Got bored during lunch and tried an experiment with GPT-4:


Write an italian sonnet about the difficulty of building a writing habit.


Nell’attimo in cui la penna tocca carta bianca,
La mente si perde nell’abisso del dubbio.
Come fiume che si rifiuta di seguire il suo corso,
L’ispirazione si nasconde, lasciandomi a mani vuote.

Cerco le parole tra le pieghe del silenzio,
Ma il foglio resta intatto, immacolato, sterile.
La routine è un nemico, insidioso e furtivo,
Che ruba la creatività, lasciando solo l’eco del vuoto.

Ma nel cuore dell’oscurità, una luce balugina,
Un pensiero, un’idea, un filo d’inchiostro si dispiega.
L’abitudine è un muratore, costruisce ponti, non mura,
E il fiume delle parole, infine, si risveglia.

Così, ogni giorno, lentamente, la penna si muove,
E la pagina bianca diventa un racconto d’amore e di prove.


Hah! I meant a sonnet in the Italian style (as opposed to a Shakespearean one). But a sonnet actually IN Italian is pretty fun, too. Could you please do two things: 1) Give me a translation of the above “Italian sonnet”, and (2) write a second sonnet–in English–but in the Italian (petrarchan) style, on the same subject.


Of course, here’s the translation of the Italian sonnet:

In the moment when the pen touches white paper,
The mind loses itself in the abyss of doubt.
Like a river refusing to follow its course,
Inspiration hides, leaving me empty-handed.

I search for words in the folds of silence,
But the page remains intact, immaculate, sterile.
Routine is an enemy, insidious and stealthy,
Stealing creativity, leaving only the echo of emptiness.

But in the heart of darkness, a light glimmers,
A thought, an idea, a thread of ink unfolds.
Habit is a builder, it constructs bridges, not walls,
And the river of words, at last, awakens.

So, every day, slowly, the pen moves,
And the blank page becomes a tale of love and trials.

And now for an English sonnet in the Italian (Petrarchan) style:

Upon the barren plain of white, I stand,
The scribe’s relentless duty in my hand.
My thoughts, once swift, now stagnant as a pond,
The stream of inspiration seems beyond.

Each day I face this quiet, daunting fight,
Against the emptiness, I must ignite
A spark within my mind, a kindled flame,
To dance upon the page, to stake its claim.

Yet, in the struggle, something pure unfolds,
A rhythm born of constancy takes hold.
The habit, once a foe, becomes a friend,
A means to coax the muse, the silence end.

Thus, daily wrestle shapes a writer’s art,
In steady beats, the story finds its start.

So: my Italian is limited to asking for the location of a toilet, buying cigarettes and beer, and asking for the check. Anyone more fluent care to comment on GPT’s performance, here? As for the poetry itself: I will note that neither of these is actually in the proper form. I was looking for something made up of one octet followed by one sestet (and no final couplet), with the rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA (although I’d also accept ABABABAB) for the eight line stanza, and either CDECDE, CDCCDC, or CDCDCD for the six line stanza.

You Know What They Say…

We humans have a number of glitches in how we process information. It’s a topic I love exploring for some reason. We’re bad at grasping probabilities. Very large numbers make us stupid. Randomness doesn’t behave the way our intuition expects it to. Our faculty for pattern recognition can cause us to see relationships that aren’t actually there.

Today, the glitch I’m thinking about is how we tend to perceive things that are well said as therefore true. And I’m not quite sure why we do this. I mean, is there any logical reason to actually suspect that a thing well said is true, or that a thing poorly expressed must be false? And we know that clever wording can’t be trusted, because we have sayings that warn us of this:

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Beware of the flatterer: he feeds you with an empty spoon.”

“A smooth talker isn’t to be trusted.”

“Oratory is the power to talk people out of their sober and natural opinions.”

“Eloquence may set fire to reason.”

And speaking of instructional quotes, consider the following example of human wisdom:

“Actions speak louder than words.” So true! And yet… “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Isn’t it?

Everyone knows that, “Slow and steady wins the race,” but…isn’t it generally accepted that, “Fortune favors the bold”?

It’s beautiful to think that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” isn’t it? Although, now that I’m thinking about it, don’t they say, “Out of sight, out of mind”?

And when Coco Chanel (of all people) said, “The best things in life are free,” did they not realize that “You get what you pay for”?

And then there’s this great bit of relationship wisdom, uttered by many a nodding head when discussing the attraction of one person to another: “Opposites attract”. So true! So wise! So…contradicted by the famous avian saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

And speaking of wise words from great thinkers, I have always found curious the claim that “Great minds think alike,” given the also quite well-said warning that “Fools seldom differ.”

