Category Archives: technology

A Tour of Art History (with Artificial Intelligence and Corgis!)

2021 was the year Artificial Intelligence, or AI for short, began making notable achievements in the field of mathematics. 2022 is shaping up as the year AI began doing the same for art.

This year has seen a number of AI art generators take center stage by becoming available to regular people, converting text prompts into images. DALL-E 2, MidJourney and Stable Diffusion are proving to be early leaders, with other AI art generation systems waiting in the wings.

We've already begun incorporating images we've generated using these systems into our articles, where they offer the promise of providing tailored visuals that might otherwise require extensive image searches or paid subscriptions to stock image sites to obtain.

That training means the AI systems are fairly good at producing images in the styles of famous artists. We thought it might make for a fun project to explore art history with these systems, using them to present images of Welsh corgi dogs in the styles of dozens of famous artists, which is something that none of the featured artists ever did in their collective artistic output. We created all the images in the following slideshow using the free Craiyon system, although we could have used Stable Diffusion's Demo (and may if we revisit the art world with corgis!)

Abstract Painting
Grant Wood
Winslow Homer
Andrew Wyeth
Georges Seurat
Edward Hopper
Gu Kaizhi
Leonardo da Vinci
Wireframe Render
Low Poly Render
Pablo Picasso
Roman Tile Mosaic
Salvador Dali
Egyptian Tomb Wall Painting
Rene Magritte
Dorothea Lange
Claude Monet
Vincent Van Gogh
Edgar Degas
Rembrandt van Rijn
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Johannes Vermeer
Andy Warhol
Edvard Munch
Jacques Louis David
N.C. Wyeth

The slideshow features the following artists' styles: Banksy, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Jacques Louis David, Edgar Degas, H.R. Giger, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Gu Kaizhi, Dorothea Lange, Rene Magritte, Michelangelo, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Raphael, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Rembrandt van Rijn, Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Johannes Vermeer, Andy Warhol, Grant Wood, Andrew Wyeth, N.C. Wyeth. It also features various traditional and computer-generated artistic modes, including: Abstract Painting, Wireframe Rendering, Low-Poly Rendering, Roman Tile Mosaic, and Egyptian Tomb Painting.

Some of the results are surprising. We found the wireframe and low-poly rendering paired well with an image done in the style of Pablo Picasso, for example. Our favorite images are those done in the styles of Munch, N.C. Wyeth, and Van Gogh.

It's a brave new world. This project was a fun way to explore it!

Postscript: Daniel Eckler has a Twitter thread exploring what Stable Diffusion's AI engine has wrought in its first 30 days online! (HT: Tyler Cowen).

Inventions in Everything: Lighter-Than-Air Furniture

Think about your first apartment. Chances are the first thing you think about your first apartment is that it's small. Really small. Really, really small.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could make it more livable by making seem bigger than it is?

Solving that problem has challenged both inventors and interior designers throughout history. They've tried everything. From folding furniture, to furniture that can be stored or stowed away, to multitasking furniture, it's been tried. And yet, nothing really has worked. Each of these items still have bulk that consumes scarce floor space, even when fully compacted, and requires both effort and coordination to set up, use, and break down again.

That's the situation that inventor William Calderwood confronted in 1989. His innovative solution: furniture that would levitate itself out of the way whenever it wasn't in use! The U.S. Patent Office agreed that his solution was novel, awarding him with U.S. Patent 4,888,836 for his insight. Here's Figure 1 from the patent, showing a lighter-than-air bed in its "not-in-use" position:

U.S. Patent 4,888,836 Figure 1

Calderwood explains how his invention would be used in the detailed description of the patent:

A person who whishes to use article 10 in a conventional furniture-like manner grasps tether 28 and pulls article 10 downward, toward floor 18. By utilizing article 10 to support the person (see body 12 in FIG. 4), the person in combination with article 10 together exhibit a density greater than the density of air, and the buoyancy effect is then reversed. Consequently, article 10 sinks in the atmosphere until it rests on floor 18. When article 10 is in its sunk position, illustrated by FIG. 4, tether 28 no longer hangs downward but resides substantially horizontal so that it too rests on floor 18. Consequently, article 10 remains stably positioned on floor 18. When body 12 moves away from article 10, article 10 then rises to its levitated position without any effort on the part of its user.

