Is it Suzanne, Bob or ChatGPT?

Those old enough to remember the 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, will remember HAL 9000, as the spaceship’s artificially intelligent computer, who, with a mind of his own, turns against the crew when they believe his calculations are wrong, regarding their journey to Jupiter. The name HAL came from Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer.  Heuristic is a technique designed for solving problems more quickly than humans typically can.  As I recall, HAL spoke in a very soft, calming, conversational manner, but ends up killing one of the astronauts who was trying to disconnect it.  It was pointed out at the time that the letters HAL are just one letter off the computer giant of the day, IBM.

Enter ChatGPT.  For those unfamiliar with ChatGPT, here’s a quick tutorial.  First, it is a ‘chatbot’ (a software application used to conduct online conversations via text or text-to-speech in lieu of providing direct contact with live humans), developed by Open AI and Introduced at the end of last year.  ChatGPT (which stands for Chat, well, you know what chatting is, the GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is taking the Artificial Intelligence world by storm with its ability to do a multitude of things.

The core function of a chatbot is to mimic a human conversationalist; for example, ChatGPT can write and debug computer programs, compose music, teleplays or fairy tales, and write poetry and song lyrics.  Conveniently, it can, for a college student, answer test questions and write essays – yes, write essays!!

Just last week, I had the opportunity to see ChatGPT in action.  A friend of mine asked ChatGPT to write a Shakespearean sonnet for his wife on Valentine’s Day – it took about a minute and, Voila!!  The sonnet sounded like the Bard himself had just penned a special 14-line poem to his wife.  I was amazed!!  I learned that it could remember things you have said to it in the past and is capable of correcting itself when wrong.

As I dug deeper into the applications of ChatGPT, I found just the type of thing someone like me might ask of ChatGPT.  Here’s the example I found:

“Write a biblical verse in the style of the King James bible explaining how to remove a peanut butter sandwich from a VCR.”

“And the Lord spoke unto him, saying, “Fear not, my child, for I shall guide thy hand and show thee the way.  Take thy butter knife, and carefully insert it between the sandwich and the VCR, and gently pry them apart.  And with patience and perseverance, the sandwich shall be removed, and they VCR shall be saved”

And the man did as the Lord commanded, and lo and behold, the sandwich was removed from the VCR, and the man was saved.

And the Lord said, “Verily I say unto thee, seek not to put thy peanut butter sandwich in thy VCR, for it is not a suitable place for such things.  Rather, keep thy sandwiches in they refrigerator or on thy plate, where they belongeth.”

So, you see how an everyday problem like this, that I’m sure you’ve encountered, can be solved with the help of ChatGPT!  If you’re wondering if students now don’t have to write essays, or anything for that matter, I’ve been told that there is a way to detect whether something is written by a human or by ChatGPT.  But I’m sure it won’t take long before they figure out how to ‘fix’ that.

But, it’s not all sunshine and lollypops.  Like most computers, it goes wacky once in a while.  ChatGPT often fails at basic math, it sometimes can’t answer a simple logic question, and it can mix fact and fiction (Sounds very human!).  It can also give incorrect, and often damaging, medical advice.  And, because it is programed by humans and humans can be biased, ChatGPT can put forth biased information.

You’ve probably guessed the answer to the question in the headline; neither ChapGPT nor Suzanne, could have written something so banal.

HAL, by any other name, is here, amazing . . . and dangerous!




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


            Singing at the 16th

Last week we denizens of Arizona experienced record crowds – it is estimated that 1 million people visited the Valley of the Sun to attend the WM Phoenix Open and the Super Bowl.  Our “sun” has been missing most of this winter (last week it snowed in Scottsdale), but the Chamber of Commerce obviously has an in with The Big Guy, because it was sunny all weekend.  Twenty-five years ago we were advised to hunker down the week of the WM Phoenix Open, as the crowds are plentiful … and drunk.  When the Super Bowl is also played here the same weekend, it is best to venture out only in the event of a severed limb or cardiac arrest.  So, we watched all of the festivities from the comfort of our couch.  One of the most fun aspects of the Phoenix Open is watching the idiots, ummm, patrons at the 16th hole.  They started the week off on Thursday with a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline”.  It was joyous to watch and reminded me of a fun family outing when the song was newer, and we were too.  More on that later, but first, a bit of history about the song and how it got its name.

