Tech in the Trenches

Carl T. Holscher fights for the customers.

Big Mac Smash Burger Tacos with Crispy Parmesan Carrots

Made dinner tonight with my wife. We have a small kitchen so our choreography must be impeccable.

Big Mac Tacos (Smash Burger Tacos) Viral Recipe | Cravings Journal

Replaced beef with turkey because we had it in hand. My wife made tortillas and they were delicious.

Crispy Parmesan Carrots (Cheesy Crust) – Cooking With Ayeh

Made these carrots on the side and they were delicious though if I did it again I would brush the carrots with the olive oil and pour/brush on the marinade since it didn’t stick very well.
But they were absolutely delicious. Carrots!

All around a superb meal and both went straight into Plan To Eat which is a superb meal planning web site and app. (If you like it and can wait until Black Friday, they always have a good deal. We’ve renewed it for years this way.)

Welcome back to Low Stakes Ramblings as I Watch Star Trek After Work

Ted Lasso has been a fixture in my house for a long time. We watched the first two seasons all at once, once they were available in their entirety. Then we worked our way through the most recent (and final) season as it aired with the rest of the world.

As the weeks went on and the characters I knew and loved only matured more and more as their personal growth continued. No spoilers because many people may not have had time to complete their journeys and this show is too precious to take anything away from it.

This show has been a solution to the problem of the 2020s. It’s been a bright light and a relentlessly safe and positive place to dwell in a world that has been anything but.

We are now watching the series again from the beginning to reintroduce ourselves to our friends on the pitch for the second time. To meet them and see them as old friends, knowing where their lives would take them.

Ted Lasso is a salve. It’s not a cure, but a medication I look forward taking and hope to never develop an immunity.

It struck me tonight, as I was watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds why I love this franchise. I grew up as a The Next Generation kid so Captain Picard is my captain. I watched the show originally piecemeal as an episode would re-air on network television. I had never seen the entire series until Netflix got the rights and I could make my way through it. I binged it over the summer and fall of 2011 (which is somehow 12 years ago???)

Some of the episode didn’t hold up. I enjoyed the space jellyfish, found the Just Say No to drugs episode and didn’t care for the episode which revolved around the crew getting stuck in the holodeck for one reason or another.

But as I laid in bed tonight, watching the latest version of my beloved space show, I connected with my friends on the pitch. I love Star Trek because it’s positive. Because it’s a happy show where problems are solved and the world, while terrifying and deadly, is still full of good people trying to do their best.

Sure it has its problem. It’s not a perfect show but a reflection of the world. There’s still bigotry and hatred. There’s plenty of war and generational struggle to overcome. Just because our crew doesn’t need money to pay their bills doesn’t mean there isn’t inequality and class struggles.

As long as there are new treks to the stars, I will ride alongside my friends in space as I have my friends on the pitch.

Is a part of you powering AI?

The internet is user-generated content. We’re all making things and contributing whether publicly or “privately”. With our names or without.
AI” is years of our data being scraped, packaged and sold back to us.

ChatGPT and the other Large Language Models (LLMs) are little more than someone who is incredible well-read with perfect recall. They’re taken the internet’s data and packaged it and put a neat little plain language front-end on it for us to interact with.

The reason chatGPT can write such good fanfiction is because it scraped 32billion words from AO3. And that was in 2019. So there’s likely even more fanfic in the large language model today. If you look at this and say, “but it’s only fanfiction, who cares?” Would it be acceptable to other writers?

It’s abhorrent that a program which purports to support a community of writers has based at least 32 billion words of its program on the writing of a community that did consent to have their work used.

Writing fic is not stealing, but taking fic and using it to develop a dataset, and then offering that dataset to the public without having gotten permission from literally anyone is ethically gross.

How Bots Like ChatGPT Have Stolen Fanfiction, and What It Means

What if your entire history of writing that you had publicly posted to the Internet was scooped up and used without your permission for another company to make money from?

Well, that it likely the cast as Kevin Schaul, Szu Yu Chen and Nitasha Tiku writing for The Washington Post have researched and reported on.

To look inside this black box, we analyzed Google’s C4 data set, a massive snapshot of the contents of 15 million websites that have been used to instruct some high-profile English-language AIs, called large language models, including Google’s T5 and Facebook’s LLaMA. (OpenAI does not disclose what datasets it uses to train the models backing its popular chatbot, ChatGPT)

See the websites that make AI bots like ChatGPT sound so smart

What about social media?

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter — the heart of the modern web — prohibit scraping, which means most data sets used to train AI cannot access them. Tech giants like Facebook and Google that are sitting on mammoth troves of conversational data have not been clear about how personal user information may be used to train AI models that are used internally or sold as products.

So while your posts to social media may not be in ChatGPT, it’s certainly going to be included in Meta/Facebook’s own product. And they’re long history of scooping up and and all data, it’s certainly far more extensive.

What about if you have ever written in a blog on powered by WordPress, Tumblr, Blogspot and Live Journal? Then you’ve included too.

My own site is included in the data set at rank 1,953,276.

If you write on the web, you’re likely there too. You can search through the data by scrolling to the bottom of The Washington Post’s article: See the websites that make AI bots like ChatGPT sound so smart.

As with any story that talks about data, there’s a section at the end describing how the Post came to this data and the 15.1 million unique domains included in this dataset.

How do you feel about your writing being included in this gigantic data sets and being used to build products?

Why are ads so obviously stupid?

This video reminds me of when people try to get a real, correct answer to a question on social media, they will purposefully add a wrong answer. Or frame the question purposefully wrong. Because if you ask for help, you get snark and jokes. But if you are wrong, people rush to correct you.

