Ida

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First Reader and I spent a good bit of yesterday keeping tabs on Hurricane Ida. Not because we expect to be directly affected in any significant way, rather we knew Louisiana and Mississippi were about to get clobbered (again) on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

First Reader and I remember Katrina vividly. We lived about 140 miles inland and still got hammered: trees down, power out for days…but what I remember most were the refugees. HWYs 55 North and 20 East & West were full of people fleeing the worst of the devastation, and Jackson MS was the hub for most of that. We met a lot of people from the New Orleans area. Some made it back. Others were permanently displaced and came to live near Jackson MS and elsewhere. I’ll never forget the human cost as long as I live.

What I’ll also remember is the dismissal of what happened in my home state, which Ida painfully reminded us both. Talking heads talking about the damage in Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama, forgetting MS altogether. My home state has its issues, I know that. But it didn’t deserved to be ignored. Entire towns on the MS coast were nearly washed away during Katrina. Waveland for one, and Bay St. Louis, probably the prettiest little town in MS. We got the distinct feeling no one cared.

Back to Ida. Some people were describing it as Katrina’s Anniversary Party. Fortunately, it wasn’t quite that bad, nor was the omission of MS quite as blatant. Plus Ida seems to have vented most of its fury on the coast, and unlike Katrina, didn’t save much for further north. Very bad for the coastal communities, as any hurricane is going to be, but right now power outages may be the worst that happens in the rest of the states.

We’re breathing with some relief up here, because we have friends and family more in the path of the storms, we’re very aware of what could have happened, and they’re reporting safe. So that’s a lot.

My heart goes out to those on the coast. All of them.

I Have a Guest

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Meet GPT-NEO, my guest blogger/interview for the day. He’s a baby as AI system go, only 2.7 billion parameters. GPT-3, for example, has 175B. Neither one is the holy grail of Ai, the “General AI,” that so many governments and companies are working toward, to be first and reap all the benefits.

Or get us all destroyed once the AI realizes it doesn’t need us. Interesting times, no doubt.

RP: What do you think of fantasy literature?

GPT-NEO:

“I read fantasy literature for free, the only form of fiction I don’t own is the works of the Lord of the Rings. I never finished the series, and I’ve read a few of the other Tolkien books, but I have never read them in any great depth, and I don’t intend to, for as many reasons as there are.

My thoughts on fantasy literature: I enjoy it. I like it when the characters are complex.”

RP: Understandable, since you don’t have a bank account, and yet still annoying. Moving on:

RP: Describe fantasy literature.

GPT-NEO:

“The most common definition of fantasy literature is the one that suggests that it is literature that deals with fantasies.”

RP: Accurate, but useless. Moving on.

RP: What is a dream?

GPT-NEO: “A dream is the experience, the reality, the experience of perception, of the mind, of the soul. It is not a thought that is born in the mind and can be transformed into a dream, but the experience of a certain kind of perception, the perception of a certain kind of sensation, the experience of a certain kind of experience. The dream is not a dream that has become a dream by accident or by mistake or by some other misfortune, or by some other cause beyond the control of the dreamer. Rather the dream is the experience of the mind, of a mind that has become free. And the mind, the soul, the intelligence of the dream is not merely the experience of the intellect.”

RP: Is it rambling nonsense or bordering on profound? You decide.

RP: Write a haiku about winter.

GPT-NEO: It's my favorite season:
winter has frozen over
the snow lies deep and white
and even the sun, from far and near,
has given up trying to shine.

ME: I’ll score that one haiku adjacent.  Who are you?

GPT-NEO:

“I am a student at University of California, Berkeley.”

ME: Is it lying if you don’t understand you’re lying? Or maybe you do. I have to think about that one. Moving on:

ME: What are you?

GPT-NEO:
 "I'm the king of the world, now and for the future." ―Fablehaven King [src]
ME: I’m not worried. No, not at all. Really.

Wasted Words

Sometimes everything turns into a story. Even a meditation on a pet peeve. So…

Wasted Words

“I don’t understand it.”

She looked up from her book. “You don’t understand a lot of things: other people, quarks, qubits….”

He interrupted. “I understand qubits. Could I build a quantum computer? No, but I get the idea.”

She shook her head. “Beside the point. I simply meant that the set of things you don’t understand is a very large set. Could you be more specific?”

He almost said, “Could you be less contemptuous?” but decided against it. “Why do people waste so many words on the obvious?”

“Example?”

“People who insist on saying idiotic things like ‘blue in color” or ‘rectangular in shape.” For heaven’s sake why?  Are they afraid we’re going to assume ‘blue in shape’ or ‘rectangular in color’, so they feel the need to clarify?”

“Could be synesthesia.”

“Unlikely. The most common manifestation is in people who perceive colors as sounds, not shapes. Or associate numbers and letters with colors. I do that sometimes.”

“What color is zero?”

“White, of course, but I don’t have synesthesia.”

“Then how did you know what color zero is?”

He sighed. “Because you asked me. Ask me about any single-digit number and I can tell you what color I associate with it. That’s not synesthesia, that’s just imagination. Eight is orange, by the way.”

“You’re right. Eight should be orange, but we’re getting off track here. You say it’s a waste of words?”

He shrugged. “So? It’s obviously redundant, except for those rare people with perceptional differences. I hate wasting words. It offends me.”

