all posts tagged 'artificial intelligence'

AI isn't useless. But is it worth it?


🔗 a linked post to citationneeded.news » — originally shared here on

There are an unbelievable amount of points Molly White makes with which I found myself agreeing.

In fact, I feel like this is an exceptionally accurate perspective of the current state of AI and LLMs in particular. If you’re curious about AI, give this article a read.

A lot of my personal fears about the potential power of these tools comes from speculation that the LLM CEOs make about their forthcoming updates.

And I don’t think that fear is completely unfounded. I mean, look at what tools we had available in 2021 compared to April 2024. We’ve come a long way in three years.

But right now, these tools are quite hard to use without spending a ton of time to learn their intricacies.

The best way to fight fear is with knowledge. Knowing how to wield these tools helps me deal with my fears, and I enjoy showing others how to do the same.

One point Molly makes about the generated text got me to laugh out loud:

I particularly like how, when I ask them to try to sound like me, or to at least sound less like a chatbot, they adopt a sort of "cool teacher" persona, as if they're sitting backwards on a chair to have a heart-to-heart. Back when I used to wait tables, the other waitresses and I would joke to each other about our "waitress voice", which were the personas we all subconsciously seemed to slip into when talking to customers. They varied somewhat, but they were all uniformly saccharine, with slightly higher-pitched voices, and with the general demeanor as though you were talking to someone you didn't think was very bright. Every LLM's writing "voice" reminds me of that.

“Waitress voice” is how I will classify this phenomenon from now on.

You know how I can tell when my friends have used AI to make LinkedIn posts?

When all of a sudden, they use emoji and phrases like “Exciting news!”

It’s not even that waitress voice is a negative thing. After all, it’s expected to communicate with our waitress voices in social situations when we don’t intimately know somebody.

Calling a customer support hotline? Shopping in person for something? Meeting your kid’s teacher for the first time? New coworker in their first meeting?

All of these are situations in which I find myself using my own waitress voice.

It’s a safe play for the LLMs to use it as well when they don’t know us.

But I find one common thread among the things AI tools are particularly suited to doing: do we even want to be doing these things? If all you want out of a meeting is the AI-generated summary, maybe that meeting could've been an email. If you're using AI to write your emails, and your recipient is using AI to read them, could you maybe cut out the whole thing entirely? If mediocre, auto-generated reports are passing muster, is anyone actually reading them? Or is it just middle-management busywork?

This is what I often brag about to people when I speak highly of LLMs.

These systems are incredible at the BS work. But they’re currently terrible with the stuff humans are good at.

I would love to live in a world where the technology industry widely valued making incrementally useful tools to improve peoples' lives, and were honest about what those tools could do, while also carefully weighing the technology's costs. But that's not the world we live in. Instead, we need to push back against endless tech manias and overhyped narratives, and oppose the "innovation at any cost" mindset that has infected the tech sector.

Again, thank you Molly White for printing such a poignant manifesto, seeing as I was having trouble articulating one of my own.

Innovation and growth at any cost are concepts which have yet to lead to a markedly better outcome for us all.

Let’s learn how to use these tools to make all our lives better, then let’s go live our lives.

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Happy 20th Anniversary, Gmail. I’m Sorry I’m Leaving You.


🔗 a linked post to nytimes.com » — originally shared here on

I am grateful — genuinely — for what Google and Apple and others did to make digital life easy over the past two decades. But too much ease carries a cost. I was lulled into the belief that I didn’t have to make decisions. Now my digital life is a series of monuments to the cost of combining maximal storage with minimal intention.

I have thousands of photos of my children but few that I’ve set aside to revisit. I have records of virtually every text I’ve sent since I was in college but no idea how to find the ones that meant something. I spent years blasting my thoughts to millions of people on X and Facebook even as I fell behind on correspondence with dear friends. I have stored everything and saved nothing.

This is an example of what AI, in its most optimistic state, could help us with.

We already see companies doing this. In the Apple ecosystem, the Photos widget is perhaps the best piece of software they’ve produced in years.

Every single day, I am presented with a slideshow of a friend who is celebrating their birthday, a photo of my kids from this day in history, or a memory that fits with an upcoming event.

All of that is powered by rudimentary1 AI.

Imagine what could be done when you unleash a tuned large language model on our text histories. On our photos. On our app usage.

AI is only as good as the data it is provided. We’ve been trusting our devices with our most intimidate and vulnerable parts of ourselves for two decades.

This is supposed to be the payoff for the last twenty years of surveillance capitalism, I think?

All those secrets we share, all of those activities we’ve done online for the last twenty years, this will be used to somehow make our lives better?

The optimistic take is that we’ll receive better auto suggestions for text responses to messages that sound more like us. We’ll receive tailored traffic suggestions based on the way we drive. We’ll receive a “long lost” photo of our kid from a random trip to the museum.

The pessimistic take is that we’ll give companies the exact words which will cause us to take action. Our own words will be warped to get us to buy something we’ve convinced ourselves we need.

My hunch is that both takes will be true. We need to be smart enough to know how to use these tools to help ourselves and when to put them down.

I haven’t used Gmail as my primary email for years now2, but this article is giving me more motivation to finally pull the plug and shrink my digital footprint.

This is not something the corporations did to me. This is something I did to myself. But I am looking now for software that insists I make choices rather than whispers that none are needed. I don’t want my digital life to be one shame closet after another. A new metaphor has taken hold for me: I want it to be a garden I tend, snipping back the weeds and nourishing the plants.

