Magic: Invisible in Real-time

One definition of Magic:

Something you can’t see happening in real-time

Things at a super small or large scale. Work that was done by someone else or a large team. Work that is enjoyed at speed but took years. Geological processes. Evolutionary processes. Painstaking human processes. Articulate or even elegant and simple design, something that feels inevitable or obvious, but hides a lot of complexity. Magic.


WOMBO Dream AI Art

I downloaded this free app (iOS and Android) that lets you turn an English phrase into a 960x1440px piece of fantasy artwork. It basically runs computer vision algorithms in reverse to hallucinate or dream up new creations. I have spent hours playing with it. It really rewards experimentation with phrasing and styles.

Some fun queries I have crafted:

“Fiery gates of hell vanishing point” “Flaming dragon pedestal” “Glowing God of light sky explosion winged statue”

(Enjoy it while it is free; they are probably burning through VC money and trying to get acquired, or will have to ask for money at some point. That happened to the Prisma AI app that would make artwork out of photos.)

I have played with it enough to get a feel for how to control the results by adding and removing words, and which styles work for which types of subjects. Some useful words to control the general shape of the thing it is drawing: “statue”, “figure”, “dancer”, “orb”, “bust”, “pedestal”. Cool queries to inject elements into a painting: “feathered,” “raven,” “bat-wings,” “devilish,” “winged,” “sky,” “cloudy,” “night time,” “galaxy,” “arabesque,” “mosaic,” “coral reef,” “tapestry,” etc.

I think the strength of the app is the flip-side of its main weakness: it is very abstract and almost like a stroke or a fever nightmare. The strength is that it can create really amazing and surprising results with very imprecise or abstract words (“happenstance”, “dreadful”, “happy”, “funny”, coined words, “reassuring”, moody nonsense phrases like “beyond the tolling bell of avarice”) and particularly, it can combine concepts in a magical way, like “fairy flower,” “winged dancing mermaid,” etc. It can convey a very clear mood or gesture, or set an environment or a feeling.

I like that it is its own art form to craft a query and select and even crop the final artwork. I also like that it is totally random and unreproducible and requires luck to get a good composition. In these senses it is just another tool that I can use to make my own artwork, instead of just producing perfect results that I don’t own, the way Google Image Search might do. The surprise is part of the fun, and gives you ownership of a good “find.”

Additionally, another big strength is its speed and the ability to create many fully-realized, high-level concepts in rapid sequence. Imagine a working artist who gets over the initial response of “I can do better than that” and instead says, “Amazing, a new tool in my tool belt!” That artist could then present clients with dozens of hand-selected small thumbnail mock-ups, and a client could help iterate and rapidly come up with lots of awesome design ideas, on the cheap, in the course of a short meeting or Zoom call, in many styles and compositions, before the artist then goes and paints some real “final” artwork versions, at larger scale and greater cost (of time and money).

It makes me really want to create a card game or board game akin to Magic the Gathering that needs a large quantity of (small) fantasy and sci-fi artwork because it is fun to try to create sets of artwork based on lots of specific ideas, like making a working set of dozens of distinguishable icons that have mnemonic meaning even if they are not concrete or perfect (human figures are a glaring weakness). In fact, the artwork could spur lots of ideas in the gameplay and content side of things.


Rules of Inference

  • Modus ponens — P implies Q. P is true. Therefore Q must also be true.
  • Modus tollens — P implies Q. Q is not true. Therefore P must not be true.
  • Modus trollens — I believe P, therefore P is true.


Apple’s Biggest Apps

Apple just announced the iPad Pro with M1 chip and now you can give Apple $1500 or more and get an iPad with 16 GB of RAM. With the same specs (or even just 8 GB on some $700 low-end Mac mini) on an M1 Mac, you can run Apple’s biggest, most demanding pro apps: Xcode (software development, free download but $100/year for membership to release apps on their stores), Logic ($200, pro audio / digital audio workstation), and Final Cut ($300, professional video editing suite).

In addition, Apple just announced that the Thunderbolt port on the newly announced iPad Pro now supports external displays up to 6K, their $6000+ Pro Display XDR monitor. Also, a year ago Apple released amazing software and hardware support for trackpads and mice for iPad. (I have a trackpad on my Logitech keyboard cover for my low-end iPad 10.2” and it is pretty great.)

So the question inevitably asked by pundits and Apple watchers: What do I do with all my iPad Pro’s powerful hardware? Where is the software? What can I do with a trackpad and an expensive external display? If I give Apple $7,500 and I have $500 more for their pro apps, why won’t they sell them to me to use on the iPad? Right now, the external display cannot be used for UI elements because iPadOS does not support this, making UI that is not on the primary touchscreen itself. Apple is like 15–35 years behind the Mac and Windows on this.

I have a handful of former coworkers that work on the Apple Los Angeles pro apps team (a holdover from when Apple bought the pro apps from a third party) and I have no inside information; however, I think I can state that Apple knows all of the above information, and is working on it. Apple has already ported all of the low-level code for all of these apps from x86 to the M1 Mac (ARM), a not insignificant project. They simply will not announce anything until it is ready.

I think I will be very disappointed if five years from now Apple continues to sell mind-bending iPad hardware but they have not brought their three biggest apps to iPad by then, if not sooner. In fact, in about six weeks, they basically have to announce iPadOS support for more complicated workflows (external monitor, better multitasking, better experience with trackpad-only or mouse-only workflows), or their developer base (especially their most dedicated developers, who make pro apps for iPad) will be sorely disappointed.

As it is, I absolutely love my (even low-end) iPad but I struggle to find ways to use it more. There is simply too much I cannot do without my Mac. However, it is getting closer every year, and the time may come when I can actually consider buying an iPad Pro instead of a MacBook Pro, but Apple has to make that case convincingly. I need Terminal and Homebrew, Xcode, and third party development apps. I think an iPad Pro as a software development machine would be amazing, running the simulator on a touch screen, vanquishing my need for an extra USB port to attach an external iOS device for testing. (Apple doesn’t even support touch on the iPad if you connect the screen via Sidecar and put a simulator window from your Mac on your iPad 😭.)

Stay tuned.