When ChatGPT and similar systems started being available, people noticed right away that they could provide completely wrong answers. But they would do so in language that was so confident and plausible (because that is how they are designed).
Some people started to say “ChatGPT lies about information”.
But somewhat immediately, people started pushing back and saying that it isn’t “lying” because that implies sentience or consciousness. Say it is “lying” is “anthropomorphizing”, i.e. attributing human behavior to something that is very definitely not human.
Instead, some people said, let’s refer to this false information as “hallucinations”, as that is in fact a term used in AI research. So we say instead “ChatGPT hallucinates information.”
I personally like that term. It provides a way to explain to people that these AI tools just make stuff up!
But, as noted in this excellent Ars Technica article by Benj Edwards (that you really need to read to understand all this!), the use of “hallucination” has two issues:
Which is fine… I can go along with that reasoning.
But… the author then suggests instead we use the term from psychology of “confabulation”, as in:
”ChatGPT confabulates information”
Hmm. While I get that “confabulation” may be more technically accurate, I think it still has the issues:
But more importantly… “confabulation” is NOT A WORD PEOPLE REGULARLY USE!
At least, people who are not in psychology.
If we as technologists want to help the broader public understand these AI systems, both their opportunities and challenges, then we need to speak in plain language.
I do think we need to go back to the beginning and just say “ChatGPT lies”.
This has two important aspects:
Yes, it’s anthropomorphizing. No, ChatGPT and other AI systems are NOT human or sentient. No, they can’t really “lie” in the human understanding of it.
But we can use that term to help people understand what is happening here.
ChatGPT and other systems are lying. They are NOT giving you true information.
Let’s call it like it is.
P.S. It turns out that Simon Willison, who has been diving deep into the world of AI far more than I, has written something similar: “We need to tell people ChatGPT will lie to them, not debate linguistics” - please read Simon’s post for a another view!
Image credit: from Bing Image Create (DALL-E) using prompt “create an image showing an AI that is hallucinating”
On April 8, 2008, I started using Evernote as a place to store all my various notes. It would come to be a critical part of my daily workflow… so much so that I became a paying customer back in 2011 or so.
Today, March 13, 2023, I uninstalled it from my devices.
It’s been a long time coming. Way back in 2012 I was super frustrated with how they destroyed the Skitch application with its 2.0 release. And yet I kept using Evernote because it had become my central repository. And… I hung on long enough that many of the Skitch features I complained about in that post were brought back.
In fact, I basically stayed with Evernote BECAUSE of how easy Skitch made taking - and adjusting - screenshots. Do a quick screenshot, tweak it, adjust it, annotate it… and have the result live on inside of Evernote, where it could then be tagged and further annotated.
Pretty much every single screenshot I’ve taken across my blogs in the past 10+ years has been done with Skitch.
I stayed with Evernote through all their various pivots… getting more annoyed each time they did something new. No, I didn’t want Chat to be everywhere… no, I didn’t want collaboration pieces - I’m the only user of my Evernote account! No, I didn’t want any of the other features they kept adding. All I wanted to do was add simple notes and also screen captures! I also watched in concern as there were layoffs at various times.
Then yet another redesign happened in early 2021 that changed how the application operated! When you opened up the app, the notes were no longer instantly there. It seemed like you had to wait for them to download from the server.
It was at that point that I actively started looking at ALL THE MANY alternatives that had emerged… and getting into a bit of “analysis paralysis”.
Finally, what pushed me to end was their latest price increase this year that jumped the pricing I was on by about 40%. Combined with my continually growing dissatisfaction, and a concern about the uncertainty of the direction of the new owners… I migrated all my notes and canceled my subscription.
The good news, as I understand it, is that even with the free version all my data will still be intact inside the Evernote app. So if I missed anything in the migration I should be able to get it.
I chose to migrate to using Obsidian. I could probably write several posts about WHY, but the simplest answer is:
The beauty of Obsidian is that it uses plain, old, regular Markdown files! They are just md files in a directory. You can edit them with ANY appropriate editor! You don’t need to use the actual Obsidian app. You can open them with other editors. You can move them around and re-organize them simply in Finder on a Mac.