My wife and I spent the last week cleaning out our garage. It reached the point where the clutter accumulated so much that you could only park one car in it, strategically aligned so you could squeeze through a narrow pathway and open a door.

As of this morning, we donated ten boxes of items and are able to comfortably move around the space. While there is more to be done, the garage now feels more livable, useful, and enjoyable to be inside.

I was able to clear off my work bench and mount a pendant above it. The pendant is autographed by the entire starting defensive line of the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.

Every time I walk through my garage, I see it hanging there and it makes me so happy.

Our digital lives should be the same way.

My shame closet is a 4 terabyte hard drive containing every school assignment since sixth grade, every personal webpage I’ve ever built, multiple sporadic backups of various websites I am no longer in charge of, and scans of documents that ostensibly may mean something to me some day.

Scrolling through my drive, I’m presented with a completely chaotic list that is too overwhelming to sort through.

Just like how I cleaned out my garage, I aught to do the same to this junk drawer.

I’ll revert to Ezra’s garden metaphor here: keep a small, curated garden that contains the truly important and meaningful digital items to you. Prune the rest.

(Shout out to my friend Dana for sharing this with me. I think she figured out my brand.)


  1. By today’s standards. 

  2. I use Fastmail. You should give it a try (that link is an affiliate link)! 

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Confessions of a Viral AI Writer


🔗 a linked post to wired.com » — originally shared here on

Lately, I’ve sometimes turned to ChatGPT for research. But I’ve stopped having it generate prose to stand in for my own. If my writing is an expression of my particular consciousness, I’m the only one capable of it. This applies, to be clear, to GPT-3’s line about holding hands with my sister. In real life, she and I were never so sentimental. That’s precisely why I kept writing over the AI’s words with my own: The essay is equally about what AI promises us and how it falls short. As for Sudowrite’s proposal to engineer an entire novel from a few keywords, forget it. If I wanted a product to deliver me a story on demand, I’d just go to a bookstore.

But what if I, the writer, don’t matter? I joined a Slack channel for people using Sudowrite and scrolled through the comments. One caught my eye, posted by a mother who didn’t like the bookstore options for stories to read to her little boy. She was using the product to compose her own adventure tale for him. Maybe, I realized, these products that are supposedly built for writers will actually be of more interest to readers.

I can imagine a world in which many of the people employed as authors, people like me, limit their use of AI or decline to use it altogether. I can also imagine a world—and maybe we’re already in it—in which a new generation of readers begins using AI to produce the stories they want. If this type of literature satisfies readers, the question of whether it can match human-produced writing might well be judged irrelevant.

I think this is a good example of exactly why I think software engineers are in trouble for many roles.

People hire nerds to get computers to do things for them. Things that are not especially novel to those of us who program computers, but extremely valuable to those who cannot.

Will AI be able to create bespoke, artisanal software better than a creative engineer?

Will AI be able to create bespoke, artisanal music better than a create musician?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But it will surely be able to create adequate software and music faster than humans can.

I’m afraid the days of being paid insane amounts of money because I can get computers to do what I want are approaching an end.

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What I Do When I Can’t Sleep


🔗 a linked post to every.to » — originally shared here on

Listening to him name exactly what he liked about the wine turned up the hairs on the back of my neck. Suddenly, my own experience of the wine felt deeper and more satisfying. I wanted to know: How was he able to identify these flavors?

He told me the secret was to blindly smell things and try to label them. You see, the part of your brain that’s responsible for smells is naturally mute. It’s called the olfactory bulb, and it’s an ancient fist of neurons just behind your eyes. It has only indirect backroad connections to the parts of the brain that control language, like Broca’s area. So, even though you might have an easy time knowing whether or not you like a scent, it’s not easy to label that scent with a word. It’ll feel like groping through a dark closet for something you know is there, but can’t quite find.

I did not know this, and now I will be nerding out on ways to train my taste buds.

But this article isn’t just about developing your sense of taste. It’s also about defining your style.

In much the same way the author describes how he is, for the first time in his life, articulating what he likes as a writer, I am starting to do the same with several areas of my life.

Case in point: I have a huge collection of quotes that you can see on the main page of this site.

I just fed all of them through ChatGPT with this prompt:

I’ve attached a series of quotes which are meaningful to me. First off, tell me the consistent themes you recognize across all of the quotes. Then, tell me what this says about the things that inspire me.

Here is the result:

Across all the quotes, several consistent themes emerge:

  1. Growth and Self-improvement: Many quotes focus on the importance of personal growth, overcoming challenges, and continuous improvement.
  2. Perseverance and Resilience: There's a strong theme of enduring hardship, staying strong in the face of adversity, and the importance of perseverance.
  3. Wisdom and Perspective: The quotes often reflect on acquiring wisdom, gaining perspective, and understanding life's deeper meanings and truths.
  4. Happiness and Contentment: There's an emphasis on finding happiness, being content with what one has, and the pursuit of joy in life.
  5. Community and Relationships: Several quotes highlight the value of community, the importance of relationships, and the strength that comes from vulnerability and connection with others.

These themes suggest that you are inspired by ideas related to personal growth, resilience in the face of adversity, the pursuit of wisdom and understanding, the importance of happiness and contentment, and the value of community and relationships. It paints a picture of someone who values both internal development and external connections, seeking both personal fulfillment and meaningful interactions with others.

:extremely Marge Simpson voice: “Well, duh.

(For real though, pretty awesome that we have a tool that is exceptionally good at summarizing large amounts of data and picking out patterns throughout the dataset.)