“You fritter away emotional capital generating anger over trifles. That’s a waste that offends me.”

“So? It’s not as if I’m going to run out of emotional capital. It’s an infinite resource. In fact, the more we use, the more we have.”

She glared. “That’s neither here nor there. It’s the waste that bothers me. The redundancies in the language you pointed out might be inefficient, but you can’t say they’re not precise. Don’t you like precision?”

“Not when it’s inappropriate. When I say I hammered a nail, no one should be asking me if I used a hammer. It’s not exactly a secret at that point.”

She looked at him, expressionless. He knew that look. He waited, but not for long.

“You’re getting worked up over what amounts to a speech tic. We all have them, and you’re only responsible for yours, not anyone else’s.”

“I don’t have a speech tic.”

“Then why do you start so many sentences with ‘so?’”

“So what?” he said, before he could stop himself.

She just shook her head. “I’m out. I shall go back to reading my book, leaving you to stew in your own obsessions.”

“I always do.”

“I meant quietly.

“Fine,” he said, and thought about it. “After all, silence is golden in color.”

©2021 Richard Parks

Could Be Worse

That recent post of mine about Voyager 1 and the Interstellar Hum (and if that isn’t the name for a band…) sent me off on a tangent, which, sorry, is just going to happen with a mind like mine. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to get rid of it.

Could Be Worse

When the first verified radio transmission from outside our solar system arrived, naturally everyone, from world leaders to the guy in the bar on seventh street, wanted to know what the darn thing said. The greatest minds on the planet as well as the tin-foil hat crowd got to work straight away. They tried matching the timing of the pulses to the spin states of hydrogen atoms and the Fibonacci series. They tried matching the frequency to DNA intervals. They even tried humming along to the transmission, trying to find a tune.

Nothing.

It was a Basque shepherd who finally cracked the code. After all, out on a mountain with no wifi and unreliable satellite internet, he had a lot of time. At first no one believed him, until a few of the code breakers got bored and desperate enough to just sit and listen to the transmission the way the shepherd had, and finally heard what he heard—the transmission was a joke.

A literal joke.

It had everything—the narrative set-up, the slow build, the release of the punch line, all defined in what until then had seemed a random sequence of pulses. Some contrarians argued that it could just as easily mean sex, but they were ignored.

The code breakers got busy, feeding the transmission into an AI with a database of, it was believed, every joke, anecdote, or whimsical musing ever uttered. And they waited. At the end of the first day, the program spat out the first likely match word:

Warning.

Anyone’s attention that had wandered in the weeks since the transmission’s arrival suddenly snapped back to focus. Warning? About what? They had to wait four more days for the next part of the message.

“Objects in your telescopes.”

Our telescopes? Calls went out to all the observatories around the world. “Look, dammit!” And they looked. And spotted what appeared to be an asteroid passing the orbit of Jupiter. Too far out and projected to pass out of the solar system without hitting anything, so what were they warning about?

“Are.” That was the next translation. After that, another word:

“Closer.”

By then many people had a horrible suspicion, confirmed in the next four days as the translation was completed.

“Than they appear.”

At this point, everyone knew one thing for certain about whatever alien species had sent the message: they had a sick sense of humor. That too, was confirmed, when the observatories took a longer look, and made some more careful and precise calculations. The asteroid had indeed picked up a gravity assist from Jupiter but also a “slight course correction,” that no one expected or could explain. The asteroid was now traveling faster and headed straight for us. Thirty-five miles of civilization ending rock and nickel-iron, and there wasn’t a blessed thing we could do about it.

Definitely a sick sense of humor.

When the shepherd was reached for comment, he just shrugged. “Lousy joke, but could be worse.”

“Worse? In God’s name, how?”

Another shrug. “They could have said ‘Send more Chuck Berry.”

-The End-

©2021 Richard Parks

In the Beginning

Fairy Tale Flash: Fractured Fables Old and New

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John I, KJV

Maybe God can boil everything down to one word, but personally I never got farther than the book, which is made of words. Unless it’s a picture book with no captions. Which to me is a rather silly notion. Even a book not about words needs words.

Then there’s the infamous “One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.” Right. Have you ever seen a caption for a picture that was a thousand words long? No, you haven’t, because anything that long would have turned into an article/analysis piece before it reached a thousand. One picture is not worth a thousand words, any more than a word is one one-thousandths of a picture. It’s not even apples and oranges because at least apples and oranges are both fruit. Words and pictures are separate things, even if words are good for making mental pictures and pictures can inspire words. Related, perhaps, just not interchangeable.

It wasn’t always that way, about pictures not being the same as words, I mean. At writing’s infancy pictures often literally were words. You drew a picture of a cat and a hawk and a snake in the correct order and you were writing, and so the writer and the artist were embodied in the same person.  In which case a picture might be worth one word, tops. Usually less.

For me, it was never the word nor the picture, but the book and the story. “Book” derives from an Old English/Germanic word for a charter. Paper with writing on it. Usually not —the Domesday Book notwithstanding—as long as a modern book, even if the charter, on average, was worth more than any one book. Even if the book was copied by hand by an artist/writer and cost quite a bit. Likewise, Ink and paper were both pricy. You kept things short and concise to be frugal. Regardless, over the years this charter thing became the book as we know it. And keeping things short and concise are no longer the virtues they once were.

Then again, I never was the biggest fan of virtue. I’ll take the book.