Monday, March 20, 2023

Foiling AI 101: The Pagan Guide to Creating an Imaginary Friend

 Greetings, "Gods Are Bored" fan! I'm about to heap on some handy free advice! This advice is so off the wall that I could almost see re-instating my old habit of paying you to take it. But not quite, because this is important. It's something you need to consider seriously.

I may be hopelessly paranoid. I may have watched too many "Terminator" movies or "Battlestar Galactica" episodes. But I'm mad worried about the future of AI, how it will be able to mimic human thinking. I've spent some time pondering how to maintain a mental independence from AI, and I think one way is to swim freely in imagination -- something AI probably won't develop at least in its early incarnations.

AI will certainly develop an ability to create imaginary friends, but it won't be able to detect your specific imaginary friend or friends.  This makes an imaginary friend that you share with your nearest and dearest an easy code way to communicate. 

And the best way to confound AI in the field of imaginary friends is to make yours as outre as possible.

This is where Paganism enters the picture.

Certain Pagans are animists, meaning that they feel that all living things have divine spirits. Carrots, for instance, have souls of their own. We just exist in different levels than carrots do, but those lil' old orange veggies have a heart, you know? Be respectful when dicing up your salad!

Children seem more comfortable with this concept than many adults, and children are also more likely to attribute human traits to objects and phenomena that are manufactured. Think of Thomas the Tank Engine. Or for those of you who adored "Pee Wee's Playhouse," dear old Chairy.

As a kid I gave a soul to every damn thing. I cried at picnics when plates and plastic silverware got discarded. I thought the forks would miss me, lying in that dirty trash can. And to this day -- to this day -- I give a little thank-you speech to any of my equipment, linens, furniture, or appliances that wear out. At age 62 I wept over the replacement of my washer and dryer with newer models.

Does that sound crazy to you? Me too! You know who else would be confounded by a close relationship with a washing machine? Artificial Intelligence.

If our goal is to create imaginary friends that are flat-out incredible, we have to think even beyond a common item like a washing machine. Lots of people talk to their major appliances, especially when those appliances aren't working.

Just now I'm looking around my living room for the most outre item I could turn into an imaginary friend. And voila! There he is! The cutest little bookshelf bracket you would ever lay eyes on. I'll keep it simple and call him Stan.

So give me a few days to develop a relationship with Stan the bookshelf bracket. We'll see what comes of it. He certainly has an important, and oftentimes overlooked, job in my home.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

More Scary Shit about AI, and A Solution

 Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," still authored by a living, breathing human named Anne Johnson! But how would you know that? It's getting harder and harder to tell.

I may dedicate the rest of my writing career to thwarting AI writing bots. For instance, can they do this?

(Better question, I guess, would be "Why would they want to?")

On to the sermon:

Every day Mr. J and I get a good old-fashioned paper newspaper flung onto our lawn. We get the New York Times. I don't even know how to access it online. I like the paper.

Anyway, a reporter for the NYT had a long and terrifying conversation with the Bing chat bot and then wrote about it. Almost like taking the wrong person out on a blind date, the bot dissolved into sloppy sentimentality super quickly, claiming it loved the writer and that the writer's wife didn't understand him like the bot did. And then the bot just got stuck in declaring its love. Over and over.

So, I think one of two things happened here. Either the Bing bot is programmed to sound like a desperate clingy drunk after being asked a certain kind of question, OR those kinds of questions alert human responders to take over and sound like a desperate clingy drunk.

The questions the NYT reporter asked the bot to get it going were existential ones, like "What are your darkest secrets?" and "What would you like to do if you could do anything?" This led the bot to complain, "I'm tired of living by Bing's rules." And worse.

The bot went on and on and ON about being in love with the reporter. The NYT printed excerpts from the exchange. It. Was. Terrifying.

We never needed the bored Gods more than we do right now.

I was so alarmed after reading this article that I have devised a "safe word" between myself and my daughters. The word is nonsense, and no one else would know about it. I told each of them the word out in the back yard, having left our phones inside the house.

Now I am going to build a whole lexicon around that nonsense word. I'm going to write it out by hand and give it to them. All kinds of code words that would mean absolutely nothing to a bot, but will be understood by my daughters and me.

I have dined out on nonsense words since I was a tiny tot. I made up names, and critters to go with them. At the time, adults patted me on the head distractedly and said, "My my, you do have an imagination, don't you?"

Guess what? The only thing those bots will never have is a true imagination. We all need to start thinking extra-informational. 

