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PSAT-RW Preliminary SAT - National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (Reading-Writing) information |

PSAT-RW information - Preliminary SAT - National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (Reading-Writing) Updated: 2023

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Exam Code: PSAT-RW Preliminary SAT - National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (Reading-Writing) information November 2023 by team

PSAT-RW Preliminary SAT - National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (Reading-Writing)

Exam Details:
- Number of Questions: The PSAT-RW test consists of two main sections: memorizing and Writing and Language. The specific number of questions may vary, but typically, the memorizing section includes about 47 questions, and the Writing and Language section includes about 44 questions.

- Time: Candidates are given a total of 60 minutes for the memorizing section and 35 minutes for the Writing and Language section, resulting in a total testing time of 95 minutes.

Course Outline:
The PSAT-RW test is designed to assess the candidate's memorizing comprehension and writing skills. The test measures the candidate's ability to analyze and understand written passages, interpret information, and apply grammar and language conventions. The course outline may include the following key areas:

1. memorizing Section:
- memorizing comprehension of fiction and non-fiction passages
- Analyzing main ideas and supporting details
- Identifying author's purpose, tone, and perspective
- Drawing inferences and making conclusions
- Understanding vocabulary in context

2. Writing and Language Section:
- Grammar and usage
- Sentence structure and organization
- Punctuation and mechanics
- Effective word choice and style
- Editing and revising written passages

Exam Objectives:
The objectives of the PSAT-RW test typically include:
- Evaluating the candidate's memorizing comprehension skills, including the ability to understand and analyze written passages across different genres.
- Assessing the candidate's writing skills, including grammar, usage, and mechanics, to ensure effective communication.
- Measuring the candidate's ability to interpret and evaluate information presented in written form.
- Identifying candidates who may be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Exam Syllabus:
The specific test syllabus for the PSAT-RW test may include the following topics:

1. memorizing Section:
- memorizing comprehension of literary and informational passages
- Analyzing main ideas and supporting details
- Understanding vocabulary in context
- Identifying author's purpose and tone
- Drawing inferences and making conclusions

2. Writing and Language Section:
- Grammar and usage rules (subject-verb agreement, verb tenses, pronoun usage, modifiers)
- Sentence structure and organization (sentence variety, parallelism, transitions)
- Punctuation and mechanics (commas, semicolons, apostrophes, capitalization)
- Effective word choice and style
- Editing and revising written passages
Preliminary SAT - National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (Reading-Writing)
SAT (Reading-Writing) information

