Hey, come jump off a bridge with me!

I think a large part of why I’m so frustrated by the “well, nobody else is bothering with having a mask mandate, so there’s no point” argument is that we’re living through a real-world, literal version of the old parental peer-pressure cliché of “if everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you?”

As kids, it’s such an obviously mockable cliché, because of course not. Jumping off a bridge is an obviously life-threatening activity, so first off, that’s not something that a lot of people would do, and secondly, I sure wouldn’t be so foolish as to do that.

And yet. Here we are. With society at large jumping off every bridge around, and people lining up to jump with them.

Only it’s worse than that, because jumping off the bridge is a solo action that only threatens the life of the person jumping. But refusing to mask or encourage others to mask means that the jumpers are grabbing those next to them and pulling them over the edge of the bridge as they jump.

And here we are.

Keep Masking In Public

In case you or your organization/workplace has been waiting for the CDC to recommend masks — the CDC is (once again) (finally) recommending wearing masks in public spaces to protect against catching and spreading respiratory diseases such as RSV, flu, and yes, COVID.

The Centers for Disease Control Prevention on Monday encouraged people to wear masks to help reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses this season as Covid, flu and RSV circulate at the same time.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a call with reporters, said wearing a mask is one of several everyday precautions that people can take to reduce their chances of catching or spreading a respiratory virus during the busy holiday season.

“We also encourage you to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses,” said Walensky.

They’re also (finally) pointing out that you don’t have to wait for the CDC to encourage masking to put a mask on.

“One need not wait on CDC action in order to put a mask on,” Walensky said. “We would encourage all of those preventive measures — hand washing, staying home when you’re sick, masking, increased ventilation — during respiratory virus season, but especially in areas of high Covid-19 community levels.”

(And in case you haven’t checked recently, while the based-on-hospital-capacity level for King County is “low”, the King County community transmission level — a better metric to track, as preventing community transmission would do more to keep people healthy than only paying attention to when they’re sick enough to land in the hospital — is “substantial”, and there is no county in Washington that has “low” community transmission levels.)

Out in public? Wear your mask. Keep yourself and those around you safe.

AI Art, Ethics, and Where I Stand

While nobody specifically asked, since I have some friends who are all about the AI art and some who believe it’s something that should be avoided because of all the ethical issues, and since I’m obviously having fun playing with it with my “AImoji” project, I figured I’d at least make a nod to the elephant in the room.

An AI generated image of an African elephant standing in what appears to be a Victorian sitting room.

There are absolutely some quite serious ethical questions around AI generated artwork. To my mind the three most serious are (not in any particular order):

  1. Much of the material used to train the AI engines was scraped off the internet, often without any consideration of copyright, certainly without any attempt to get permission from the original creators/artists/photographers/subjects/etc., and some people have even found medical images that were only approved for private use by their doctor, but somehow ended up in the training sets. That situations like this are likely (hopefully) in the minority doesn’t absolve the companies who acquired and used the images to create their AI engines from being responsible for using these images.

  2. As the AI engines continue to improve, it is getting more and more difficult to distinguish an AI generated image from one created by an artist. There are also a number of people and organizations who have flat-out stated that they are looking at AI generated imagery as a way to save money, because it means they now don’t have to pay actual artists to create work. Obviously, this is not a particularly good approach to take.

  3. Because some of the engines are able to create images in the style of a particular artist, and the output quality continues to improve, there have already been instances where a living artist is being credited for creating work that was generated by an AI bot. And, of course, if you can create an image that looks like your favorite artist’s work for low or no cost…well, for a lot of people, they’ll happily settle for an AI generated “close enough” rather than an actual commissioned piece. Obviously, this is also not a particularly good approach to take.

I’m enjoying playing with the AI art generation tools. I’m also watching the discussions around the ethical questions around how they can and should be used.

The issues above are all very real and very serious. It’s also true that AI art can be just another tool in an artist’s toolbox. I’ve seen artists who use AI art generators to play with ideas until they find inspiration, or who use parts of the generated output in their own work. I’ve seen reports of people who want to commission art use the generator to get a rough idea of what they’re looking for that they can give to an artists as a rough example or proof of concept. So there are ways to use AI art generators in, well, more-ethical ways (it’s hard to argue they’d be entirely ethical when the generators have unethical underpinnings).

So, where I stand in my use at this point:

  1. I don’t use living artist’s names to influence the style one way or another, and have only occasionally used dead artist’s names as keywords (I’ll admit, H.R. Giger has been a favorite to play with).

  2. I don’t feed images in, try to generate images of actual people, or use images of actual people (including myself) as source material.

    One caveat: if a tool does all of its processing locally on my device, I may use my own images, including some of myself. But nothing that feeds images into the systems.

  3. And, of course, anything I do is just for fun, and to make me, and maybe a few other people, laugh (or occasionally recoil in horror).

For a few months this past year, I used an AI-generated image of a dragon flying over a city skyline for the Norwescon website and social media banner image. This was always intended as a temporary measure to fill the gap between last year’s convention and getting art from this year’s Artist Guest of Honor, and as soon as we had confirmed art from our GOH, the AI-generated art came down. It was also chosen much earlier in the “isn’t AI art neat” period, before I’d read as much about the issues involved. As such, I won’t be using AI art for Norwescon again, and will go back to sourcing copyright-free images from NASA or other such avenues when we are in the interregnum period.

So: I understand those who see AI art as something that should be avoided. I also understand those who see it as another tool. And, honestly, I also understand those who just see a shiny new toy that they want to play with. I’m somewhere in the midst of all those points of view, and while I don’t personally see the need to avoid AI art bots entirely, I am consciously considering how I use them and what I use them for.

📚 The Girl Who Married A Skull and Other African Stories edited by C. Spike Trotman, Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald, and Taneka Stotts

57/2022 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The last (for now) of this series of cautionary fables and fairy tales. I’ve enjoyed all of these, and am looking forward to getting the final volume.

Michael holding The Girl Who Married A Skull

📚 The Nixie of the Mill-Pond and Other European Stories edited by Kel McDonald and Kate Ashwin

55/2022 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The next in this anthology series. As this one is European stories, it was the first with stories I recognized. Once again, a good selection, with good artwork, and while overall a little lighter than the other two I’ve read so far, still has a few pleasant moments of darkness.

Michael holding The Nixie of the Mill-Pond

📚 The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories edited by Kel McDonald, Kate Ashwin, and Alina Pete

53/2022 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

One of a series of six (eventually; five are published, the sixth is in production) anthologies of short comics based on indigenous cultures; this one is stories from North America. I enjoyed all the stories, with a good range of humor, heartfeltness, and darkness.

Michael holding The Woman in the Woods

📚 Past Prologue by L.A. Graf

52/2022 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

More time travel shenanigans to get everything wrapped up means more opportunity to get a little confused as to which version of each character is in which setting, but it works out in the end. And the final scene is actually a nice way to finish things off.

But once again, the back cover blurb is wrong, but has just enough relation to make me think that there were some major rewrites and the blurbs were written from the original pitch instead of the final work for some reason.

Michael holding Past Prologue