“Artificial” “Intelligence”

Sunday, 22 October 2017

I use my “AI” personal assistants intermittently, mostly because they aren’t very good assistants; yet. For these things to actually get useful, they need to be able to do more than build lists, order things, send reminders, and provide wayfinding.

Use Case: Adding a stop to my wayfinding

  • Existing Functionality: I ask: “Dunkin Donuts along my route”. I’m told “Finding Dunkin Donuts along your route along your route.” and presented with a list of x number of locations that I have to scroll through, determine which is the best option, and add to the wayfinding while I’m driving. 
  • Better Functionality: I ask “Dunkin Donuts along my route.” and the assistant chooses from the options available and automatically adds the one with least impact on my travel time to the wayfinding.
  • Best Functionality: I say “Order my usual from the nearest Dunkin Donuts on my route” and the assistant: finds that location, places an on-the-go order using information it already has, and schedules the pick-up based on travel time to that location.

Use Case: Reminders

  • Existing Functionality: I say: “Remind me to get up at 1am on Sunday for the Orionid meteor shower”. I get a notification at 1am on Sunday. I sleep through it.
  • Better Functionality: I say: “Remind me to get up at 1am on Sunday for the Orionid meteor shower”. An alarm is set instead of a push notification, because the assistant knows I’m usually asleep at this time.
  • Best Functionality: I say: “Find me the best place and time to watch the Orionid meteor shower on Sunday.” The assistant knows my location, checks the Dark Sky database for nearby locations with lower light pollution, calculates travel time to that location for best viewing, and sets an alarm to wake me up so I can get there on time.

Other stuff that would be cool:

  • “Pay my gas, electric, internet, and phone bills on Friday.” This finds the bills, and schedules payment with my bank.
  • “Send $50 worth of flowers to my mom the Saturday before every Mother’s Day” Bonus points if it knows what kind of flowers to send.
  • “Add ‘The History of Philosophy’ podcast to my morning drive Spotify playlist”
  • “Schedule 3 days of weight training and 3 days of cardio, and adapt the schedule based on missed workouts.” This isn’t just putting something on the calendar, but is actively providing the workout details as well.
  • “I want Italian for dinner twice this week.” This would find a recipe or two based on how much time it knows I have to prepare dinner, and automatically add the ingredients to my list. Bonus points if it can analyze past meal plans & predict what ingredients I already have on hand.

These AI assistants are way less capable than my child of understanding & interpreting conversational speech and using context & initiative to provide a quality return. If you don’t ask the question using the exact phrasing they know, you’re wasting their time. Assistants waste my time if I have to learn their language in order to get half-functional results from them.

They may get smart one day, but the walled-garden paradigm is going to make it a pain in the ass. My AI of choice should work with all of my other applications of choice, but I have a feeling it will be less by choice & more by necessity in the long run. I can’t see Google’s AI integrating with Apple to download something in iTunes. Or Alexa allowing you to order something from an Amazon competitor.

Heartland Roadtrip

Monday, 16 October 2017

My 9 year old son & I finally took a family vacation back in August. I’m hoping he’ll remember this trip, unlike some of the other adventures we’ve been on. We were gone a week, put 3330 miles on my car & had a pretty awesome time. I left my work phone at home; I couldn’t tell you the last time I was fully unplugged from a job. I can tell you the last time I took a vacation that wasn’t to spend time family: 1998, when I took a week long school trip to Mexico over spring break. Maybe I’ll actually take an adult vacation one of these days.

Trip Prep

  • The dog went to my friend for the week.
  • I obtained a citizens band radio, antenna, & a copy of the same CB slang dictionary I had as a child.
  • I obtained 2 disposable color cameras for my son, & 1 disposable black & white camera for me. The photos in this post are from that camera, except for the ones at the end which are from my smartphone.
  • I made a bunch of sandwiches & filled a cooler with those & water bottles. Eating on the road is expensive. Also plenty of snacks.
  • Tent, sleeping bags, changes of clothes
  • A flask of bourbon

The Trip

Day 1 – Chicago & Westward

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I got up a bit after 5, loaded the car, & woke up the kid about 10 minutes before 6. He got dressed, used the bathroom, & we were on the road by 6:05am. Driving from Cleveland to Chicago is expensive. A tank of gas & $20+ in tolls later & we arrived at the Soldier Field parking garage ($22 base rate) to visit The Field Museum of Natural History ($36). Abraham & I enjoyed the large collection of meteorites & looking at a full Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, but both of us felt a great presence of colonialism, as much of the museum consists of artifacts “discovered” & transported from their point of origin. En route to Chicago, my son got on the CB as “Kung Fu Kat” & requested a traffic report using the slang dictionary. It was hilarious.

