On pleasure, happiness, and optimism

On the importance of simple pleasure, and how we need to do more than optimize for maximum health:  We Need Pleasure to Survive – The New York Times.

A reminder, if you needed one, that happiness is a complex thing:  Finland ranks high on the national happiness scale ..#1 in fact. But the Finns would be first to admit they don’t go around in a state of bliss.

Hey, are you still optimistic? If you are filled with optimism (or if you are not), it is all about the stories you tell yourself over and and over again. Read that, but more importantly, learn to tell yourself better stories.


On the snowdrops in the yards of others

Someone on my street was kind enough to plant snowdrops in their front yard. Last week they were bursting from the ground and giving me the hope I always feel when I see them. Seeing snowdrops, I know winter is over: seeing snowdrops I know spring is starting. I love the significance of this small white flower. They’re a beautiful reminder.

If you are ever wondering about planting flowers in your front yard, I encourage you to do so. I am sure I am not the only one who walks by such beauties and feels joy. You will be giving a gift to the world with whatever you plant. How great is that?

Friday fitness links (April 2023 edition)

Here’s some more useful links on staying fit, physically and mentally. Plus some things on sleep, because sleep is an important part of fitness. And more!



Mental fitness:



How to travel in style and do it lightly

If you want to travel in style, then you owe it to yourself to read this: Dining in Style, at 90 Miles an Hour: Train travel is thriving in Central Europe, and so are dining cars. We rode the rails from Prague to Zurich and beyond, sampling regional dishes and savoring the views. It will have you looking up seats for the next trip.

If you want to travel lightly, read this: I Lived Out Of A Carry-On For 6 Weeks & Found My Personal Style Along The Way. You may not want to live out of a carry-on for 2 weeks, never mind 6, but the writer did and did well.


On Bourgeois, Wiley, Grosz, and more. (Art news, April 2023)

Here’s some recent art pieces I thought worthy of sharing:

Sydney is set for a summer of blockbuster art in 2023. Bourgeois spiders and Kandinsky masterpieces will be there. I’m a big fan of Bourgeois: I’d love to see that.

Another person who’s work I’m a fan of is Kehinde Wiley. You likely know him for his famous portrait of Barack Obama. The Guardian has a good profile of him there.

There’s no living artist who I am a bigger fan of than Richter. He’s getting very old, though (85), and he is thinking about giving up painting in the future. But for now, here’s a story of how Gerhard Richter Rides Again, in The New York Times.

Other good pieces: Here’s a good essay on the significance of  George Grosz. This piece is on artists and their day jobs (hint: not as artists). Here’s the obit for British sculpture Phyllida Barlow. RIP. Still kicking: here’s what  Ai Weiwei is up to.

Finally, a piece on Chuck Close:  look a little (Chuck) Closer: Aesthetic Attention and the Contact Phenomenon. And take some time to check out this powerful interactive display of the works of  Michael Ray Charles.

Some thoughts on learning to appreciate Instagram as a recording media

Yesterday I wrote about using Instagram as a recording device to track special events, such as life during the pandemic. As I was writing about it, I started thinking about Instagram as a service.

A weird thing happened to that service in the summer of 2022. The folks at Meta (who own it) hamfistedly tried to change the app, only to face a backlash from famous and not so famous. Unlike Twitter, Meta actually backed off from some of the changes (though they are still trying to make Reels happen). I’m glad they did.

In some ways Instagram has become my default way of sharing my life, mainly through Stories. The same 50 or so people see all my posts and can keep up with what I find interesting, and that amount is fine with me. On Twitter you can imagine lots of people are paying attention to what you post: on Instagram, you know who is. I no longer use Facebook, and who knows who reads these blog posts. 🙂 So Instagram it is.

Like many people, Instagram photos are not my life, but rather a version of it. I realized that especially when I put together my collection of images from Year 1 of the pandemic. There were plenty of things that I took photos of but never posted there. Anyone not close to me might think that’s everything happening in my life, but it’s only a sliver of the pie.

It’s good that Instagram allows you to collect Stories in Highlighted sections. It helps with the ephemeral nature of them. In most cases, the fact that photos in Stories are fleeting is good. But not always. It’s good to shape some of them into a virtual scrapbook to display.

Of course I could use Instagram Posts, but like many people, I post to Post less and less. Now I mostly use it to mark  a moment in time.

Instagram may not be the best place to publish photos, but it’s pretty good. Of course everything could change tomorrow, and all of it could be gone. I keep that in mind and keep my photos backed up separately. You should too.

Instagram has plenty of problems. Anyone reading their Wikipedia page can see that. But it has its benefits and does better than most social media these days. At least for me. Find me there, at least for now, at bernie_michalik.


My first year of the pandemic as told in Instagram stories

Instagram stories are an odd thing, at least mine are. I post almost random images of things in my life, not thinking they add up to anything. But if you are living through a dramatic period of time like the first year of the pandemic, and if you collect those images together, as I did here in “Covid: Year 1”, they take on a narrative that was not there when you snapped them and saved them.

The narrative began even before the pandemic was declared. I have photos of me going to Chinatown and eating in many places, because word had gone out that a new illness had broken out in Wuhan, China and people were avoiding that part of the city because people were afraid of coming across someone who had it and then get sick. I was down there to do a small part in keeping some of those places in business by eating as much as I could. (Brave, I know 😊.)

Soon, general precautions started. Hand sanitizer was everywhere, like this one at my work:

Then the pandemic was officially declared in March 2020 and things started to break down. I have photos of the grocery stores being cleared out of flour and potatoes. Toilet paper was scarce. People were queueing up to get into grocers and the liquor store, which both had limited occupancy. Plastic barriers went up, and everything else was shutdown: work, restaurants, stores, gyms. It was a time of lockdown.

To occupy ourselves, we adopted hobbies. People made bread. I drew and made zines. I even wrote some half decent poems.  I continued to blog, and traffic shot up.

We worked at home. Every damn day. Our hair grew long. We finally got masks to go shop for food.

We ordered take out. Lots and lots of take out.  Restaurants pivoted to this to stay alive. Some, like my favorite restaurant Brothers, didn’t make it. Many did, due to hard work and help from the government. We drank pet nat and cremant to celebrate.

In summer we finally ate outside, albeit like this:

Eventually we got to eat indoors for a bit in the fall. Otherwise, if we wanted to celebrate birthdays or Easter, we did it with people in our circle. Collecting with others outside our circle was frowned upon.

We purged our homes to make space. I had a garage sale, and was surprised by the people who showed up and bought things. We were awkwardly happy to see each other, and dealt with money for the first time in ages.

We made the best of it. We watched the blossoms in High Park in Toronto via a TV channel. We watched our talented friends put on shows on Instagram and Youtube and Twitch. We walked on streets closed off to traffic. We banged pots and pans for health care workers. We did not go to the movies, even though the movies tried to open in the summer of that first year.

We downloaded apps to keep track of COVID and to know what to do. We downloaded apps to finally travel in the fall. We wore our masks everywhere. We wore sweat pants almost as much, if not more.

We dealt with bad people. The anti-maskers. The anti-science people. We celebrated when Trump lost.

If we were parents, we tried our best to help our kids. We took them out on Hallowe’en and let them get treats delivered by chutes. We made them get up for virtual classes via Zoom and other technologies. We ordered them Christmas presents online because the stores remained closed in many places like Toronto.

Most of all, we awaited the coming of vaccines and yearned for a normal time. For many, it was the worst of times, losing their livelihoods and their loved ones. Getting ill. For some, it could also be the best of times, as it often was with me.

It was quite the year. Historic. Memorable.

P.S. I wrote at the beginning of 2021 the following post: On recording (why you should think about it differently, why you should resolve to do it), and closed by saying:

Your life has value and meaning. Recordings help show that. So get making them.

I hope you do that, in some form or another. Even if it is a collection of stories on Instagram. It all counts, just as you do.

New York stories and snippets (April 2023)

Here’s some bits and snippets on the New York I’ve been collecting over time. I hope you like them.

