Cleaning Mindfully

Part two of my post on building a purposeful life. This post discusses a few of my life aims, how I came up with them, and how I have set out to achieve them.

Living a Life of Example, Living with Intention

In my last post, I discussed the concept of Be, Do, and Action goals, and how creating these help someone find and create a life of purpose. These goals help you become type of person you’d like to be. Be goals help form the central, self-organizing aim for your life – each one is a life purpose.

Be goals are aligned to our self-affirmations and life purpose. Be goals remind us why our Do goals are worth achieving. Action goals are how we achieve our Do goals. Here’s a cleaned up version of my Be, Do, and Action goals.

Pared down example of my purposeful circles.
A few examples from my purposeful circles. In the center circle are my Be goals, including Be a good example, Live intentionally, and Seek and share enlightenment. The middle ring has Do goals, Presentable and Well-read, Read a lot. The outer ring has crispy behaviors, the Action goals. These are Create a cleaning schedule and Read 20 or more books a year. I also have reminders off to the side about what Be, Do, and Action goals are.

Two of my Be Goals included living a life of example and living with intention. (I’m not sure if “life of example” is the correct way to put it, but that’s what I came up with for now.) One way I thought of to be a good example was to be presentable; this is my Do goal.

Being presentable can mean many things, I tried to brainstorm about how to achieve this. One action I came up with was cleaning. I liked the idea of cleaning, but it was a bit vague. To create my action goal, what the professor calls a “crispy” behavior, I needed to be more specific.

What I came up with was a cleaning schedule, which has so far turned out pretty well.


Japanese porch

Why Cleaning

I chose cleaning as helping me achieve my life purposes of living with intention and living a life of example for two reasons.

Meditation is all about being intentional and focusing your mind. Taking a meditative approach to cleaning, seemed like a great way to put that goal into action.

The other reason is that a clean home is presentable. I wanted to feel that if anyone walked at any moment, they could see I had a clean and presentable home. It was a great example and reflection on the type of person I want to be.

Cleaning and Mindfulness

The cleaning schedule borrows from the cleaning examples I found in the book A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind. The monk who wrote the book explained that his monastery uses a particular schedule for certain activities like when to shave their heads or mend their clothes.

I heard about the monk and this book after attending the Japan Society Talks event Clean House, Clear Mind: A Buddhist Monk’s Wisdom, on Wednesday 27 March, 2019.

1:02:10

The book, which I read twice, focuses on cleaning as a meditative practice. It gives advice on how to clear the mind when cleaning.

When I first read the book, I was obsessed with cleaning. And I did feel lighter having dusted everything and wiped everything. It’s amazing how much and where dust accumulates.

After the online course, I was able to connect cleaning with my personal values. Seeking to solidify specific actions to help me live my values. My cleaning schedule consists of 2 calendars and a separate inspiration page.


Schedules for a Clean Home and Mind

To create the calendars, I used InDesign. The fonts are Letter Gothic Std and Garamond. I created generic versions, so they can be downloaded for your own use.

Daily and Monthly Schedule

The first schedule lists tasks to be taken care of on a daily basis and monthly basis.

Schedule for daily and monthly cleaning tasks.
Monthly or daily cleaning events

Day to Day Schedule

The second schedule includes tasks that track close to the advice in the book. I split the 3 and 8 days into tasks focused on increasing light and reflections.

The second set of tasks, for 4 and 9 days, includes events focused on fixing things and more cleaning activities, like vacuuming.

Schedule for tasks that should be completed on the third and eighth day, and those on the fourth and ninth day.
For cleaning events that are scheduled on days ending in 3, 4, 8, or 9.

Inspiration Page

I thought it was important to keep in mind the mindset for why cleaning mindfully is important. The book refers to Zengosaidan which is a Buddhist concept focused on living in the moment, and not letting worries about work that is to be done or past failures weigh you down in them moment.

Zengosaidan inspiration focused on living in the moment, and not letting worries about work that is to be done or past failures weigh you down in them moment.
Zengosaidan inspiration

Put all of our efforts into each day to live without regrets. Live for today without grief for the past or worry about the future.

Eliminate the seeds that distract your mind with unnecessary thoughts about past failures and future challenges.

The longer you neglect to remove the impurities of the heart, the longer it will take to remove them.

