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Category: Freestylin’ (Page 1 of 2)

Rambling

My weighted blanket…”in” before weighted blankets were “in.”

My thoughts are sort of jumbled today, but I wanted to get a post ready, so …

~~

Nobody has to sell me (or give me for Christmas) one of those weighted blankets. I see ads for them everywhere. They’re supposed to put you into a deep and satisfying sleep whether you use them for naps or a full night’s rest.

This is not one of those elegantly designed quilts with tiny, artistic stitches, either. The beautiful quilts you see in museums and antique stores are works of art, the only way early housewives had to express their love of design and beauty.

I don’t need one because I have one. It’s not the new, silky, advertised version. Mine is soft like a flannel shirt you’ve had for years…as a matter of fact, I think it IS made from old flannel shirts.

Mine is an old-style patchwork quilt made of leftover and recovered scraps of cloth from no longer functional clothing. The front or patchwork part of my blanket is secured to the lining and the backing with yarn knots at regular intervals.

My blanket is what I grew up calling a comforter, which efficiently says exactly what those wordy ads are claiming about weighted blankets “…shown to produce a soothing effect that reduces anxiety.”

I don’t know what lining is in my comforter. The outside is soft, yet the blanket is sort of heavy in warm and comforting way. Bringing it out of the closet in September or October is as heartwarming as that first bowl of winter chili or the sound of a crackling fireplace.

So, if I’m on your Christmas list for a weighted blanket…you can cross me off as DONE.

~~

A couple of years ago, on the second day of classes at the college where I work, I found a spiral notebook in a classroom; one of those cheap, one-subject notebooks moms always buy the week before school starts. I opened it to see if there was a name or some identification so I could return it to the owner. All I found was a list on the first page. It read:

Things I Forgot Today

  • USB
  • How to use Mac
  • Jaket
  • The date
  • My C number

After I finished laughing, I added “my notebook” to the list and set the thing aside to wait for the hapless student to come looking for it.

It is still laying on my desk. Two years later.

~~

And then there are my own notes. I’ve been cleaning off my desk the last couple of days and I keep coming across cryptic notes I’ve written to myself. For instance:

  • 00357626
  • Legacy = Cisco
  • 12 x 10 x 7.5
  • August 4th (with an exclamation point…if that was an appointment, I missed it)
  • A lot of phone numbers with no names
  • A lot of passwords with no subject…I don’t know what these passwords open

A lot of my time today has been spent with the age old question: throw away something I no longer recognize or keep…just in case? Maybe I’ll create a folder of Notes I No Longer Need.

So goes my desk cleaning.

~~

Finally, I’ve been fending off a lot of unknown and slightly shady characters from my blog and have become fascinated by the user names. Most hat frankly are so ridiculous they immediately stand out as fake).

Today, someone actually signed up as JonathanHacker. Another one, which I am convinced is the same jerk, has signed up numerous times using the word “scuby” (as in Scooby Doo?) in the fake name, for instance “pbyeiScuby.”

One of the most “normal” users was one called DavidDat. I have a bit of an inferiority complex and find it difficult to believe that a person I don’t know would want to be notified every time I post an article. I don’t know a DavidDat or any name remotely like that, so after much consideration, I deleted him:

“David, if you are reading this, email me and introduce yourself.”

You might be wondering why I don’t want all these followers. Most people who blog count their success by the number of subscribers they have. Not me. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that bad characters want the right to post unfettered comments on my page, comments that refer to products they are selling or to post trash talk or to lure my readers to their websites (for questionable reasons, I might add).

So, if you’re serious about being a subscriber and receiving notifications when I post, then you are reading this even now and you should know that an email request will quickly get you added to my subscriber list.

The More Things Change

The San Francisco Call, June 24, 1903

First you need to understand how research can go sideways, literally. The researcher usually has a goal, a fact or a hunch that needs to be proven. This is probably a lot like fishing (though I don’t fish). One goes out to catch a fish, maybe even a specific type of fish, but once one throws the line into the water, all fish are fair game, and the sportsman is just as likely to catch a boot or an underwater branch. At least, that’s been my experience, which is why I don’t fish.

