modern problems, technology, YouTube

Keeping it simple, stupid…

This week, I mentioned that I’ve been trying to make my home “smarter”. I’m not a particularly tech savvy person, so making my home smarter mostly entails doing very simple things. I replaced twelve light bulbs with smart bulbs. Now, I have twelve lights that can be controlled by an app on my phone. Not only can I turn them on with my phone or iPad, but I can program them to turn on or off, light up in different colors or intensities, or even set them to music. Cool, huh? Well… this new “upgrade” hasn’t come without glitches.

For the past two nights, one of the lamps in my bedroom has been inexplicably turning on at midnight. I don’t know why. I can’t see any evidence that I programmed the lamp to turn on at midnight. I don’t even use that lamp very often.

Bill has had trouble adding all of the lamps to his app. Yesterday, he called up to me and asked me to use my phone to turn on the light for him, because his phone wouldn’t load the bulb into his app, for some reason. Now… I have discovered that we can turn the lights on and off the old fashioned way, but that may cause them to go “offline”, which potentially means adding them to the app again. I don’t know… I’m still learning. At my age, learning this kind of stuff is a challenge.

I remember when I was a teenager, my parents bought their first VCR. For the longest time, I was the only one who could program it. Now I know how they felt.

I bought some smart power strips and outlets, too. From what I can tell, I can use these to shut off power when we aren’t using something without having to unplug the device. That can be an energy saver, which means lower electric bills. I can also program things to turn on and off by using my app. Like, if I wanted to, I could set up the coffee maker with ground coffee and water every night and program it to turn on at a certain time. I could come downstairs to fresh coffee every morning, rather than waiting for Bill to make it. Cool, huh?

It is kind of exciting to be able to direct appliances to work from my phone. But there’s also a beauty to watching Bill make coffee every morning. He does it so well. In fact, he takes great pride in making coffee. Automating the process wouldn’t necessarily change the process. He’d still have to grind the coffee and put the water in the tank. All the power strip would do is hit the switch remotely, so the coffee gets made while we’re doing our morning routines. It sounds convenient, but it could be more trouble than it’s worth.

Yesterday, I read a distressing article written by a professional copywriter. He says his job is now threatened by AI (artificial intelligence) technology– specifically ChatGPT. ChatGPT was able to create good copy in thirty seconds for free. The same copy would have taken the human being hours to create and he would have charged over $500. Henry Williams, the author of the piece wrote:

The developers admit that the software still has limitations. It tends towards the verbose and repetitive (“honing my craft and perfecting my ability to craft”), and minor changes to question phrasing can be the difference between an amazing response and no response at all. The more we use it, however, the better it will become. As ChatGPT told me, it can already “replicate the writing styles of different authors” and “even be trained to mimic the tone and voice of a particular brand or organization”.

I use YouTube daily, and it’s scary how many channels use AI to create robotic sounding content. Every day, it seems like fewer human beings are involved in the process of writing articles and making videos. Some of the AI generated content is downright horrible, but I have run across some videos that are almost indistinguishable from content made entirely by a living, breathing, human. It’s also been used for creating music “in the style of…” How creepy it is to think of a computer program creating music that sounds like that made by a real person?

This morning, Bill told me about how AI has now managed to pass state bar exams– the tests that actual lawyers often fail with ease. And just now, I found an article about how AI was almost used to fight parking tickets in court. Angry lawyers protested. Who could blame them? That technology could put their livelihoods in jeopardy! I’ve also read about how students can now use AI to write papers, which makes a teacher’s job more difficult. Isn’t it bad enough that teachers have to worry about being shot while they’re teaching? Do we have to add AI to the mix, too?

I have nothing against technology. There are some things robots do better than people. I’m sure, for instance, that robots might be better at certain surgeries than humans are. There’s less worry about human frailties or failures, like shaking hands, fatigue, or emotions getting in the way. But as intelligent as machines and computers can be made to be, they have to be mastered by humans. Otherwise, what good are we?

It used to be that people had to go places to go shopping. They had to interact with other people. There was a human being to ring up the sale and bag the item. Now, a lot of us shop online, and our interaction might come if we happen to see the delivery person… and no one steals our stuff from the porch. Automated cashiers have made it possible to go shopping for groceries and check yourself out. That might seem convenient enough, but it also means that one less person has a job. I don’t like using self checkout lanes, either, because I find that they often mess up the transaction and the process ends up taking longer

I’m sure my angst is for nothing. People have been lamenting “progress” forever. As a writer and musician, though, it does kind of disturb me that AI is getting “too good”. If AI can do in seconds what I do in hours, what’s the point of getting up every day? Are we living in The Jetsons age, now?

One more thing… My friend Thomas, who frequently comments on my posts, informed me that he’s not been able to like or comment on my most recent posts. I have been investigating the issue this morning. It seems I’m having trouble with a “nonce verification error”. I’ve tried disabling plugins, which is a real pain, because it messes up the settings I’m used to using. I tried changing the theme, but that also didn’t work. I did find that I could comment if I did it on my desktop or laptop computers, using Chrome. But I can’t do it on the desktop with Safari, or from my iPad. I tried commenting with Safari on my laptop and it worked.

This is very weird, and I don’t know how to fix the issue. So if you’ve wanted to comment and can’t, all I can tell you for now is to try using Chrome. Hopefully, this issue will be fixed at some point. I have emailed support. Maybe they can straighten this out for me.