Shoukei Matsumoto, “A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind”

Eliminate the seeds that distract your mind with unnecessary thoughts about past failures and future challenges.

Building a Purposeful Life

Part one of my post on building a purposeful life. This post discusses the course I took which helped set me on this path, concepts from the course, and a brief overview of the course activites.

I recently completed a new online course. It was very different from my usual string of courses. It was a self-improvement course, focused on neuroscience and public heath. It’s called Finding Purpose and Meaning In Life: Living for What Matters Most. It’s taught by Vic Strecher, of the University of Michigan’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine, on Coursera.

Course certificate, Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most. – https://www.coursera.org/learn/finding-purpose-and-meaning-in-life

The course has a 4.8 rating with over 1,000 reviews. Here is what Coursera provides in the description.

In this course, you’ll learn how science, philosophy and practice all play a role in both finding your purpose and living a purposeful life. You will hear from historical figures and individuals about their journeys to finding and living a purposeful life, and will walk through different exercises to help you find out what matters most to you so you can live a purposeful life…. By the end of this course, you will:

  1. Understand that having a strong purpose in life is an essential element of human well-being.
  2. Know how self-transcending purpose positively affects well-being.
  3. Be able to create a purpose for your life (don’t be intimidated, this is different from creating “the purpose” for your life).
  4. Apply personal approaches and skills to self-change and become and stay connected to your purpose every day.

Not only did I finish the course, I’ve started making changes. This first post covers the concepts and course topics. The next will be about how I applied the concepts and design artifacts I created to help me achieve them.


Socrates voor zijn huis, Reinier Vinkeles (I), after Jacobus Buys, 1792 – Find at Rijksmuseum

A Central, Self-Organizing Life Aim

The course focuses on helping students find a purpose in life. It’s important to point out it’s a purpose, not the purpose. A purpose in life is “a central, self-organizing life aim”; a predominant theme in a person’s life.

The lessons guide students by introducing topics in Buddhist and Greek philosophy, such as the “true self” known as atman (Hindu/Buddhist) or daimon (Greek), and connecting those concepts to brain function and the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortex, VmPFC. The VmPFC is the part of the brain that is involved in processing information and our emotional response.

We return to the VmPFC often in the course, to understand our neurobiological responses to stimuli and how behavioral practices like Loving-Kindness Meditation can lead to a positive sense of self, which can help lead to positive behavioral outcomes.


Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2019 August 4
Rumors of a Dark Universe
Image Credit: High-Z Supernova Search TeamHSTNASA

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

We also learn what it means to have a purpose and discuss concepts in existential philosophy by thinking about Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus.

We even learn about what Stanley Kubrick, who was apparently a big fan of Nietzche, and (loosely) 2001: A Space Odyssey have to say about purpose:

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference…our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Stanley Kubrick, 1968

Obviously, I have to have the music. 🙂

Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra / Dudamel · Berliner Philharmoniker
Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra / Gustavo Dudamel, conductor · Berliner Philharmoniker / Recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie, 28 April 2012.

There’s a very interesting article from the Houston Symphony on Richard Strauss’ musical interpretations of Nietzche’s book and philosophy, Thus Spake Zarathustra, which has the same name as his famous orchestra piece.

In describing the music, the Houston Symphony writes, “Kubrick was not too far off the mark in using the piece’s opening to score a sunrise from outer space; Strauss indeed intended it to depict the mountaintop sunrise that opens Nietzsche’s book. The opening motif in the trumpets has been called the ‘nature’ or ‘world riddle’ motif; it recurs throughout the piece as a symbol of nature’s indifference and mystery.”


skuawk.com

What Kind of Cook Are You?

One of the important lessons is that while it’s important to seek knowledge, it’s also important to have guidance in that pursuit. To seek knowledge with purpose.

There’s an analogy used in the course, to help compare the pursuit of knowledge with cooking. We really can’t all expect to become master chefs before we ever start cooking. But we also can’t expect to have any efficiency or safety in a kitchen with no training whatsoever. The same is true for the pursuit of knowledge. An unintentional pursuit can lead down dark and dangerous paths; meanwhile, we can’t spend all our time studying for the next exam.