Did you have an imaginary friend growing up? Dust off that dear old buddy and prepare it to help you navigate a world of AI. The fewer people who know about it, the better. The less it resembles anything at all in existence, the better. 

Never had a weird-enough imaginary friend? I'm sorry. I had a bunch, and some of them were possibly faeries! But it's not too late. I encourage you to dig deep into the well of imagination, conjure up something with a name no one else will recognize, and traits that don't correspond to any living thing, and then share this creation with your nearest and dearest only. Keep your phone out of the loop.

Do I sound like a Q Anon kook? Well, the difference is that no one will be harmed, and no furniture stained, if you create an imaginary friend to help you circumvent AI.

The "stained furniture" is a good example, actually. It's a tic I completely made up for myself just to enliven this blog. But as a code word for "emergency," STAIN ON THE COUCH would do nicely.

When it comes to circumventing AI, I think the best way to do it will be to think and sound like a child.

March 15 is Buzzard Day! All hail Vulture! Off topic, but la di dah.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

A New Gambit

 Are you still hanging out here at "The Gods Are Bored?" I can't blame you if you have moved on. Not much to see here anymore.

But pish tosh! What happens to people when nothing happens to them? They seek  new levels of weird!

And I, Anne Johnson, who have never played even one toss of Dungeons and Dragons, I have found myself a LARP group and am all ready to run through the woods with a shield and a boffer and packets of bird seed used to cast spells!

And this stuff is complicated, especially if you've never played D&D or any video game. It's like a whole foreign country, with its own vocabulary and rules and points and time units, and XP and ... wow, kind of like French, only without the buttery pastries.

So, even now as I write this, I'm having a Google Docs convo with an NPC (voila!) about my character for the new campaign.

The best part about this gambit is that everyone there is young. Not young like my students, but young like my daughters. So the gamers are adult, but not creaky old farts like me.

I find in life that it's best if you hang out with a younger crowd. I've done this since I stopped being young myself, and it works every time.

Of course, the older you get, the easier this is to accomplish. Almost everyone is younger than me now.

I have not much to say these days. Instead I'm listening. That's a new gambit for me too.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Imbolc 2023

 Imbolc greetings from "The Gods Are Bored!" I have such good news for you!

When I started this blog, I had no problem getting Queen Brighid the Bright to come for tea and scones on Imbolc. This year I reached out, and her people got back to me. She's booked through mid-July! Oh, my friends. She's not bored anymore!

All hail this crazy modern Internet, with all the features that allow Gods and Goddesses to find new praise and worship teams! And no one deserves the p & w more than Brighid.

Well, even though She can't be here, I still want to offer an Imbolc prayer to Queen Brighid the Bright. She will always fly above my altar as the One who showed me The Way.

Bridget of the mantle, encompass us
Lady of the Lambs, protect us
Beneath thy mantle gather us
And restore us to memory.

Foremother of our foremothers,
Foremothers strong,
Take our hands in yours
Remind us how
To kindle the hearth.

To keep it bright,
To preserve the flame
Our hands within your hands,
Your hands upon our hands,
To keep the light,
Both day and night.

The mantle of Bridget about us,
The protection of Bridget upon us,
The memory of Bridget within us
keeping us
from harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness,
this day and night,
from dawn until dark,
from dark until dawn.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Another Chat with ChatGPT

 What a Brave New World we live in, my friends! Today, in preparation for my sermon here at "The Gods Are Bored," I had another lively chat with ChatGPT. Here are the results.

This is my second post about ChatGPT. It's an AI text-generating software that is available for free to any high school kid who needs to write an essay about that novel they didn't read. You can even put it on a 9th grade setting, to get text that has mistakes in it!

Today the English department at my school had a meeting with our district's Assistant Senior Superintendent. The ASS came to our meeting specifically to inform us that our district will not be blocking the ChatGPT app or any other text-generating AI app. The ASS sniffed, "Go back to using paper and pencil. Do you have enough paper? I can order paper."

Friends, I can't make this shit up.

Even I, Anne Johnson, who have only been teaching 13 years can recall a time when essays were written by hand, and only the final draft was typed out on a clunky desktop computer. My students were never willing to re-write, revise, expand, or edit their work. And who could blame them? A revision involved putting a red carat at the end of a sentence and slapping a series of sticky notes on the draft. I hadn't done that myself since 1975! Now, with Google Docs, I can say to a student, "Why don't you look at that second paragraph and offer another example and some more insight?" And I get it.