In genealogy, a name is not a name. For instance, I’m currently looking into the Collings line of my family, but I also have to hunt for Collins, Kollings, Kolin, etc. I have to cast a very wide net, catch what looks reasonable and throw the rest back.

The other day I cast my net and as I waded through some 332 possible stories, I got sidetracked. Very sidetracked. The first 50–75 stories were relevant but mostly stories I had already seen, so I decided to keep going in the hope of stumbling across something new.

I got totally lost. My plan for the day disappeared as I stumbled onto an old newspaper front page from 1903 San Francisco and what I discovered is the world hasn’t changed much in 113 years.

I present to you a sampling of headlines and news stories from a weirdly familiar past: “White Insects Worry Farmers,” “Decent Burial Denied Paupers,” “Child Thought Dead is Found,” “Bigamy Charge May Be Result,” “Brisk Wooing Ends in an Elopement,” and just to prove times don’t change: “Hordes of Aliens Still Pouring In” a story about 521,320 immigrants entering the country (mostly legally, I might add).

How can you read those headlines and not want to know the rest of the story? For instance, consider the elopement story. (Note: I’m hoping the copyrights have expired, because I must share the full article, but I will credit these excerpts from The San Francisco Call, June 24, 1903) :

Walla Walla, June 24 – A brisk wooing terminated yesterday afternoon in the elopement of fifteen-year-old Zella Masse with Henry C. Stewart, a man twice her age and who is proprietor of the Northwestern Music Company of this city. Stewart, accompanied by a stranger giving his name as Ross Leslie, appeared in the Auditor’s office at 3 o’clock and secured a license, Leslie swearing that the bride-to-be was eighteen years of age. The girl went to Stewart’s room and changed her short dress for a traveling suit. Immediately after the ceremony they drove to the depot and took the 3:30 o’clock train for Pendleton.

The girl’s father, a wealthy retired farmer, in company with Sheriff Painter, started after the couple last night. Masse swears that he will have his son-in-law arrested on a charge of abduction.

And then there was this tiny filler (by the way, a “footpad” is a robber who is on foot as opposed to on horseback, I looked it up):

Port Richmond, June 24 – While James P. Arnold and his partner, M. W. Truitt, were on their way home last night between 10 and 11 o’clock they were held up near G. A. Dimick’s place on East Richmond avenue by an armed footpad. As they had a large amount of money with them, however, they took no chances on being shot and ran when ordered to hold up their hands. The would-be robber failed to fire and his intended victims escaped without injury.

Traffic accidents appeared to be a problem in 1903:

Oakland, June 24 – Herbert Kaphin, the driver of a butcher wagon, was the victim of a runaway accident this morning which came nearly ending disastrously. His horse ran away and his wagon collided with a car standing at Tenth and Washington streets and he was thrown to the ground and found to be suffering from concussion of the brain. He was removed to the Receiving Hospital and later was able to go to his home at 854 Alice street. The horse was caught uninjured.

A story that could be on the front page of any paper today tells of how the growth of the community is taxing the infrastructure. Even the headline is timely: “Suburbanites Good Boomers.” The story describes the problems of growth by calling for better roads: “Every night and all night long on the one avenue leading from San Mateo County to San Francisco a stream of teams conveying the produce of our rural country struggle in the dark on the heavy road to reach the market of San Francisco. We need these improvements from every standpoint that common sense can indicate, and never so much as now.”

Finally, another timely story about a child born to an unwed mother. She was told by officials after delivery that her child was blind and otherwise physically disabled and must be placed in a public institution. The story goes on to describe a chance meeting, some years later, between the mother and one of the attendants at the birth:

…and the nurse asked Mrs. Nicholson about the baby, and she told her it was dead.

“Why, no it isn’t; some people out in West Berkeley are taking care of it,” was the woman’s reply, and an investigation was begun which resulted in the discovery of the boy, now 3 years and 8 months old.

