Saturday, December 31, 2022

ChatGPT Delivers A Poem About Nothingness

The Future and the Past. (Produced w/Photoleap)
As some of you may know I have been fascinated by the possibilities and limitations of Artificial Intelligence these past several years. As early as 2016 I wrote about a pair of Calum Chace's books on the impact AI will have on white collar jobs. Last year I played around with an AI bot called Sudowrite, producing a story and quite a bit of poetry. 

Kazui Ishiguro's book Klara and the Sun explores many of the issues associated with AI-powered robotics, and lots of digital ink has been spilled writing about the latest iterations of an AI writing program called ChatGPT.

In the art realm I have likewise been fascinated by a pair of programs that utilize AI to create illustrations and images. At the end of this page I will include links to some of the above essays and explorations. 

ChatGPT is not yet perfect. I asked it to write a short essay about the Duluth music scene and it included a venue that is shuttered and has been so for two or three years. 

Till an hour ago I essentially asked it questions and ChatGPT produced short essays. Then I asked it to write a poem for me on Nothingness. Here's what the machine produced.

A Poem About Nothingness


Nothingness, a vast and empty space

Where thoughts go to be erased

No sound, no light, no time, no place

Just an endless, blank erasing

A void of emptiness, a lack of form

A space that's never-ending

No beginning, no end, no seed, no norm

Just a boundless, endless, never-mending

No memories, no dreams, no hope, no fears

Just a limitless, endless, boundless, never-clearing

No past, no present, no future, no tears

Just a timeless, spaceless, endless, never-appearing

Nothingness, a realm of pure oblivion

Where all is lost and nothing is given

A realm of pure and utter nothingness

Where nothing exists and nothing is living

* * * 

Things I especially like about the poem include the assonance (e.g., oblivion / given) and also the structure. Notice the third line of each of the first three stanzas, and then a slight variation as we reach the conclusion. 

The opening grabbed me right off. "Nothingness, a vast and empty space where thoughts go to be erased." It's not an image that would immediately pop into my head. 

What do you think? I find it fascinating.

Related Links
My 2016 review of Surviving AI by Calum Chace
A Visit with Futurist Calum Chace on His New Book The Economic Singularity
Two Versions of The Comet, Light and Dark
Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun Is Another Stellar Achievement

I've also been collaborating with a pair of AI "art" bots. You can see some of the things "we" have created here on my Instagram page.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

History and Literature: Macaulay's Essays On Clive and Hastings

This week our family shared an AirBnB in Milwaukee that is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It's located in the Prospect Avenue Mansions Historic District. For a handful of days we got a sense of how the other half lives. The rooms were spacious, the decor impressive. I began writing this in a study adorned with bookshelves and old books aplenty. The following passage is Page 1 from one of the books I found on a shelf in the "living room" area.  

Initially I was going to make this a trivia game by asking "Who wrote it?" My guess is that most people who read this blog would be left scratching their heads so I'll tell you outright before you lose any sleep trying to figure it out. It's a wonderful bit of prose, informative and inviting.

* * * * *

We have always thought it strange that, while the history of the Spanish empire in America is familiarly known to all the nations of Europe, the great actions of our countrymen in the East should, even among ourselves, excite little interest. Every schoolboy knows who imprisoned Montezuma, and who strangled Atahualpa; but we doubt whether one in ten, even among English gentlemen of highly cultivated minds, can tell who won the battle of Buxar, who perpetrated the massacre of Patna, whether Sujah Dowlah ruled in Oude or in Travancore, or whether Holkar was a Hindoo or a Mussulman. Yet 10 the victories of Cortes were gained over savages who had no letters, who were ignorant of the use of metals, who had not broken in a single animal to labor, who wielded no better weapons than those which could be made out of sticks, flints, and fishbones, who regarded a horse soldier as a monster, half man and half beast, who took a harquebusier for a sorcerer, able to scatter the thunder and lightning of the skies. 

The people of India, when we subdued them, were ten times as numerous as the Americans whom the Spaniards vanquished, and were at the same time quite as highly civilized as the victorious Spaniards. They had reared cities larger and fairer than Saragossa or Toledo, and buildings more beautiful and costly than the cathedral of Seville. They could show bankers richer than the richest firms of Barcelona or Cadiz, viceroys whose splendor far surpassed that of Ferdinand the Catholic, myriads of cavalry and long trains of artillery which would have astonished the Great Captain. It might have been expected that every....

As an opening page it whets the appetite and stimulates the imagination. Alas!