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Preliminary SAT - National Merit Scholarship Qualifying
Test (Reading-Writing)
Question: 246
If Jessica only spent 20% instead of the 25% allotment for food in May of 2001, how much
did she save?
A. $131.10
B. $144.30
C. $148.32
D. $152.22
E. $153.33
Answer: A
Question: 247
Jonathan can type a 20 page document in 40 minutes, Susan can type it in 30 minutes, and
Jack can type it in 24 minutes. Working together, how much time will it take them to type
the same document?
A. 5 minutes
B. 10 minutes
C. 15 minutes
D. 18 minutes
E. 20 minutes
Answer: B
Question: 248
John is traveling to a meeting that is 28 miles away. He needs to be there in 30 minutes.
How fast does he need to go to make it to the meeting on time?
A. 25 mph
B. 37 mph
C. 41 mph
D. 49 mph
E. 56 mph
Answer: E
Question: 249
If Steven can mix 20 drinks in 5 minutes, Sue can mix 20 drinks in 10 minutes, and Jack
can mix 20 drinks in 15 minutes, how much time will it take all 3 of them working together
to mix the 20 drinks?
A. 2 minutes and 44 seconds
B. 2 minutes and 58 seconds
C. 3 minutes and 10 seconds
D. 3 minutes and 26 seconds
E. 4 minutes and 15 seconds
Answer: A
Question: 250
If Sam can do a job in 4 days that Lisa can do in 6 days and Tom can do in 2 days, how
long would the job take if Sam, Lisa, and Tom worked together to complete it?
A. 0.8 days
B. 1.09 days
C. 1.23 days
D. 1.65 days
E. 1.97 days
Answer: B
Question: 251
Jim has 5 pieces of string. He needs to choose the piece that will be able to go around his
36-inch waist. His belt broke, and his pants are falling down. The piece needs to be at least
4 inches longer than his waist so he can tie a knot in it, but it cannot be more that 6 inches
longer so that the ends will not show from under his shirt. Which of the following pieces of
string will work the best?
A. 3 feet
B. 3.feet
C. 3.feet
D. 3.feet
E. 2.feet
Answer: C
Question: 252
The last week of a month a car dealership sold 12 cars. A new sales promotion came out
the first week of the next month and the sold 19 cars that week. What was the percent
increase in sales from the last week of the previous month compared to the first week of the
next month?
A. 58%
B. 119%
C. 158%
D. 175%
E. 200%
Answer: A
Question: 253
If two planes leave the same airport at 1:00 PM, how many miles apart will they be at 3:00
PM if one travels directly north at 150 mph and the other travels directly west at 200 mph?
A. 50 miles
B. 100 miles
C. 500 miles
D. 700 miles
E. 1,000 miles
Answer: C
Question: 254
During a 5-day festival, the number of visitors tripled each day. If the festival opened on a
Thursday with 345 visitors, what was the attendance on that Sunday?
A. 345
B. 1,035
C. 1,725
D. 3,105
E. 9,315
Answer: E
Question: 255
What is the absolute value of -9?
A. -9
B. 9
C. 0
D. -1
E. 1
Answer: B
Question: 256
What is the median of the following list of numbers? 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12
A. 6
B. 7.5
C. 7.8
D. 8
E. 9
Answer: D
Question: 257
What is the mathematical average of the number of weeks in a year, seasons in a year, and
the number of days in January?
A. 36
B. 33
C. 32
D. 31
E. 29
Answer: E
Question: 258
In a college, some courses contribute more towards an overall GPA than other courses. For
example, a science class is worth 4 points; mathematics is worth 3 points; history is worth 2
points; and English is worth 3 points. The values of the grade letters are as follows, A= 4,
B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0. What is the GPA of a student who made a "C" in Trigonometry, a
"B" in American History, an "A" in Botany, and a "B" in Microbiology?
A. 2.59
B. 2.86
C. 3.08
D. 3.33
E. 3.67
Answer: C
Question: 259
Over the course of a week, Fred spent $28.49 on lunch. What was the average cost per day?
A. $4.07
B. $3.57
C. $6.51
D. $2.93
E. $5.41
Answer: A
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SAT (Reading-Writing) information - BingNews Search results SAT (Reading-Writing) information - BingNews SAT goes digital: Breaking down an unprecedented shift

A major overhaul to the SAT test could throw some students off.

Juniors in Michigan and Indiana are required to take the test.

Test prep experts and schools say they are helping students get ready.

SAT Changing

A big announcement last year by the non-profit College Board is changing how students are taking the SAT this year: The SAT is going digital.

It is not just a matter of 'we are going to take this test that is on paper and put it on a computer.' The College Board has redesigned the test,” explains Scott Carlin, a longtime SAT prep expert.

Scott Carlin has been preparing students for the SAT for more than two decades.

His business, Dr. Carlin’s Test Prep and College Consulting, works with individual clients and schools on the SAT, ACT, and other college prep issues.

Over the summer Carlin coached students for the digital PSAT/NMSQT test.

His clients and most students in Indiana took those tests last month.

The PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 8/9 were delivered digitally this year for the first time.

Now, Carlin is turning his attention to the Digital SAT.

“There are question types on this SAT that no one has done before -- that I haven’t done before,” says Carlin.

The SAT is a standardized test administered by College Board.

College Board also administers the PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, the PSAT 8/9 and other assessments.

The SAT test measures a student's reading, writing and math skills as well as college readiness.

What’s the difference?

When College Board announced in 2022 it would be delivering the SAT digitally, it said the digital change would begin internationally in 2023 and in the United States in 2024.

According to a news release, while the transition to digital would bring many changes, there were features that would remain the same.

The SAT will still be scored on a 1600 scale and the tests will continue to be administered in a school or Exam Center with a proctor present.

The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of College Readiness Assessments at College Board in the 2022 news release.

College Board said the SAT would be two hours instead of three with more time per question.

