Are you there HAL? It's me, Margaret.

Are you there HAL? It's me, Margaret.

A friend of mine is working for an artificial intelligence (AI) company. Their product is very much in its infancy, and I think they're working out how to position themselves in the growing AI market. My friend asked if I'd like to be a beta user of sorts, tinker with it and provide some feedback. I think that means they wanted to hear from people who don't know anything about tech, coding, or science.

I agreed, for several reasons. Late last year I noticed that you couldn't get online without seeing ten headlines about AI. My first thought was that it was yet another great reason to not get online. But I mentioned that to my friend in January or so, and he replied, "Funny you should mention that..." I am genuinely curious about it. I want to understand it. I keep getting hung up on the idea that it's a blazing fast copy/pasting plagiarizer. Where do macros and coding end and AI and machine learning begin? I'm also starting to worry about re-locating to Arizona, and I thought this might be something I could add to a resume.

I thought it'd be a good idea to also explore Google's Bard and Open AI's ChatGPT for comparisons to my friend's company. Bard is in the wait list stage, but I was able to get on ChatGPT.

I had two things I wanted to test out. I've been thinking a lot about drones the past year. Like AI, drones almost always show up if you go online. The stories are usually about their military applications. But I got curious about their life-saving potential. I read some articles about the use of drones in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and I found an interesting article in Outside magazine about their use in Search and Rescue (SAR). (Kicking myself for not having volunteered with a SAR organization in Washington. Important, meaningful, challenging, and a good entry to the outdoors community.)

I started daydreaming about being 20 again, this time with a head for science. Designing a search and rescue vehicle that carries six to nine UAVs in the bed, command station up front. The UAVs charge in the truck, ready to deploy immediately on site. The UAVs use AI to execute ideal search patterns. From there I started wondering about whether you could add thermal imaging, a small box of aid supplies, and possibly a means of communicating with a lost hiker through some sort of Bluetooth or hotspot mechanism. Sound far-fetched? It's not.

I opened ChatGPT and entered the following task (or chat): Explain the most effective strategy for using drones to find a missing hiker. It kicked out the following result in a matter of seconds.

Using drones to find a missing hiker can be an effective strategy, but it requires careful planning and execution. Here are some steps to follow:
Choose the right drone: Select a drone with a high-resolution camera and a long battery life. It's also important to ensure that the drone is equipped with GPS and obstacle avoidance sensors to avoid collisions.
Plan the search area: Analyze the missing hiker's last known location and other relevant information to determine the search area. Use maps and satellite imagery to create a detailed search plan and divide the area into manageable sections.
Conduct a systematic search: Use the drone to conduct a systematic search of the designated area, starting from the last known location of the hiker. Fly the drone at a low altitude and at a slow speed to capture high-quality images of the ground.
Use thermal imaging: Consider using a drone equipped with thermal imaging cameras to detect the heat signature of the missing hiker. This can be particularly useful if the hiker is lost in a dense forest or in low light conditions.
Use artificial intelligence: Consider using artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze the images captured by the drone. These algorithms can help identify objects that may be the missing hiker, such as clothing or a backpack.
Coordinate with ground search teams: Coordinate with ground search teams to ensure that the search efforts are aligned. Provide them with real-time updates on the drone's findings, and adjust the search plan as necessary.
Follow safety protocols: Always follow safety protocols when operating a drone, including flying within the drone's range, avoiding no-fly zones, and maintaining a safe distance from people and objects.
By following these steps, you can increase the chances of using a drone to find a missing hiker effectively.

It's not earth-shattering. There are probably thousands of existing websites discussing best practices for drones and SAR. I'm not sure of the distinction between intelligence and incredibly efficient plagiarism.

I also do a fair bit of daydreaming about Byzantine history. I've had plenty of time to write a book about the Varangian Guard. Maybe tomorrow. In ChatGPT I went from drones to Harald Hardrada. I tasked it with developing an outline for a historical fiction novel about Hardrada's departure from Norway and the journey that led him to joining the Varangian Guard.

I. Introduction
A. Setting the scene
B. Introducing Harald Hardrada
C. Describing the Varangian Guard
II. Harald Hardrada's Early Life
A. Harald's childhood
B. Harald's life as a Viking warrior
C. Harald's service as a mercenary
III. Harald's Journey to Constantinople
A. Harald's decision to join the Varangian Guard
B. Harald's journey from Norway to Constantinople
C. The challenges Harald faces on his journey
IV. Harald's Time in Constantinople
A. The lifestyle of the Varangian Guard
B. Harald's training and duties
C. Harald's relationships with his fellow guardsmen
V. The Byzantine Wars
A. The tensions between the Byzantine Empire and its neighbors
B. The battles in which Harald and the Varangian Guard fought
C. The impact of the wars on Harald and his comrades
VI. Harald's Return to Norway
A. Harald's departure from the Varangian Guard
B. Harald's return to Norway
C. Harald's role in Norwegian politics and society
VII. Conclusion
A. Reflection on Harald's life and journey
B. The legacy of the Varangian Guard
C. Final thoughts on the historical significance of Harald Hardrada

It's a pretty solid outline. The structure makes sense to me. The problem is that I'm not sure if the AI went and sampled existing books on the same topic and served up those outlines. Regardless, I imagine a lot of college students are creating quick outlines for essays and papers.

