Newsletter

Playing with ChatGPT

Julia set fractal gif

I am a bit late to the ChatGPT bandwagon — people all over the internet are pointing out badly written prose. But I did want to give it a try. I have hundreds of story ideas that I have jotted down over the years. Most won’t ever be written into an actual story. So it seemed like a fun exercise to give ChatGPT an assignment of writing a short story using some of my notes as prompts. I tried three, iterating on one of those multiple times to see what differences my suggested changes made to the AI-generated story. The results are at the end of this post. The first thing I noticed is that all of the ChatGPT stories were flat — there were no unexpected twists or turns; and the endings sounded the same, each with a strange bit of morality embedded for good measure. The AI had a bit of literary echolalia — some phrases were repeated over and over again. It’s like it liked saying “like” as a verbal tic. I didn’t expect that. Stories tended to start with “In the world…” and conclusions began “In the end…”. The strangest response I got out of ChatGPT…

The Fragility of Normal

Fortune: May you live in interesting times

We all want to go back to normal. We cry about it and complain: “Enough is enough. We want our lives back.” This need to “go back to normal” is always with us, although maybe on a different scale post-pandemic. But even before Covid, there were always things that disturbed our perception of normal: new teachers, new housing, new jobs, new routines, stores and restaurants closing, cars that break down, challenging illnesses, new bus routes. Towards the end of our vacations, we come to realize that, although adventures are fun, it is good to be home where things are as we expect them to be. This want of predictability, for having our expectations met, is at the crux of a deep-seated need for normalcy. We have a limited capacity for taking in and processing information — we have limited short-term memories. When there is a flood of unfamiliar data, we get overwhelmed. We end up not having enough cognitive and emotional capacity to handle the new stuff on top of all the other things we have to do. Sudden change makes life feel overwhelming. Anchoring Errors This brings me to anchoring errors, which are basically little cognitive traps our minds…

Gift of Time

time illustration

Nothing is more precious than time. It’s not an accident that we celebrate birthdays — full orbit trips around our star — in addition to milestones of physical, mental, or social accomplishment. It’s also of interest to note that when we pledge ourself in marriage, we swear to be together ’til death do us part. In both cases, we are celebrating the passage and gift of time. Time is the most precious and the most personal thing we have to gift. Our allotted time is very limited, and once it passes, there is no getting it back. No amount of wealth or social connections can retrieve time lost. When it’s gone, it’s gone. As far back as we are able to glimpse into our history, people traded in goods and services. We make things. It takes the time it takes. Some tasks can’t be hurried and some are tied to events beyond our control, like weather and natural disasters. But we didn’t start selling our actual time, as opposed to goods and services, until recently. We sell our time cheap and value it even less. When people talk about “slow quitting,” they are talking about minimizing what they accomplish during…

Expanding Definitions

Signal

I have taught children, teens, and adults for many years. And I am noticing a trend — as a people, in the name of a more just society, we try to make our definitions ever more expansive. Sounds like great thing, right? But consider this. Decades ago, children diagnosed as autistic were few and their symptoms had to be severe to get this diagnosis. Now we have an autistic spectrum. More and more children and adults get placed on this spectrum. We seem to want to catch as many autistic individuals as we can by expanding the definition of what it means to be on the spectrum. We are being ever more expansive in the name of justice. But shouldn’t we be expanding the spectrum the other way instead? Perhaps it is better to be more inclusive in our definition of what it means to be on the “normal” spectrum. We are all different. We all have a grab bag or positives and negatives. And that’s a good thing. It takes all of our differences to create a great society. So we can treat ADHD kids as different from “normals” or we can think of them as us. Dividing children…

My Writing is My Phrontistery

Martin Harvey

Phrontistery is an ancient Greek word meaning “a place for thinking.” I love cool words and phrontistery not only feels good on the tongue, but its meaning really appeals to me — it describes a space specifically dedicated to thinking! For many people, bathrooms are a perfect phrontistery. They are for me, too. Showers score high as well. But I think I do my best thinking when I write. With my fingers on the keys, I can clarify my thinking and also discover ideas that must have been hovering around my subconsciousness, ready to be revealed to my eyes through my fingers. Writing is a metaphorical phrontistery for me. And probably in the days when diaries and journals were popular, many others found capturing words in a tangible medium clarified one’s thoughts and opinions on all sorts of matters. Luckily for my friends and family, I write mostly fiction — my phrontistery cleverly hides the true identities of many. Lately, I have been devouring books at a high rate. As a result, my little collection of notes (over a thousands and counting) has been growing. I consider my notes app as part of my phrontistery. I jut down ideas for…

Witchy Readings

Time flies and it’s October — witchy season is upon us! Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons — the need for a nice sweater and thick blanket, the ability to enjoy a nice fire, the smell of rain in the air, the bright colors of changing leaves. It’s a perfect season. Halloween just makes it doubly so. As a family, we always were into decorating with pumpkins and skeletons and all things spooky. We ran the Carnevil Driveway for a decade, giving away over a hundred pounds of candy in a night. We invited all of our friends and neighbors to participate as creeps (term of art for those employed by a carnival) in full costumes and wearing fun personas as they scared (in a nice way) the little boys and girls that came out to Trick-or-Treat to our door. To this day, our basement in full of decorations: a wall of heads, corpse in a trunk, iron hands holding a severed head, tons of black lights, and thousands of other big and small props that go bump in the night. There were even a few years when we put together two of these — one in…

Love of Reading

Monument to Jules Verne

I assume that people who read my newsletters love to read as much as I do. Reading is the best form of escapism. It’s a way of stepping into another life, another world. It can be completely immersive and totally consuming. You can read to match your internal moods or to shift them into a completely different direction. Reading is awesome fun. I’m sorry for those who don’t know this. That said, even some great stories won’t be great for every reader or even be appropriate for a particular time in their lives (or circumstances in the world). I have been reading a lot lately, catching up on the giant pile of books that I acquired during the height of the pandemic but never got around to actually consuming. My pile is still very high, but I did discover some gems and also some books that are simply not for me (or not for me right now). I am getting better at putting those books away partially read — that’s a new skill that I just recently learned. Prior, I felt that I had to read to the last page (appendixes included) once I’ve started a book. Now, I am…