no more Firefox (at work)

I got a little surprise this morning, when I logged into my work PC and launched Firefox. The program still worked, but I got a popup from Windows telling me that access to the Mozilla update site was blocked.

Firefox has always been on our approved software list, so that surprised me. There hadn’t been an email about banning it, or anything like that. I checked the list, and it was still on there, so that got me wondering if the block was a mistake or something. I also considered that maybe they’d switched to a managed install, with updates pushed out from Software Center. But that didn’t seem to be the case either.

So I gave up and opened a support ticket to ask about it. (I’m always hesitant to do that for stuff like this, because I get paranoid that maybe I was never supposed to be using Firefox, and asking about it is going get me sent before the Spanish Inquisition or something.) I got a response back that, yep, InfoSec had decided to block Firefox. So, oh well, I had to switch to Edge today.

Edge actually isn’t that bad. And it has one advantage over Firefox (at least in our org). We’ve always blocked syncing Firefox user profiles, so I can’t easily keep my bookmarks or preferences in sync between my laptop and desktop with Firefox. But we do allow sync in Edge. So that’ll be nice.

The thing I’ll miss most about Firefox (and the main reason why I’ve stuck with it at work) is the Multi-Account Containers add-on. I have to juggle a bunch of different Microsoft accounts, and it’s nice to be able to have a container for the oddball ones, so they don’t confuse things for my everyday work under my normal AAD account. In Edge, I guess I’ll have to just use private windows for that, which kind of sucks, since I’ll then have to log in every single time. But I can deal with that.

I managed to import my Firefox bookmarks into Edge, then spent a bunch of time cleaning them up and organizing them. All said, I probably spent about two hours today figuring out why I couldn’t use Firefox, switching to Edge, cleaning up bookmarks, logging in to sites, poking around in preferences, and so on.

As part of this switch, I’m also going to try to switch from DuckDuckGo to Bing. Microsoft really wants you to use Bing, and there are some advantages to it, so I’m going to give it a try.

We’re also planning a mass Windows 11 upgrade at work. I’m not sure how they’re going to do that, but I’m a little worried about it. If I have to upgrade both my desktop and laptop, that could take a bit of time and involve a bit of risk. I guess that maybe I’m better off there than a lot of people, since i have two machines, and I can keep using one while the other is getting upgraded. (Most people now only have a laptop.)

Oh well, I guess it’s time to embrace the all-Microsoft future, and get used to Windows 11, Edge, Bing, and whatever else they throw at us.

Sandman and ChatGPT

I was watching a video on YouTube yesterday, with Neil Gaiman and a few other folks talking about Sandman, and reminiscing about the early days of the comic. It was fun, and it got me thinking about doing a Sandman reread. There’s a podcast about Sandman called Endless, and they’re going through a reread of the book right now, so I could follow along with that while I’m reading.

And that got me looking for a list of the original Sandman issues, with story titles and artist names. The Wikipedia entry has a lot of info, but no complete list of issues. The DC Universe Infinite page shows all the covers, and has all the art teams, so that’s probably good enough. But I thought it would be fun to ask ChatGPT, and some related chatbots, to give me an issue list and see what I got.

Here’s the prompt I used: “Can you give me a list of all 75 original issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, with creator credits and story titles? Format as a table or list.”

And here’s the results:

  • Bing – gave me a table. On my first try, it gave up at issue 8, and told me “and so on up to issue 75.” (So it knew it was giving up!) On my second try, it got up to issue 31, and then just gave up. (And it took a long time to get that far.) Interesting feature: you can open a table from Bing in Excel.
  • Poe, “web search” bot – gave me a numbered list, but lost track of what it was doing after issue 25 and started repeating itself. Then gave up at list item 50. Definitely the worst result I got.
  • Poe, “assistant” bot – gave me a numbered list. Stopped at issue 72.
  • Poe, Claude-instant-100k – gave me a table. Gave up after issue 66.
  • ChatGPT 3.5 – Returned a table. Got all the way to issue 75, but, double-checking it, I see that a lot of it is wrong.

So I guess my conclusion is that this isn’t a great task for ChatGPT or similar chatbots. ChatGPT was the only one that returned all 75 issues, but it got a bunch of stuff wrong. I didn’t check the other results too closely; they looked right, as far as they went. But I just went back and looked again, and they’re all not quite right.

