April Fool

Transcribing the voice inside your head into writing sounds insane: talking to yourself with the hope that someone’s listening. Yet we rely on writing to share thoughts and ideas. I don’t know what’s on your mind. I trawl my stream of thoughts to express something that’s on my mind. Blah, blah, blah. Writing is foolishness.

Writing is narcissistic. Words are written by a writer who only imagines the reader. The words are a silent echo between the writer and a cerebral target. A conversation of responses to a mute questioner. After attempts to wrangle a thought into concrete form, the words lay there, naked, alone and ripe for comment.

Some writing is better than others. I’m not referring to style as much as substance. Are you interested in style or substance when you read the tax code? Writing ideas and thoughts with a unique and coherent narrative isn’t more physically demanding, but it does require some mental weightlifting. Writing is digging a hole (defining the need) and filling it up (with words). After minutes, after hours, the text is reviewed, sometimes rewritten.

Why do I post this at all? It goes against my mantra “less is more.” Writers have a choice. They can decide NOT to write or publish. Keep your thoughts to yourself. We’d all be better off with less meaningless information in our lives, but who decides what gives information meaning? How do the perspectives you share impact the world? You must publish to “have published,” to become part of an ever-more-voluminous historical record.

When is data uninteresting? Is junk data overwhelming us? I know better than to define junk, as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, but there’s a lot out there. I have data that could be purged, but it’s easier to keep it rather than make choices. What jaw-dropping number of zombie (abandoned, obsolete, inconsequential) files are saved on servers across the globe?

A data scientist may say there’s no such thing as bad data, only algorithms that do not yet extract its value. I would disagree. Quality over quantity. What are garbage dumps to the icebergs of digital storage consumed by our legacies? The more we unfetter storage, the value of the storage diminishes. Clutter is a failure to organize, prioritize and expunge data.

Spring Cleaning

Stacks of paper are part of my life. Before digital cameras and electronic images, storage required a physical representation (i.e. pictures, slides). I have file folders with physical certificates and other documents. I’ve recently resumed digitizing more of my paper and other artifacts. It can be mundane and tedious, but it has its rewards. Photos and paper artifacts can be scanned, pictures can document 3D memorabilia.

I recently digitized a photo album. I also digitized some pieces of artwork from family and friends. While I valued the physical, digitization reduced the footprint of my physical collection, a process of letting go. My downsizing was aimed at clippings, notes and artwork I collected for posterity. A digitized document cannot replace physical documents with special properties (car titles, licenses, contracts, etc.).

Frankly, the digitized artifacts are more accessible. Eliminating the need for the real object, an appropriate image or set of images is captured that represent its essence. The artifacts, pictures, plaques, documents. How do I discard thee? Is it unpleasant thinking of your printed photos in the trash heap? Some believe in burning letters with handwriting, photos. I feel the trash heap is a fitting burial place. Landfills are the gravesites of our lifestyles. Recycling may be an option.

The Birds and the Bees

April is a foolish month. I realized this as I was considering the changing season. It’s much easier to be ebullient and confident in a climate beginning to thaw from the winter. It’s a landscape of blossoms and blooms which express hope in yearning. Yearning detracts from being. The act of being commits you to living in the moment, insofar as responsibiity and personality are concerned.

Time is a special gift. Do meaningful lifestyles use it wisely? What is life without anticipation and planning? Reliving an event can be a tremendous preoccupation. When too many events are special, does that degrade specialness? Instead of being a monkey mindlessly cracking nuts, grow a tree. Explore the processes that enhance matter rather than destroying it.

Analysis is important, but requires information that accurately reflects the situation. Imagination draws from a source of information in the form of intuitions and hunches. The ability to extrapolate patterns is built from past experience. You “don’t know what you don’t know” so the basis of prediction is never a clear current reality.

Strike an agreement between your personal and professional selves. Does ‘fake it until you make it’ apply to your personal life? Professionals understand the value of team-building and respect. You play a role among your professional colleagues. Is it a thinking or feeling role? Friends are among professionals.

Who’s Your Data?

Your e-mail address is circulating in the bowels of the data-mining machinery. Your e-mail box is becoming saturated with unsolicited e-mail. Even after attempts to unsubscribe, you continue to be targeted by institutions that seem eerily similar. To combat the deluge of messages, find an e-mail service provider with a good spam filter.

Your digital identity changes constantly. You can’t control it. Be assured that your channels of electronic communication will become targets. Some actions reduce your trail of digital breadcrumbs, however certain transactions are indelibly part of public records.

I endorse the concepts of taxation that encourage individual pursuits (of happiness with a sense of enterprise and responsibility). Accounting is a tool for understanding. Review of collections and expenses is key to creating a realistic mental model of your economic activity. I file my own taxes. Looking at past purchases and payments reveals a story and timeline. Bank and credit card statements provide a better understanding of my habits. These records are among the many components of my digital identity.

I applaud tools that provide intelligent help and guidance for filing taxes. The tax code is a framework that accommodates strategy and planning. To competently utilize the system, learn ways to use the tax code to your advantage. If you’re a fool building businesses, the tax code allows you to take losses from one enterprise to offset income from another source. I reduced my sole proprietor earnings with losses I incurred in an LLC. Capitalist tax code benefits can be explored and exploited by anyone.

Word Salad Dressing

I like salad. There are so many choices at the salad bar. They all look so good, I end up with a mess that spills over the side of the plate. Even carnivores like word salad. Tough-talking wannabes tend to exaggerate their understanding of problems. When this happens, verbose talk tends to style over substance. Word salad is another term for bullsh*t.

Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize BS, other times it’s glaringly obvious. There’s a corrolation between BS and automated text generation. In both instances, the commentary has been programmed. ‘Talking points’ are evident in the ‘echo chamber’ of news reporting. Rehashing current events is well organized and scripted.

We assign tiers of value to the creativity and craft in our environment. Writing has different degrees of difficulty. Writing is restraint. A message is stronger without superfluous noise. Does ‘get to the point’ cross your mind?

Will the value of writing diminish with the rise of artificial authorship? I can imagine some human writing is destined for obsolescence. Will writers claim authorship for contributions created using AI? Writers may confuse writing prompts with crafting the output. Does editing raw AI output constitute a creator-worthy activity? As productivity increases are expected, new shortcuts will become embedded in content creation.

Which is why large language models (LLMs) exist. AI is taking lessons. What dataset do you use to train yourself? Data from apps and websites impress upon you. Like an AI, strip away the presentation, reducing the pages to raw information. What is stated? What is being sold? The dirty secret of all chatbots is that they are trained on stores of data. The probabilities used for sentence construction are only influenced by the words that have been ingested.

Parrots and Pickles

Ideas and opinions are scattered among servers worldwide. Your voyage of discovery begins with defining your search parameters. If you cast a wider net, the search results are more varied. Narrowly-defined searches yield similar sites. Homogeneity and coherence can reinforce an illusion of consensus.

In the end, human categorization is the basis of extrapolation and nuance. An AI does not feel irony but can only label it based on what a feeling human has indicated. The reason writing exists is for the writer. How can a system without writers work? What is the input in a reader-only system?

Stocastic is creation determined by random, probabilistic distribution. In this article (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/ai-artificial-intelligence-chatbots-emily-m-bender.html) a stocastic parrot is defined as “haphazardly stitching together sequences of linguistic forms … according to probabilistic information about how they combine, but without any reference to meaning”. The linguist Emily M. Bender has an issue with LLMs: while the generated text seems to possess the intention and character of a human, in reality the communication is counterfeit. There is no mind behind it.

Which begs a AI disclaimer: this post is written with a keyboard and mouse. Searching and browsing websites informs my algorithm. Characteristics of websites, from design to data, create a visceral experience. In a LLM, data is distilled to find patterns in myriad sources of writing. Using a LLM shouldn’t excuse an author from knowing the origins of the information.

And now a new pattern for your stocastic calculation: ostentatious pickle.

Stay Foolish

Perhaps foolishness is an antidote to AI. To defy summarization, be an exception to the rules that attempt to categorize you. Find yourself in the “Other” category.

The reality few admit is that their identity is built around the task(s) they do. Action creates identity. Automation eliminating jobs? Good riddance. If you feel like a robot at work, perhaps a robot would be better suited for it. Intuitively, I think we all know that some jobs are better performed by AI. Many white collar jobs will be replaced by robots (automation, software), freeing the robot that formerly worked to place the correct figure in the correct box on the correct page. The human may not want to be freed to struggle with a new identity. What job will you take away from a machine?

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” is a quote highlighted by Steve Jobs during his 2005 commencement address at Stanford. The passion in the pursuit is the foolishness Jobs refers to. Foolishness is risk for the possibility of reward. A foolish life may not be financially stable. It requires creativity to balance foolishness with responsibilities. When problems are created by perceptions, they are solved by different thinking.

An important component of foolish life is “do more with less”. There’s no downside to being resourceful. Some of the foolish hacks I’ve adopted:

  • saving money is an alternative to earning more (and tax free)
  • buy used (the resale value of tech and other products drops quickly, while the utility is more durable)
    • older hardware/software still works (no subscription services)
  • cook and clean for yourself (live with a little mess)
  • do your own maintenance (if a reasonable amount of learning and effort can save enough to make it worth it)
  • 80/20 rule: 20% of your effort will yield 80% of the goal (eliminate bells and whistles to prototype quickly)
  • turn rules upside-down (embrace constraints to achieve an optimal solution)
  • conserve (do more with less)
  • The Side Door (you can reach a destination following many paths through many doors, some less traveled, see this blog post)

Manifest Your Destiny

One ‘great idea’ may seem as great as another, but some have special benefits. The biggest challenge is a wild idea that doesn’t play well with others. It takes a tremendous effort to accept your limitations and understand your biases. Unless you do, success may not align with the motivation for your actions. A virtuous feedback loop is more likely to develop from activity focused on success.

Imagine what you desire. Live with the thought of possessing the lifestyle that you covet. A truly active imagination serves to refresh you and release you from your preoccupation. Genuinely consider challenges of the lifestyle along with the desirable aspects. Imagine you are experiencing the routine required to play that role. Deeper understanding comes from inhabiting the perspective, lifestyle of another person, empathetically. Active imagination weighs pros and cons. What if the future unraveled differently? What is the “glamorous” life like?

Time you spend in the past, wishing in the present, is an attempt to program new possibilities. Every moment we are steering a course. What roads and obstacles exist?

My services include concept prototyping and development. I’m an experienced system administrator and programmer with marketing and creative skills. A collaborative partner, I’m interested in your project or idea. Share an idea, send a referral and receive The Upwardly Mobile, as a thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.

About Peter

As a consulting professional in the Internet industry, I have helped small- and medium-sized businesses and community organizations effectively design and deploy web services and information. Years of hands-on design and project management experience for this market have inspired me to post my ideas and insights on a public forum -- blog.collab.us.
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