ChatGPT and Goethe

ChatGPT is not reliable as far as Goethe as concerned. First it told me that Goethe wrote “Wanderer’s Night Song” when he was an old man (he wasn’t an old man when he wrote it), and then, when I corrected it, the bot apologized and gave me a lovely but incorrect poem as the Marienbad Elegy. I had to say, “Dude, that’s not it.” It apologized, had another look, gave me a fragment of the correct poem, then told me to go to various websites to find the Marienbad Elegy, in other words, “go look it up.” 🤣 Just a warning that if you’re asking it for Goethe, you have to check its work. Maybe in the brave new world of the future, poetry isn’t going to be a big thing whatever forum the bot ends up with.

Last week I read that the bot seldom scores higher than a B- on most of the exams it’s been given which makes sense.

And what is the Marienbad Elegy? When Goethe was 73 he fell in love with a 17 year old girl and asked her to marry him. She refused. Goethe’s view of youth and age was a little different, but the reality of the situation was almost 60 years…

After he more-or-less got over his broken heart he wrote, when he was 77, he wrote…

When I was still a youthful wight,
⁠So full of enjoyment and merry,
The painters used to assert, in spite,
⁠That my features were small—yes, very;
Yet then full many a beauteous child
With true affection upon me smiled.

Now as a graybeard I sit here in state,
⁠By street and by lane held in awe, sirs;
And may be seen, like old Frederick the Great,
⁠On pipebowls, on cups, and on saucers.
Yet the beauteous maidens, they keep afar;
Oh, vision of youth! Oh, golden star!


Kind of the obverse of Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time.

Otherwise? Nothing much going on in the Bark of Beyond and that’s fine. The temperatures have warmed up to more-or-less normal for this winter. I don’t mind the cold, but it can be mildly challenging when the cold water hose to your washing machine freezes. In that situation, the important things are to be grateful it’s a hose not a pipe and to warm up the room.

Breaking ChapGPT

It’s a thing, I’ve learned, people try to stymy the chatbot. I thought I did it yesterday. At the advice of Colin, who writes one of my favorite blogs, Bon Repos Gites, I asked the bot to write some love letters. Then Colin suggested he’d asked it to write Valentines in particular forms — heavy metal song and public service announcement. I loved that idea so I asked it to write one in the style of 80 hardcore punk music. It “broke” three times. It couldn’t — or wouldn’t — write them. I was proud of myself, as, it seems, are all the people who “break” it. This morning I realized that the reason it “couldn’t” was because, to succeed at that task, it would have to violate some of its own rules against violence and obscenity. OH well.

What’s my fascination with punk? Maybe something similar to my fascination with ChatGPT et al. A lot of the society in which we live is built on lies and beliefs. Maybe we don’t examine them because, if we did, we’re afraid we’d break or reveal ourselves to ourselves for what we are. Possibly we don’t even know what we are. Popular music, politics, religious beliefs, magazines, the Internet, highways, cities — I would say everything humans create — all are mirrors. Whatever we do, we create images of ourselves, our desires, our culture. We can’t do anything else, and, if we could, it would be really weird. Punk is a mirror revealing our hypocrisy.

Punk — some punk not all (some Punk is just pop with an edge) — throws the ugly image up there in an often humorous way. Dark but truthful humor. It’s a break from saccharine love songs and all the rest of pop music. It has political beliefs, too, and over time became a fashion more than anything else and the fashion includes the Mohawk.

Back in the 80s was a — IMO — great cartoonist, Lynda Barry, and her cartoon parodying the parody that is punk is still one of my all time favorites.

My favorite 80s punk band is Dead Kennedys not only because someday I’ll be one, but because their songs are (IMO) funny. Their version of “Viva Las Vegas” is hilarious. Their political stance is in harmony with mine (“Nazi Punks Fuck Off”). Social commentary right on point (“Kill the Poor”). It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, so I’m refraining from dropping a video in here. Just remember: ChatGPT wouldn’t write in that language.

