Saturday, May 11, 2024

A Frank Zappa Sampler: Meet My Favorite Musical Genius


For me, listening to most jazz/rock/blues music is like riding a fairly smooth roller coaster. You close your eyes and travel along with the musicians: up, down and around. In contrast, listening to Frank Zappa's stuff is like riding on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland: You're frequently surprised by quick turns, sharp and steep drops and gentle climbs to peaks with breathtaking views. It's definitely not laid-back, easy listening... but it can be an exciting, rewarding trip! 


"In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works; he also produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist... His work is characterized by nonconformity, improvisation sound experimentation, musical virtuosity and satire of American culture..."

But what good is it to talk about music? To know Zappa's stuff you have to pop in your earbuds, get comfortable, close your eyes and just enjoy the ride. Here's my curated playlist to get you started. (Watch the videos if you must, but I think it's better to just close your eyes and listen.)

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Disclaimer: 
Zappa's music is undeniably brilliant! However, his lyrics sometimes (though not often) express opinions that I do not personally endorse. So I encourage you to do as I do and disregard any offense that might bubble up within you in response to his more challenging lyrical witticisms. For me, the genius of his music always outweighs any minor feelings of being offended by his social satire. (Often, however, the lyrics are funny as hell!! So let yourself enjoy them.)
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Individual Works


Step into Zappa's world with his unique take on the Allman Brothers' favorite, Whipping Post.



Then move on to the gentle beauty and intensity of Zappa's own Blessed Relief (Outtake Version).



Next, engage the high intensity jazz/rock composition, The Purple Lagoon, from one of my favorite albums, Zappa In New York 



Finally, travel back in time to hear one of Zappa's earlier, less approachable, but brave and engaging pieces, Inca Roads

 



Albums 


The samples above are just the tip of a HUGE Zappa iceberg of music! Below is a list of some albums that, together, demonstrate Zappa's range and sheer genius. Check them out and explore his legacy for yourself. 

Frank Zappa Official YouTube Channel 


Zappa's official YouTube Channel is an incredible compendium of stuff assembled for Zappa super fans. Here you'll find videos with rare concert footage, playlists, music videos and much more. I hope you spend some time there exploring the full power of Zappa's genius. Enjoy!


Go to the Frank Zappa YouTube Channel

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

10 of My Most-Accessed Items at Internet Archive


Recently I was contacted by someone who had found one of my audio podcasts at the Internet Archive. She asked if she could use excerpts from the audio Do What You Fear and Grow Stronger for a YouTube production. Of course I agreed... and happily! The whole idea of sharing this stuff is to put it out into the universe and hope it does some good somewhere. And while I have uploaded over 90 items to the Archive, I find that some of them are downloaded and used more than others. Below are some of the top 10 items accessed there. If you're looking for a little inspiration, you just might find it in one of these. Enjoy!

(Caveat: All these podcasts were created over 14 years ago. Some of the materials or links referenced in them may no longer be available.) 

πŸ‘‰ Do What You Fear and Grow Stronger [12 1/2 min audio]

This podcast includes inspirational quotations, war stories, a little philosophy and some practical challenges to help individuals and teams push through fear & grow stronger.

πŸ‘‰ Accept What Is [17 min audio]

This was designed to help individuals and teams discover the power of accepting the reality of a difficult situation in order to handle it effectively. 


How can you become happier? In this archived podcast I share 10 specific actions that I’ve taken to create more happiness in my life.

πŸ‘‰ Practice Mindfulness [22 min audio]

This audio is designed to help individuals and teams expand upon their inherent power of mindfulness — the practice of bringing your full awareness into the present moment.


This is a FREE 132-page PDF version of the book. The title is self-explanatory!

πŸ‘‰ Learn to Be Optimistic, Learn to Succeed. [9 1/2 min audio]

Cognitive therapy works because it helps you change your explanatory style from pessimistic to optimistic, and the change is permanent. It gives you a set of cognitive skills for talking to yourself when you fail. This audio will help you get started making that change.


This is my eclectic compilation of practical PM tools, thought-provoking PM essays and suggestions for helping individual project managers and their teams stay sane while delivering good quality finished products. It consists of 54 Chapters, most of which were originally published as blog posts through my websites and hadn't ever before been released in book form.