A great source of such snippets of life in New York can be found here, in the New York Times section called Metropolitan diary. Just little bits of life in the Big Apple, with wonderful grease pencil drawings to go with them. (See one such drawing below).

Speaking of the Times, noted conservative David French is joining them as an Opinion Columnist. I have to say, these conservatives often start out there with great praise but then become awful. Let’s see how French does.  I’m not optimistic.

Yesterday I wrote of a landmark of the city closing down: the Pennsylvania Hotel. Here’s a story on a smaller landmark also leaving: Alleva Dairy in NYC Will Close. I am sure that place contains many stories itself.

Manhattan is a region of extremes when it comes to rich and poor. On the rich side, here’s a Look Inside the NYC Apartment of MALIN GOETZ Founders. Pretty posh. Also, what’s it like surviving as a staff member of the high end store, Bergdorf Goodman? Well not as tough as being Flaco the owl, but tough nonetheless. To see what I mean, see this: Surviving 10 Hours and 32 Minutes at Bergdorf Goodman. If nothing else, you can see what providing exemplary service is all about.

If you want more stories on the rich and famous of New York: here’s something on the gatekeepers of New York’s most coveted tables.

For stories on the flip side, here’s a story on how Hell’s Kitchen got its rough and ready name. Also downtown based is this piece on someone coming of age in LES before it was gentrified: Watching a Girl’s Life Change on the Lower East Side. And here’s a tough piece on NYC’s jails.

People often hate the mayor of New York, and the current one is no exception. Here’s what he is working on: Mayor Adams Focuses Agenda on the ‘Working People’ of New York. You be the judge. Speaking of people more and more people hate, here’s something on Robert Moses: Robert Moses Is A Racist Whatever.

Finally, here’s a worthy piece on the Central Central Park Conservancy. Here’s a piece on another Robert of NYC who is praiseworthy: Robert Caro Wonders What New York Is Going To Become. Don’t we all wonder?

(Top image: Christopher O’Keeffe, the director of loss prevention, locks the door at the end of the shopping day of Bergdorf. Credit…Landon Nordeman for The New York Times)

Should we grow a victory garden for the war on COVID?

It’s an intriguing idea.

If you are not familiar with the idea, let me explain with this quote pinched from one of the links below: “Victory gardens are gardens grown by civilians during times of widespread food insecurity. The gardens were encouraged by the Canadian government during the world wars, as a way to feed both civilians and troops.”

In time of high inflation brought on to some degree by the pandemic, such a garden might help in several ways. But heck, if you want to stick with growing flowers to lift your spirits, that’s ok by me too.

For more on this, see these two pieces over at CBC.ca: How you can start your own ‘victory garden’. Also: It’s not too late to grow vegetables for your victory garden.

If you need more help on growing your own seedlings, check out that piece at Lifehacker.

Onward to victory over the pandemic, and inflation, and more!

A love letter for the Pennsylvania hotel in NYC and the two-letter phone exchange (PE 6-5000)

I had been thinking about the Pennsylvania hotel recently. I first started thinking about it when I read this: Discovering another vintage two-letter phone exchange on a West Side sign. See the bottom? Things like MU 2-2655 were how phone numbers looked in the Big Apple (and other places too). Forget about area codes like 212.

One of the most famous of these old two letter phone exchanges was PEnnsylvania_6-5000 (PE 6-5000) for two reasons. One, it was the number assigned to one place and one place only: the Pennsylvania hotel. Two, Glenn Miller wrote a famous song about it, called…PEnnsylvania_6-5000. (My Dad loved this song, and whenever I hear the title, I can hear him shouting out with the band: PEnnsylvania 6-5000!).

Sadly, having a storied presence as well as being famous is not enough to survive. The Times has a piece on how its going to be demolished soon. That’s a shame. I hope the don’t regret it like they do the demolition of Penn Station.

As you can see from the photo being held, it was a massive hotel, and one deserving of its own exchange.

I highly recommend you read that piece on it in the Times. It had quite the run.

Now let’s join in with the the Muppets as they do their version of the famous song:

Happy Friday! Have a lovely weekend

It looks like it is going to be cloudy but warm here in Toronto this weekend. That’s fine. I am happy for the warm weather and the lack of snow. It’s tulip time and I love tulips, so one thing I might be doing is either getting some more or just window shopping for them.

Lately I’ve been trying to read more, despite my limited attention span. Because of that, this list of 30 of the best short films and novels you can do in less than an hour and a half got my attention. I might be able to get through something before Sunday evening.

Of course weekends are also good for sleep. If you are trying to catch up on yours this weekend, here’s some guidance on  how to fix broken sleep schedule.

Fun stuff: check out these pictures kids took of their parents. Priceless and true. Something that was fun but no more is Looney Tunes: HBO is removing Looney Tunes online. Sad to see that happen.

Do you know someone moving into their first apartment? If so, they might appreciate this checklist . They might appreciate more than that, but it’s a start. 🙂 If they need a new sound system for their place, maybe they’d like this new Sonos speaker.

Fans of minecraft and Chromebooks: it seems that Microsoft is going to release a version of Minecraft for Chromebooks. Nice!

Something moving: these final words of Darren Barefoot are as splendid as the things he writes about in the end:  they were all splendid.

If you want to get away from it all,  this all white minimalist cabin is the flexible and functional tiny home on wheels you need.

Enjoy Spring…and your weekend, as you head out into it.

Thursday is a good day to be productive. A playlist can help

Thursday is a great day to be productive: you just got over hump day (i.e., Wednesday) and if you can get a lot done today, you can feel more relaxed as you head into Friday and then the weekend.

If you have your own playlists, I recommend you put them on. If you do not, that head over to domino.com and read this: A Good WFH Playlist Is the Difference Between a Slow Day and a Productive One. They have a number of lists from various people: one of them is bound to help put you in a mood to GTD (get things done) as you WFH (work from home).

Happy Thursday!

The profiles (beat-sweeteners?) of Sam Altman

Oddly (not oddly at all?) both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal had profiles of  Sam Altman at the end of March:

  1. Sam Altman, the ChatGPT King, Is Pretty Sure It’s All Going to Be OK – The New York Times
  2. The Contradictions of Sam Altman, the AI Crusader Behind ChatGPT – WSJ

Given the contentious nature of AI and ChatGPT, you might think think that those pieces would have asked tough questions of Altman concerning AI. Especially since Leslie Stahl did something similar to execs of Microsoft, a few weeks earlier. Perhaps the work of Stahl is why Microsoft / OpenAI wanted Altman to get out there with his story. If that was the intent, then it seemed to work. Nothing too tough in either of these profiles.

Then again, perhaps they were written as beat-sweeteners. After all, getting access is just as important for tech journalists as it is for political journalists. If you want to write more about AI in the future, being able to ring up Altman and his gang and get through to them for a comment seems like something you might want for your job. No doubt profiles like that can help with that access.

For more on the topic of beat-sweeteners, I give you this: Slate’s Beat-Sweetener Reader in Columbia Journalism Review.




So you want to stop shopping at Loblaw and you need an alternative but you are stuck. Here’s what you can do

Maybe you’ve read articles like this, Loblaw gave ‘underpaid’ CEO Galen Weston a $1.2 million raise last year, and thought: I ought to switch from buying my groceries from Loblaw and go somewhere else.  But what to do?

If that’s you, consider this. If there is a Walmart near you that sells groceries, go to the Walmart. And if there is not a Walmart near you but there is one on Instacart, then sign up for Instacart and buy your groceries that way.

I have been shopping at Walmart via Instacart for well over a year now and during this time I have been very satisfied with the goods I’ve received from them. The produce is excellent, the meat is excellent, the commodity goods are fine, and both high end and low cost items (“Great Value” vs “No Name”) are good. Most importantly for me, the savings are substantial. It never ceases to amaze me how the exact same product can be $0.50-$5.00 less at Walmart than Loblaw or Metro. Other than price, there is no difference in terms of what you get. You are essentially paying a Loblaw tax (or Metro tax) for buying from them.

