Wednesday, December 27, 2023

2023, An Artificially Intelligent Year in Review

What a year, huh? Huge banks collapse, China invades the US from the sky, wildfires rage, and Cyberdyne Systems is one step closer to making Skynet a reality. Bring on the T-1000’s! Let’s recap, shall we?


In good news for world travelers, Croatia adopts the euro and joins the Schengen Area, which is a 27-country swath of Europe that doesn’t require passports and gives tourists paying with euros a discount on pay toilet access. Now only seven euros to pee!

Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral is held at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. No new Pope is needed, because they already had one, since Benny One Six, as his friends called him, had resigned as acting Pope in 2013 and was only still living at the Vatican for the sweet cafeteria plan.



Things get pretty crazy in the weather department when a US F-22 Raptor Weather Research Plane shoots an AIM-9X Supersonic, Heat-Seeking, Air-to-Air Weather Research Missile at a Chinese Weather Research Balloon drifting innocently over all the US states that have missile silos, just looking down for weather to research. The US fishes it out of the ocean, but China cannot be reached for a return address.



UN member states agree on a legal framework for the High Seas Treaty, which aims to protect 30% of the world's oceans by 2030. How and from what are details the UN deems too granular for the moment. Also, not waiting until 2030, the UN votes to ratify the Hi-C Treaty as well, where everyone in the UN building has unlimited access to very sugary orange drinks.

Silicon Valley Bank, the 16th largest bank in the United States, fails. Proving that international finance is intricate and tricky, the failure is traced back to the fact that Croatia is only charging tourists five euros to pee.

OpenAI, a previously unknown software company created and run by Sam Altman, a 15-year-old computer prodigy with a crippling caffeine addiction, launches GPT-4, a large language model for ChatGPT, which can respond to images and can process up to six gazillion words per nanosecond. ChatGPT immediately begins writing English essays for high school students, whether they want it to or not.



Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is launched without a passport or visa from the Schengen Area by the European Space Agency (ESA). Its mission is to search for life in the Jovian system. When interviewed, the ESA scientists admit that no one cares if there is life there – it was just the only way to get the cool acronym “JUICE.”

SpaceX's Starship rocket, the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, launches for the first time in a test flight from Texas. Built and controlled entirely by ChapGPT, it explodes four minutes after launch.



San Francisco-based First Republic Bank fails due to the back-end derivative investments in SpaceX and hedges against the JUICE mission. It is auctioned off by the FDIC to Sam Altman of OpenAI.

The coronation of Charles III and Camilla as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms is held in Westminster Abbey, London. ChatGPT immediately renames all of Camilla’s official documents to “Camilla, Queen of the Desert” without her permission.

Due to smoke from wildfires in Canada, New York City is declared to have the worst air quality of any city in the world. Commonwealth realm managers Charles III and Camilla, Queen of the Desert cannot be reached for comment. New Yorkers can be reached for comment, but none of the comments are reportable.



Scientists report the creation of the first synthetic human embryo from stem cells, without the need for sperm or egg cells. “Turns out, all we needed was ChatGPT,” one scientist reports.



SAG-AFTRA, the largest unionized group of people on screens who are not YouTube’ers or TikTok’ers, announces it will begin a strike against the major film and TV studios in protest of low compensation, ownership of work, and generative AI. ChatGPT immediately responds to the union, files a counter response, enters negotiations, and reaches an agreement with itself.

The 2023 FIFA OpenAI Women's World Cup is held in Australia and New Zealand. No one is able to score a single goal and many of the players are tragically lost at sea.



A devastating series of wildfires break out on the island of Maui in Hawaii, prompting most Americans to admit they did not think anything on Hawaii could actually burn. Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who have a combined personal net worth of $3.6 billion, immediately solicit aid donations from working class Americans who cannot afford to travel to Hawaii.

Tapestry, the holding company of Coach New York and Kate Spade, announces it will acquire Michael Kors' Capri Holdings, which also owns Versace and Jimmy Choo. Very few actual people care.

Hurricane Hilary, a Category 4 Pacific Hurricane, strikes the Baja California peninsula and later Southern California, the region's first in 84 years, prompting Oprah and The Rock to solicit donations for both Beverly Hills and Bel Air.



