DISPATCHES FROM THE FIELD
PROGRESS REPORT NO.8
So, in the month of May I plunged into the deep-end of the cryptocurrency pool -- and as of this writing -- made a few bucks...on paper, practicing the long-held axiom of "buy on the dip." I did when it "dipped" to $2. Then again when it "dipped" moments later to $1.75...and at $1.70...again at $1.60... I stopped at $1.10! Well, you get the idea. Buy on the dip might not have a stop limit, but I sure did. Fortunately, I also practiced that other well worn axiom: DCA - dollar cost averaging - and by that measure, I am actually a bit ahead of game. Now I am not talking a lot of coin here - fiat or alt - more at the pond scum amoeba-level than even the "guppy" and certainly not the Elon Musk or Mark Cuban "whale" scale.
The other cryptocurrency strategy I put into practice was taking all my alt-coin and "staking" with a blockchain node operation, which means I basically earn a bit of interest - around 4-5% annualized - which obviously is better than what I am getting from my passport savings account.
So, why share this very personal information with total strangers, most of whom have never met me, nor I met them? Well, it's my "skin-in-the-game" philosophy. You can't really understand the cypto game unless you're willing to play it, and trust me, it is one very complicated game, the surface of which I have only just scratched. So far, I've been fortunate to invest in one of the more promising blockchain technologies, one that doesn't require terawatts of electric power to mine, and looks to be a serious contender to the current crypto behemoths. Certainly time will tell, but having monetary "skin-in-the-game" motives me to devote a serious amount of my time delving ever-deeper into its arcane world of DeFi and Dapps and even AI by reading cryptocurrency white papers, while trying to figure out how to use this new decentralized finance system to help fund the CAMP 1872 Xperience, an endeavor that likely will cost several millions of dollars between the production costs for the immersive exhibition aspect of the project and the development of the accompanying "Little Big Buffalo Hunt" AR mobile game.
So, how might this work? Basically, we "tokenize" our digital bison by making each one a "smart contract" on the blockchain that is written in something comparable to the ERC 721 non-fungible token standard on the Ethereum blockchain. This makes them unique and confers "ownership" rights to the contract holder. It is that uniqueness that can be attractive to people: witness the obvious bubble of interest in NFT pieces of digital art earlier this year. Granted, for a lot of buyers, the driving motivation is to sell their acquisition for more than they paid for it. Clearly, the same motivation likely would apply to our bison tokens. But beyond that are more societally conscious drivers: a key one being investing in something, the ultimate goal of which is a better world, one more aware of humanity's impact not just on the present, but on the future we are inexorably molding for ourselves, our children and their children, as well as all the other creatures with whom we share this planet. Recall that from the very outset of this project the reason I focused on that three-day bison hunt 150 years ago is to highlight its key lessons, maybe the most important being this:
The best way too learn from the past is to relive it...virtually
Over the coming weeks and months, I am focused on finding a way to use this emerging new world of DeFi (decentralized finance) to bring together the human and financial resources to make both the CAMP1872 Xperience and the Little Big Buffalo Hunt realities and not just the crazed musings of an aging boomer.
On a couple of related fronts: I trust Dr. Farrow won't mind my mentioning that she's in conversations with a major museum whose collections have a Western history focus. Lee, as you may know, is the nation's leading scholar on Grand Duke Alexis' visit to America in 1871-72. I believe she is still scheduled to give a talk on the topic at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC this summer, which itself has an interesting linkage to Alexis' visit because Russia's ambassador at the time was on the outs with the Grant Administration. Part of the reason Tsar Alexander II sent his son Alexis to America was in the hope of mending strained relations. She asked me to write a brief paragraph on the project that she could share with the museum. Here is my response:
The CAMP1872 Xperience seeks to bring together an immersive extended reality (XR) experience that merges state-of-the-art augmented reality with machine learning (ML/AI) to recreate the persons, locations and events of January 14, 1872 when a special detachment of US 2nd Cavalry and nomadic Brule Lakota tribesmen entertained the 22-year-old son of Russian Tsar Alexander II with a 3-day bison hunt on the rugged grasslands of southwest Nebraska. The "Xperience" will utilize a large circular stage, two-thirds of which will be surrounded by a 20ft wall of LED display panels on which lifelike landscapes created in Unreal Engine will be projected. Life-sized 3D characters, equipment, and animals - including bison - will be projected in Augmented Reality (See XR Technology Proposal below). To fund the "Xperience," we are developing an AR mobile game to capture, raise and trade virtual bison: think Pokemon Go only wilder and woolier. Each bison will be a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) on the Cardano blockchain and will be offered to the cryptocurrency investor/collector market via an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) seeking $5 million. The two-pronged project has attracted the interest of leading scholars of the event, several exhibition developers and operators, XR technologists, the NET television network, and the Cardano Catalyst Foundation. Our most immediate focus as of June 1, 2021 is on developing the information and resources to put forward the proposed ICO.
