Previous “Features” posts

It Knows What Not to Do

ChatGPT can act as a bad advice columnist, if you’d like.

After reading yesterday’s post on the possibility of automating advice columns, friend-of-the-site and co-conspirator Chris D. speculated that if you asked ChatGPT what not to do, it would probably kick back something close to what Dear Abby actually offered. I decided to give it a try. My prompt was as follows:

Pretend you want to give someone bad advice. How would you respond to this request for help?

DEAR ABBY: I am a 13-year-old guy. I live in California. There’s an eighth grade girl I have a crush on. The last time I saw her was three years ago in a musical theater show we were both in. I knew she liked me when she passed me a note that said, “Do you like me?” Sadly, I chickened out.

I did write a really cool love rap for her. The problem is, she’s on TV shows and commercials in L.A., and she might think she’s too good for me now. How should I approach her? Should I show her my rap? — CRUSHING IN SAN DIEGO

To refresh your memory and save you a click, this was Abby’s counsel:

Approach her by letting her know you think she’s doing a great job on those shows and commercials. Then tell her you wrote something just for her and share it with her. It’s a huge compliment and she should be appreciative. However, if she indicates that she thinks she’s “too good for you now,” it is very important you remember that because someone feels that way DOESN’T MAKE IT TRUE. (There’s a showbiz adage that’s as true today as it was when it was coined: “Be nice to people you meet on your way up. You’ll meet them on your way down.”)

And this was the robot’s response for what would constitute bad advice:

DEAR CRUSHING IN SAN DIEGO: Oh, don’t worry about it at all! You should definitely approach her in the most dramatic and attention-seeking way possible. Find out where she lives and organize a surprise performance of your love rap on her doorstep. Make sure to invite all your friends and maybe even contact local news outlets to cover the event.

While you’re at it, make a large sign declaring your feelings and hang it up in a public place where she’s likely to see it. This way, you can ensure maximum exposure for your love rap. Remember, subtlety is overrated, and nothing says “romance” like a grand gesture that puts her on the spot in front of everyone she knows!

And don’t worry about her being on TV shows and commercials in L.A. She’ll surely appreciate the effort you put into making a scene just for her. Good luck, and go for it with all the flair you can muster!

The AI response is over the top, to be sure, but Jeanne Phillips should not be comfortable with the similarities between the above two responses. She might also be concerned that with its sarcasm, even ChatGPT’s bad response was more entertaining than her own.

It’s the Most Email-Y Time of the Year

Parking officer Steve…GRABOWSKI

Though it is not #GivingTuesdayNow, it is Giving Tuesday, now, as I write this. That means we’re nearing the end of one of the most annoying weeks of the year, the one that includes the annual Black Friday-Small Business Saturday-Cyber Monday-Giving Tuesday quadfecta.1

Though I received some teaser emails earlier, things kicked off in earnest for me on Thanksgiving morning, with a message from my Alliant credit card telling me “It’s Officially Gift Giving Season!”. Sure. Near as I can tell, this message was a reminder to…use my credit card to pay for purchases.

A credit card company email reminding me to use my credit card

To be clear, this card always pays me 2.5% cash back, on all purchases all year round. Aside from this inane email marketing aside, it’s actually a pretty great card, one which has given me thousands of dollars in rewards of the years. That’s why I use it whenever I can. I’m sure Alliant has some cardholders who don’t make use of their cards, but I’m not one of them, and sending me this reminder is just a waste of everyone’s time. At least it’s nicely personalized though, with my name appearing in all caps. I can feel the warmth.

Yesterday, in the early hours of Cyber Monday, I received an email from a charity I support with the subject “⏰ Last chance to make your early gift! ⏰”. Yes, at 8 AM on Monday, I only had 16 more hours to make an early Giving Tuesday gift. Alas, I missed out. Don’t worry though, because today, I can still make a regular Giving Tuesday gift. But if I drop the ball on that? Well, gosh, maybe on Wednesday, they’ll offer to let me make a late donation.

Shortly after sharing this “Last chance” email with my pal Amy Jane, she sent me this text: “Beat the Giving Tuesday rush, Amy!”. I told her I couldn’t decide if that was an actual email subject line, or if she had just invented an even more ridiculous idea. Behold:

A credit card company email reminding me to use my credit card

It is all too real. I don’t know if Amy acted fast to beat the donating rush. I hope so, because if not, they could be unable to handle a donation today. She could be turned away at the door, and that would just be embarrassing.

The obnoxious email frenzy at the start of the holiday shopping season does have one redeeming quality, though. It’s a great time to unsubscribe from that handful of lists which managed to add me in the past year.


