The Updates #29

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes

Week 29 of the updates and I'm late once again!


Nothing accomplished these weeks, but I think I have a strong plan going forward. I've been both inundated with thoughts about AI generative tools and grand jury duty (separate streams of thoughts) and just getting back into a rhythm of work and flow. I think I've created the situation where I can set aside direct time to work on the dissertation and these as well. I think for the dissertation, I just need to re-create the habit of every day working towards it, which I know I can and have done over the past few years. Meanwhile, I also am giving myself 30 minutes a day to do free-writing. I think I need this both to do some more processing of jury duty and what I saw there as well as get down my thoughts about AI generative tools.

110 days until July 1.

A crocus flower growing out from small pebbles.
The Crocus Arises

The first week back in the office and working through meetings and catching up with folks felt good. I managed to move some things forward and can see some opportunities in the next few weeks to get some big picture work done, which would be really helpful as we move towards summer. 

Mostly, it was just nice to be back more consistently in the presence of my colleagues and to have them more present in my day-to-day to help me think through things (and hopefully, vice versa).  

What I'm Reading


Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy:  After reading it, I realized that this book should be read after The Passenger which was published at the same time and tells the story of the brother of the protagonist.  Still, even without that, it's a compelling narrative that I enjoyed.  Mostly dialogue, the story revolves around a therapist and his patient at Stella Maris institute. The conversation spirals in different directions, focusing much on math and physics and the nature of thoughts and how they come to us and where they come from.  It's philosophical and accessible as the characters move from theoretical spaces to the world at large.  


Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology by Adrienne Mayor:  I found this text to be an interesting trip through Greek mythology, exploring key figures and characters who operated machines and technologies that were fantastical at the time but to which we are now seeing manifestations of in society. 


Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms by Hanna Fry:  I really appreciated Fry's work here that raises a variety of questions about artificial intelligence (and algorithms in general) in a variety of fields while simultaneously, encouraging us to think about the fact that such tools, though problematic, may still be reasonably helpful in understanding our world.  It's a good balanced text of challenging our boundaries around the tools while also revealing that there are ways by having these tools, it helps us externalize and capture issues (such as bias) that happen more internally than we might want (in that, it is harder to consistently identify and act upon internal biases than ones that are put out into the open).  

Artificial Intelligence in Practice: How 50 Successful Companies Used AI and Machine Learning to Solve Problems by Bernard Marr:  In my current exploration of generative AI, this book didn't have much to offer and more explored the other ways companies are using more standard AI in their organizations. In that way, it's an interesting but not particularly exciting exploration.  Where it might come in handy is recognizing the range of its uses and helping to think about what then generative AI might be adapted and turned into going forward. 

The Artist in the Machine: The World of AI-Powered Creativity by Arthur I. Miller:  Miller provocatively argues that AI (again, prior to generative AI of GPT3 and such) that the distinction we make between artists and the tools is a bit artificial (pun intended) and we should look at the ways in which creators are meaningfully integrating artificial intelligence into their work.  He then explores many examples to demonstrate how this is operating in different fields of creativity.  I think it's an important read to help rethink (once again) what we mean by the creative process (which is endurably flexible) as historically, there are many times when we have said, "this will destroy creativity" and it has only enhanced it or made it more accessible to more people.

Artificial Intelligence: An Illustrated History: From Medieval Robots to Neural Networks by Clifford A. Pickover:  This was an audiobook so it wasn't quite an "illustrative" history except in the metaphorical sense.  Still, it's a good primer to get a sense of the earliest automatic machines up through the present.  What's great about the book is that each section has cross-references and it moves among actual machines to key fictional and nonfictional works to help understand the interconnections across these spheres. 

Graphic Novels

Cowboy by Rikke Villadsen:  A quirky and postmodern exploration of the Western genre with gender-bender elements, surrealistic elements, and curious characters.  It's the kind of book you want to read that will make you say, "huh, what?" and then proceed to read again. 

Shubeik Lubeik by Deena Mohamed:  I didn't expect that I'd like this graphic novel so much. I mean I requested it from the library so that always indicates I have a reasonable interest but it was a really fascinating book.  It's an alternate Earth where wishes from djinn are possible but there are different levels of wishes and of course, restrictions on how much the wish can actually change the world.  Still, the story centers around a vendor with a street cart who has 3 of the best kind of wishes but no one seems to be buying them.  Over the course of the story, the wishes are bought and used.  The using of the wish is less interesting than the journey that each person takes to determine what their wish should be.  So we follow three folks--one whose wish is stolen, another who can't seem to figure out what to wish for, and the final who does not want the wish.  Mohamed does such a great job of getting us deep into the lives of these characters and understanding their state of mind and how the search for the perfect framing of a wish changes who they are.  There's also a good deal of world-building and I could imagine an endless amount of stories told in this world.