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The Robot Report #1 — Reveries


🔗 a linked post to randsinrepose.com » — originally shared here on

Whenever I talk about a knowledge win via robots on the socials or with humans, someone snarks, “Well, how do you know it’s true? How do you know the robot isn’t hallucinating?” Before I explain my process, I want to point out that I don’t believe humans are snarking because they want to know the actual answer; I think they are scared. They are worried about AI taking over the world or folks losing their job, and while these are valid worries, it’s not the robot’s responsibility to tell the truth; it’s your job to understand what is and isn’t true.

You’re being changed by the things you see and read for your entire life, and hopefully, you’ve developed a filter through which this information passes. Sometimes, it passes through without incident, but other times, it’s stopped, and you wonder, “Is this true?”

Knowing when to question truth is fundamental to being a human. Unfortunately, we’ve spent the last forty years building networks of information that have made it pretty easy to generate and broadcast lies at scale. When you combine the internet with the fact that many humans just want their hopes and fears amplified, you can understand why the real problem isn’t robots doing it better; it’s the humans getting worse.

I’m working on an extended side quest and in the past few hours of pairing with ChatGPT, I’ve found myself constantly second guessing a large portion of the decisions and code that the AI produced.

This article pairs well with this one I read today about a possible social exploit that relies on frequently hallucinated package names.

Simon Willison writes:

Bar Lanyado noticed that LLMs frequently hallucinate the names of packages that don’t exist in their answers to coding questions, which can be exploited as a supply chain attack.

He gathered 2,500 questions across Python, Node.js, Go, .NET and Ruby and ran them through a number of different LLMs, taking notes of any hallucinated packages and if any of those hallucinations were repeated.

One repeat example was “pip install huggingface-cli” (the correct package is “huggingface[cli]”). Bar then published a harmless package under that name in January, and observebd 30,000 downloads of that package in the three months that followed.

I’ll be honest: during my side quest here, I’ve 100% blindly run npm install on packages without double checking official documentation.

These large language models truly are mirrors to our minds, showing all sides of our personalities from our most fit to our most lazy.

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Claude and ChatGPT for ad-hoc sidequests


🔗 a linked post to simonwillison.net » — originally shared here on

I’m an unabashed fan of Simon Willison’s blog. Some of his posts admittedly go over my head, but I needed to share this post because it gets across the point I have been trying to articulate myself about AI and how I use it.

In the post, Simon talks about wanting to get a polygon object created that represents the boundary of Adirondack Park, the largest park in the United States (which occupies a fifth of the whole state!).

That part in and of itself is nerdy and a fun read, but this section here made my neck hurt from nodding aggressively in agreement:

Isn’t this a bit trivial? Yes it is, and that’s the point. This was a five minute sidequest. Writing about it here took ten times longer than the exercise itself.

I take on LLM-assisted sidequests like this one dozens of times a week. Many of them are substantially larger and more useful. They are having a very material impact on my work: I can get more done and solve much more interesting problems, because I’m not wasting valuable cycles figuring out ogr2ogr invocations or mucking around with polygon libraries.

Not to mention that I find working this way fun! It feels like science fiction every time I do it. Our AI-assisted future is here right now and I’m still finding it weird, fascinating and deeply entertaining.

Frequent readers of this blog know that a big part of the work I’ve been doing since being laid off is in reflecting on what brings me joy and happiness.

Work over the last twelve years of my life represented a small portion of something that used to bring me a ton of joy (building websites and apps). But somewhere along the way, building websites was no longer enjoyable to me.

I used to love learning new frameworks, expanding the arsenal of tools in my toolbox to solve an ever expanding set of problems. But spending my free time developing a new skill with a new tool began to feel like I was working but not getting paid.

And that notion really doesn’t sit well with me. I still love figuring out how computers work. It’s just nice to do so without the added pressure of building something to make someone else happy.

Which brings me to the “side quest” concept Simon describes in this post, which is something I find myself doing nearly every day with ChatGPT.

When I was going through my album artwork on Plex, my first instinct was to go to ChatGPT and have it help me parse through Plex’s internal thumbnail database to build me a view which shows all the artwork on a single webpage.

It took me maybe 10 minutes of iterating with ChatGPT, and now I know more about the internal workings of Plex’s internal media caching database than I ever would have before.

Before ChatGPT, I would’ve had to spend several hours pouring over open source code or out of date documentation. In other words: I would’ve given up after the first Google search.

It feels like another application of Morovec’s paradox. Like Gary Casparov observed with chess bots, it feels like the winning approach here is one where LLMs and humans work in tandem.

Simon ends his post with this:

One of the greatest misconceptions concerning LLMs is the idea that they are easy to use. They really aren’t: getting great results out of them requires a great deal of experience and hard-fought intuition, combined with deep domain knowledge of the problem you are applying them to. I use these things every day. They help me take on much more interesting and ambitious problems than I could otherwise. I would miss them terribly if they were no longer available to me.

I could not agree more.

I find it hard to explain to people how to use LLMs without more than an hour of sitting down and going through a bunch of examples of how they work.

These tools are insanely cool and insanely powerful when you bring your own knowledge to them.

They simply parrot back what it believes to be the most statistically correct response to whatever prompt was provided.

I haven’t been able to come up with a good analogy for that sentiment yet, because the closest I can come up with is “it’s like a really good personal assistant”, which feels like the same analogy the tech industry always uses to market any new tool.

You wouldn’t just send a personal assistant off to go do your job for you. A great assistant is there to compile data, to make suggestions, to be a sounding board, but at the end of the day, you are the one accountable for the final output.