I like the Bing feature that lets you open a table in Excel. None of the other chat interfaces make it easy to do anything useful with the table. I managed to copy & paste the table out of ChatGPT, but it was a bit of a hassle. I’m really surprised that, with all the fancy tech behind ChatGPT, they don’t just have a simple “export to text / Markdown / PDF” button for chats. (Maybe there’s a way to do that, and I just haven’t stumbled across it yet.)

So, anyway, that was all probably a waste of time. I should spend less time screwing around with chatbots and more time reading comics.


I renewed my ACM membership over the weekend, and I noticed that they now have an add-on called the Skills Bundle. I’ve blogged before about ACM learning options. I was a little annoyed when they dropped O’Reilly some time ago. Now, you can pay $75 extra and get limited access to O’Reilly, Skillsoft Percipio, and Pluralsight. It’s not all of O’Reilly, but it seems to be a good subset. So I paid the $75 and got that.

I still get Pluralsight through work, but I, stupidly, decided to try logging in through ACM, just to see what I’d get from ACM. Well, that was a bad idea, since it linked my account to ACM and un-linked it from work, so now I only have access to the ACM subset of the Pluralsight library. I may try to straighten that out tomorrow.

I’m still doing a little bit of learning around ChatGPT and other AI stuff. OpenAI had their “DevDay” conference today. You can watch the keynote here and read about it on their blog here. And here’s a news wrap-up from The Verge. There’s some interesting stuff going on, though I don’t know if I’ll have the time or inclination to dig into it too deeply.

I’d meant to do some ChatGPT learning over the weekend, but I started feeling a little sick again, so I spent a bunch of time in front of the TV binge-watching The Dragon Prince season 4 on Netflix.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about trying to get back into learning Angular, which I started reading about a year ago, but put aside at some point for various reasons. I see that there was some kind of Angular event today too. I guess I should watch that video, and/or read this blog post.

And I may try learning MongoDB soon too, though maybe I’m biting off more than I can chew again.

Sometimes, I wish I’d picked a career that didn’t require me to learn a bunch of new stuff every year. But I probably wouldn’t be happy with that. I just get tired sometimes.

The Beatles

I was poking around on my iPhone after lunch today, looking for something to listen to, and noticed that Apple Music Radio was running a Beatles “top 100” show from 2 PM to 7:15 PM today. And it was just a little past 2, so I got in at #97 or thereabouts. I listened to an hour or two of it at my desk, and really enjoyed it. It was cool to just discover this randomly, but it would have been cool if there’d been a way to know about it beforehand. Maybe there’s an Apple Music newsletter or something, and I’m just not subscribed to it. I get weekly emails about Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, and other random Apple stuff, but I never seem to get any emails about Apple Music. Oh well.

I guess this Beatles thing is related to the release of the new Now and Then single that’s coming out tomorrow. I’m looking forward to hearing it, though I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. (Tying in with my recent obsession with ChatGPT, AI was apparently used to help clean up and finish the song.)

By the way, I’m still listening to the top 100, and they just got to #1, which is… “Here Comes the Sun”.  Not what I’d expect, but I’m not going to argue with Apple’s metrics.

Project Euler and various distractions

Since I started messing with Project Euler again yesterday, I’ve finished up my work on problem 73, and almost started problem 74. I got as far as creating an Evernote note to keep track of my work on it, but that’s about it. Instead, I did a bunch of messing around with my existing code and poking around on the internet to see what’s going on with Euler these days.

I discovered that one of my favorite resources for Euler info,, has disappeared from the internet. I’m not sure what happened to it, but it’s unfortunate. I can still find it via, which I appreciate. The posts there helped me understand what was going on with the problems, and included C# code solving the problem. I always try to figure out the problems on my own, but it’s nice to see how other people solve them and see if I can figure out what’s going on with the more advanced solutions.

And I found another interesting blog with Euler discussions and solutions. His posts are really good, with a lot of detail, C++ source code, and links to other resources.

