→ Ficus carica L.

The tiny flowers of the fig are out of sight, clustered inside the green "fruits", technically a synconium. Pollinating insects gain access to the flowers through an opening at the apex of the synconium.

via CFRG.org — Ficus carica L.

And that's why you never see fig flowers.

→ Is It Just Me, Or Is the World Going Crazy?

Because, like you, like seemingly everybody, I have also felt as though the world is spinning out of control and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m exhausted from all the stories of shootings and attacks and bombs and the constant stream of awful stuff that is happening out there.

via Is It Just Me, Or Is the World Going Crazy? by Mark Manson.

A reminder that my morbid fascination with the craziness of "the other side" makes me part of the problem.

Prisma AI: Photo-to-Art App for iOS and Android

Prisma AI website

I just found this app and started fiddling with it. These are results from my own photos with no tweaking.

There are dozens of 'apply a filter to photo' apps out there and this is totally different.

Photoshop has had 'artistic' filters for ages, but you always had to apply them yourself very carefully.

This app does all the tweaking automagically and transforms an input photo into each possible style with zero fiddling. Then you get a single one-dimensional option to alpha blend your original with the 'artified' one, and that's it.

I went to the website to see if it was available for Android, and saw it is called Prisma AI, after I had already guessed that they were using machine learning to set the parameters for each photo.

Downsides: hard-coded square crop, as far as I can tell, and hard-coded low-res limit (~ 1 Megapixel), and the worst part (which also gives away that this is some heavy duty AI stuff): it only runs on their servers, so you can get stuck in the queue and it only works with a network connection. Also, they apply a watermark in the corner.

If I had to guess what their business model is, since the app is free with no in-app purchase (they may add in-app purchase to make it work off-line, possibly -- then it would be a pro tool instead of a toy) their entire business model is venture-backed and they are going for an "Instagram has no choice but to buy us" approach.

But technically and artistically this is seriously cool and worth fiddling with for a few minutes.

UPDATE: You can now turn off the watermark when you save images back to your camera roll.

UPDATE: About half of the filters now work off-line and you get results very quickly. NIce work.

How to Eat Well on $1 per Meal

or $180/mo for a Family of Two

US$1

1. Stop wasting food

If you are wasting food you are flushing money down the garbage disposal. If food spoils or goes bad you have room for improvement in how you buy food and plan your meals.

Part of this is being proactively lazy: making a meal and then eating leftovers the next day. If you do not know how to reheat food so that it tastes good, I will let you in on a secret: to reheat something and make it toasty, use a toaster oven, not a microwave. Or a conventional oven: 20 minutes at 300 degrees F and anything will taste delicious one night later.

Or just put the pot or pan in the fridge with a glass lid and reheat on the stove in the same container.

If you find that you have leftovers but not quite enough for a full meal, simply throw in a smoothie or a salad, or some side or appetizer.

Another tip is to use Rubbermaid, Tupperware, Gladware, or any reusable dish (deli meats sometimes come with one for free) to store half-used veggies or other items. Be prepared to rinse a lot of reusable tubs and lids.

Another tip: refrigerate bread. We buy day-old specialty breads for half off and once you toast them they taste better than the preservative-laden ones from the bread aisle. Cheap stale crusty breads can be used for croutons for salads.

2. Stop eating out.

If you are a grown up and you do not know how to pack a sandwich for your lunch, throwing in a treat and a snack and an apple or your favorite fruit, then you are allowing yourself to pay higher food taxes. If you cannot make a sandwich maybe you should stop reading this list and just give up now. (If you cannot eat bread I'm sure you can still make something portable and edible every day.)

Eating out can increase your food bill by an order of magnitude, even if you only buy "affordable" restaurant lunches. Just say no. There: I also saved you time and gas, and you get to avoid the lunch rush of traffic too.

3. Stock up on non-perishable sale items

This is such a no-brainer. Obviously the price of food can vary. Buy when it is cheap. We are talking a savings of 25%-75% sometimes.

