No Luddites Here

Never let it be said that the crew of Aleta are a bunch of Luddites. Perish the thought! Not only do we embrace fancy navigation technologies like AIS, radar, and satellite communications, as an inherently lazy bunch of Sybarites we’re not above letting others do the heavy lifting when it comes to blogging. Now it’s the machine’s turn.

There has been a lot of brouhaha over Artificial Intelligence in the past few months. First it was this Midjourney AI generated picture winning the “digital arts/digitally-manipulated photography” category at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition. Jason Allen’s successful prompting brought howls of protest from humans and the press alike. I think it’s pretty cool. Clearly Mr. Allen lacks the skills to do this kind of thing himself, but he has the nous to use the tools that the internet gods gave us. I’m not sure it says anything about the critics, but this was an art fair and rodeo. Perhaps the judges swapped roles for the day. I prompted the same AI to generate an image of Donald Trump playing Frank-n-furter from the Rocky Horror Show. You be the judge.

My most recent video used AI generated music. The music is awful. It’s bad in the way of 1970s era Muzak. Unlistenable by itself, it makes for okay background music. Just don’t listen too closely. I suspect music as a domain will take time for the machines to conquer. But then there’s writing.


Roald Dahl, ever prescient, predicted the invention of AI in his short story, The Great Automatic Grammatizator. His vision of the tool was more like a gigantic pipe organ than a mouse and keyboard. Nonetheless, the story’s moral dilemma, whether an author should sign their name and receive compensation for a computer-generated novel, rings truer than ever. The story’s closing lines sum up the writer’s challenge: “This very moment, as I sit here listening to the howling of my nine starving children in the other room, I can feel my own hand creeping closer and closer to that golden contract that lies over on the other side of the desk. Give us strength, oh Lord, to let our children starve.” Fortunately, our kids are all gainfully employed and the likelihood of monetizing is vanishingly small.

As You Are in High School, As You Are In Life

The quality of AI writing reminds me of high school. The structure is rote – tell what you’ll tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em what you told ‘em. The syntax surprisingly readable and probably better than most high schoolers achieve. It spits out lots of active voice, in the modern way, and factual accuracy isn’t bad. No worse than a skiving sophomore’s.

What about that teacher’s nemesis: plagiarism? Is this AI stuff original work, or wholly derivative? Who knows? It’s probably a darn good thing I didn’t have access to AI in high school. I’d never have learned a thing except how to write prompts. Come to think of it, that’s a bit like being a senior executive. I digress…

ChatGPT for the Pulitzer

For my part, having just read the excellent book Beyond Measure by James Vincent, I figured I’d write a story about all the cool measurements sailors use. The history of odd terms and why, weirdly, in this metricized world old terms like ‘fathom’ and ‘knot’ are still used. Then I realized it would take hours of research and, being an idle Sybarite, I could put AI to work for me. After all, you can look at AI as the end of humanity as you know it, or you can view it for what it is, a tool.

Therefore, this week’s post arrives after a series of iterative prompts to ChatGPT, the chatbot from Elon Musk’s company OpenAI. (It’s the same one Microsoft just invested $10 billion in. The same one that gave a New York Times writer the heebie-jeebies.).

For the sake of science, I have included two versions. Version 5 does a pretty good job and didn’t stop dead when it reached 650 words (I dropped the word count limit in the prompt.) Version 7 delves deeper into the abyss of Dad humour. It also has a deal more horse pucky presented as fact.

Neither article was edited in any way. I dedicate these to my Uncle Hugh, sailor, mentor, punster and computing greybeard.


Prompt Version 5: Please write a funny blog post on the history and use of nautical measurements. Include as many nautical puns as you can think of.

Ahoy there, mateys! Today, we’ll be diving into the world of nautical measurements. Don’t worry, I won’t be making you walk the plank of boredom. I promise to keep this post as shipshape as possible!

First off, let’s start with the basics. In the olden days, sailors used to navigate the seas using celestial bodies like stars and the sun. They also used a handy little device called a sextant, which helped them measure the angle between the horizon and the celestial object. This measurement was then used to calculate the ship’s position.

But what about distances? Well, sailors had a variety of methods for measuring distances at sea. They used knots, leagues, fathoms, and even the length of a ship’s cable (which was approximately 600 feet).

Now, let’s knot forget the most important nautical measurement of all – the knot! This is a unit of speed that measures how many nautical miles a ship travels in an hour. And yes, it’s measured using knots tied in a rope. Don’t worry if you can’t wrap your head around it – it’s a bit of a twisted system.

Speaking of twisted, did you know that the term “spin a yarn” comes from sailors spinning yarn to make ropes? That’s just one of the many nautical phrases that have become part of our everyday language. Others include “under the weather,” “three sheets to the wind,” and “let the cat out of the bag” (which refers to a cat o’ nine tails – a whip used for punishment).