Meanwhile, I got interested in experimenting with GitHub Codespaces, to see if I could edit and run my code right from GitHub. The first issue I hit is that my current project was using .NET 4.8, which is pretty old. I was surprised by that, but then remembered that I’d last done any real work on it in 2015, so I guess that makes sense. After a fair bit of mucking around, I got it moved to .NET 6, pushed it back to GitHub, and tried again. Long story short, it still doesn’t work in Codespaces. I could probably get it working, eventually, but I’ve got better stuff to do right now. So that pretty much killed the available time I had today to mess around with Project Euler.

using ChatGPT to help solve Project Euler problems

Since I started playing with (and learning about) ChatGPT recently, I’ve been thinking about possible use cases where this kind of thing could actually help me out. I’ve watched the episodes of The AI Bot Show where they show how it can be used with D&D and with board game design, and that’s fun, but not directly relevant to me right now.

I realized today that trying to use ChatGPT to help me solve Project Euler problems might be an interesting exercise, and a bit more relevant for me. My intention wouldn’t be to get ChatGPT to just spit out the answers, but to use it as an assistant to help me figure out the problem. So I started playing around with that.

First, I realized that I haven’t touched Project Euler since 2022, and haven’t actually solved a problem since 2015! I’d solved problem 72 on April 9, 2015, apparently. And I started work on problem 73 in May 2022, but didn’t get very far with it. So I had to spend some time just spinning things up and refreshing my memory on where everything was and how it all worked.

Having done that, I found that I’d already written a working “brute force” solution for the problem, and used it to solve the simple case (where the limit value is 8), but not the actual problem (where the limit is 12,000). Well, it turns out that the brute force solution worked fine with the actual value, and ran in just a second, so there was no need to do anything more complicated.

Plugging in the correct answer for this problem unlocks a PDF that explains some better solutions to the problem. But I had trouble following it, so I did ask ChatGPT to help me figure some stuff out there. But then I hit a wall, since I didn’t understand a particular mathematical notation used in the PDF, and I can’t easily paste it into ChatGPT and ask it to explain it. (I think I might need to figure out LaTeX or something…) It’s got to do with Farey sequences and Stern-Brocot trees, and I don’t understand any of that. Oh well. I do want to sit down and work on this some more, but it’s 5 PM now, and I should really take a break for dinner some time soon.

One thing I tried with ChatGPT was pasting in a pseudo-code solution to the problem (the simplest one from the PDF) and asking it to convert it to C#. It did a good job of that, and surprisingly even filled in a method that was called in the pseudo-code but not defined (a GCD method). And it even explained that GCD was short for “greatest common divisor,” and explained what that means. So that was kind of cool.

I was curious to see if other people have played around with using ChatGPT for help with Euler problems, so I did some web searching on that. I found a thread on the Euler forums, from late 2022, where there was a bit of talk about it. And here’s a GitHub repo where somebody just fed a bunch of Euler problems to ChatGPT to see how good it would be at solving them correctly. The results are interesting.

Back on the subject of ChatGPT and similar AI tools in general, I’m still listening to podcasts, reading articles, and playing around with stuff. I guess I’m convinced now that it’s not all snake oil, at least. But I haven’t talked myself into paying for ChatGPT Plus or a paid Poe subscription yet.

digging in to ChatGPT and similar AI stuff

I’ve successfully been ignoring all the hype around ChatGPT and similar AI stuff all through this year.

I was initially amused by some of the stuff folks were posting to Twitter when ChatGPT and DALL-E and other tools were made publicly available. There was a lot of funny stuff out there, with folks getting oddball results out of the chatbots, and using the image generators to make some really crazy images. Initially, it seemed pretty harmless, but also fairly useless.

Then came the op-eds and think pieces from people worried about the impact that these things could have on the world. Everything from worry about AI causing human extinction, to ChatGPT replacing writers and programmers, to the environmental cost of running all this stuff. A lot of that was overblown, I think.

But recently, something pushed me over the edge and I decided I had to start learning some of this stuff. I’m not even sure what did it, exactly. Either way, I’ve been digging into this stuff, and I thought I’d write up some notes.

First, I’ve been looking at two primary categories of “AI” here: the LLM chatbots, and the image generators. I like playing around with the image generators, but I haven’t found much practical use for them, and they’re not that interesting to me, so I’m going to skip talking about those. I’ll just say that the Bing image creator is pretty fun to play with.

As to the LLM chatbots, I’ve started playing around with ChatGPT and a few others. I registered for a free account with ChatGPT, which gets me access to GPT-3.5.  Upgrading to ChatGPT Plus for $20/month would get me access to GPT-4, which is supposed to be much better. I don’t think I’ll be doing that, but a number of people seem to think it’s worth it.