I understand why people like shopping at Loblaw: the stores are pleasant, they have great selection, and their President’s Choice brand is still a treat. But you are paying a high premium for that.

Should you switch to Metro or Farm Boy or some other place? Not if you want to save money. What about No Name from Loblaw? Well, I checked it out, and many of the No Name products are still more expensive than every day Walmart products.

For more on this, see this article I wrote earlier this year. It has details on how the savings from Walmart add up.

If you want to keep shopping at Loblaw, it’s up to you. But if you do want to switch, you can.



The Gartner Hype Cycle: one good way to think about technological hype

Below is the Gartner hype cycle curve with it’s famous five phases:

For those not familiar with it, the chart below breaks it down further and helps you see it in action. Let’s examine that.

Chances are if you are not working with emerging IT and you start hearing about a hyped technology (e.g., categories like blockchain, AI), it is in the phase: Peak of Inflated Expectations. At that stage the technology starts going from discussions in places like Silicon Valley to write ups in the New York Times.  It’s also in that phase two other things happen: “Activity beyond early adopters” and “Negative press begins”.

That’s where AI — specifically generative AI — is: lots of write ups have occurred, people are playing around with it, and now the negative press occurs.

After that phase technologies like AI start to slide down into my favorite phase of the curve: the Trough of Disillusionment. It’s the place where technology goes to die. It’s the place where technology tries to cross the chasm and fails.

See that gap on Technology Adoption Lifecycle curve? If technology can get past  that gap (“The Chasm”) and get adopted by more and more people, then it will move on through the Gartner hype curve, up the Slope of Enlightenment and onto the Plateau of Productivity. As that happens, there is less talking and more doing when it comes to the tech.

That said, my belief is that most technology dies in the Trough. Most technology does not and cannot cross the chasm. Case in point, blockchain. Look at the hype curve for blockchain in 2019:

At the time people were imagining blockchain everywhere: in gaming, in government, in supply chain…you name it. Now some of that has moved on to the end of the hype cycle, but most of it is going to die in the Trough.

The Gartner Hype Curve is a useful way to assess technology that is being talked about, as is the Technology Adoption Curve. Another good way of thinking about hype can be found in this piece I wrote here. In that piece I show there are five levels of hype: Marketing Claims, Exaggerated Returns, Utopian Futures, Magical Thinking, and Othering. For companies like Microsoft talking about AI, the hype levels are at the level of Exaggerated Returns. For people writing think pieces on AI, the hype levels go from Utopian Futures to Othering.

In the end, however you assess it, its all just Hype. When a technology comes out, assess it for yourself as best as you can. Take anything being said and assign it a level of hype from 1-5. If you are trying to figure out if something will eventually be adopted, use the curves above.

Good luck!

A good collaboration: Ikea and Marimekko

I love this: Ikea and Marimekko have teamed up to create a collection of home goods at affordable prices that are also beautiful. They range in prices from this low cost bag at $2:

To this lovely side table with a tray for $79:

They even have clothing, like this robe for $40:

Amazing. Over at Chatelaine they have their 15 favorite from The Ikea Marimekko Bastua Collection. The three seen here were plucked from their list. Go to Chatelaine for more. Go check it out.

Soups and salads and sandwiches too. (Some of my cooking interests since May, 2022)

I have been remiss. I have been hoarding so many good recipes since May of 2022, and yet I have not shared any of them. Terrible. Well, let’s put an end to that here and now by bringing you a feast of slurpable soups, super salads, and scrumptious sandwiches, for starters.

Soup: Let’s begin with some soups. Italian soups ot be specific. Here’s Italian Bean and Vegetable Soup Recipe (Zuppa alla Frantoiana), Marcella Hazan’s White Bean Soup with Garlic and Parsley, and this kinda Minestrone with Sweet Potato which I really like, but purists may not. Relatedly, Corsican Bean Soup with Greens and Pork Recipe.

Speaking of garlic soup, this  garlic soup looks good, as does this Garlic Soup with Mayo. Not garlicky, but Nigella’s chicken barley soup would be tasty.

If you prefer something more French, there’s this french country soup, and this Pea Veloute with Herbs. There’s also advice on how to make Veggie Soup With Tomato Pistou. Speaking of french, here’s some links regarding Jacques Pepin’s Fridge Soup Recipe, Also Jacques Pepin Fridge Soup Recipe For Leftovers Recipe.

More good economical soups are this Clean Out The Fridge’ Soup Recipe and all those listed here: filling inexpensive soup recipes.

Here’s some easy soup recipes. One for  Chicken Pho, another with Dumplings and then one with vegetables and beef. Also easy: jarred noodle soup.

If you liked the pho idea, then you might want to try:  21 Ramen Recipes to Build a Perfect Bowl at Home.

More help with your soup making: Best Spices and Seasonings for Soup and  What Is the Difference Between Stock and Broth?

Salad: what goes good with soup? Salad, of course. When I make a salad, this is my go to vinaigrette: Silver Palate’s “Our Favorite Vinaigrette”. Superb over greens. Want more dressings? Here could be the Only Five Salad Dressings You Need from Cup of Jo. Need a bargain dressing? Try this good cheap vinaigrette.

If you like bargains: How to make amazing summer salads on a budget from BBC Food.

Speaking of BBC food and salad, take a look at this, Easy salad recipes BBC Food and this, Winter salads – BBC Food. Winter salads. Summer salads. The BBC has you covered.

Famous salads: here are some salads from famous people. There’s Olivia Wilde’s salad, Mark Bittman and his salads  and Alison Roman with her leafy herb salad. Then there’s Jennifer Aniston’s salad, though this argues: You Can Do Better Than the Jennifer Aniston Salad. I guess. Also, it  Turns Out Jennifer Aniston Does Not Eat That Viral TikTok Salad. Oh my! Scandal!

Non-green salads: pasta salad is still salad. So try some Pasta Salad Recipes from Food & Wine. Or this macaroni salad. Or that macaroni salad. Why not a falafel salad?

Amazing salads: a simple green salad is delicious. But if you want something more kapow, try this Yellow wax beans in bacon vinaigrette or this roasted cauliflower salad with lemon tahini dressing. This Antipasto Salad with Green Olive Tapenade Recipe could be a flavor bomb. As could: This Sour Cream Dressing Would Make a Cardboard Box Taste Good. Or so says Bon Appetit. Speaking of BA hyperbole, here are 20 Rules For Making the Best Salads of Your Life.

Sandwiches: of course the other good thing that goes with soup is a sandwich. First off, two of my favorites: a reuben sandwich and a club sandwich. Another favorite of mind is a Cuban. Here’s how to make a  Slow-Cooker Cuban Pork Sandwiches. If you love them like me, you might like this book on them: A new book explores the Cuban sandwich history and its evolution. Being from Cape Breton, another favorite of mine is a Fried Bologna Sandwich. Truly an underrated sandwich.

As for some newer sandwiches I like that are also great, there’s this  kimchi grilled cheese and also  Andrea Nguyen’s Perfect Banh Mi. Fabulous. Also fabulous: these French Sandwiches.

You may argue that a mortadella sandwich tart and an  easy burrito are not sandwiches, but I think they are close enough to include them here.

OK. You have all kinds of ideas to make an amazing lunch. Enjoy!





On the empathy of rats

I am fascinated by empathy, so I was interested to read about these experiments done some time ago concerning empathy and rats:

  1.  helping your fellow rat rodents show empathy driven behavior
  2. social experience leads empathetic pro social behavior rats

I highly recommend them if you are interested in the topic. Thoughts I had after reading them:

  • The experiments do well to show that empathy is not a quality limited to humans. But of course it makes sense it is a quality that many species should have. After all, empathy is a very good way to help everything survive. It’s not surprising, therefore, that other mammals have it.
  • There is more to survival than eating. Rats in these experiments chose to be helpful over eating chocolate. Many humans I know of could learn something from these rats.
  • Empathy does not seem to be something distributed willy nilly. There is some selectivity when it comes to empathy in the rats, just like there is between humans. That also makes sense.
  • We know so little of the world, never mind ourselves.