In the meantime, Mrs. Nicholson has been married to the father of the boy, and they are bending their efforts to recover the child they have mourned all these years as dead. Owing to the fact that Judge Melvin is going East on Monday for his vacation the hearing of the habeas corpus matter could not be heard until his return a month hence, and the case was continued until that time.

Finally, a little medical advice that might also seem timely, here’s an ad which looks more like a news tidbit headlined: “To Cure a Cold in One Day.”

Take Laxative Bromo Quinine Tablets. Druggists refund money if it fails to cure. E.W.Grove’s sig. on each box. 25c.”

Seasons

September = soups and other comfort foods.

There shouldn’t be a difference between August 31 and September 1, but there definitely is. For some reason, September 1 has become a sort of milestone for the progress of a year. It can be 85° on the last day of August and 87° on the first day of September yet something seems changed, something has come to an end (or a beginning). I begin to think of soups and stews instead of fresh vegetables; blankets and long pants in place of shorts; books instead of bike rides.

I thought my feelings on this might be colored by the fact that I have a birthday in September, but I’ve been asking other people about this and many agreed that September just feels different. The day’s heat seems to vanish at sundown, mornings are a little crisper. And of course, there is a noticeable difference in the length of the days. It’s almost as if the sun is sliding away from us, the nights of winter are looming.

The fact is I love September. It has nothing to do with my “special” day and everything to do with this sense of change, this return to the inside life as opposed to the outdoors. Even in this time of Covid-19 and social distancing and self-isolation, I’ve been living my life “outside.” Sitting on my deck has become a morning habit. A walk to the mailbox feels like an adventure. Visits with my family all take place outside, 6 to 10 feet apart.

But now…September. I’ve already made a pot of Taco Soup, dug out my long-sleeved blouses and washed up my sweatshirts. I’ve started working to restock my “to read” bookshelf that I keep for weeks I can’t make it to the library. And of course I’ve checked my jigsaw puzzle stash…there are 5 on the stack that I haven’t yet worked.

In the spring you throw things off, open things up, spread your arms to welcome everything.

In the fall you pull yourself in, feather your nest, prepare to hunker down.

With no apology to those who have seasonal affective disorder (which I too begin to experience about March 1)…I really love September.

HomeTime

Everything is connected.

Just finished my first week of self-quarantine which I started a little earlier than others due to a crowd of people I found myself in on the last day of work. We were setting up and handing out laptops for staff and faculty to use to work from home and at one point the IT office resembled a big box store on Black Friday.

Just kidding. It was actually quite orderly.

I decided it might be time to write about what is going on in the world today rather than digging out what my ancestors were doing in the past. This very time in our lives is the history our children and our grandchildren will read about in the future, so it would be a good thing to put away the panic and the hype and record a little of what is actually happening.

Briefly…and this is for future generations, as we all know these facts…a rogue virus is running rampant in the world, spreading like wildfire and killing mostly the weakest among us. People are mostly social animals, but this thing passes so easily from one person to another to another that we’ve been asked by health care professionals to just stay home (self-isolate) for a while so the virus will have nowhere to go.

We seem to be having a real problem with that. Some can’t afford to do this, and others simply can’t abide staying in one place (like home) for any period of time.

Being “one of the weakest” (due to age and some health issues), I’ve tried to abide by the guidelines. I’m in a fairly good place with a pantry full of food, plenty of books, and a job that I am confident will come back after the crisis, but I certainly feel for others who are not so well situated.

First and foremost, I’m loving the humor and inventiveness. Today I saw a Facebook post shared by one of my friends that said “Kinda starting to understand why pets try to run outta the house when the door opens.”

Due to schools being closed, many students are doing e-learning and being home schooled. This has created a lot of observations:

“Just saw my neighbor out scraping the “my kid is a terrific student” bumper sticker off her car…apparently home schooling is not going well.”

“Home schooling is going well…only two students expelled for disciplinary reasons and one teacher laid off for drinking on the job.”