Tiktok video explaining that ads are so obviously stupid to empower the viewer into thinking I am smarter than you. Making people feel smart and confident makes them want to buy. You’re being primed to purchase.

If you find yourself getting confident and feeling smart because of what someone has put in front of you seems idiotic, be really careful because that might have been done purposefully. So that when you feel smart, you feel confident and when you feel confident you will make a decision that most likely has been framed by them.

Andy HAvens, Author

If you try to educate people people want to talk to other people, do more research and think about it. But if you present a commercial and the entire time the viewer is saying “I knew that! I knew that! I knew that!” It makes the viewer confident.

And confident people buy.

So if you’re seeing an that you can’t believe how stupid it is, i may have been done to make you feel that way. So you buy what they’re selling.

Beige monitor displaying Windows 95 on a wooden desk.

Work and Loyalty

I am an Elder Millennial, born in 1981, and was raised by Baby Boomers. I was raised to value loyalty and putting in work for an employer and being rewarded for it. I learned the value of working my way up through an organization and proving myself to the company. I was taught my loyalty and hard work would be rewarded.

When I graduated high school in 2000, it was immediately off the college. College would give me the tools I needed to get a good job and to be able to provide for myself and my family. I would have a degree, the key to freedom and financial success. I went to college and dutifully got a Bachelors of Science (in Communications, specially Creative Advertising).

I was lucky and privileged enough to leave school without student load debt. Something the same degree today would absolutely not allow me to do. It’s not even worth comparing what an undergraduate degree costs to an in-state resident in Virginia anymore. (Hint: It’s tripled!)

I had that all-important slip of paper that would spell success as an adult. I graduated in 2004, the economy wasn’t great. (When has it ever been?)

Finding work in a creative field, like Advertising, was a pipe dream. So I fell into IT works. I took a job where I spent the next 12 months replacing computers with newer computers. I spent my days in a basement next to a steak house smelling grilled beef and loading Windows XP on to Dell computers for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

This was always going to be a temporary job, even with the slight prospect of being hired full-time. Eventually, this contract ended and I was back out on the market looking for more work. Little did I know I had chosen my career path not out of some carefully thought out plan.

I needed work, I was good with computers and enjoyed working on and with them. I needed to pay rent and buy gas and food.

That’s how I chose my career path. Not out of some well-thought-out plan or meetings with advisors or guidance counselors. I needed money to live and I had time and skill I could trade for money. That is all there was to it. Trade time and effort for money.

Real, Adult Jobs

As I got “real, adult jobs” I thought the name of my employers would mean… something. Little did I know that chosen career path in IT meant never really working for the company where I spent 40 hours per week. No, I worked for some other entity. Sometimes nameless and faceless, other times more real, but just still largely anonymous. I thought the names of places where I worked would carry weight. I was excited when I was working at/for Honeywell, GE Lighting and Industrial, Wachovia, and City of Richmond government and later the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Labor (DOL), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and The Atlantic Media Company (home to The Atlantic magazine.) Despite meeting some very interesting people, the names on my resume never mattered for my next role.

Where I worked and who I worked for were two different question. I learned slowly that working for people who never saw you, and unless you did something bad enough to get yourself fired, were never going to know your work. It didn’t matter if you came in and won employee of the week 52 straight weeks, or if you showed up, did barely enough to get by, and do it all again tomorrow.

None of it mattered. Don’t even mention performance reviews or exit interviews. Those were largely tales I was told growing up. I was here one day and gone the next, no exit interviews. For performance, I was expected to. Whether I did or not… well, if I wanted to avoid getting chastised from afar, I should continue to perform. But there was no benefit for good performance, only avoiding poor performance.

The illusion I held in my head about loyalty and working to impress those above me no longer had a place in the world. It took me a long time to learn that lesson. It’s one I wish I had learned sooner.

Loyalty is Dead.

I changed jobs about every 3 years. That has been the amount of time where I feel like I’ve learned absolutely everything I could in a position that was never going to change. The nature of contract IT work is you’re hired to fulfill a certain task. Placed into a box to perform the same set of tasks over and over and over until the end of time. You can only reset a password, troubleshoot Microsoft Office, or remove malware or a virus from a computer so many times before you lose your mind.

So I changed jobs. That’s how I got my raises. I was never going to get one staying where I was. Even if I wanted to be loyal and work hard, there was no reason to continue to do so where I was. The only way to get ahead is to change jobs. Work somewhere else and ask for more money than the last time.

I went looking to compare and despair at the cost of college and when I graduated Virginia Commonwealth University in 2004. According to page 11 of July 2004 State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s report on Tuition and Fees at Virginia’s State-Supported Colleges & Universities, tuition and mandatory fees in 2004, the year I graduated, were $5,138. According to page 12 of the 2021-2022 version of the this same report, that same cost is now $15,028. This cost is for Full-Time In-State Undergraduate Tuition and All Mandatory Fees.

When I graduated in 2004, I was barely making enough money to live. I don’t think with the costs of the same education is now three times more valuable today to command that price tag. This doesn’t count finding a place to live, food, and expenses of living, all of which have also risen substantially.

The AAA’s survey of gas prices hit a new record of $1.753 a gallon on Tuesday

Gas prices hit another record high – Mar. 30, 2004

Record gas prices of $1.75… As of this writing, they’re hovering right around $3.00 a gallon in Maryland.

People are graduating college today with mountains of debt before they even start out in the world. They’re entering world having paid three times what it cost my for the same four-year degree.

What advice would I give someone entering the working world today?

I don’t know if I would have any advice worth listening to. I don’t have kids. I am married and we have two incomes. Just as I learned the lessons of working in a world that no longer existed, the world I entered work in no longer exists. The cost of college today is astronomical compared to when I graduated for the same degree.

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