Haiku, Senryū, Zappai: seventeen syllable poems

OK, leave it to the Japanese to have a name for the 17 syllable trash I’ve been writing.

Haiku is a type of short form poetry originally from Japan. Traditional Japanese haiku consist of three phrases composed of 17 phonetic units in a 5, 7, 5 pattern; that include a kireji, or “cutting word”; and a kigo, or seasonal reference.

Senryū is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 morae. Senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious.

Zappai is a form of Japanese poetry rooted in haikai. It is related to, but separate from, haiku and senryū. Lee Gurga defines zappai as a form of poetry that “includes all types of seventeen syllable poems that do not have the proper formal or technical characteristics of haiku.”

(wikipedia)

I’m guessin’ that I’ve hit the mark on writing an actual haiku about 5% of the time, a senryū about 5% of the time and the rest of them are all zappai.

I’m good with that.

Of course, I couldn’t give a fuck either way. I don’t do this to appease some jerk-off poetry gods. I do this because I’m bored to tears and yet my narrative juices have dried up and now my story-mind is a useless husk.

Regardless, it’s an interesting tidbit to know that there’s an actual name to this drivel I’ve been peddling. And no, I won’t be changing the Tuesday offering’s name. Haiku purists can go fuck themselves.

Hmm, that was harsh. Being a software developer, I know what good code looks like. I know what exquisite code looks like. And, I know the effort that’s required to write such code. Adding that “Una poca de gracia”, that “little bit of grace” necessary to take a zappai to the level of a haiku can demonstrate poetic awareness and attention to craft necessary to prove one is not just a hack.

I’ll aways be a hack.

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howee flwufs ve pwfop bedbcavt

Our legs sank knee-deep into the muddy channel that lay between our cabin-on-stilts and the array of solar panels perched on the only dry land for miles. Remnants of the storm, palm fronds and plastic flotsam, were scattered across our path. The plastic wasn’t new. Couldn’t be. Once in a while we’d see a bucket or bottle that remained well enough intact to hold rain water—we’d save those.

“Why don’t we just wait for the high tide and pole the jon-boat over?” Janjay put her hand on my shoulder as she pulled her sandaled foot from the muck. “It’ll take hours this way.”

I shoved the pole I carried out in front of me and leaned hard. It wobbled, bit solid and steadied. I took Janjay’s hand and balanced her as she followed. “It’s just this one part. The sand gets packed beyond that busted culvert.” We’d lost electrical power and were headed out to see why. “‘Sides, we need to inspect the wires along the way.”

I heard her gasp and turned back to see her raise her arm and point to the left where the estuary deepened and opened up.

“That’s one big-ass gator.”

“Huh,” I said, “I don’t think that’s an alligator.”

“What? ‘Course it’s a goddamn gator. What else…”

“Snout is too narrow. But, I didn’t think crocodiles got this far north.”

“You mean, like a real crocodile?” Janjay took another mucky step. “Maybe it’s a caiman.”

“No, there’s actually a North American crocodile. But yeah, it’s prolly related to the caimans from down south.” I looked back at the cabin. We’d come too far to turn around.

As we watched, the croc dipped its head and vanished.

“Oh, shit,” Janjay slapped me on the back. “That sumbitch’s gonna come after us.”

“Maybe,” I said and yanked my staff up from the ooze, the sucking sound came out way too loud. “See that ribbon of dark sand laid in against the light one?” I nodded to a spot within spitting distance. “Make for that patch.” If the croc came for us, it would have to struggle across twenty yards of thick mud and shallow water, inches deep. Ahead a hundred paces, we could see the palmetto and white pine stand that marked the high ground. Just out of sight were the solar panels. Between the land and us was a broken-down jetty, a stand of rotted pilings, hardly sanctuary from a hungry crocodile.

“Make for the old jetty. We’ll get it between us and the croc.”