And I love this one:

“Thousands of parents are discovering…the problem is NOT the teacher!”

Some people just cope better than others and the great thing is, their coping actually helps others. I’ve been reading about photographers who are traveling around taking “porch portraits” while standing in the street (social distancing) and snapping photos of families; and “bear hunts” where people position a teddy bear in their front window so families can get their kids out and drive around counting the bears they see; and then there’s the pastor who taped photos of his parishioners on the pews where they usually sit in church as he live streamed his sermon and panned the sanctuary.

Yesterday I went noodling around on the internet and found recipes for things you have in your pantry. I don’t know who these people are who have these things in their pantry, but it was an interesting diversion. For instance:

Chickpea Curry…seriously? So chickpeas look a little like hominy, right? I have a can of hominy way in the back of the pantry (I happen to like hominy). Another ingredient is coconut milk? Don’t have that, but I do have shredded coconut…maybe I can soak that in milk? We’ll save that recipe for a real emergency.

Baked Artichoke Hearts…oops, fresh out of artichoke hearts.

Creamed Spinach…okay, if I had any spinach, well never mind, I’m not that far gone yet.

A lot of the recipes used chickpeas…guess I’ll stock up next time I’m out; also, tuna, and I had 4 cans of that. Pasta is a good thing to have on hand and with all the varieties of tomatoes I have in my pantry, that will probably be a majority of my main meals. I think I’ll make meatless chili for supper (I’m a little lacking in meat of any kind). I do have eggs, thanks to a sister with chickens, so I will fall back on scrambled, poached and fried eggs.

All in all, I’m doing fine, and I think we will survive this, but I do not want to make light of the situation. Future generations reading this should know that we are using ice rinks and refrigerated truck trailers for morgues, making decisions on who should get ventilators (and live) and who should not (and die), and in Spain over 30 doctors have contracted the disease as health care workers are forced to reuse or work without masks and gowns due to a shortage.

For all of you who are not taking this seriously, it is very serious. Humor and tricks will help some of us survive, and hopefully keep spirits up, but this is a scary and life changing time for many people.

Make no mistake. This is historic.

Old Love

New love, old love…it’s all good when it’s real.

Author’s Note: This is a little something for Valentine’s Day, traditionally a day to celebrate young love. But old love is important and we should celebrate that as well.

The old man sat rocking, clutching his cup of tea. He stared into the fire, glancing from time to time at the old woman who sat next to him. He tried to see the young girl in her, the young girl he’d fallen in love with, the young girl who had made him feel strong and fierce and brave.

He tried to see her dark brown hair that had brushed his cheek when he could get close to her. He tried to remember the bright brown eyes that looked deep into his own eyes as she told him what she wished for their future. He tried to remember how soft and smooth her skin was at night in the firelight.

But that girl wasn’t there. She wasn’t there because the boy who had seen her that way wasn’t there. He was old now, and all he could see was the old woman beside him. The woman who had been there for so many years. The woman who stood and sat and lay beside him for almost as long as he could remember.

He couldn’t remember before her because the time before her didn’t exist. He could only see everything she was, all the years of her, all the pain and joy and anger of her. He couldn’t strip away the days of their lives together to see what she had been before him because all he could see now was all she was to him.

He sighed, sat his tea mug down carefully, and closed his eyes. Suddenly, briefly, as he breathed his last breath, he saw her, the young girl, the woman, the old woman, all the same, all there beside him as she had always been, and he smiled.

 

Rants

Sometimes I just wonder what’s really going on?

I’ve been hearing a lot about the opioid court cases lately what with the decision in Oklahoma imposing a fine of 500 million-plus dollars against just a couple of the drug companies, as well as speculation that a major manufacturer is considering settling claims amounting in the billions by declaring bankruptcy.

This is going to go on for a long time…court cases, appeals, opinions, and yes, there will be ruined lives at the top of that food chain, but they will never quite mirror the ruined lives at the bottom.

