Living room, with TV, bookshelves, and guitar.
Our living room — February 11, 2023.

Another Week: Number 7

by | February 12, 2023

It’s been a quiet week here in the neighborhood — until the past 15 minutes or so when a neighbor’s dog began plaintively wailing to be let back inside. There will be about 30 seconds of silence, and then a new wail, slightly more intricate and emphatic than the last. This dog has the blues, man.

It’s 8 p.m. and 36 degrees out there. Let’s hope someone responds soon.

Below are my notes from the past seven days.


80 for Brady — bad reviews

After Amy yelled “Gisele was right!” at the end of Tom Brady’s merciless thrashing by the Dallas Cowboys on January 16, I have been entertaining her with reviews of 80 for Brady, some sticky Hollywood glop that has grossed $19 million to date.

I myself have been sour on Tom Brady since he stood in the spotlight at George W. Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address — despite not bothering to vote in the previous presidential election.

My opinion wasn’t improved by watching a recent CBS Sunday Morning piece about the movie, and learning that Tom Brady hadn’t even bothered to meet the two remaining octogenarians who inspired his multiplex payday.

So I was tickled to read this February 4 piece by Corbin Smith aloud to Amy:

Rolling Stone: Tom Brady, Cheating Trump Fanatic, Ruins ‘80 for Brady’

In it, Smith not only dismantles the movie but also mocks Brady’s brand of football (“stupid little slant passes, move the chains, rinse and repeat”) and especially his counterfeit humanity:

The NFL, who has to carry this fucking guy around with them from here on out, wants you to feel like Tom Brady is a man just like you. Instead, you come face to face with a horror show who appears to have no idea how human beings talk. It is as if the simulacrum died, became a lich, sewed together a Tom Brady skinsuit, and had a little conversation with Lily Tomlin. I wanted to leap through the screen and save her from that monster who was calculating how many years he could devour off her life without anyone noticing. He is a blood-curdling, inhuman screen presence.

Retired, yes — but still getting sacked.


Website spring cleaning

Quitting Twitter (and Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn) last year has brought me back to this here website and the mess it has become while I was off tweeting or networking or whatever that was for a decade and a half. Lots of dust and cruft have accumulated, so I’ve been spending hours and hours sweeping out the cobwebs, trashing some things, and reorganizing others.

During meal breaks, I watch random fellow geeks on YouTube for their own insights regarding this process.

I have also been keeping an eye, as always, on my Google Analytics data. During the long fallow stretch, my numbers were steady and reliable. Now, with my new changes, they are volatile — one day I’m cheering remarkable growth, and the next day everything is dead as a drive-in in January.

I know there will be a payoff once my recalibrations work their way through Google’s system, but right now there are moments when it feels like I’m Charlie Brown and I just killed my little Christmas tree.


65th Annual Grammy Awards

Sunday night I watched the Grammy Awards, beginning with two hours of the Associated Press’s red carpet coverage. That part was great because the hosts didn’t always name their interview subjects, and there was no on-screen titling, so I would find myself listening to some woman for several minutes before realizing she was Shania Twain.

The show itself was pretty good. I enjoy the way it brings together so many disparate creators. The efforts to finally, formally recognize hip hop were awkwardly past due. Trevor Noah was smart fulfilling his role as a host more than a comedian and avoiding making fun of the stars, which rarely goes well.

Madonna was the only serious dud of the night. Her whole aura was a headache.

Stevie Wonder was astounding. He goes back to the days of black-and-white TV, and here he was playing great, singing great, and looking great. I kind of remember him looking less great a few decades ago.

It was fun to see Bonnie Raitt just floored by her win — and Lizzo is also so genuine.


President Biden’s State of the Union Address

Listening to assorted cable news pundits all day on Tuesday, you might have thought old Joe Biden should be cleaning out his desk. X percent of Americans want someone younger. X percent of Americans think he should have already solved all of our national problems by executive order. X percent of Americans would like more money. And X percent of Americans feel like the country is “on the wrong track” — the dimmest polling question imaginable, yet presented like data direct from God.