If you copy and paste ChatGPT’s responses into a court brief and it contains made up cases, that’s on you.

If you deploy code that contains glaring vulnerabilities, that’s on you.

Maybe I shouldn’t be lamenting that I lost my joy of learning new things about computers, because I sure have been filled with joy learning how to best use LLMs these past couple years.

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Anti-AI sentiment gets big applause at SXSW 2024 as moviemaker dubs AI cheerleading as ‘terrifying bullsh**’


🔗 a linked post to techcrunch.com » — originally shared here on

I gotta find the video from this and watch it myself, because essentially every single thing mentioned in this article is what I wanna build a podcast around.

Let’s start with this:

As Kwan first explained, modern capitalism only worked because we compelled people to work, rather than forced them to do so.

“We had to change the story we told ourselves and say that ‘your value is your job,” he told the audience. “You are only worth what you can do, and we are no longer beings with an inherent worth. And this is why it’s so hard to find fulfillment in this current system. The system works best when you’re not fulfilled.”

Boy, this cuts to the heart of the depressive conversations I’ve had with myself this past year.

Finding a job sucks because you have to basically find a way to prove to someone that you are worth something. It can be empowering to some, sure, but I am finding the whole process to be extremely demoralizing and dehumanizing.

“Are you trying to use [AI] to create the world you want to live in? Are you trying to use it to increase value in your life and focus on the things that you really care about? Or are you just trying to, like, make some money for the billionaires, you know?”  Scheinert asked the audience. “And if someone tells you, there’s no side effect. It’s totally great, ‘get on board’ — I just want to go on the record and say that’s terrifying bullshit. That’s not true. And we should be talking really deeply about how to carefully, carefully deploy this stuff,” he said.

I’ve literally said the words, “I don’t want to make rich people richer” no fewer than a hundred times since January.

There is so much to unpack around this article, but I think I’m sharing it now as a stand in for a thesis around the podcast I am going to start in the next month.

We need to be having this conversation more often and with as many people as possible. Let’s do our best right now at the precipice of these new technologies to make them useful for ourselves, and not just perpetuate the worst parts of our current systems.

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The Job Hunt Chronicles: Month 2: Beyond the Fog

originally shared here on

A pair of worn-out shoes at the edge of a path leading into a misty forest.

(This is the second in a series of posts going through my journal entries from the last month and talking about what it's like to go through a period of unemployment, self doubt, and finding your spark. You can read the first one here.)

Alright, we've made it through February!

I'm still on the job hunt. I'm still dealing with some crippling anxiety and depression.

But I'm making progress! I'm having interviews, I'm figuring out how to feel my feelings and articulate my values, and I'm finding opportunities to enjoy the moment and be optimistic about finding my next job.

I journaled every single day last month. I fed all 28,000+ words into ChatGPT and asked it to summarize the entries into two sentences using the style of the journal entries themselves. Here's what it said:

Another month down, filled with musings, mild misadventures, and moments of clarity amidst the mundane. Balancing personal passions, family love, and the hunt for professional fulfillment, the journey meanders through the highs and lows, always circling back to the comforting, complex tapestry of daily life.

Man, do I actually sound that pretentious in my own journal? 😂

Anyway, if you're wondering what was on my mind in January, strap yourself in and let's go!

"What are you looking for?"

Gonna put this up front again like I did last month.

I'm looking for a position where I can blend strategic tech leadership with hands-on coding, preferably in a small, mission-driven company focused on healthcare or climate solutions. The ideal environment is a funded startup with fewer than 50 employees, leveraging generative AI, and based in or flexible with the Twin Cities area.

Ideal extras include a flexible 32-hour work week, a hybrid work arrangement, and opportunities for travel and professional development

In short: If you know a mission-oriented startup seeking a tech-savvy strategist passionate about making a significant impact, send them my way!

Activities I've done

I put this section in my last post because it felt like a badge of honor to brag about how many meetings I had in a month. To me, it felt like I was doing something.

All of that pride went down the drain after talking with a new friend who basically said that I'm continuing to burn myself out by grinding through hundreds of meetings instead of doing the actual hard work of sitting down and figuring out what my values are.

Once you know what your values are, you are so much more likely to know what path to walk down.

So in that spirit, I won't mention how many meetings I've had. Instead, I basically spent this month continuing to figure out who I am and what I want.

I'm aware that's not a very satisfying or flashy statement to make in a blog post that purports to explain life in the eyes of someone who got laid off.

But truly, most of what I've done in the last month is learn about my feelings and how to deal with them productively.

I've gone to some of the darkest places I've ever gone in my life this past month. The shame, the fear, the depression, the embarrassment, the anger... all of those feelings are easy to deal with when you ignore them like I had been for my entire adult life.

But your body can only handle ignoring them for so long. Eventually, you find yourself leaving work early and rushing to the hospital because your heartbeat is noticeably irregular, and your heart feels like an orange being crushed in the hands of a strongman, adrenaline secreting between their fingers.

One thousand and six hundred dollars later, you're told that there's nothing physically wrong with you. Go see a therapist.

Your body remembers each and every time you ignore those feelings, those warning signs. Those "gut checks" that you decide to push aside because it doesn't align with what you think you should be doing.

Eventually, it all boils over.

So that's what I've been up to this month: looking back at the past twenty years of my life and beating myself up for years of beating myself up.

It hasn't all been atonement, though. I've also started to hope again. I've had moments where I'm excited again for what's next.