The question, What Kind of Cook Are You, is an existential philosophical question about the pursuit of information that is meant to focus on the importance of intention and balance. Learn enough so that you can seek out recipes and follow them, but also learn enough that you can deviate from the recipe without ruining the food or burning down the kitchen.

Image of flowers in golden light, showing sense of calmness
pexels.com

Golden Rules

I’ve often heard about The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — either at church or Girl Scouts. And while it’s a great concept in theory, in practice, it’s kind of self-less and you end up getting mistreated a bit.

The course brought up a new version, which I think is a bit better.

The Reverse Golden Rule: Do not do to yourself, what you would not do to others.


skuawk.com

Being Purposeful

As I mentioned above, the course often refers to the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortext, VmPFC, to understand, explain, and change our how a life purpose can improve life outcomes in positive ways, from a biological, psychological, and behavioral perspectives. The course focuses on how our own thoughts and behaviors can be reinforced. However, we often we don’t achieve our goals to “do better” for 2 reasons: they haven’t been tied back to our purpose and they don’t represent what he calls “crispy” behaviors. That is specific actions to be put into practice. We often make goals that are just a little too vague.

skuawk.com

Finding Your Purpose

These goals are called Do, Be, and Action goals. And the course helps the student think about and create them by, again, focusing on existentialism. Existentialism acknowledges human mortality, which many people don’t like to think about. However, by considering that life isn’t forever, we can use this inevitable fact to not freak out but to channel our life towards having a purpose – a central, self-organizing life aim.

There’s an app the instructor has called Purposeful by Kumanu™, to help create those Do, Be, and Action goals. I didn’t use it, I created the diagrams using a drawing program. But to get there, you start asking introspective questions about yourself, such as:

  • What are causes you care about?
  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

Literally, there’s an earlier part of the course where you think about what you want your headstone to say!

Pencils on a yellow background

Create Do, Be, and Action Goals

Ultimately the answer to the introspective questions above help to generate your Be goals. The type of person you’d like to be. Your atman, your daimon. These will form the central, self-organizing aim for your life – each one is a life purpose.

Do Goals: Next, you take these Be goals and ask what you have to do to enact those Be goals. Those are your Do goals.

Actually, the course makes a point to mention that many people start here and stop here. Rather than tying their goals to a life purpose, it becomes about achieving this goal. Like wanting to lose weight to fit into a dress, vs wanting to lose weight to fit into a dress, because ultimately the person is lonely and doesn’t want to be.

Action Goals: Finally the question becomes what action to take to enact to achieve those Do goals. These are the Action goals. And these should be specific and achievable goals.


To clarify, creating these goals is not a one-day activity. The course has the student ask themselves these questions frequently. By the time these concepts shows up, you already have a bit of a list and you’re primed to accept the ideas. I even spent time after the course completing this work.

Also a person can have more than one facet of their life in which to create their life purpose, including work, retirement, school, family, and even military service.

I highly recommend the course. As one reviewer said, “Vic is an excellent professor who just connects so well with the students even from the computer screen.” It’s not an in-depth neuropsychology course, nor is it a philosophy course. It provides enough information to support the course content, and enough to continue researching independently if that’s a goal.


As mentioned in the intro, I’ve split this post into two. In the next post, I’ll go into 2 of my Be Goals and how I turned them into crispy behaviors focused on cleaning.

Until then, here’s a video of the sun.

Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 August 19
The Sun Rotating
Video Credit: SDONASA; Digital Composition: Kevin M. Gill

Featured Image: Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 November 17. A Glowing STEVE and the Milky Way. Image Credit: NASAKrista Trinder

Black Hair Tutorials — In the Style of Famous Movie Directors and Their Films

Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The famous statue of Dinard in tribute to Alfred Hitchcock and his movie “The Birds”, erected on the occasion of the “Festival du Film Britannique”. Photo by Thibaut Démare.

Like so many other people, I too watch hair and makeup tutorials on YouTube. I’ve found that the majority of videographers film their hair tutorials from the front. Or from the back, like from the perspective of a hair stylist. Well, I came across some pretty unique hair tutorials sometime in 2019. The videographers/hair stylists filmed their tutorials completely different. They chose to film their tutorials in the style of famous movie directors and their movies.

My series of tiny home posts shows that many YouTubers create high-quality videos. The videos below are no different. The videos below, are extra special: they were filmed on a sound stage, with props and special effects. Both entertaining and educational!

