Matthew James Posts

Creating Duluth-Themed Art with AI

A Van Gogh style painting of a 1920s cargo train traveling on a winter night though an evergreen forest next to a huge blue lake with the aurora borealis in the night sky.

DALL-E is an online tool that uses machine learning to generate digital images from plain English text descriptions. You type a description of something real or imaginary and the program does its best to create a unique image based on that description. After some time on a waitlist, I recently received an invite that allows me to create and download a limited number of artificial intelligence generated images per month. This came at a good time, as I recently found a watercolor print of the Duluth hillside in a Lincoln Park shop that I liked quite a bit but could not afford. I decided to use some of my AI image credits to see if I could get the automated system to produce Duluth art of at least somewhat comparable quality. In the examples that follow, I describe this process, showing what worked and what did not. The captions of each picture show the text query that generated the image.

Canal Park souvenir invites tourists to envision a lift bridge over the Mississippi

Some years ago, I had a Duluth nameplate hanging from the back of my bicycle, which I suppose is why I impulsively bought another when I saw it recently in a Canal Park souvenir shop. I vaguely remember the one I had purchased in my younger years having a generic cityscape and not actually showing Duluth.

This one seemed no different, and might even be the same design, but this time I noticed that the building on the far left had a rather specific architecture. Checking with a group of skyscraper-obsessed friends led me to a conclusion that I should have reached myself: this Duluth souvenir depicts the skyline of St. Paul.

Duluth aerial photos, then and now, compared and combined

Sometime back, I included an aerial photo in a PDD comment and realized that because they are taken from straight overhead, the photos on Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online can be matched up pretty easily with Google’s current aerial imagery. And then I put that thought aside for quite some months until I finally came back to it and put together this seven-part series of aerial photos showing places in Duluth that have changed somewhat dramatically over the past decades.

Duluth on Judge John Hodgman’s Great Lakes Beach Report

The fake internet court podcast Judge John Hodgman, where pressing issues are decided by Famous Minor Television Personality John Hodgman, Certified Judge, once again mentioned Duluth, this time at length in the concluding segment of its Great Lakes Beach report.

Duluth history used to illustrate white privilege on Netflix show

In the new Netflix series Colin in Black & White, former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick serves as the narrator for his own story of growing up in California’s Central Valley with white adoptive parents. At the very beginning of the third episode, a modified version of a photograph taken at the 1920 lynching of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie in Duluth is used as part of a montage explaining the concept of white privilege.

The Scandia Fisheries, Duluth, Minn.

A friend of mine from Seattle was eating at Jimmy Mac’s Roadhouse in Renton, just south of “the Emerald City,” and sent the above photo to me. At first it seemed like a manufactured novelty sign because searches only returned other copies of the same sign. But then I found a Minnesota Historical Society listing for a paper crate label from the same company from around the 1950s, so it appears to have been a real business.

Artificially Perfect Duluth Day: The Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft’s Flight Simulator came out on the Xbox last week and allows players to fly anywhere in the world, including Duluth. It combines information from Bing maps with an algorithm that builds 3D representations of the landscape, creating shapes and textures when data is missing or incomplete.

The video below shows a simulated flight over Park Point.

Duluth reference on the Judge John Hodgman podcast

As part of Perfect Duluth Day’s long-running quest to document every reference to the city, no matter how minor, I add this entry, discovered today while catching up on the fake internet court podcast Judge John Hodgman, where pressing issues are decided by Famous Minor Television Personality John Hodgman, Certified Judge.

Duluth area map challenges on Geoguessr

Geoguessr is a website that features variations on a rather simple game: you are shown a location through a modified version of Google Streetview. You must guess where you are by marking the location on a map. The labels and location marker normally added by Google have been removed, so you must rely on a compass and clues from the environment. The closer your guess is to the correct location, the more points you get. Each game consists of five rounds. The tops scores appear on the main page for each map, with a tie going to the player who finishes the fastest.

Duluth photos repaired and colorized: 19th Century people/places

Streetcar Barn (1882)
Superior Street and 11th Avenue West

All of the photos here come from the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library through the Minnesota Reflections website. While most of the pictures on the site have been well preserved, some have been damaged over the years. For six of these photographs, I digitally repaired any damage and then added color.

Duluth reference in Sarah Cooper’s “Everything’s Fine”

Fourteen minutes into the Netflix comedy special, Aubrey Plaza, playing a shopping channel host, takes a call from a QAnon follower in Duluth who wants to know what her naan order really means.

Duluth’s Neighborhood Telephone Exchanges, 1920

One hundred years is a long time, and the Duluth of one hundred years ago can seem like a place without much connection to the present. But whether we are aware of them or not, elements of the past always carry over into the present. As an illustration of that, these five images, taken by Duluth photographer Hugh McKenzie and included in UMD’s Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections, show the city’s neighborhood telephone exchanges in 1920. Shown individually below, they are followed by the most recent Google Streetview image of the same location.

The Day the Brother of John Wilkes Booth Came to the Grand Opera House of Duluth

While John Wilkes Booth remains infamous as the actor who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, his older brother Edwin was actually the better known of the two prior to Lincoln’s assassination as he was considered one of the greatest Shakespearean performers of the 19th century. Edwin Booth feared that his brother’s crime would destroy his own reputation and career even though he was not only a supporter of Lincoln, but also once saved the life of Lincoln’s son by grabbing him as he fell from a train. Edwin Booth’s open expression of horror at what his brother had done led to continued public support after Lincoln’s assassination and he remained a successful actor until his death. To this day, no actor has performed the role of Hamlet more times than him.

Seven historic Duluth photos, digitally restored

View of Duluth on the Shore of Lake Superior (1870)

The Minnesota Reflections database contains a large number of high-quality historic photographs of Duluth. Most of these are scans of old prints in excellent condition. Some of the photos in the collection, however, come from torn, faded, scratched, taped or otherwise damaged prints. Many of these damaged prints belong to the collection of photographs taken by Paul B. Gaylord, a photographer from Ohio who moved to Duluth in 1869 and published some of the earliest images of the area.

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