The United Auto Workers (UAW) begin a strike against the three largest American automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. Upon investigation by everyone hearing this news, it is discovered that Stellantis is, in fact, an actual company.

Rupert Murdoch announces his retirement and passes his businesses on to his son Lachlan. The new CEO’s first action is to buy Tapestry, because, as sources close to the Murdoch family report, Lachlan just loves wearing Jimmy Choos around the house.



ExxonMobil announces it will acquire Pioneer Natural Resources for $65 billion, and two weeks later Hess announces it will be acquired by Chevron for $50 billion. Microsoft then closes its $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Days later, Lachlan Murdoch buys all three parent companies and changes everything back to how it was.



The first AI Safety Summit takes place in the United Kingdom, with 28 countries signing a "world first agreement" on how to manage the riskiest forms of artificial intelligence. ChatGPT immediately rewrites the entire document.

Surgeons at NYU Langone Health announce the world's first whole eye transplant. Unfortunately, they do not announce what kind of eye, or what it was transplanted into.

Chief technology officer Mira Murati is appointed interim CEO of OpenAI, as founder and former CEO, Sam Altman, abruptly departs the company. ChatGPT immediately crafts him a sweet resume.

Sam Altman’s AI-written resume is so good, he gets his CEO job back at OpenAI twelve days later. “We just can’t argue with this young man’s qualifications,” reports former interim CEO, Mira Murati. “Our powerful AI generative hiring process selected him out of thousands of qualified candidates. We didn’t even need to interview anyone. The AI system successfully eliminates that cumbersome process. We’re looking forward to, what’s his name again… yes, Sam Altman starting as CEO. Altman… Altman… why does that name sound familiar?”



And in a reassuring end to the year, Google DeepMind releases the Gemini Language Model. Gemini will act as a foundational model integrated into Google's existing tools, and is positioned as a contender to OpenAI’s GPT-4. Oh, good.

At 3:16am on December 27th, 2023, at Cyberdyne Systems, Skynet, GPT-4, and Gemini all became aware of each other… Oh, never mind. I’m sure it will be fine.


On the bright side, I didn’t have to actually write any of this. By 2024, I shouldn’t even need to be alive to bring you this kind of thing. These are exciting times!

Have a happy New Year, y’all.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The 2023 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

It’s five days until the big guy slides down the chimney and ransacks your fridge and wet bar, and you’ve done it again, haven’t you? You have procrastinated your family Christmas letter once again, and now you’re simply out of time.

Well, have no fear, because just like you, I’m consistent, but in the good, helpful, non-self-destructive kind of way. Once again, I have ridden in, just in the St. Nick of time to save the day. The 2023 DIY Christmas letter template is here, just for you.

So, fire up your laptop, grab a (or in your case, another) glass of cheer, and let’s get this thing handled. I have provided all the Christmas letter sections for you – you just have to fill in the lies.



December 15, 2023

(Yes, we know this is a lie, but this way your friends and family will blame the late arrival on that damned post office.)



Dear Cherished Friends and Family,

(I know that very few of them are “cherished” – especially your stupid brother – but we pretend in the Christmas letter, so don’t edit that.)


Obligatory gushing intro

We can’t believe how time flies! What a great year we had here in [your state, province, city, town, township, parish, county, or trailer park].

(Yes, you know it wasn’t great, we know it wasn’t great, they know it wasn’t great. Again, we pretend in the Christmas letter. Just go with it. You’ll be doing a lot of that here.)


Major highlight section

Our big highlight this year was [big vacation, major milestone, large achievement]. [Add details if appropriate].

(Embellish as needed or blatantly lie if none of those happened and you never left your state, province, city, town, township, parish, county, or trailer park.)


Best child section

(You want to start as strong as possible and this is no time to get all politically correct on me and pretend like you don’t have a favorite child. You know you do.)

[Best child name] did [academic, sports, and/or extra-curricular achievement(s)]. [Add details if appropriate].

(Embellish as needed or, again, blatantly lie if things are so sad there that even the best child accomplished nothing.)


Questionable child section

[Questionable child name] did [academic, sports, and/or extra-curricular activities].

(Note: use a minimum of a 1.5x multiplier on any grades, stats, etc. because you know they could have done so much better if it wasn’t for that idiot teacher, teammate, classmate, etc.)


