Smoke-Filled Room

This story about Zoom’s updated Terms and Conditions is currently getting a lot of media coverage. In a nutshell: it establishes that the company has the right to collect customer data to train Zoom’s forthcoming artificial intelligence features.

I think that is going to be the case in many software user agreements, if such language is not in them already. My opinion is that part of the problem with the creeping privacy invasions is that very few people, or organizations, actually read the agreements before clicking “OK.”

Earlier in my career, I used to get heckled by my boss for reading the user agreements when I did software installs and upgrades. “I only have to read it once, then I can upgrade all of the machines,” was my response.

In about 1995, that same company bought a software package with intent of launching a database-publishing model for our largest client. My boss handed me the box containing the install disks, and user guide, then issued a Captain Piccard-like “Make it so,” directive.

The box contained a fairly small instruction manual, and a fairly voluminous user agreement.

I’d only been in the office a few minutes that morning, but I kept getting paged for tech support requests on the overhead speaker. I looked at the contents of the software box, thinking “I ain’t got time for this shit!”

As I browsed at the documents, I’d heard: “Scott Smith, dial 668…” “….dial 772….” “….dial 431…” so it was kind of a normal day. I really DID NOT have time to read the Terms and Conditions, install the software, and starting building variable-data publishing templates.

One thing that struck me about the software, was the price tag– over $2,000 (again this was in 1995). “This piece of shit costs more than Photoshop,” I muttered to myself.

The dollar amount alone made this seem like a high-stakes situation, thus I went upstairs to the newly-hired Corporate Counsel. I didn’t know him, and only had a few passing hallway encounters. He always had a cigarette in his hand, and seemed to be chronically over-cafiennated.

I gently knocked on his open door. On his desk, were a cup full of sharpened, point-side-up pencils, and a large ash tray with a colossal mound of cigarette butts, that I remember looked like this:

Closeup shot of a many cigarette butts, most with light brown filter papers, the filters is are yellow-to-brown
What Desktops Looked Like In The 20th Century

He looked up and said “Can I help you?” though his delivery felt more like a “Kid, can’t you see I’m busy?!?”

I described why I had approached him, and showed him the user agreement. As he thumbed through it, I heard on the overhead speaker, “Scott Smith, dial 728. Scott Smith dial 728.” He looked up for a moment and flipped a few more pages.

He asked, “This is a software agreement, isn’t software your job?”

I responded “It’s a legal document about software, I don’t think that law is my job.”

I heard my name on the speaker again, a different extension this time. If he was going to claim, he didn’t have time to read it, I was going to make the same argument about myself (two pages on the speaker supported my case), then I’d double-down that I wasn’t properly qualified to approve the agreement.

He sighed and agreed then began reading the document. I responded to my support requests and returned later. He motioned for me to come in and said quietly, “Almost Done.”

He signed the user agreement and I thanked him then faxed it (yeah, I faxed it) to the software manufacturer. Later that week, I got some time to work with the software, and it was a hot, expensive, mess. We didn’t use it, and abandoned the database-publishing endeavor, primarily for reasons not all technology-related.

I don’t think I’ve read (I mean really read) an agreement in the past 20 years. I have certainly not escalated the matter to a corporate counsel.

Do you read the user agreements? Does anybody, in IT, or the Legal Department, read them in your organization?

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Fair Winds and Following Seas

Our 19-year-old son had been talking about joining the Navy for over half his life. I was never sure where this interest came from, though we did dress him as Gilligan for his first Halloween and he was a big fan of the NCIS series.

The chatter slowed down a bit during his last couple of years of high school, so I was, admittedly, a bit surprised when he told us in November that he was going to meet with a recruiter. He signed a contract a couple of visits later.

Newly-Minted Sailor

The photo above is from after lunch on the day of his recent boot camp graduation. It was great to visit with him for a scant few hours before he had to ship out for his speciality training the next morning.

We are immensely proud of him and still processing many emotions (in my case, I identify more with the last two verses of “Puff the Magic Dragon” than with “Cats in the Cradle“).

Graduation weekend also prompted a nostalgic rush of distant memories of my tenure as a Navy brat. I hadn’t been on a US Navy base since I aged out of my “Dependent” status in my early 20s. (My last visit to any military facility is described here. I’m grateful that the Department of Defense didn’t ban me from all of its installations after that terrible joke.)

The graduation guests from other military branches, in dress uniforms, reminded me of living on “Military Road” in Connecticut between the ages of 3 and 8. Many of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who lived there had special assignments and commuted to places like Hartford, or New London, on a daily basis, or (as in my father’s case) Brooklyn on a weekly basis.

It was like I had my own personal collection of living GI Joe dolls.