Unopened items like cheese, nuts, canned food, pasta, rice, salsa, pickles, condiments, pasta sauce, chips or snack crackers, breakfast cereal, flour, sugar, spices will all last you a year, maybe more. (Many of these will store for ages even after opening.) Frozen meat can last weeks or months with no discernible flavor difference (you do have to remember to get it into the fridge in order to thaw -- planning is one cost you pay). Keep all of these well stocked.

Root vegetables (onions, potatoes) keep for months in a cool dark place. Potatoes are so cheap they practically give them away in ten pound bags.

You can even stock up on certain perishable items if you own a freezer. We freeze ripe bananas, mangoes, and berries and make smoothies with them. Extra tasty without ice, just frozen fruit. Speaking of cold treats, buy ice cream in five quart containers and only eat it out of small cups so it lasts for weeks or months.

This leaves a small set of produce that you buy weekly (plus milk, and maybe eggs every several weeks). Fruit like apples or bananas, strawberries, grapes for lunch, whatever is in season. Tomatoes for salads and sandwiches. Buy certain items when they are on sale or in season, like lettuce, carrots, broccoli, squash, celery -- for specific dishes during the next week or three.

Also you can review the newsprint mailers sent out by your local grocery chains and make a list of which items, usually produce, are the best deals each week.

4. Be willing to do the dishes

Buy some nice dishes and treat them well and you will be happier cleaning them off regularly. You do not even have to do the dishes every day if you have a small household: just make sure to clean off your knives and throw away your food waste, then get your dishes soaking. If nothing is fossilized the next day, then loading the dishwasher is the easy part.

You might split kitchen duty along the cooking / dishes line. Or trade certain nights, or weekends. If you divide it up and there is some variety in the labor, you can enjoy someone else cooking for you and yet not pay through the nose for the privilege. You can both get better.

5. Learn to bake

Or find someone who will teach you by making you do it and helping you avoid mistakes. Baking is actually usually quite easy, especially if you are not trying to invent recipes, but rather if you simply follow recipes. If you make muffins or cookies, you can eat them in your lunch throughout the week. If you do not know what you want to make, just go to Joy of Baking and try not to drool. All the recipes are winners and are very reliable.

Baking lets you avoid too many pre-made treats. Processed foods have a lot of weird chemicals and tend to be very starchy, salty, or just low quality yet expensive. Raw materials for baking are very low in cost and even quality ingredients like chocolates chips and nuts can be purchased in bulk when cheap and should store just fine. Nuts and flaked coconut can be frozen and frozen nuts can last for years -- consult your neighborhood squirrel in the winter.

6. Create your own recipe book

You will never run out of ideas of what to make this week if you start tracking your favorite successful recipes, tweaked to your style and taste and favoring your available ingredients. It gets easier with time, and you can experiment with new recipes as your depth of food experience grows.

7. Meal planning algorithm

One way to plan a menu for the week is to write down a list of possibilities at the beginning of the week, or to keep a running list of ideas that reflect the ingredients you have on hand, so idea generation is less stressful. Another strategy to answer the question, "What do you want to eat tomorrow?" is to choose an ingredient to get out of the freezer, say, beef, and then your partner chooses a meal idea with that item as the main ingredient. Or one person narrows down to two choices and then the other decides what they want, of the two choices. People like to feel like their preference are being heard, yet being in charge of deciding every night can be stressful too, so make sure to spread the burden. You don't have to plan the whole week, and things shouldn't have be set in stone either.

Fighting the Last War

Karen Englebart, on the 99% Invisible podcast, episode Of Mice and Men, talks about the larger goal of her father, Douglas Englebart, and his wonderful accomplishments, including the invention of the mouse in the 1960s and later work on collaboration and networking at Xerox PARC.

I think Doug shares some similarities with Nikolai Tesla. They were so far ahead of their time, yet they did not take a business or industry role in developing their vision in an iterative fashion, but they mostly sat by and watched, disappointed that it did not play out the way they wanted. Both Englebart and Tesla suffered from a misunderstanding of how groups of people, especially non-specialists, work at scale.