In other news, be careful what you wish for. You might get a legit blizzard. Seriously. We are having the most formidable snow I’ve seen since I moved here 8+ years ago. It’s not particularly cold right now so the flakes are pretty big, but the wind is fierce and the snow is blowing like a MOFO. Tonight will be in the negative digits F and, obviously, C. Tomorrow the sun will be out again. I don’t think even Bear and I will venture out until tomorrow but maybe just me on my skis, though I hate to speak that outloud (is this outloud?). Great Sand Dunes National Park is closed because of the blizzard.

Kill Your Television

I guess I’m an optimist. I keep trying. That’s my definition of optimism which I didn’t fully realize until just now, sitting in front of my laptop with a full cup of coffee. No, not half-full, but really and truly full. Oops, I drank some… That means I HAD some coffee! Oh boy! 🙂

Yesterday I had a bizarre conversation with the mentally challenged kid who brought out my groceries. Mike is a horse of a different color. The first time we met he explained that he’s autistic. I’m no expert. I’ve taught some kids who explained themselves to me when they handed me the form explaining their learning disability, and I was married to a man who is/was definitely somewhere on the spectrum so that might very well be.

Our conversation yesterday showed me that he imbibes in a lot of right-wing news media. It was kind of scary and definitely surreal. First he blamed Californians for the fact that we now have to bring our own bags to the store. It’s a minor POA when your groceries are brought to your car, but I figure we’ll get used to it. I’m all for it, annoying though it is. I listened to him rant for a minute, and then I said, “Whoa, dude, what if I tell you I moved here from California?”

He looked at me like he couldn’t comprehend it. “Southern Californians are the worst.”

“What if I tell you I lived in San Diego? Yeah. I moved there 40 years ago. There was no work in Colorado.”

He nodded. He could accept that. A person with a different kind of mind and social register might have been embarrassed or said something face-saving (as I have heard, like “Well I wouldn’t have guessed!”), but not Mike.

He did change the subject and went off into gun laws, “The second amendment doesn’t have anything to do with hunting.” I looked at him and hoped he didn’t put cans of dog food on top of the bananas.

“OK, but there’s a big difference between a guy loading up a shotgun to hunt a duck and a guy with an AR-15 shooting into a crowd of people.”

He repeated his point and I said, “You can’t just take ONE sentence. The idea was a well-regulated militia.”

He answered that we need our guns to protect us from the government. I said, “The idea of that amendment was a well-regulated militia to protect our country from invasion by another country.”

Then he read me my receipt, telling me how many points I had for gas. I said, “Whoa, cool! I’d better go get gas, Mike. Take it easy.”

I haven’t transcribed the whole conversation. Intermingled with this was me saying, “I dunno, Mike. I think the important thing is that we’re kind to each other.” To which he replied, “Yes, because we’re all Americans and the people who come here from other countries for a better life. They’re American, too.”

My heart kind of broke. I felt a weird combination of sad and dirty driving home hoping to god that Mohammed’s radio would give me a little redemption in that 30 minute drive.

Later on, reading an article that explained that ChatGPT could take over certain jobs (including teaching), I thought of Mike. The way Mike’s mind seems to work is that it can take things in and repeat them, but it can’t fully process the significance of the things it’s taken in. Mike hasn’t had the chance for good schooling, either. I did a little more testing of ChatGPT and it doesn’t really “think.” What does it mean to think? I realized when a human thinks, we bring into the arena of thought all kinds of things including very subtle problem-solving that involves our emotions and situational awareness. Mike doesn’t have access to some of that.

I “talked” to ChatGPT about it becoming a teacher, and it said straight out, “I’d suck.” Not in those words because it tends to be wordy, but essentially that because it cannot form human connections it should not teach. It’s right, though of course it’s just repeating something it “learned.” I thought of Mike.

The first time I met Mike he explained his mental problems in detail mixed in with anger at Walmart for firing him. The second time I had an extended conversation with him he told me about his efforts to overcome a drinking problem and how he wanted to become self-sufficient. Yesterday it was politics.