CAMP ALEXIS 360? DRONE PANORAMA: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/photos.php
ORIGINAL PROJECT PROPOSAL: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/camp1872/Camp1872_ARproposalV1.0.pdf
AMENDED PROPOSAL: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/camp1872/Camp1872_ProductionPropV1.1.pdf
XR TECHNOLOGY PROPOSAL: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/camp1872/Camp1872_XRtech.pdf
MOBILE AR GAME PROPOSAL: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/camp1872/Buffalo_Hunt_Game_White_Paper.pdf
Lee responded simply: "Perfect".
* * * * * * * * * *
File this one under the "brainstorm" (or burp or fart, take your pick) category, but the thought occurred to me that a certain well-known, international toymaker based in the Netherlands might be interested in a possible collaboration on this project. After all, they not only make popular toys that engage kids of all ages, but also movies and computer games. So, resorting to LinkedIn, I found a senior executive in their creative department and pitched him the idea. Encouragingly, he wrote back and suggested I contact their game development people, which I did this morning. Admittedly, it's a long shot, but you never know.
* * * * * * * * * *
Interestingly, a few folks appear to be following the movement of our Alpha herd as it daily meanders across the Nebraska Sandhills around the Niobrara River in Dawes County, just south of the Black Hills (http://camp1872.toonstech.com/alphaherd.php). Every morning I awake and wonder where the computer has moved them today. My underlying code is pretty simple and based on pure random numbers, which is why I was excited to find a 195-page thesis this week that chronicles the movements and activities of the wild bison herd at South Dakota's Wind Cave National Park. As the Alpha herd grows, I want to incorporate the observations of that 2-year study into the code controlling the bison.
Related to that, the leader in the development of decentralized artificial intelligence, SingularityNET, has just days ago moved to the Cardano blockchain. Their idea is to create AI nodes on the network that can be used for multiple purposes, one of them being elder care. If you've not seen this video of Charles Hoskinson and Ben Goertzel with "Charity" the AI nursing assistant robot, I encourage you to check it out (https://youtu.be/jWD092pykp). I mention this because I see our digital bison/smart contracts being given a bit of "animal" intelligence, allowing them to respond to various environmental stimuli in the real world, just as material bison would.
Okay, enough day dreaming. Time for a bite of lunch and then back to work, hopefully helping make a better world. Speaking of which, I also spend several hours a day finding and posting electric vehicle news items on the EVWorld.Com website, as I have done for more than 20 years now. Also check out the @EVisioneer2020 twitter feed I also post to daily (https://twitter.com/EVisioneer20200).
Have a great month of June and I'll touch base again on or about July 1st.
PROGRESS REPORT NO.7
April was an eventful month for the CAMP 1872 Xperience project, highlighted by our remarkable journey to the 1872 site of Camp Alexis in Hayes County, Nebraska. I have already shared the details of the trip in an April 25th email, a copy of which I have now posted on the Camp Notes page of the website: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/campnotes.php#24. It was my first time to finally breach the COVID-19 quarantine with Dave Ott, the Beech A36 Bonanza pilot. Dave is a descendant of an early Nebraska settler who possibly was a participant in the hunt as a government contracted teamster, the freight wagon drivers who hauled goods across the prairie. Both Mark Dahmke, the drone pilot, and Dave are fully vaccinated, as am I, so we were comfortable flying, driving and working alongside each other at the campsite on the John Mintling family ranch where the camp was set up.
I have posted a dozen+ photos, as well as Mark's amazing 360 degree drone panorama, of the campsite here: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/photos.php
In addition to the flight to North Platte and drive to Hayes County on April 24th, I have been continuing to flesh out the website for additional informational resources, which I hope you'll visit and share.
Just today, I completed the first phase of creating a "virtual" herd of bison, which started with 25 rows in a database table that includes the ID number of each "animal," its birth date, its mother, its gender, its weight and health ranking (1-5 scale) and its name if desired by the eventual "owner." Of the starting 20 heifer cows in the "herd," eleven were identified as carrying calves. Today the ninth was "digitally" dropped by the algorithm. "She" weighs 42 pounds and is rated a healthy 4. You can view details of the herd and each member here: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/alphaherd.php.
The interesting thing about the algorithm is that on any given day, there's a 50/50 probability that the calf will be either male or female, right? Here's the exact PHP code:
$sex = rand(1,2);
Curiously, that is NOT how it is working out. Of the nine calves born this "season," which in physical bison generally takes place in April and May, seven are females and only two are males. Now that will work out well for the future herd owner since heifer calves will produce more bison calves over their 20-25 year productive life. The bull calves will not. This is why yearling heifer's command higher sales prices at auction than yearling bulls. This not only is important to the preservation and growth of physical bison - and those adventurous farmers and ranchers to raise them like Cross Timbers Bison [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QAqEK72yUs] - but to the development of the mobile "capture and trading" game I am seeking to develop with these digitalized "bison" minted as cryptocurrency-based NFTs: non-fungible assets.
The newest feature I have added just today to the game mechanics is giving the herd a location in the real world. As you likely are aware, for tens of thousands of years bison roamed freely across the Great Plains, some herds ranging as far as the US East Coast Tidewater region in early colonial times. it's been estimated, based on the Yellowstone Park herd that they grazed at a rate of about 2 miles per day, moving generally north in the Spring following the freshening grass, and south in the Fall.