Even if that's something as simple as waiting for a hug from my kids when they get home from school, or watching an episode of Drag Race with my wife every Friday.

Those little things are the things that keep me going, and they're giving me the energy to start looking forward to how I can get back out in the world and be helpful.

Things I've learned

Here are all the random things I've been contemplating over the past month:

👨‍🎨 Personal growth insights

My 7 year old daughter told us she thinks she's getting too old for Barbie.

This was crushing for me and my wife to hear, but for different reasons.

For my wife, it was the prototypical "my kid is growing up" response that all parents feel when they see their kid age. I don't wanna minimize that feeling, because I certainly feel it myself: it's bittersweet to see your kids grow up.

But for me, it was a good reminder that the grass is always greener on the other side.

I can't remember the last time I dreamed about what I wanted. I feel like I've been coasting for at least the last several years.

Besides hanging with my family/friends and the occasional fun project at work, there hasn't been much driving me forward to grow.

And that's probably where a good chunk of my depression is coming from.

I could either sit and analyze the "why" (and trust me when I say that I have), but the more important thing is to be grateful for coming to this realization and making strides towards dreaming again.

My problem is that I, uh, kind of forgot how to do that.

Part of it stems from my engineering brain continually looking for edge cases that cause me to reject a dream wholesale.

Another big part of it might be this fear of losing what I've already got. I worked hard to build a reputation, I've got a great family that needs to be provided for, I've got a house that needs maintenance and improvements, the list goes on and on.

But whatever the reason, I find that dreaming is a muscle that can atrophy. I have a similar theory about being extroverted: after the pandemic, I found being around people to be exhausting in a way that I never felt before. My extroversion tendencies returned as I continually subjected myself to new groups of people.

Dreaming feels the same way: continually practicing and refining the act of dreaming is the only way to get good at it.

That's what makes me jealous of my daughter and son.

I watch them play with Barbies together, and their ability to play baffles me.

How can you just start playing?

How can you come up with new scenarios and then go for it?

I ended up talking to my daughter about this. It felt great to share with her how I'm jealous of her ability to be young and idealistic and have a vision for how her life can be, and I'm jealous of how she's able to express that vision through her play.

She ended up deciding to keep her Barbies, and I'm extremely grateful for that. It means there's still more time for me to learn first hand from the master of dreaming.

She'lo yada, yada.

I was speaking with someone about struggling to make a decision that needed to be made, and he told me about this expression that he heard his family say a lot growing up.

It's a Hebrew expression that means "He who doesn't know, knows."

This pairs nicely with the Derek Sivers axiom of "Hell Yes, or No," where something is either impossible to say no to, or you simply say no to it.

Both of these, of course, are "easier said than done" aphorisms to adopt, but it's good to document them nonetheless.

It's awesome to end things.

I spoke with a friend who ran a very popular blog about his adventures traveling to various breweries, and we were both talking about how we were considering winding down our various beer-related projects.

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I keep coming across articles expressing the importance to consider the ending to whatever you start.

At one networking event, I heard a speaker ask "what is the percentage likelihood that you will exit your business?"

The answer: 100%.

Because at some point, you will die.

That is the ultimate finality, of course, but the longer I'm around here on earth, the more I have to start embracing the good side of things ending.

I built mncraft.beer a decade ago because my wife and I were extremely passionate about supporting craft breweries, and we had a goal to get to every single brewery in the state.

Fast forward ten years, our ambitions have changed. It's difficult to convince two young kids to sit in a car for several hours on a weekend, let alone motivate myself to spend all that time traveling to visit a brewery that, in all likelihood, only produces mediocre beer.

I've gotten all that I can get out of that project. My biggest takeaway is that a brewery often is a boon for a small town. Even if the beer isn't going to win any awards, we all collectively need more third spaces, and breweries act as a fantastic gathering place for a community.

According to my Untappd account, I've had 7,445 beers since joining the app in August of 2012. Of that, 4,346 of them were unique. I've had 200 different styles of beers, and I've learned that I like Pilsners, Belgians (anywhere from Dubbels to Quads), Extra Special Bitters, Kölsch beers, and straight up, old school IPAs.

I know what good beer tastes like, and I know what breweries make good beers in our state.

So what's the benefit to continuing that app?

I shared a video from Hank Green last year about letting go of the dreams of your past in order to free yourself up for new ones, and that's the mindset I gotta adopt here.

It's always sad to end things. I remember every closing circle after a show would end in theatre was a mess of emotions and tears. I remember losing our final football game in high school, looking around the field, seeing tears and frustrations mount on the faces of my teammates. You never wanna say goodbye to something that gave you so much joy.

It kind of reminds me of this exchange from Hook (one of my favorite movies of all time):1

Hook: Are you ready to die, boy?

Peter: To die would be a great adventure.

Killing off parts of our former self on which we linger is a privilege which allows us to fully move on to the next adventure.

Al Snow on Success

I felt under the weather this month for a couple days, and on one of those days, I decided to watch the Wrestlers documentary on Netflix.

Two things I want to mention about that:

First, the whole thing felt like a work-shoot to me. I love the way professional wrestling blurs the line between what's real and what's made up.

It felt like the documentarians were very intentional about painting Al as the babyface (the good guy) and Matt Jones as the heel (the bad guy).

I hope OVW gets a good boost in viewership as a result of the documentary. They did a great job of showing how the sauce gets made, and I'm sure they know it's the exact sort of thing that hooks in smart marks like me.