Overview

What you’ll see below, where possible, is a short background on the movie and/or director, a preview of the original film or an excerpt, and then the tutorial. Thankfully, IMBD has some nice overview videos of famous directors. (Thanks, IMDB!)

The directors/movies are:

  • Stanley Kubrick/The Shining
  • Spike Lee/Do The Right Thing
  • Wes Anderson/Moonrise Kingdom
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Stan Lee & Brian Cooglar / Black Panther

I am very excited to share this post. I wrote it way back in 2019, and have been saving and adding to it, while sharing other posts. Now it’s finally time to share. So with probably my longest blog post title yet, enjoy!


1. Stanley Kubrick, “The Shining”

The Shining is a movie adaptation of the book of the same name, written by mystery/thriller writer extraordinaire, Stephen King. The book was published in 1977. The movie was directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1980.

Stanley Kubrick didn’t just make thrillers, but his movies did have a psychologically subversive twist to them. Kubrick was pretty influential in film making. Here’s a summary of his style, by IMDB.

The Shining

The Shining is about a man who takes his family to live in an isolated mountain retreat as the winter caretakers. He…succumbs to the isolation.

Twist Out Tutorial In The Style Of “The Shining”


2. Spike Lee, “Do the Right Thing”

Do The Right Thing was released in 1989 and directed by Spike Lee. Many of his films, or joints, are set in New York City, and especially the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights or Bed Stuy. Many of his films’ themes center around race and society. He has some distinctive film making cues that this IMDB video showcases.

Do The Right Thing is about the day to day life for residents in a predominately black Brooklyn neighborhood during a hot summer. The tutorial picks up style and scene elements from this movie, some of which are seen in this trailer.

Wash and Go, in the style of Spike Lee (with Do The Right Thing references)


3. Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom”

Hair Puff Tutorial, in the style of Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

 


4. Alfred Hitchcock

Another dominating name in film making. Unlike Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock specialized in thrillers and psychological thrillers, only. Pretty much all of his movies and Alfred Hitchcock Presents shorts have a very similar style. Check out the guide below and the tutorial following.


5. Stan Lee/Ryan Cooglar, “Black Panther”

Black Panther is based on a comic by Marvel, heavily influenced by legendary comic book artist Stan Lee. The movie, released in 2018, immediately became a cultural phenomenon. This scene below is when the main character, T’chala, goes into the underground science lair to check out some new tools and suit. The director, Ryan Cooglar, has completed other movies, but not really enough to have a distinctive style.

Scene from Black Panther

Bantu knots tutorial, in the style of Black Panther

Greatly mimics the scene above.

 


Learn More

What I liked about these tutorials were was not just the reference to pop culture — they also reflected the booming business of Black hair and the natural hair movement and acceptance within the African American community.

The business of Black hair is a big business and natural hair video tutorials are a popular sub-genre of beauty “vlogs” which are themselves very popular on YouTube. CNBC did a good job of summarizing the business of Black hair, in their video below, if you’re curious to learn more.

 


Image credit: Ceremonie van volwassen worden, Totoya Hokkei, c. 1822, colour woodcut, h 204mm × w 178mm – View original at Rijksmuseum.nl

Tiny Homes: More Features and My Favorite Ideas

More Features and My Favorite Ideas

Beautiful example of hidden, under-rail lighting from “Beautiful Tiny Home Built To Look Like Earthen Cottage”.

There are many other videos I’ve seen, on the Living Big in a Tiny Home YouTube channel and others I’ve seen on YouTube about making the best use of a small space.

The videos I highlighted in my other post stand out for the cleverness of their designs and features that seem to make it easier to transition and thrive in a tiny house.

Additional Tips

Some of the other features and tips I saw include:

  • Using hidden lighting (see image above)
  • Spend money on what you cannot see, like the frame, the electrical wiring
  • Make sure there are enough fire exits
  • 12 volt energy use

The Question of Land Use

Aside from not too many videos from long-time tiny home owners, one of the biggest unresolved issues about tiny home living is the question about land: where to park the home. Many tiny home owners have been able to set up on land owned by friends or family. One guy owned a home which he rented out, and lived in a tiny home in his own driveway/backyard.
Some people live in the middle of a city and some live way out in the country. Depending on where you live, it may be possible to connect into existing septic systems and electrical grids. Some home owners have a goal of going fully off-grid.

