For software engineer John Hassell, the future is now for AI Chatbots

Oklahoma-based software engineer John Hassell has embraced artificial intelligence chatbots as part of his daily workflow.

In the past couple of months, I’ve heard more about artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots than any other topic, except, perhaps, the media hysteria caused by Chinese spy balloons.

According to IBM, a chatbot is a computer program that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NLP) to understand questions and automate responses to them, simulating human conversation.

In fact, it was just a month ago that I signed up on the free Open AI ChatGPT website and asked Chatbot to write me a couple of essays on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s tanking philosophy.

The essays turned out well written and with solid arguments.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing from ethicists over the potential of AI bots to write term papers for high school and college students or mimic the voice of well known people to have them say outrageous things.

So, the jury’s still out on what our future will look like with AI Chatbots churning out reports, papers and art. But there are people who already embrace the potential of chatbots as tools to enhance their workflow.

One of those is Oklahoman John Hassell, who works as an embedded software engineer for Tactical Electronics in Broken Arrow. I’ve known John since 2005, when he was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oklahoma and entered the Donald W. Reynold’s Governor’s Cup collegiate business plan competition with a concept known as ZigBeef.

As pitched by John and his team in the Governor’s Cup, Zigbeef applied RFID technology to ear tags for cattle as a way to easily identify them and ensure a safe beef supply for consumers.

ZigBeef won second place in the Graduate Division of the Governor’s Cup.

After completing his Ph.D. and pursuing ZigBeef for a number of years, John has gone on to work in embedded software development, as well as applying his skills to mobile app development.

So, I was pleased to hear from him recently when he described how ChatGPT has quickly become a major factor in his workflow.

John said he heard about AI and initially was skeptical of any potential benefits.

But an OpenAI art program known as Dall-E changed his perspective. He asked it to draw a photo from his memory of his family’s old two-story farm house near Okemah.

“On a lark, the first time I used it, I typed in a paragraph describing a mental picture of the sandy road, surrounded by a pecan tree orchard, leading up to the white farm two-story house,” he said. “OpenAI’s system produced something shockingly similar to what I was imagining. The picture it created in seconds was suitable for hanging in my office as a picture.”

Now you know why the art world has been in an uproar over AI potential.

Next, Hassell asked ChatGPT to produce some programming code that involved an obscure Linux script.

“In a second, ChatGPT comprehended exactly what I needed to do, and then provided the working code to do it,” he said. “I had been working on that issue for weeks.”

So, now Chatbot is part of John Hassell’s routine workflow. He produced a legislative mobile app for the Oklahoma Electric Cooperatives Association and is working to implement a “quiz” feature as part of it. The quiz required writing a short summary of each legislator.

He assigned the task to Chatbot.

“Once again, ChatGPT provided an easily readable, accurate summary, correctly punctuated, with an interesting fact, for each legislator and their district,” John said. “It was not completely accurate and had to be checked. Nevertheless, it saved an incredible amount of tedium and time in writing this program.”

I wanted to know more about the perspective John has gained about AI and the Chabot, so I asked him a few more questions. Here they are in Q&A format:

Q: How has AI helped streamline or enhance what you do?
A: I’ve actually started to migrate away from my standard resource of programming help, sites like StackOverflow and Google search. Now, I am able to ask specific questions that tend to get me answers quicker.

Q: Isn’t using an AI Chatbot considered cheating?
A: It is somehow cheating the same way that leveraging a calculator was somehow cheating in the 1970s, or that using a tractor instead of a mule team was cheating at the start of the last century. New technology is neither ethical or unethical, it just is. We will find if we aren’t using this technology in future years we are just left behind.”

Q: How much do you worry about inaccurate feedback you receive from Chatbot?
A: In my few short weeks of usage, it has indeed been inaccurate many times. However, the inaccurate solutions provided, or the prose presented, still brought me much farther and quick ahead than without it.

Q: There seems to be some fear about how AI will impact our future in a negative way; what is your perspective on that potential?
A: I can tell you that after using ChatGPT the past few weeks, the user interfaces on my smart phone, on my truck radio, even on most websites, seem antiquated.  Having to search for, and manipulate computer controls, in such a precise and particular manner feels so “old” already. Not to be too dramatic, but this will change will be huge… and it’s happening with record speed.

Q: What else would you like us to know about the topic of AI Chatbots or your work?
A: Interestingly, I’ve gotten better at using ChatGPT in my programming work by thinking less like a computer programmer in many ways. Now, instead of overly-specifying what I need, and the way I need it, I revert to more-human prose, asking what I ultimately need… not trying to tell ChatGPT on how to find the answer for me. I’m having to de-program my decades of learning and specifying the minutiae of how to get things done with a computer. Now, ChatGPT has learned to do a lot of that. I look forward to seeing these improvements in all the tedious things we all have to deal with in interacting with all the machines that are here to help us.

Takeaway: I only heard about ChatGPT a few months ago, and thought that its impact wouldn’t show up for years while it was being perfected.

But as John Hassell has demonstrated, Chatbot’s future is now. We should embrace it.