Is this just a lazy way of using a bunch of famous quotes to pad out an article in my quest to write and publish more frequently? Well, sure. Of course it is.

But as the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In our pursuit of understanding the world around us, we often turn to the wisdom of others, distilled into these memorable and thought-provoking quotes. However, these nuggets of wisdom can sometimes be contradictory or even misleading, reminding us that context is key and that true understanding requires critical thinking.

As we explore the quirks and glitches of our human nature, let’s not be swayed by eloquence alone, but rather strive to question, analyze, and appreciate the complexity and nuance that lies beneath the surface of well-crafted words.

Because, after all, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”

So, as we continue to navigate the world of wisdom, clichés, and contradictory sayings, let’s remember to approach them with a healthy dose of skepticism, and perhaps most importantly, with an open mind.

And as a wise man once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

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My Journey with AI: How I Learned to Make the Most of GPT-4 for Research and Writing

Hey there, friends!

I wanted to share my personal experience with you on how I’ve been using AI, specifically GPT-4, to help me with research and writing. I’ve found that treating AI like an intern or junior colleague has made a world of difference in the way I work. Let me walk you through my journey and share some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

My initial encounters with AI were mostly me trying to get it to generate content for sermons. The results were, well, not exactly what I was hoping for. Sure, it could churn out some generic stuff, but when it came to the nuances of my preferred doctrine, it just wasn’t quite there. But then, I started to think about how I could get more out of my AI companion.

Lesson 1: AI as a Research Assistant

I discovered that GPT-4 could be super helpful with research tasks. For my sermons, it could provide me with outlines of Bible stories and summaries of historical and cultural contexts. While it wasn’t perfect, it definitely saved me time and gave me a solid foundation to build upon.

Lesson 2: Engaging in Dialogue

Instead of just expecting GPT-4 to generate perfect content, I began engaging in conversations with it. I’d feed it my own research and ideas, and we’d bounce thoughts back and forth. It was like having a chat with a junior colleague who helped me process my thoughts and make connections I might not have seen otherwise.

Lesson 3: Embrace AI’s Flaws (and Learn from Them)

As much as I love GPT-4, it’s not perfect. Sometimes it agrees with my ideas a bit too readily. But even when it’s just echoing my thoughts, it still helps me see the flaws in my own reasoning. It’s like when you explain something to a friend, and in the process, you realize you’ve missed something crucial.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up to make the most of your AI collaboration:

  1. Keep the conversation going – Don’t just rely on the AI’s first response. Keep asking questions and exploring ideas together.
  2. Double-check the details – AI can be a great starting point, but make sure to verify the information it provides to ensure accuracy.
  3. Treat AI like an intern – Don’t expect perfection. Remember that AI can improve with your guidance and mentorship, just like a junior colleague.

So, that’s my story! I’ve come to appreciate the real power of AI as a collaborative partner in my research and writing journey. It may not always have the right answers, but engaging in conversation with GPT-4 has helped me think more deeply and grow as a writer.

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you! Happy researching and writing, friends!

Post Script

The above post was written by GPT-4, as the result of a short conversation I had with it. I gave it some tweets and also a Facebook comment I have written about treating AI as an intern, using it to help develop sermons, articles, and talks, and focusing on conversations rather than “prompts”, and then asked for a blog post. The first version it gave me was very academic, both in structure and tone. But after explaining that to ChatGPT and also describing more the style my blog strives for, it gave me what you just read.

It’s not perfect. Actually, I’d say it isn’t even great, in terms of matching my voice. But then again, I didn’t give it any actual samples of my writing, Still, from this experiment I’ll add one more thing I’ve (now) learned (or relearned) about using a tool like GPT: it seems to be far better at developing outlines for presentations than actual prose text, if you care about tone, style, and personality. And I do tend to care about those things in my writing.

I’d be interested in what you’ve learned as well. Despite the way ChatGPT wrote everything above the “Post Script” header, I am far from saying “I have learned”–it is more accurate to say, “I am exploring, and I think I may have started learning.” So: how are you using this new tool, and how have you learned to interact with it?

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Killing the Golden Goose: Wizards, Open Source Gaming, and Software as a Service

Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast have a problem. It’s a “problem” that has always existed for the owners of Dungeons and Dragons: once a player has learned to play the game from the basic books, they do not need to ever purchase another D&D product ever again. A player with the basic books has all they need to create all the content they could ever use with their friends. Supplement books, campaigns, adventure scenarios, miniatures, game aids, etc., are all nice to have, and many will buy them from WotC, but they don’t HAVE to.