I want to say here and now I have some experience with Oxycontin. I was not mindlessly prescribed the drug, nor was I ever addicted. I was prescribed the drug by a caring doctor back in 2000 before the drug dam broke and flooded the country. I had excruciating pain following surgery. Other medications did not even dull that pain, so my doctor prescribed one pill a day of Oxycontin.

I was skeptical. I doubted that one pill of any drug could possibly help, but desperate for any relief at all, I took AS DIRECTED.

Let me make this clear, taken as directed, under the care of an ethical doctor, opioids are a miracle drug. My pain never returned. After about three weeks as I slowly recovered from all the other effects of the surgery, I voluntarily quit the oxy before I had even taken the entire prescription.

There is great tragedy in the uncontrolled sale and prescribing of this drug, yet I can’t help but think of the people with chronic pain who are now unable to receive a drug that was, for me, an important aid to my recovery.

Five hundred million dollars doesn’t sound like enough money to penalize a company who coldly, knowingly shipped thousands, even millions of pills to tiny communities of only hundreds of residents. As the facts of this case come out, the numbers add up and up: the numbers of pills, the numbers of the addicted, the numbers of dead, the numbers of families affected. The number of dollars assigned to punish the guilty just don’t seem like enough.

Dollars alone will never offset the pain and loss.

Just sayin’…

I regularly read a magazine which is not targeted to me as a demographic. It has excellent, in-depth reporting on some subjects, and it amuses me to see how the “other half” lives.

Well, sometimes it amuses me. Today, it just annoyed me, so I’m sharing.

The magazine had two small “shorts,” one about a guy who collects sneakers (yes, sneakers) and another about a company making dog food from human-grade food, meaning food for dogs that probably appeals to the owners more than to the dogs. Have you seen what a dog will eat?

Actually, the company would be offended by what I just wrote because they market their product as “food for dogs, not dog food.” Whatever that means.

I love dogs. I’ve owned dogs much of my life (though not currently), and they are great companions. Dogs can be comforters, they are not judgemental, they can lift you up when you are having a bad day, they love you no matter what you do or say to them, and they never tell your secrets.

However, I just have to draw the line at spending more per week on a dog’s food than I do on my own. Seriously.

Now, let’s talk about the guy who collects sneakers. He used to collect vintage cars, but for whatever reason, that just wasn’t fun anymore. He spotted an article about an upcoming sale of sneakers at Sotheby’s. They had 100 pairs to be auctioned off, and something about that just woke this guy up, so he contacted Sotheby’s and arranged to purchase 99 pairs prior to that aucton. He snapped up the lot for a mere $850,000.

You can do the math.

He couldn’t buy the 100th pair of sneakers because the owner wanted it to be auctioned off, which was a good call on the owner’s part…final price for that one pair: $437,500.

I’m not even going to apologize for thinking it is obscene to pay those kinds of prices for shoes. It doesn’t matter who designed them, who made them, whose name is on them, or what they look like. You can argue that they are works of art, but seriously people …they’re shoes. I know I sound like a whiney, ordinary upper-lower-class, lower-middle-class person who works for a living, but here’s the thing—I pay my bills and if I’m lucky, have a little left over each month for a nice meal out, a movie, a decent car. I can’t understand the appeal of $400,000 sneakers.

It makes the world just seem a little wobbly on its axis.

I’m just sayin’.

Large Arch

Moore was inspired by Stonehenge and the shoulders of a man, but sometimes the Arch appears to be marching across the plaza.

In the early 1970’s the Henry Moore sculpture Large Arch was installed in front of the Bartholomew Co. Public Library.

At the time, I fancied myself a poet. I sat on the steps of the library one day and just watched the public as they came to see and experience the new addition to the Columbus art scene.

This past Sunday I went down to visit the Arch and sit in the sun and as I did so, I remembered the poem. When I got home, I dug it out and read it and decided it wasn’t too bad…thought I’d share it and some photos I took.

 

the Arch 

Massive at all angles.