And you can put those Markdown files wherever you want. In my case I’ve put them in a folder on my personal iCloud Drive. This enables me to easily access them across all my IOS devices and Macs. And I can do so without using a centralized architecture from the vendor. I mean, yes, iCloud is centralized… but that is needed for the sync between devices. I could have used Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive or even set up my own NextCloud instance.
I mean.. yes, the Obsidian developers do offer an “Obsidian Sync” service … and I might choose to use that if I see issues with syncing via iCloud. But the point is I HAVE CHOICES, which I didn’t have with Evernote. I was locked into whatever they were doing - and however they were changing the user interface - or the pricing.
With Obsidian I have the freedom that if I don’t like what they’re doing, I can just stop using the app. The “vault” is just a folder of markdown files. Easy enough to use with other apps.
The actual process of migrating was not terribly difficult. Douglas Muth, another frustrated long-time Evernote user, wrote out excellent instructions about his migration to Obsidian.
1. Export each Evernote notebook as an Evernote XML (“ENEX”) file. (Select notebook, Ctrl- or right-click to bring up menu, choose Export…)
2. Install YARLE and run it for every ENEX file. This will create folders full of markdown files and at lease one with attachments.
3. Move the folders of markdown files into your Obsidian vault (wherever you have stored it). Now Obsidian will show those notes there!
Now… it DID take a bit to figure out the various YARLE settings and what I wanted to do. If you install YARLE for the command line, Douglas Muth provides a script to help use the common configuration options. I opted to try the graphical version of YARLE which required some different tweaking. I also had an issue where the graphical YARLE was not putting images into an attachments folder inside each folder… no matter how many times I changed the options.
But in the end, it all worked.
I have the Obsidian app on all my devices, and, courtesy of iCloud Drive, they are all working off the same set of markdown files.
So… goodbye, Evernote! You were super helpful at different times… when you weren’t trying to get me to use whatever latest pivot you were making.
P.S. I’ll note that someone else did the migration by using Notion as an intermediary. That may perhaps work for you, but I wanted to keep all my files on my local computer and not give them to yet another service.
Today I was wondering why “March 13” was pulling at the back of my brain as a date of some importance… and then I realized why.
Three years ago today, everything changed.
It was on Friday, March 13, 2020, that Governor Phil Scott issued Executive Order 01-20, “Declaration of State of Emergency in Response to COVID-19 and National Guard Call-Out”. It imposed visitor restrictions at hospitals and state facilities, restricted travel by state employees, prohibited large gatherings, and called up the National Guard to assist. The Executive Order did not itself shut down schools, but it directed the Secretary of Education to prepare for school closings. And only a few days later, all schools would shut down.
It concludes with this section that was in retrospect rather optimistic (my emphasis added):
This Executive Order shall take effect upon signing and shall continue in full force and effect until April 15, 2020, at which time the Governor, in consultation with VDH and DPS/VEM, shall assess the emergency and determine whether to amend or extend this Order.
How little did we know then...
The Governor would of course extend that Order… again and again and again...
Our lives would change in SO MANY ways.
And in fact we would come to divide our lives and world into “now” and a “time before the pandemic”.
For us here in Vermont, that journey into pandemic precautions all began… three years ago… today.
For most of 50 years, I held very firm to the belief that the ONLY time I should ever see a time beginning with a “4” in the morning was when I needed to get up and go to the airport to catch an early flight. Otherwise, any time like 4:30am was just downright uncivil and hostile. I should be asleep at that time. I should NEVER be awake at times beginning with a 4.
And yet… here I am writing this post at 4:55am. 🤷♂️
What happened? Well, our dog got older! (And I might have, too.😉)
For some context, I have always been an early riser. Ever since I was a child.
But for the first 35 years of my life “early” was defined as 6:00am.
That was when I woke up. Never at times beginning with a 5, either. 6:00am or later.