It will also feature shorter memorizing passages and calculators will be allowed on the entire math section.

College Board said students who participated in a pilot of the digital SAT said the test experience was less stressful than the current paper and pencil test.

Carlin says some of the changes are likely to benefit some students but could throw others off, including students with anxiety about testing.

“So, students have been doing these bubble tests with paper and pencil and test strategies have come down to highlighting key words, crossing out wrong answers, marking up our test in a way that we can be efficient and come back to answers and questions we struggled with. Everything has been traditionally pencil and paper is now on a computer,” says Carlin who emphasizes that with any important test, you should prepare and know how to use the tools provided.

Carlin says the timer and calculator are now on the screen while students take the test and the way test-takers can highlight and edit things on the test has also changed.

“In my opinion, doing well in high school doesn’t always necessarily equate to doing well on the SAT,” says Carlin.

Carlin says by the time high school juniors take the test they have already learned the material but he says the test is not easy which is why preparation is key.

He says the digital changes. mean students should refresh their knowledge and prepare differently.

“I try and have those conversations with parents and students. Is it that you are not a good test taker or are you better at tests you are prepared for? Because most students, they just don’t put in the time on the SAT or the ACT to really ever figure out what their ceiling is score wise,” says Carlin.

Schools prepare

Some school districts offer test prep classes and others incorporate it into the curriculum.

The SAT is required of students in Michigan and Indiana.

In Indiana, juniors will sign up and take the state-mandated test in March.

In Michigan, the SAT is one component of the Michigan Merit Examination and is taken in April.

“Exposure to the types of questions they ask is definitely something we build in so that students are becoming more confident and familiar with the questioning,” says Penn High School Associate Principal Rachel Fry.

Fry says the leadership team at Penn High School works together to develop a formative assessment plan.

In the spring, ninth graders at Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation take the PSAT 8/9.

Then, sophomores and juniors take the PSAT in the fall.

Fry says that this year’s testing just wrapped up in mid-October.

The school gathers data from those early assessments and uses the information to prepare students, adjust instruction and help teachers.

Instruction leaders in Math and English also help develop and execute the preparation plans in their content areas.

Fry says teachers have built in practice time every week in English and Math.

By the time Penn juniors take the SAT in the fall, she says they’ve already set assessment goals and documented their progress over time.

“So, it is really helpful for a full school view, but also for the individual student results so they can examine their strengths and weaknesses in the various content areas and syllabus that are covered on the test,” says Fry, “so we use it as a whole school to compare to our curriculum and instruction any areas we would recognize as a weaker point and as something we would focus on and embed in our English and math courses. On the individual level, their results are also broken out on the PSAT so they can identify specifically the areas in which they need to work.”

Last year, PHM had the highest percentage of students who met or exceeded state benchmarks on the Evidence-based memorizing and Writing portion of the SAT in our area, at more than 68% of juniors.

It had the second highest percentage of students meet or exceed state benchmarks on math at nearly 46% of juniors. John Glen School Corporation had the highest percentage of students at 51%.

“Something we try to share market to our students and families is that the SAT has benefits for students. It could count as the graduation pathway, although there are other options that could count for that as well. It also could result in merit scholarships for anything from trade schools, community colleges, and four-year universities. Truthfully a lot of different paths could benefit based on their results from the SAT,” says Fry.

Wed, 01 Nov 2023 08:06:00 -0500 en text/html
The standardized tests your NC high school student takes

By high school, students in North Carolina are used to taking standardized tests. Having been tested yearly since third grade, students are not subjected to the same tests in high school – but they do have the higher pressure ones like the ACT and SAT to worry about.

Each state and even each school district has a different set of required tests for students. This guide will explain which tests your high school student takes and when.

Public and charter school students in North Carolina will take a variety of tests starting in the third grade. These tests continue for students enrolled in public high school.

NC Check-Ins 2.0

Who takes these? Students who take End-of-Course (EOC) tests take these during the school year to allow teachers to mark their progress.

What is it? These tests offer teachers a chance to "check in" on their students' progress before the end-of-grade tests. The tests are designed to help gauge a student's proficiency and help determine what areas the student might need to work on before the EOGs. Students take these more than once a year.