Sun warm stronglydown on me and on

the Arch as we(he and I—theArchandi)

watch the People(little ant beings)

comeandhurriedlygo

pausing to lOOK at him

But taking most of them no time to see

because time it takes to see and any

time taken they resent. Somemostly

Sl o wl y t o touch the surprising warm green of him

children t o u c h him—reaching o u t

Sl   o   wl y t o touch the surprising

warm green of him

and those who t o u c h him seehim.

But so many neverdoneversee

By nevertouching neverknow

Just Some Words

Words

Not feeling especially inspired this week, but I feel I owe myself to keep writing, so I gathered together some quotes and thoughts on words.

I love words, their meanings, their twisted logic. If you think about language and just how far we have come from the prehistoric grunts of our ancestors, you should be amazed at the number of words and meanings we have developed to attempt to communicate.

And yet so often we fail. Maybe we forget that words are just words without meaning and context to go with them. I started thinking about this the other day when I was watching a news clip about a project that brought criminal offenders and victims face to face.

Victims of crimes are often full of hate and the need for revenge, while criminals are often remorseless and defiant. Yet in many cases, with the proper preparation, bringing the two together to talk out the issues of why a crime occurred and/or how the crime has affected both parties, a sort of calm acceptance can take place.

It is the combination of words, physical presence and eye contact that equals communication. Let’s try to remember that.

Anyway, off my soapbox and on to the fun side of words. Hope you enjoy the following “facts” about words and language. If you do and let me know, maybe I’ll find some more fun facts!

Fun with Words

It took the editors of the first “Oxford English Dictionary” five years to reach the word “ant.”

Umchina, a Korean term meaning “mom’s friend’s son,” is used to describe a person who’s better at everything than you are.

Editor Bennett Cerf challenged Dr. Seuss to write a book using no more than 50 different words. The result? “Green Eggs and Ham.”

The Scots have a word for that panicky hesitation you get when you can’t remember someone’s name: tartle.

Tsundoku is the act of acquiring books or other reading materials and not reading them.

The term “lawn mullet” means having a neatly manicured front yard and an unmowed mess in the back.

Many years ago, “jay” was slang for “foolish person.” So when a pedestrian ignored street signs, he was a “jaywalker.”

In 1974, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis published a paper titled “The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of ‘Writer’s Block’.” It contained a total of zero words.

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the fear of long words.

Javier Santana writes:

In Spanish, French and Italian, “decisions” are something you “take” like a train that leads you somewhere new, whereas in English you “make” them like little pieces of your own creation. But in German you “meet” them, like friends.

Aren’t languages beautiful?

Yes, they are.

Potpourri

What were you wearing?

I actually posted earlier in the week but felt I owed my readers more, so here goes.

The Question

At this time of the year, the school where I work mounts a display or show called “What She Wore.” It never fails to stop me in my tracks as I walk through our Commons. Pinned to the wall are various outfits, jeans and t-shirts, pretty dresses, shorts with sweatshirts, bathing suits. Beside each outfit is a written account of the outfit in the actual words of the subject who wore that outfit, because, for some strange reason, that’s a question that is always asked of a rape victim: “What were you wearing?”

I will admit, I’ve seen some pretty inappropriate outfits, but I don’t recall any that would indicate a woman (or a man) should be attacked and damaged in the many ways that rape can destroy a victim. Experts tell us that the act of rape is often more about control than about sex. If that’s the case why do we care so much about what a victim was wearing?

It may be that the question is more relevant in the case of what we call date rape, but I have a difficult time imagining that any woman (or man) dresses to invite abuse. And I also believe that most rapists don’t even see their victims as people…only as vulnerable “others” to be overpowered.

Investigation

I’ve been struggling to learn who and why visitors to my website are…well, visiting my site. I write because I want to write, but I have to admit, it means a lot and is encouraging to know that people read because they want to read — what I write.

Recently I installed a new “helper” to help me see more about my visitors. Don’t worry, it doesn’t track you individually, I still don’t know your names or anything about you other than generally where you come from and the pages you view.