All in on Sam Presti & the Thunder season

Presti screen
OKC Thunder general manager Sam Presti speaks to the media in the weeks leading up to the 2022-23 season.

As my friend and debate partner in all things OKC Thunder, Steve Buck has often accused me of being anti-Sam Presti.

It’s an accusation that I loudly protest even as I have questioned the Thunder’s apparent philosophy of losing games on purpose, otherwise known as tanking. Teams tank because losing positions them for better draft position as they work to build their roster.

As my friends at church would say, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Steve has described it to me as a “player development” philosophy rather than actual tanking, which the NBA frowns upon. In 2018, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for admitting on the Dan Patrick Show that the Mavs lost games on purpose. 

In comments made on the Dan Patrick Show,, Cuban said that “once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games.”

I’ve never heard Sam Presti say anything about losing on purpose. But I have heard him discuss “commitment to the process” and “not taking shortcuts.”

We saw how that played out as the Thunder went 24-58 in 2021-22, often keeping key players with minor ailments on the injury list and out of the lineup for long stretches. The team even cut a player late in the season who was playing above expectations, which threatened the team’s commitment to ‘The ProcessTM”

Frustration mounts for me when it’s apparent the Thunder are ‘exploring the roster’ with no interest in winning the game night after night. That’s what we’ve seen the last couple of years.

So, what have we heard from Presti leading up to the Oct. 19 season opener against the Timberwolves? Here are some sample comments from the Thunder GM over the past few weeks.

“What we’re looking for is overall improvement over a long period of time,” Presti said in a media appearance. “That’s not the most sexy, exciting thing that I could say to you.

“I’m not trying to mislead anybody, but it would be easier to try to find something that’s more catchy or exciting. But we just want a long-term, overall improvement. That doesn’t mean each season has to go the same way.”

As I did in a post a year ago, I’m asking the Thunder to play to win every game. I’m sure neither the franchise nor its sponsors enjoyed the nights last season when the Paycom Center was less than half full. 

It’s pretty apparent to me that people are not going to commit time or money to a team they perceive as not trying to win, even if there is a long (emphasize “long”) term goal of capturing the next unicorn in the draft.

My perception is that the fans come last in this tanking or “player development” scenario that’s played out over the past couple of years.

That’s a position that my friend Steve takes issue with.

“Strongly disagree on your last point,” he told me this week. “Presti wants to give a title to the city; isn’t that for the fans? It is fair to say he is not distracted by outside noise; he is focused on the long game.

“And he is accountable to Clay Bennett and he has likely set the goal of winning titles”

There’s a whole debate over whether fans would be more excited by a team that’s competing late in the season for the final playoff spot or if they would rather wait on an NBA title that may never come. 

That’s pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye.

I’m definitely in the camp that wants the Thunder to play to win every night and be in the chase for a playoff spot, even if it’s the play-in game.

That would make the long, cold winter much more interesting for all of us.

But back to Steve’s original complaint. I’m a huge fan of Sam Presti. I am awed by his acumen for judging talent and finding diamonds in the rough at whatever position the Thunder are drafting. I love the way he welcomes new players to OKC and gets them involved with the community.  I love the way he represents the Thunder and OKC itself.

As Dan Patrick said last year, “Sam Presti is the best GM the NBA has seen in a long, long time.”

A last comment from Presti on the upcoming season: “Let’s wait for it to play out before we decide that’s what it’s going to be.”

I’m all in on that.

thunder tip2021
Thunder tip off in an early 2021-22 season game

We need a Streetcar with a purpose

OKC Streetcar
OKC Streetcar at the Cox Center stop in December 2018

Let me say first that I love the OKC Streetcar. I love to ride the rails of any sort whether trains, subway or streetcar.

Especially OUR Streetcar.

When the OKC Streetcar launched in December 2018, I made a day of it. I took Edmond’s CityLink bus to downtown OKC,  walked over to Leadership Square and caught the tail end of the opening ceremony followed by the launch of the inaugural ride.

Then I walked over to the Library stop, caught the second Streetcar that came by and rode the entire downtown loop, which took almost an hour.

The next month, downtown for a Thunder game with my family, we parked near the Chesapeake Arena and caught the Streetcar up to Automobile Alley, where we exited and walked over to Hideaway Pizza for a pregame meal.

We then caught the Streetcar at the OCU Law School stop and rode it back down to the Cox Center, from where we walked into the arena just as the National Anthem was being performed.

So, yes, I love the OKC Streetcar.

But there’s a problem.

I have no reason to ride it because it’s a Streetcar that goes, well, nowhere. It’s a loop through downtown from Bricktown to Scissortail Park up to NW 11th Street and back down.

As much as I love the rails, our Streetcar wasn’t built for a commuter who would love to use it to get to downtown instead of to ride around downtown in a loop.

As much as people don’t like to hear it, it was built as a tourist attraction.

So, from my point of view, the OKC Streetcar doesn’t serve the population. You see Streetcars go by all the time that are virtually empty. The numbers recently released by Embark show that lack of ridership, although as it pointed out, the Pandemic did it no favors over the past year.