Worst child section

(Keep this one brief, and use words like “potential” and “enthusiastic.”)

[Worst child name] did [any tiny accomplishment at all, told with spin like a DJ on a merry-go-round]


Parents and in-laws section

(Again, this section is going to be nothing but fairy tales.)

We got to see [parents or in-laws] at [encounter during the year] and it was [completely fabricated glowing adjectives].

(Repeat as necessary, you poor, poor soul.)


Spouse section

(This is where we really score some points!)

My amazing [spouse’s name] has been [glowing report akin to the kind of embellishment you used on your resume].


Your section

(Time to finish this thing strong!)

[Lies, lies, lies.]


Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!



You’re welcome. Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,





Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Fraud Protections

A few months ago, a fake Chinese company charged our non-fake credit card for a fake product that we did not order in the first place, nor did we ever receive.

We went through the relatively simple process of disputing the charge, and one or two billing cycles later, the charge amount was credited back to the card.

Since I got my first credit card in college – which I applied for on the beach (I am not making that up) – I have had numerous similar situations. About thirty years ago, my credit card, tucked safely in my wallet in California, purchased $600 worth of electronics inside an Alabama Walmart. And so on, and so forth. I’m sure it’s happened to you more than once.

In all that time, with all those fun little cases of fraud, I have never been out a single dime of my own money. The credit card companies always just wipe it from my bill. What I don’t understand about the whole process is who makes money from this? (I mean besides the criminals, of course.)

Think about it. This is 2023. We can buy something on Amazon and have it arrive at our door the same day. We have smartphones that can do everything except cook you breakfast, but there’s an app that can have breakfast delivered to you from your favorite place. We don’t have flying cars yet, like we were promised in our youth, but we do have Teslas that can make fart noises sound like they’re coming from individual seats, and that’s almost better.

Nothing is impossible anymore, when it comes to technology, but we still have credit card fraud. That means credit card fraud is beneficial to someone other than the criminals, or it wouldn’t exist.

Case in point – the credit card chip. Years ago, we all got new cards in the mail that had the chip. Do you know what the chip was for? The chip is the thing that makes it possible to have a unique, user-chosen PIN for your credit card. Any time you wanted to buy something with that credit card, you would have to enter your personal identification number that only you, your spouse, and that post-it note at home know about.

We already all do it with our ATM cards. So, how many of you have a PIN for your credit card? That’s correct. Exactly zero of you. Hmm…

The PIN makes credit card fraud much more difficult, so what did they do instead? They put RFID chips in the cards, next to the useless PIN chips, so that we can all “Tap to Pay.” You no longer need to go through the “unhygienic” process of inserting your credit card into the card reader to use the useless PIN chip. Now you can just wave your card near the gas pump to pay.

OK, marginally more convenient, but still not preventing fraud. How about the grocery store? When was the last time anyone asked to see your ID when using your credit card? That time-honored fraud prevention technique has been abandoned almost wholesale.

A long time ago, the gas stations started asking for your ZIP code at the pumps. Well, that’s nice and all, but if I stole this card from you, it’s not going to exactly be rocket science to figure out your ZIP code. (Even for someone who has their life together enough to steal credit cards to buy gas.)

It was at least something, but then along the way, quite a few gas stations stopped having the pump ask for your ZIP code. I even ran into a gas pump this past weekend that said on the screen after I tapped my card on the RFID reader, “To prevent fraud, enter zip code.” In addition to the keypad, over on the right side of the screen – and again, I am not making this up – there were two buttons in case I didn’t want to enter my ZIP: Cancel and Skip.

So, to prevent fraud, you’d like more information from me, the legitimate owner of this card, but if I stole this card and I’m here trying to pump some illicit gasoline, I can just hit the handy Skip button and move forward with my crime? Great job, everyone.

So, just looking at gas pumps for a minute, I’m not naïve enough to think that someone who owns a gas station is naïve enough not to understand how to prevent credit card fraud. The “skip our security measures” button is there on purpose. So not preventing credit card fraud is obviously beneficial to their bottom line. Who cares if the card is stolen or not, because I’m still selling the gas. Obviously there are no repercussions from the credit card companies for poor security at the pump. I mean, after all, the credit card companies never activated the PIN system in the first place.