Second, since I assume all of those wrestling terms are not meaningful to most of you, here's a great quote that comes at the end of the documentary:

If you equate success in a destination (that destination being WWE), you’re probably not gonna get it. But if you equate success in doing something you’re passionate about and that you love, and that gives you purpose and drive, then you’re successful.

I keep asking myself what success means to me, and while I don't have a solid answer yet, maybe it's because I'm still working on giving myself permission to dream without restrictions.

I'll get there soon, though. I can feel it.

Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car".

After Tracy performed with Luke Combs at the Grammy's this year, I saw a post that talked about her performance of Fast Car in front of an extremely frustrated crowd at Wembley Stadium in 1988.

You can find recaps of the story online, but the long and short of it is that Stevie Wonder was refusing to go on stage at this birthday celebration for Nelson Mandela, so Tracy came back out on stage and performed Fast Car.

When you watch the video, you hear the crowd go from rowdy to genuinely moved.

It's hauntingly beautiful. That song has always been a staple in my rotation, and after hearing it performed in this way, it makes it even more special.

We should use all of our senses to find our way.

I feel like the best metaphor I can give for how depression feels to me is a fog that completely obstructs my vision.

No matter which direction I look, all I see is a dense fog of nothingness.

But what I keep reminding myself is that even when you can't see, you still have at least four other senses you can use.

I'm not sure how to use those other senses yet, but I'm starting to use my ears to listen for opportunities, my nose to sniff out which direction to walk in, and my gut to validate which direction feels right.

The Dan Patch Club serves as a template for who I wanna be when I get old.

My dad invited me to speak to The Dan Patch Club, which is a subgroup of residents and friends of the Masonic Home in Bloomington dedicated to learning and exploring various topics together.

I'm ashamed to admit that I'm not immune from playing the generational blame game. But placing each other into broad, faceless groups like "boomers" or "millennials" only makes it harder for us to pool our collective wisdom and work together to solve real problems that our society faces.

Short of vague jokes about mysticism and ritualistic masonic secrets, I honestly had no idea what to expect when my dad asked me to come speak to these Masons.

I figured the hour would be spent giving a broad introduction to generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney, but what surprised me was how many hands were raised when I asked "how many of you have used ChatGPT?"

I should've known better because I did know that this room contained two PhDs and a retired attorney. All of these guys had extremely poignant and informed questions about the use of AI in our society.

We talked about the legal implications of deep fakes, the ability to spread election propaganda at unfathomable speed, how these models "reason" and come up with "truth", and the most important question which continues to plague us information workers: "how do you turn off predictive autocomplete in Microsoft Word?"

As we were wrapping up, I actually didn’t want it to end in the same way I haven’t wanted many of my conversations to end lately.

Sparking that curiosity in people is one of the key values I've been aspiring towards as I craft my vision for the next ten years.

I hope when I’m their age, I’m still kickin’ it with my homies, whomever they may be, nerding it up about complex topics, continuing to challenge myself and grow as much as possible.

Is anxiety only reducible when you are focused on your basal instincts and needs?

It seems like the only known treatments and mitigations for anxiety center around mindfulness and getting your brain to live in the present.

Is that really it? Living in the now is the only way to make anxiety go away?

It seems like there should be more we can do to harness our ability to look into the future while keeping the major doom scenarios from spiraling in our heads.

Meditation?

Anyone have any good suggestions for developing a consistant medication practice?

I have tried apps in the past but haven't found them to be sticky or altogether helpful.

Daniel Tiger isn't only for kids.

Toward the end of February, I had a major backslide with my mental health, and it kind of came to a head one day while I was dropping my son off at daycare.

I usually let him pick out what we listen to, and he chose the Daniel Tiger's Big Feelings album.

One of the first songs on that album is called "Close Your Eyes and Think of Something Happy."

I ended up at a red light and, as I found myself descending into some negative thoughts, I decided to do exactly that.

And you know what I saw?

Absolutely nothing.

It crushed me.

I'm a grown ass man, and I couldn't even come up with a single thing in that moment to think of in order to make me happy.

Suddenly, from the back seat, I hear my boy giggling and singing along.

Man.

That moment highlighted to me how badly I needed help through this stuff. That there is a ton to be happy about.

I'm glad my son was able to help me get out of my head.

And I'm glad I'm no longer dismissing those songs as "simple kid songs." We can all use a reminder for how to process sad and angry feelings in a healthy manner.

It's easier to venture out when you know you can return home.

I heard Dr. Becky mention it in that Farnam Street podcast, but she was talking about the relationship between teenagers and parents.

I've been considering the sentiment in regards to music.

For the past five years, I've been very curious about genres of music from which I've typically shied away.

I decided to listen through my entire local library of music, which is currently sitting at 83 days of non-stop new tunes.

That library is filled with music of every type of genre imaginable. Country. Experimental free jazz. 70s East African jams. Norwegian death metal. A mashup of Metallica and The Beatles. All kinds of EDM mixes.

It took more than 4 years to get through all of it, but I finished it with an appreciation of the core albums that have been there for me my whole life.

The other day, I decided to shuffle my "key albums", which is any album I've given a star rating of 4.5 or higher.

I was instantly transported back to several happy moments in my life. Building Ralph Wiggum images in front of my computer in my childhood bedroom. Walking home to my (eventually) condemned house in college. Going for a run around the pond in Bloomington. Riding the light rail home.

Solitary moments where I didn't need to worry about what other people would think of what I was listening to.

A place where I can be myself.

That concept applies to much of our soul searching. We are only able to be truly adventurous when we know there's a safe place for us to come home to when we're weary from exploration.

