March 2021

I’ll start with some music: Visionist’s A Call to Arms is the album I’ve been listening to the most for the last couple of weeks. It’s a bit of a departure from his previous work in that there, you know, songs on it, but it’s still hard to classify. Parts of it are almost ambient, others resemble instrumental Nine Inch Nails, and parts sound almost like a lost Massive Attack track. The Fold is probably my favorite track, though it isn’t exactly representative of the whole— because no one track is.


“Musée Rodin Could be Forced to Release 3D Scans of Bronze Sculptures—Including The Thinker—To the Public”, by Anna Sansom

The Rodin Museum, in Paris, produces its own bronze versions of Rodin sculptures, which it sells as “originals.” A guy named Cosmo Wenman, described in the article as “an American fabrication consultant and open-access activist,” has submitted the French equivalent of a FOIA request for the 3d scans that the museum has made of the statues, with an explicit “intention to…make commercial, unlimited bronze reproductions in various sizes,” saying that he “would love to show off my commercial digital-to-bronze capabilities by using the Musée Rodin’s scans to produce my own bronze replicas at far higher quality than the museum’s own gift shop offerings.”

The Rodin Museum’s director has pointed to “concerns about the risk of forgeries,” while one expert quoted by Sansom argues that “If successful, Wenman’s project would soften understanding of ‘originality’ and circumvent control of reproduction.” It seems to me that the “understanding of originality” here is already pretty soft, especially when a Rodin researcher argues that

“Today, Rodin is in the public domain and everybody can reproduce The Thinker in 2D or 3D. But it’s up to Mr Wenman to create his own 3D scan, not ask the Musée Rodin to put its scans at his disposal. He could buy a sculpture of The Thinker, buy or borrow a 3D scanning machine and make his own 3D scan open-source. But Mr Wenman wants to benefit from the intellectual property of the Musée Rodin and doesn’t have that right.”

What this makes clear is that what the museum owns is not, or not only, the sculptures in question, but the right to call its reproductions “official” or “authentic.” If, as this researcher suggests, someone were to make their own high-res 3D scan of The Thinker and turn it into a bronze statue, that could be practically identical in every way to both the original and the copies made by the museum. But if such a copy were made using the museum’s own scans, it would then be identical in some other, abstract sense that challenges the museum’s claims to be producing “originals.”

All of which makes me think that the NFT phenomenon, which I wrote about last month, is perhaps not as new as it sounds. What’s being bought and sold when NFTs change hands isn’t really a work of art, but authority— the authority to claim originality. This seems like it is precisely what the museum stands to lose, in this case.

(This all also reminds me of Ben Lerner’s fascinating article about museum conservation, which I’ve written about before but which is always worth returning to).


In “GPT-3 Tries Pickup Lines”, Janelle Shane, author of a recent book about artificial intelligence, tries to get neural net AI systems to generate pickup lines. A few of my favorites:

“You look like a stealth assassin from the clouds.”

“You look like Jesus if he were a butler in a Russian mansion.”

“It is urgent that you become a professional athlete.”

“Hey baby, are your schematics compatible with this protocol?”

It’s interesting also to see how different the results are from different nets, some of which are clearly more capable than others. The smallest system (I assume here she means it has the fewest nodes) spits out things like “PROJECT CAR ALONG!”, while the largest is responsible for 3 of the 4 above— which would definitely be weird things to say to someone, but are at least coherent sentences.


I’ll end this time with some images:

“Snowflakes as You’ve Never Seen Them Before”, By Kennth Chang with photos by Dr. Nathan Myhrvold and Don Komarechka

Two people using very different methods— one very elaborate and high tech, the other much less so— to take what are probably some of the most detailed, high-resolution images of snowflakes ever. There is no more clichéd observation than the ostensible fact that every snowflake is different, but still, the variety, complexity, and fragile order visible in these images is amazing.

And some photos of the vehicles of Burning Man, which are also amazing, in a totally different way. I especially like this rhino car:

In particular, I like that it has a license plate, which suggests that somewhere there is a vehicle registration form on which someone has had to try to bind this thing in the frayed cords of bureaucratic language— and, assuredly, failed.

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