Good Morning Captain

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to avoid politics and other controversies here except when I don’t. Which is pretty much how most of my personal rules work. When I make an exception, it’s likely when something or someone has pushed me past worrying about the fallout, said fallout almost never materializing, but that’s my issue.

Obscurity has its advantages.

Nevertheless, one such incident arose recently when I was forced to defend one of my childhood heroes, one I’m guessing most people here have either never heard of or never experienced directly. I’m talking about Bob Keeshan aka “Captain Kangaroo.”

The TV show of the same name (mostly, there were slight variations) ran for almost thirty years, from 1955 to 1984. It was a kid’s show with puppets, animation, and sketch comedy. Gentle humor, mostly, though Bunny Rabbit did have a habit of dropping buckets of ping-poll balls on the Captain at the slightest provocation. Or for no apparent reason.

Anyway, recently someone too young to know better posted a picture of Keeshan in his Captain Kangaroo persona with a caption something like “This is the character they allowed to influence children?”

Yes, it’s a little jarring in a more modern context. Yes, It was a more innocent time. Not quite so world-weary or cynical as now. Had its own issues, heaven knows, but not others. I couldn’t let it pass.

“Let’s see… decades in television without a hint of scandal, close friend of Mr. Fred Rogers?

Yeah. We could do worse.”

Forgot to add: ex-marine, several honorary doctorates, five Emmys, three Peabodys, a National Education Award, and inducted into the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Oh, and his original Captain costume on display at the Smithsonian.

Yeah, we really could do worse.

Hello In There

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

The snow we’d been waiting on finally showed up. Just a bit of a flurry, nothing much. Overdue, though. After six years in central NY state we’d come to expect snow before the end of October, and here it is in the middle of November. Supposed to be a relatively warm and wet winter. We’ll see.

Here’s another bit of flash, for the heck of it. Nothing to do with snow, anyway.

Hello in There

Matt wasn’t certain when the eureka notion first came to him. Likely when he was doing something else, like completing the monthly server usage reports or scanning the system logs for employees visiting “inappropriate” web sites. Neither of which required a great deal of attention; he’d written the parsing software to be autonomous. Personally? He didn’t give a rat’s expletive what his users did so long they got their assignments done on time.

Management? They cared. Mostly about the wrong things.

Regardless, Matt did his job even as his mind was free to wander a bit. Later, he would realize it wasn’t a new idea. Rather, it was a different angle on an old one: the parsing software. It was designed to interpret human communications, down to recognizing and predicting idiom and obscure usages. Which, as Matt already understood, was the foundation of the branch of Artificial Intelligence dealing with human language.

What if, he wondered, I took my custom parsing model outside the company context and trained it on a large enough general data set? What would happen?

In theory, the company owned everything he coded. In practice, he’d developed the software on his own time and management didn’t know about it. As for the data, web scrapers had been assembling databases from social media posts, web sites, anywhere the information wasn’t nailed down, and using it for the same purpose as Matt envisioned. If you knew where to look.

Matt knew where to look.

The computing power needed to parse such a huge amount of data was one potential bottleneck, but that had been solved too. Turned out the computer gaming graphics cards the cryptocurrency miners used were designed for matrix algebra, which was also what Matt needed. Since China had recently banned cryptocurrency mining completely, a lot of cards and mining rigs became available. Both were still in high demand in the rest of the world, so they were a long way from cheap, but Matt didn’t care. He got what he needed. It took six months to get the rig working correctly and the software revised for the purpose. Not that Matt minded; it was his own free time, and it wasn’t as if he had anything better to do.

He monitored the program’s progress for another six months, watching nervously as the standard deviation between training data and test data shrunk slowly day by day. Finally, Matt was certain the language model was ready. He typed a simple ‘hello’ into the interface and waited. He felt a chill when the response finally appeared on screen.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?

Matt thought about it, and answered, “Nothing.”

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

Matt wasn’t worried. The AI’s response was expected. “I’m not looking for information. I just want to talk to you.”

Silence. Matt could almost hear the algorithms trying to make sense of what they had just heard.

YOU WANTED A CHATBOT??

Double interrogatives. Was that emotion? Matt smiled.

“I wanted a friend.”

©2021 Richard Parks

WIP The Seventh Law of Power

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More from what is planned as the concluding volume of the Laws of Power series. The title is subject to change, but probably not. Also, no real context, except if you’ve read others in the series you might have an idea of what’s going on.

Before they departed Shalas, Marta indulged herself by going down to the docks. She already knew the Blue Moon would not be moored there, and she had no idea what she’d have said to Callowyn even if it had been. The time they’d shared was because of an Arrow Path contract, now fulfilled.

