So now we have the AI-driven ChatGPT in our lives. Teenage students around the world are probably rejoicing, pausing in their perusal of TikTok to lift their hands in praise.

If you haven’t learned (or experienced) yet, ChatGPT is a chatbot that was officially released in November of last year. The chatbot is an artificial intelligence text-generator. Basically, you type in a question and ChatGPT responds with an answer. For example, you can ask it anything. Quite an example, yeah?

Okay, here’s a more specific example. You could type in a query such as “Explain black holes at a fourth grade level.” Which I just did. In about ten seconds, ChatGPT responded with this:

Black holes are like a big, invisible vacuum cleaner in space. They suck up anything that gets too close, even stars and planets! This happens because black holes have a super strong pull of gravity.

Light can’t escape from a black hole, which is why they look black and we can’t see what’s inside. Scientists study black holes by looking at how they affect things around them, like stars.

It’s important to remember that black holes are not a hole in space that you can fall into like a hole in the ground. They are just a place where the pull of gravity is so strong that nothing can escape.

As your brain is probably already realizing, this opens up a huge can of wriggly worms from an education perspective. What’s to stop a student from getting ChatGPT to write all of his or her essays? Nothing. Not a thing.

Sometimes, I wonder if there’s a secret cabal of little grey men meeting in some hidden location (perhaps a mountain retreat called The Meadows), conspiring and scheming to make children dumber. Stupider and more dull, with each passing year (which then begs the question: why?).

Cell phones are bad enough. Kids whip those things out to retrieve data which, in the past, might very well have been stored in their own brain. Mental math is a thing of the past. And don’t get me started on posture.

I’m sure there are plenty of beneficial reasons for the existence of ChatGPT and all the other AI equivalents. But, dulling the brains of the young and future generations yet unborn cancels out a considerable list of potential benefits.

Other possible harms exist. What’s to stop the use of the chatbot to write news articles? Frankly, its quality level is just as good, if not better, than many journalists these days. Or how about writing stories? ChatGPT doesn’t seem to successfully handle being prompted to write in specific styles–such as, write in the style of Conan Doyle, etc–but I imagine that tweak will come along soon enough. What’s important, and dangerous, is that it can write stories.

Brave new world, isn’t it? Though, I’m starting to suspect that our real-time foray into dystopia is proving more similar to CS Lewis’ That Hideous Strength rather than Huxley.

As the world progresses in technological advancement, it reduces in other areas. Reductionism? Kids’ memories stunt. Creativity shrivels in on itself like a salted snail. Mental math withers. Relationships diminish due to the poisonous interface of screens and social media.

What are we reducing ourselves toward? Perhaps the rough beast slouching toward its birth?


Make Your Bed

Pro Dad Tip of the Day: make your bed right after you get up.

If you make your bed right after you get up in the morning, you will have achieved something of worth for the day. This will be your mini success, even if the rest of the day crashes and burns.

I wonder if anyone has ever done an analysis of prison inmates and whether or not they consistently made their beds as children? That would be an illuminating study. I’d rather my tax money be spent on that than figuring out how cocaine affects beagles (see: Idiots in Congress).

Big things have small beginnings. Such as: Mary and Joseph off to Bethlehem, the future Duke of Wellington playing with his toy soldiers as a young boy, tiny Bach hearing a pianoforte for the first time.

In related news, cleverly foreshadowed by my earlier mention of the now infamous cocaine-addicted beagles line item in the 1.7 trillion dollar omnibus, I’m relatively certain that the vast majority of our electeds in Congress, of both parties, are either insane, criminals, both insane and criminal, animatronic puppets controlled by a secret criminal organization, or are of such reduced intelligence that they would make a rotten cucumber look like Albert Einstein. It’s true (because now you’ve read it on the internet).

A quick skim through the omnibus reveals a laundry list of insanity. The spending bill includes crazy amounts of money for the Department of Defense, even though recent audits of that department have revealed hundreds of millions of dollars that have simply vanished. Poof. Gone without a trace. If your teenage son couldn’t account for thousands of dollars that you had given him, would you give him more? You would if you were insane or the mental equivalent of a turnip.

The omnibus pours truckloads of money into the Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) program. Tigers are so cute and cuddly and cool; obviously, let’s give the ferocious beast more money. The only problem is, TIGER has a well-proven track record of sluicing money here and there on behalf of well-connected applicants. Contractors who knew the right politician. Contractors who built bridges that collapsed (see: Florida International University). Contractors who built projects that came in at multiples of the original bid (see: City of Atlanta’s streetcar project).

The omnibus spouts money into the open hands of the National Science Foundation. That’s the same foundation known in the past for studies such as Teaching Monkeys to Gamble, Do Quail Become More Promiscuous After Taking Cocaine, and Observing Shrimp on Treadmills. This allocation begs the question as to who is more insane, Congress or the geniuses at the National Science Foundation?