A photo of a waterfall straight on from a bridge.
Factory Falls

What I'm Watching

Picard Season 1:  I finally got around to finishing this season.  I enjoy Patrick Stewart in general and as Picard, it's always been a favorite.  I really liked this season and certainly, it has all sorts of implications for artificial intelligence.  I appreciated the new characters with their complicated lives as well as the appearance of some from The Next Generation series.  In particular, I appreciate seeing a Picard who did not go on to continue to be great but one who took a significant fall and is now trying to figure that out.  

Ted Lasso Season 1: I've seen clips of this show and having watched the first season, I certainly get the love for Ted. We know I have no interest in sports but Ted Lasso is so much more. I can understand why it has been such a hit, particularly through the pandemic as a wildly optimistic show with quirky and loveable characters along with ones who are less so but often get their comeuppance.  It has its laughs and it has heart.  My only critique about its creation is that Apple hasn't put it on DVD which means it's inaccessible unless you give over to Apple payment and data and that's disappointing.  Still--definitely a charming show.

Women Talking:  Whew...a movie that traverses a brutal topic while also making its viewers smile and recognize the power of story, communal healing, and strength in love. It raises a lot of the challenging questions about what it means to love, how to care for one another, what family means, and how much strength it truly takes to escape harm for yourself and loved ones. There's something strong that resonated in the film with society at large and the trauma that is perpetuated to folks who have been marginalized that I'm still rolling in my head.   

This Week's Photos

Factory Falls:  We went for a river walk in West Warick near some old factories and I found this little delightful view. After reading David Macaulay's Mills and knowing that mills and man-made falls like this played a crucial role in Rhode Island and ultimately New England's development, it's interesting to look at their remnants centuries later. I find it interesting when such industrial spaces also more a bit back into a nuanced mixture of urban and natural landscapes which is what the trail had going on. 

The Crocus Arises:  One of the signs that spring is quickly coming upon us.  I spotted this feel under the dwarf oak that we have and made me quite happy.  It also made me realize that I need to get my butt in gear for the garden.  

What's on My Mind

Creative Pathfinding: I'm thinking about creative workarounds these days.  As I've watched people use ChatGPT and find ways to get around its creators' restrictions, it has me thinking about people who find creative ways around things.  In particular, I think about over the years the creativity I've seen among students who find different ways to challenge or find loopholes in things like academic dishonesty.  I guess my mind is thinking about how does one see a system or structure and find ways around or through it that are clearly laid out.  That creative act I feel is both a great skill(s) to have and also can provide some guidance in unlocking what is known as the adjacent possible--the unintentional possibilities that are unlocked when certain conditions or technologies arise, even if they weren't in the consideration of possible until the new conditions or technologies arise.  So--if you got any leads, ideas, or sources to further explore, let me know!

Jury Duty:  Now that Jury Duty is over, I have some things to write.  They'll appear separately in the blog and if I'm lucky (or skillful enough) at least one piece in a local newspaper.  

Words of the Year

Focus: Given how late this post is (usually on Mondays) and where my dissertation is (isn't?), you can see my focus is a bit out of whack. Working on it and a new book I'm finishing (The Extended Mind) is helping me to think about how to get back in gear.

Kind: I'm stumbling a bit with this one I've noticed in that I'm not keeping it centered in my thoughts and work; I noticed myself giving into less kindly thoughts and sometimes sharing them. I could chalk it up to stress but I also wonder what kinds of cues might I utilize to keep it more in my visual and mental landscape.

Earnest:  I have had a couple deep and earnest conversations in the past few weeks; some are with colleagues; others with loved ones. Sometimes, the conversations have been cathartic and other times, they have at least opened up space to further explore challenges, tensions, and opportunities. I think this is one that I'm slowly getting better at.

Till next week...

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  1. Re: AI

  2. Re: “ Mostly, it was just nice to be back more consistently in the presence of my colleagues and to have them more present in my day-to-day to help me think through things (and hopefully, vice versa). ”
    I sent an email to the IT Director of Fontbonne Academy to volunteer after work. I miss having a community since I go into the office 1 day/week. We’ll see if they are interested.


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