A digital herd should do the same, so I picked a spot in the Nebraska Sandhills south of the Niobrara River as their location on May 1st and then developed an algorithm that randomly moves them around 1.5 to 2 miles per day. We track their location by latitude and longitude, which we record daily. You can follow their trek day-by-day on the website: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/alphaherd.php. The coordinates are linked to Google Maps, so when you click their GPS location you'll see the general area in which they are "virtually" grazing.
While their movement in this first iteration is based on randomization of latitude and longitude coordinates, eventually I want the code to also decide on movement based on local environmental and climatic factors: availability of good grazing, predators, disease, weather, drought, prairie wildfires. However, that level of coding is likely outside of my skillset. I am fortunate that this much works. I had to ask for help on the calf growth code. I wrote lines of code to randomly increase the weight of a new born calves on a daily basis, code that never worked. A fellow coder on Sitepoint.com called Wake689 came to my rescue and in one - yes - one simple line of code he solved the problem!
The ultimate goal with all this is to create the core for a first of its kind game that tokenizes these digital assets, allowing them to be traded via cryptocurrency coins, the revenue from which we can then not only fund development and steady improvement of the game, itself, but to also use some of the funds for worthy environmental justice causes, as well as become a springboard for funding the CAMP 1872 Xperience itself. I explain this in the "white paper" you can find linked here: http://camp1872.toonstech.com/whitepaper.php.
So, the project continues to move along, and remember, if you do not wish to receive this monthly progress reports, just let me know and I'll remove your email address from the list.
Have an enriching Spring and I'll write you again in early June.
PROGRESS REPORT NO.6
Yeah!!! Spring is here… finally. And with it, Judy and I both got our second Moderna vaccine injections yesterday, April 1st (Fool's Day?). I am pleased to report that other than a sore shoulder, I haven't had any unpleasant side effects, though Judy did feel more tired than usual. She seems better now.
So, during the month between the two vaccinations, I have engaged in several important endeavors for the project. Picking up on my comments in the last Dispatch #5, I delved deeper into the arcane world of cryptocurrency, buying some Ada, the coin behind the Cardano blockchain, much of which I put into one of the network's staking pools. I am still a total novice at this, but trying to quickly get up to speed via Youtube videos and earlier this week taking part in the inaugural Cardano Wyoming Meetup via Zoom. Why Wyoming? Mainly because it's the nearest to me here in Omaha and it turns out the University of Wyoming is the first university to operate a Cardano staking pool. Basically, the pools are computers that mine blockchains on Proof of Stake (PoS), which is how their smart contracts are validated, but for a fraction of the energy required by Bitcoin and Athereum.
So, why focus on cryptocurrency? You may have heard about the NFT (Nifties) bubble where digital works of art and music are fetching unimaginable prices, like Beeple's 5,000 Faces that went for staggering $69 million! NFT's are non-fungible tokens, whereas Bitcoin, Athereum, and yes, Ada are fungible digital tokens. The thought occurred to me that NFTs could be applied to the digital bison that I proposed in the Little Big Buffalo Hunt mobile game. I spent the month drafting a white paper on the idea a link to the PDF that you can find here:
In the process of getting up-to-speed on Cardano, in particular, I watched a video of its founder, Charles Hoskinson, during which he invited viewers to send him ideas, so I did. A few days later one of his assistants asked to set up video conference with me. That call spurred me to draft that white paper, which I then sent him. I didn't hear anything after that until I watched Hoskinson's own monthly video report called Cardano360. During the three-hour session, which featured various developers around the world working on critical parts of the complex system, Charles had about 30 minutes. Surprisingly, near the end of his segment, he mentioned that he had a ranch in Wyoming that came with a herd of 400 bison! Then he told the 20,000 or so viewers that he has a background as a game developer and he is thinking about creating bison NFTs!
At that point, my jaw dropped to the floor!
I quickly followed up by email with his assistant and sure enough he replied that he and Charles had discussed my paper before he went on the videocast! Of course that doesn't necessarily mean anything, but I am going to formally submit the idea to their Catalyst Project, a fund set up to help jumpstart programs that will use their blockchain.
That comment also spurred me to rewrite the CAMP1872 website and this past Wednesday, I converted it over to the new format, which I hope you'll check out at http://camp1872.toonstech.com. If you find any typos and grammatical errors, please let me know.
Moving forward, my goals for April include a land and aerial survey of the original Camp Alexis site. A long time acquaintance of mine is a licensed drone operator who has kindly agreed to take drone videos of the site. Also, one of the AirMail100 Centennial Flights (http://airmail100.com) volunteers who flew the Omaha to North Platte leg has agreed to fly me out so we can also do an aerial survey, especially of the area southeast of the camp site where the bison hunt reportedly took place. Turns out that his family has a legend that one of his ancestors may have hauled some of the freight for the expedition. How cool is that?