Neil Diamond released “Sweet Caroline” as a single in May 1969, and it was then featured on his album, “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”.   Its catchy lyrics and staccato beat made the song an instant hit, spending more than three months on the pop charts.  Surprisingly it never reached the top of the charts; it peaked at No 4.  For years people speculated who the “Caroline” in the song might be.  Decades went by without a definitive answer. Finally, in 2007, Diamond finally told the backstory of the song and how he came up with its title. He explained that “‘Sweet Caroline’ was born in a motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, as an afterthought to some songs he was preparing for a recording session.  He said he was as surprised as anyone when the music and lyrics flowed quickly and easily from his mind to paper.  Diamond revealed that the most challenging part of the song was finding the right name for the title. At the time, he was married to Marcia Murphey, and had promised her a song. The problem was he needed a three-syllable name to fit the melody. He picked up his “idea” book, a journal where he routinely jotted down thoughts for lyrics, and found the name “Caroline”.  It was perfect.

The inspiration for the song

But why did he put the name “Caroline” in his idea book to begin with?  In the 2007 interview, Diamond said he was touched by a photograph he saw in a magazine of a young Caroline Kennedy, dressed in equestrian gear on her pony. At the time he thought it was a sweet, innocent photo, and knew at some point he would want to write a song about it.  He never told anyone that Kennedy was his inspiration until her 50th birthday celebration, where he performed via satellite and surprised her by revealing she was his inspiration.  She was thrilled.  By that time, of course, it had become tradition to hear it at numerous sporting events, perhaps most famously at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.  The song is played during the 8th inning of every game and gets the fans roused up, regardless of how the Sox are faring.  It was first played in 1997 and then intermittently after that until 2002, when Charles Steinberg, the Red Sox executive vice president of public affairs, noticed that every time the song played, he saw the crowd transformed.  Steinberg decided to make “Sweet Caroline” a tradition, and it stuck.

           Diamond at Fenway

The most moving rendition of the song was in 2013, right after the Boston Marathon bombing. Diamond hopped on flight as soon as he heard the Red Sox would be playing and went to Fenway Park, not giving anyone a heads up.  Luckily the gate agent recognized him and let him in without a ticket. He stood in the infield and sang the song, with the crowd joining in as one. Diamond later said it was a moment he will never forget. That performance also created a great demand for the song, and Diamond donated all of the profits from those sales to the charity set up to help the victims of the bombing.


          The Three Troublemakers

I saw Neil Diamond perform in 1979, just after “Forever in Blue Jeans” came out.  Everyone stood, everyone sang, and in an era before cell phones, people flicked on lighters in the dark and swayed to the music when he sang “Sweet Caroline”.  But my best memory of the song dates back to the winter of 1969.  Each year we would spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s skiing at Tahoe.  That year was extra special because brother Bob had just arrived home from Japan, where he had been stationed for the past year.  The Vietnam war was still raging, and we were so happy he was home. One night we went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, and I suppose after a lot of libation and very little encouragement, we sang “Sweet Caroline” at the top of our lungs.  I’m not sure we even knew all of the lyrics, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.  Looking back, the other guests were probably not as entertained as we were, and it was a good thing brother Jack knew the owners or we probably would have been kicked out.  That night and that song have provided me a good memory for fifty-plus years.

Given its long-standing popularity, the song clearly holds sentimental value for a lot of people. Most of us can probably remember singing it at some point, maybe alone in a car, or in a crowd, or at a fun family gathering. All I know is that every time I hear it, it brings back memories of things being “so good, so good, so good”.


Super Bowl was a Gas . . . But, It’s Passing

by Bob Sparrow

My Super Bowl was already ruined when the 49ers couldn’t beat the Eagles with their 4th-string quarterback, but it got worse.  Several days before ‘the game’, I made the mistake of reading an article about being careful about what one eats at a Super Bowl party.  The article reported that the food typically served at these get-togethers is not healthy – now there’s a news flash!  It went on to itemize different food groups and the various gastronomical complications that could ensue from digesting said foods.  It was like a train wreck, I couldn’t stop reading!, but since I was already depressed by the San Francisco loss, I continued.

The first ‘warning’ came early on, saying that doctors see more patients for food-related problems around national holidays and big sporting events.  So, if you’re reading this from your doctor’s office, you’re not alone.

So here’s the scoop (best served with guacamole), coming a day late and a handful of Tums short.

Chicken wings – this favorite game day staple is the trifecta of potential digestive distress.  Fried, fatty foods open the gap between the esophagus and the stomach, thus allowing stomach acid to go into the esophagus and cause acid reflux and heartburn.  Spicy wings are even worse; and if you’re dipping them in say, Ranch dressing, you’re adding processed oils that can exacerbate acid reflux and cause bloating.

Three ‘Widow Maker’ Options

Nachos – Pick your poison; beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, jalapenos, meat and other toppings on a bed of fried tortilla chips – they should rename ‘Nacho Health Food’!

Jalapeno poppers – these delicious breaded peppers filled with cream cheese creates the perfect storm for an upset stomach.   Additionally, the little know ‘capsaicin’ in it are an irritant to everything they touch on their journey through the digestive tract.