Back on the road & headed toward Wisconsin. Abraham was just happy to visit a bunch of States he’d never been in before, but I was eager to get to some sort of Wisconsin Cheese House™ so I could obtain, if I was lucky, some New Glarus Brewery Wisconsin Belgian Red ale, my favorite beer of all time. We stopped at the Mousehouse Cheesehaus & my dream came true. I purchased the 3 bottles they had left in stock & kept them in the cooler for the next 6 days.

Right after Abraham finished one of my sandwiches, we got pulled over. We got out of a ticket, I think, because my son had dried mustard all over his face & was cute & chatty with her about going to South Dakota. A few hours later (15 hours after leaving Cleveland) we arrived the Jackson, MN KOA, where an outdoor karaoke night was in full swing. This day wasn’t bad, I just knew it was going to be long & nutty – it did not disappoint. We passed out.

Day 2 – Tourist Trapped & Okay With It

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

& were up at 6 & back on the road to South Dakota. South Dakota is a magical land where the speed limit is 80mph. Don’t go over the speed limit or you’ll get pulled over. I got a warning here as well; the trooper said since the speed limit is 80, they don’t give any leeway. It was really cool how crossing the Missouri river resulted in an immediate change in the landscape as well as an immediate presence of billboards & their siren songs for all the various tourist traps that we ended up visiting. This included:

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.

This appears to be a city hall covered in corn cobs & shucks.

The Badlands Petrified Gardens in Kadoka, SD

We stopped here on a whim – I love their old school signage. Epitome of a middle-of-nowhere tourist trap, but we received some amazing intel on how to spend our 2 days in the area from the old couple running the place. If it weren’t for them I might have skipped the Badlands or Devil’s Tower, and that would have been a huge mistake.

Some Prairie Dog Place That’s Not on the Map

My prior experience with prairie dogs was an old-ass video game shooter. They are basically blonde groundhogs. We stopped here so that my son could take a few pictures.

Badlands National Park

I had no idea this was so close to Mount Rushmore, or I would have put it on the list in the first place. Thankfully the folks at the Badlands Petrified Gardens encouraged us to take the scenic route. After so much prairie, driving over a hill into a completely different landscape was a moment of unexpected awe. We’d been through an awful lot of driving and seen an awful lot of stuff, but this is when Abraham said “Dad, this trip just went to the next level!” The Badlands are not a place I would want to be lost and without water.

Wall Drug in Wall, SD

If you took all the signs for Wall Drug scattered across South Dakota, and assembled them, you might end up with enough to make another Wall Drug. Wall Drug is huge, so imagine how many signs we saw? There’s no real reason to stop here, other than to say that you stopped there.

Mount Rushmore

We were worn out by the time we stopped here. All there really is to do here is the photo op & it was nearly impossible to get a good picture out of either of us do to worn-out-ness. The most interesting part was learning that the site is also known as Six Grandfathers & is sacred to the Lakota Sioux. They are not pleased with the guys carved into it.

Whispering Pines Campground

We spent a great two nights here, definitely recommend it as a spot to camp if you’re in the area.

Cousin’s

We stopped into to this pizza shack for dinner, it was full of bikers from the Sturgis Rally. One of those spots where people write notes on $1 bills and staple them to the wall. Notable only because the table we sat at had a $1 from someone from my hometown.

Day 3 – Devil’s Tower, WY & A Hail Storm From Hell

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Abraham somehow knew that Devil’s Tower was out this way & he talked me into the 3 hour round-trip drive to see it. I was about driven-out by this point, but I’m glad I took his advice. It was an amazing piece of geology & unfortunate that the name is a mistranslation. This site is like the Vatican for the Lakota Sioux & 22 (?) other indigenous folks. It’s really called Big Bear Lodge (or something to that effect, the word for bear & the word for evil spirit apparently sound similar if you’re not paying good attention). We spent most of the morning here & got back to camp in the early afternoon. We’d mainly been eating out of packed food from a cooler, but went to a restaurant nearby for dinner.