I am also one of those people who snaps wide awake and is fully alert and ready to go. No “wake up time” needed. It’s like a light switch where I am no longer asleep - I am now fully awake. And… fully talkative 😀, to the immense annoyance of every roommate I have ever had, including my wife. (The success of our marriage for 26 years so far is perhaps in part because I learned NOT to talk to her when she wakes up! 🤣)
And then our first daughter was born… and in a bit of karmic retribution, she had the same “instant on and fully talkative” characteristics as me, but she ratcheted the wake up time back to 5:30am! 😀
Suddenly, I was seeing times that began with a 5!
Seven years later, our second daughter was born and she continued the progression by getting up even earlier, closer to 5:00am!
And so it was for many years until they hit teenage years and flipped to wanting to sleep in later. (They are now 20 and 13.)
By that time, however, I was stuck with a body that had now adjusted to waking up in times beginning with a “5”.
Still, times with a “4” were only ever to be for airport trips!
Then, starting about five years ago or so, our dear dog started to wake up increasingly early and want to go outside. At times like 4:30am!
At 15 years old, she’s still in great physical condition, prancing around sometimes like she is MUCH younger. But… when a girl’s gotta go… someone has to let her outside… and due to the aforementioned “instant on” capabilities, that someone is… me.
We’ve tried all sorts of things to see if we could get her to just wait until maybe a time starting with a “5”. We kept her up much later. We changed feeding schedules. We let her out very late in the evening. (Okay, which for us.. “very late” means 10pm 🤣)
Nothing worked. She still gets up sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 am.
So here I am! Wide awake, alert, enthusiastic… at a time beginning with a 4!
As I’ve frequently lamented in my yearly themes (although not this year), I would like to get myself to write more. And back on December 1, 2022, I tried to commit to #100DaysOfBlogging, but that hasn't worked out so well.
I’ve been watching how I spend my time lately, and to I’m sure the surprise of absolutely NO ONE, including myself, it would seem the single biggest thing preventing me from doing more writing is… getting distracted by social media! 🤣🤣🤣
Take this morning. I was awake early at around 5:00am (courtesy of our wonderful but early-rising dog) and I sat on our couch drinking some tea and browsing through Mastodon (you can find me there). About 1.5 hours later, I’d read some great commentary, found some new articles to share, engaged in some conversations, and generally had an enjoyable time interacting with people.
But… could part of that time have been better spent getting some writing done?
I struggle with this, because on the one hand I learn things from social media that are then useful in new articles or other work. It’s “research” of one form. And engaging with people in an online community is a good thing to do.
But on the other hand, I find myself doing this a bit too much.
I’ll note, of course, that THIS IS NOT A NEW ISSUE FOR ME! In fact, I can easily scan my archives and find I’ve been writing more or less this same kind of post for ** 15 years **! 🤦♂️
The common theme through all of that is… “I’ve got to change… I’ve got to not get so sucked into <whatever services>”.
And yet I do.
The siren song of distraction is incredibly strong.
Perhaps this is the thing where I’ll keep shouting about it in the hopes that eventually by saying it enough I will make it happen in my life.
Or perhaps in 2033 I’ll be writing the same basic post again, lamenting how much time I spend with some new service. 🤣
P.S. And I don’t even mention TikTok, which seems to be wired into my brain in a way that whenever I open up the app it is then an hour or so later when I emerge again! (Hence why I don’t open it all that often.)
In the last six months or so, I have had an unpleasant revelation about myself. I realized that for most of my 55 years of life whenever I’ve been listening to people, I’ve been listening to offer “fixes”, i.e. solutions. You’ve probably done this yourself at some point. The classic example is something like:
Someone: “Ugh.. my legs hurt so much from <skiing | biking | skating | running | hiking | etc.>"
Me: “Oh, that’s rough! You should take two ibuprofen. You’ll feel better!"
There I was, jumping in with a solution and trying to help.
But here’s the thing - they were NOT asking for help!
They were simply sharing their current condition. Perhaps looking for sympathy or empathy, but perhaps not. Maybe just saying how they were feeling.
An article I read (and now can’t find) clued me in to my errors. A couple of points:
Once I became aware of this, I realized that I did this all the time... with our oldest daughter away at university… with my wife… with our youngest daughter… with co-workers… with friends… with probably most everyone. 🙁
Part of it is, I think, my natural desire to help people. Part of it is that I’ve just always been a “fixer”.. the person you drop into a situation to figure out what needs to be done … and to get it done. And I enjoy doing that!