Good experiments. Good reads.

All social media companies are bad, but some are successful. (Social media roundup, April 2023)

All social media companies are bad, but some are successful. The older ones like Meta and Twitter have fallen on difficult times for many reasons. They are bad companies doing badly. And the new kid on the block, TikTok, has gotten all the wrong attention recently. It’s a bad company doing well, at least in some aspects. Let’s talk a look.

Meta/Facebook: Meta continues to do poorly, and I for one am glad about this. Remember, no matter how stupid Twitter is or how creepy tiktok is, Meta/Facebook is all that and worse. For how they are creepy, read this on the slow death of surveillance capitalism in WiReD. Or this bit of outrageousness on how GoodRx leaked user Health data to Facebook and Google (Google is also bad.) And it is not just GoodRx: Cerebral did it too. Sure health web sites like GoodRx and Cerebral are horrible, but the social media companies facilitated it.

As for stupid, just think of the metaverse. Or don’t. Disney is giving up. More will too. And that will lead to more Facebook/Meta  layoffs.

Tiktok: Tiktok continues to be under fire politically. And Mark Z would love to see it get shut down and replace it with Instagram Reels.

Despite all that, it continues to thrive, and things that take off there really take off. For example, here’s a piece on how Sofia Coppola’s daughter went viral with her one cooking tiktok. TikTok gets our attention.

For some companies, it gets too much attention. So they panic when they see people are using tiktok to definfluence others, for example.

Other Tiktok pieces that got my attention: this piece on Olivia Dunne, college gymnast has 6.7 million TikTok followers. I don’t, but Some people like Cory Doctorow. If you are one of them, you will like his piece on Tiktok’s enshittification. Speaking of crappy, this is on borg drinking and tiktok. Young people being dumb is not news: the innovative ways they are dumb is.

Twitter: Let’s not forget good ole twitter: Elmo Musk continues to drive the company into the ground. Twitter ad sales plunged 46% while TikTok Pinterest gained. What a genius he is. He’s saving the company money by falling behind on rent. And  laying off staff.  Firing top engineers. And employing his  “extremely hardcore” approach. Then he follows up with more layoffs, including Esther Crawford, who made a big deal about being hardcore and sleeping on the office floor in a sleeping bag. That worked well.

All those layoffs were good for system stability. NOT. Some stuff on the twitter outages can be found here and here (on how a single engineer brought twitter down).

No wonder people headed for the exits. Initially  more than a million people switched to Mastodon. That lead to things like this: Movetodon: Find your Twitter Friends on Mastodon this. Even Medium got into the act and  opened mastodon subscription memberships.

Additionally here’s two pieces on their tech. One on their API and one on their rss feed. Enjoy while you can. David Crosby did. He  was great on using twitter.

Finally: here’s a piece on how a community came to a Toronto restaurant’s defence after one-star review. Good for them. Online reviews mostly suck.

And hey, let’s not leave off Substack. In January they said: Don’t start a year. Start a Substack. I guess.

On Kazuo Ishiguro’s Top 10 film picks

Over at Criterion they have a list of ten films selected by Kazuo Ishiguro. They have a large collection of these lists, but I especially loved his for two reasons. One, I gained a better appreciation for these particular films. But more than that, I got a better way to think about film itself.

I highly recommend his piece. There is so much good stuff at that web site, including many great films, of course. But take the time and read that.



Running light without overbyte: lightweight web sites are a good way of getting caught up quickly without the bloat of video, javascript and more (less is more)

Once upon a time, web sites were simple. Now they are complicated and sometimes bloated. Just go to the web site of news organizations like CNN or the New York Times and you will know what I mean.

But there is a way to avoid that. Just go to the light/lite versions of their web sites. This is lite CNN. This is a lighter New York Times (TimesWire) And here is an aggregator site that does something similar for a number of topics, like tech: The Brutalist Report – tech.

If you want to find more sites like that, check out: A List Of Text-Only & Minimalist News Sites at GreyCoder.

Kudos to companies that build lightweight versions of their web sites. Not everyone has high speed Internet connectivity. And not everyone needs lots and lots of information. Keeping it simple is cool.

(The title is an extract of the original title for the computer magazine, Dr. Dobbs Journal. It’s original title was: dr. dobb’s journal of Tiny BASIC Calisthenics & Orthodontia (with the subtitle Running Light Without Overbyte))

A handy guide to spotting AI generated images

Well, two handy guides. One from the Verge and one from the Washington Post. The Verge talks about the phenomenon in general, while the Post is more specific.

It’s possible that the AI software that generates imagery will get better. But for now, those guides are helpful in spotting fakes.

(Image from the Verge. It is highlighting things to look for: weird hands, illegibility, odd shadows.)

I started tracking a group of users to see if Twitter usage was declining and twitter was dying… I was surprised by what I found

Like many people, I thought twitter usage was going to decline in 2023 due to all of the shenanigans of Elon Musk. While it seemed like usage was dropping off, I wanted to take some measurements to be certain.

To measure usage, I started by creating a list called good_twitter. It contained 98 accounts. I figured if the users on this list stopped tweeting, I would stop too. Then I wrote some python code to call twitter’s API and count the number of times each person on the list tweeted. I started counting at the beginning of January.

My first thought was that people would tweet less and less each day. However, as you can see from this chart below, on average the people on my list tweet around 250 times / day. Some days it’s over 350, some days it drops to around 150. (And one day my program died and I only counted 50. :)) So people are not tweeting less as time goes by.

My second thought was that some people were dropping off, but other people on the list were tweeting more, and hence the total amount of tweets was not dropping. To measure this, I counted how many people on my list tweeted once or more per day.  The chart below shows approximately 50% of the 98 people on the list tweet at least once a day.

Given these two results, my final thought is that people are not giving up on twitter, even with all the problems we all have with it. I found that surprising. I expected a big decline initially. Then I expected a gradual decline. I don’t see either.

I don’t know why only 50% of users in the good_twitter list tweet while the other 50% does not. I am sure some people have quit twitter. But the hard core — like me — seem to be sticking around.

P.S. A fascinating byproduct of this study is how individuals tweet. I would have thought everyone uses twitter the same way. Wrong! Look at this chart below:

It turns out most people on my good_twitter list (and me) tweet/retweet 0-10 times a day. We are all part of the Long Tail to the right.

However there are two other types of people on the short end of the tail to the left. There are power users who tweet/retweet between 20-50 times a day every day. And there are a number of super users who tweet/retweet 50-100 times a day. (Power and super users are my nicknames.)

Some of the power users are obvious: they are mainly news and government accounts. Less obvious ones tend to be activists. They use twitter as a soapbox, pulpit, what have you. I have a few super users I follow: Shawn Micallef, Anthony DeRosa,  Deray and a couple more. For power and super  users,  retweets make up most of that content.

All that said, it’s been an interesting experiment, but I am not sure if I will continue to track usage. It may not be up to me: I expect Musk and company will turn off my free access to the API, and that will be that. And I am satisfied with my final thought that usage is staying constant for now.

Like any study, YMMV. But besides my good_twitter list, I also measured a few of my shorter lists and I found roughly the same result: at least half of the people on the shorter lists tweeted once a day.

Who knows how to clean an oven? Southerners do

Let me back that up: the Southerners of Southern Living do. They have oven cleaning tips here and here and specific tips on how to clean your oven door, here and how to clean oven racks, here.

Cleaning ovens may be a regular activity for some of you. Bless your heart. For the rest of us, it’s a good thing to do during spring cleaning. If you are like me and haven’t a clue how to start, check those articles out.

P.S. Southern Living has lots of advice on cleaning and more. Recommended.

(Image via a link to Southern Living.)

Remember the billionaire space race?

