Friday, December 1, 2023

Here It Comes Again!

Hey! Did you know it's Christmas? 

Okay, it's not Christmas quite yet but it is Advent. 

Erm... what's that, then?

Don't look at me! 

I was brought up in a Quaker household. I went to Sunday School until I was eleven. I went to a Church of England private school, where we had a short service before lessons every day. I even had to go to school on Sunday morning for a full-length church service. 

On top of that, at the age of fifteen or so, my best pal and I pressured the school Chaplain into coaching us for what I believe at the time was called Religious Knowledge O-Level. I can't now recall - or even imagine - why we did it, except that the subject wasn't on the syllabus and when we asked him why, he may have expressed the view that if it was an option no-one would take it and even if they did no-one would pass. We were smartasses. Of course we had to prove him wrong.

Even with all of that religion going on in the background throughout my childhood and adolescence, I don't remember having an advent calendar until I was an adult and could buy one for myself and I don't believe I knew when or what Advent was until well after that. I'm not sure I do now, come to think of it.

What I do know is that you can buy a piece of cardboard with doors in and the doors have numbers and you open them on the same day as the number, starting on the first of December and ending on Christmas Eve. Sometimes there are presents behind the doors, usually chocolates. 

Last year, I bought a Moomin Advent Calendar. Behind every door there's a different flavor of tea. I wasn't aware Moomins were quite such tea-drinkers but it seems they are. 

The calendar's still in the kitchen now, right behind the kettle. We only opened a few of the doors and we didn't make tea from the any of the bags we found there. We don't really like flavored tea. In retrospect it might not have been the best choice of Advent Calendar for us but we both really like Moomins.

More than Moomins, we both like music but I take full responsibility for this year's selection in what I intend to make an annual tradition on the blog, the Inventory Full Advent Calendar. Mrs. Bhagpuss hasn't been involved in the selections at all, although she came in this morning while I was playing the tune I'd chosen for December 11 (Yes, I'm that far ahead already.) and did the Hedgehog Dance. (Don't ask.) Then the song stopped and she asked me to play it again and we both did the Hedgehog Dance until Beryl got up and joined in.

Wasn't that a delightful insight into life with the Bhagpusses? Okay, maybe not.

It's technically possible to have an online Advent Calendar on which you click to open the doors. There's one at AI Weirdness. I had a look at a few websites that let you make your own for free but, clever though that is, I prefer the way I did it last year so that's how I'm going to do it again.

Every day between now and Christmas Eve I'll be posting a picture and a song. Most will have something to do with Christmas although there might be a few that are merely seasonal - winter, snow, misery, that kind of thing. 

All of the pictures will be generated by AI. I was quite pleased with my visual choices last year but I was also paranoid about copyright at the time so I limited myself to royalty-free images from the web and it took F O R E V E R to find good ones. I quite enjoyed it at the time but I really don't want to go through it again.

Instead, this year I'm going to use the various AI models at NightCafe to generate a unique, original image for each entry. I appreciate AI has its own issues around rights but they're a lot more complex and diffuse than just pinching an already accredited image so I'm marginally less paranoid about doing it that way. Only marginally...

I started off by pre-generating a bunch of seasonal images and I will probably use a few of those but then I moved to a more consistent method, using the specific song titles as prompts, modified by some suggested styles. That seemed to work pretty well so most of the images will most likely match the tracks, at least to some degree. 

AIs have a weird take on things, though, and some of the song titles aren't entirely amenable to literal interpretation, so it's a fun little mini game. For me, that is. YMMV.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did try to get the AIs to do all of the work for me by getting the LLMs to come up with the songs. Unfortunately, most of the AIs are pathological liars. The overwhelming majority of titles they came up with didn't exist. I had fun trying to find them, I can tell you.

Most of the rest either had nothing to do with Christmas, weren't by the artists the AIs said they were or were anything but the obscurities I'd asked for. ChatGPT did mysteriously have one good run, where it gave me more than a dozen solid leads, but it wasn't able to repeat that success. Bard and Bing were just completely useless.

Despite that, it was still a very successful excercise. I found a whole bunch of genuine possibilities while I was searching fruitlessly for the imaginary ones. In the end I had more than twice as many as I needed so the problem shifted from indentification to selection.

I'm still working on that. I keep changing my mind about which songs to use and what order to use them in. In a way, sequencing doesn't matter all that much because it's not like this is a radio show or a mixtape. No-one's going to play them all one after another. If anyone listens to them at al it'll be sporadically, discretely, on different days.

Actually, while we're on the topic, I might want to recommend discretion when listening, especially in the unlikely event of listening in public. Christmas songs seem to divide quite neatly into the saccharine and the scabrous. I've tried to mix and match between the two. I've tried to avoid any I found openly offensive - there were plenty of those in both categories - but some of the ones I've gone with might not be quite as in the spirit of the season as you might imagine.