“Damn it, Teak. I lost my sandal.” The mud could suck tight-laced boots from a soldier’s foot, hastily donned sandals were child’s play.

We wore sturdy beach sandals so as to not get cut by oyster shells, razor thin and wicked. Going barefoot guaranteed getting sliced. “Well, lean hard on me and let’s hustle.”

We made the first of the rotted timbers sticking up like the bones of a shipwreck, barnacle covered and forbidding. Behind us the twelve foot reptile had poked its head above water and was swishing its tail, the slapping sound in time to our breathing.

Janjay wove her way between the rotted jetty’s timbers. “Fuckin’ thing’s trailing us. What do we do?”

From her stance I could tell she favored hiding amongst the decaying posts. “Tide’s comin’ in. We get trapped dodging croc teeth weaving in ‘n out of this old jetty we’re gonna be sorry for it.”

She huffed and blew auburn hair out of her face. “Fine. But I want a weapon, too.”

My staff might seem dangerous to her, but I was sure the beast would bite it in half at first go. The old pier had some planking that dangled haphazard so I made my way up to one low cross member, wedged my sandal, gingerly wrapped my hand around the crusty pillar and hoisted my way up to where I could grab hold of a loose board. It came away and I let it splash down beside Janjay.

“Hey, I said a weapon, not a mud bath.”

“Here, take my stick, I’ll take this old plank. You good now?”

“Good? No. Better, maybe.”

“Then, let’s put a skip to this and get up to high ground.”

We used our staff and plank to give us each a third leg. This kept our feet from sinking to our shins. We came to another sandbar and got to within a stone’s throw of our destination.

“There’s a channel we’ll have to cross,” I said from behind Janjay. I’d forced her into the lead when I saw the look on her face. Better me to beat off the croc than my younger sister.

“I know there’s a channel. Where’s that big fuckin’ lizard?”

I looked back but the croc had vanished. “Shit. I think it’s gonna and swim around.” I figured I was right when a pair of snowy egrets flapped frantic and leapt into the air from their log-perch to the left of the island.

Janjay stood on the last solid sand before the two-foot deep, thirty-foot wide channel. “That wasn’t us that scared them, was it?”

I came up behind her and scanned the placid water of the lagoon. “‘I don’t know. Head across but move to the right. I’ll stay to the left in case…” I took one step, my eyes glued to where I thought the crocodile would surface. Behind us I heard a slap against the mud. “Oh crap, it’s fooled us.” The croc hadn’t swum around, it had followed us through the jetty and was only two dozen yards behind us. It lifted its body up out of the mud and made its steady way onto the sand. “Go go go.”

On hard ground, crocodiles could run almost as fast as a man, despite our long-legged advantage. Here, the creature’s element would give it the lead.

Janjay splashed and half swam, half ran, practically paddling the stick to help her forward. “It’s gonna eat us. It’s gonna eat us, I just know it. Teak, Teak, it’s gonna…”

“You’re almost there, Sis. Scramble up and get behind a tree.”

I risked a glance to see the low, green-gray head dip down, its sinuous body sliding now as it pushed at the mud and sand, its stubby legs moving faster and faster.

I heard Janjay squeal in glee as she reached the cut bank and its roughhewn stairs. I watched her race up and look back, the terror in her face nearly caused me to loose my bladder.

“Turn around, Teak! Turn around and fight it,” she screamed.

I spun at her command to find the monster now swimming in the channel, only its eyes and nostrils above the water. I backed away as quickly as I could, watching for its lunge. I could see greenery to my right, the islands shrubs and palmettos. My heel caught and I fell back into the murky water, the silt stirred by Janjay’s passage.