Remember the billionaire space race? In case you forgot:

The billionaire space race is the rivalry among entrepreneurs who have entered the space industry from other industries – particularly computing. This private industry space race of the 21st century involves sending rockets to the ionosphere (mesosphere and thermosphere), orbital launch rockets, and suborbital tourist spaceflights. Today, the billionaire space race is primarily between three billionaires and their respective firms: Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, which is seeking to establish an industrial base in space.Richard Branson’s Virgin Group (through Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit), which seeks to dominate space tourism, low-cost small orbital launch vehicles, and intercontinental sub-orbital spaceflight. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which seeks to colonize Mars as well as provide satellite-based internet through its Starlink project.

Well it seems one of the billionaires is bowing out. Branson’s is slashing 85% of his workforce at Virgin Orbit and it seems it is ceasing operation for the foreseeable future. Virgin Orbit has exploded in space…crashed to earth…pick your metaphor.

In some ways the billionaire space race was peak billionaire. I suspect Jeff Bezos was looking for something to do and saw Musk as a challenge, Musk was still somewhat respected and the leader, and Branson was….well, just being Branson.

Now it’s down to two. I was always happy for Musk’s SpaceX forcing NASA to change for the better. In my mind, the more missions to space, the better. But the folly of Branson was due to end. And now it has.

Love in the time of cholera? No, shockwaves in the time of COVID (thoughts and ramblings, March 2023 edition of my not-a-newsletter newsletter)

Happy Spring? We’re official through a third of 2023, the year of the New Normal, as I wrote about last time. I want to take the time to go over the shockwaves we’ve been experiencing as a result of the pandemic, as well as talk about what’s hot and what’s not, etc.

Shockwaves: COVID shook the world like an earthquake. And just like an earthquake, there were shockwaves that followed. One of those big waves was the economic shutdown followed by recovery. We have had shockwaves in the supply chains, but those seem to have recovered. Then we had high inflation. The shockwave from that has been taking some time to settle down. I suspect it will, but not yet.

The latest shockwave hit the banking business, with banks around the world suffering the shock brought on by high inflation and higher interest rates that has led some of them to collapse. It’s been shocking to watch and hard to figure out. One thing that helped me understand it better was this podcast with ezra klein and noah smith (there’s also a transcript for people like me who don’t listen to podcasts. :))  This has been an expensive shockwave, as these bank failures led to big wipeouts and the most vulnerable US banks losing 1 trillion in deposits. Needless to say, this led lots of people worrying about their own banks, including people I knew. Among other things, I was referring them to this list: bank report of most exposed to uninsured deposits.

One weird thing I learned from all this is that banks fail often in the US. Check out this failed bank list to see what I mean. It’s so common, everyone knows what happens, and the FDIC even have a playbook on how to take over a bank. For more on this, see this on why the FDIC and the Treasury Department shut down Signature bank. Stratechery has a good analysis on the the death of silicon valley bank (SVB).

Credit Suisse is another bank that went under. For those interested on that story, see: credit suisse unavoidably messy bank failure. This, on coco bonds at credit suisse banks was educational.

One thing to note: while it was bad these banks failed, it was not the banks most people worry about failing. Those banks, the Global Systemically Important Banks (G-SIBs) are here.

Crypto: Other things that have been collapsing: the crypto industry. There’s still embers there (see Binance), but it looks like winter is coming for crypto. It’s very not hot. More and more it looks like key players like Sam Bankman Fried are going to be going to jail for a long time (You can read about effective altruism and his relationship to it, here.) NFT also continue to decline. The big companies are bailing, like Facebook, who is calling it quits on its digital collectibles.

And people are not happy about it all. To get a sense, read about Ontario’s so called crypto king who was kidnapped and tortured. Bad.

One particular man has been at the center of all this badness: Peter Thiel. His fund wound down 8-year bitcoin bet before market crash. And he sparked the bank run at SVB. What a … guy.

Work: aftershocks have also been felt at at work. There are lots of tech layoffs, but workers still have a lot of power. Elsewhere Korea is experimenting with a four day workweek. (It’s explained here.) I think we will see more reactions to the impact of COVID as the months continue.

AI: If crypto is cold, AI is hot, and all the attention, money, and skill has shifted over to that. Indeed, some of the people I follow on twitter who were noted crypto critics have now become AI critics. That’s Twitter for ya!

I’ve been writing about AI on separate blog posts, since there is much to talk about. I wonder if it will be still hot, March 2024?

Elsewhere this month, the war continues in Ukraine. Sadly. There is the US presidential race shaping up. Unless either man dies, I think it will be a BidenTrump rematch. China is making moves, but the daily news concerning it has dropped at least in March. The Oscars occurred. It was fine. Ted Lasso is back! It’s great.

I had more stuff to say, but I think I’ve rambled enough. Just remember, the pandemic is not over, even though it may seem that way. New variants have occurred. Hospitals are managing. People are getting vaccinated AND sick. It’s a tough time still.

However a weird nostalgic sprung up around the early lockdowns. I saw it pieces like this, maybe zoom parties werent so bad, and this, 3 years since Ontario declared state of emergency pandemic. I confess I have had such feelings myself.

I don’t want to feel too nostalgic, though. This link to a chart of confirmed death due to COVID is a sobering reminder of all that was lost. Not to mention people alive but suffering from long Covid. The knowns — and known unknowns — of long Covid, are explained here .

Still, we march on. Even though this grim winter, where people of Ontario just lived through its darkest winter in 73 years. And despite the gray and the snow this week, spring-like temperatures and sunshine is on the way.

Here’s to longer days, warmer days, and happier days. See you in a month.


Two exciting new things from Apple

First up, the new iphone 14 plus in yellow. Love it! Apple is wise to assign unique colours to new hardware. It’s a smart way to attract people to a new product, and all those new selfies with the new yellow phone is likely to drive up more sales. (I have been known to fall for this sales approach. :))

Also new is Apple Music Classical. I confess, I didn’t understand why Apple was splitting off Classical music this way. After I read more about it, it makes sense. I hope it will lead to people listening to more classical music.

Good work, Apple!

Who’s excited about the restored 4K version of Stop Making Sense?! This guy!!

I’ve been a fan of David Byrne and Talking Heads for many a years and have written about them often. (See those links.) And I am writing about them again, because according to Pitchfork,  the “1984 concert film, Stop Making Sense, is going to get restored in 4K and re-released theatrically by A24”. Not only that, but “a deluxe edition of the Stop Making Sense soundtrack will come out on vinyl and digitally on August 18.” This got me very excited!

When I was younger, I would love to wander up to the Bloor Cinema in Toronto and watch Stop Making Sense. As a rep movie theatre, it would often play it on the weekend. Even when the Bloor was renovated and turned into the HotDocs theatre, it still plays the film from time to time. And I still love to go see it. I’ve lost track of how many dozens of times I’ve enjoyed it. And now you and I can soon enjoy it in 4K! Woo!

P.S. For people who don’t know of the film, see this: Stop Making Sense .

Here’s the YouTube trailer for the re release…it’s great:

I love that the music for it is Naive Melody…my favorite song in the film.

Click here if the video doesn’t appear.

More reasons why ChatGPT is not going to replace coders

I have been arguing recently about the limits of the current AI and why it is not going to take over the job of coding yet. I am not alone in this regard. Clive Thompson, who knows a lot about the topic, recently wrote this: Why ChatGPT Won’t Replace Coders Just Yet. Among other reasons, the “‘bullshit’ problem turns up in code, too”. I recommend you read Clive’s take on the subject. And after you read that, check out his book, “Coders”. You can order it, here, from his publisher. I think it’s a classic and one of the best things written on software.

I asked ChatGPT to do my job and write some code to built out some cloud infrastructure. How did it go?

For fun I decide to see if I am ready to be replaced with AI via ChatGPT. Part of my work is building cloud based infrastructure using a language called HCL from Hashicorp using a tool called Terraform. You write one or more program files using HCL, run it through Terraform, and voila, you have the infrastructure you need.

For this exercise I entered the following prompt:

Create a terraform file for IBM cloud that will provision a VPC, set up networking for the VPC, and provision a virtual server for VPC. It will have 1 security group and a rule for this security group to allow SSH connection to your virtual server instance, 1 subnet to enable networking in your VPC, 1 VPC virtual server instance and 1 floating IP address that you use to access your VPC virtual server instance over the public network.