Finally, I plan to follow up with three gentlemen who gave an online seminar about how to merge AR and AI. I reached out to all three via LinkedIn and all not only agreed to be LinkedIn, but each also expressed interest in the project, including the IBM Watson engineer who spoke on artificial intelligence. The second gentlemen is the VP for an augmented reality glasses firm called Nueye and the third is the president of Avatar Partners specializing in AR and AI integration.
And somewhere in there I need to learn more about smart contracts, NFTs, staking pools, and "all the jazz.”
Hope you all can get your vaccine soon and that we can safely, confidently leave the pandemic behind.
With best wishes always,
PS… Dr. Farrow just notified me that she's been invited to the Russian Cultural Center at the Russian Embassy in DC in June to talk about Alexis's visit to America at an invitation only event.
PROGRESS REPORT NO.5
Greetings once again! It's sunny, almost balmy 63F here in eastern Nebraska. Just a fortnight ago it was -23F, an 86 degrees difference!
Despite the extreme cold and many inches of snow in February, we've been making progress with the project in several key areas that I would like to share with you; and as a reminder, if you don't wish to receive this monthly update, just let me know. We each have only so much time available and managing it effectively is critical. I totally understand.
I am continuing my research and reading, finally ordering Dr. Farrow's book Alexis in America : A Russian Grand Duke's Tour, 1871-1872. (https://lsupress.org/books/detail/alexis-in-america/). Reading it in parallel with Alexander II : The Last Great Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky gives a good perspective of events and personages on the Russian side of the story. As I explained to Niels Goossens, the CEO of Las Vegas-based Lumens&Forge during a video call this week, the story is so rich and filled with romance and intrigue that narrowing it down to a stageable production will be challenging.
What I am starting to focus on is an interactive exhibition programmed for well under an hour. It was during an earlier conversation with the guys from Extended Reality Group - Thom, Evan and Patrick, also based in Las Vegas - last month that they suggested I start to think in terms of staging: how we will tell the story. Once you decide what you wish to tell and how, you can begin to think in terms of developing a budget. Without it, the project remains just a dream inside my head? and maybe yours too?
Niels mentioned the work of Dan Carlin (Hardcore History) and his World War One virtual reality (VR) experience, "War Remains" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0-Uwftce-k). Niels pointed out that I was probably asking too much of show goers to stand for 45 minutes, which was the original idea. "Most people will get bored standing in one place after 5 minutes," he commented. This was reinforced by a comment during the "Behinds the Scenes" video that points out the ?War Remains' VR experience is 15-minutes long, but also involves being subjected to a head-throbbing virtual artillery bombardment in a WWI trench.
[PERSONAL NOTE: According to family legend, my maternal grandfather, Heinrich Jakob may have been in one of those trenches as a medic on the German side of World War I ].
The 15-minute time frame comment now has me rethinking the timing and staging into a more compressing "immersive" experience, surrounded by less intense hands-on browsing that could include an Augmented Reality portal exploration of the inside of a luxury 1870's Pullman railway car similar to that used by the Grand Duke and his entourage. It could function something like the Van Gogh "Bedroom in Arles" AR portal [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjqlZQxiitc ].
Additionally, a trio of full-scale bison (fiberglass?) sculptures, a calf, cow and bull, would provide scale context and photo opportunities for adults and children alike.
There could be a 1870's photographer's studio where the bellows camera takes a picture and superimposes the person with 3D avatars for Alexis, Cody, Spotted Tail and Custer, or the personage of their choice. Assuming visitors would like items to take away, they could shop inside a replica 1870s "Indian agency store" to trade for items from native-made pemican to American-made exhibition t-shirts featuring native artists. An Omaha Steaks-like kiosk could sell frozen bison cuts from local ranches for take-home or home delivery.
Originally, I was thinking of a large circular theater-in-the-round surrounded by hundreds of HD LED panels like those used to film Disney's ?Mandalorian', but discussions with exhibit designers like Niels and Thom have pointed me more towards using 4K HD projectors instead since they are about 1/3 the cost of an LED set up. For example, they are used for the touring "Imagine Van Gogh" immersive exhibition [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mrF7-BnV_0 ]. AR glasses or freely available phone App would display an animated 3D augmented reality rendering of the 1872 camp site.
The carefully aligned mesh of HD projectors would project lifelike landscapes created, for example, in Unreal Engine [ https://tinyurl.com/mahaenjk ] of southwest Nebraska as it would have looked 150 years ago. In effect, there would be three 5-7 minute "epochs" : dawn in the cavalry camp, mid-day on the buffalo hunt, evening in Lakota encampment.
For 15-20 minutes, you'd be immersed into a sunrise-to-sunset time lapse experience. In that quickly shifting timescape you go from the 2nd US Cavalry hunting encampment to the wild, eroded canyon grasslands between the Red Willow and the Medicine Creeks to the several hundred Lakota lodges in the valley below along the Red Willow. The morning might begin with a virtual "coffee with Custer," climax in the "afternoon" in the chaotic midst of a buffalo stampede with the Grand Duke and Bill Cody, and culminate in the sublime light of the hundreds of Lakota camp fires as motion captured holographic warriors dance and sing to the rhythmic beat of native drums. Overhead, a sky rich with stars and the Milky Way galaxy crowns the "day."