But I’ve realized that this is not always appropriate. That often people just want to share.. that they want to “bend an ear” and have someone listen to them. That they’re not necessarily looking for fixes. And that perhaps a better path is to ask before offering a fix.
So I’ve been trying to change. To listen more fully and to just… listen. To close my mind to what solutions might be out there and to just focus on what they are saying. To truly hear them.
I’m trying to have my responses more along the lines of one of these:
Someone: “Ugh.. my legs hurt so much from <skiing | biking | skating | running | hiking | etc.>"
Me: “Oh, that’s rough!"
Me: "Oh, that’s rough! Are you okay?"
Me: "Oh, that’s rough! Are you okay? Can I get you anything?"
And then depending upon the answer and the situation, I may now try to say something more like:
Me: “Do you want an idea that may help? Or are you all set?"
All of that before getting to offering the solution.
It’s a hard path to being a better listener… to simply “listening to hear” rather than “listening to fix”. But it’s a path I’m trying to follow..
There is an awesome clarity that comes when you have very clear priorities - and in my case one of those is my health. As I alluded to in my three words for 2023, I’ve had a couple of recent minor incidents that have brought this home to me.
A key one was back in November 2022 when I went for a routine colonoscopy. Having had colon cancer, this was my three year checkup and all was great. No signs of cancer and everything looked good.
BUT… they had to keep me a bit afterward in the recovery area until they could get an acceptable blood pressure reading. I didn’t think a whole lot of it, but a few days later when I went to our local pharmacy to pick up a prescription for our daughter, I had to wait for a bit and so I sat down in one of those blood pressure test machines that we often have in pharmacies here in the US.
And.. I had elevated blood pressure!
Not high enough to be in the “Get thee to a doctor now!” category, but more in the form of “Dude! You need to make some changes NOW if you want to be around for a while!"
So I have.
I’ve been eating healthier, reducing my sodium intake (such as not eating the pretzels and chips I love to eat), drinking more water, and… a key point… trying to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
Given that I work in a home office and don’t have to go anywhere, it’s tempting on very cold days to just stay inside, but I’ve been forcing myself to leave and go outside.
This health lens has caused me to make some choices:
In general, I’ve used the lens of “will this help me improve my health?"
Owning an Apple Watch has also been helpful. I’d dismissed the “closing the rings” Activity thing as a silly gimmick, but I’ll admit that there is a certain satisfaction in knowing I hit my daily goals. The Health app is also useful, and tracking my heart rates, sleeping, etc, is all useful.
Thankfully I have a job that is project-driven and so I can shift my work hours around and start earlier or work later so that I can do some of these things during the day. (And I do recognize that this is a privilege that many people do not have when their jobs are tied to specific hours or locations.)
My goal is that by the time summer comes around, I’m hoping to get back into the running I used to do. We’ll see. I need to be walking faster before I jump into the running again.
The good news is that this all does seem to be working. Two months later, my blood pressure is back down to near normal levels and in fact is even reading as “normal” sometimes. I’ve lost a little bit of weight (still have a long way to go). I’ve found that “Hint of salt” Wheat Thins taste pretty much the same as the regular ones - and I’ve learned how much additional sodium is in so many different foods! And I’m feeling a bit better in general.
Amazing what happens when you have that clarity of priorities in making daily choices!
P.S. I’m also playing in a curling league every Thursday night an hour north in Bedford, Quebec, which gives me two hours of movement that can be intense at times if you need to do a lot of sweeping. It’s kind of fun to look at the heart rates recorded by the Apple Watch after a game and see how up and down they can be.
Last month I boosted a post on Mastodon where an early pioneer of networking relayed an amusing story about shutting down part of the ARPANET during a storm. After I did that, I was asked “@danyork Do you have a similar story from your archive?"
As I said in a reply,I have stories, but none quite so dramatic. Born in the late 1960s, I got involved with the Internet in the mid- to late 1980s at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). I was not part of the late 1960s / early 1970s group that was involved with the ARPANET.
