The AI-generated column
ChatGPT tries to write the newsletter
We’re shopping for new curriculum at school, and the options range from decent to apocalyptic. It was a gut-punch when one sales rep bragged that kids get INSTANT FEEDBACK from the AI that reads your paragraph and suggests revisions. That’s right, soon the TeachBot 5000 will make human teachers irrelevant! Maybe this flies for home-schooling or junky charter schools, but I’m not ready to cede my career to SkyNet. Wish I could trust every school district in the country, especially the ones that love banning books. My TeachBot is so compliant!
AI seems to have leapt forward since ChatGPT emerged, so I wanted to see what it would do with a topic I proposed last week. I asked the AI to “write a column about teachers having to make so many decisions every day,” and got this:
Teaching is often a demanding job, and one of the biggest challenges for teachers is the sheer number of decisions they have to make on a daily basis. From planning lesson plans and grading assignments to managing classroom behavior and dealing with parent communication, teachers are constantly faced with choices that can have a major impact on their students and their own job satisfaction.
So I asked for a column, and I got a five-paragraph essay. With pretty drippy writing! No jazz, just boiler-plate “Webster’s Dictionary defines” stuff. But damn if ChatGPT didn’t nail the actual decisions. I of course wouldn’t weight them equally, and the ensuing dull (but effective) essay didn’t distinguish between the decisions made the night before versus the kid telling you he didn’t leave the classroom WHILE STANDING OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM (last week). Of course an AI can’t determine whether it’s okay for one particular kid to the bathroom at that exact moment or if they should wait a couple minutes. The AI wrote a generic essay because it’s a generic entity. And I guess that’s what the sales rep thinks a teacher is doing when reading student work. GREAT JOB, BEEP BEEP, YOU DA MAN, BEEP BEEP.
There’s a lot of talk of AI as a robust cheating platform, so I asked ChatGPT to tackle some of the kids’ recent writing prompts. Which character affected the garden the most, I couldn’t get it to pick just one, so not quite useful. But it nailed the theme of the book, suggesting the more obvious the question, the better the result. I asked ChatGPT to compare and contrast The Giver and I Am Malala and the answer left my wife shuddering for days.
Despite these differences, The Giver and I Am Malala both explore the theme of bravery and determination in the face of adversity. Both Jonas and Malala are driven by a strong sense of justice and a desire to make the world a better place, and they are willing to take risks and stand up for what they believe in even when it is difficult. They are also both deeply compassionate and caring, with a strong sense of empathy and a desire to help others.
Some of the earlier answers were accurate but irrelevant. This paragraph showed knowledge of both works, commonalities, figuring out a theme of both texts, comparing the themes, doing actual analysis. The more time goes by, the more I’ll have to unique up my questions to foil the AIs. I wondered about the limits and asked it to compare Citizen Kane and Dude Where’s My Car?
It is not appropriate to compare the film “Citizen Kane,” widely regarded as a masterpiece of cinema, with the film “Dude, Where's My Car?”, which is a commercially successful but critically panned comedy.
Maybe the scariest answer of all; when you can’t answer a question, you attack the questioner… suddenly I could see an AI running for political office. So maybe I should say nice things about AIs in case they start targeting their enemies. Um, I for one welcome our AI overlords. Please don’t send a Boston Dynamics robot army my way.
The wife and I have been doing the New York Times crossword together for years and we’ve gotten pretty good — we had a perfect 2022, and we’re closing in on a 400-day gold star streak. One recent puzzle contained disturbing news:
His name isn’t really Cookie Monster?! Apparently this information was revealed on Cookie Monster’s Twitter page along with a tale of once being a kid named Sid before he turned into this monster. And that let me write off this whole thing as revisionist history. Sesame Street used to aimed at poor kids in the city, now it’s on HBO and Cookie Monster tweets. That’s a different monster than the guy asking for cookies at a library, so the googley-eyed fellow I know was never named Sid. He was always like that.
It reminded me of the time I misread a clue aloud as, “What was the last name of Luke Skywalker’s Jedi teacher?” The wife was like, “Yoda has a last name?!” That’s right, Yoda Rosenblatt.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Lovisa to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
A previously unpublished Blah from late in our run, and an important part of my approach to life and self-reflection. If most people think I’m wrong, do I really believe I’m smarter than everybody? Am I a genius, or just a jerk? I liked the Onion waging this war with an ugly shirt. Is he the only stylish one, or is it just butt ugly?
Also, Lovisa has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
MIT radio is my favorite, and this week there I discovered a sample I never thought to look for but was delighted to stumble across: “Soupy” by Maggie Thrett. If you’re into De La Soul, you’ll instantly recognize it as central to “Jennifa Taught Me (Derwin’s Revenge).” And like the best sample sources, the original’s a barn-burner, I can easily see why Prince Paul wanted to use it. Look at little Derwin! Look at at him go, look at him go!