At work, we have our own chatbot called “Mindspark”, which is powered by Azure OpenAI, which in turn uses GPT-4 and/or GPT-3.5, if I’m understanding it correctly. It’s internal-facing, and at this point, really just an experiment, I think. I’m not sure if there are any long-term plans for it. Anyway, it’s reasonably good, and also one of the only options, from my work computer. For some reason, we block access to ChatGPT’s web interface, so I can’t use that directly at work. (Which is one of the reasons why I probably wouldn’t pay $20/month for ChatGPT Plus. If I was paying for it, I’d want to have access to it at work and not just at home.) I’ve also noticed that we block Perplexity, and I expect some of the other popular tools. (I’m not sure why, though I’d guess it has something to do with distrust of the privacy policies for those tools and worry that proprietary corporate info will get into them and then maybe leak back out?)

I’ve also played around with Poe, which is a tool that gives you access to a bunch of different AI tools, including ChatGPT. They also have a $20/month plan that gets you access to more advanced models, and lets you use it more. I’m not sure how worthwhile that is, vs. using ChatGPT directly. I guess there’s some utility in having access to multiple sources through a single interface. I definitely want to play around with it some more.

And I’ve tried out the new Bing chat. It’s also powered by GPT under the hood, I think. The nice thing about Bing chat is that, unlike the free version of ChatGPT, it combines web search with GPT, so that it can return more recent information than using ChatGPT alone. (And my company doesn’t block Bing chat, so I can use it at work.)

So that’s my brief overview of the front-end interfaces for LLM back-ends that I’ve tried out. I haven’t found one that is noticeably better than the others, at this point, but I haven’t done much with them yet.

I should also mention that all of these things, for a lot of the use cases I’ve tried, are spectacularly bad at returning correct and/or useful data. In general, I’m not sure if they’re super useful as general research assistants. If you can find an answer to a question with a regular web search or a simple Wikipedia check, that’s way better than asking ChatGPT.

Aside from just playing around with these things, I’ve also been reading some articles and listening to some podcasts. I thought I’d include some podcast links here, for reference.

  • Here’s an episode of the New Yorker Radio Hour from a few months ago, where they did an interview with Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI. It’s somewhat interesting, at a high level.
  • Ezra Klein has done a few shows talking about AI and LLMs and stuff. Some of it is pretty interesting to me, but it’s mostly high-level philosophical stuff, and I’m not sure what I think about some of it.
  • On the more practical side, Scott Hanselman did an episode of his podcast recently where he interviewed a guy who wrote a book on “prompt engineering”. That’s the kind of thing that made me roll my eyes, until I started digging into it a bit. I still think the whole prompt engineering thing is a bit overblown, and I don’t want to read a whole book about it, but I’ll admit that some of it is useful, and I have now watched a couple of LinkedIn Learning videos on the subject.
  • Also on the practical side of things, I’ve queued up a few episodes of .NET Rocks related to AI. This one, from August, looks interesting.
  • And there’s a recent episode of RunAs Radio that got into some good no-nonsense explanations for how LLMs work. I think that episode has a better explanation of the tech involved than anything else I’ve read or listened to. (I’m sure there are other good explanations out there, of course, but this is the best one I’ve stumbled across so far.)
  • And, finally, related to .NET Rocks, I see that Carl has a video series called The AI Bot Show that covers this stuff. I guess I’m going to have to watch some of those.

So, in conclusion, I guess I’m doing a little less eye-rolling at this stuff now. I see some utility in it, and I’m getting a better idea of what it’s good for and what it’s not good for.


I probably still have COVID

I got sick with COVID two weeks ago. I took the whole week off from work, started Paxlovid, and got better. This week, I worked from home the whole week. I was feeling better Monday through Thursday, but was still testing positive as of Thursday. Then, on Friday, I got sick again. And I’m still feeling sick today. I haven’t taken another test yet, so I’m not sure if it’s a rebound COVID infection, a cold, or something else.

Here’s a good article on the Paxlovid rebound thing. The article says that a rebound usually lasts two or three days, but can last as long as ten. I’m really hoping for the two or three days, so I’ll be better by Monday. I’m not sure I can hack another week of being sick. And I’d kind of like to show my face in the office next week, if I can. (Not that I like being in the office, just that I don’t want people to think I’m slacking off…) I really wish we had, as a society, normalized the idea that erring on the side of caution is fine, and good, and pushing yourself to get back into the office as soon as possible isn’t good for anyone.