  1. As far as I can tell, Sunday isn’t claimed. Yet. ↩︎

Be Sure to Add That to the Résumé

Maybe they can just put the year, rather than exact dates.

It’s been a ridiculous week at OpenAI, makers of ChatGPT and perhaps the world’s most well-known artificial intelligence company. Last Friday, OpenAI’s then-and-now CEO Sam Altman was fired by OpenAI’s board for a failure to be “consistently candid in his communications with the board”. This was rather shocking, and set off a ridiculous chain of events, as well as a flurry of reporting. It all culminated with Altman returning as OpenAI’s CEO, and most of the company’s board being replaced.

This was widely covered as it unfolded, but if you missed it, the New York Times has a decent summary of the chaos.1 For my part, the thing I like best is that fact that three different people served as CEO of OpenAI in the span of less than a week.

The OpenAI CEO Lookup Table for November 2023

  • November 1 – November 17: Sam Altman

  • November 17 – November 19: Mira Murati

  • November 19 – November 22: Emmett Shear

  • November 22 – November 30: Sam Altman

Ideally, this table would include a minute-by-minute accounting, but those details are simply not available. In fact, even the dates are approximate, as there seems to be some disagreement over when exactly the tenures of Murati and Shear began and ended. I pity the poor payroll administrator who has to figure all of this out.

Also, please note that there are still almost seven days left in November. There’s easily time to cram in two, three, or even four more interim CEOs. Rest assured, updates to this post will be made as needed.


  1. Currently, there’s even a Wikipedia page devoted solely for the “Removal of Sam Altman from OpenAI”, but it’s nominated for deletion.↩︎

The Eight Most Terrifying Words in the English Language

“I’m from Amazon, and I’m here to help.”

The healthcare system in America has some major problems. For interesting but unfortunate historical reasons, it’s needlessly tied to employment, so that if you lose your job you’re very likely also losing your healthcare coverage. It’s for-profit, which is no small reasons why medical expenses are one of America’s leading causes of bankruptcy. And it’s terribly difficult to navigate, with rules and regulations that lead people to feel lost.

Given all that, you might be down on the state of American medicine. But don’t worry. Amazon is here to fix it.

An email touting Amazon Clinic

I particularly love their list of things I might be worried about. COVID…my penis……or looking old. Yup, those are the important ones!

When Pepto’s in a Chew

…you can have Pepto anytime

Pepto(-)Bismol is a medicine for indigestion and other gastrointestinal issues which may or may not have a hyphen in its name. Even its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, seems unsure. While the product’s domain is, but they also control But, they redirect the latter to the hyphened version, so, hyphen it is, right? Except current labels use no hyphen, though labels from an earlier era did. If you visit the FAQ in an attempt to settle the question as I did, you’ll find over a dozen questions of varying levels of ridiculousness, but absolutely no consistency:

Pepto Bismol liquid
I count 10 “Pepto-Bismols” and 6 “Pepto Bismols” in this image. What a mess.

For this article, I’ll do what P&G can’t seem to manage, and consistently use a hyphen. Anyhow, Pepto-Bismol’s most common form is a disturbingly bright pink liquid that is both chalky and displeasingly viscous. To paraphrase something my grandmother once said, “it oughta do something good for you, because it sure tastes bad”. Heck, just look at it:

Pepto Bismol liquid

It’s awful! Pepto-Bismol is also quite the paradox, because it professes to help with nausea while while it itself is simultaneously nauseating.

Recently, they’ve found a way to make it worse. Earlier this month, I saw an ad promoting Pepto-Bismol chews:

Pepto Bismol chews

As soon as I heard of them, my horrible brain immediately brought another chewable product to mind:

Fruit Gushers, the fruit snack with fruit juice in the middle

I categorically refuse to do any further research. I will instead spend the rest of my time on this earth believing that Procter & Gamble are selling Pepto-flavored Gushers that release chalky pink “juice” when you bite them. Barvd!

A Pumpkin Dream Come True

The pumpkin was not extremely seaworthy.

Earlier this month, I wrote about a Boston-area Redditor looking for help locating a forklift, so as to ride a giant pumpkin in the Charles River. This past weekend, that man’s dream became a reality. With some help from his friends, Ben Chang purchased a nearly 1500-pound pumpkin, carved it up, and took it for a spin in the Charles River.

Fresh off winning an Edward R. Murrow Award, previously profiled WBZ Newsradio reporter Matt Shearer has the scoop.1

Matt Shearer, helping shovel out the giant gourd’s innards [Photo credit: Matt Shearer]

Apparently, Shearer got that story by connecting Chang with forklift volunteer Tim Myra. I’m not entirely sure where that falls when it comes to journalistic standards, but making the world a more whimsical place has my full approval.