Figure 4 shows Calderwood's lighter-than-air bed in its "in-use" state:

U.S. Patent 4,888,836 Figure 4

Alas, while we can find examples of all the other kinds of space-saving furniture available for sale, we are unable to find any lighter-than-air furniture products on the market. The closest we could find was inflatable furniture, which is really another type of stow-away furniture product. Sure, you could fill these products with helium (or go full Hindenburg and use hydrogen gas), but since these products weren't designed to be lighter-than-air products, it's unlikely they'll perform as you might desire.

There's also the ceiling factor to consider. To be usable for Calderwood's invention, the space on your ceiling needs to be clear of fixtures that might either pop or impact your floating furniture product. That first interaction with a ceiling fan, for example, could spell the end for your investment in levitating furniture.

In short, while innovative, lighter-than-air furniture has been an unsuccessful product to date. The IIE team hopes its time will come!

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

While you might not yet be able to successfully float your furniture in the air, you can conceivably float your houseplants, be sheltered by a hovering umbrella, or buy furniture that will move itself!

You're already living in the IIE world!

Inventions in Everything: Mirrors for Reckless Fish

Ever since people first start trying to catch fish, they've been inventing tools to make catching fish easier.

U.S. Patent 515,001 for a "Fishing Apparatus", which was issued to William R. Lamb on 20 February 1894, is one of many inventions dedicated to that task. What makes it stand out from all the other fishing related patents is that it's just two pages long. One of them is taken up by the following figure, which confirms this patent takes a very different approach to catching fish:

U.S. Patent 515,001, Figure 1

Why add a mirror apparatus to your standard baited hook, line, and sinker set-up? It's all about enticing your prospective fish dinner to attach themselves to the business end of your rod and reel. Inventor Lamb explains how in the text describing his innovation (we've added some paragraph breaks to make it easier to read):

This invention relates to that class of devices used as decoys in fishing, the object of it being to induce the fish to take the bait more readily.


In using the apparatus, a bait s, (represented in this case as a small crab) is put on the hook h, and let down into the water with the mirror which serves as a sinker, until its lower edge just touches the bottom. In this position, the least pull on the hook on the branch line, will be felt very plainly by the hand at the upper end of the taut main line a.

In this position, as shown in the drawing, the fish B, when approaching the bait s, will see the reflection B', of himself in the mirror, also coming for the reflection of the bait s', and will be made bolder by the supposed companionship, and more eager to take the bait before this competitor seizes it.

He will lose his caution, and take the bait with a recklessness that greatly increases the chances of his being caught on the hook.

We searched for where we could buy a decoy fishing mirror apparatus, but aside from a Floating Betta "Exercise" Mirror intended to entertain betta fish in aquariums, found none for sale anywhere. With that being the case, we can only assume the invention was so phenomenally successful, it quickly led the near total extinction of the reckless fish it was intended to aid in catching, with the betta fish surviving to become the most prominent fish in this category still swimming in world's bodies of water.

An alternate explanation is that the fish mirror proved itself to be a clunky, heavy rig that frequently broke off the line to which it was attached, invariably sinking to the bottom of the aforementioned bodies of water before meeting its ultimate fate of being abandoned as an unsuccessful invention.

If you're looking for a good fish story, which one would you rather tell?

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

The IIE team has previously covered just two fishing-related innovations. They both rank among our favorites!

Maxwell’s Equations

In 1985, Caltech's David Goodstein introduced The Mechanical Universe, which stands as one of the best explanatory series on physics ever committed to video. The following 28-minute video telling the story of James Maxwell's mathematical insights linking electricity and magnetism represents one of the highlights of the 52-part series.

