bookmark_borderThe AI I’m Looking For

I use WordPress to keep track of all my writing and have for more than a decade. I have more than 3,000 blog posts, most of them private, stored on my WordPress site. I also have letters to my family, information on what to do once I’m gone, and similar such information. I think my WordPress site, especially the private content, is a good snapshot of who I am over the years, good days and bad. I would like to train an AI model on that content, and then have a chatbot serve as the front end of the content, taking on a persona that is essentially me. I would like someone to be able to type “What would James think about $this?” and have the chatbot spit out an answer that is how I would respond to the query. I know that we’re getting close to that type of AI personalization, and honestly, it may be here now. From a technical perspective, it doesn’t seem like it would be difficult to set up something like this, I’m just at a loss on how to do it.

bookmark_borderAn Improvement to NFC and Contactless Payment Systems

A few days ago, I was at a grocery store that allows me to tap a credit card to pay, or I can use Apple Pay via my iPhone or Apple Watch. But at the end of the transaction, the machine spits out a paper receipt that will eventually go into the trash. The idea of a paper receipt, especially given how common digital payment transactions have become, seems a little archaic. I started to think about it, and it seems like this should be a reasonably easy fix. First, the NFC protocols should be updated to support sending receipt information back to a mobile device using the XML or JSON formats. Second, Apple and Google should update their devices to natively receive this information at the end of the transaction and include the information in some sort of secure document space. On the Apple side, it seems like a “receipts” section could be added to the Wallet app to facilitate this.

The only downside I see is that you’d have to keep your mobile device close to the NFC reader for a few seconds longer, as you’d need to wait for the transaction to be authorized with the bank, and come back as “Approved”. Maybe there should be another prompt after the transaction is approved that asks the customer if they’d like a receipt and gives them the options of:

  1. Yes, Printed
  2. Yes, Digital
  3. No

If the customer selects option number 2, they’d be prompted to hold their mobile device up to the payment terminal again so that the receipt information could be transferred.

I think this would allow more opportunities for budgeting apps as well because you’d be able to import the receipt information into your list of transactions, enriching the data already gained by being connected to your bank account.

bookmark_borderTipping Culture is Out of Control

Now that the conversation about tipping culture is entering into mainstream consciousness, I felt like it would be a good idea for me to set some ground rules for myself on how and when I tip. These rules will help me to manage my costs, but also ensure that the folks that should get a tip, get a tip.

First, I will no longer tip outside the hospitality industry. If you’re rotating my tires, and I’m paying for it, you won’t be getting tipped. Hospitality wages, especially wait staff wages, are generally the lowest of the low and the folks working those jobs are the most deserving of a tip. There are a couple of exceptions to this for me though. For personal services like haircuts or massages, I’m willing to tip for good service, and I’ll generally be more willing to tip if it’s not expected of me.

Second, I will no longer tip pre-service. If I order something at a fast-casual place, and I’m prompted to enter a tip, it will be zero. Tipping pre-service is just a voluntary fee that I’m not going to pay anymore. If you’d like to earn a tip, feel free to put a tip jar on the counter. If the service and/or meal are especially good, I have no problem dropping some cash into the jar.

Third, my standard tip will be 15% of the total (including taxes) of the bill. If the service is really good, I’ll allow myself to go to 18%. If the service is not good, it will still be 15% because I’m willing to assume no ill intentions and can give the staff the benefit of the doubt that they may be having a bad day. For me, it’s just one not-great meal that I’ll quickly forget about and it’s not worth getting into a fuss over. And at the end of the day, the folks working to serve me still deserve to be paid.