I’ve read that Jetpack can cause “nonce” issues. I’ve tried to disable Jetpack, but WordPress won’t let me. Apparently, I pay for it with my subscription. Sigh…

Maybe it’s better to just keep it simple, stupid… The K.I.S.S. method has alway served me well in the past. But then, I think about my mom, who has steadfastly refused to learn how to use the Internet and now has to get one of her daughters to Google for her when she needs help. I don’t think I want to get to that point. I’ll try to keep learning the new methods. I just hope all of these new things we have for convenience don’t end up being too much of a good thing.

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Bill, funny stories, Germany, modern problems, politics, technology

“Will you RELAX?!” knotty gets a rare phone call, causing unfounded alarm…

Last night, as I was disassembling my latest completed puzzle project and preparing to start the next one, my Apple Watch started ringing. I wasn’t expecting a phone call. Indeed, almost no one calls me, ever. But I answered the call anyway, since it looked like it came from a Washington, DC number.

Just finished last night! Hilarious musician Paul Thorn’s second limited edition puzzle is based on a beauty queen drag show his dad held at their Mississippi church in the early 80s. Paul was the winner.

A rather awkward sounding man asked for me by name. I told him he was speaking to me. It turned out he was from Democrats Abroad, an organization that encourages Americans who live overseas to vote blue. He wanted to make sure I had an absentee ballot coming. I assured him I did. He started reading off information I had obviously input when I connected with this organization some months ago. I probably did it because I was so eager to get a ballot. There have been years when we’ve received them too late.

Bill came into the room and immediately looked very suspicious. He kept mouthing “SCAM” at me while wringing his hands. I was annoyed with him, and quietly asked him to relax. He continued to stand there, frowning and shaking his head, urging me not to talk to this man from Democrats Abroad who had a barely detectable German accent, but otherwise spoke perfect English.

I verified my information with the guy, who was rattling off where we had previously lived in the United States and my phone number. I was pretty confident that this dude was who he said he was, especially since the call had come from a DC phone number. He verified that I had requested my ballot and lamented that the mail might be too slow. I didn’t mention to him that I would be using the APO system to receive and send the ballots, rather than German mail. Then the guy said maybe Texas would let us vote by email. Honestly, I don’t remember if we can do that, but I’ll do that if it’s allowed.

Bill still looked suspicious, and it was really distracting me, and making it hard to follow the conversation with the caller, so I suddenly snapped at him “Will you relax?!”

The guy I was talking to was obviously startled, and said “Are you talking to me?”

I laughed and said, “No, I’m sorry; I was talking to my husband.”

He sighed with relief and said, “That’s good. I do get nervous when I make these calls.”

“I’m really sorry.” I said. “I do appreciate your call.” I can’t blame him for getting nervous, either. I think I would hate to have to call strangers and talk to them about voting. It’s a step or two higher than telemarketing or fundraising for colleges.

The guy said he was calling us from the Harz mountains, which are near Thuringia. I then surmised he must be a German local calling on behalf of Democrats Abroad, somehow using a DC phone number. Perhaps he’s just employed by them, or maybe he’s a dual citizen, as our half American dentist was for years before he finally went with full on German citizenship. I guess he was tired of paying taxes to two countries. Can’t blame him for that. Or, maybe it’s a German who works for Democrats Abroad, because Germans don’t want to see Donald Trump or his minions getting back into power– even though some of Trump’s (reluctant) relatives live in Rheinland-Pfalz, not so far from where we live.

We finished our call on a courteous note, and the caller gave me one last encouragement to vote in November, which I can hardly wait to do. I was amused that he wished me and my “relaxing husband” a pleasant evening. Then, after we ended our call, I looked at Bill and said, “I appreciate your concern, but you know, I can handle my own business.”

Bill agreed, then explained that he thought the caller was a scammer because he thought the man had sounded nervous, and he had encountered such a caller in Texas who had turned out to be a scammer. I love that Bill is protective sometimes, but this was not a situation that called for it. At the same time, I feel kind of amused, yet sorry, for that poor guy who thought I was yelling at him to relax. He probably won’t forget that call he made to me. He must have had an immediate reaction to hearing me snarl at Bill.

As for me, I’m struck once again at how little use I have for the phone anymore. I used to use it daily. Now, it’s a surprise when I get a phone call, and when I do get one, most of the time I get it through my watch, and it gets broadcasted to everyone in the room. Same thing goes for my car, which I used to drive regularly… now it sits in the garage for weeks. Now that I think about it, Caller ID is now kind of obsolete, since so many people use computers to call others. Ditto to the phone book. Who uses those anymore, unless they’re total luddites? I feel like I’m in the Jetsons Age. I was about to write that I “hung up” the phone, but now I realize that I didn’t even do that. Who hangs up the phone anymore?

Ah well. Yes, I plan to vote absentee, and as soon as possible. My fingers are itching to cast a vote against the vile and deplorable Greg Abbott, whom I hope gets wheeled out of Austin as soon as humanly possible. So that Democrats Abroad dude doesn’t have to worry at all. I WILL be voting, and praying for a blue wave to wash out the extremists who are taking over the country with their anti-women views. Maybe it’s a pipe dream to hope for a Democratic governor in Texas, but I can dream, can’t I?

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