Karen mentions that people use a computer for the first time and can pick it up very quickly because of the graphical user interface, point and grunt. Then she claims that an expert using the same computer four years later has not changed how they interact with the computer. She claims that they should be using hardware inputs designed by her father in the 60s, including a five button chorded key bank.

(This argument also assumes that the user will not learn any new software in the intervening four or five years, which is outlandish. This also shows that predictions from the 1960s about how people would spend their time using computers fell short: most of it is spent reading content written by other people, watching videos, social networking, etc. which all benefit from a low-learning-curve, consistent interface.)

Weird Argument Assumes the Problem is Physical

I think this argument is disingenuous. It is like saying that the third grader learning to type their papers on a computer should change their tools when they become the next Ernest Hemingway. Or complaining that Math departments should use something more advanced than the same pen and paper used by grade schoolers or the same white chalk on a blackboard used for centuries. On the face of it this would be a bogus claim. Developments in advanced mathematics are not held back by the physical tools being held by the mathematicians in their hands.

The real question is whether what you are doing on the computer is scaling up to meet the speed and demands of the symbolic manipulation happening inside of your cortex, and even whether the tools being used change how you think about the problem -- including when your hands are not on the mouse and keyboard when you are away for a break.

Weird Argument Assumes No One Is Using Chorded Key Input

Additionally, maybe Karen Engelbart is unaware that many full-time illustrators and artists use a Wacom tablet and pressure sensitive pen in their right hand, while using their left hand to do various chords, including shortcuts for Photoshop and the like, and various keyboard modifiers and combinations of modifiers in 3-D modeling tools like Alias and Maya. In some sense all these specialized computer users already have specialized tools with high learning curves (Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Alias, Maya, Nuke, Emacs, Visual Studio, Logic Pro, Final Cut) where even experienced users are continually learning new tricks.

In other words, instead of looking at the broader computing landscape (and mobile devices in particular) she should be looking at specialized professions to see how the power users get their work done and maintain ergonomics for decades of their careers. I wonder if she is aware of the implications of ergonomics and repetitive stress problems caused by all of this virtuosity, especially the hand-cramping involved in chording multiple keys -- an actual common practice that does exist in the world, but is simply known as keyboard shortcuts.

Missing Argument That Human-Machine Interfaces Have Room From Improvement

and lack of acknowledgement of the actual challenges of deploying supposed improvements in the workplace

And finally, as much as I agree with the idea that spatial reasoning might be better mapped to human physicality, à la minority report and Oblong Industries[1], in a lot of ways this misses the boat about how people actually get work done in their narrow fields, and the realities of office anthropology, economics, and politics: what managers are willing to pay for, or not pay for -- as evidenced by the proliferation of the open office wastelands of even the most "forward-thinking" cash-laden American corporations.

Again, the speed at which the most abstract thinkers (programmers, research scientists) make progress day to day and year to year is not typically limited by how quickly they can physically enter their thoughts into the machine as programs, proofs, commands, or otherwise. If anything, their day-to-day is improved by removing weird repetitive strain actions like chording, and replacing explicit command sequences by background processes, like programmer IDE syntax checking and inline autocompletion.

If Karen's actual underlying complaint is that the folks using their uber-powerful laptop computers and pocket supercomputers do no understand them and are not benefiting from their untapped capabilities, Alan Kay has been beating that drum for a lot longer. As a member of the "elite" application-crafting class, though I agree to some degree, I also accept the idea from economics of specialization and segmentation. The best software creators I have met have understood the duty of the technical class to reach across the aisle and craft solutions that meet human customers where they are, instead of forcing the user to take responsibility for the limitations and frankly unnecessary complexities of the machine. In other words, it is not looking good for the whole field of computing when programmers think that the solution to a problem is for the user to become a programmer.


  1. I have yet to see Oblong create a piece of software with the depth of a real professional app, something way above the demo or toy level. The closest thing was the integration of applications and devices on the three screen mission control, with maps and the wand, etc. Oblong is probably right that human dexterity and the motor cortex evolved to work by doing, by movement in space and time, and studies showing that internal mental (neurological) maps incorporate tools as a literal extension of the body map shore up this perspective. ↩︎

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