I don’t think tipping culture will change until we stop tipping for every little thing. Many of the corporations that are setting up their PoS systems to ask for tips are already making record profits and underpaying their workers. Yes, tip for good service, but don’t feel like you need to tip for EVERY service.

bookmark_borderCompTIA ITF+ Review

Today, for no other reason than to do it, I took the CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+) certification exam. In my version of the exam, I was given 60 minutes to answer 65 questions. I passed, but not with a score I really liked. Passing requires a 650 and the maximum you can get is 900. I passed with a score of 727, which is on the low end. Even though I have more than 20 years of working professionally in the Information Technology field, I did indeed prepare for this exam. I watched a Learning Path on LinkedIn Learning for the exam and took all the practice questions. I didn’t have any trouble at all with the content. Additionally, at some point or another, I’ve passed nearly all of CompTIA’s certification exams, including those that aren’t even offered anymore. I’ve literally worked as a contractor for CompTIA writing exam questions for the A+ exam. I know how this process works intimately, and I feel like I should have done better on the ITF+ exam than I did.

What was the problem, you ask? I think the ITF+ certification exam is too vague. There were quite a few questions that, in my humble opinion, could have multiple legitimate answers based on the context given. When questions aren’t specific, it’s a lot easier to justify answers that the author didn’t intend to be correct. Given the process that CompTIA uses to generate questions, I’m truly shocked at how many questions were so poorly worded. Granted, I’m not the correct audience for the ITF+, and maybe I have the burden of knowing more than the average IT person, but even with that said, I feel like this exam is too difficult and/or incomplete for a non-IT person to understand much less pass. If this is someone’s introduction to the world of Information Technology, this experience would leave me discouraged about being able to have a career in the field.

CompTIA, if you’re reading, this one needs another exam writing workshop. I think the exam objectives are great, but the questions are stale. More context is needed for many of the questions, and there needs to be less focus on the rote memorization of technical terms and more focus on real-world problems and scenarios.

bookmark_borderTheme Park Idea

I have an idea for a theme park and want to see what people think. A lot of it is vague ideas right now. The park is split into five “kingdoms” each represented by a unique color scheme and overall thematic design. Each kingdom will have 2-3 signature shops, restaurants, attractions, and rides, all fitting with the theme of the kingdom. Each kingdom will have strengths and weaknesses economically and militarily.

Park visitors download and install an app. They create an account and create a character. All parties (families, groups of friends, etc) are automagically assigned a kingdom when they arrive at the park. At first, their characters are peasants, but as they explore the land, they gain experience. Experience is gained by riding rides, visiting points of interest, or whatever. As characters level up, they rise in rank from peasant to merchant, to nobility, to royalty. The higher their level, the more ability they have to pick the direction and overall gameplay of their kingdom.

Eventually, by mid-day, each kingdom should have a king/queen/emperor/whatever. That special person (or some sort of mechanism in place to select a new monarch if the initial person stops playing) can choose to attack, align with, or whatever to any other kingdom. Note, if enough of the other players stick together, they can override the monarch and install a new one. The goal is to be the last kingdom standing and has control over all five kingdoms of the park. Eventually, this means it’ll come down to a military challenge. As your character levels up, you can learn various skills and abilities. You can be a soldier, a magician, a healer, whatever. You can also see the strength of your kingdom’s forces at any time via the app. Once it’s time for a fight, all of the people of a particular kingdom must work together to either attack or defend. I think it could be done in a turn-based type of gameplay where you have to make a decision every 15 minutes or so.

If your kingdom is defeated, you can choose to join any of the other remaining kingdoms, until two are left. When it’s down to the last two kingdoms, the losing kingdom will receive nothing. The winning kingdom will receive prizes, like the winning kingdom’s theme in a fireworks show, a 50% discount on a piece of kingdom merch, free food, or whatever. The winners will also receive a token (added to their account) that can be used in future days/games to start their character at level two instead of level one. All players reset at the end of the day. Come back soon!

bookmark_borderPaxlovid

Last week, my family and I developed Covid symptoms. I immediately took an at-home Covid test and it returned a positive result. We’ve managed to avoid Covid for more than three years, so we were disheartened to find out that it finally caught up with us. My wife and I are both vaccinated and I have had a booster within the last six months. However, while my wife and sons seemed to be moving through the Covid symptoms pretty quickly, I was struggling. I have a history of getting bronchitis when colds/cases of flu don’t heal quickly, and so with that in mind, I went to a clinic within a Walgreens near my house yesterday to have my lungs checked for any signs of inflammation.