My Ideal Setup

My ideal setup would be a combo of staying connected, but a focus on reducing grid use by supplementing or fully relying on solar panels, as well as a focus on water conservation and reuse.

The Jamestown Net-Zero season of This Old House proves that it’s possible to design and build an energy efficient home, so I’d like that to be a focus too.

Based on the videos I’ve seen, if I were able to build a tiny home, here are features I would ideally be able to include:

  • Cat run
  • Large porch, ideally closed and covered
  • Stand-up bedroom
  • Side entry, with a ramp option
  • Main home plus guest-home or addition
  • Large windows or garage opening
  • Smart storage
  • Thoughtfully designed room separation
  • Hidden lighting
  • Soft-touch openings
  • Single-floor or stairs with secure railings
  • Future proof

Tiny Homes: My Favorite Episodes

LBTH Logo
Intro for Living Big in a Tiny House

A Review of Eight Tiny Homes

My last post on the topic of tiny homes introduced the concept of tiny homes and why I think they’ve become so popular.

This first post of 2020 includes 8 of my favorite episodes from the YouTube series, Living Big in a Tiny House.

 


1. Disability / Mobility / Elderly Friendly: A home to grow old in.

I’m really glad this home was included. It shows that tiny homes can be for everyone and can be an option for people as they grow older or people who have or develop mobility difficulties. My favorite features of this home are the single-level floor plan, the wide hallways, the screened in and open porch-like front room (veranda), and the ramp. It also features non-slip floors, soft-touch openings, and an induction stove which is a little safer than gas.

This home consists of a tiny home which essentially has a heavily outfitted covered porch in front, which they call a veranda. The bed is on a motor that comes up and down. I think the bed is clever, but I suspect that makes a bit heavy on the budget. I’d probably prefer an analog mechanical solution, rather than digital. The tiny home cost about $85,000, the veranda cost about $15,000, and the high-end blinds cost about $6,000-7,000.

The elderly homeowner is also so charming and pleasant. It’s clear this home means so much to her. She even manages to out-charm Bryce!

2. Clever Space-Saving and Room Separated Flat

This couple live together in a converted flat. The building used to be some kind of warehouse or work house, which is why the ceilings are so high. They used that feature in their design. In their home design, they created kind of a tunnel effect, with a foyer/desk area, a white and almost Space Odyssey: 2001 center storage area, and then an very open kitchen and living area. The cleverness of this tunnel effect is a separation between the different areas of the apartment, and that feeling of being welcomed into the living area. The storage in the white closet-tunnel is pretty impressive, so that’s why I’m including it.

The downside of this build is that the bedroom is in a hidden loft and there are some I-beams going across that I know I would hit my head pretty frequently. I am also not sure how fire safe that bedroom is, either. Aside from that, I think it’s a pretty clever design. Their interior design tastes are pretty fancy.

3. Minimalist, Small-Space Philosophy

This home was designed by the owner, an architect. He imbued a lot of ideas from minimalism, and ideas about transitioning in space. He also lives in a city, similar to the two guys in the video from above.

He had some interesting design ideas about contrasts: dark vs light, contrasting textures, small vs large sizes. His red grout + black tiled bathroom looks very cool, almost Tron-like. I also took note of some of his book titles! 🙂

4. Clever Sun Cover, Massive Cat Run and Exquisite Craftsmanship

A cat run is one of my top requirements given my cats are very important to me. This home also features hidden under-lighting on the stairs, a lovely feature. In addition, this is also one of the few tiny homes with a strong railing for the stairs and loft area, so it seems a lot safer going up and down.

I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but I’m not sure I would choose this home for myself. Maybe it’s just because it seems so masculine, ha!

Regardless of style and trimmings, this home has so many wonderful features. I do love the cat run, the hidden lighting, the semi-covered porch. The loft area design runs front to back and allows you to fully stand up, though I would also prefer more horizontal railings on the loft itself, to avoid accidentally slipping through.

Beautiful craftsmanship on flooring

The male homeowner builds bathrooms for a living so the craftsmanship throughout the home is exceptional. For instance, around 10:58, the homeowners discuss the transition between the kitchen and bathroom, using a beautiful tiling pattern. Needless to say, the bathroom in this home is spectacular.