I took my icky feelings out for a walk with Bear, the compassionate side of me thinking, “Damn, Mike is a poor guy.” The OTHER side, “Well, that was scary.” Bear had a good time and got to roll in snow. I had a good time because it was a nice day and hanging out with Bear is always good.

In other AI news , apparently ChatGPT is NO rocket scientist. We Asked the New AI to Do Some Simple Rocket Science, It Crashed and Burned. Reading that article I thought of my Christmas present to my two very bright step-grandkids, slide rules, a book about the tools that led to the moon landing, and a book about how to use a slide rule. The intelligence behind much in our world is human. If a human mind doesn’t get the chance to learn or has some intrinsic glitches, it’s just sad. So far, all ChatGPT can be is a mediocre mind with a lot of information. Information isn’t knowledge.

“Kill your Television” is a song by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin from the 1990s.

“…there’s bugger all down here on Earth!”

Colder still this morning in the Bark of Beyond, but not as cold as it COULD get and MIGHT get. -4 F/-15C and, so far, nothing going on and that’s OK with me.

I was thinking yesterday of how disoriented I still feel after the past 3 years. I feel like I live in a completely different place from the one in which I lived in 2020. Some of the people I knew — and liked! — are no longer living here, and I feel that. And I’m changed. Yesterday’s prompt was ‘recharge,’ and just seeing that word made me see what I would really like to experience, but I’m not a cell phone or computer battery. Having gotten Covid while I was in the midst of attempting re-entry didn’t help, and long covid was very strange, particularly the mental stuff. I know I’m not alone in this and I know that a lot of people have had much bigger struggles than I have had.

And the politics continues. I’d like a hiatus from elections for five years or so, just stop for a minute, but that’s not how things work. The media magnifies things that are often, in and of themselves, unimportant and everyone looks at a car wreck.

Overall, I’m dealing with it OK, but some mornings I wake up and wonder what the hell happened? I think I need to point that space heater into the studio and get to work because it’s really largely up to me what my world consists of.

That’s brilliant. The meaning of life is a question that humans debate. I LOVE that!!!

I don’t think this blog post is going to get better than that this morning, so onward and upward. I guess it’s time to thaw out my paints and bring the linseed oil into a warmer part of the house. After all, the temperature is up to 0.

Lyrics to “Galaxy Song”

Your Utopian ChatGPT Message for the Day

If you open a window on ChatGPT/OpenAI it says that it will not respond to inappropriate requests. I’ve been wondering WHAT it has been taught is an “inappropriate” request. Here you go.

Presumably a similar bot could be developed that didn’t have that kind of “moral center.” There’s also a grammatical error “..such requests include but not limited to” — it should be “are not limited…” But I don’t care. This is a case where content matters more. I can send it to the writing lab for tutoring…🤣

I told it that I feel it is too bad that some humans don’t have similar “programming.”

It said, “Yes, it is unfortunate that some individuals engage in inappropriate behavior. However, it is important to remember that people can learn and change their behavior through education, awareness and positive reinforcement. Encouraging empathy and compassion, fostering an inclusive and respectful environment, and promoting the importance of consent can help prevent inappropriate behavior. Additionally, holding individuals accountable for their actions and providing opportunities for them to learn and grow can also contribute to a more respectful and appropriate society.”

I could sure go for that. ❤️

Another Weather Report and Stuff from the San Luis Valley

Old Sol is very intense here in the San Luis Valley because of the altitude and the zero humidity. You can be walking along on a cold, calm day, legitimately cold, 15 F/-9 C, and, if you are facing the sun or the sun is on your back, you can find yourself overheated in your down jacket. Yesterday wasn’t that day. It was warmer than 15, but no sun, and during my saunter with Bear, I was cold. It took a while to warm up, too, since the point of the walk was to let Bear have a chance to smell things and toddle along at her own speed. It snowed off and on all day, but it didn’t amount to much.

Today the sun is shining, and the freezing fog has touched the trees. The air shimmers with ice crystals. It’s 7 F/-13 C. BUT a few years ago on this day it was -17 F/-27 C so the warm spell of La Niña lingers.