So the temptation occasionally arises for whoever owns D&D to find ways to creatively “lock in” the player base by doing things that require recurring payments to the owners. A software tool that the next version of the ruleset depends upon is an obvious way to do this. Aggressively defending the intellectual property surrounding the game is an attempt to “control” the community of gaming as well.

But the problem with any solution that seeks to “control” a game like D&D runs into, well, that same problem! If the player base doesn’t like being controlled, they can walk away without their gaming experience changing one iota. They still own the books they bought. They can still create their own monsters, adventures and worlds. But now, instead of occasionally buying supplemental material from WotC, they change to NEVER buying from WotC again.

Trying to control D&D is like trying to control the game of tag. Or trying to control kids playing “make believe”. Or trying to control the telling of campfire stories. 

This is where Ryan Dancey’s concept of the Open Gaming License was so brilliant. The idea behind the OGL was to accept this basic truth of a game like D&D, and rather than try to fight the lack of control, lean into it. Accept that what a loosely organized community of creators (not just “publishers”, CREATORS–since EVERY PLAYER is a “creator” of this game) can do to bring in new players, to improve the gaming experience for everyone involved, and to increase the amount of time, money, and energy invested in the particular system of D&D (over other RPG options that are out there), will always FAR exceed what one corporation could accomplish while maintaining total and exclusive control of the game.

And now they are looking to change the OGL. They look at how revenue works for other systems, like Magic: the Gathering, and even more so, like with Magic Arena. And they want some of that predictable recurring revenue. But they’re playing with fire.

If ever there was a modern day example of the dangers of “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs”, this is it, right here. Hasbro and WotC have a good thing going, but they are in danger of shutting down all future growth in an attempt to grab up “money left on the table” here and now.

One more thing: this is part of a larger trend that has been increasingly disastrous for the average person: the shift to “product as a service” is terrible. The short and medium term economic incentive is obvious, and so it’s no wonder that the world is increasingly being taken over by this idea. I’ve run a company. I know how hard it is to be constantly chasing after the next sale, or the next client, and wishing at least some of the revenue needed to keep things going and people employed was coming from a source that didn’t require creating something entirely new every time.

But not everything should be a service. Sometimes that approach can make things better. But it often creates perverse incentives. Free to play online games that put constant but subtle pressure on the players not just to buy “golden tickets” to improve the experience, but also to log in, to “grind”, to not miss events and achievements for fear of falling behind, are predatory. And today they are the norm.

But it’s not inevitable. Lasting and powerful value can still be created by other means. In fact, the increase of “software as a service”, “product as a service”, and “customers as the product” ways of doing business is creating an environment that is increasingly ripe for contrarian entrepreneurs to step in and offer something players, users, consumers, creators–and people in general–are yearning for: a thing that is good because the thing itself is good. No grind. No ongoing parasitic relationship. No gaming of systems or hacking of psychological reward systems. Just: here’s a thing I made, that you can enjoy as long as you want, so long as you pay for it up front.

This trend is not unending. People will hit a point where paying for things up front becomes far preferable to “free” to start, followed by a never ending tug-of-war over tiny slices of attention and wealth.

WotC sees the recurring revenue that games structured as services make, but they are failing to see that they already have something much better. And more enduring…at least so long as they don’t hack it up trying to squeeze out marginal gains for the next quarterly report.

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Recently I saw a tweet that asked, “How do you journal?” There were all sorts of interesting responses, describing the many different styles of journaling that people practice. But when I read the question, I didn’t initially think, “What are the ways in which one might journal?” so much as “How on earth am I supposed to ‘journal’??”

I find “journaling” hard. It’s difficult for me to write without an audience. But something feels weird about writing a diary entry with the intent of someone some day stumbling across it and reading it. Like it would compromise the honesty of the process. Not that I lie to audiences, but, honestly, I hold back. There are things I think that I would never say to another person without editing. I assume that’s true for you, too. It’s common sense. It’s common curtesy. Plus, many of the thoughts that come into my head I end up rejecting. And I don’t want to be held accountable for ephemeral nonsense that I toss out after examining. But isn’t that what journaling is? Writing your thoughts? Without care for how they are presented to someone else because no one else is going to read them?

“But Mac,” you say, “Just write it for yourself. YOU are your audience.” I hear you. But I don’t get it. In school I never read my own notes from lectures, and now I’m going to go back and read old journal entries some day? Seems unlikely.

So how do you journal? Like, what is your goal? What is your process? How do you decide what to write? When to write? How much to write? I know I’m probably overthinking this. Help me out.

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