Monday Morning Coming Down

Yesterday, I had an exchange of wits with an Artificial Intelligence bot. The internet connection of my computer was lost, and I didn’t have a clue as to how to fix it. I didn’t even have a phone number to call. Usually, I go to a company’s website for information or a friendly phone number. With the Internet out, I couldn’t get help. All day long, I pondered how I would live without the connection. The funny thing was, I still got TV and streaming services. In desperation, I looked through my ancient card files, hoping to find a number. I did. I called and got an AI bot. The bot was useless because it was programmed to answer only precise questions, like, “Do you wish to add services?” I began shouting into the phone with my question, using different words each time. I hoped it would recognize a word and connect me to a real, live human being. After many tries, the Bot asked if I would like to speak to an agent, “YES,” I replied. After a few moments on hold, I listened to several phone clicks and finally a voice. The agent was the same damned bot as before. I answered more stupid canned questions, and finally, the bot asked, “Do you want to speak to an agent?” This time, a real live person came on, and we made some progress.

After checking the status of my area for outages, she checked the lines in the house. Everything was in order. “Try resetting your modem, and I will call back in ten minutes.” I did as asked and she actually called me back. “Any change?” She asked.

“No,” was my answer. “Try turning off your device (computer) for thirty seconds and then turn it back on.” I did what was asked. The computer came back online, but the internet was not working. As I reached for the computer, to rip it out of the wall, the internet began responding. “Thank you Lord.”

I was so glad to have the thing working again that I forgot how angry the experience made me. Then, I began thinking about how to make this problem-solving more productive. First of all, I am an actual live human, and I started the whole fiasco by speaking to a numb-nuts non-human bot. I realized we don’t speak the same language. What I need is a bot to talk to the bot for me. I’ll spend the whole day looking for a bot that knows and understands AI and can intervene on my behalf anytime a provider insists on making me communicate that way. I will give the AI bots one thing: they speak English, but, more importantly, they speak without an accent, and they speak slowly enough to be understood.

It is time for me to go to the AI bot store to find my new assistant.

A Late Start

During my college days, I studied to become an engineer. The entire curriculum was steeped in math. One subject, in particular, used excessive mathematics, and that was Physics. The subject was so large that it was broken into three parts, each one semester long. My interest was in mechanics, and I was adept at the math involved in solving problems involving mechanical machines. I began to lose it when we reached nuclear physics, especially astronomy. Atomic physics was still on the cusp of discovery and development, so I wrote it off as something I could blow off because I would never use the knowledge to make a living, which was wrong. One project we worked on was developing a cable tie for nuclear power plants, specifically in the reactor exposed to heavy radiation.

Dresden Nuclear Power Plant 1960, Illinois

Somehow, I managed to eke my way through those subjects with a passing grade. In the above-mentioned radiation-resistant product, we designed and produced a successful cable tie and had it certified by the nuclear power industry. We invented and conducted a series of tests on our product to prove its efficacy in the reactor. It took two years and a lot of effort to do this. Then our competitors came along and talked the approvers into approving their products merely by showing they used the same material as we did. Thank you, Uncle Sam, for stealing our work and giving it to all of our competition.

What I find strange is that throughout my career, I used every bit of knowledge taught in my engineering courses. Whenever I counseled high school kids about engineering, I emphasized the importance of studying every course being taught in their syllabus because somewhere along the way, they will be called upon to use all—that useless stuff they were forced to learn. Even today, I am amazed that conversing with friends and peers helps to have a deep knowledge base. Except that I am deficient in atomic physics and astronomy. To offset this deficiency, I am now, at a ripe old age, finding intense interest in all things space. The Hubble and Webb telescopes have allowed astrologists to learn more about the nature of the universe in twenty years than man has known since the beginning of time. Remember when the argument was about the Earth being the center of the universe?

!960’s telescopic photo of Mars

I have read many articles about the universe and learned I am sixty years behind in the terminology. The space age and our drive to put a man on the moon have forced us to invent new terms and ways to express time and distance units. I left school at a time when the term “Light Year” was little used. Since then, physics has expanded the study to include the universe beyond our solar system, and the distances between stars and planets are so huge that even Light Year is too small to express the distances between stars and galaxies. An example is the unit AU, or Astronomical Unit, which defines the distance between the sun and the planets of our solar system. The AU of Earth is one. The AU of planets closer to the sun is smaller, and those beyond Earth are larger. It is easier to say or write the Earth is 1 AU away from the Sun than the Earth is 93,000,000(million) miles from the Sun. Another example of the system’s simplicity is that planet Neptune is 30 AU from the Sun instead of having to write Neptune is 2,795,580,000(billion) miles from the Sun.

