanted me to TYPE MY PASSWORD.


Please, I’m asking you, do not hot-pipe random software straight off the internet and run it straight from the command line and give it your password when it asks. If someone intercepts the website, and gets your password, they can do anything.

(SERIOUSLY. Once I was working with a legitimate Google representative about a Google ads program and when I went to log in to Google ads to check something, a hacker injected a fake Google ads site between me and Google, and damn near got my password. Only two-factor authentication saved me, as it broke some key link in the chain.)

BUT … it is the PATTERN I’m talking about here, not the specifics. Everything I’ve seen about Homebrew says that it is safe. I’ve even used it before, on other machines. SO, after some more research, and a little more code analysis, I confirmed this password-asking was safe, and gingerly went ahead.

And it went fine. 

I had to pay thirty million bitcoin to a Russian spammer, but I wasn’t using it anyway, and I’m sure at least they got to buy a cup of coffee or something with it. :-D

Seriously. It went fine. And I love Homebrew. I just go through this every time I need to “bash” run a piece of “curl”-ed software straight off the Internet and then it asks for my password.

Still, tree worked like a charm. (Screenshots of its use were above). There are more pieces of Homebrew software I need to install, but as one test, I tried to install “banner”, a program to create oversized pieces of text, which I use in scripts to alert me that a big task is done.

But, it seems like Mac already has a version of banner, which works differently on Mac than Linux, printing VERY large ASCII banners that are vertical rather than horizontal. That’s useful, but not for my case, so I dug around for an equivalent tool.  brew install figlet is the way to go:

All great! 

It didn’t help me with my work on the Embodied AI website, as I had already moved on to fixing other problems on that website, and was only “brewing” things in the background while I did other tasks (like remote-attend the church vestry retreat).

But removing this friction will help me in the future. The next time I need to examine the tree structure of a directory, it's one command away. I can put banners in my scripts. And I can easily add new software with 'brew' the next time it comes up.

AND, as a bonus, I discovered a site which is doing something very much like what I want to do with the Making Computers Useful series, Sourabh Bajaj’s Mac OS Setup Guide, which “... covers the basics of setting up a development environment on a new Mac.” I have an internal document called “Mac OS X New System Tasks” which documents for myself the travails I go through every time I get a new Mac, and Sourabh’s guide seems like it provides a public version of what I want to do. Which is great! Less work for me. ;-D

On to the next task!

-the Centaur

P.S. As another added bonus, I composed this in Google Docs, and pasted it straight into Gutenberg, the new Wordpress block editor. It worked like a charm ... EVEN DOWN TO PASTING IN THE IMAGES! If this is a feature of Gutenberg, I will have to consider saying my favorite three words about it ... "I was wrong."

P.P.S. Don't hold your breath on that, though, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

[forty-nine] minus twenty: about that midjourney

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SO, one of my favorite characters is Porsche, a centauress warrior from the thirty-first century who populated many of my first tranche of as-yet-unpublished science fiction stories. (I think she only appears in one published story, "Stranded" in the anthology of the same name, and even that, just as a cameo). And while I have worked a lot to improve my art, I wondered what Midjourney could do. And I got the above result from the following prompt:

a centauress with long, rich curly purple hair, very beautiful, with half-asian, half-english appearance, and pointed ears, wearing an armored space costume like a combination of ghost in the shell and star trek, and bearing a double-bladed scythe with black glowing blades

- the Centaur

Wow. This is really spot on. Her hair is right, her face is right, her skin tone is right, her armor is right ... heck, even her slightly haunted look is right, and to go beyond even that, one of the variants looks like a slightly older, more grizzled variant, which completely checks out with her storyline:

Kudos to you, Midjourney, except ... she's not a centauress. She's just a person, a fetching one, I admit, but not a half-woman, half-horse creature with the pointed ears and black twin-bladed scythe of the prompt.

Well, shoot. What if we look at some of the other variants?

This one is creepily good in a sense ... it's got her forehead dot (she's a First Contact Engineer, and wears a pheromone bead she used to communicate with a scent-based alien hive species) and even hints of her mechanical arm and possibly ear. But this is just coincidence. Look at this other variant:

What appears is just chance. Here, her ears are rounded, the dot's gone, and the weapon looks even less on point. A lot of what looked right to me is just random features onto which I was projecting, like cloudbusting.

Well, double shoot. What if we refine the prompt? What do we get?

a centauress (a creature with the upper body of a woman and a lower body of a horse) with long, rich curly purple hair, very beautiful, with half-asian, half-english appearance, and pointed ears, wearing an armored space costume like a combination of ghost in the shell and star trek, and wielding a scythe with black glowing blades

- the Centaur

Yerk. That's ... just jumbled nonsense. Tweaks to the prompt to make it simpler just produced women on horses. Midjourney does not apparently understand the concept 'centaur' in any meaningful sense. I tried just the prompt "centaur", and ... um ... yeah ... no, I'm not going to show you those. They're just a guy with a horse, or sort of on a horse, or ... sort of ... in a horse? A centaur as envisioned by The Thing.

Okay, one last try. What if I give it one of my pieces of art, and then ask it to render it anime style? Let's hold that piece of imagery till the last, but the prompt is:

an anime style centauress with purple hair and a double-bladed scythe jumping in front of a waterfall

--the Centaur

Oh, lordy. And I'm not going to show you the one it tried to generate from the prompt "anime style".

Oh wait, I am!

Wow. Evocative - the top left reminds me of Cinnamon Frost - but it has little to do with the image I put in, and the attempt in the top right especially is nonsensical.

I am inspired by Midjourney. It's definitely a better renderer than me, and has good ideas about composition which I have already used in my artwork.

But I stick by my comment that it is an amateur which has taught itself to render very well, and cannot take meaningful art direction. As limited as I am, I'll stick with my own drawing, thank you!

Like this one, the image I gave to Midjourney above. It's not perfect, it's not well rendered ... but it is mine:

Porsche and the Scythe at the Waterfall, Colored

And she has four legs, a scythe, and pointy ears, dag nabit.

-the Centaur

[forty-eight] minus twenty-one: oh that’s right, daylight savings time

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Ok, I'll rise, but I do not promise to shine. Why are we still doing this again anyway? Oh, that's right ... it's complicated, but as usual, our politicians want to do what feels good but is the exact opposite of the science. Daylight savings time (shifting ahead of the sun) has negative effects, and doing it year round seems like it will make it worse; but instead of banning it, our politicians want to make it permanent. It's a feel-good measure which will do the opposite and make lots of us feel bad (and become more sick).


-the Centaur

Pictured: Coffee, somewhere (Victory Point Cafe), which, given how perpetually caffeinated I am, will do nothing at all to wake me up.