A good prompt, I thought. Nothing vague or conflicting. Practically a form of code itself.

I was shocked when in a few seconds I got this response:

To provision a VPC, networking, and a virtual server with a security group and a floating IP address on IBM Cloud, you can use the following Terraform configuration file:

# Configure the IBM provider
provider “ibm” {
generation = 2
region = “us-south”
}# Create a VPC
resource “ibm_is_vpc” “vpc” {
name = “my-vpc”
address_prefix_management = “auto”
# Create a subnet in the VPC
resource “ibm_is_subnet” “subnet” {
name = “my-subnet”
vpc = ibm_is_vpc.vpc.id
ipv4_cidr_block = “”
# Create a security group
resource “ibm_is_security_group” “security_group” {
name = “my-security-group”
vpc = ibm_is_vpc.vpc.id
description = “Allow SSH inbound traffic”
# Add an SSH rule to the security group
resource “ibm_is_security_group_rule” “ssh_rule” {
security_group = ibm_is_security_group.security_group.id
direction = “inbound”
protocol = “tcp”
port_min = 22
port_max = 22
remote = “”
# Create a virtual server instance in the subnet
resource “ibm_is_instance” “instance” {
name = “my-instance”
image = “ibm-centos-7-10-minimal-amd64-2”
profile = “bx2-2×8”
primary_network_interface {
subnet = ibm_is_subnet.subnet.id
vpc = ibm_is_vpc.vpc.id
security_groups = [ibm_is_security_group.security_group.id]
# Create a floating IP address
resource “ibm_is_floating_ip” “floating_ip” {
name = “my-floating-ip”
# Associate the floating IP address with the virtual server instance
resource “ibm_is_floating_ip_attachment” “attachment” {
floating_ip = ibm_is_floating_ip.floating_ip.address
instance = ibm_is_instance.instance.id

Before running the above code, replace with your IBM Cloud API key and and with the appropriate values for your IBM Cloud region and availability zone.
Once you have saved this configuration file, you can initialize Terraform by running terraform init, and then create the resources by running terraform apply. After a few minutes, Terraform will create the VPC, subnet, security group, virtual server, and floating IP address. You can then use the floating IP address to SSH into your virtual server instance over the public network.

Wow! What an amazing response, I thought!  It was quick, detailed, seemingly knowledgeable. Also…wrong.

There was so much fundamentally wrong with the code that the only way to get it to work was to rewrite much of it and also add a bunch of new code to make it work. I can’t even tell you how it came up with some of the statements: they are not defined that way for Terraform specs for IBM Cloud.

I even had the AI regenerate the code to see if it could get it right the second time. Instead the new code had 9 errors in it.

Fine. My manager provided me with a prompt of his own: see if it will work on AWS. (Good prompt, Ted!)

I did try it on AWS and Azure. With Azure the response was an incomplete script. (At least the IBM script was complete, though wrong.) With AWS the script was better. I could enter terraform plan and terraform thought it looked good. But once I entered terraform apply to build the resources, it failed.

I suspect the larger problem is lack of sufficient overlapping data for the AI tools to train on. So it sort of gets the code right, but sort of isn’t really good enough.

I see people on the Internet raving about how well AI is doing writing code. Some of the examples are interesting, but I think it has a way to go. I’ll stick to doing my day job. Without AI to help. 🙂


The biOrd Air60 Terrarium is a very cool way to add plants to your place

As someone who developed a love of indoor plants over the pandemic, I have to say I was blown away by the biOrb Air 60 Terrarium. Sure, it’s pricey, and even a little big, but for anyone who has a few bucks and some space, it could be a cool addition to your home.

Check out that link to Design Milk and get more details on it. It’s cool.


Paul Kedrosky & Eric Norlin of SKV know nothing about software and you should ignore them

Last week Paul Kedrosky & Eric Norlin of SKV wrote this piece, Society’s Technical Debt and Software’s Gutenberg Moment, and several smart people I follow seemed to like this and think it something worthwhile. It’s not.

It’s not worthwhile because Kedrosky and Norlin seem to know little if anything about software. Specifically, they don’t seem to know anything about:

  • software development
  • the nature of programming or coding
  • technical debt
  • the total cost of software

Let me wade through their grand and woolly pronouncements and focus on that.

They don’t understand software development: For Kedrosky and Norlin, what software engineers do is predictable and grammatical. (See chart, top right).

To understand why that is wrong, we need to step back. The first part of software development and software engineering should start with requirements. It is a very hard and very human thing to gather those requirements, analyze them, and then design a system around them that meets the needs of the person(s) with the requirements. See where architects are in that chart? In the Disordered and Ad hoc part in the bottom left. Good IT architects and business analysts and software engineers also reside there, at least in the first phase of software development. To get to the predictable and grammatical section which comes in later phases should take a lot of work. It can be difficult and time consuming. That is why software development can be expensive. (Unless you do it poorly: then you get a bunch of crappy code that is hard to maintain or has to be dramatically refactored and rewritten because of the actual technical debt you incurred by rushing it out the door.)

Kedrosky and Norlin seem to exclude that from the role of software engineering. For them, software engineering seems to be primarily writing software. Coding in other words. Let’s ignore the costs of designing the code, testing the code, deploying the code, operating the code, and fixing the code. Let’s assume the bulk of the cost is in writing the code and the goal is to reduce that cost to zero.

That not just my assumption: it seems to be their assumption, too. They state: “Startups spend millions to hire engineers; large companies continue spending millions keeping them around. And, while markets have clearing prices, where supply and demand meet up, we still know that when wages stay higher than comparable positions in other sectors, less of the goods gets produced than is societally desirable. In this case, that underproduced good is…software”.

Perhaps that is how they do things in San Francisco, but the rest of the world has moved on from that model ages ago. There are reasons that countries like India have become powerhouses in terms of software development: they are good software developers and they are relatively low cost. So when they say: “software is chugging along, producing the same thing in ways that mostly wouldn’t seem vastly different to developers doing the same things decades ago….(with) hands pounding out code on keyboards”, they are wrong because the nature of developing software has changed. And one of the way it has changed is that the vast majority of software is written in places that have the lowest cost software developers. So when they say “that software cannot reach its fullest potential without escaping the shackles of the software industry, with its high costs, and, yes, relatively low productivity”, they seem to be locked in a model where software is written they way it is in Silicon Valley by Stanford educated software engineers. The model does not match the real world of software development. Already the bulk of the cost in writing code in most of the world has been reduced not to zero, but to a very small number compared to the cost of writing code in Silicon Valley or North America. Those costs have been wrung out.

They don’t understand coding: Kedrosky and Norlin state:A software industry where anyone can write software, can do it for pennies, and can do it as easily as speaking or writing text, is a transformative moment”. In their piece they use an example of AI writing some Python code that can “open a text file and get rid of all the emojis, except for one I like, and then save it again”. Even they know this is “a trivial, boring and stupid example” and say “it’s not complex code”.

Here’s the problem with writing code at least with the current AI. There are at least three difficulties that AI code generators suffers from: triviality, incorrectness, and prompt skill.

First, the problem of triviality. It’s true: AI is good at making trivial code. It’s hard to know how machine learning software produces this trivial code, but it’s likely because there are lots of examples of such code on the Internet for them to train on. If you need trivial code, AI can quickly produce it.

That said, you don’t need AI to produce trivial code. The Internet is full of it. (How do you think the AI learned to code?) If someone who is not a software developer wants to learn how to write trivial code they can just as easily go to a site like w3schools.com and get it. Anyone can also copy and paste that code and it too will run. And with a tutorial site like w3schools.com the explanation for the code you see will be correct, unlike some of the answers I’ve received from AI.

But what about non-trivial code? That’s where we run into the problem of  incorrectness. If someone prompts AI for code (trivial or non-trivial) they have no way of knowing it is correct, short of running it. AI can produce code quickly and easily for you, but if it is incorrect then you have to debug it. And debugging is a non-trivial skill. The more complex or more general you make your request, the more buggy the code will likely be, and the more effort and skill you have to contribute to make it work.