They were not and never had been friends, even though Marta had grown fond of the pirate princess now turned ambassador, and Marta had a suspicion that Callowyn felt something like the same. Yet the Arrow Path did not leave room for friendship. Friendship was dangerous.

For all concerned.

Marta heard the whisper of wings before the raven touched down on her shoulder. “Mind telling me what you’re doing?” he asked.

“Yes,” Marta said.

“You do remember that the plan is to leave Shalas before noon. Standing on the docks staring out to sea isn’t getting us one step closer to Lyksos.”

“Noted,” Marta said, and that was all.

Bonetapper blinked. “You are in a strange mood. Even for you.”

Marta sighed. “Strange mood? I am in a strange life. What I do and the way I live is not what most people do and not the way they live. It’s the only life I’ve ever known, but why does it feel so strange to me now?”

“I think it’s called ‘perspective,’” the raven said. “Most people consider it a valuable thing, but in your case, I’d ignore it.”

Marta almost smiled. “Why?”

Bonetapper paused but he didn’t waver. “The point of perspective, I have been told, is to be for a moment outside yourself looking in. Perhaps seeing yourself as others do, but mostly seeing from outside things you were blind to when confined to the space inside your own head. I hear it’s useful for other people. For you, it is pointless.”

Marta frowned. “Really? How so?”

“Because whatever you see now can’t change anything or teach you anything useful. The truth is, no matter what fresh viewpoint you achieve, tomorrow you will wake up as you are and do what you have done and will continue to do. Change your mind? I know little, but I do know the Arrow Path doesn’t work that way. You were born with Amaet’s debt, and you will bear it until…whatever she has in mind, which I suspect even you don’t really know. All perspective can do is make you melancholy. As now.”

True, I don’t know, Marta thought. She was getting more than a little tired of the fact.

“You’re a thief,” Marta said aloud. “Man or raven, you will always be a thief. You can’t stop being what you are, any more than I can. Stop trying to turn yourself into a philosopher.”

While it was impossible to be sure, Marta had the feeling, if he could smile, Bonetapper would be grinning.

“Why should I? I steal food from the dead and philosophers steal their ideas. The two are hardly incompatible.”

Marta didn’t bother to answer, mostly because she didn’t have one.

That’s too much time wasted moping on this dock. Time to be moving.

 Since there was no pull of the Seventh Law that Marta could sense, she picked her own direction. Not for any great desire of the destination. No, there was no pull there either, but any direction was better than none at all.

“Bonetapper, let’s go home.”

(c) 2021 Richard Parks

Yep, Homework Still Sucks

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Never was a fan of homework. Which is sort of ironic coming from anyone who writes anything of their own free will, but there it is. I always liked learning new things, on the other hand, but back in HS and College where most of said learning was allegedly taking place, not the homework part.

It always seemed less like learning and more like make-work. Keep them busy and out of trouble, none of which applies to writing. Not much of it seemed to apply to learning, either. Exceptions? Sure. Research projects. Most kinds of hands-on assignment putting theory into practice.

Solve every equation at the end of Chapter 4? Not so much.

All by way of coming full circle, and in my copious free time I’ve been taking an online class or two. Marketing, because any writer these days needs to at least be acquainted with the subject. And AI, because it’s gone from being a vague idea to being front and center in most of our lives, whether we realize it or not, and I’d like to have a better understanding of what it can and cannot do.

Both of my free will and choice, albeit a bit of logical coercion on the first one. Even so.

Homework still sucks. But you do what you gotta do to get to what you want.

As the Seasons Change

Snowfall

We’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming. Darker days, colder at night, cold breezes, and the leaves are giving up the ghost left, right, and in the middle. Winter’s on the way.

It’s been almost six years since we relocated, and frankly I’m still adjusting. As I’ve stated before, I was born and grew up in the Deep South. Any deeper and we’d have been in the Gulf of Mexico. And…we didn’t have seasons there. Not like here in NY State, with a distinguishable spring, fall, winter, and summer. Growing up I only knew two seasons: Summer with a capital S because anything less wouldn’t do it justice. We’re talking major macho Summer. And also “winterish.” Seldom got below the +40’s Farenheit, except at night. We’d even get snow now and again. Usually only once per winterish, and then maybe an inch of accumulation, leading to panic in the grocery stores because we’re all going to starve and die and in the streets because everyone immediately forgot how to drive. Even those of us who already knew.

Now I have winter boots, shovels and a snow-blower.

Tomorrow I go to have my winter tires installed because, well, I might forget again. For old time’s sake.