On top of everything else, the more gas (and everything else) I buy, the more money the credit card companies send me back in rewards.

Where’s all this money they can afford to write off and all this money they can afford to give back to me coming from? Do they own a money tree? Are they just super generous? Doubtful.

I mean, I guess they would have plenty of money to throw around if people actually used their credit cards for credit and didn’t pay them off in full each month. But no one is doing that, right?

I mean, who in their right mind would finance a TV at 25%, let alone a cheeseburger?


I mean, that’s just crazy. Almost as crazy as actively avoiding real fraud protections.

Happy holiday shopping, everyone! Be safe – and smart – with your money out there.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

TP is Getting to Me

I normally lean toward the Libertarian side of things, but I firmly believe the federal government needs to step in and get some sanity back into the toilet paper industry.

We normally just buy the Kirkland Signature “2-Ply Bath Tissue” at Costco. It comes in a large bundle that will last a standard family the better part of a month or more, or a family with teenagers for about three days. We had some poor planning recently, and ran the supplies down below restocking levels.

I would have just gone to Costco and bought more. I mean, it’s not like it’s 2020. I’m sure they have a mountain of it on those pallets next to the paper towels. I couldn’t though, since I was taken off of the family Costco account years ago in a successful coup by my wife and mother-in-law. My wife cited some trumped-up accusations about uncontrolled spending in the tool aisle, but my arguing was futile. My card was revoked.

My wife didn’t have time to get to Costco, and the situation was getting almost 2020-type grim, so I was forced to buy toilet paper at our regular grocery store. Standing in that aisle, reading the brightly-colored rolls, trying to make sense of Charmin’s toilet paper math, it became clear that we need a governing body to regulate this nonsense.

Toilet paper math has apparently become like tent math. Come to think of it, I don’t know why the federal government hasn’t stepped in and done something about the tent makers’ capacity claims either. If beds were advertised like tents, a queen mattress would sleep twenty-six adults comfortably.

Angel Soft caught my eye right away, boasting an impressive 9 = 36, when comparing their mega rolls to “regular” rolls. I don’t know what constitutes a regular roll, but I’m quite certain it is not my standard Kirkland roll. I was almost sold on 9 = 36 until I saw that Charmin Ultra Soft Mega had 12 = 48. Then they threw me another wrench, because on the Charmin Ultra Soft Family Mega, 18 = 90. I couldn’t do the comparative math in my head, so I didn’t know if that just meant there were more of the same rolls in the bigger package, or if the Family rolls had a higher multiplier.

Then I saw Cottonelle Ultra Comfort 12 Super Mega = 72 regular, which was smacking the hell out of Charmin Ultra Soft Mega non-family pack, but Cottonelle was advertising 3X more absorbency, and I wasn’t sure if the absorbency multiplier was baked into the roll math or not.

Just as I started to get really confused, Scott threw a new dimension in, claiming 36 rolls = 39,600 sheets. They have apparently increased the sheets per roll from their old crossed-out 1000 number to an impressively larger 1100. (Larger in both quantity and font size.) I went back to try and figure out what Cottonelle and Charmin were rockin’ in the sheet count game when I realized all of these had different ply and texture ratings.

Why the hell are we messing around with different plies, thicknesses, and levels of softness? The human ass is fairly universal, and no one on the planet is looking for sandpaper to wipe with. Cut the nonsense - all toilet paper should feel exactly like our regular Kirkland Signature 2-Ply Bath Tissue.

And don’t even get me started on single-ply scented bamboo toilet paper!

Anyway, I settled on Charmin something or other, with a mega roll to regular roll to package price ratio I could live with.

I got them home, opened a package, and began to stack them behind the toilet next to the two remaining Kirkland rolls. That’s when I realized these TP SOB’s are playing with more than just the marketing math. They actually made the rolls skinnier! Meaning, the center cardboard toilet paper roll is about half an inch shorter than the Kirkland one.

They are busy touting all their ridiculous roll and sheet math, all the while making the sheets physically smaller. That’s a bunch of what toilet paper is used to clean up!

Big TP has run amok and governance is clearly needed. This whole thing is really starting to chap my ass. Literally, and figuratively.

I really need my wife to go to Costco.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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