You might say: incorrectness can be dealt with by better prompting skills. That’s a big assumption, but let’s say it’s true. Now you get to the third problem. To get correct and non-trivial outputs — if you can get it at all, you have to craft really good prompts. That’s not a skill anyone will have. You will have to develop specific skills — prompt engineering skills — to be able to have the AI write python or Go or whatever computer language you need. At that point the prompt to produce that code is a form of code itself.

You might push back and say: sure, the prompts might be complex, but it is less complicated than the actual software I produce. And that leads to the next problem: technical debt.

They don’t understand technical debt: when it comes to technical debt, Kedrosky and Norlin have two problems. First, they don’t understand the idea of technical debt! In the beginning of their piece they state: “Software production has been too complex and expensive for too long, which has caused us to underproduce software for decades, resulting in immense, society-wide technical debt.”

That’s not how those of us in the IT community define it.  Technical debt is not a lack of software supply. Even Wikipedia knows better: “In software development, technical debt (also known as design debtor code debt) is the implied cost of future reworking required when choosing an easy but limited solution instead of a better approach that could take more time”. THAT is technical debt.

One of the things I do in my work is assess technical debt, either in legacy systems or new systems. My belief is that once AI can produce code that is non-trivial and correct and based on prompts, we are going to get an explosion of technical debt. We are going to get code that appears to solve a problem and do so with a volume of python (or Java or Go or what have you) that the prompt engineer generated and does not understand. It will be like copy and paste code amplified. Years from now people will look at all this AI generated code and wonder why it is the way it is and why it works the way it does. It will take a bunch of counter AI to translate this code into something understandable, if that will even be possible. Meanwhile companies will be burdened with higher levels of technical debt accelerated by the use of AI developed software. AI is going to make things much worse, if anything.

They don’t understand the total cost of software:  Kedrosky and Norlin included this fantasy chart in their piece.

First off, most people or companies purchase software, not software engineers. That’s the better comparison to hardware.  And if you do replace “Software engineers” with software, then in certain areas of software this chart has already happened. The cost of software has been driven to zero.

What drove this? Not AI. Two big things that drove this are open source and app stores.

In many cases, open source eliminated the (licensing) cost of software to zero. For example, when the web first took off in the 90s, I recall Netscape sold their web server software for $10,000. Now? You can download and run free web server software like nginx on a Raspberry Pi for free. Heck can write your own web server using node.js.

Likewise with app stores. If you wanted to buy software for your PC in the 80s or 90s, you had to pay significantly more than 99 cents for it. It certainly was not free. But the app stores drove the expectation people had that software should be free or practically free. And that expectation drove down the cost of software.

Yet despite developments like open source and app stores driving the cost of software close to zero, people are organizations are still paying plenty for the “free” software. And you will too with AI software, whether it’s commercial software or software for your personal use.

I believe that if you have AI generating tons of free personal software, then you will get a glut of crappy apps and other software tools. If you think it’s hard to determine good personal software now, wait until that happens. There will still be good software, but to develop that will cost money, and that money will be recovered somehow, just like it is today with free apps with in app purchases or apps that steal your personal information and sell it to others. And people will still pay for software from companies like Adobe. They are paying for quality.

Likewise with commercial software. There is tons of open source software out there. Most of it is wisely avoided in commercial settings. However the good stuff is used and it is indeed free to licence and use.

However the total cost of software is more than the licencing cost. Bad AI software will need more capacity to run and more people to support, just like bad open source does. And good AI software will need people and services to keep it going, just like good open source does. Some form of operations, even if it is AIOps (another cost), will need expensive humans to insure the increasing levels of quality required.

So AI can churn out an tons of free software. But the total cost of such software will go elsewhere.

To summarize, producing good software is hard. It’s hard to figure out what is required, and it is hard to design and built and run it to do what is required.  Likewise, understanding software is hard. It’s called code for a reason. Bad code is tough to figure out, but even good code that is out of date or used incorrectly can have problems and solving those problems is hard. And last, free software has other costs associated with it.

P.S. It’s very hard to keep up and counter all the hot takes on what AI is going to do for the world. Most of them I just let slide or let others better than me deal with. But I wanted to address this piece in particular, since it seemed influential and un-countered.

P.S.S. Beside all that above, they also made some statements that just had me wondering what they were thinking. For example, when they wrote: “This technical debt is about to contract in a dramatic, economy-wide fashion as the cost and complexity of software production collapses, releasing a wave of innovation.” Pure hype.

Or this : “Software is misunderstood. It can feel like a discrete thing, something with which we interact. But, really, it is the intrusion into our world of something very alien. It is the strange interaction of electricity, semiconductors, and instructions, all of which somehow magically control objects that range from screens to robots to phones, to medical devices, laptops, and a bewildering multitude of other things.” I mean, what is that all about?

And this:  “The current generation of AI models are a missile aimed, however unintentionally, directly at software production itself”. Pure bombast.

Or this hype: “They are “toys” in that they are able to produce snippets of code for real people, especially non-coders, that one incredibly small group would have thought trivial, and another immense group would have thought impossible. That. Changes. Everything.”

And this is flat up wrong: “This is just the beginning (and it will only get better). It’s possible to write almost every sort of code with such technologies, from microservices joining together various web services (a task for which you might previously have paid a developer $10,000 on Upwork) to an entire mobile app (a task that might cost you $20,000 to $50,000 or more).”




I eye, You eye , We all scream for AI (What I find interesting in AI, Mar. 2023)

Have you heard of…A.I.? Of course you have! You can’t go anywhere lately without reading or seeing something about AI. Not even the Kardashians can generate this much interest or hype about something. It’s incredible.

I’ve been collecting a number of links on the topics, which I’ve grouped below. As well, I have been blogging all week on the topic, trying to give my perspective on it all.

Things are changing rapidly when it comes to this subject. I hope these things help you gain a better understanding of where things stand at the moment, even if it is a brief moment.

Ideas/thoughts on AI:

Tools and technologies:



  • Roger Schank passed away. He was a leader in the field of AI.
  • Cool stuff:  OpenWorm project is an example of just how complex organisms are.
  • I am normally a fan of our world in data, but their brief history of AI  is far too rosy for me.

Will AI tools based on large language models (LLMs) become as smart or smarter than us?

With the success and growth of tools like ChatGPT, some are speculating that the current AI could lead us to a point where AI is as smart if not smarter than us. Sounds ominous.

When considering such ominous thoughts, it’s important to step back and remember that Large Language Model (LLM) are tools based in whole or in part on machine learning technology. Despite their sophistication, they still suffer from the same limitations that other machine learning technologies suffer, namely:

    • bias
    • explainability
    • overfitting
    • learning the wrong lessons
    • brittleness

There are more problems than those for specific tools like ChatGPT, as Gary Marcus outlines here:

  • the need for retraining to get up to date
  • lack of truthfulness
  • lack of reliability
  • it may be getting worse due to data contamination (Garbage in, garbage out)

It’s hard to know if current AI technology will overcome these limitations. It’s especially hard to know when orgs like OpenAI do this.

My belief is these tools will hit a peak soon and level off or start to decline. They won’t get as smart or smarter than us. Not in their current form. But that’s based on a general set of experiences I’ve acquired from being in IT for so long. I can’t say for certain.

Remain calm. That’s my best bit of advice I have so far. Don’t let the chattering class get you fearful. In the meanwhile, check out the links provided here. Education is the antidote to fear.

Are AI and ChatGPT the same thing?

Reading about all the amazing things done by the current AI might lead you to think that: AI = ChatGPT (or DALL-E, or whatever people like OpenAI are working on). It’s true, it is currently considered AI,  but there is more to AI than that.

As this piece explains, How ChatGPT Works: The Model Behind The Bot:

ChatGPT is an extrapolation of a class of machine learning Natural Language Processing models known as Large Language Model (LLMs).