Instead of isolating the participant in VR, CAMP1872's approach is meant to be a shared experience that makes the best use of Xtended Reality. We also propose showcasing the merger of holographic technology and deep learning neural networks through the three dimensional portrayal of the four principals: Cody, Alexis, Spotted Tail and Custer via David Nussbaum's PORTL [ https://www.portlhologram.com/ ]. The visitor can select who they wish to talk to and the hologram - in effect a 3D chatbot agent - would converse with them, having been ?trained" on the life, writings and times of the character.
Ambitious? No doubt. Do-able? Absolutely.
One other element of the exhibition ? and beyond ? is the "Little Big Buffalo Hunt," a mobile game to find, capture, and raise virtual bison. This week I came across NFTs - non-fungible tokens. They are digital, blockchain-based "certificates" that guarantee the sole ownership of a work of digital art. You've heard of Bitcoins, no doubt. NFTs are similar but different. They are non-fungible, i.e. no two have the same value. One Bitcoin can be exchanged for another. One NFT is not like another NFT. You can buy digital objects that have non-fungible token values and be assured that there are no digital copies anywhere else in the world.
Okay, so how about acquiring and trading digital bison? Using the "Little Big Buffalo Hunt", you could search for and, hopefully, capture a virtual "wild" bison out-of-doors, say in a local public park. That involves effort on your part and therefore creates some value. The more I dig into this idea, the more intrigued I am by its potential as a possible way to generate interest in the project and even better, revenue. I have done a fair amount of reading and research on the biology and lifecycle of bison and a digital analog offers an intriguing possibility as a game that challenges, instructs, and, ultimately, stimulates the conservation and growth of bison herds in North America.
Finally, I am pleased to report that my wife and I received our first inoculations of the Moderna vaccine, coincidentally on the same day as Dolly Parton, who donated $1million to Vanderbilt University to help develop the Moderna vaccine [ https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/world/dolly-parton-moderna-vaccine-covid.html ]. We both experienced sore arms and I felt a brief chill, but the National Guard medics at the LaVista Community Center were quick, efficient and pretty much painless. We are slated for our second shot on April Fool's Day! Once we're past that, I want to get out and start doing field research commencing with a visit to Straight Arrow Bison Ranch in Broken Bow. They've invited me to come visit them and talk bison. Then I want to get out to Hayes County and visit the campsite and meet with John Mintling, who owns the property.
I would love your feedback on the project and the exhibition ideas I am thinking about. And as always, thank you so much for your interest and time.
PROGRESS REPORT NO.4
We're now 11 months from the sesquicentennial of the "Great Royal Buffalo Hunt" and given the sheer scope of the project and inevitable delays that the pandemic is causing, what we accomplish between now and then will, in all likelihood, have to be revised as Chad Davis, Steve Kolbe and I discussed Wednesday via ZOOM.
Chad is the Chief Innovation Officer and Head of NET Labs at NET - Nebraska's PBS/NPR Stations. Steve is Assistant Professor of Practice of Emerging Media Arts at the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. I am pleased to report that they have taken an interest in the CAMP 1872 project, which we spent an hour discussing. I think I am safe in stating that they are intrigued and interested in what I am proposing, in particular the challenge of eventually merging XR (extended reality) and Deep Learning A.I. with the ultimate aim of making Nebraska a center of excellence for this technology.
We agreed to continue to communicate, with Chad reaching out to Vision Maker Media (https://visionmakermedia.org/), a Native filmmaker's group in Lincoln. He suggested I continue to reach out not only to the Nebraska Commission of Indian Affairs and the tribal council contacts they provided, but also to ESU's here in Nebraska to work with them on the educational aspects of the project. We also agreed that the first focus of the project should be on developing the Red Willow Creek encampment in 3D so that it can be viewed in both VR and AR, initially as relatively low-poly (meaning fewer polygons in the objects and lower memory and processor requirements). The goals for the next 11 months would be to form the necessary team and resources so that come January 2022, we can announce the formation of the project and offer a "teaser" sample of the encampment and maybe some more extensive versions of the "Deep Fake" animations of several of the principal characters I have been working on the last few weeks. You can view them on my William Moore Youtube channel here:
Or on the Camp1872 website under the AI Research tab:
In case you're curious about how these are done, you find a sample video that is positioned similar to the still photo of the historic figure you wish to animate and then run them through Google's CoLab neural network. It maps the facial points of the video speaker and then applies them to the target photograph, animating it. In one of the examples, video of Ernie Lapointe, the Great Grandson of Sitting Bull animates both a photo and 3D rendering of his famous ancestry. Maybe the best example is a 19th century magazine cover illustration of Grand Duke Alexis brought to life by a real-life Russian actor, although actor/wrestler Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson does a pretty good job with Lakota chief Sinte Galeska (Spotted Tail) and Ryan Reynolds helps a late 1800s photo of Bill Cody come to life too.