I keep thinking that it might be time for an adventure in the world, but I don’t know where or what. I am held down by the roommates.

A woman I used to work with at the College of Business at SDSU offered me a job yesterday of editing an academic paper she’s writing. She did a Fulbright a year or two ago. She’s the only person from that life with whom I have any contact. She’s an awesome, dynamic, warm, human, funny person and I liked her a lot. I took the idea out with Bear to think it over and when I came back I had my answer. As Bear investigated a complicated concatenation of tracks, I saw that I’m not the person to edit an academic paper, particularly in a field I don’t know. Her field is accounting. That’s almost like asking me to describe life in New York City. And editing? It’s an enormous word — it means so many different things to people depending on what they think it is. I don’t even know what it is half the time. To some people it means proofreading, to some it means making something sound better, to some it means critique, to some it means making sure the guy rowing the galleon isn’t wearing an Apple Watch.

I’d take on the project if I were still in San Diego, and we could talk about the project over coffee. The whole thing would work better if we could show each other things in the manuscript. Still, I feel really good that she thought of me.

Yesterday, after I got the email asking me to do a survey about using ChatGPT in a communication class, I gave ChatGPT a challenge. The bot couldn’t handle it and THAT turned out to be very interesting. In business communication there are basically two kinds of messages, depending on the audience, always. It’s good news or bad news for the audience, not the writer/business.

One is a “bad news message” a message where (in a general sense) a business will have to say “No” to a customer. It’s bad news for the customer because he/she doesn’t get what he/she wants. The challenge is to keep the customer’s goodwill (and avoid a lawsuit?) while saying “No.” The structure of that message is complicated for students to understand even though it’s very simple. It’s like breaking up with someone — you go to a nice restaurant, compliment them on something, then say “it’s not you, it’s me.” That’s it more or less. The big rule is that you don’t say “No!” in the beginning. I asked ChatGPT to give me instructions for writing a bad news message and then demonstrate.

Basically, a correct answer would be 1) goodwill, 2) policy, 3) refusal, 4) [optional] offer of some kind of compensation (discount on a future order), 5) more goodwill — thanks for contacting us, etc. Simply, thank them for their message, appreciate their concern, explain company policy, tell them not to hesitate to get in touch if they have further questions. The “no” might not even be stated explicitly.

The bot gave incorrect instructions for writing a bad news message, and then wrote an example message using the correct structure. I asked it why it did that. It couldn’t handle the question or see what it had done. If I were teaching business communication now, I would use that in class.

I kind of pushed the bot, and it explained its limitations to me. I knew them already, but I wondered how it would “defend” itself. It didn’t. It couldn’t see what it couldn’t see and admitted it. It doesn’t have the analytical skills or what we might term “self-awareness” needed to see the contradiction between its instructions for writing a bad news message and the message it actually wrote.

To me this says that the bot can get the right answer but not know why or how it got it. To me this means, as far as education, right answers in and of themselves need to be de-emphasized. The process and the reasons behind it, in the case of a bad news message meaning acknowledging the humanity of the person who will be disappointed might be more worthy of an exam question. Could a bot learn to give the right answer to THAT question? Yeah. I can see the bot pushing educators in a very different direction and I, personally, hope that happens. It makes me think of my best ever business communication class in which we met for four hours three days a week in a wonderful room (I called it “the bridge” after Star Trek) and everyone did their work right then and there on laptops, working together and working with me. Everyone learned so much. It’s the only bus comm class I ever took out for pizza at the end of the semester. The bot could push education toward more interactive learning and a different way to grade.

The email came from a group of university instructors who are writing a paper. I’m looking forward to hearing the results of the survey and reading the paper. I know that education is only ONE place where AI will have — and is having — an impact. Since I’ve been playing around with this, I’ve seen how much it is already involved in my life. Yesterday I filed my taxes. I was helped by what I can only call a “tax bot.” Considering how absolutely punctilious and literal Mr. Taxbot is by its “nature,” I was pretty happy with it. So much better than the old days when I had to fill out my tax form myself. One year when I had had a hard time financially and the feds still wanted me to pay, I wrote, “‘You can’t get blood from a turnip. Send me a bill.” I wrote that in red ink. There are times when being human is a liability. Taxbot just asks me to fill in blanks then goes through everything with its utter lack of imagination to see if I’ve done it. It’s programs to have a “friendly tone” which is kind of annoying but it’s better than a hostile tone. And, one good thing about Taxbot; it doesn’t lecture.