This Quick Start Guide is designed to help you plan and manage your first project using the PM Minimalist approach, as detailed in the The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects!


This brief video provides real-world examples to distinguish between authority & responsibility. And it makes the argument that by finding a good balance between the two, we can improve the quality of life at home, at work and in all of society.  


This essay is designed to help you see the origins of the strong feelings of the people you are arguing with. And it provides some suggestions for improving your interactions with those whose politics and religious views may be far different from your own. 

See everything I've uploaded to Internet Archives (94 items!) & click the link in the item's "Description" to go directly to any of them.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

On AI Authorship: What's the meaning of this?



In this article I'm sharing the results of my experimenting with the AI authoring tool ChatGPT. It was a fascinating process and I'm still thinking about the meaning of it all. And I encourage you to follow along below and think about it too, since our AI writing partners and our AI partners in so many other creative endeavors are starting to show up everywhere!  As you read the samples below, consider:
  • What or who should be given credit for the authorship of these works? 
  • Are these works as valuable as they might be if they had been created by a clearly identified, individual human author?
  • What are some appropriate uses of the AI tools that created them?
  • Since ChatGPT outputs are not subject to copyright, how or when should the inputs that went into shaping a ChatGPT work product be flagged and credited? (Should there be... Can there be... an "audit trail" of the stuff that got "blended" invisibly into the final output?) 

A One-Page Short Story


I asked ChatGPT to create...  “A one-page short story in the style of Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Willa Cather.”

In response, ChatGPT wrote (in part): 

"In the serene depths of the forest, where the whispering leaves dance to the rhythm of the wind and the sunlight filters through the canopy like a gentle caress, there lived a solitary soul named Ezra. He was a man of quiet contemplation, finding solace in the simplicity of nature and the company of his thoughts.

Each morning, Ezra would rise with the sun, greeting the dawn with a silent reverence. He would wander through the woods, his feet treading lightly upon the earth, his senses alive to the symphony of life surrounding him. He would pause to admire the delicate beauty of a wildflower, the intricate patterns of a spider's web, the graceful flight of a butterfly.

As he walked, Ezra would often recite verses from Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," his voice blending with the rustling leaves and the gentle babble of the nearby brook. He felt a kinship with the poet, a shared reverence for the natural world and a belief in the interconnectedness of all living things.

In the quietude of the forest, Ezra found a refuge from the noise and bustle of the world beyond. Here, amid the towering trees and the cool shade of the underbrush, he felt truly alive, truly at peace. He would lie beneath the branches, his eyes closed, listening to the symphony of nature unfolding around him.

In the distance, he could hear the distant call of a bird, the faint rustle of a squirrel in the branches above. And in those moments, Ezra felt as though he were part of something greater, part of the eternal cycle of life and death that bound all living things together... "

When Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau
& Dr. Seuss are thrown into the AI blender, what gets lost?

A Poem


I asked ChatGPT to create...  “A one-page poem in the style of Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Willa Cather.”

In response, ChatGPT wrote: 

"In quiet woods, where whispers dwell,
Nature's symphony, a tale to tell.
Beneath the towering trees, I roam,
In solitude, I find my home.

Like Thoreau, I seek the simple life,
Far from the city's bustling strife.
In Walden's woods, my soul takes flight,
Embracing nature's gentle might.

Walt Whitman's spirit, strong and free,
Sings in every rustling tree.
I am vast, I contain multitudes,
In nature's arms, my gratitude exudes.

Willa Cather, with her prairie song,
Inspires me to wander long.
Across the plains, beneath the sky,
I find my truth, I find my why.

In Thoreau's woods, Whitman's verse,
Cather's plains, I immerse.
A blend of souls, a harmony,
In nature's embrace, I am truly free."

A Short Story Outline

I asked ChatGPT to create...  "an outline for a short story by Willa Cather, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Dr Seuss about a family traveling across the country."