Dips & Spreads – Spinach dip, artichoke dip, bean dip, etc. all cause gas and bloating and adversely affect people with even small degrees of lactose intolerance.  And of course, we’re all aware of possible embarrassment of flatuance caused by beans.

Hail to the Chiefs!

The article continues with that pesky issue of alcohol.  When you should have been drinking water, to help move things along in the digestive tract, you’re dehydrating and alcohol poisoning yourself by spending the entire game downing beers, sipping wine or guzzling those specialty Super Bowl drinks – Kansas City Ice Water (a Gin & Tonic combined with a Vodka Soda) or Philadelphia Fish House Punch (rum, brandy, peach brandy, lemon).  Personally, I drank some northern California wine during the game – Go Niners!

The article then goes into FODMAPS, not FoodMaps, but those fermentable oligosaccharide . . . never mind, you don’t want to know!!

I’m surprised the article didn’t offer a ‘Prop Bet‘ for the number of times one uses the toilet bowl during the Super Bowl.

Be thankful you read this after the Super Bowl and not before.  So, congrats to Kansas City, who will be enjoying a little Kansas City barbeque and some Ice Water, while the Eagles will find solace in a Philly Cheesesteak and a Yuengling Lager, before we all go back on those diets that started last month!

If the 49ers don’t make the Super Bowl next year, I’m thinking I’ll write  a follow-up article on Irritable Bowl Syndrome.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Have you seen the price of eggs lately?  They have skyrocketed in the past few weeks, particularly here in Arizona.  Beginning January 1, chicken farmers here have had to double the space provided for their laying hens.  The new law has caused egg production to diminish by roughly half, while the increase in prices has roughly doubled.  Elsewhere in the country egg prices have increased due to avian flu and weather conditions.  So, Americans are doing what they normally do in a crisis – taking matters into their own hands and becoming chicken farmers.   People are rushing to farm supply stores, hell-bent on becoming more self-sufficient when it comes to their breakfasts.  Unfortunately, like many trends that make their way to TikTok and other social media platforms, this has not been particularly well thought out.  I should know, for a brief time in my youth I was the proud owner of a chicken.

Novato was still a rural community in the 1950’s, with many dairy and chicken farms in the surrounding area. My third-grade teacher thought it would be a wonderful life lesson for us to see the cycle of life, at least with respect to chickens and eggs.  Perhaps she was trying to provide a real-life illustration of the age-old quandary of which came first. In any event, she brought a chicken coop into the classroom and every morning we rushed to the coop to see if the chicken had laid an egg. After four weeks of a squawking chicken and a room full of distracted third graders, she decided to end the “chicken lesson”.  But instead of taking the chicken back to where she got it, she asked if anyone wanted to adopt it. My hand shot up and several hours later I proudly walked home with “Henrietta”.  I cannot recall my parents’ reaction to the new addition to our family, but I can’t imagine it was good.  I quickly discovered that chickens take a lot of work and… this is the tough part…their excrement smells like, well, chicken excrement.  Details escape me but I think Henrietta quickly wore out her welcome and my dad took her to our next-door neighbor who already owned chickens.  It was perfect, I could visit her but not have to care for her, or more critically, clean up after her.

Given my brief stint as a chicken owner, I’ve been fascinated by this recent trend in chicken farming.  As I learned, raising chickens is not easy, or necessarily cost-effective.  Baby chickens are selling for $5 each.  Sounds cheap, however, feed ranges from 10 to 20 cents a bird per day and coops cost between $400 and $3,000. Other costs for the birds include heating and fencing.  And most people don’t realize that hens don’t lay eggs in winter conditions.  Perhaps they come to Arizona like the other snowbirds? One new owner adopted seven chicks four months ago and estimates she’s spent about $750 on food, bedding, heat lamps and other supplies. She doesn’t have a single egg to show for it.  That makes paying $8 for a dozen eggs sound like a bargain.

When people realize that chicken farming isn’t all romance and eggs benedict, the question arises as to how to dispose of the chicken?  In olden days, once hens could no longer produce eggs, they became dinner.  But many new chicken owners are reluctant to eat their hens.  In fact, some say they have become a part of the family.  One woman in my knitting group has knit sweaters for her daughter’s chicken.  We thought she was joking, but it turns out it has been a popular fashion trend for chickens.  Apparently, people are mis-guided in thinking that chickens get cold, when in fact, sweaters actually inhibit the hen’s ability to shed feathers.  But like the people who put a ballerina skirt on their dog, sometimes common sense plays no part when it comes to people and their animals.  All I know is, although my time as a chicken owner was brief, it did inform me as to how convenient it is to buy eggs at the grocery store, regardless of price.  The eggs are ready to eat and better yet, you don’t have to muck around in chicken excrement to get them.