What authors are you reading as you wind up 2022? Yes, I know, there are too many books and so little time. Your schedule is already full? I'm sure that with a little imagination you'll find cracks in your schedule that will enable you to crack open a few more books in 2023, each one a world unto itself. 

If you've  been a regular--or even irregular--reader of this blog, "Thank you." I may slow down here but I will remain committed to make it worth your while to return.

May the coming year find you inwardly richer, wiser and a little more hopeful about the road ahead. 

* * * 
In case you missed this, here were the most read stories of 2022 at Ennyman's Territory.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Milwaukee Public Museum

The Milwaukee Public Museum
is a natural history and human history museum rolled into one.

"The world will never starve for want of wonders
but only for the want of wonder."--G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, December 25, 2022

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 

12 "This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 
--Luke 2:8-12

As I've thought about it this season, I find it fascinating (as do most who accept the story) that God would choose such an ignominious entrance into this world. To be born in a stable is not what you might expect for a person who is of such kingly stature, though dying on a cross isn't the normal ending for kings either, especially one who be heralded as the "king of kings."

Those familiar with this story will recall that the reason Mary gave birth in a manger was because she and Joseph had come to Bethlehem as a result of a government edict. Rome was taking a census and everyone had to return to their town of origin to be registered. The net result was overcrowding. There was not an extensive tourism industry, so available rooms for rent were undoubtedly limited. People made do as they were able and a nine-month-pregnant mother named Mary had few options.

When the angel appeared to the shepherds, this radiant being gave them a sign: you will see a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger. This must have struck them as strange. A manger is a trough where you put feed for cattle or mules to eat from. It didn't make sense. And yet... when a host of angels immediately appeared and began praising God, the shepherds ran into town and began looking for the one the angel spoke of.

Of all these things much more can be said.

* * * * * 

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
--Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas!

Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Once There Was An Elephant

"Red Elephant" Collaboration with 
WOMBO Dream A.I. based on a screen print 
from my college years, 1970-74.
My longtime friend Charlene Groves, a poet in her own right, shared this poem with me today. It's unrelated to the major events in the world, but a nice little rift, which I hope gives you a lift. 


Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee—
(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

* * * 

Here are some poems by Charlene that I've found personally meaningful and would encourage you to read. (Each is hotlinked.)




Friday, December 23, 2022

Top Stories of 2022 Here at Ennyman's Territory

"On the Threshold"
2022 was a very different year for me. My years of covering the local art scene pretty much ended with the beginning of the pandemic. Three years passed in which I found myself less inclined to hustle, to run around to as many openings as possible, etc. (Most such activity was on hold anyways.) For what it's worth there are a number of new faces in town and a lot of art to see in our galleries and various spaces where artists display their work. Make a New Year's Resolution to check out a few art shows or galleries in 2023.  

Similarly, I wrote less  about Bob Dylan (on my blog) than I have in years past, in part because so many others are providing such thorough commentary on every facet of his never ending career that I don't always have much to add other than a few observations from living near the epicenter of its beginning. On the other hand, I did contribute a few chapters to an upcoming book about Dylan in Minnesota. You'll hear more about this in 2023, I suspect.

A regular reader might have noticed I've lost a few friends this year, precious people whose presence will be missed and who were much respected for their character as well as talents. In life we make such a noise about achievements, but this year it is character that really shines when we finish our race. May your own lamp burn bright with the inner radiance of who you are as you strive to be your best selves in 2023.

A regular reader may also have noticed quite a few references to Nevada Bob Gordon whose memoir I helped edit, revise and get published. Bob's book is titled with tongue-planted-in-cheek, 50 Years with the Wrong Woman. The octogenarian has lived an adventurous and most unusual life by today's standards. You can read more about his book here.

What follows are the top 12 stories, based on pageviews, at Ennyman's Territory in 2022. Afterwards are a few stories that appeared in other publications and that I feel good about having written.

* * * * *

12.  Insights and Observations from Napoleon Bonaparte: A Baker's Dozen

11. Paul Metsa Introduces His Upcoming Books and Shares Stories as Duluth Dylan Fest Winds Down

10. Oil Matters: Things to Think About If We Eliminate Oil

9. A Few Comments on the Food Shortages

8. Story Idea: The Party and Its Aftermath

7. Who Killed Davey Browne? Widow Amy Lavelle's Story Brings to Mind Early Dylan Song

6. Nevada Bob's Bad Movie Blues  

5. Almost Wordless Wednesday: Photos from Andy & Renee and Hard Rain's Dylanfest 32

4. Schedule for the 2022 Duluth Dylan Fest: We're Ready To Roll

3. A Dozen Historical Newspaper Clippings about Dylan and the Northland

2. Was Subterranean Homesick Blues Written in a Laundromat?

1. Bob Dylan: Good As I Been To You

* * * * *

Three other articles that I considered especially important were published this year: 

In April, my article on Homelessness ("In Plain Sight") was published in Business North.