Like ChatGPT, many of the current and successful AI tools are examples of machine learning. And while machine learning is powerful, it is just part of AI, as this diagram nicely shows:

To get an idea of just how varied and complex the field of artificial intelligence is, just take a glance at this outline of AI. As you can see, AI incorporates a wide range of topics and includes many different forms of technology. Machine learning is just part of it. So ChatGPT is AI, but AI is more than ChatGPT.

Something to keep in mind when fans and hypesters of the latest AI technology make it seem like there’s nothing more to the field of AI than that.

What is AI Winter all about and why do people who’ve worked in AI tend to talk about it?

It might surprise people, but work in AI has been going on for some time. In fact it started as early as the mid-1950s. In the 50s until the 70s, “computers were solving algebra word problems, proving theorems in geometry and learning to speak English”. They were nothing like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, but they were impressive in their own way. Just like now, people were thinking the sky’s the limit.

Then three things happened: the first AI winter from 1974 until 1980, the boom years from 1980-1987, and then the next AI winter from 1987-1993. I was swept up in the second AI winter, and like the first one, there was a combination of hitting a wall in terms of what the technology could do followed by a drying up of funding.

During the boom times it seemed like there would be no stopping AI and it would eventually be able to do everything humans can do and more. It feels that way now with the current AI boom. People like OpenAI and others are saying the sky’s the limit and nothing is impossible. But just like in the previous boom eras, I think the current AI boom will hit a wall with the technology (we are seeing some of it already). At that point we may see a reduction in funding from companies like Microsoft and Google and more (just like how we are seeing a drawback from them on voice recognition technology like Alexa and Siri).

So yes, the current AI technology is exciting. And yes, it seems like there is no end to what it can do. But I think we will get another AI winter sooner than later, and during this time work will continue in the AI space but you’ll no longer be reading news about it daily. The AI effect will also occur and the work being done by people like OpenAI will just get incorporated into the everyday tools we use, just like autocorrect and image recognition is no just something we take for granted.

P.S. If you are interested in the history of the second AI winter, this piece is good.

What is the AI effect and why should you care?

Since there is so much talk about AI now, I think it is good for people to be familiar with some key ideas concerning AI. One of these is the AI effect. The cool AI you are using now, be it ChatGPT or DALL-E or something else, will eventually get incorporated into some commonplace piece of IT and you won’t even think much of it. You certainly won’t be reading about it everywhere. If anything you and I will complain about it, much like we complain about autocorrect.

So what is the AI Effect? As Wikipedia explains:

The AI effect” is that line of thinking, the tendency to redefine AI to mean: “AI is anything that has not been done yet.” This is the common public misperception, that as soon as AI successfully solves a problem, that solution method is no longer within the domain of AI. Geist credits John McCarthy giving this phenomenon its name, the “AI effect”.

McCorduck calls it an “odd paradox” that “practical AI successes, computational programs that actually achieved intelligent behavior, were soon assimilated into whatever application domain they were found to be useful in, and became silent partners alongside other problem-solving approaches, which left AI researchers to deal only with the ‘failures’, the tough nuts that couldn’t yet be cracked.”[5]

It’s true. Many things over the years that were once thought of as AI are now considered simply software or hardware, if we even think of them at all.  Whether it is winning at chess, recognizing your voice, or recognizing text in an images, these things are commonplace now, but were lofty goals for AI researchers once.

The AI effect is a key idea to keep in mind when people are hyping any new AI as the thing that will change everything. If the new AI becomes useful, we will likely stop thinking it is AI.

For more on the topic, see: AI effect – Wikipedia

On Barney Frank and Isaac Chotiner too

There is a serial killer quality about Isaac Chotiner and his interviews. He  finds someone who likes to talk  and who is in the wrong and he proceeds to eviscerate them through a series of questions in the New Yorker. He’s done it so often that people like Dan Drezner wrote this: Why Do People Talk to Isaac Chotiner?

Barney Frank was the one person who I saw stand up to him in an old interview and avoid being sliced up.  I was impressed  then. I was less impressed recently when Chotiner interviewed him about working for Signature Bank. Frank comes across as pugnacious still, but clearly he is wounded and on the defensive. Here’s some excerpts.

On Frank’s own actions to weaken Dodd-Frank:

Do you see any connection between the weakening of Dodd-Frank a few years ago and the collapse? I came to the conclusion shortly after we passed the bill that fifty billion dollars was too low. I decided that by 2012, and, in fact, said it publicly. The reason I say that is that I didn’t go on the board of Signature until later. In fact, I had never heard of Signature Bank at the time when I began to advocate raising the limit. This is relevant, obviously, because Signature was a beneficiary of that.

On why it was on the regulators to choose to go after banks like Signature Bank, here is what Frank had to say:

The power to look at liquidity, to increase liquidity and to say, You have too little—they had every power they needed to do that. [The bill allowed regulators to keep liquidity and capital requirements on banks with total assets between a hundred billion and two hundred and fifty billion, but no longer mandated they do so.] I will tell you, as a member of the board of Signature, we underwent some discussions about liquidity, and the need to increase liquidity or maintain it.

On the limits of stress tests (The bold part is Chotiner: the part in italics is Frank):

But isn’t the point of stress tests to see how a bank will do under different scenarios, like the one we saw? Yeah, that is what a stress test does. It’s an artificial but valid test. I do not think that a stress test would have helped in this situation. Because? Well, this all came up very suddenly. I don’t know what a stress test would have shown. A stress test might have been helpful, but part of it was that stress tests were for institutions large enough that it wouldn’t just be about them failing—it would be that their failing could cause great waves. I think that the impact of this failure has been contained, which it wouldn’t have been if it were JPMorgan.

On why he went to work for Signature Bank:

No, that’s the answer to, “Why are you doing this? It’s inconsistent.” No, I went on it, frankly, for two reasons. One: it paid well. I don’t have a pension and, having quit, I wanted to make some money. [Frank declined to participate in the congressional pension system.]

In short: weakening Dodd-Frank was a good thing and removing mandatory  liquidity requirements from banks like Signature Bank was a good thing and also the stress tests are not that good. Also its fine for political leaders to go work the people they used to regulate and make lots of money.

The whole interview is worth reading. Unless you were a fan of Barney Frank, they way I once was. Now he just sounds like an character from The Big Short.

An odd piece on SNL from GQ

This is an odd piece in GQ: The New Cast Reshaping SNL’s Next Decade . It states: “After a slew of exits, Saturday Night Live is reloading—with a squad of young comics that could form the nucleus of the show for years to come.”

It’s odd because yes, there have been a slew of exits, and yes there are new comics, but if you have been watching it recently, the comics dominating it now seem to be people like Heidi Gardner and Bowen Yang, and of course, the great Keenan Thompson. To see what I mean, check out this recap of a recent episode with Travis Kelce starring. Or watch tonight. They aren’t the new people, and they aren’t the older comics leaving.

The new comics are no doubt good, and they likely appealed more to the GQ readership than the people I named. Plus everyone wants to talk about what’s new. But I can see the current veterans being around and in the forefront when it comes to SNL celebrating half a century in 2 years from now.

A little perspective, please, GQ. 🙂

P.S. As an aside, I’ve been a fan of both GQ and SNL since the 70s. Good to see them both still around and being current.

The best pinot grigio is pinot gris

300I have been a long time non-lover of pinot grigio. (See here). I’ve tried a lot, even Alto Adiges, and I am still not keen. I’d rather drink something made from another grape.

That said, I was somewhat reconsidering my opinion after going over this list from Food and Wine: world’s best pinot gris and pinot grigio. Most of the wines on the list are pinot gris and not pinot grigio. It made me think that the problem may not be the grape but what Italians do with it. I have often enjoyed what the Alsatians do when they make their pinot gris wines. Those wines are flavorful and great either with food or by themselves.

So if you are a fan of pinot grigio, I recommend you consider trying some pinot gris and expand your taste buds with that. And if you are not a fan of pinot grigio, do the same! You may find you like what the Alsatians (and Americans) can do with it.