A New Dawn, a New Era?

Early spring blue sky with dabbled clouds

A new dawn, a new season, good bye to winter, hello to spring. Or so it seems. With each day winter fades away. Though it is still mid February, and we’ve seen March days in the past with snow piling on top of tulips blossoms.

Deer droppings in the woods

February is a good month to gather fire wood. The trees don’t have their sap yet so they are quite dry already. And being out in the woods I see evidence of deer. Deer droppings here and there. Which makes me wonder if dogs are puzzled that they never see human droppings.

When dogs gather in a dog park do they have heated discussions about do humans poop? Do they ask each other, have you ever seen a human poop? With dogs and other creatures, they can walk along, see a dung pile and know which other dog or creature came by when and left that. Maybe human society would be different if we could walk along, see a pile, and say, “Hmm, Mary was by less than an hour ago. I wonder why she didn’t stop and say hello. Wow! She sure had a feast last night!”

Viburnum flowers

The viburnum is in full bloom. These are great winter and early spring bloomers. I also saw forsythia sending out leaf buds. And on these spring dawns, song birds are starting to sing.

Viburnum flowers
Chickens out pecking through the grass and leaves by the pond.

The chickens enjoy these early spring days. Most of the hawks are still off enjoying their tropical winter vacations. So the chickens can scratch through the leaves and grass without fear. Though the bobcat is around. I saw it along the road on the way home from the post office the other day.

And in this new spring, it seems we may be witnessing the dawn of a new era. I’d been reading articles about ChatGPT and how teachers are up in arms that students use it to write term papers. But then I read an article by a man who used it to write a WordPress plugin for his wife’s website.

WordPress is the software that this website runs on. About 40% of all websites run on WordPress. It is free software, written and maintained by thousands of volunteers around the world. Anyone can install it on their server and run it. It is designed so you can add plugins to add features you want. Thousands of people and companies around the world create these plugins.

And writing plugins that add features to WordPress is something that I dabble in from time to time. So I was curious. I logged into ChatGPT, gave it a paragraph description of the plugin I wanted, and the hundreds of lines of code for the plugin started appearing on the screen. Within a few minutes, it had spit out what would have taken me several hours of work to do. But what is intriguing about ChatGPT is that it is great at explaining things. Much of the code for WordPress is written in a programming language called PHP. And this is what is freaky or pleasing about ChatGPT. I asked it, “What is the origin of PHP?” And this is how it replied:

PHP stands for Hypertext Preprocessor, and it was created in 1995 by Rasmus Lerdorf, a Danish-Canadian programmer. Lerdorf initially created PHP as a set of Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts to track visits to his personal website. Over time, he added more functionality to the language, and it grew into a full-fledged server-side scripting language that could be used to create dynamic web pages.

In 1997, two developers, Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski, rewrote the language's core, creating a new version of PHP that became known as PHP 3. This version of the language was more efficient and easier to use, and it paved the way for the widespread adoption of PHP as a popular web development language.

Today, PHP is used by millions of websites and is one of the most widely-used server-side scripting languages in the world.

That was an easy to read and understand answer. But what I quickly learned is that ChatGPT is a great programming teacher. Any line of code I don’t understand, I can ask what that line of code does, and it gives a good explanation. And it keeps in mind the conversation you had with it and references back to things you recently talked about. For example, this question, “What does => do in PHP?” elicited this response:

In PHP, the => symbol is used to define key-value pairs in arrays. It separates the key on the left side from its corresponding value on the right side. For example, in the code snippet you provided:
$statuses = [
	Email::STATUS_DELIVERED => __( 'Delivered', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' ),
	Email::STATUS_SENT      => __( 'Sent', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' ),
	Email::STATUS_WAITING   => __( 'Pending', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' ),
	Email::STATUS_UNSENT    => __( 'Failed', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' ),
The => symbol is used to define four key-value pairs in the $statuses array. The keys are the constant values from the Email class (e.g. Email::STATUS_DELIVERED) and the values are the translated string representations of the email statuses (e.g. __( 'Delivered', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' )).

It’s like having a seasoned programmer at your shoulder explaining things as you go along. And if you want more detail, you can ask, “Go on,” and it will add to the explanation.

This does seem very different. It is more Hal like than Google, Duck Duck Duck Go, and other search engines. It’s like having a conversation with a pleasant person who never thinks any question you ask is too stupid, and who has all the patience in the world. Instead of handing back endless lists of websites to look at, I get back easy to understand paragraphs.

And it is the first search engine that ever apologized to me.

At one point it told me that the size of Washington State is 71,342 square miles. I saw other numbers from different websites. So I told ChatGPT, “You say that Washington State area is 71,342 square miles. However the US Census Bureau says it is 71,298 square miles. Which is correct?” And this is how it replied:

My apologies, you are correct. According to the United States Census Bureau, the area of Washington State is 71,298 square miles (184,827 square kilometers). Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Would Google ever apologize?