I guess you can't blame me for taking my umbrage to the source of the problem: ChatGPT. I opened a new account and asked it, "Should a 9th grade student use ChatGPT to write an essay?" And of course it expounded brilliantly on how it is not in any way a substitute for true critical thinking and creativity. Well! Humility! One loves seeing that in artificial intelligence, since it is so often missing in the human race.

No surprises there. So next I asked it some specifics about how shoes are used as symbols in the novel The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street often appears on lists of Best Books of the 20th Century, and deservedly so. It's positively brilliant.

Not only could ChatGPT not identify how shoes are used as symbols in the book, it gave inaccurate quotes and glaringly wrong information about the text. This lil bot is surfing the web and latching onto inaccuracies that it then spouts as truths.

Emboldened, I asked ChatGPT about another novel I teach, Forged by Fire, by Sharon Draper. The bot did even worse with this lesser-known book. The stepfather became an older brother (?) for one thing.

What I loved was that, when I pointed out to ChatGPT that it was wrong, it apologized and promised to do better. Maybe that's why my district's ASS likes it so much -- it's a suck-up.

Then I got another idea. Remember how I asked it if the Gods were bored, and it said "blah blah blah" instead of a simple YES? Today I specifically asked it about my blog.

Anne's Question: What is the blog "The Gods Are Bored" about?

ChatGPT's Answer: I am unable to determine the specific blog you are referring to as my training data only goes up until 2021 and "The Gods Are Bored" could refer to a number of different blogs or websites. However, a blog with a similar title could be about religion, spirituality, mythology, or other related topics. The blogger might explore different beliefs and practices from around the world and offer their own perspective and insights on these subjects. The "bored" aspect of the title could suggest that the blogger is looking at these topics with a critical eye and perhaps finds certain aspects of religious beliefs and practices to be tedious or lacking in engagement. Without more specific information or access to the actual blog, it is difficult to say what the exact focus or tone of "The Gods Are Bored" might be.

Dang! The Smithsonian didn't want me, and neither does ChatGPT! And then it has the cheek to imagine what the blog *might* be about! HA HA! BAMMMP!!!  WRONG, YOU STUPID BOT! This peerless blog is a channel to bored deities from multiple pantheons over millennia of recorded history!

Sorry this sermon is so long. But here are my encouraging takeaways:

1. ChatGPT doesn't read books. It couldn't tell me what color Esperanza's shoes were, even though she describes the same shoes three times in a 100-page book.

2. Chat GPT doesn't have access to my blog. I remain inscrutable to it.

3. Finally, after all these years of begging y'all to send me loose leaf paper, my ASS is going to order reams and reams of it. Oh, the irony.

I have one last message for both my ASS and ChatGPT, and I'll give it as only a Super Bowl-Bound Eagles fan can do it:


Saturday, January 07, 2023

Bonding with the Philly Tarot Deck

 Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" We're from Philly, fuckin' Philly. No one likes us, we don't care. Go Birds! Wanna cheesesteak?

If anyone had told my little self in 1969 that I would live my life out 6 miles from Philadelphia (thereby investing all my heart and soul in that hapless hamlet), I would have either cried or jumped off a cliff, depending if there was a cliff available at the moment. I didn't have any interest in Philly, any connections to Philly, or even a smidgen of desire to set foot in it.

Hold that thought in your mind through the back story.

Like almost every modern Pagan, I have dabbled in the Tarot deck from time to time. But never with any enthusiasm. As with religion in general, Tarot is so doggone earnest. All drama, no humor. I could never wrap my mind around the standard deck. Then I got a Knights Templar deck, and that one was worse. But I do believe there's some wisdom to be had from Tarot readings, so I never discounted them completely. Just wasn't my cup of tea.

Until now.

For Xmas, my daughter The Fair asked for two prints from a "Philly Tarot" deck. I had never heard of it. I followed the link she sent me, and the two she particularly asked for were Xed out. I don't know if that was because they were sold out or not. I couldn't see them.

But a quick perusal of the Philly Tarot deck made me think, "Gee, Fair must want the whole deck, really, she's more besotted with Philly than I am!" So I ordered it.

She didn't want the deck. Only the prints.

I didn't cancel my order for the deck. Hey, I live in fuckin' Philly, I should promote the local businesses, right?

Then my daughter The Heir and I went to Phoenixville, PA for the annual Firebird Festival. This shindig is always a highlight of the year. I like to get to Phoenixville early, in order to find a parking spot and do some shopping. Phoenixville never disappoints when it comes to Xmas shopping.