As we left, a hail storm hit the area. This was something very different from every other hail storm I’d experienced. I thought it was going to crack the windows on our car. It ended up leaving about 110 dents & doing $1500 worth of damage to the vehicle.

We arrived back at camp & my awesome tent had withstood the storm with aplomb. We hurried inside & it grew dark and stormed all night long. I’ve never experienced a storm of this ferocity. My son slept like a log through the whole thing, but I don’t know how. I felt like we were inside the thunder. It inspired this poem. I’ll never forget it.

Day 4

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We drove all day. South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri. Camped in Missouri and had some of the best southern food I’ve had at the Tin Kitchen in Weston, MO. Took our first showers in 4 days in the nicest showers I’ve ever seen in a state park. Happy Centennial Missouri State Parks!

Day 5 – Saint Louis Pizza & New Harmonie State Park

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We went to the arch, of course, but the real reason we hit St. Louis was so I could have a St. Louis-style pizza, which is the archetype of pizza. The quintessence of pizza remains Pizza King, but as for its progenitors: the mother is clearly St. Louis & the father likely Chicago. It was about 95° & 90% humidity, so we headed over to Indiana, where, if not any cooler, was at least shadier. New Harmonie State Park reminded me very much of Whitewater State Park, where I spent much of my childhood. We followed the sounds of a barred owl deep into the woods. It started to rain, but the tree cover kept us dry & we saw a couple of deer who didn’t see us.

Day 6 – Mammoth Cave & Wigwam Village #2

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mammoth Cave was the last big stop on our trip. The boy was too excited to realize how tired he was, which is good, because we explored all around the cave and managed a great tour of the best bits of the cave before we spent the rest of the day laying in bed at our motel. Wigwam Village #2 was built in 1937 & the ceiling fan almost electrocuted me. The shower was like a pressure washer, and much appreciated. Although the tackiness of the motel now is quite clearly politically incorrect, the place is owned by Indians. From India. Can you taste that flavor? That’s the flavor of America.

Day 7 – Harveysburg, OH & Home

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The final day was just a 6 hour drive back to Cleveland, with one stop on the way, in Harveysburg, OH. We covered over 3000 miles in just about a week, with not even the smallest disagreement, until about 3 miles from home when I made my son try to do the math on how many miles we averaged per day. He sat next to me in the front seat almost the whole way, and everything we talked about was important. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Storify

Roadtrippers Itinerary

View Full Trip

Sundry Digital Photos

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(The reason this took so long to post is that getting the black & white photos developed was a complete disaster & took several months to get done correctly)

New Orleans 1 Cleveland 0

Thursday, 28 September 2017

It’s no secret that I don’t get out much. I’ve been in New Orleans for a conference the past few days. The conference itself (NRPA) has been great, but I’m not planning to talk shop on my personal weblog. What’s been revelatory to me is that I have room in my heart to love more cities than just Cleveland. I’ve roamed over the French Quarter, Marigny, Garden District, et al.; and, like Cleveland neighborhoods, they’ve all had distinct, unique personalities. They’re all people I want to get to know better.

The best restaurants in Cleveland would be middle of the pack in New Orleans and the music (as much as I love Cleveland’s music scene) is incomparably better. There is no road rage – cars don’t have nearly the market share.

I’ve been told that it’s a very different city since Hurricane Katrina, but what’s clear is that New Orleans is a city that’s never doubted itself and Cleveland remains a city that doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Lafayette Park, New Orleans
Lafayette Park, New Orleans

Magnanimity

Monday, 18 September 2017

Back in January, I briefly talked a bit about the need for more sincerity in the world. I still think that post holds true, but, as in most things, could be expanded upon after more reflection. I’ve had chats with friends about call-out culture & seen eye-rolling amounts of outraged headlines & no end of online chatter about how some thing or some one didn’t do some thing well enough to please some one. As cliche as it is: perfect remains the enemy of good; and those who expect their definition of perfection to be met will forever be outraged by the fallibility of every one.