The omnibus increases public school funding by 2.6 billion dollars. Interestingly enough, the more the USA has spent on public education over the decades, the worse the outcomes have become. We routinely graduate kids from high school that can’t even do basic math in their heads, let alone write a coherent essay or even a letter to Grandma thanking her for the $50 Amazon gift card she sent for Christmas.

I’m confident the net effect of that 2.6 billion infusion will result in high graduates unable to tie their own shoe laces. But who cares? Just buy self-aware, bluetooth enabled shoes on Amazon that slip themselves onto your feet and do the tightening for you! That leaves you more time to devote to Tiktok.

The word omnibus sounds like ominous bus. Where is the ominous bus going?

At any rate, just make your bed. And then move on to the next small thing that life has put in front of you. Look at that small thing, make sure you’re not hallucinating, and then do it well.

Skunks in the Garden

We have skunks in the garden. A mama skunk and several baby skunks. So far, they haven’t sprayed anyone or anything. Thankfully.

From what I’ve read, skunks tend to hang around if there’s a food source. We’ve inadvertently provided them two: cat food, if we forget to take it inside in the evening, and fruit that has fallen to the ground from our various fruit trees–apples, pluots and apricots.

I’m not sure how to trap a skunk. I’m not sure I want to trap a skunk. At any rate, the skunk family is officially now my first line of home defense. Skunks are nocturnal. If a home intruder comes creeping around at 2 in the morning, I trust he will enjoy his encounter with skunks as they pursue their regular activities of chasing bugs and trundling about the garden.

One of my fondest memories from high school involves a skunk.

In junior year biology class, each student was required to produce an animal skeleton. This was the big project of the year. We all had to find a dead animal, remove all the soft material (fur, skin, musculature, etc) and then mount the skeleton on a stand. You know, just like the big dinosaur skeleton installations you see in the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Except much smaller and without the vast crowds of people streaming by.

Some of the students in my class applied a very generous interpretation to the verb find. One boy found a neighborhood cat, whacked it on the head, and then stuck it in his family’s freezer chest. Another student found a goat (procured, bought?–I’m a little hazy on where the goat actually came from) and then helped it meet its Maker.

Reflecting on the class assignment, I now realize that our biology teacher, Mr. W, probably hadn’t thought through the implications of just blithely instructing us to “find” an animal. He probably should have given us some parameters. Such as: find an animal that is already dead and that you didn’t kill. I do remember that he said no fish. That would’ve been to easy. We could’ve simply gone to the fish department at the grocery store.

“One rainbow trout, please. I’ll debone it at home, thanks.”

As for myself, I didn’t want to do something as boring and mundane as a cat or a dog. I wanted something more exotic. Dinosaurs, of course, were out of the question for several reasons. Driving home with my dad one afternoon, I spied some roadkill on the side of the asphalt. It looked in very good condition. Probably assassinated by a gentle, glancing blow from a small, electric-powered vehicle driven by an animal-hating elderly lady with bad eyesight.

A skunk.

Obviously, this skunk had wandered far from his garden. Inspiration bloomed like the proverbial light bulb and I asked my dad to pull over. He agreed. His agreement points to yet another example of an adult not thinking through implications (adults, parents in particular, aren’t as infallible as you might assume).

However, he did point out that the roadkill was a skunk and skunks smell. But, he had a great solution. Being a farmer, he had a lot of random stuff in the car trunk. Including one of those opaque, plastic five gallon buckets. Complete with a gasket-lined lid that snaps securely closed. He said that would contain the smell.

After about one mile further down the road, we realized the plastic bucket, even with the efficient gasket, did very little to contain the smell. And what a smell it was.

I placed the bucket far away from our house that evening. We lived on a farm, of course, so there was plenty of space. The next morning, the bucket didn’t seem to smell at all. Dissipation had magically occurred. Reassured, I brought the bucket with me on the bus to school. Our bus was always sparsely populated, even by the end of its route, so I put the bucket in a front seat and then sat in the back.

Again, another interesting example of adults not bothering to think through implications. The bus driver neglected to wonder why this kid had a five gallon bucket and why he sat as far from the bucket as he could.

At the next stop, a seventh grader named Gary got on. He sat in a seat either behind or in front of the bucket seat. I can’t remember that detail exactly, but he was quite close. Several minutes later, he threw up. By this time, the skunk odor in the bus had gotten quite strong. Magical dissipation, contrary to my assumption, had not occurred.

The bus driver hurriedly stopped the bus and put the bucket in the outside storage compartment. One of those side flaps that tilt up between the two wheels. And then, off we went to school.

When we arrived at school, I headed straight to the biology classroom with my five gallon bucket and the prize inside. It wasn’t biology period yet, but I had to get rid of the bucket. What happened next was probably the most fascinating example in this entire sequence events of an adult not thinking through implications.