Now, let’s dive a little deeper into some of these nautical measurements. A league, for example, is a distance of approximately three nautical miles. This is based on the idea that a man walking for an hour could cover about three miles. Of course, this assumes that the man is walking on land – if he’s walking on water, he might need a little more time!

Another measurement that’s worth mentioning is the fathom. This is a unit of length that’s equal to six feet. It’s used to measure the depth of water, as well as the length of ropes and chains. And let’s face it – it’s just a fun word to say. Fathom that!

So, there you have it – a brief history of nautical measurements. Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two and had a few laughs along the way. If not, well, I guess I’m just all at sea!


Prompt Version 7: Please write a funny article about the history and use of nautical measurements. Include as many nautical puns as you can think of. The article should be between 750 and 1200 words long.

Ahoy there, landlubbers! Are you ready to set sail on a sea of nautical measurements and puns? Well, weigh anchor and hoist the mainsail, because we’re about to embark on a hilarious journey through the history and use of these seafaring units of measurement.

First, let’s start with a bit of history. The origins of nautical measurements can be traced back to ancient civilizations like the Greeks and Romans, who used the stars to navigate the seas. But it wasn’t until the Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries that nautical measurements really took off. Sailors needed accurate ways to measure distance, speed, and direction while at sea, and thus a whole slew of new measurements were invented.

One of the most important nautical measurements is the nautical mile, which is equivalent to one minute of latitude. It’s used to measure distances at sea, and is still used today in navigation. But did you know that the nautical mile was actually invented by a Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste Borda in 1795? He realized that sailors needed a way to measure distance that took into account the curvature of the earth, and thus the nautical mile was born.

Another important nautical measurement is the knot, which is a unit of speed that represents one nautical mile per hour. It’s still used today to measure the speed of ships and boats, and is named after the knots tied in a rope at intervals to measure the ship’s speed. But did you know that the knot was actually invented by a British admiral named Sir Francis Beaufort in the early 19th century? He realized that sailors needed a more accurate way to measure their speed, and thus the knot was born.

Of course, there are plenty of other nautical measurements out there, like fathoms (which measure depth), leagues (which measure distance), and cables (which measure length). But let’s get to the fun part – the puns!

Why did the sailor refuse to buy a new boat? Because he couldn’t afford the sea-prices!

What did the pirate say when he turned 80? “Aye, matey, I’ve sailed the seven seas and I’m still afloat!”

Why did the sailor wear a red shirt? So he wouldn’t be spotted if he fell overboard!

What did the ocean say to the sailboat? Nothing, it just waved!

Why did the sailor get a sunburn on his left arm only? Because he was on port (left) side!

What do you call a fish that wears a bowtie? Solemn!

Why don’t pirates take a bath before they walk the plank? Because they’ll just wash up on shore later!

Why was the sailor afraid to leave his ship? Because he heard it was a tide-y situation!

What did the mermaid say to the sailor? “I’m hooked on you!”

Why don’t crabs ever give to charity? Because they’re shellfish!

Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the puns now. But hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two about nautical measurements and had a good laugh along the way. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or just a landlocked pun-lover, there’s no denying the importance – and hilarity – of these seafaring units of measurement. So next time you’re out on the water, raise a glass (or a bottle of rum) to nautical measurements and all the puns they inspire. Anchors aweigh!


It is worth mentioning that Jean-Baptiste Borda did not invent the nautical mile. Nor did John Baptiste Borda who was found dead in his Bakersfield home 18 months ago in suspicious circumstances. Jean-Baptiste Bordas is a French footballer who participated in the 1960 summer Olympics, so it wasn’t his handiwork. Jean-Charles de Borda is a more likely candidate. A French scientist, naval officer, and confirmed metric evangelist, de Borda argued the quarter circle should be divided into 100 angular units instead of 90 degrees. He lost that battle.

The most credible source for our AI to misrepresent would be Jean Baptiste Joseph, chevalier Delambre. An astronomer, Delambre introduced the concept of the metre, defined as 1 / 10,000,000 of the distance from the North Pole to the equator. Still not a nautical mile, but in the right direction. Likewise, Admiral Francis Beaufort did not invent the knot. He is best known for the Beaufort Wind Scale, which indeed uses knots as his scale’s principal measure of windspeed.

Its propensity for presenting hallucinations as facts makes ChatGPT untrustworthy. In this age of mis-speaking, its algorithms reflect an approach to the truth shared by our political representatives. In other words, an opportunity for fact-checkers everywhere. There must be an AI for that…



    1. Unlike you, I’m sure, it’s not clear the ChatBot improves with practice. By V7 it is clearly making things up, facts and jokes, without understanding the meaning. Much like my old essays come to think of it.

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