Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Ride Into the Danger Zone

Last Saturday I took a ride into the danger zone. Ha, not really. If you've read even a few of my previous posts you probably know that I'm danger-avoidant, not an adrenaline junkie at all. 

I went to the library. This is not the branch I usually frequent, but rather the North County branch, a whole 25 minutes away from home. I was on the library website placing a few holds and when I signed out, I saw a big notice: "Matinee screening of Top Gun: Maverick has been added. "That sounded like a fun movie, and since it hasn't yet made its way to streaming, I checked it out. It was starting in an hour, so I reserved a seat and asked John if he wanted to go. He didn't have any interest, so I headed into the danger zone by myself.

And it was a fun movie! There were only four of us in attendance, so I didn't have to feel too concerned about being in a large group in public. They even had closed captioning on. I don't know if this is the norm, but all four of us were senior citizens so it didn't hurt. One of the other women seemed to be enjoying herself so much that she added to my enjoyment. As soon as the lights went off she popped the tab on a can of soda and broke out a bag of popcorn. She laughed, cheered, clapped, and generally had a good time. I may take some refreshments of my own the next time I watch a movie at the library.

I checked the library calendar when I got back home and there are loads of groups that meet, along with movies and concerts every week. I don't think I'd fit in with the Beginner Ukulele Lessons (it's meant for students 6-12), but I did sign up for a Celtic Harp concert this upcoming Saturday. It might not be a ride into the danger zone, but it will be something new and fun for me. 

I've always relied on the library for books, but now I'll also look forward to movies and concerts (but maybe not ukulele lessons or Pokemon card trading). 

What kind of programs does your library have? 

Monday, February 27, 2023

Why: A February Update

I spent much of February "getting comfortable with my word", asking why about why. I ask myself why many times each day, sometimes about small things like why Fels-Naptha soap is called that (because it originally contained naptha which is another word for the carcinogen benzene, no longer in the soap) and sometimes about bigger things. These bigger things include what I want my remaining years to look like and what I have to do to make that happen, and wondering why other people significant in my life might be acting in certain ways and the best way for me to respond in turn.

The thing that has guided me most this month has been a quote from Albert Einstein: "The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when contemplating the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of the mystery every day. The important thing is not to stop questioning; never lose a holy curiosity."

--from statement to William Miller, as quoted in LIFE magazine (2 May 1955).

So I'm going to keep trying to comprehend a little of the mystery each day, and I hope you are, too. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Who Wrote This?

I can hardly read the news lately without hearing ChatGPT mentioned. I've been curious about it for a while, so I decided to give it a try. Except ChatGPT is always at capacity and after being told to check back later for at least a week, I decided to look for some alternatives. I chose sites that let me try it for free without inputting my phone number or credit card information.

I came to Perplexity first and gave it a try. I was trying to compare ai results with something written by an actual human being so I instructed it to "write a blog post about the significance of knots in the book The Shipping New by E. Annie Proulx."

Here are the results from Perplexity:

In E. Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News, knots are used to represent relationships and the complexities of lifeQuoyle, the protagonist, is born in Brooklyn and raised in a series of dreary upstate towns. Throughout the story, knots are used to illustrate how relationships can be tied and untied, formed, unformed and reformed. Tangible knots also come into play in the habits of Quoyle's cousin Nolan and the aunt's upholstery business. Knots also serve as a reminder that the book is grounded in realityJeff Dean is an engineer at Google who has become legendary amongst employees for his intelligence and prowess at Connect 4. Jokes about him are commonplace amongst employees, such as one suggesting he can win Connect 4 in three moves.

It seems readable and on par with the writing of an average middle school student, until you get to the part about Jeff Dean. Perplexity provides citations that let you know where they got the information, but I couldn't find Jeff in the provided citation.

Next, I tried Writesonic with the same prompt:

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx is a novel about a man’s journey of self-discovery and healing after a series of life-altering tragedies. Throughout the novel, knots serve as a metaphor for the protagonist’s struggles to come to terms with the past and to reach a new kind of equilibrium in his life.

Knots are first mentioned in the novel when the protagonist, Quoyle, begins taking a class in knot tying. This is a metaphor for Quoyle’s attempts to untangle the knots of his life he has built up through decades of self-loathing and pain. The knot tying class serves as a way for him to unwind, if only temporarily, as he begins to take steps towards self-improvement.

Knots also appear throughout the novel in reference to Quoyle’s relationships, specifically those with his daughter and his newfound love interest, Wavey. In his relationship with his daughter, knots represent the struggle to form a bond, as the two are distant and estranged throughout the novel. Similarly, in his relationship with Wavey, knots serve as a reminder of the challenges of forming a new connection and of the difficult emotions that come with it.

Knots appear in the novel in a variety of other contexts, from Quoyle’s attempts to connect with the locals in his newfound home of Newfoundland to his struggles to come to terms with his past and the trauma he has experienced. The novel is ultimately a story of healing and redemption, and knots serve as a powerful symbol of the challenges and struggles that Quoyle must overcome to find peace.

The Shipping News is a powerful tale of resilience and hope, and the use of knots as a metaphor throughout the novel serves to emphasize this by showing the reader the challenges that Quoyle must face and the strength he has to confront them. It is a reminder of the healing power of overcoming one’s own struggles, and that even in the darkest moments, there is still light to be found.

This felt a little more complete, without any mention of Jeff Dean. I don't recall that Quoyle took a class in knot tying, but I haven't finished my re-reading for Read With Us, so Writesonic may be right (but I have my doubts).

Just for comparison, here is a link to the blog post I wrote on Tuesday about how the author used knots in The Shipping News. The subject isn't quite the same but not surprisingly, I'm still partial to the human writing.

I noticed that Writesonic can also generate images with Photosonic. This sounded promising so I decided to give it a slightly tricky test with "freshly baked loaf of English muffin bread on cutting board".

I was pleasantly surprised that these images were not terrible - sort of loaf-shaped, with nice slices, and even some crumbs. I hadn't even managed to confuse the ai by asking for a loaf of English muffin bread. For comparison, here's the loaf of freshly baked English muffin bread baked and photographed by a human:

A little more loaf-shaped but I am slightly more tempted by the ai bread. I bet the human-baked bread will taste better. 

The next time I am struggling with writing a blog post or a book review for goodreads, I don't think I'll resort to using ai. But it is interesting and does give me pause. For now, keep writing, humans!