In August, my story on the Northland Housing Crunch was published.

Also in August, I did a story about Bob Boone's vision for the nearly forgotten Alhambra Theater which he has been renovating. This little gem was inside of a building adjacent to The West Theater that he purchased without knowing it had a theater inside. His intent was to expand the West. When you see what Boone did with the West (on a shoestring) it's my hope that someone with deep pockets can help bring this jewel back to life.

* * * 

For what it's worth, I am periodically active on Instagram. You can follow me here:

* * * 

In the meantime, let your creativity thrive 
and make every day count. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Mystified by America's Debt Crisis? Here's Why Some People Are More Than A Little Concerned

"Watching and Waiting"
Numbers, when they are large enough, become less real and truly challenging to wrap one's arms around. The larger the number, the more abstract it becomes as a concept. This may be why all these discussions about increasing the national debt fail to alarm so many people. Instead of discussing how much the country owes, politicians try to focus our attention on what we, the public, are going to get.

Look over here (at free college education) and don't look over there (at the price tag you will be saddled with in the long run.) 

If you go online to find out how much debt our country carries, you will find a variety of sites with numbers that don't entirely match. What you'll find, though, is the numbers are very, very large.

I remember when the pundits were in near hysterics when the 1981 proposed budget under Ronald Reagan crossed the one trillion dollar mark. Raising the debt ceiling a 2.5 trillion seemed easy-peasy last week with nary a peep.

Here are some numbers from Truth In Accounting.  

U.S. Published National Debt consists of:

  • debt held by the public

  • intragovernmental holdings, including debt held by Social Security and Medicare trust funds

OUR PUBLISHED DEBT IS now over 31 trillion...
but out REAL debt is 140 Trillion.
SINCE OUR GOVERNMENT is us, as in you and me, this debt shakes out to be $936,000 per taxpayer.

When the government states that they want to raise the debt ceiling so they can give us more good things, what they mean is that they want you to OWE MORE, because it is OUR Debt.

The website Trading Economics presents a slightly scarier picture. They not only present the status of government debt, but also private debt. Private debt is the total of all individual and business debt. Going a step further, they calculate the ratio of total indebtedness of both sectors, non-financial corporations and households and non-profit institutions serving households, in relation to GDP.

At this moment in time, according to this site, our cumulative debt is 235% greater than our current GDP.

* * * 

Well, to be frank, I don't know how accurate any of this is, and I'm not even sure anyone knows. What I do know is that these are all fairly large numbers. How big is a Trillion? This illustration will bend your mind a little, I believe.

What happens when nations fail to meet their debt obligations? Can they really just default the way individuals do by declaring bankruptcy? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Almost Wordless Wednesday: The Gift Shop at Frosty Ridge Alpacas

I recently wrote a couple blog posts about Frosty Ridge Alpacas (Santa was there each of the past two Saturdays). With temps down below zero this week it's not difficult to understand where the name comes from. If you ever stop by to see the alpacas, be sure to stop in at the gift shop. Loni and Horst are neighbors of ours and warm hearted. They'll make you feel at home, and you will learn a lot about these critters native to South America.

Related Links

How Lori Blumerich Started Frosty Ridge Alpaca Farm

Follow Frosty Ridge Alpacas here on Facebook:

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Hardship, Grief and Healing: Carol Dunbar's Novel The Net Beneath Us

"Grief" -- Painting modified with Photoleap
Tschaikovski's Sixth Symphony, famously known as the Pathétique, was not well received when first performed in 1893. The actual name he gave to it was The Passionate Symphony, though the word could acceptably be translated The Emotional or Emotive Symphony. Decades would pass before Igor Stravinski brought it forward and praised it as "ahead of its time." 

What's distinctive about the composition is the sinking feeling one gets throughout, but especially in the the fourth movement, a grinding drawn out decline that is in sharp contrast to most 19th century symphonies that customarily end with a big finish, a buoyant crescendo. When the composer died 9 days later, the suspicion was that Tschaikovski had deliberately permitted himself to become ill-unto-death by drinking unboiled water that carried cholera.