I find myself drawn to people who are able to speak passionately about their cause much in the same way my kids talk about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

There's something magical about believing in something.

There's something special about having solid, firm convictions on which you stand.

It's this palpable energy you can feel emanating from someone sharing their passions.

I felt it at a couple of job interviews I had last month.

I felt it while speaking with friends about AI.

I felt it playing crazy rummy with my wife and talking about what we want to do for our ten year anniversary.

Maybe that's the feeling I should be chasing. Is that feeling "joy"?

I'm not sure where I started getting so disillusioned about that feeling in a professional context.

But I'm eager to find a job where I can surround myself with that energy once again.

Kids simply do not care about success like grown ups do.

When my daughter was 4, I'd watch her play a game where she'd have to pick the right word and she would purposefully pick the wrong one.

Like, I knew she knew the right word, but she intentionally picked the wrong one.

It sent me up a wall.

But one day, I asked her why she was picking the wrong one on purpose.

She said, "I like the noise it makes when I get it wrong."

My kids are way better at learning and dealing with uncertainty than I am.

And success is whatever you define it to be.

I can't thank you all enough.

A lot of my journaling over the past month is just, like, truly dismal.

But there are moments of light, and they're all thanks to you all.

I am forever indebted to the literal hundreds of people who have reached out to ask me how I'm doing. I'm so fortunate that I've got so many people who care about me.

I feel like I'm not able to be my own best friend right now. I find myself continually returning to a place where I can't stop beating myself up.

You know how people used to take their old cars that they don't want anymore and drive them deep into the woods and leave them there? That's how I feel right now. I feel like a beat up old car that's completely rusted through, nature slowly consuming and reclaiming it.

But it's conversations with many of you that are helping me see that's not an accurate picture of reality.

So thanks for checking in on me. It's definitely helping me get through the fog.

👨‍💼 Professional growth insights

If someone calls themselves an "expert", it's because they're trying to sell you something.

This insight came from a talk by the incredible Jim Wilt that technically came from January, but I didn't include it in last month's post and want to make sure I include it now.

My inbox is a prime source of stress.

It's a roulette wheel where sometimes you win big (a job offer, a congratulatory email, a rave review), but you also sometimes lose big (a threat of a lawsuit, a late bill notice).

I'm still learning how to separate work from my personal life, but a good place to start is to go to your settings on your phone and turn the inbox off for your work email.

You don't need to remove it altogether.

But when I was at Bionic Giant, I turned it off, and it helped my stress levels immensely at night.

It allowed me to turn it on if I needed access to a message on my phone during the day, but then I could easily turn it off at night so I didn't get distracted when I went to my inbox to read a newsletter.

It's awfully hard to say "no."

I wrote a lot in my journal this month about how a lot of my anxiety stems from saying "yes" to everyone and everything.

One reason I can't say "no" is because I'm not sure what I actually want. Saying "yes" at least gives me the chance to figure out if it's something I want.

But when I say "yes" to too many things, I never get a chance to sit back and reflect on whether it was something I wanted.

Which basically describes the first decade+ of my professional career. I say "yes" to the point where I have no room in my schedule to reflect.

I need a better analogy for how generative AI arrives at its solutions when compared to a search engine.

If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

I don't get why I feel so guilty for feeling sick.

I find it next to impossible to rest as it is.

But when I'm sick, it's like my anxiety works in overdrive to try and let me know that I'm falling behind on stuff.

I said this earlier, but I felt a little under the weather one day this past month, and I ended up calling folks and cancelling my meetings with them. The guilt I felt was incredible.

I appreciate having anxiety to keep me thinking through possible problems and pushing myself to move forward to fix them, but the combination of the "fight or flight" and "freeze" responses makes it tough to get anything done.

Learning new things becomes a lot harder as you age.

I was turned down from a job I was rather hopeful to get because I don't have the experience in the Javascript framework that they were looking for.

So I decided I was gonna sit down this past week and learn it.

I tell you, I watched three different tutorials, and I could not bring myself to finishing any of them.

The problem here is that I already know how to build web apps. I've been doing it since I was eight years old.

I've learned how to build web apps by hand, by using PHP, by using Laravel (a framework built using PHP), by using Wordpress, and by using Ruby on Rails.

And you know what I've realized after all that learning? They're all slightly different ways of achieving the same thing.

And guess what? There are roughly a dozen different additional popular ways to build and deploy web apps. There's all kinds of containerization techniques to deploy scalable platforms. There are cloud providers that allow you to spin up all sorts of architectures to scale your platform. There are a bajillion different Javascript frameworks to write your code in, along with a quadrillion CSS frameworks to style your apps in.

I may have hit my Morgan Freeman in Shawshank moment where I simply don't care what technology we use anymore.

You feel compelled to use Rails to build a monolith? Great!

You think you're gonna hit a scale that requires a complex microservice infrastructure built on hundreds of lambdas? Fine, sure, let's do it.

The thing is, I don't want to learn a new framework for the sake of learning a new framework.

If I needed to figure out a specific architecture for a job, I am 100% confident that I could do it, even if it requires using a framework that I've never used. That's what nearly 30 years of building on the internet does for me.

[...]

Can I be real with you all for a minute?

Of all the sections I've written in this blog post, this one is the one I am having the hardest time releasing to the world.

I have a feeling I'm coming off as a bit of a crybaby.

I recognize that any craftsperson needs to hone their craft and stay up to date with the latest tooling in order to be marketable.