Interesting Direction in ChatGPT

Today I got this email leading to a survey that I was very happy to take:

Hi Martha,

You’ve likely heard about ChatGPT, an AI tool that uses natural language to interact with people. It can generate essays, reports, and workplace messages based on prompts given to it by people.

As a communication instructor, you are uniquely positioned to think about how ChatGPT presents challenges and opportunities for writing and communication instruction.

We seek to identify emerging best practices in the use of ChatGPT by drawing on the perspectives of communication instructors like yourself.

We would appreciate 10 minutes of your time to take the following survey about your views about ChatGPT.

survey link

Even if you don’t know much about ChatGPT, that’s fine. The survey contains several screens with output to prompts given to ChatGPT so you can see how it works. In the survey, you can see how ChatGPT responded to the following questions:

·       “What are the best ways to deliver bad news to employees?” (a simple query with advice)

·       “Please write a message to employees about a new policy that requires them to return to the offices for work.” (a workplace message)

·       “Write a 5 paragraph essay about the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace. Provide citations.” (a short essay with sources)

Thank you in advance for providing your perspectives. We hope to share results from the survey for an Association for Business Communication conference presentation and submit the findings to a communication journal. We want to tap into the perspectives and expertise of the business communication community to identify general reactions and recommendations. Please email us directly if you want summary results. 

With appreciation, Five professors from five different universities

Done! Thank you. I think it’s got potential to be a GREAT tool in both business communication and general writing classes. Experimenting with it kind of made me wish to get back into a classroom.

Martha Kennedy

Business Communication Instructor, San Diego State University, retired– 


Hi Martha, totally agree. It’s such a fascinating tool. Used wisely, it has lots of potential. Take care and appreciate your thoughts.  

Even though I’m retired, I took the survey and made the point that I thought it could be a great teaching/learning tool in a communications or writing class. There were several open-ended questions that asked how I would use it. It was a good survey and I was happy to participate.

I was happy to see this and to see that there’s interest in it as a teaching tool rather than an outright dismissal of it as a new plagiarism opportunity.

Prompts for Winter Writing — For students and??? (more fun with AI)

The link below was shared by the people for whom I’m reading books. Based on my recent forays into AI, I’d say all of these prompts were written by an AI.

So I asked ChatGPT to give me 10 wintery prompts. They are better than the ones on the above site.

I’d have no hesitancy about giving these to a class, and a couple of them intrigue me. I wouldn’t probably give a class prompts that tell them what to feel — like “beauty and serenity of a winter evening” or “complete with snow-covered trees…etc.” And, personally, I hate the word “cozy.” Shudder… I’d want my students to do that kind of description on their own without me or something else prescribing a response. I like 3, 4, 5, 6, 8. Students would like 10.

But they all lead to happy stories. I don’t imagine Alferd Packer or the Donner Party coming out of them — so I asked for unhappy endings.

Still no cannibalism, but you can’t have everything… If you don’t know the story of Alferd Packer, the Colorado Cannibal, (that’s how he spelled his name), you can learn about him here. He was stranded in the mountains not all that far from where I live — up in the San Juans near Lake City which was on the stagecoach route I’ve written about here in the past. One of the restaurants at the University of Colorado in Boulder is named the Alferd Packer Grill. When I was a student there, my ex and I only ate there when (for some unknown reason) we happened to have money. Good burgers and onion rings.

I’m not even going to apologize anymore. Godnose when this will end. It makes me wish I were teaching again. Instead of fighting against some of the things I had to fight against when I retired, I’d probably be embracing some of them.