Every day, I use a GPS in my car to locate and navigate to places I want to get to. Imagine traveling into space in a rocket ship, and you are flying above the Earth’s GPS. One needs a new and more expansive way to navigate. Modern space travel has already invented the system but relies on heady technology to make things happen. Remember when Columbus and Magellan traveled by boat to explore the vast, unknown expanse of planet Earth? You can’t follow the coastline like they did when you were exploring the universe. I wish I were young enough to start from scratch to learn all the new stuff I would need to explore and find new civilizations around space.

Although I like studying astronomy, I am still trying to understand the new language I must learn. I know I became obsolete as an engineer when I became a manager, and I never became proficient in using a computer to design products. I am from the pencil and paper age. However, I can still free-hand draw a three-D product as well as anyone using a computer. I can’t translate the geometry into machine tool instructions into a Numerical Controlled machine tool to cut a mold cavity like a computer-generated geometric model can. Imagine my degree of obsolescence in astronomy, where it is a struggle to become conversant.

Where will we be one hundred years from now?

Exploring new planets?

Living on a colony on Mars or the moon?

Trying to get the Muslims to accept the Jews?

Learning how to live off the grid after destroying the planet and mankind?

Living in underwater cocoons and eating seaweed because man forced the polar ice caps to melt.

James Webb Space Telescope
James Webb first image

James Webb-2022 Mars

Dreams, Dreams, Dreams

There has to be a formula for what a person does to stimulate dreams, like eating a particular food or drinking a specific beverage. In my case, none of that is key. Although I know I dream if I eat late or drink too much. Last night was no exception. I drank the exact wine I always drink, in the same quantity. I ate the same portions for supper, but I had a milkshake with Lovely. If it was the milkshake, then the dreams were somewhat happy. The theater of my mind showed films of times past when I was young and still in college. The scene occurred in a field on the International Harvester Research Farm during a summer internship 1958.

A group of starched white shirt IH executives came to the field to watch a demonstration of a new machine called a hay crusher. The function of the crusher was to split the stem of green hay. Lab experiments proved that doing so would speed the drying process and allow the hay to be baled much sooner and with more nutrients preserved. My part was the least important of the execs and engineers. I drove the Farmall 560 tractor with the crusher attached over a windrow of newly cut hay. I made one pass, and the crowd of white shirts all ran to the crushed hay to pick up a handful for first-hand observation. A consensus was that the machine did a credible job of crushing. Then, one of the higher white shirts asked, “What happens if a farmer runs the machine through a muddy field? Won’t the mud mixed with hay plug the machine and jam things up?” One of the lower white shirts asked me to drive down to the creek with a five-gallon bucket and to fill it with mushy mud.” I did as requested and returned. The highest white shirt himself spread the mushy mud along the top of the windrow of newly mown hay. He wouldn’t be ambushed by some youngster who improperly applied mud. My direct supervisor took me aside and told me to drive to the end of the row and proceed forward upon signal in fifth gear and at max throttle. (At this point, I must explain that the hay crusher was a simple device consisting of two counter-rotating rollers: one was smooth, and the other was a cylinder with a series of ridges welded to it. The hay fed through the rollers was crimped and crushed between the rollers.)

I sat on the Farmall 560 at the end of the row, waiting for the signal to advance. Then, it happened: the top white shirt dropped his hand holding a white handkerchief, and I moved the throttle lever to full speed ahead and hung on for dear life. The tractor built speed and bumped down the windrow, crushing hay. As I hit the muddy section at full speed, the tractor never slowed, but mushy mud hit my back and flew all over. White shirts ran in all directions to get out of the line of fire as the counter-rotating rollers were slinging mud far and wide. I wanted to laugh but feared for my job instead. It was a successful demonstration, and no one got hurt, but they sure got dirty. The dream ended because I woke myself laughing out loud.