But I was at UNH before it became part of the Internet. We used BITNET and there was UUCP and USENET around. It was during my years there (1985-1989) that UNH became part of the Internet. I remember it being a Very Big Deal for those of us in the Computer Science program. Suddenly we would be getting “@unh.edu” email addresses and could connect to everyone else on this growing Internet.
And I was involved with BBSs and early “information services” that pre-dated all of that.
Ari’s point struck me, though. There are many of us who were around in those early days of networking who are walking around with many stories in our heads. Stories of the early days. Stories of how things were before we have the ubiquitous connectivity we have today in many parts of the world (but not all!).
There is value in capturing those stories. In part so that others can perhaps understand how things came to be the way they are. Or to learn how things once were. Or to perhaps spark memories in others. Or for the history fans to just read about what people remember.
There is value in writing or recording these stories NOW… before we forget more of them. Before people get too old to communicate - or before people die. Or, as someone I knew once wrote in the prologue of a memoire of his… “before our memories get so good that we start remembering things that never happened!” 😀
So I think I’ll start this for myself. Here. On this site in a new “History” category. I don’t know that any of my memories are particularly dramatic, and may only be of interest to myself and a few others. But I’ll start capturing them, probably in no particular order.
What about you? If you have stories of the early days of networking, can you share them somewhere?
Image: generated by DALL-E 2 with the prompt "memories of Internet history"
After Simon Willison wrote about how accurate questions from ChatGPT were when he asked “I am interviewing Simon Willison. What are some good questions I can ask them?”, I had to give it a try. Simon’s had some questions specific to the areas he works in, web development and open source, so I was curious to see what might be in one with my name.
I was particularly curious because there are so many “Dan York”s out there on the Internet.
Alas, my response from ChatGPT was boringly generic:
I am interviewing Dan York. What are some good questions I can ask them?
- Can you tell us about your background and how you became involved in your current industry/field?
- Can you walk us through a recent project or accomplishment that you are particularly proud of?
- How do you stay current and informed about developments in your industry?
- Can you discuss a challenge or obstacle you have faced in your career and how you overcame it?
- How do you prioritize and manage your workload and responsibilities?
- How do you approach problem-solving and decision-making in your role?
- Can you discuss a time when you had to adapt to a change or new technology in your field?
- Can you talk about a team or collaboration experience and the role you played in its success?
- Can you describe a specific way in which you have contributed to improving processes or efficiencies in your organization?
- What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
This could be for any of the many Dan Yorks who are out there. 😀
(But not a bad set of questions…)
So then I decided to try to be a bit more specific. I next associated my name with my employer, the Internet Society. The results were actually decent questions to ask anyone associated with the Internet Society (but not necessarily directly with me):
I am interviewing Dan York of the Internet Society. What are some good questions I can ask them?
- Can you tell us about the mission and goals of the Internet Society?
- How does the Internet Society work to promote and protect internet freedom and human rights?
- Can you speak to the role of the Internet Society in addressing the digital divide and ensuring access to the internet for all?
- How does the Internet Society work to promote and support a free and open internet?
- Can you discuss any current initiatives or projects that the Internet Society is working on?
- How does the Internet Society collaborate with other organizations and governments to advance internet policy and governance?
- Can you speak to the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach in addressing internet-related issues?
- How does the Internet Society work to promote and support internet innovation and the development of new technologies?
- Can you discuss any challenges or obstacles the Internet Society faces in achieving its mission and goals?
- How can individuals and organizations get involved and support the work of the Internet Society?
Next I decided to try specifying the state where I live, Vermont. Maybe there’s another Dan York in Vermont who owns a business, because I don’t, and so these questions were completely off for me. They could be anyone living in Vermont who owns a business:
I am interviewing Dan York of Vermont. What are some good questions I can ask them?
- What inspired you to start your business in Vermont?
- What challenges have you faced as a business owner in Vermont?
- How do you see Vermont's economy and business landscape evolving in the next few years?
- Can you tell me about a project or accomplishment that you're particularly proud of in your business?
- How do you work with other local businesses and organizations in Vermont to support the community?