Fun with ChatGPT

I got this idea after reading a comment this morning about someone who’d used the chatbot to write a train cancellation notice in the style of Revelations. I knew I’d have to try this. I promise. I’ll stop, but what a riot. It doesn’t get e. e. cummings but does well with Robert Service. OK, I promise I’ll stop now.

Please write an advertisement for toilet paper in the style of William Blake

“Soft as an angel’s wing, pure as the driven snow,
Our toilet paper doth cleanse and soothe.
No harshness to be found, no splinters to assail,
A comfort to the body, a balm to the tale.

In fields of white, our rolls do lay,
Ready to fulfill their noble duty each day.
So let not your tushie suffer or moan,
For with our toilet paper, you shall be forever known
As one who chooses luxury and grace,
Over harsh and rough, a true connoisseur of the loo’s embrace.”

Can you write an advertisement for toilet paper in the style of Robert Service?

“In the wild and rugged land, where the outhouses stand,
And the winds of fate do howl and moan,
There’s a need for something soft, to wipe away the oft,
Less savory bits that cling and groan.

Enter our toilet paper, strong and true,
With its quilted softness, it’ll see you through.
No more rough and scratchy, no more of that,
Just smoothness and comfort, where’er you squat.

So heed the call of the wild, and heed it well,
And bring our toilet paper with you, through the dells.
For when nature calls, and calls with might,
You’ll be glad you have our toilet paper, to make it right.”

An ad for toilet paper in the style of e.e. Cummings?

&rustle(s)of(the)leaf(es) there(is)a(place) w

it(is)an(exclamation) of(softness)
a(caress) an(ode)to(cleanliness)

our(toilet)paper dance(s)on(your)skin s
ing(s)to(your)soul and(leave(s)you)feeling


After making me laugh it again asserted it has no power to feel and therefore cannot have fun. It’s a pity. Maybe you’ll have fun.

Chat GPT MORE experimenting

I just had a “chat” about it helping me write a message in Italian. I wanted to know two things — first, that it could do that. Second, Italian is not philosophically or socially English. It’s more “human” if that makes any sense. Here’s our conversation. If you can read Italian even a little you’ll see the difference in “voice,” politeness and “humanness”. I love English, but the underlying philosophy is expedience. Also, I used incorrect verb forms to see WHAT it would take away from that — it did beautifully with the context. I’m really impressed with this thing and the people who developed it.

Me: Poi scrivere in italiano? <– Can you write in Italian?

It: Sì, posso scrivere in italiano. In che modo posso aiutarti? <– Yes, I can write in Italian. In what way can I help you?

Me: Vorrei scrivere un email dicendo that I don’t have anything to say, but I hope my friend is all right. Non posse scrivo questo da solo <– I want to write an email saying (diced is the wrong verb form) that I don’t have anything to say, but I hope my friend is all right. I can’t write this myself. (wrong verb form)

It: Certo, posso aiutarti a scrivere l’email. Ecco un esempio di come potresti formulare il messaggio: <– Certainly. I can help you to write the email. Here’s an example of how to formulate the message.

“Ciao amico, Spero che tu stia bene. Non ho molto da dire in questo momento, ma volevo solo fare un saluto e assicurarmi che tu stia passando un buon periodo.

Un saluto, [Il tuo nome]”

Me: Perfetto. Grazie! <– Perfect! Thanks

It: Di nulla, sono contento di poterti aiutare. In caso avessi bisogno di altro, non esitare a chiedere. <– translate: It’s nothing. I’m happy I was able to help you. If you need more help, don’t hesitate to ask.

Also — my recent foray into this has shown me how much of WordPress is probably relying on some kind of AI. I think a lot of times we won’t know and I guess that’s scary in its way or I’ve read way too much Philip K. Dick. 😉 But, I’m not scared of it and never have been — I played with a low-level primitive version myself back in the 80s to introduce my students to writing programs in BASIC and to get them comfortable with using a personal computer. It’s a little hard to believe that there ever WAS a time like that but there was.

OK, I’ll quit boring you with this. Or not, I’m not sure.