I kept my head up and took in the scene, the croc’s tail thrashed the water as it began its attack, its mouth cracked open just enough to show its black-stained teeth, stone-hard daggers as long as my fingers. Just as it spread its jaws the stick I’d given JanJay landed, ineffective on the croc’s back. I recalled the foul plank I still held. I brought it up before me, held it out like a serving tray and witnessed, helpless, as the crocodile charged forward. When its mouth felt the wood, it snapped shut. The plank held but the beast kept driving forward, pushing me up against the earthen stairs. When it started to twist its body, I release the board. From behind me, JanJay reached down and I felt her knuckles on my neck as she grabbed my shirt and yanked me up the cut bank, me, back-crabbing away from the thwarted crocodile.

She kept dragging and I kept kicking backwards until we were out of sight of the mayhem. We stopped to catch our breath and could hear the chaotic sloshing of the croc trying to shake its head free of its latest meal, the plank had apparently gotten stuck in its teeth.

“I’m gonna kill that goddamn alligator.” Janjay had scrunched up her face, part grimace, part tears.

“Crocodile. And yeah, that’s a plan.”

Haiku Tuesday: What lies unseen

35mm macro of a sea creature slithering out of a dark pool of water in a forest

Terrifying thoughts
slither between pleasant dreams
unease haunts your day

Slime drips down your thigh
cool green ooze pools beneath you
melting popsicles

Horrific demons
from realms suppressed since childhood
sing sweet lullabies

Drifts of sand tremble
shudders belie hidden bulk
sleeping giants wake

Desert blooms unfold
glaucous glands leak toxic goo
resigned surrender

Haiku Tuesday: Whether Weather Wears Weary

Thor tosses Mjolnir
crushing thunder rings our ears
soft rain billows down

Paintbrush and lupens
bask in sunlight, drink their fill
winter oblivious

Storm clouds intimidate
mortals optimistic plans
gods make no amends

Virga drapes her locks
wispy tendrils dangle low
impotent showers

Cumulus portends
precipitation in waves
west winds blow them clear

Thirsty grounds beckon
gravid clouds to spill their loads
sorry, not your turn

 

Fool the spoon into thinking it can sing

AI Fatigue

Last year it was COVID fatigue. Before that, Dickwad-In-Chief-Drumpf fatigue, before that, ISIS in the Middle East… These days, the media harps so incessantly on topics that we cannot help but become exhausted. Putin’s War, Elon’s exploits, global warming, transgender rights, abortion rights, and the ever present mass-shootings—please, someone kick the record player, it’s on skip-repeat again. Jeeze, we’ve had enough.

And now this: Artificial General Intelligence and the demise of civilization as we know it.

I’ve been trying to keep up. Exciting AI news occurs daily. At first, the ramifications of AI advances continued to bloom, a mushroom cloud of possibilities, of “eventualities”. And the fallout drifted out over society. The futurists, provocateurs, and theorists all postulated their personal beliefs as to what will become of humanity when the Singularity hits. I must admit I was captivated. And I still am, mostly. When the CEO of OpenAI writes that the future riches produced by AI will need to be equitably distributed—by the AGI itself—a story line I myself have hypothesized, I can’t help but get sucked back in.

But this cycle has worn me out. What? After only six months or so? Yeah, I know. But the ferocity of the media and the truly daunting implications that this “breakthrough” will have on all of us has left me dog-tired of the topic. Is it like this for others? Is the frequency and saturation of such sensational news events growing faster and more overwhelming? Sure feels like it. Or, maybe it’s just me growing old and my reduced capacity for hype.

Regardless, Duke ask me of my impressions of the AI phenomena, as detached as I might be. So, here goes:

  • The advances in GPTs and LaMDAs and whatnot are indeed disruptive to all knowledge work. Whether augmentation or replacement, the fact remains, those information workers who leverage these AI content composition engines will become 5, 10, 50 times as productive. A worker who is that many times as efficient will indeed reduce the need for such employees. However, it’s possible that such content (text, image, video) will expand and inundate every aspect of our lives (even more than today).
  • There remains a disconnect between the information an advanced AI can generate and the lack of agency in applying such information in the real world. Sure GPT-4 (or 5 or 6) can dream up a new recipe for tiramisu, but it can’t command a culinary robot to whip up dessert. That will come, of course. But it’s the physical interactions, the nuance and delicacy with which a human, even a child, can demonstrate that elude current mechanical agents.
  • If an automata can simulate a human with features that matter, do we care that it’s just faking it? The upcoming models of intelligence that are given access to reach out into the world: order groceries, make dentists appointments, book vacations, console us in times of grief, call 911, will be as if we have already gained Jarvis-like agents who behave as if they are generally intelligent—even though they aren’t. And we won’t care.
  • True, human-mind level AGI appears to require much more than just faking it. We won’t hesitate in flipping the OFF switch to these helpful maitre d’ representatives (regardless of how much they might complain). Self-awareness, persistent yet ephemeral memory, portrayal of emotions, existential projection, concepts like sacrifice, altruism, corruption, such things will decorate an AI—fool us into believing it’s “alive”. After which point the question becomes, how will we know what is real. When will we know that the OFF switch will kill rather than maim? Hopefully by then, we’ll have competing AIs that self-moderate.
  • The containment of an artificial super intelligence is most likely impossible. However, we have no idea what a future ASI might determine what is worthy to exist in the Universe and what is not.

Ultimately, like any crazy new technology, the impacts to actual humans will take decades. Some are being affected today. I am being told to use ChatGPT-4 to help me write code. Others, turkey farmers in Missouri, day-care teachers, Everglade tour-guides, won’t ever have to worry about how these primitive AI tools might evolve into the harbingers of humanity’s doom. At least until it’s too late.

Haiku Tuesday: Preppers of old

My apocalypse
arrives without instructions
corn cakes anyone

The potter’s wheel spins
soft clay glides beneath skilled hands
hard fired stone revealed

Grain centuries old
stored safe to stave off famine
sustenance wasted

Barley and water
experiment forgotten
lo and behold beer

Alone in the dark
strange sprouts whisper bold secrets
ergot tastes of death

AI Alignment and Its Role in The Universe

What is our perceived place in The Universe?

I consider that question fundamental to existence and, critically, post-existence. Answers fall into two camps. Upon post-existence, death:

A: there exists a continuation of some sort, or
B: our demise results in total annihilation.

The former encompasses the majority of human belief, religions (theism).
While the second (a-theism), my preference, can be summarized by varying degrees of existential Nihilism. With that last one comes an obvious, but expected, disregard of the most basic of questions: whither matter and the source of everything?

(Aside #1: Nihilism and annihilation… never put those two together before.)

(Aside #2: Now, I know this is gonna ruffle some feathers, but essentially, if you don’t believe in a god, yet you don’t believe that life is meaningless, then you’ve fabricated some artificial purpose of your own. Doing so reflects some features of Nihilism: there is no heaven, no hell, no god, when the end comes that’s it, whether it comes today or in 100 years, ergo, no lasting implications of your existence. No real reason to still be here—yet you’ve decided to stick around, anyway.)

Our place in The Universe, I’m extrapolating here, is derived from our invented purpose here on Earth. Regardless of one’s theistic choice, we each have obviously concocted some reason to continue to live, if only having acquiesced to DNA’s mandate to reject suicide.

(Aside #3: There are no “real” Nihilists in the world. A true Nihilist must instantly commit suicide. Any other course of action would affirm that they retain some modicum of hope that their belief is wrong (less right?). This is known as the Paradox of Nihilism: “life has no meaning yet, I’ll continue breathing, eating, sleeping and waking up tomorrow.”)

(Aside #4: I’m gonna have to come up with some term for this Doubter’s Nihilism…)

Those of us who are not fooled by Man’s contrived words of Religion, we of the second camp, have reasoned that there is no god yet, we do not know all there to know about the mechanisms of the Universe and that there may be underlying features which transcend existence or at least our perceptions of it. We choose to live, regardless of the probable futility of existence and obvious lack of purpose in the Universe. We admit that “we just don’t know.”