During the visit, the person that was treating me asked if I had heard of Paxlovid. It’s an anti-viral treatment for Covid that essentially prevents Covid from reproducing. I had only heard the name of it in passing but didn’t have a lot of information on what it could do for me. The provider mentioned that since I have a recurrent history of chest infections with colds, she could prescribe it to me as I was considered “high risk”. She told me how the drug worked and I agreed to a prescription.

It comes as a five-day course, with three pills in the morning, and three pills in the evening. Two of the three pills prevent the Covid virus from reproducing, and the third pill acts as sort of a preservative to keep the first two pills in your system longer. Frankly, I didn’t expect what happened next. In the time between the first and second doses, my symptoms dramatically decreased. Before taking Paxlovid, my body was really fatigued and I was struggling with even walking in a straight line. I was dizzy, feverish, so so tired, and felt faint most of the time. I had to take frequent breaks and naps just to make it through the day. Within 12 hours of taking my first dose, about 50% of that was gone. I took another dose this morning (the third dose) and 90% of my Covid symptoms are just gone. I’m still coughing a little bit, and have a tiny little headache, but that’s it. I felt well enough this morning that I could go to work (don’t worry, I work remotely). I don’t think I’ve ever taken a drug that had such a dramatic effect on my body and well-being. I’m simply blown away. This is a game-changer for people infected with Covid but it doesn’t seem like anyone is really talking about it. Oh, did I mention it’s free?

Thanks to Pfizer for such a great product. You’ve earned a fan for life.

bookmark_borderMy Huel Adventure

In an effort to be healthier, I’ve invested some time and money into researching things that will not only help me to control portion sizes but also give me as close to complete nutrition as possible, without costing me an arm and a leg. I discovered Huel late last year, and after spending some time reading about other people’s experiences with the various Huel products, I’ve decided to give it a go. I’m nearly two weeks into my Huel journey, and this is how I’m managing it. Also, oddly enough, sometimes I’ll drink a Bang energy drink in the morning, and that seems to act as an appetite suppressant as I don’t get the hunger pangs nearly as bad in the afternoon when I’ve consumed a Bang. Bang is sugar-free and has a few extra things in it that energy drinks like Monster don’t have.

I neglected to take a weight measurement before starting this experiment, however, I’m going to start tracking it next week. I do feel lighter, and I have been sleeping better at night. I’ve also not experienced any post-lunch fatigue that I wrangled with in the past.

  • 6:30 AM – I drink one 50-calorie serving (one scoop) of Huel Daily Greens.
  • 8:00 AM – I drink one 600-calorie (three scoops) Huel Powder v3.0 shake for breakfast.
  • 12:00 PM – I eat one 400-calorie (two scoops) of Huel Hot & Savory for lunch.
  • 5:30 PM – I eat a meal consisting of a protein, starch, and veggie for dinner.

After two weeks, I’m starting to see some nice benefits to this regimen. After drinking Huel Daily Greens, I find that within 20-30 minutes, I’m alert and ready for the day much in the same way caffeine would affect me. I do still supplement caffeine some mornings (our 7-month-old still isn’t sleeping through the night), but I’ve found it a lot easier to get going at first light. I’d say the hardest part about the way I’m doing this is the gap between lunch and dinner. By the time dinner rolls around, I’m famished and need to eat something immediately otherwise I’ll begin to binge eat. Thankfully, my wife is great at preparing meals for us and typically has something ready by the time I get home a little after 5:00 PM.

I’ve also been avoiding eating anything after 7:00 PM so that my body can get into a nice fasting state overnight. The 50-calorie Huel Daily Greens serving that I drink at 6:30 AM does break my fast, however, I figure that by that point, I should have close to 12 hours of fasting, which seems like an agreeable amount.

bookmark_borderBeing Young

For a long time, well into my 30s, I thought I had to act a certain way to be considered a responsible adult. I thought that there were only certain things “responsible adults” did, and anything that didn’t put me squarely into that category shouldn’t be done at all. I was taking my cue from other adults that I was surrounded by, trying to emulate them, but I often found myself dissatisfied with my life. Whenever I would take up an interest in something that was outside the realm of what a “responsible adult” should be interested in, reactions from other adults ranged from mild contempt to outright scorn. It took me a while, but at the ripe old age of 41, I feel secure enough in who I am to say that I wish to reject the notion of the “responsible adult” completely.