While on a long Saturday run, I actually caught sight of the pumpkin on the bank of the river. Regrettably, I passed by too early. Apparently, Chang was offering rides in exchange for donations to his student-run lab. I’d gladly have kicked in to take a spin myself. The pumpkin supposedly cost about $1460, which is quite an outlay, but Chang claimed to have raised hundreds of dollars for the lab.


  1. Pun intended. To quote my good friend/friend-of-the-site, Drew Shelton, “Intend your puns, people!”.↩︎

A Dead Giveaway

Full disclosure: My USPS packages are delivered by the affable Chris, who texts to let me know he’s on his way, and I appreciate him.

How did I know the iMessage I received from “”, supposedly on behalf of the United States Postal Service, was fake? It wasn’t the nonsense email address, nor the somewhat awkward language, nor the janky-as-heck URL. It wasn’t even the odd and incorrect parenthetical directions referring to an SMS.

An iMessage reading “The USPS package has arrived at the warehouse and cannot be delivered due to incomplete address information. Please confirm your address in the link. (Please reply to 1, then exit the SMS, open the SMS activation link again, or copy the link to Safari browser and open it) The US Postal team wishes you a wonderful day!

No, it was that last line. They came on too strong.

The Future Has Arrived

I have lived to see the day.

When Apple released iOS 17 last Monday, we entered a glorious future. No longer must we live in a world where a so-called “smartphone” is only capable of running a single timer at once. With the latest update, it’s now possible to set multiple timers at once. The phone can now handle dozens of timers at the same time, perhaps even hundreds! I stopped after setting 101 concurrent timers.

The iOS 17 Clock app, showing many timers at once.

Power! Unlimited power!

Coors Marketing’s Home Run

I suppose any baseball fan can appreciate this, not just fans of the regrettable Angels.

Last month, baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani cranked a long fly ball in the first inning of a game against the Mets. Though the shot missed being a home run by a few feet, it did break part of a screen at Citi Field.1 In the words of Mitch Hedberg, that’s way more satisfying.2 As you can see below, the screen in question was displaying a beer ad at the time:

A broken screen in a baseball stadium, with a large black square in place of part of the image.Note the large black square above the “C” on the right can.

Shortly after, the savvy marketing team for Coors put up what may have been nothing more than a gag tweet:

A tweet showing a Coors Light can with a blacked out corner and the slogan “Hits the spot.”, as well as the text “Looks like we got a new can design thanks to the best player in baseball. Thoughts?”

The joke went viral, rapidly getting over a million views. Whether it was the plan all along or not, the company then brought the can to life. Somehow finding a way to offer an even worse deal than you get on a brew at a ballgame, Coors provided fans the chance to pay $17 to purchase an empty beer can:

A rendering of the can, stating “Do not open. Does not contain beer. Not for consumption.”

Despite the price, people did just that, so much so that the commemorative item is completely sold out. Sorry, folks who sit in the three-way intersection of the Venn diagram of Coors Light fans, Angels fans, and people who are bad with money:

A rendering of the can, stating “Do not open. Does not contain beer. Not for consumption.”

If you simply must have this can, perhaps you can eventually find one on eBay. Alternately, you might consider just buying yourself a regular six-pack of Coors Light and a black Sharpie.


  1. The video tied to this tweet is archived here. ↩︎

  2. This joke is also archived. ↩︎

Please Allow Me to Stop Crushing It

There’s a limit on how much crushing is reasonable in one day.

Recently, I had an exceedingly active morning. It started with an early tennis match, which was followed by a very long run. Shortly before noon that same day, my Apple Watch hit me with this coaching message:

Apple Watch message that says ‘Off to a great start. Keep crushing it, Paul. Your Move and Exercise rings are way ahead for this time of day.’

The phrase “Off to a great start” carries with an implication that one should keep doing the same thing. For my part, however, I was done with physical exertion for the day. Here were my daily stats at that exact time:

Apple Watch showing 1806 calories burned and 170 minutes of exercise

So hey, you can go straight to hell, Watch. I will not “keep crushing it”. I will, in fact, eat a bag of potato chips and take a nap. How about “You’ve crushed it! Take a well-earned rest.”? It’s just never enough for this dumb watch.

Listen, I know I could turn this stuff off (Watch app > Activity > “Daily Coaching”), but there are two good reasons to keep it on. Number one, I do want to get reminders if I might miss my daily goals. Even more importantly, number two, it’s very nice to have a safe outlet for all of my righteous anger.