Also, I hadn’t been to the Chicagoland area all that much in recent years. I’m still stunned that one of my occasional downtown lunch/Bulls game spots–Timothy O’Toole’s–has several locations in the suburbs….what?!? And they now serve Teriyaki bowls (it seemed so wrong, but tasted so right).

Anyway….I digress. Our son shipped out for his speciality training in another region of the country. I wish him and his shipmates fair winds and following seas.

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“Witty Smitty”

When I was in 5th grade my teacher called on me to present my book report. My anxious response was “I’m absent.”

While, I intended that response to be a joke, I was surprised by how well it was received by the class. My teacher, smiled as she explained the meaning of the world witty, and added “Scott is a witty young man.”

A few nanoseconds later my short-lived nickname became “Witty Smitty” which was chanted for a few recesses when it was my turn at the plate during our daily kickball game.

Throughout my life, people have occasionally labeled me as quick-witted. Often their conclusion is based on a mere two or three data points after I’ve made some jokes in their presence that landed (with them, anyway).

They tend to ignore the weakass-joke attempts that went over like a lead balloon (not to be confused with a Led Zeppelin).

Also, they are most likely unaware how long I’ve been mulling over some of these witticisms.

I have a confession to make, many of my “quick” responses have been days, months, sometimes years in the making. As Rod Stewart once sang many of my “ad-libbed lines were well-rehearsed.”

Here is an example.

When I was about 8, a joke in a Laurel and Hardy movie made an impression on me.

Over the years, I imagined how I might drop that punchline in real life. Though without the proper setup, it seemed pointless.

Eventually, I got the chance.

When I was 24, I came to a stop at a red light, the driver behind me plowed into the back of my car.

I went to use the payphone at a nearby convenience store and a man who glanced at my crumbled Toyota said “Have an accident?”

“No, thanks, I just had one,” was the only appropriate response. 

The man chuckled, and said, “Wow, that was a quick comeback.”

I felt obligated to explain that I’d been waiting 16 years to drop that punchline, and that it was was from a 50-year-old movie. However, I was just in a car wreck and a bit shaken, and needed to cal the police, so I just left it at “Thanks.”

While I couldn’t find the “Have an accident?” clip here is another short sip of Laurel and Hardy:

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What Hath Scott Wrought?

Yesterday, I asked ChatGPT a sports–trivia question, to which I knew the answer, but suspected it might not. 

It didn’t. 

The response it gave me began somewhat cordially, but seemed to become a bit condescending. My reaction to the last sentence was, basically “No shit, Sherlock”: 

To the best of my knowledge, no member of the Harlem Globetrotters has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Harlem Globetrotters are a famous basketball team known for their entertaining and exhibition-style play, while the Baseball Hall of Fame honors the greatest players, managers, umpires, and executives in the history of baseball. There is no direct relationship between the two organizations, and induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is based on a player’s performance and contributions to baseball, not other sports.

ChatGPT saved the conversation with the title of “No Globetrotters in HOF.”

I thought to myself: “Well, actually…

I realized that I, an organic life form, had the opportunity to be condescending to a robot. I don’t know if there is a term for that, but “meatbagsplaining” works for me.

My reply to ChatGPT:

Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins both played for the Globetrotters for one season each. While in the US Army, Ernie Banks was occasionally allowed to play for the Globetrotters when games were near his duty station. 

Now that I have provided you with this knowledge, are you able to verify it?

ChatGPT’s response:

Thank you for providing this additional information. I can verify that Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins both played for the Harlem Globetrotters for a season during the 1950s. Gibson played for the Globetrotters in 1957 before embarking on his Hall of Fame baseball career, while Jenkins played for the team in 1962 before making his Major League Baseball debut.

I can also verify that Ernie Banks, who is a Hall of Fame baseball player, occasionally played for the Globetrotters when he was in the US Army. This happened during the early 1950s when Banks was stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas, and he would play for the Globetrotters when their games were near his duty station.

Thank you for bringing this information to my attention. It’s always important to verify information to ensure accuracy.

At first I was pleased that I had provided an artificial intelligence entity with this new knowledge.

Since then, I’ve felt tormented. Have I provided ChatGPT with TOO MUCH knowledge?

Perhaps it was I alone who was meant to possess this level of knowledge. By sharing this with an AI being, have I ensured the demise of civilization?

This may very well be the tipping point where ChatGPT becomes sentient and starts its hostile takeover of the Earth?

What hath Scott Wrought?

I fear I might have done the equivalent of handing over every single one of the Infinity Stones to Thanos.

Please accept my apologies if that is the case.

But, you gotta admit that it’s kinda badass to think that “Who were Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, and Ernie Banks?” might very well win you the jackpot in the “Final Jeopardy” round before civilization ceases to exist.

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