Following the advice of Josh Fisher, I continue to gradually tip my toe into the arcane world of chatbots, which means delving into programming in Python, getting up to speed on its Notebook structure, etc. Fortunately, there are a fair number of instructional videos on Youtube, but I also know that like 3D modeling, rigging, motion capture, augmented reality, etc. I am only going to gain a novice level of understanding. As I explained to Chad and Steve, I have just enough knowledge of some of the tech to be 'dangerous.'
Finally, as the three of us agreed, it is critical that we 'decolonialize' the project. We absolutely need the active engagement and direction of our Native community here in Nebraska and South Dakota, especially the latter since it is the home today of many Lakota whose ancestors were key participants in the "Hunt," the Sihau Oyate ('Burnt Thighs Nation', aka 'Brule) in particular. This project is as much their story as it is Americans or Russians.
Before closing, I might point out that Microsoft apparently has been awarded a patent on what I can best describe as a "ghost chatbot" that is essentially what I am proposing: using AI and XR to simulate interactions with now deceased individuals based on their "Deep Learning" of their extent writings and social media postings. Several of our experts in the field observed when I asked them that this may be difficult to defend. What CAMP 1872's historic avatars/agents eventually will be trained on are much deeper historic resources than on someone's comments on Reddit and Facebook.
Here is recent Washington Post article on the patent:
Please everyone take care and be safe. Let's make 2022 not only the sesquicentennial of the Royal Buffalo Hunt, but the year we can safely resume our lives and loves of each other.
PROGRESS REPORT NO.3
Well, I trust. A quick note on the 149th Anniversary of the Great Royal Buffalo Hunt of 1872. Three items to bring to your attention:
1. First 'Deep Fake' experiment animates Bill Cody -- I don't know about you, but I've been intrigued by how A.I. experimenters have been able to ''bring to life'' portraits, both painting and early photographs. You can several examples under the new Project Resources tab on the http://camp1872.toonstech.com/resources.php website. Click the AI RESEARCH 'button'. The third Youtube video is one that I created. It's admittedly a bit crude, but I think it shows the potential of the technology. It is fascinating being able to take a photograph of Bill Cody and have it appear to talk using a short, self-shot video. Incidentally, I am now in contact with ?JK"; the 3D artist who created the wonderful portrait of Sitting Bull you see on the website. He works for the game developer in the Czech Republic and did it in his spare time. It took him some 7-8 weeks to create it.
2. Project Resource Web Page -- In addition to the AI RESEARCH assets, Project Resources page also offers the start of a catalog of reference images that 3D computer artists can use to create avatars of Cody, Spotted Tail, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, and George Custer. Besides the historic photos, I have started to include links to relevant newspaper accounts of the event. The current three are the official New York Herald report of the hunt. You might enjoy reading the January 15, 1872 account. Here's the direct link: https://tinyurl.com/nyherald16Jan1872 . When you think of what it took to get the report from the broken hill country between Red Willow and Medicine creeks to the newspaper's editors in New York, it's amazing it was published the very next day. The reporter had to write it up, send it by dispatch rider to either North Platte or Fort McPherson where it was the telegraphed to New York. Incredible!
3. Draft Production Team Outline -- I have written up a draft outline of the phases of the project and the skill sets that are likely to be required. I have attached a PDF version below that I'd appreciate your feedback on if you're so inclined.
Now that the sesquicentennial is exactly a one year away, we need to decide how to move the project forward. I hope you'll join me in helping make it happen.
Stay safe and well?
PROGRESS REPORT NO.2
Toniktuha he " (How are you" in Lakota)
As 2020 finally comes to an end and we enter, hopefully, a better new year, I wanted to share our second monthly progress report, the first of which I published last November 21st.
Permit me to start with the 250-word description of the CAMP 1872 project that Josh Fisher, one of our digital technology advisors, asked me to draft. He wants to use it to reach out to some of his professional colleagues, especially a couple here in Nebraska at the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.
CAMP 1872 PROJECT
2022 will mark the sesquicentennial of the "Royal Buffalo Hunt" that took place in Nebraska in 1872. In what would prove a unique confluence of history, the 3-day outing not only brought together several "icons' of the "Old West" but proved a rare moment of trust, cooperation, and collaboration between the Red man and the White.
Based principally in Nebraska, the CAMP 1872 Project seeks to not only recreate the original encampment in 3D through the application of Extended Reality (AR/VR/MR) technology but to develop interactive agents of the principle protagonists of the hunt: Russian Grand Duke Alexis, Brule Lakota Chief Spotted Tail, General Philip Sheridan, Lt. Col. George A. Custer, and a 26-year old Army civilian scout named William F. Cody.
The project has already attracted the advisory participation of noted period historians and archeologists Douglas Scott and Peter Bleed, Tsarist Russian scholar Dr. Lee Farrow, and NY Times best selling novelists Michael and Kathleen Gear. Our digital technology advisors are Joshua Fisher of Columbia College, Chicago and Digital Domain executive producer John Canning. We are working on enlisting the active engagement of the Lakota community, as well as other indigenous Nebraska tribes.
Beyond showcasing these cutting-edge immersive educational tools, we propose to use it as a key to opening very important public dialogue about resource conservation, environmental sustainability, culture understanding, and societal cooperation. Our guiding principle is:
..lessons best learned are those that are lived. The next best is immersively.