My problem may be that I'm conflating burnout symptoms with my general interest in learning new things.

In every development project I've ever worked on, I've had to learn new things.

There's always a new API, a new SDK, a new framework to pick up.

It's been part of my agency life for my entire career.

Maybe my problem isn't with learning new things. Maybe it's that I'm exhausted from having to whip around from tech to tech without ever taking an opportunity to go deep on any one of them in particular.

Even as a seasoned Ruby on Rails developer with more than a decade of use, I feel like I'm falling behind with all the fancy new Rails 7 functionalities like serving HTML over the wire.

There are a million different ways to build websites, and I'm struck with the realizing that I'll never learn all of them.

Maybe I have to decide whether I want to sharpen the tools I do know intimately, or whether now is a time to adopt new tools and put in the work to become an expert with those ones.

They say learning new things becomes harder as you get older.

What's next for me

Last month, I committed to coming back with a more clear vision of what I want my life to be. I don't think I'm at a point where I'm ready to articulate my vision, so I am going to continue spending time honing that through journaling, meditation, and conversation. I hope to be in a place to share a rough draft with y'all next month.

I also want to keep up my recent blitz of sharing links here on my blog. I'm going to add in a "tagging" feature to my posts so I can start keeping better track of things I talk about on here and find them more easily.

I also want to start podcasting again. I will commit that by next month, I'll be able to tell you what my new podcast will be about. My friend Dana and I are going to start meeting once a week to hold each other accountable on our various endeavors, and that's what I'll be spending that time plotting.

If you're reading this and want to know how you can help me, here's how:

  1. If you know of a full time (32-40 hr/week) job opportunity where I can help architect a complex software system for a meaningful organization and lead a team of people to get it built, please send it my way.
  2. If you come across any thought leaders who are speaking about AI from a perspective of what it will mean for our humanity (in how we work, how we organize, how we think, etc.), please connect them with me!

Thanks again for reading all the way to the end! If you did, I would love to hear if anything resonated with you. Shoot me an email or a note on LinkedIn.


  1. The next line in this exchange is, ironically, "Death is the only adventure you have left," which I don't feel fits neatly into my narrative here, but it's still a great movie. I can't wait for my kids to be old enough to enjoy it like I still do. 


Captain's log: the irreducible weirdness of prompting AIs


🔗 a linked post to oneusefulthing.org » — originally shared here on

There are still going to be situations where someone wants to write prompts that are used at scale, and, in those cases, structured prompting does matter. Yet we need to acknowledge that this sort of “prompt engineering” is far from an exact science, and not something that should necessarily be left to computer scientists and engineers.

At its best, it often feels more like teaching or managing, applying general principles along with an intuition for other people, to coach the AI to do what you want.

As I have written before, there is no instruction manual, but with good prompts, LLMs are often capable of far more than might be initially apparent.

If you had to guess before reading this article what prompt yields the best performance on mathematic problems, you would almost certainly be wrong.

I love the concept of prompt engineering because I feel like one of my key strengths is being able to articulate my needs to any number of receptive audiences.

I’ve often told people that programming computers is my least favorite part of being a computer engineer, and it’s because writing code is often a frustrating, demoralizing endeavor.

But with LLMs, we are quickly approaching a time where we can simply ask the computer to do something for us, and it will.

Which, I think, is something that gets to the core of my recent mental health struggles: if I’m not the guy who can get computers to do the thing you want them to do, who am I?

And maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe “normal people” will still hate dealing with technology in ten years, and there will still be a market for nerds like me who are willing to do the frustrating work of getting computers to be useful.

But today, I spent three hours rebuilding the backend of this blog from the bottom up using Next.JS, a JavaScript framework I’ve never used before.

In three hours, I was able to have a functioning system. Both front and backend. And it looked better than anything I’ve ever crafted myself.

I was able to do all that with a potent combination of a YouTube tutorial and ChatGPT+.

Soon enough, LLMs and other AGI tools will be able to infer all that from even rudimentary prompts.

So what good can I bring to the world?

Continue to the full article


Spoiler Alert: It's All a Hallucination


🔗 a linked post to community.aws » — originally shared here on

LLMs treat words as referents, while humans understand words as referential. When a machine “thinks” of an apple (such as it does), it literally thinks of the word apple, and all of its verbal associations. When humans consider an apple, we may think of apples in literature, paintings, or movies (don’t trust the witch, Snow White!) — but we also recall sense-memories, emotional associations, tastes and opinions, and plenty of experiences with actual apples.

So when we write about apples, of course humans will produce different content than an LLM.

Another way of thinking about this problem is as one of translation: while humans largely derive language from the reality we inhabit (when we discover a new plant or animal, for instance, we first name it), LLMs derive their reality from our language. Just as a translation of a translation begins to lose meaning in literature, or a recording of a recording begins to lose fidelity, LLMs’ summaries of a reality they’ve never perceived will likely never truly resonate with anyone who’s experienced that reality.

And so we return to the idea of hallucination: content generated by LLMs that is inaccurate or even nonsensical. The idea that such errors are somehow lapses in performance is on a superficial level true. But it gestures toward a larger truth we must understand if we are to understand the large language model itself — that until we solve its perception problem, everything it produces is hallucinatory, an expression of a reality it cannot itself apprehend.

This is a helpful way to frame some of the fears I’m feeling around AI.

By the way, this came from a new newsletter called VectorVerse that my pal Jenna Pederson launched recently with David Priest. You should give it a read and consider subscribing if you’re into these sorts of AI topics!

Continue to the full article