Some Serious Traveling

While daydreaming this morning, I came across the number for the speed of light. Light travels at 186000 miles per second. The odometer on my car just rolled over to that number. Hmmm, I wondered how many hours have I spent driving that many miles. A quick division by 18 years and the miles per year have been 10,333 per year. Assuming I drove at an average speed of forty miles per hour I spent 4650 hours driving, or 193.75 days.

To put that mileage in perspective, it is equal to 7.44 times around the world. The problem as I see it is I never got further than Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Another way to put it into perspective is it is three-quarters of the way to the moon.

Think, if we could travel at the speed of light Mars is only 4 minutes away. At that rate exploring Mars may be a reasonable thing to do.

Traveling to Neptune, one of the farthermost planets in our solar system would take us about four hours. I can wrap my head around traveling at the speed of light, but I can’t fathom man-made global warming will melt all the ice on Earth. The limit to traveling that fast in a spaceship is the amount of fuel it takes to keep the engines going. I can see us finding a way to propel a ship in space because we are resourceful people. It won’t happen in this century but it could happen in the next.

Rings of Saturn

What an amazing life we would have traversing the Milky Way from planet to planet on our vacations. Or, driving to a Spa in the rings of Saturn, only a seventy-minute drive away from Earth. Or driving two and a half hours to Uranus for Jet Skiing on the Methane seas. If heat is your thing, take a short two-minute and twenty-second jaunt to Venus, or a five-minute ride to Mercury, but be sure to take a bath in sunscreen before leaving.


Once we can travel that fast, the genius population on Earth will invent the products we will need to take advantage of the solar system’s recreational opportunities.


AUI = Artificial Un-Intelligence

Finally, I finished reading the book on Artificial Intelligence. Throughout the book, the author kept me enthralled, mostly by how it works, and by predicting the future of mankind’s job prospects. Jobs are in jeopardy for sure. The problem, as I see it, is that only jobs that can be easily automated will be affected. The author, an accomplished AI expert, is overselling the power of this technology, and assuming that the world will be able to automate just as fast and as easily as they will implement AI.

The most obvious places I see AI implemented today are using chatbots to solve problems dealing with banking statements and at McDonald’s, where an order kiosk will reduce the need for an order taker at the front desk. Behind the kiosk, McDonald’s uses humans to flip the burgers and package the fries. this week, I had my experience with AI involving my bank, which froze when I told a friend to send me money using Zelle. I registered with Zelle, to set up an account, then had to do a similar thing with my bank account. My grandson assured me that this process worked for him in a few minutes, and he has used it for several years without incident. He walked me through the setup. It went very quickly, and I was pleased. That is, until I tried to use it. It didn’t work. It was late in the evening, and I was not in the mood to tackle a problem, I put it off until morning.

The next morning, I put off having breakfast to get in line with my bank (BMO). When I often want to ask them something, I phone them and wait for the next operator. In some cases, I waited for forty minutes. I was too impatient this time, and after listening to the bank’s bullshit message to use the website too many times, I decided to try it. Getting connected to the website went easy. I took my time reading through all the services they offered through the many buttons on the web page. I found one that might help. I asked a question. but it was too complicated for the bot to understand. I simplified the question, it happened again. Finally, after several attempts to get an answer or a direction, the bot replied with a phone number to call for help. It was the same number I was on before.
Another line to wait in. Since my plan for the day was to solve this problem, I stayed on the line and waited while listening to music and reading emails on my desktop. The recording kept updating me with messages like If you don’t want to wait, push one, followed by the pound key, and we will call you back when your turn comes up. Good! I pushed one and the pound key. Then I had to give them my phone number. At least now I could do something else like play solitaire while waiting. Two hours later, my cell phone rings. I answered, and nothing. The line is dead. They lied, or else their AI isn’t very intelligent.

I started and called again, waiting for a real live operator to pick up. When it does, I go into mild shock and ask if the voice belongs to a real live person. The answer was yes. To make this long story shorter, it took this patient troubleshooter an hour and nine minutes to find the gremlin that was out of line. I will not yet concede that artificial intelligence is better than real human intelligence, nor will it in my lifetime.

The story didn’t end there. The next problem was verifying that it was me who signed up with the email address, and not some mindless bot.

The world seems to. be rushing into the AI scheme to save us from ourselves, just like they are doing with global warming and converting us to electric cars. The electric car rush is on the wane as our unintelligent humans are finally beginning to realize that if everyone trades in their gas-powered car today for an electric one, there is not enough electricity to go around.