Josh and I teleconferenced just before Christmas, during which he informed me that due to COVID-19, Columbia College, where he teaches, will not be holding in-room classes until 2022 as a precautionary measure. However, that also means that he may be able to recruits some of his students to help out with the digital arts aspect of the project.
He also had a couple recommendations for me. I am start to wind down my initial dive into the history of the Royal Buffalo Hunt of 1872 and the circumstances and people around it, though I still need to get up to speed on Grand Duke Alexis. At the moment, I am about two-thirds the way through George Hyde's "Spotted Tail's Folk."
Josh encouraged me to start taking a closer look at chatbot technology. It will provide the basis by which we humans will "converse" with our digital avatars of Chief Spotted Tail, Bill Cody, George Custer, Alexis, and others. This means my taking an admittedly shallow dive into the very, very deep waters of Google Colab's Dialogflow, Python programming, and understanding TensorFlow and neural networks and a pantheon of other arcane technologies that make it possible to "converse" with a machine: in this case one that has been "trained" on the history of these 19th century individuals.
So, I've sat through maybe a dozen or more Youtube videos, including three online classes from MIT, as well as the Ai musings of Rob Miles in the UK, Mosh Hamedani on machine learning and Python, and others. Of course, I have no intention of doing any of this programming myself, but both Josh and I figure I need to be familiar with it, especially so we can begin to assemble a training database for our agents [more on this below]. Towards that end, he suggested I look at USC's Shoah Foundation as a model, and coincidentally, earlier today I heard from Sandra Joy Aguilar with the Foundation who accepted my LinkedIn request and wrote me the following after I shared with her the PDF summary of the project:
"Thanks for sharing this fascinating project. While I work with metadata for the (2D linear) Visual History Archive your project seems like it would be better directed another area of the Shoah Foundation. Please let me do a little checking and get back to you in a few weeks as we are off for a little while for the holidays."
Other people I have reached out to and heard back from include Julia Bricklin, the author of "The Notorious Life of Ned Buntline." It was Buntline, in reality Edward Judson, who popularized Cody in a series of dime novels and put him on the stage. Judson's life was even more fantastic and way more scandalous than Cody's. Yesterday, Julia replied on LinkedIn if I was familiar with her father-in-law: Malcolm Bricklin. Familiar? I've interviewed him twice and we still occasionally correspond on our respective birthdays. Malcolm is the automotive entrepreneur that brought Subaru to America and then the little, ill-fated Yugo. He's had a long-standing interest in electric vehicles, hence my desire to interview him for EVWorld.com, the webzine I started in 1998 and still contribute to..
Since Progress Report #1, I have had some correspondence with several Native American representatives: Lance Foster, the vice chairman of the Iowa tribe of Nebraska and Kansas, and Judi gaiashkibos, the Executive Director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs. Ms. gaiashkibos kindly provided me with contacts for the chairmen and chairwoman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Winnebago Tribe, Omaha and Santee Sioux Nation. I reached out to all of them via email and did hear back from Chairman Trudell of the Santee Sioux. I sent him a copy of 12-page PDF proposal. I will follow up after the new year.
Last week, I came across a website that provides audio of various Lakota phrases, several of which I have now integrated into Camp1872.Toonstech.com. It really is a musical language, but like French, how it's spelled phonetically doesn't necessarily mean that's how it's pronounced.
Finally, with respect to "training" a deep learning machine, I'd like your help. We need to assemble a list of QUESTIONS we would like to ask our avatars: Spotted Tail, George Custer, Grand Duke Alexis, William Cody, Phil Sheridan. Here are some that I wrote down for Spotted Tail:
Where were you born? Where are you now? How old are you? What does a chief do? What language do you speak? Do you enjoy hunting buffalo? Do you prefer to use a gun or a bow? Do you like riding a horse? What is your favorite horse? Do you have any children? What do you like about the Sioux way of life? What's it like to live in a tepee" How is your clothing made? What games do your children play? Do they go to school? Why do you dislike the Pawnee? What do you think of Custer, of Sheridan, the young Grand Duke? Indians call US soldiers "long knives', why? What do you think of Washington, DC? What do you think of President Grant? Did you like riding on the "iron horse" and its rolling "lodges"?
Of course, many, many more questions can be asked, especially Spotted Tail's record as a warrior, peacemaker, politician, father, his time in Army custody at Fort Leavenworth, the Whetstone Agency, the government annuities, war with the White man, death of his daughter, his relations with Red Cloud and other Sioux leaders.
What questions would you want to ask him and the others" Please give some thought to this and share your list. You can email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's wishing us all a safe and prosperous New Year.
PROGRESS REPORT NO.1
Greetings from the Lakotah Republic (1)...
...otherwise known as the land of the 'Flat Water': Nebraska.
Over the last month or so I have reached out to various people, including you, about the proposed CAMP 1872 project to tell the story of the 'Royal Buffalo Hunt' of 1872 using Augmented Reality combined with Google's GPT-3 (2) algorithm to not only reconstruct the original hunting camp on Red Willow Creek in virtual reality but to use it as a testbed for animating interactive avatars of the five principal characters: Grand Duke Alexis, General Phil Sheridan, George A. Custer, William F. Cody, and Oglala Lakota leader Spotted Tail.