End-of-Course (EOC) Tests

Who takes these? EOC assessments are given to students enrolled in Biology, English II, NC Math 1 and NC Math 3. These courses are offered in high school.

What they used for? Results from all EOC assessments account for as least 20 percent of the student’s final grade in that course.


Students who are enrolled in biology must take the Biology EOC at the end of the year. The test tests students on syllabus including the structure and function of living organisms, ecosystems, evolution and genetics and molecular biology. There are multiple-choice and technology-enhanced questions – all worth one point each.

It is estimated that students will take about two hours to take this test, but they are allotted three hours maximum.

English II EOC

The English II EOC tests students on their English Language Arts knowledge. They will read literature and information text and be tested on language.

The questions are divided into multiple-choice items, technology-enhanced items and constructed- response items. Multiple-choice and technology-enhanced items are worth one point each. The constructed response items are short answer. They are worth two points each.

The NCDPI estimates it will take about 150 minutes for most students to complete the English II EOC. Students have a maximum of 240 minutes to complete it.

NC Math 1 and NC Math 3

Students must take two math EOCs in high school. Both tests have problems about numbers, quantity and algebra, functions, geometry and statistics. The Math 3 EOC has more geometry and fewer statistics and probability questions.

The Math 1 EOC includes both calculator and non-calculator sections. It contains multiple-choice, gridded response/numeric entry and technology-enhanced questions. All questions are worth one point each.

For the Math 3 EOC, the calculator can be used the entire time. Like the Math 1 EOC, this test also has multiple-choice, gridded response/numeric entry and technology-enhanced questions worth one point each.

The NCDPI estimates it will take about three hours for most students to complete Math EOC tests. Students have a maximum of four hours.

NCEXTEND1 Alternate Assessments

Who takes these? These are designed for students with disabilities who have a current IEP (individual education plan), a significant cognitive disability and are enrolled in 10th or 11th grade.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Proof of Learning Exams

Students enrolled in the CTE program are required to take proof of learning exams in a variety of subject areas. Those exams will count toward 20 percent of their grade.


Who takes this test? Students in 10th grade are given this test in the fall

What is it? This simulates the ACT testing but is a shorter test than the ACT. It covers the same subjects: English, reading, mathematics and science. It is a multiple-choice test and is scored on a 1-36 point scale.

What are scores used for? To prepare students for the ACT and see what subject areas they may need additional growth in.


Who takes this test? Students in 11th grade in the spring. It is a required state assessment, even for those not planning on going to college.

What is this? A curriculum and standards-based test that assesses a student's college and career readiness in the subjects of English, mathematics, memorizing and science. It is a multiple-choice test and is scored on a 1-36 point scale.

There is one scheduled day and one make-up day for the test. Students can possibly take it the following fall as well.

What are scores used for? The ACT is used for college admissions, placement and scholarships.

ACT WorkKeys

Who takes this test? This is required for all students who are in Career and Technical Education pathway curriculums.

What is it? The three assessments are Applied Math, Graphic Literacy and Workplace Documents. Students who pass the three assessments can earn a WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate (WorkKeys NCRC) as well as a North Carolina Career Readiness Certificate at the Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum levels of readiness. These certificates provide employers with proof that students have the skills needed to do the jobs available.


While the SAT is not required for students in North Carolina, many will be taking it. The SAT is a standardized test that many colleges and universities use when determining whether to admit a student.

The test is designed to measure a student's college readiness by testing them in math, memorizing and writing. Many students will take these tests in the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year. It is important to have time to re-test if you want to raise your score.

Starting in March 2024, the SAT will go digital. Students will take the test on their computers or tablets and not with a pencil and paper like before. The digital test will be two hours instead of three and will allow more time per question.

Another change with the digital test is that it will feature shorter memorizing passages, each with one question. Calculators will be allowed on the entire math section as well.

The SAT test is offered every year in August, October, November, December, March, May and June. Once the test goes digital, scores will be available in days instead of weeks. Check the College Board website for an update list of dates and how to register.

While the other tests above are free, the SAT costs $55.

Wed, 08 Nov 2023 23:34:00 -0600 en text/html
Jeff Tweedy Used to Browse Encyclopedias for Hours on End

What books are on your night stand?