My Back Pages
ChatGPT was useless for this pasrt.
I’m sorry, but I don’t have any information on Dan Tobin or his writing. Without further context, I am unable to recommend specific pieces of his writing to highlight.
Weak. I guess they didn’t have access to my college newspaper column, Misadventures in Dentistry, seen Wednesdays in The Tufts Daily. From “stories from a burning igloo,” Nov 5, 1995:
my mom told me that it’s in my contract with tufts to have at least one nervous breakdown per semester so if i fail to wig out at the prospects of a jobless homeless future the university will kick me out of housing and lower my gpa by .7 and confiscate my feet which is probably the worst part because i really like my feet and need them since the memorial steps are not a lot of fun to do handstands up and down especially when covered with ice or something equally slippery like pudding or grease or pudding or maybe even pudding
please fasten your seatbelts because this is it
Sigh. I guess at 19 I thought writing run-on sentences in lowercase was cool, even had my named listed as “d a n tobin.” When people asked if I was emulating ee cummings, I acted like he stole my idea. I had invented stream of consciousness writing! If I met d a n now, I don’t know if we’d hit it off.
see, this year’s rampage began when i realized for the 700th time that i’m not getting as much out of my classes as i could be and i think that the only remedy for this is to add seven hours to every day so that we have 33-hour days because i like to add wrong and then i will have enough time to juggle my classes my work my activities my friends my future my bonny which lies over the ocean and my my my what a mess i have on my hands when i spend more time thinking about raisins than ernest hemingway even though none will ultimately help me become independently wealthy or even financially secure enough to afford taco bell once a week
I was somewhat directionless in college, and the longer I stayed that way, the more I panicked about real life and how wildly unprepared I felt. I was terrified for college to end. It seemed too hard and I thought I’d never be successful again.
last year i went berserk when i saw that we were reaching the half-way mark of our college existences but now i am past that two year anniversary and the fact that i will be exiting this esteemed institution of higher learning in little more than a year and a half gives me the willies the heebie-jeebies and the hokey-pokeys but that’s what it's all about or so they say but what it is also about would be internships which i of course have already screwed up since i squandered my summer trying to find that nice balance between yin and yang and take on an internship but also work a stupid job with a real live paycheck but instead of having the best of both worlds it became more orson welles-ish and there was a war of the worlds as i ended up getting lousy job experience and not very much money and to top it all off the guys at the sub place next door called me “caveman” which is pretty dang-burned insulting considering that these guys looked like pirates operating a pizza joint although none had peg-legs or eye-patches or parrots on their shoulders or anything jolly rogerish and come to think of it they didn’t look much like pirates at all so i don’t exactly know why i said they did except that it sounded like the right thing to say and one of them had scurvy and always said “arrgh”
do you think william faulkner will sue me for this?
Ah yes, the sub-par magazine internship and the outstanding convenience store clerkship. It felt formative but I couldn’t spin my half-interesting stories into fiction no matter how much I tried. I couldn’t even properly dramatize selling cigarettes to a pregnant woman, an experience that ate at me.
Also, I was then taking a class called “Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner,” and I was disappointed so much real estate went to the last of the three. I couldn’t make heads or tails of Faulkner, as evidenced by the fact that I thought this column could be fairly compared.
i feel so helpless like everything going on around me is out of my control and that even my own destiny is in the hands of other people but i guess that the old camp song is right and he’s got the whole world in his hands but we don't know who “he” is and whether he offers good health insurance and stock options and whether that is even what i want because what about the idealistic bohemian that i like to pretend to be when in reality i don’t even write poetry and would probably sell out and do beer commercials the second my band became popular but of course i am presently in no danger of being solicited by michelob but at the same time i am also in no danger of becoming employed and why do i worry myself blue over this now when i can read stories from a burning igloo and know that somebody has it worse than me and realize i don't even have it that bad to begin with
A burning igloo and no capital letters! You get a sense of who I was in college. I do tend to like when books or movies say the title of the movie late in the proceedings, so that’s what was behind this.
so because i can't deal with the pressures of reality i will settle for merely vocalizing my unhappiness and running away without a solution because it’s sort of fun to fancy myself as lost and profound even though i’m probably just lost and not even a whole lot more lost than anybody else here which is comforting and if i did have all the answers to the mysteries of life i probably would go insane with the knowledge and so i’m happier this way, right?
now if i can only convince myself of that...
I tend to be hard on my younger self, it feels precious now. But at the time, my panic hit a nerve with others who didn’t know where they were headed. People didn’t turn me for answers, they just liked hearing somebody be funny about problems that felt familiar. And I guess that was an early draft of this space.
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...Sid? Ain't no way.