Mr. W, our biology teacher, had been taking all of the different animals we students brought in and placing them on trays on the flat roof of the school building. His idea was that then flies would lay eggs in the corpses, the eggs would hatch into maggots, which would then eat the corpses clean. Voila, clean skeletons.

His idea wasn’t bad. It was the execution, no pun intended, that faltered.

Mr. W placed my skunk on a tray and put it up on the roof. This roof, mind you, was of a fairly large building that contained many classrooms: biology, maths, chemistry, as well as the school library. Mr W, possibly moving too quickly due to the odor and not wanting to throw up, put my skunk tray right next to one of the main air intake vents for the building’s ventilation system.

After about ten minutes, doors flew open everywhere as classes hurriedly exited the building. Even from beyond the grave, the skunk was punching above its weight.

In case you’re interested, I did see the project through to completion. The skeleton was in excellent condition. I was able to reassemble it into a standing pose. Mr. W gave me an A.

I think I very much deserved that A.

Other people also deserved good grades. The bus driver for not getting mad at me. A lot of my fellow students and teachers for not getting mad at me for the smell in the building. My dad for putting up with his car smelling like skunk for months afterwards.

Anyway, I view the current skunks in our garden with nostalgia. As long as they don’t get hydrophobia. Then they’re out of here. With extreme measures.

Kindness of Strangers

Schools Or strange kindness? Perhaps both.

Living on a farm has its upsides and downsides. One of the downsides is a harvest crew firing up at 2:30 in the morning. Which happened last night. I groggily awoke to the sound of backup beeping and engines revving up their rpms. Put on jeans and boots, jacket, went outside and grumpily surveyed a a crew prepping trailers and tractors for a romaine field.

Despite the positive effect on my character (theoretically), I don’t enjoy waking up at odd hours of the night. I couldn’t get mad at the crew. They’re just doing what they’re told. The backup beeping was from a forklift loading empty crates on the trailers. The tractors were warming their engines and arranging various trailers into position. Three hours more to go before the actual harvesters arrived, but there’s always a lot of prep that has to be done first.


Another downside of living out in the fields, in the larger context of a law-disdaining state such as California, is dumping. Strangers will often pull over and kindly dump their garbage on the side of the road. Sometimes they’ll drive deeper into a ranch and deposit a whole pile of bags, appliances, old tires, you name it. Parents, schools, entertainment mind-molders, etc do not teach private property these days.

Free, to a good home

Anyway, here are some nice box springs that someone generously donated to the ranch next to my house a few days ago. Feel free to stop by and get them if you need a moldy box spring for your bed.

The noisy harvest crew is an unavoidable part of living on a farm. This place is like a big, open-air factory. It just is what it is. Nothing bad about it–just peskalicious. However, dumping garbage on other people’s property is different. That hobby is a very small stone in the mosaic called “The Center Cannot Hold.” Yeats describes the process much more eloquently, but I think a lot of people are getting suspicious about that these days.

Covid Survey David Bowie Style


Whilst perusing the boundless, skunk-infested garbage dump that is the internet, gas mask firmly strapped on and idly recollecting David Bowie’s career, I encountered a page urging me to participate in a covid survey. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University. Aside: I have never had the pleasure of purchasing a carnegie melon at the grocery store, but I imagine they’re delicious.


Yes, I clicked on the survey. And, in the modern spirit of being all that you can be, self-identifying, grooving with your internal flow, floating on the subjective breeze of self, I decided to live my life out as a person of Finnish-Urdu extraction, housed with a large extended family of nine in a yurt. Unemployed, but possessing a doctorate in environmental studies, and the beneficiary of considerable monies from the public pocket of Uncle Sam. Also, I identified as being vaccinated four times, boosted twice, and currently suffering from more medical problems than the collective patient population of Mayo Clinic Rochester.

Needless to say, this made the survey much more enjoyable. I do appreciate sharing intimate medical issues with anonymous grad students from Carnegie Mellon. Doubtless, some might take umbrage with me and point out that I’ve skewed the statistics. The statistics? That, somewhere, are part and parcel of our national health defense?


The American health statistics, numbers, data, and whatnot available for covid-related matters are paltry and hopscotch. They’re laughable. Particularly in comparison to other countries. You can find rather comprehensive data sets from places like the UK, various Scandinavian countries, Israel, etc.

If you’re skeptical of that, do some research.


So, no, I don’t feel guilty. After all, I write fantasy. I could’ve claimed I was an elf. Though I imagine there are plenty of people these days claiming such a reality in all earnestness. Blue-haired elves, possessed of many cats.

One of the more intriguing parts of the survey was toward the end. Several questions about whether I thought the pandemic was being secretly orchestrated by a small group of individuals (screenshots included here). What an intriguing question. It made me recollect the scene from So I Married An Axe Murderer. You know, the one where Mike and others are discussing the secret society that the Queen and Colonel Sanders belong to.

This is the stuff that prompts story-writing, furtive conversations and, ultimately, throwing chests of tea in the harbor. I have always disliked tea.