My night stand ends up collecting a lot of books that aren’t particularly new. “Wittgenstein’s Mistress,” by David Markson, is one of my favorites. His writing influenced the Rememories in my new book. I try to construct sentences in the style of David Markson. He has a series of books — “Reader’s Block,” “This Is Not a Novel,” “Vanishing Point” and “The Last Novel” — where he uses very short chapters and sentences with seemingly unrelated information that tell sort of hidden stories within the negative space. It’s amazing.

I also have “The Nature Book,” by Tom Comitta, which came out not long ago. The book takes somewhere around 300 texts of other books and compiles them into a narrative with no humans. Just descriptions of landscapes. It’s challenging to stay focused — you get tired. Kind of like riding in a car. But it’s all this different, beautiful language synthesized into one narrative that mostly describes the environments you’re passing through. I think it’s amazing. I have not finished it yet. But I love the concept.

What’s the last great book you read?

I really enjoyed “An Immense World,” by Ed Yong. It’s about all the different ways animals perceive the world. The senses that we as humans have, but also the senses we don’t have, like electromagnetic navigation. And what we know scientifically, but also what we can’t know about how animals perceive the world, which I find very interesting. So much so that I’ve written a lot of songs circling around this idea in my head. That you could have an animal live within feet of another animal, but their sensory apparatuses might not allow them to realize it. I find it very poetic, almost a metaphor for how we as humans live with one another sometimes.

Describe your ideal memorizing experience.

My ideal memorizing experience is almost the same as my ideal writing experience. When you’re writing in a certain frame of mind, you kind of lose yourself and time disappears, or expands. It’s really wonderful to look up and realize you’ve been writing for an hour or more. I love feeling like that. To me, when you’re memorizing properly and are really invested, time does the same thing. You can lose yourself and be free of care, totally immersed in someone else’s world and someone else’s words and language and consciousness. That’s exciting.

How do you organize your books?

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Wed, 01 Nov 2023 21:00:00 -0500 en text/html
Trustees approve Nacero extension

Nov. 15—The Ector County ISD Board of Trustees held a public hearing Tuesday on an amendment to the previously approved agreement for limitation on appraised value with Nacero TX 1 LLC, Texas Comptroller Application 1568.

Nacero is seeking an extension of the timeline and to list a reduced number of qualifying jobs on the application to align with the legal minimum, per guidelines from the state comptroller.

Following the public hearing, trustees voted 4-0 to approve reduced number of qualifying jobs on the application to align with the legal minimum and voted 4-0 to approve an extension for the project Tuesday.

Board members Delma Abalos, Steve Brown and Bob Thayer were absent.

In his opening comments, Superintendent Scott Muri walked through a few results from last year's SAT School Day scores showing improvements for ECISD students — English/Reading/Writing increased from 476 to 479, which is seven points higher than the state score (472); Math increased from 447 to 458, which is six points higher than the state score (452); and the Mean score rose from 923 to 936, which is 12 points higher than the state score (924).

The board also received an update on Bond 2023.

On Nov. 7, voters approved Proposition A by a 57% — 43% margin, for school projects totaling more than $424 million. Muri noted that this the largest school bond in ECISD's history, and comes 11 years after the last successful bond ($129.75 million).

The board recap said he thanked the bond committee that worked for five months to create the proposal, he thanked the action committee that campaigned on behalf of the propositions, he thanked employees for taking on the role of spokespeople for it, and he thanked the community for taking the time to cast a vote and support the district in this manner.

He said the timeline will be for five years, and work is starting now to prioritize projects, work out a schedule for buying bonds, and finalize contracts for property (South Tripp for the new middle school and East Murphy for the new CTE Center). He talked about forming a Bond Oversight Committee by Dec. 5.

Each trustee will nominate a list of community members to serve in this role, then board members will vote to select 10 people to make up that oversight committee for the next five years as the bond projects are begun and completed. In addition, a webpage will be set up to allow all of our community to keep track of the progress of the work.

On another item, trustees voted 4-0 to approve the annual financial report. Every school district is required to prepare annual financial statements, have them audited by an external public accounting firm, and submit them to the state.