While I have family responsibilities, a solid career, and an active social life, those are all the things that are expected of me to a degree. But why end things there? Why can’t I be more than that simply because I want to be a person that I like and respect? Bob Goff, a Christian author, has this whole theology about being whimsical and living in the moment as much as possible, because… well, it’s fun. We only have so much time given to us in this life. Why not spend some of it having fun just for the sake of having fun?

So where does that leave me on my personal journey? Well, I’ve decided that I’m going to learn all the silly little skills that I’ve always wanted to learn, just because they’re fun things to do. On my learning list, I want to learn how to juggle, do some card tricks, play some music on a ukulele, and several other fun things that can be used to create a sense of joy and wonder, for not only myself but others as well. If I can learn things like that well enough that I can confidently “perform” in front of others, that gives me the opportunity to create whimsey all by myself. I heard a quote several years ago that said something to the effect of “If I know how to do things, I can be useful to others.” I think that’s a great way to think about it. If I can have the know-how to make a magical moment for someone else and have a grand time of it myself, that’s a worthy goal, and in that, we both win.

So, in conclusion, be young. Don’t value yourself on the basis of how others estimate your worth. The truth is, those folks are probably trying to mimic other “responsible adults” that are in their sphere and push those expectations onto you. Do the silly things that make you happy. Not everything in life has to be some sort of SMART goal. Some things can be done just for the value that comes with the pleasure of doing something enjoyable. Build that Lego set, climb a tree, or jump in a lake. Make your time count for something greater than your job. Make it count for your family, your community, and yourself. Thanks for reading.

bookmark_borderBanned Books

Last year, I started hearing about books being banned from libraries across the US. I looked at several banned book lists and realized that most of the books listed were books that I’d never read, or hadn’t read in a very long time. I decided to compile a list of banned books and start working through them. So far, I’ve read 1984, A Farewell to Arms, A Separate Peace, and am nearly finished with All the King’s Men. All of the books have been fantastic in their own ways, with A Separate Peace being probably the best book I’ve ever read. After each chapter, I read the summary and the analysis of the book on Sparknotes.com to ensure I fully understand it. But all in all, this is an incredibly rewarding experience. Earlier in my life, I tried to read Hemingway and got distracted by the run-on sentences. I noticed that with A Farewell to Arms, but after a few pages, it melted away and I was able to focus on the story. I get it now… I get why so many people adore Hemingway… His writing is just so powerful.

On some level, I guess I can understand why these books are banned. But on a stronger, more profound level, that’s all the reason more to keep them on shelves. Many of these books were written with certain historical periods in mind (or the author was writing about an era that he/she lived through and/or experienced), and the writing reflects the attitudes, language, and culture of that time. Some books are written with thought to the future based on the attitudes, language, and culture of the author’s present time (at the time that the book was written), which hopefully gives us a glimpse of what the future may become. These are not necessarily bad things. People need to not only understand our histories but our potential futures. History does not change because don’t like it. But our futures can be molded by what we learn from the past.

If you’ve made it this far in my little essay, please only take away this; read more books. Read the books that others say aren’t good “for the children”. Don’t take a banned book at face value, get in there and read it for yourself to determine if you think it should or shouldn’t be on the shelves. I think you’ll find that more often than not, more people need to know about that book and read it themselves, which means the book needs to be more available rather than less.

bookmark_borderNooceptin – Day 21

I am now three weeks into my Nooceptin experiment and feel like the effects are holding steady. I do have quite a bit more mental energy even though I’ve been having some difficult days at work and some problematic nights with a moody six-month-old baby boy. I’m not getting the sleep I typically would need, but I have enough energy during the day to do my job without feeling drained. I’ve also felt a lot calmer, without the energy peaks and valleys that I was experiencing pre-Nooceptin. I find it easier to express my thoughts and speak to concepts that were usually more difficult for me to describe. I don’t know… I just feel… better.