- How do you stay informed and educated on changes in Vermont's business regulations and policies?
- What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a business in Vermont?
- How do you see Vermont's unique culture and environment impacting your business?
- Can you tell me about a specific way your business is environmentally or socially conscious?
- How do you see Vermont's location impacting your business in terms of logistics and transportation?
Just for grins I decided to go directly into associating my name with one of my blogs. The questions are again a good set of generic questions that could be for anyone’s blog:
I am interviewing Dan York who writes the blog "Disruptive Conversations". What are some good questions I can ask them?
- Can you tell us about your background and how you got started writing the "Disruptive Conversations" blog?
- What is the main focus of your blog and what topics do you typically cover?
- Can you share some of your most popular or impactful blog posts and what you think made them successful?
- How do you stay current with the latest trends and developments in the industry you write about?
- What are some of the most common challenges you face as a blogger, and how do you overcome them?
- How do you engage with your readers and build a community around your blog?
- Can you discuss any notable collaborations or partnerships you've had as a result of your blog?
- How do you measure the success of your blog, and what are your goals for its future?
- How do you stay motivated to continuously write and publish quality content on your blog?
- Can you share some tips for those who are interested in starting their own blog or writing content?
And that was as far as I decided to go.
All of these, though, are useful sets of questions. If someone were looking to do an interview in these areas, the questions are not a bad place to start.
Interesting to see various uses of ChatGPT.
As has been my practice for the past 14 years (see list), my first post of 2023 across all my sites is of three words that are my aspirations or “themes” for the year ahead. They are not “resolutions” so much as guiding thoughts or principles.
Health (or a health-related word) has been one of my three words in 11 of these 14 years. 🙁 BUT… the truth is that I’ve reached an UNhealthy point where I MUST prioritize caring for my body. I’ve had a couple of minor health scares. I’ve been too sedentary. And I’ve continually made some poor choices in food consumption (but… all… those… cookies!!). I need to lose a significant amount of weight and I need to get exercising again. I don’t want to be one of those mid-fifties guys who drops dead while mowing the lawn! And.. we have two amazing daughters and I’d like to be around to see where their lives go… and I’d like to grow old together with my wonderful wife. So my health MUST be a priority… really at the expense of all the other things.
The current chaos and drama at Twitter has highlighted how important an online community can be (or in truth a combination of many individual online communities). Many of us are now trying to figure out where the next communities will be. This theme will also be an important part of my work at the Internet Society this year, as I’ll be taking on a new role co-leading a project seeking to help grow “sustainable technical communities” around the world. We’ve seen over the years that where there is the strongest and most resilient Internet access, there are strong communities of technical people. They might be network operator groups (NOGs), or security-focused groups, or other user groups. Helping identify where technical communities are - and where they are not - and helping share best practices among groups will be a substantial part of my work in 2023.
Outside of work, this word and theme plays into other aspects of my local life. I’ve been getting more involved in some activities in my local town. I’m also in the leadership track for our local Rotary Club and in July I’ll become the President of the club. I’m also involved in other global communities such as the IT Disaster Resources Center (ITDRC) and of course the Wikipedia editors community.
"Community” - and building thriving communities - is SO important in all that we do.
This is a theme I haven’t included before, but over the past year of returning to some activities, including singing in a church, I have realized how much I have missed music being more of a role in my life. In 2022 I started to take some guitar classes again, which I’m hoping to continue in January. I’ve also started to do a bit more noodling around on the piano… and may actually think about some lessons somewhere in here. And, at some point in time I’d like to do some singing with a group, something I haven’t done in a couple of decades. We’ll see.
Missing from the list this year is the nearly ubiquitous “Content”. I didn’t create a great amount this year, and I’m hopeful that I will do more in 2023… but I’ve come to terms more with the reality of everything else going on. Creating content will not necessary be a “focus” area, but hopefully may be an outgrowth of some of the other work. But whatever happens, I’m not going to stress about it too much.
That’s what I’m looking forward to this year. How about you?
Dan York, CISSP, is Director, Internet Technology, at the Internet Society.
Please note that the Internet Society has no connection to this blog and any opinions stated here are entirely Dan's.