My Paxlovid was free, surprisingly. I’d assumed that, with the public health emergency over, there’d at least be a co-pay. But I guess the government program that pays for Paxlovid is still going. I did just see some articles about the coming price hike for Paxlovid though. Yikes. I hope my insurance will cover that, if I ever need it again.

With all the testing I’ve been doing, I almost ran out of COVID tests. I ordered a new batch from the free government program, but they haven’t shown up yet, so I ordered a couple of kits from Amazon. The retail price for a 2-pack seems to be $24, but Amazon had them on sale for about $16. So that’s not too bad, and of course they showed up the next day. (I also checked to see if my insurance would pay for them, but apparently that’s not a thing anymore, since the official “public health emergency” ended.)

Not that I would wish COVID on anyone, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one getting COVID recently. Stephen Colbert caught it too, and did one show from home, then skipped the rest of the week. So, if he can take some time off, I can too, right?


Master Keaton

I’ve been thinking about Master Keaton a bit lately. I noticed that all ten volumes of the manga are listed as being banned in a certain school district in Texas, based on this article. I haven’t actually read the manga, but I’m having trouble figuring out how a manga about an insurance investigator could be problematic. (Well, it’s manga, so I’m sure there’s something…)

I have all the DVDs for the Master Keaton anime. I bought most of them in 2006, but have still only watched the first three. I’m thinking about re-watching those first few, and then going on and finishing the series.

And I poked around a bit today to see if the manga was still in print. It is, but apparently only in paperback and not digitally. As I was looking at that, I noticed that apparently Right Stuf is shutting down and getting merged into the Crunchyroll store. Right Stuf has been around since 1987, and I’ve bought a bunch of stuff from them over the years, but nothing lately. That’s partially because I have too much stuff to watch/read so I shouldn’t buy anything new, and partially because I can usually find what I’m looking for cheaper at Amazon. I always feel a little guilty buying stuff at Amazon instead of a smaller retailer, but I often do it anyway.

Returning to the subject of the Master Keaton manga being “banned,” I just dug into that a bit more by searching for it here, and apparently it had previously been classified as OK for middle school students, but has been reclassified as only for grades 9+. So maybe that’s not so bad. I remember the anime as being fine for all ages, I think, but maybe the manga is a bit more violent. Still, I’m sure most middle school kids in America have seen much worse.

some random links

I’m continuing to feel better today (see previous post), though I’m still not enjoying the “Paxlovid mouth” side-effect. I’m currently masking it with some apple juice.

I spent some time at the computer today, paying some bills, and catching up on some miscellaneous stuff I was neglecting while sick. I thought I’d put together a link post, with a few random things I stumbled over today.

  • The Coronavirus Still Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings – from The Nation. I don’t really have anything to say about this, but thought it was relevant to my current situation.
  • The cult of Obsidian – from Fast Company. I’ve mostly given up on Obsidian, and have decided to remain with Evernote for now. But I still think Obsidian is interesting, and I may return to it at some point. I’m a little interested in maybe picking up David Sparks’ Obsidian Field Guide, now that it’s out, though there wouldn’t be much point in that, if I’m not going to use Obsidian.
  • I just saw the news that JHU in Manhattan has closed, via this interview at The Beat. I’ve been going to JHU since back when it was in A&S Plaza. So that’s got to be back in the early 90s, since it was only called A&S Plaza from 1989-1995 (per Wikipedia). I always liked that store, both before and after Jim Hanley retired. Mind you, I haven’t been there in a while. I can’t really remember the last time I was there. In more recent years, I’ve been more likely to stop by Midtown Comics, mostly just because I’m more likely to pass by there on my way to or from Penn Station.

I’ve skimmed some of the news coming out of NYCC, but there’s not much that caught my eye. I looked at the Harvey winners, and there’s some interesting stuff in there. Having just spent a week at home, sick, you’d think I would have done some comic reading, but nope. I didn’t really have the energy for it earlier in the week. Then, on Wednesday, I decided to start watching Only Murders In The Building, and that kept me out of trouble from Wednesday through Friday. (I watched one season per day.) I should probably talk myself into doing some reading today and tomorrow, but I’m still not sure I have enough energy for it.