What I almost never see is magnanimity – I don’t see acknowledgement and praise of effort, or understanding & encouragement when someone is trying but makes mistakes. I understand that it may be hard to be magnanimous when most people are pushing their own agenda (either disingenuously or sincerely), but I fail to see how the excoriation of imperfection & fallibility is useful for anything other than vainglorious virtue-signaling & self-aggrandizement. It’s a neat little tautological flip to support the type of pride that was once considered sinful back when people believed in sin. Without a sense of humility, it’s nigh impossible to be magnanimous. The world would certainly be a bit better off if we practiced it from time to time.

People need to chill.

The Conversion of Saint Paul, Caravaggio
The Conversion of Saint Paul, Caravaggio

Something in the hills is angry

Friday, 1 September 2017

I am deaf but for rumbles and blind but
for the way the night lights when I strike the ground
I am outside searching deep into black fractal hills for the drum
summoning. A great spirit is awake tonight and haughty.
I am some beast long-chained attempting a great labor
The sky furrows and crouches on the ridge-lines
and nothing will hear me yell as I stalk amid the pines
I am bravado shaking trees and slapping the wet red earth
I have seven league boots and a peacock’s tail but
everything in the dark is much larger than me

I am awake inside a drum 
I am asleep inside a drum
I am rent haggard and
something in the hills is angry and enjoying this

Behind me
in the dark
my son sleeps
dry and uneaten

he wakens
to bright and resinous air a
strange lightning in his eyes

De rien

Saturday, 22 July 2017

I’ve lived in Cleveland for nearly 15 years now, & in all of that time, the city & its people have been, through existential trial & error, trying to taxonomize what it means to be Cleveland. All of them should have visited Steve’s Lunch before it burned.

There are a few who have me beat, but, for the most part, I’ve been to more places in more neighborhoods than people who’ve lived here their whole lives. The common denominator, when you wipe away all the branding & internet-era posturing to reveal the rusted heart at our core, is a moderately exasperated politesse. Clevelanders are busy, we’re in a hurry, we know what we’re doing, we don’t have time for your shit, but we aren’t gonna be jerks about it.

We’ll hold the door just long enough for it to not close in your face; we’ll throw up our hands at a senior citizen who probably shouldn’t be on the road, and impatiently give them the right of way. We’ll serve up a completely unpretentious hot dog, on a cheap plastic plate that’s been cursorily washed 10,000 times in 15 years, that changes your life when the stadium mustard smears across your tongue.

Steve’s Lunch is where I went when I had $20 to spend on a night out & could buy a hot dog with my last two dollars at 3AM. It burned before I could introduce my son to the place, but we’re regular enough at Steve’s Diner that the staff knows us on sight & the Pepsi is waiting for us when we sit down. We grouse with the staff about weather & homework & bills & split a plate of fries. Steve’s is where I go when I’m lonely or in need of comfort, & where I head when all I have time for is a hot dog.

That hot dog could be dim sum; or pierogi; or ribs barbecued in a converted 50-gallon drum & served up without a permit at an abandoned gas station. The core of Cleveland, that no amount of luxury condos or new coats of paint can obscure, is a lack of pretension. Dandelions like Steve’s are in every neighborhood; lifting their yellow heads & growling at whatever Cleveland supposedly is this week.

We’ve seen so many grand gestures & prophets of prosperity descend from the clouds to save Cleveland, using money & influence to change entire swathes of our neighborhoods. The loudest story is that we need to be saved. We do our best to obscure the fact that we serve up little bits of salvation every day.

You want another hot dog?

A Short List of Things I’ve Failed

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

  • Developing consistently healthy eating habits
  • Figuring out a regular exercise schedule
  • Driving below the speed limit
  • Patience
  • Home ownership
  • Long-term romantic relationships
  • Investing
  • Weight loss
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Good posture
  • Beating the original Super Mario Brothers
  • Going on vacation
  • Not being weird
  • Publishing my writing
  • Being respected in my community
  • Learning guitar
  • Being quiet
  • Expressing emotion
  • Listening
  • Having confidence
  • Ancient Greek 103
  • Making biscuits from scratch
  • Writing regularly
  • Maintaining friendships
  • Doing dishes in a timely manner
  • My son
  • My mom
  • My dog
  • You