Swamped by this nonsense, I had no idea what to expect in President Biden’s State of the Union Address — but I knew what I wanted to see. I texted my sister:

Text message, Tuesday 11:41 AM: I would use this gimmick in the State of the Union speech: ‘We will protect a woman's right to make her own decisions — but Republicans are not going to stand for it.’ Then pause while Democrats stand and Republicans don't, and repeat with the next topic.
I wasn’t that far off. Biden ticked off a litany of his accomplishments and goals — 12 million new jobs, 20,000 infrastructure projects, capping prescription drug prices, defending democracy — and Democrats cheered while Republicans sat and scowled.

From the beginning, he was kicking ass. Not a joke.

But then magic happened.

As you surely have seen by now, Biden peered into the strike zone, wound up, and threw a curve ball that Republicans swung at with everything they had. They whiffed as hard as you can possibly whiff. The nation roared with laughter — and Biden, winking, finished his shutout.

The topic was Social Security and Medicare, which from birth Republicans have privately wanted to smother. Occasionally, though, they are oblivious enough to print it or say it in public — and Joe Biden is sharp enough to nail them on it.

This is where the young man — that next generation of Democratic leadership — Mandela Barnes, failed in his campaign against Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson last fall. Barnes avoided Biden and aired commercials about eating peanut butter sandwiches.

Had he instead teamed up with Biden to call out Ron Johnson on Social Security and Medicare, he would be my senator now.


Hallie Jackson exits MSNBC

For seven years now, I have enjoyed Hallie Jackson on MSNBC. During the Trump administration, she was NBC News’ chief White House correspondent and hosted the 9 a.m. (Central) hour on MSNBC. It was as energizing as coffee. Her focus as she slalomed through the morning’s news stories, her keen curiosity in questioning guests — and sometimes her tenacity in making them answer — made each show feel packed with insight. On a channel positioned slightly left of center, her show never seemed partisan in the least. Just smart.

Then in 2021, Jackson moved to 2 p.m. Central on MSNBC and began a second show, Hallie Jackson NOW, at 4 p.m. on NBC News NOW. I watch this regularly on the NBC News Roku channel, but it also streams on YouTube and elsewhere.

Starting Monday, Jackson’s streaming show will expand to two hours. But as of Friday, her MSNBC days are done.

Were it up to me, I’d have her anchor NBC Nightly News. I don’t think they have anyone better. But I also would have replaced Chuck Todd with Kasie Hunt.

Meanwhile, the core of MSNBC that got me through the Obama/Trump years seems to be getting dismantled piece by piece. Oh, well.

Okay, maybe slightly partisan.

ChatGPT: Artificial intelligence for what?

One story that no TV newsperson — not even Hallie Jackson — could resist over the past couple of weeks is the one where you have ChatGPT write the intro to your news story, and then go on to reveal the mind-boggling danger that such artificial intelligence poses to … well, school essays, probably.

But aside from the giant school essay market, what is this technology actually for? That’s what I don’t understand.

You have a thing capable of generating a ton of content that — at a glance — appears to be meaningful, but it isn’t. It’s fake, filler content.

Where would this be useful? Of course, as a web designer, SEO was the first thing that leapt to my mind:

Search Engine Land: How ChatGPT can help you create content for SEO

We’re already subjected to plenty of this whenever we try to find a recipe for oatmeal on the web. Before you can see the oatmeal recipe, you have to scroll through a story about family members who enjoy oatmeal, a history of oatmeal, and a gallery of oatmeal photos — all oatmeal-themed padding aimed at getting Google to rank the page higher. Search engine optimization, they call it, or SEO.

So great — now we’ll have computers writing tons of this crap in order to trick other computers into ranking it higher. The web will become even more useless than much of it already is.

Plus, the AI vacuums will start sucking in more and more garbage that was written by AI, creating a sort of feedback loop of garbage in, garbage out, and maybe some oatmeal.

For example:

The Verge: 7 problems facing Bing, Bard, and the future of AI search

This is the big overarching problem, the one that potentially pollutes every interaction with AI search engines, whether Bing, Bard, or an as-yet-unknown upstart. The technology that underpins these systems — large language models, or LLMs — is known to generate bullshit. These models simply make stuff up, which is why some argue they’re fundamentally inappropriate for the task at hand.

If Donald Trump has taught us anything, it’s that we’re not very good at dealing with bullshit generators. But sure — let’s hand the internet over to them now.

Meanwhile, the effects of building one’s house on sand are beginning to be felt:

TechCrunch: Google is losing control



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