As the number of contacts has grown, I thought I'd follow the model I used on the AirMail100 Centennial Flights project (http://airmail100.com): periodic email alerts I called NOTAMS after the FAA's 'notice to airmen' alerts. I'll simply call these Progress Reports. I may send them out once-a-month, I'll have to see how the project 'progresses.' If you do not wish to receive them, let me know and I'll remove your name. The purpose is to keep recipients aware of the status of the project: what we've accomplished, who we've recruited, what funding milestones we've reached, and what technological challenges we've met. Here's a brief review of the last month since starting the project in October.
History Advisors: One of the first books I have read is 'Custer, Cody, and Grand Duke Alexis - Historical Archaeology of the Royal Buffalo Hunt' by Douglas Scott, Peter Bleed, and Stephen Damm. It recounts the 2008-2009 archeological survey of the site of the hunting camp in Hayes County some 60 miles south of North Platte on Red Willow Creek. Through the kind intercession of New York Times 'Best Selling' novelists Michael and Kathleen Gear, they put me in touch with Doug, who in turn helped me contact Peter. Both have agreed to advise the project. Lee Farrow is the West's leading expert on Grand Duke Alexis, the fourth son of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. She too has generously agreed to advise us. She is also working on organizing a sesquicentennial lecture tour following the locations the 21 year-old Grand Duke visited in America.
AR Technical Advisor: While I have experimented over the last two years with both Augmented and Virtual Reality (http://toonstech.com/experiments.php), what CAMP 1872 proposes is well beyond my level of artistic, coding, and even story-telling capabilities. This is why I am grateful to Hart Woolery for connecting me to Joshua Fisher, the Assistant Professor of Immersive Media at Columbia College, Chicago, IL. Joshua can help bring to bear the skill set such an ambitious undertaking will require.
Background Research: In addition to 'Custer, Code and Grand Duke Alexis,' I have been deeply emmersing myself into the history of the period, including both print books and audio ones courtesy of LibriVox recordings archived in Youtube. Print volumes include: Robert Carter's Buffalo Bill Cody - The Man Behind the Legend, Michael Punke The Last Stand - George Bird Grinnell: The Battle to Save the Buffalo and the Birth of the New West, James A Bailey's American Plains Bison - Rewilding An Icon. Still on the 'to be read' list are Paul S Martin's Twilight of the Mammoths and Edvard Radzinsky Alexander II - The Last Great Tsar. I have also read a number of white papers relevant to the topic, including the postulate that disease brought by longhorn cattle was responsible for much of the die-off of the bison in the late 1800s.
Audio books I've completed include:
The Extermination of the American Bison by William T. Hornaday
The Last of the Plainsmen by Zane Grey
The Scalp Hunters by Thomas Mayne Reid
Tales Of The Trail; Short Stories Of Western Life by Henry Inman
Narrative of My Captivity Among the Sioux Indians by Fanny Kelly
Ox-Team Days on the Oregon Trail by Ezra Meeker
The Life of a Fossil Hunter by Charles H. Sternberg
My Life on the Plains by Gen. George Armstrong Custer
All of them have been instructive, especially Hornaday and Sternberg, but maybe Custer's autobiography (obviously written before his ill-fated march towards the Little Big Horn) was most intriguing of all because he shared so much of his personal views towards the 'hostiles,' the federal government, the Indian agents, and life on the still-untamed Plains. I could envision GPT-3 being trained on his memoir and having his avatar interactively share those views.
Speaking of avatars, Doug Roble (3) at Digital Domain shared a video of work the company did on a VR tribute of Martin Luther King. It provides some insight into what it takes to create a lifelike digital similitude of a real life human being. Doug reviewed the CAMP 1872 concept proposal and suggested I share it with his boss, John Canning.
During my research, I also came across a couple of Youtube videos, two of Lakota activist Russell Means, and two with Ernie Lapointe, the great grandson of Sitting Bull on his family's view of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the meaning of his great grandfather's name. Having listened to Custer's explanation of the Battle (Massacre) of the Washita, I can understand better what happened and why on that disastrous summer day in 1876, during which the Sioux and Cheyenne won the battle, but ultimately lost the war.
As I am starting to get a better feel for the time and place, I am going to draft a more comprehensive proposal, as well as continue to cast an ever wider net of contacts and sources for the project. Any doors you can help open will be very much appreciated.
Have a safe and happy holiday season.
Bill & Judy
PS' remind me to tell you a 'ghost' story about when I went hunting for the village of the Grand Pawnee years ago.
(1) Activist Russell Means proposed an independent republic encompassing much of the territory originally ceded by treaty to the Lakota, a huge swath of land north of the Platte River and west of the Missouri to the Rocky Mountains. If adopted I would be in the extreme southeast corner since I am about 4.5 miles north of the Platte and 8.35 miles west of the Missouri; and Omaha would be the largest city.
(2) Interview with GPT-3 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqbB07n_uQ4)