5. Garage Doors with Porch and Trailer Home

This home has really tall ceilings and a bedroom that isn’t in a loft. The garage doors are a great idea to bring in a lot of light and open up the space, especially with that big porch.

Cost would be the big downside for most people for this home. As a successful musician with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, she probably has more income available for building than many other people. Having said that, her home looks so quaint and I love the traveling micro- music studio and the fantastic porch.

6. Double Train Car Home

It’s really hard to beat the charm of these old railcars turn into tiny homes. This is such a clever idea, and the fact that she has 2 of them, with one as a guest house/room, is even better.

She estimated $50,000 as a total cost, but I think that is a very generous guess for this home, because she’s spent over 5 years building it. In addition, at the time of the video she wasn’t living there full-time so it’s hard to say how well it works as a primary living space. The other downside is she’s very remote so (internet and phone) connectivity is spotty.

7. Full-Bath and Standing Room Bed, with Greenhouse Complex

Aside from the home for a resident with mobility issues, this home is also one of my favorite-favorites! I love the full-size bathtub and the beautiful tiles she installed. I especially like her layout which allows her to use a small staircase to enter her bedroom, which has a ceiling that allows her to stand up.

Many tiny homes have lofts and a half-height ceiling. So there’s a lot of bending. I also a fear of slipping or falling, because many tiny homes do not have full or secure railing. She does have a loft in her living room, but it’s not meant for sleeping.

She says her home cost between $90,000 to $100,000, not including the domes. The enormous greenhouses are also interesting, although that’s kind of outside the scope of my interests at this point.

8. Micro Home in Japan

Finally the smallest, but not the least, is the smallest home I’ve seen featured. The storage, modularity, and multi-use aspects of this home make it worth checking out. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly one feature that makes this home ideal. One of the design inspirations was remaining connected to nature, which is also an inspiration in traditional Japanese architecture. All of the storage and configurations available make this seem like a home that folds in on itself. One smart feature is the use of hollowed out wood panels, for the table and seating, which helps keep the all-cedar home very light. I think a lot of these tricks could be used in many tiny homes.

One major downside: This home does not have a bathroom! For my needs, it wouldn’t work as a full-time residence — at least not in the United States. It works for these two, and one reason for that is those famous Japanese hot springs (onsens) and public baths (sento). For them, there is relatively easy access to bathing, although not on demand. For using the toilet, they use a portable toilet with a biodegradable bag and a powder. They also said there are many places in Japan that accommodate travelers.

The owners said this home cost about $30,000 US.

To clarify, there are 2 videos for this home. One is a tour with the homeowners and the other is a tour with the craftsman. I recommend checking out both, because the craftsman discusses his design inspiration and the homeowners show how they live. Based on the finish of the outside panels, it looks like the craftsman walkthrough comes later.

Walkthrough with Craftsman


My final post will have a few more tips, plus a summary of features for my ideal setup.

This Blog Post Does Not Exist…Or Does It?

A quick overview of generative adversarial networks (GANs) — a type of artificial intelligence that are capable of generating, among other things, pretty realistic looking photos of humans that do not exist.

Shout out to those hard-working generative adversarial network (GAN)! Ok, I don’t really know about hard-working, but it is pretty cool. Let’s review.

Intro to GAN

GAN technology came out in internally at Nvidia, the computer graphics company, in 2014 and released publicly in 2018 (as StyleGAN). The studies are linked.

I’m not going to pretend I understand the details of either study. But based on the Wikipedia article linked above, what I can explain is that a GAN is the result of two neural networks that compete against each other, in one of those mathematical, strategy “games” researchers like to play.  The networks study photographs (or text) and then decide which elements to use to generate something new.

I think some people will find it creepy, but I think it’s cool. For the human photos, it’s hard to not project a humanity into the faces, even though, logically, these are people that have never existed. The generated fake people seem, somehow….special.

Here’s a quick intro to some GAN and some links to explore. Enjoy!


Explore Some Fake Stuff

As I said above, one of the possible outputs of a GAN can be a surprisingly realistic looking photographs. View some of them at thispersondoesnotexist.com. Every time you refresh, you get a new person that has never existed. It’s like dreaming for computers.