While reading The Net Beneath UsCarol Dunbar's first novel, the preceding thoughts about Tschaikovski's Sixth came to mind. 

The Net Beneath Us opens in gut-wrenching fashion. Elsa Arnasson grew up in the city but now finds herself living deep in the woods of Northwest Wisconsin. When her husband Silas, a logger, gets felled by a tree he was attempting to fell, Elsa becomes emotionally disoriented as the weight of what lies ahead suddenly falls on her shoulders. 

What's challenging for Elsa (the heroine) is that Silas is not killed outright, but left in a coma, hooked to machines in a persistent vegetative state. His death alone, however, is not what leaves her undone. Rather, the ongoing grind of "what now?" and "what next?" drones on and drains her, leading to impossible decisions. She also has two young children and a wagonload of anxieties.

The book is laid out in a manner that coincides with the seasons, opening with Fall. Fall is always a busy time of year because winter is just a stone's throw away. There always seems to be too much to do and serious regret at projects that have yet to be completed, like the second floor of the house Silas was building for the family.

The challenges of living "in the woods" are presented in detail. Winter is usually half the year in these parts. One of the consequences of the accident, for example, is having to deal with keeping heat in the house. No one ever taught Elsa how to chop wood. There are also other characters in the story who add complications. 

Although this is not the type of story I normally pick up, I was captured from the first pages by Dunbar's writing. Her vivid descriptions are amplified by wonderful metaphors and similes. She's what I would call "a writer's writer." What I mean is that the average reader will enjoy the story but may not notice the author's craftsmanship and her magical ability to turn a phrase. Other writers will. She practices what the writing manuals preach: avoid cliches.

Other stories came to mind while reading this book. The film Phenomenon, with John Travolta, made an impact on me when I saw it. One of the sub-themes in the movie had to do with the interconnectedness of trees and their root systems and the fleeting span of our own lives.

 The second is a non-fiction book, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, based on a real story about grieving and healing. Lewis penned some frank and troubling passages regarding the inner turbulence we experience when we lose a loved one and all our internal props are upended. For Lewis, it was the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. 

Hence we follow Elsa as she passes through the seasons, wrestling with her fears and struggling to get a handle on her life. This is another area where Dunbar shines. Elsa and all the characters behave in ways that feel authentic. At various points we're taken inside Elsa's introspective thought-procession; it rattles with reality as she peels scabs away to face the open wounds within.

My only difficulty with the book was keeping track of characters. It seemed like every time I encountered someone I kept having to go back and review earlier sections of the book to see what their connection was to the story. (Full disclosure: It's possible that I may have been at fault because I was reading three books at the same time.)

You can find The Net Beneath Us at all our local book stores. If you're from elsewhere, it's readily available here at Amazon.

* * * *   

Related Link
Interview with Carol Dunbar: A Ghostwriter Who Lives in the Woods

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Fascinating A.I. Apps Produce Striking Images

 These images were collaborations 
between myself and a pair of A.I. programs.

Initially I was going to simply publish these as a Wordless Wednesday post but after sleeping on it I decided it needed a little explanation.

The two programs work differently. With Photoleap, you import a photo 
from your device and manipulate it. (example at right) The program is relatively easy to use and can produce some interesting effects. I have the app on my phone. The program Dream by WOMBO uses human input in the form of prompts. You type words into the Prompt box, select one of numerous "styles" and hit CREATE. The art styles range from Floral, Diorama or Spectral to Surreal, Pandora, Daydream or Mystical. Many other options are here.

Currently I'm trying to determine how this will all be used. Initially, I suspect 
these kinds of programs will be used to amaze friends on social media. I'm guessing that there will be artists using these kinds of programs in unusual ways and that there may be controversies generated by critics  who say the results are not art. The WOMBO program includes the ability to make NFTs out of your creations, not unlike the current NFT commerce taking place. (Here's an NFT webpage that directly squares off with this issue:
Is This Art?  (

In the last century we saw how technology and machines replaced blue collar workers. Today the question being asked is how much will today's A.I. advances impact white collar workers? In certain fields, who needs "great writing" when all that the reader wants is the information? In the realm of illustration, the most eyeball-catching images can be generated in seconds. In a world where "efficiency" reigns, there will be undoubtedly be illustrators sidelined.

Where do you think all this is going? What are the questions A.I. Art raises for you? Leave a comment.

Popular Posts