Maxwell's equations opened the door to great practical applications, which we find all around us today in the electronic devices that make the world of today so different from how it was when Maxwell first formulated them.

HT: Steven Strogatz, who also points to YouTube's playlist for the entire series.

It’s a Wonderful Life in the Universe

The Webb infrared space telescope made news with the release of its first high quality images. Among those images is a rather spectacular view of a part of the sky that's featured in the opening scenes of the classic 1946 Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life.

Here's an image that appears in the film, which features Stephan's Quintet, a group of galaxies located near the constellation Pegasus in Earth's night sky.

Stephan's Quartet, as featured in 1946's It's a Wonderful Life

Since several of these galaxies are in close enough proximity to interact with each other, they have been frequently studied by astronomers since their discovery in 1877. In 2007, NASA published the following image taken of the Quintet using the orbital Hubble Telescope, in which the orientation of the Quintet is rotated nearly 180 degrees from how it was featured in the classic movie!

Stephan's Quartet, 2007 Hubble Space Telescope Mosaic Image

This image had been the highest quality image taken of these galaxies. Until the orbital Webb telescope focused on the cluster of galaxies as part of its first set of high resolution images. The next image shows much more detail than has ever previously been seen.

Stephan's Quartet, 2022 Webb Space Telescope Image - Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Here's how NASA describes the new achievement:

Stephan’s Quintet, a visual grouping of five galaxies, is best known for being prominently featured in the holiday classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Today, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals Stephan’s Quintet in a new light. This enormous mosaic is Webb’s largest image to date, covering about one-fifth of the Moon’s diameter. It contains over 150 million pixels and is constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files. The information from Webb provides new insights into how galactic interactions may have driven galaxy evolution in the early universe.

With its powerful, infrared vision and extremely high spatial resolution, Webb shows never-before-seen details in this galaxy group. Sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and starburst regions of fresh star birth grace the image. Sweeping tails of gas, dust and stars are being pulled from several of the galaxies due to gravitational interactions. Most dramatically, Webb captures huge shock waves as one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, smashes through the cluster.

Together, the five galaxies of Stephan’s Quintet are also known as the Hickson Compact Group 92 (HCG 92). Although called a “quintet,” only four of the galaxies are truly close together and caught up in a cosmic dance. The fifth and leftmost galaxy, called NGC 7320, is well in the foreground compared with the other four. NGC 7320 resides 40 million light-years from Earth, while the other four galaxies (NGC 7317, NGC 7318A, NGC 7318B, and NGC 7319) are about 290 million light-years away. This is still fairly close in cosmic terms, compared with more distant galaxies billions of light-years away. Studying such relatively nearby galaxies like these helps scientists better understand structures seen in a much more distant universe.

This proximity provides astronomers a ringside seat for witnessing the merging and interactions between galaxies that are so crucial to all of galaxy evolution. Rarely do scientists see in so much detail how interacting galaxies trigger star formation in each other, and how the gas in these galaxies is being disturbed. Stephan’s Quintet is a fantastic “laboratory” for studying these processes fundamental to all galaxies.

But wait, that's not all. Ethan Siegel describes the scientific advance the Webb Space Telescope has already made in observing Stephan's Quintet.

Focusing back on the cluster of galaxies itself, however, the various wavelengths of light expose a variety of features inside each of them. In the mid-infrared alone, however, you only see the gas and dust, plus one never-before-seen feature in some of these galaxies: supermassive black holes. The topmost galaxy is active, emitting radiation, as an actively feeding supermassive black hole. The variety of wavelengths over which JWST can observe, even in the mid-infrared, gives us so much information about these objects in mere days that we haven’t been able to uncover with over a century of observations prior to that.

We'll close by pointing to the online tool John D. Christensen created for comparing Hubble and Webb images to show off their relative imaging capabilities. Scroll down the page to see the comparison for Stephan's Quintet - it's remarkable how much more detail, such as much more distant galaxies, appears in the new Webb images. The most stunning difference however is shown for the Southern Ring Nebula, so be sure to check out that comparison while you're on his site!