The auditor, Whitley Penn, issued an Unmodified Opinion meaning a clean report with no internal control findings related to the financial report and no findings related to compliance.

The financial report shows the largest areas of school district expenditures by function in the general fund are Instruction (59%) and Plant Maintenance & Operations (10%). This report follows last month's announcement of a perfect score of 100 on the state's FIRST report for financial integrity.

Trustees voted 4-0 to approve a resolution allowing the district to use money from the general fund to make payments on bond projects, then reimburse the district's general fund once bonds are sold and funds are received. This will allow the district to begin work on voter-approved bond projects sooner, without having to wait until bond are sold.

In other business:

— Trustees voted 4-0 to approve Ector County Appraisal District Board Members. ECISD is responsible for appointing 5 people to the ECAD Board. The 5 approved by trustees this year are Mari Willis, Dr. Dorothy Jackson, Robert Chavez, Austin Keith, and Feliz Abalos.

— Trustees voted 4-0 to approve submission of a grant to the Office of the Governor for ALERRT Training for ECISD Peace Officers. This grant will help pay overtime and travel expenses related to the required ALERRT training. ALERRT stands for Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training. All police officers must receive a minimum of Level One of this training.

— Trustees voted 4-0 to approve a resolution designating Nov. 20, 21 and 22, as well as December 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, and 29 as non-business days under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA). This is a change in the law that went into effect after the legislative session ended. Except for specified national and state holidays and other identified days, government entities now must designate up to 10 days as "non-business" days for calculating deadlines for TPIA requests. These are days the entity expects to be closed or operating with reduced staff. This must be done for each calendar year.

— Trustees voted 4-0 to approve the consent agenda. The consent agenda is a group of routine or previously discussed items presented together for a single approval vote. This month's consent agenda included minutes of meetings; bills for payment; the quarterly investment report; out-of-state travel for Odessa High School performing arts students to go to New York City; renewal of the special education legal services retainer agreement; and the medical director services agreement with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

Wed, 15 Nov 2023 18:02:00 -0600 en-US text/html
'Fox News Sunday' on November 12, 2023 No result found, try new keyword!This week on 'Fox News Sunday,' host Shannon Bream welcomes Sen. Mark Warner, presidential candidate Nikki Haley, and more to discuss the week's news. Sun, 12 Nov 2023 04:32:39 -0600 en-us text/html Bossy spouse wants husband thin again

The Thankful List Revisited

Have you ever sat down to write out a list of all that you are thankful for? A list of all the people, places, things, and experiences that make your life better? If you have ever tried to make such a list and taken the task seriously, then you know what an exercise it can be. Sure, it's a test of memory; but more than that, it's really an indication of how aware we are of the blessings for whom and for which we should be more conscious and grateful to God.

Christians say that every gift we have, whether relationships or things, comes from God's own hand. That idea runs counter to our culture's assumption that we deserve whatever we earn and can hold on to. We are thankful people. Thankful, not for ourselves and what we can call our own; but, thankful to God for everyone and everything that makes life meaningful and rewarding. And this includes times in our personal lives when all is not ideal. Or when we are divided as a nation over latest events.

Take a look at how many of the Psalms are about giving thanks to God. Leaf through a hymnal and note how many of the hymns are about being thankful people. Even our prayers before meals or bedtime are words of thanks for food prepared and received or rest that awaits the weary.

So, as a spiritual discipline, try writing out your list. Put down the names of people, places, and experiences for which you want to supply thanks to God. Then spend a few minutes of silent time with that list. You may be surprised by how full it is and how much the Thankful List will mean to you. Then put it away in a safe place where you can go back to it whenever you need. That simple spiritual practice may do much to revive your sense of genuine gratitude.

— Rev. Gary S. Eller, Presbyterian Church of the Master

* * *

Twenty-one years ago, our family moved to Omaha from the Washington, D.C., area for a new job opportunity. As we met new friends in the neighborhood, through schools and at church we were struck by the goodness of the people here. We felt part of our new community more quickly than we anticipated which was a wonderful blessing for our family. We were surrounded by people who practiced what the Savior taught, "…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:39)

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, our hearts and minds are softened as we reflect on, and feel gratitude for, our blessings. This often leads us to think of our neighbors' needs and how we might help. The Savior taught the following principle, "…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40). As we help our neighbors, we are also serving God.