But we have the Streetcar and I still love it. I’m just trying to figure out how it can be made more useful to a commuting population.

For instance, perhaps there could be sort of a commuter lot on the north edge of downtown devoted to people who drive in for a big event like a Thunder game or Scissortail Park concert. They could park at the lot, take the Streetcar on down and not worry about finding a parking space.

Now that would fill an actual need.

My friend, whom I will call “Steve”, suggests a faster Streetcar and new routes.

“Speed and a spur to populated areas to make it a commuter option,” Steve said. “It just takes way too long to get around the segments.”

Thank you, Steve. A commuter option is exactly what it needs.

New routes would be a major financial hurdle at this point. But the Streetcar needs desperately to connect the OKC Innovation District, the OU Health Sciences Center campus and the Capitol — and NE 23rd Street — to downtown.

Someone please make that happen. Then we would no longer have a Streetcar to nowhere.

We would have a Streetcar with a purpose.

A playlist to take you back in time

Album covers

On my way to the dentist one day a few years ago, the song “American Woman” came on the radio. It was followed by Paul McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” and then “A Horse With No Name,” by America.

A wave of nostalgia hit me so hard I almost had to pull over.

I was no longer in my car in the 2010s.  I was a teenager in 1971 sitting in a 1965 Pontiac Catalina (look it up) in Fort Smith, Ark.

This was almost a song-for-song playlist of the music I was listening to in the early ’70s just as I was completing high school. If there were such things as playlists back in 1971.

We had a new FM radio station in Fort Smith with the call letters KISR, which played Top 40 hits and was immensely popular among high school students. Its play list rotation was really small, so you heard the popular songs again and again.

Pontiac CatalinaI wouldn’t have had FM radio in my Pontiac — a hand-me-down from my dad — but that’s the memory that washed over me when I heard the music from a distant time.

Isn’t it amazing that hearing the opening riff to a single song — Neil Young’s “Ohio,” for instance — can instantly transport you back in time to exactly where you were at when you first heard the music?

Sitting in a car. Dragging Main Street. At the lake. Hanging out at someone’s house.

It puts you right there again. It’s almost like Deja Vu (all over again!).

Turns out, that there are studies on the subject of how music can take you back and rekindle vivid memories from decades ago. And how music creates waves of nostalgia that make you emotional for a time long gone.

It even occurs with more recent music and memories. Whenever I hear Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” I’m right back in Chesapeake Energy Arena waiting for KD, Russ, Serge and the rest of the Thunder to hit the court.

“Home’ was the pregame warmup music for an entire season back in the good ol’ days of the Thunder. How I miss it.

The music carries me back.

March 11 and the end to life as we knew it

The scoreboard told the story on March 11, 202

We all remember March 11, 2020, as the day that life ended as we knew it.

It was the day that the Jazz-Thunder game at Chesapeake Energy Arena was postponed because a Utah player tested positive for COVID-19.

A single NBA game postponed in Oklahoma City was the first falling domino in a cascade of millions of others around the world.

OKC was the center of the COVID universe that night.

The Oklahoman wrote a terrific oral history of that night in OKC that you don’t want to miss.

My family will always have vivid memories of March 11. I was home, parked in front of the television waiting for the game to commence.

Meanwhile, my wife met her mother, like we often do – or did – at Chesapeake Arena and waited for tipoff from their seats in Section 206.

I’m not sure who suspected something was up first. As the television broadcast went on, I recall the Thunder announcers talking about a delay, but not knowing what was causing it.

In the arena, my wife and her mother noticed the delay too.  They were expecting tipoff at any second.

But it never happened.

“The moment that stands out to me,” Paula told me, “was the two Thunder employees running out and huddling at midcourt with the game officials. We didn’t know what it was about, but we knew that something was up.”

At home in my recliner, I speculated to Paula in a text that the game might be delayed because a player had tested positive for COVID. I was repeating a rumor I saw on Twitter.

She texted back what she saw from her seat, which was that players were being herded off the court. The Thunder tried to distract the crowd for a few minutes with what would have been the halftime entertainment.

But fans in the stands were left to speculate among themselves what was happening. Some grew restless, she said.

Finally, the Thunder announced that the game had been postponed on orders from the NBA. Fans were asked to leave in an orderly fashion.

Paula and her mom slowly left the arena, but not before she took an awesome photo of the scoreboard that announced the postponement. No one panicked, although there were a few boos after the announcement.

It wasn’t until she got home that it was confirmed what we all suspected. Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19.

We both wondered if she and all the other fans in attendance were in danger. Was Gobert even there (he wasn’t)? What did it mean to the rest of the NBA season?

I remember that the TV coverage continued for some time after the game was cancelled. But I recall very little of what was said, because the implications of what had just happened were all I could think about.

Turns out that the NBA did shut down after March 11, followed by college basketball, Major League Baseball and most of life as we knew it.

Paula’s photo has served as my Twitter and Facebook background for exactly one year. I’m retiring it today, replacing it with a happier photo shot at an OKC Dodgers baseball game two years ago.

It’s time to move on with our lives.