Here’s where you come from — China. Apparently, the majority of my visitors are from (in this order): China, the US, and Alaska. Yes, I know Alaska is the US, but it shows up differently on the map I’m shown, so I list it.

I hope I know who my Alaskan visitor is (here’s to you, Nina) and I’m comfortable with the US visitors probably being friends and family, but I’m a little confused about the China visitors.

There’s a little more information in the report I get, and that is that my security software has rebuffed some 900 malicious login attempts and 24 spam comments.

I’m thinking those are all coming from China. I read the news. I just can’t figure out why I’m such a target.

Or if those login attempts and spams are NOT coming from China, the country, how do I have so many fans in China?

It’s a mystery.

And Finally:

Just read a lengthy article on the study of reading comprehension that found students learned better from printed text than electronic.

To quote the article: “Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performances tended to suffer.”

Another observation: “It would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.”

Now, I’m not going to go into all the details here, but I thought it was interesting that while you can read online text faster, you comprehend actual printed material much better. (Thanks to Barbara H. who posted it for me to find.)

If you want to read the entire article, it is on the businessinsider.com website and is written by Patricia A. Alexander and Lauren M. Singer. You can find it at printed text vs. digital

So, what I want to say here is…if you have trouble understanding what I’m writing, you might want to print this out and read it slowly.

Just sayin’.

 

Just Wondering…

Random thoughts today…

I love to read Wired Magazine, but because I like to read it cover to cover and because I want to really digest some of the articles, I run a little behind on my reading. I currently have about 10 months of Wired Magazine on my “to read” stack.

I just finished an article in the March 2018 issue about Amazon’s attempts to train their Alexa to “chat” with people.

I have so many thoughts on that article and that goal, but first I also need to describe a Facebook video that appeared on my feed immediately after reading that article.

A little quirky habit of mine that allows me to sneak on to Facebook from time to time at work is that I watch most Facebook videos with no sound which can be pretty funny at times. So keep in mind, I watched this video with no narrative.

This video that I watched was a split screen video. On the left side of the screen, someone was demonstrating how to solve the math problem: 35 x 12. She began by breaking the problem down into components such as 30 + 5 x 10 + 2 and went on to illustrate how that worked by drawing boxes and diagrams and arrows and creating at least 5 other problems.

In the meantime, on the right side of the screen (see what they did there…the “right” side?), someone quickly did the math the “old” way then made a pot of coffee.

While Other Side person was still drawing boxes and explaining how to turn this math problem into many problems, Right Side person (probably someone about my age) solved the problem, went to the coffee maker, measured out water and coffee, hit the brew button, waited on the machine, poured a cup and was happily having their morning fix while Other Side person finally wrapped up all the little problems created from the original problems and happily produced the same answer Right Side person had calculated several minutes before the coffee was ready.

I do understand the new way of doing the math that has developed over the years is to help students learn to break down a problem into all its components to be able to explain that problem to a computer thus “train” the computer by programming it to solve the problem in logical steps.

I understand that.

But wait…keep that video in mind and turn with me to my rant about teaching machines to “chat” with us.

Amazon has determined that we want our machines to do more for us than turn on the lights and play music and select books for us. Amazon has decided that we want to be able to carry on a conversation with the machine, just a casual chat like we would have with a friend.

The article talks about dumping all kinds of information into Alexa’s machine mind, giving her(?) access to even more information and training her to access that information randomly to keep a conversation going for at least 20 minutes.
And they are almost there. In the admittedly one-year-old article I read, Amazon held a competition in which three groups won a total of over a million dollars in prizes to reward their ability to create a program that could allow a machine to talk to a human for nearly 20 minutes.

Stay with me for just one more leg of this rant.

Consider this…in a world where Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone has made a dramatic comeback on TV, in a world where a simple math problem can take a page of paper and 10 minutes to solve, in a world where machines can casually chat with us for 20 minutes…in that world, are we training computers to think like people, or are computers teaching us to think like machines?

Just wondering.

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