This github repository has a list of a few more websites of GANs that generate photographs of humans, fake rental ads, articles, anime, and more results that don’t exist. There are fake cats, but computers seem to have trouble with animals. I suggest not looking at them. (They’re creepy.)

Test Yourself, Human!

Some of these faces look pretty realistic. For instance, the image above-left is an “image of a young woman generated by StyleGAN, an generative adversarial network (GAN). The person in this photo does not exist, but is generated by an artificial intelligence based on an analysis of portraits.” The ad on the right is fake, too. Could you tell?

If you want to really test yourself, the website Which Face Is Real throws up 2 side-by-side images.

Catching up with Friends.

Unless you’re a dog cat on the internet, you can probably tell the difference (and probably even especially if you are a cat). The fake images have a few tell-tale signs like smudged backgrounds, odd looking teeth, unusual wrinkles, and some of them just don’t seem right.

You can also test yourself with the fake poems at Bot Poet.

Offshoots

Composites – There are some offshoots of the original technology, like this github repository which shows an example of a composite generated image using a StyleGAN image + an image of the Mona Lisa.

Digital “models” – I wouldn’t say these examples are quite the same, but there are already digital “models” on Instagram and in advertising campaigns. Lil Miquela has over 1.5 million followers on Instagram, and there’s a modeling agency specializing in digital “models”.

Video – The one below is uses around 8 frames of video to train their neural network, resulting in a real-time talking head model. It could be like one of those “deep-fake” videos, except the new heads are people that don’t exist. And you can kind of tell, if you watch the video below, human, the new heads do not really look too realistic (yet).

Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models

Statement regarding the purpose and effect of the technology
(NB: this statement reflects personal opinions of the authors and not of their organizations)

We believe that telepresence technologies in AR, VR and other media are to transform the world in the not-so-distant future. Shifting a part of human life-like communication to the virtual and augmented worlds will have several positive effects. It will lead to a reduction in long-distance travel and short-distance commute. It will democratize education, and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. It will distribute jobs more fairly and uniformly around the World. It will better connect relatives and friends separated by distance. To achieve all these effects, we need to make human communication in AR and VR as realistic and compelling as possible, and the creation of photorealistic avatars is one (small) step towards this future. In other words, in future telepresence systems, people will need to be represented by the realistic semblances of themselves, and creating such avatars should be easy for the users. This application and scientific curiosity is what drives the research in our group, including the project presented in this video.

We realize that our technology can have a negative use for the so-called “deepfake” videos. However, it is important to realize, that Hollywood has been making fake videos (aka “special effects”) for a century, and deep networks with similar capabilities have been available for the past several years (see links in the paper). Our work (and quite a few parallel works) will lead to the democratization of the certain special effects technologies. And the democratization of the technologies has always had negative effects. Democratizing sound editing tools lead to the rise of pranksters and fake audios, democratizing video recording lead to the appearance of footage taken without consent. In each of the past cases, the net effect of democratization on the World has been positive, and mechanisms for stemming the negative effects have been developed. We believe that the case of neural avatar technology will be no different. Our belief is supported by the ongoing development of tools for fake video detection and face spoof detection alongside with the ongoing shift for privacy and data security in major IT companies.


Slightly off-topic, there’s a new Frontline documentary on AI. It’s 2-hours, so it’s a commitment. It doesn’t really go into the GAN-side of artificial intelligence, but it does discuss automation, privacy, and surveillance.

In the Age of AI FRONTLINE, from PBS. [1:54:16]

The documentary provides many reasons to be afraid of AI, particularly with regard to surveillance and use of AI by governments. We can’t really predict what governments will do, but if behavior control is a goal of AI there’s a natural user group: people who have trouble controlling their behavior. This would be people who have or have had issues or struggles with:

  • substance abuse
  • memory loss
  • chemical imbalances in the brain
  • adhd
  • neurological damage
  • loss of motor control

Or even just reminding people to eat better and go outside more. I’m sure there are more. Anyway, that’s my thought. Seems fair to be afraid, but also there are some opportunities that shouldn’t be overlooked.


And now on the cultural side : the trailer for Her. I don’t know if it’s possible to have an OS this advanced, but there are some interesting fantasy explorations in this movie.