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the Light of the World (John 8:12). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invites people everywhere to light the world as He did by serving others in small and simple ways. One unique, fun, and memorable way to help our neighbors locally and worldwide is the popular "Light the World" Giving Machine. We are excited that, for the first time, the Giving Machine is coming to Omaha. It will be at Westroads Mall from Nov. 21 to 28.

The Giving Machine is a customized vending machine that allows the community to donate necessary products and services to those in need, worldwide and here at home. One hundred percent of every donation goes to the participating nonprofit organization to purchase and deliver the donated item. Since 2017, the "Light the World" Giving Machines have raised more than $22 million for local and global charities.

The Giving Machine will provide members of our community in Omaha the opportunity to donate to five local charities: Siena Francis House, Catholic Charities, One World Community Health Centers, House of Bah, and Foster Care Closet. To help reduce suffering worldwide, there are also three international charities represented.

This holiday season, we invite you, your family, and friends to share your love for your fellow sisters, brothers, and neighbors by visiting the Giving Machine and selecting a small gift that will make someone's day brighter. I promise your day will be brighter too!

— Richard Lau, Millard Stake Presidency, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sat, 11 Nov 2023 17:14:00 -0600 en text/html
9 Books That Can Help Prevent Family Fights During the Holidays

Books That Prevent Holiday FightsHearst Owned

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Want to show up at a family gathering cool, calm—and sane? The author of On Our Best Behavior: The Seven Deadly Sins and The Price Women Pay To Be Good shares what to read to break up arguments or, better yet, avoid them in the first place.

The fight over who gets to take home the stuffing, the fight over the size of the tree, the fight over who gets to light the last menorah candle, the fight over Grandma’s nutty politics (no, cats don’t get to vote), the fight over which version of the holiday photo will be sent to everyone you have ever met—all can be averted with a little pre-holiday reading. Here are the books to mentally prepare you for a few serene, conflict-free days with friends and family.

Want to show up at a family gathering cool, calm—and sane? The fight over who gets to take home the stuffing, the fight over the size of the tree, the fight over who gets to light the last menorah candle, the fight over Grandma’s nutty politics (no, cats don’t get to vote), the fight over which version of the holiday photo will be sent to everyone you have ever met—all can be averted with a little pre-holiday reading. The author of On Our Best Behavior shares what to read to break up arguments or, better yet, avoid them in the first place.

If a Hard Conversation with Dad Needs to Be Had: The Five Invitations, by Frank Ostaseski

Often, trips home—particularly with aging parents—require conversations about the future, conversations that can be hard, or triggering, or confronting, or undermining of any hope for autonomy. This is particularly difficult when much has gone unsaid, grudges are held, and apologies are owed. Frank Ostaseski, the cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project, has sat bedside with thousands of people as they’ve passed and has spent countless hours with aggrieved and grieving families, helping them toward some version of completion and closure. The Five Invitations is worth memorizing at any point in life: In fact, the invitations are applicable to any upsetting moment and appropriate meditations for every challenging encounter. They are: 1. Don’t wait. 2. Welcome everything, push away nothing. 3. Bring your whole self to the experience. 4. Find a place of rest in the middle of things. 5. Cultivate don’t know mind.

If You and Mom Just Can't Agree About a Vegan Twist on Turkey: Will the Drama Ever End?, by Karyl McBride, PhD

Karyl McBride’s 2008 book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, is a classic in the field, revolutionary at the time it was published because there was a perception at the time that narcissism was solely occurring in grandiose males. While it can feel tired to “blame the mother,” McBride gave voice and witness to a legion of daughters who were burdened by their mother’s narcissistic projections. McBride’s latest book, Will the Drama Ever End?, expands the conversation to include all children of narcissists. In a similar style, it’s filled with case studies and notes from her private practice that provide snapshots of how narcissism manifests in the family unit—and the long tail of its impact in terms of how children of narcissists come to understand and assert their own needs. Or not. The main thesis of the book is that while the specifics vary, narcissistic parents come in two flavors: engulfing or ignoring. As she writes, “The impact of these opposite styles is often the same. A child raised by an engulfing parent is so stifled that they cannot develop a healthy sense of autonomy or self, while the child raised by an ignoring parent is so busy working to gain attention that they, too, are left with a shaky or nonexistent sense of self.” In one fascinating section, McBride outlines the roles that family members typically play in the presence of a narcissistic parent, whether it’s the enabler (usually the spouse), the golden child, the scapegoat, or the lost child—with golden children counterintuitively generally faring the worst as adults. And finally, she rounds out the book with tools from her practice including everything from setting boundaries to breaking the pattern in your own parenting style. If you’re contending with narcissism in any family members this holiday season, this is a helpful primer, not only because it bears witness to the myriad ways narcissism presents but because McBride offers tactical advice.