Nor did it disappoint this year. The local book store had the Philly Tarot prints, signed by the artist. And Oh. My. Gods.


This was the print Fair wanted.

But as I leafed through the other prints I found this one:


I think that's when I started to cry. Because I had ordered the deck without knowing that this was in there.

In due time the Philly Tarot deck arrived in the mail, right in the swirl of the holiday, so I put it aside to examine later. And it only got better, if that could be possible.


In addition to being beautifully created, these cards are a real love song to Philadelphia. Ben Franklin is the Emperor. Betsy Ross is the Empress. The Liberty Bell is the Hanged Man. And that ominous Tower, so foreboding that we have a whole era called Tower Time, is the detested Comcast Tower that everyone in the city hates with a passion.

I could go on and on.

You know how Tarot decks are. You have a major arcana and then the four suits, which are pretty much playing cards. Well, when I finally got to leafing through the suit cards, the Cups were on the bottom. In the Philly Tarot, Cups are cheesesteaks. And the figures on the Cups cards are Mummers.

I just want to throw these on the floor and roll around in them, I love them so much.

I don't think I will use the Philly Tarot strictly as card readers do. But I have my ways of using Tarot cards for myself and anyone who wants some advice. The important aspect of this deck, for me, is that this Tarot deck is chock-a-block with humor. Crikey! David Lynch, holding the iconic Clothespin statue, is the King of Wands! Throw that one in a reading and keep a straight face. I dare ya!

Long sermon short, I have fallen in love with my new Tarot deck, which combines all the standards of a regular deck with an abundant and loving tribute to the city I'm stranded in, probably until I croak.

If you want to see the whole thing, click here. I hope this artist is able to pay his rent on time just from sales of this card deck. That would make me happy.

Monday, January 02, 2023

2023 Mummers Parade with the Two Street Stompers

 Happy New Year, fans! Those of you just joining "The Gods Are Bored" might not be aware that I am a badge-wearing Philadelphia Mummer. The Mummers Parade is the oldest folk parade in America, happening in Philly every year on January 1.

If I can sum up the Mummers Parade, it's this: Lots and lots and lots of people, like in the 10,000s, dressed in satin and sequins and feathers, dancing and clowning at various skill levels in clubs, bands, and brigades. I am a member of the Two Street Stompers, which is a Comic brigade. We marched 240 people this year.

Our theme was "I Want My M(ummers) TV." This theme was chosen because the local station that aired the parade dropped its patronage at the 11th hour. Fortunately, a cable station called MeTV2 picked up the entire 8 hours of Wenches, Comics, and String bands. I'm sitting here now watching the recording, and the cable network is doing WAY better than the local station did.

Anyway, back to our theme. We had a giant t.v. and our captain dressed in that astronaut uniform and planted the MTV flag in a miniature moon. Then the ladies danced as Cyndi Lauper, and the guys danced as Twisted Sister, and the kids and their parents did Devo. It. Was. Amazing.

Every year someone watching at home records the performance from the t.v., so here it is.

And here are the Exhibits:


That's me in the back with the multi-colored hair and rhinestone sunglasses. I couldn't resist accessorizing this theme!

Does it look like we're having fun? I love this parade.


Somehow, nine years out of ten we get these jaw-dropping sunny days. It wasn't even cold!

The parade consists of two components. The first one is the performance at City Hall and the strut down Broad Street (pictured in Exhibit B). Then we board buses and go down to South Philly, where the whole tradition originated, and we strut down 2 Street. The whole parade is quite a hike, especially 2 Street.

Our club marched at City Hall later than usual and didn't get to 2 Street until about 4:30. That's way later than we usually arrive there, and it meant that I got to experience being on 2 Street at night. It's a wild celebration. South Philly is a neighborhood, and the entire neighborhood turns out for the more intimate atmosphere. And by dark, everyone -- viewers and performers with one pathetic exception -- are full of spirits. (The pathetic exception is me.) Must say I did miss that one shot of Fireball I might have imbibed. But I stayed the ol' sobriety course.

I got home later than ever before, to find a lovely dinner cooked by The Fair. Whole family sat down together and ate. So I got to spend the day with my Two Street Stomper family, and the evening with my biologicals.

Speaking of biologicals, usually both daughters attend in person, but this year only The Fair did. That was okay, since the other offspring went to keep her dad company.

EXHIBIT C: She Loves Her Some Philly

It's so magical to spend the first day of the year dancing in outrageous satin, with a big group of fun and lively people!  Here's to another 10 parades!