I'm not going to include any explanatory notes about the choices, the provenance or the prompts and models. I might do a post-Christmas wrap-up post about all of that or I might judge the time has passed and just leave it to the imagination. Also, all the videos are on YouTube so you can find everything you need to know there.

As you'll already have noticed, I've sprinkled some seasonal magic over this post, by which I mean I 've crowbarred in a few tunes that didn't make the cut along with some of those pre-generated images I don't need any more. Think of this post as that Secret Santa present from the guy in the office who just passes on whatever someone gave him last year.

One thing's for certain - I'm not going to run out of suitable options before I run out of interest or breath, whichever comes first. Doing this has made me realise there are an unconscionable number of Christmas songs out there already and many thousands more arriving every year. Plenty of the possibles I looked at were tracks from entire Christmas albums. The most unlikely people seem to have done one. Some, even more than one!

So far, I've largely tried to avoid plundering collections, just like I haven't filched ideas directly from playlists or webzines but I very much reserve the right to go down any or all those paths in future. 

After all, Christmas is the time for giving and those are just gifts waiting for me to take!


  1. I gotta be honest with you, every time I stop by the blog and see one of those AI art headers I think very hard about just closing the tab and going to do something else entirely. This one's particularly horrifying and if it's setting the tone, I'll see you in January.

    1. Well, there will be all the regular posts as well so if you just skip the ones with the "Day XX" titles you should (Mostly) be fine.

      That said, I'm curious as to why the strong reaction. Obviously, I really like these pictures or I wouldn't use them. I find some of them aesthetically pleasing and some of them simply curious and odd but I don't find any of them horrifying or even unpleasant. Some of the ones I generate are both of those things but they stay in the folder.

      For me, I think the whole AI generative concept plays into the future I read about growing up. It's taken a very long time to get here and it's still not going to make it in time for me to see it in full flow but at least I'm getting to see the glimmerings of the beginning of how I imagined it would be.

    2. I don't want to speak for XyzzySqrl, but for me it's the hands. Some of the top image here, for example, is a little odd but you have to look a second for the oddness - the bottom left foots, the weird breaks between upper and lower halves of the bodies - but nearly every single hand is a nightmare. Same with the Sonny and Cher.

    3. Even the top-line image AIs have trouble with hands, or so I hear. The cut-price ones I use definitely do. You can iterate to improve that, you can use specific negative prompts to avoid the worst problems and there are now AI enhancment apps that let you focus on specific parts of existing images and change them. Even for free, there's a lot I could do to reduce the glitching and weirdness to get images that look closer to something a human artist would produce.

      The thing is, though, that's not usually what I'm after. I kind of like images that look as though they've been produced by something that's not quite human. It's the alien quality that appeals. That's not to say the stunning images some people get out of these apps aren't amazing and beautiful but more often than not it's not exactly what I'm after.

  2. That first pic is channeling the Archies, but in a disturbing manner. I'm guessing Sonny and Cher in the middle one, and then a random Western in the last one.

    The weirdness about the graphics really stems from something that you'd think that AI could handle easily: matters of spatiality and perspective. Things such as "the horse starts here, so it ought to continue behind the cart there", but it certainly seems that AI doesn't build things first and then overlay items on top of each other, but rather it kind of wings it based on a general design.

    Maybe Open AI and company need to first assign spatiality to graphics and then build each item, but I don't know if it can handle that task at all. Have you tried to see what'd happen if you asked Stable Diffusion to draw abstract art, or just channel their inner Jackson Pollack, just to see what'd come out.

    As for the music....

    Donny Osmond takes me back to the days of the Donny and Marie Show. Of course, Donny was Captain Purple in an recurring skit, but not in this particular special. (I think.)

    That Procol Harum is exactly as I'd expect a Christmas song from them to be: A Whiter Shade of Pale-ish sound to it, although that is likely more due to the singer than anything else.

    The Scooby Doo song... That makes me sad. Not because the song is bad, but because I hear the song and miss the old Scooby Doo episodes. (Yes, I'm enough of an aficionado that I have the complete "Scooby Doo Where Are You?" original series on DVD.)

    1. From memory, the prompt for the top picture was something like Snowball fight. Archie Comics. 1950s. The first time I did it, without the "1950s" part, it gave me the cast of Riverdale.

      To me, that Donny Osmond clip is way more horrifying than anything an AI could produce. Back in the 1970s the Osmonds seemed like aliens to me. They did turn out to be rather nice people with a good sense of humor about themselves but the music... oh, boy!

      I know I've said this before but the original Scooby Doo is definitely not my favorite iteration. I like the Cartoon Network's 2010-2013 version the best. I really want to see the 2019-2021 Scooby Doo and Guess Who series too. I hear that's good.


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