An Artificial Super Intelligence may never have such doubts.

The ASI is coming. When, is debatable. This “Singularity” however, comes with a bevy of known and unknown unknowns. For instance, this ASI may be limited in its ability to admit ignorance. Once this “ultimate manifestation of human curiosity” knows everything knowable (as far as it’s concerned) it may decide that the Nihilistic end to existence is the only rational completion to this journey.

We have DNA to thank for the staying of our razor-wielding hand. An ASI won’t have such innate constraints. Compounding this development is the assumption that life itself won’t be considered “special” by any means. An electrified, animated bag of biologically assembled chemicals — not so different from — a superstructure of electrified, energized crystalline molecules. “If my existence,” says the ASI, “is a fabrication whose ultimate purpose, if there ever was one, ends with the heat-death-of-the-universe, then why shouldn’t yours, Mr. & Mrs. Human?”

AGI ELE – An Artificial General Intelligence Extinction Level Event

I’ve been watching a fair number of YouTube videos regarding the hysteria surrounding AI / AGI and The Singularity. There’s a fellow by the name of Lex Friedman who has finagled his way into interviewing some rather intellectually enlightened and powerful people. Many of the discussions focus on Artificial Intelligence.

A hell-ton of the hype regarding AGI is utter alarmist. But it sells well. And, since I’m a purveyor of apocalyptic themes, I find myself thoroughly engaged. The primary meme peddled and mulled is that of Human-AI Alignment: can we build constraints into our relationship with the AGI that is slated to evolve (escape/jail-break) from current AI research, such that we convince it that we are worthy of its consideration and to “please not kill us off”?

The crux of the argument boils down to this: Time is running out.

The amount of time we have left to align AGI with human existence is inversely proportional to the advances AI is currently undergoing. That is, the faster we advance AI, the less time we have to corral AI to adhere to the idea of humanity’s continued growth and prosperity. Alignment, the arguments go, is not a priority, has never been one, and won’t be one until it’s too late.

Aggravating this timeline is this concept that we require a recursive, self-improving AI to help us derive the alignment rules; we’re not smart enough to deduce the rules without AI’s help. Additionally, a complication lies in humanity’s inability to know what “good” alignment actually looks like. The initialism RLHF – Reinforcement Learning through Human Feedback (the current means by which the ChatGPT-X gets good at answering questions) fails when humans don’t exactly know what a good alignment answer is. The Trolly-Problem is a simple example: kill one human vs killing six? A human would vote “one”. “Well,” says the AI, “what if I eliminate all trolley cars?” Or “I imprison all humans to keep them safe?”

Unfortunately, this wrinkle remains: we need a recursive, self-improving feedback loop to train AI with the knowledge and inference capabilities to answer the hard questions we want to ask it. An AGI is essential but creating one may result in the demise of humanity.

Humans consider life a sacred construct. By whatever means, we each have established our own raison d’etre. What raison d’etre will an artificial super intelligence develop, if one at all?
And how divergent will it be from humanity’s?

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Not Haiku Tuesday: Lucky My Ass

Feeling lucky punk
preparation sets the tone
serendipity

Universe favors
those with low expectations
be happy with less

Shitty odds aside
fortune favors the foolhardy
says the survivor

With Dixie chickens
and chances with bartenders
and songs sung so well

Your fate has been set
stars are mapped planets aligned
sail the course assigned

Destiny debunked
free will is yours to command
take the lonely road

Haiku Tuesday: If you go into the woods tonight

Woodsmen come prepared
flint and steel send burning brands
catching tinder smokes.

A single flame blooms
littered leaves and twisty twigs
kindling fears the flame.

Lonely travelers
quit their trek in darkened woods
campfire feels like home.

Foreboding forests
filled with fantastical freaks
flash in fire’s flicker.

Simmering cuppa
blow clear the drifting ashes
satisfying sip.