In response, ChatGPT wrote: [I added only bold, bullets & indents for ease of reading. -MG] 

"Across the Open Road: A Collaborative Outline

Genre: Literary Fiction with a sprinkle of whimsy

Setting: American landscape, spanning various locations as the family travels (think vast plains, bustling cities, hidden valleys)

Characters:

The Johnson Family:

  • Margaret Johnson: A strong-willed woman inspired by Willa Cather's heroines, yearning for adventure and a deeper connection to the land.
  • William Johnson: A practical man, reminiscent of Thoreau, seeking self-reliance and a simpler life amidst the changing world.
  • Lily Johnson: Their curious and imaginative daughter, channeling Walt Whitman's free spirit and Dr. Seuss's playful touch.

Plot Outline:

Part 1: The Call of the Open Road

  • Unease Sets In: The Johnsons, despite their comfortable life, feel a growing restlessness. Margaret longs for wide-open spaces, William craves a life less tethered to material possessions, and Lily yearns for grand adventures.
  • A Spontaneous Decision: Fueled by a shared desire for change, the Johnsons impulsively sell their belongings and purchase a well-worn RV, christening it "The Wanderlust."
  • Farewell, Dear City: With mixed emotions, they leave the familiarity of their city life behind, embarking on a journey across the vast American landscape.

Part 2: Encounters and Explorations

  • Willa's Whispers: As they traverse the Great Plains, Margaret feels a kinship with Cather's heroines, drawing strength and inspiration from the rugged beauty of the land. She finds solace in solitude and connects with the spirit of the pioneers.
  • Thoreau's Tranquility: William seeks moments of reflection and self-reliance, inspired by Thoreau's writings. He finds peace in simple living, connecting with nature through camping, stargazing, and quiet contemplation.
  • Whitman's Wonders: Lily, with her boundless curiosity, embraces the Walt Whitmanesque spirit of inclusivity and wonder. She celebrates the diversity of people and places they encounter, collecting stories and experiences like colorful threads in a tapestry.
  • Seussian Surprises: Along the way, they stumble upon quirky towns, eccentric characters, and fantastical situations, reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's whimsical worlds. These encounters add a touch of magic and humor to their journey.

Part 3: Growth and Transformation

  • Facing Challenges: The family encounters obstacles – breakdowns, detours, and disagreements – forcing them to rely on each other and adapt to their ever-changing circumstances.
  • Finding Their Rhythms: As they adjust to their nomadic lifestyle, each member discovers new strengths and perspectives. Margaret learns to embrace spontaneity, William finds joy in connection, and Lily develops resilience and resourcefulness.
  • The Heart of Home: Despite the allure of new experiences, they realize that "home" is not a place, but the love and shared journey they create together.

Part 4: The Road Less Traveled

  • A Crossroads: Reaching a breathtaking vista, the Johnsons contemplate their future. Do they continue their nomadic adventure, settle in a new place, or return to their old life?
  • An Open Ending: The story concludes without a definitive answer, leaving the reader to ponder the characters' choices and the enduring power of exploration, self-discovery, and the ever-evolving American landscape.

Additional Notes:

  • Each author's style and themes can be subtly woven into the narrative, creating a unique literary tapestry.
  • Consider incorporating elements of nature, Americana, and the changing social landscape of the chosen time period.
  • The fantastical elements inspired by Dr. Seuss should be sprinkled sparingly, adding whimsy without overshadowing the core themes.
  • This outline is just a starting point, feel free to adjust it to fit your creative vision!"

Conclusion 


As you can see from the examples above, any human writer who is working with a powerful AI partner like ChatGPT is able to "hit the ground running" and will quickly end up far ahead (at least in terms of volume of output) of his non-AI-using competitors. But is this really what we want? 

Today, when an article is published, it is common practice to attribute it to a particular named author or authors. In this way not only do authors get credit but readers are able to dig into an author's other works and learn about their credentials, biases, areas of expertise, etc. 

In contrast, in a world where many authors' works are blended and pureed we are in grave danger of individual identities being lost and "audit trails" becoming impossible to discern. In such a world, the main casualty becomes truth itself. 

So it seems to me that we, as readers, have this duty:

When we read something (AI-generated or not!) we need to push hard to learn the sources used to create it. Only then can we judge its true value... and the value of its "truth."

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[Note: I generated the unique, copyright-free image above of the two android "authors" here:  https://deepai.org/machine-learning-model/text2img ]