Farhad Manjoo covers tech for the New York Times, and he had an interesting column about how's he's incorporating AI into his work, along with some thoughts on the broader implications for journalism.

I mentioned the Twitter Files wars recently. I fully intended to discuss them at length either here or at my stagnant Consuming Journalism substack page. There's no real point. I think we're past the point of meaningful discussions. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the information that Matt Taibbi put out. I'm glad he put it out. I think it shows government agencies abusing their authority by trying to block posts and speech. I don't think it's the catastrophe that Taibbi thinks it is, but I didn't like what I saw.

I suspect the efforts started out with good intentions. Let's be aware of how people and foreign entities are discussing COVID, elections, etc., and inform decision-makers so they can respond effectively. But it starts looking Orwellian.

I never understood the media's and Democrats' responses to the information, though. Instead of evaluating the actions, they went after Taibbi as a pseudo-journalist somehow doing PR for Elon Musk. I don't really trust Musk's motives here, but once I saw the information, my main concern wasn't whether Republicans would or were doing the same thing. My main concern was that we needed to have a serious discussion about government agencies monitoring speech and flagging posts for tech firms. The ensuing online battle between independent journalists, mainstream media, and Congress looked like an elementary school brawl. Twitter eventually makes everyone who uses it dumb, me included. I haven't got an account, but I obviously read tweets.

Enough of that.

I intended to do some maintenance on my typewriter, but I started going through Chuck's No Context zines instead. The work is great, and I'm so lucky to have benefitted from Chuck's generosity. (Intersperesed with some of my stuff.)

Hasty pic showing some of Chuck's No Context Zines.

If you've ever wanted to see the New York Times talk about butts in art, go here.

I opened Vimeo for the first time in ages and had a notification that Chris Filippone and Jamie Meltzer had posted some work. It was a scene from Huntsville Station, which I think got released a couple of years ago. Vimeo can be a little wonky, so I'm not sure. Powerful stuff, though. Men just released from prison at the bus station, processing the emotions of a very new reality. I have no idea how the film-makers got the trust of the subjects.

Delta vs. Delta. I saw an article recently about the FBI in Boston barging into the wrong hotel room late at night on a training mission and detaining a Delta Airlines pilot in the bathroom for an hour. My first thought was that there was a lot more to the story, and it probably involved other entities. According to CBS, the FBI was working with the Army's Delta Force. The FBI seems very capable at making mistakes, but this was probably all Delta, with FBI having to take the blame. I'm guessing that Delta Airlines offered its employee some sweet incentives to just pretend it never happened.

For years I've wanted to leave the US for a country with affordable healthcare and without a gun obsession.  I might have been able to do it a few years ago, but paralysis by analysis (procrastination) and a change in priorities has that plan on hold. But during my daydreams, I was also thinking about how one could make the move responsibly. What is the effect on a local economy when tech workers and expats on US salaries and pensions move to a less expensive country? I thought this article by Ronda Kaysen provided a good discussion. I'd still like to move one day, and I'd like to hope that I could do it with a small footprint. And I won't talk to reporters about how much further my dollar goes. (Sorry for all the NYT links. I originally read that article through a Yahoo re-post, so if you've hit a paywall but want to read it, you can probably find it by searching for the author.)

I've watched a lot of bad TV recently. Not enjoyable? That's harder to say. Sometimes bad shows are a guilty pleasure.

  • Never Grow Old. Emile Hirsch and John Cusack. A Western about a small town on the road to California. I didn't think it was very good, but in writing this, I'm tempted to revisit some scenes to see if I'm being overly harsh. I've always been a big Cusack fan, but I didn't think his character was compelling, and I'm not sure his heart's still in the acting game. I thought it was interesting to read that it was filmed in Ireland. Made me think of the Spaghetti Westerns.
  • Walker Independence (series). Another revisionist Western. This was definitely campy, with plenty of bad dialogue. I'm absolutely not recommending it. And yet I watched it and at times had fun. I think the show was trying to capture some of that Firefly/Serenity energy. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the writers were involved with Firefly.
  • Speaking of Firefly. I watched The Last Ship series, and it had Adam Baldwin in it, AKA Jayne Cobb of Firefly fame - "Let's be bad guys." This show was way over the top. Acting, dialogue, Team America rah rah rah. I guess I could have just said Michael Bay. It was so over the top I couldn't look away. The premise involves a search for a world saving vaccine. It was interesting seeing discussions about how to disseminate a possible vaccine to the world in a show that aired a couple of years before COVID.
One of these days I am going to pull together 20-30 shots of this Dick's over the years and put them in a zine. A lazy project, though. Missing context and personal stories. I have asked a few people for memories about this place. Maybe it'd work for just a fun little endeavor.