If You're Filling Stockings with Your Co-Parent: The Book of Boundaries, by Melissa Urban

It can be hard enough to set boundaries with your parents, your spouse, and your kids, but what about setting boundaries with your co-parent post-divorce? Melissa Urban tackles these types of quandaries in her New York Times bestselling The Book of Boundaries, where she explores what happens when you find yourself outside of a marriage and yet still entwined as family, permanently stitched together because of kids. Add to this flammable mix extended family and you’re managing a lot of complex feelings. Urban, cofounder of Whole30, is divorced and co-parenting (and now remarried) and devotes a significant section of her boundary bible to navigating all types of tricky relationships, including those you share blood with, and those you do not. She tackles meddling in-laws, overbearing fathers, and exes you wish you could walk away from but can’t. She not only provides concrete advice and tips but also includes genuine scripts to help you navigate in real time.

If You Feel Triggered at the Menorah Lighting and Don’t Know Why: The Origins of You, by Vienna Pharaon

In The Origins of You, family therapist Vienna Pharaon distills her wide experiences into simple practices around core wounds that typically start in early childhood. Similar to other psychological family systems, Pharaon practices “origin healing work” predicated on the belief that these core wounds get reopened, often because clients aren’t conscious that they have a core wound in the first place—they just know that something’s wrong because their behavior is repetitive and not serving them. She starts with the “presenting problem” and then works backward, looking for threads that might coordinate with wanting to feel worthy, wanting to belong, wanting to be prioritized, wanting to trust, and wanting to feel safe. Some readers might feel that their core wounds are obvious and accessible—in these pages they’ll feel validated and witnessed; those who don’t quite know can use the book to understand what might be at play.

If You're Not Sure What to Share with Great-Aunt Jean: Drama Free, by Nedra Glover Tawwab

Unsurprisingly, therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab, who pushed a functional understanding of boundaries into the mainstream, is also an excellent source of wisdom when it comes to navigating difficult family dynamics. In Drama Free, her follow-up to the bestselling Set Boundaries, Find Peace, she defines other concepts that are often misused in our culture, like codependency and enmeshment. Along the way, she recontextualizes popular ideas, such as that “everyone deserves your vulnerability.” As she notes, there are times in complex family systems when it’s not safe to be vulnerable, particularly when it’s clear that the other party isn’t interested in listening to or affirming your point of view. Like all her work, Tawwab’s second book is ultimately a tactical guide—a way to both prepare for and process family encounters. As she writes: “In dysfunctional families, enmeshment allows everyone to stay the same, and when the status quo is challenged, the challenger becomes a scapegoat, rule breaker, and threat. A family is a cultural system. Sometimes, when individuals try to create new traditions, shift roles, or create boundaries, the system feels under attack.” In these pages, you’ll find training for these shifts, allowing you to head off to your relatives without abandoning yourself in the process.

If You Just Want to Check Out at 8 P.M. on New Year’s: Attuned, by Thomas Hübl

Spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl works with large groups around the world, helping people process unfelt and unhealed emotion. He does this by building a practice around staying in deep presence, even when it feels uncomfortable and difficult. His first book, Healing Collective Trauma, addresses exactly that, but in his existing book, Attuned, he describes how to use this same toolkit in a more personal way. “In the more challenging moments of modern life, our sense of awareness often becomes constricted and limited. In times of difficulty and stress, we tend to lose perception of the greater field as our awareness clusters tightly within us. We become compactly self-focused by default. As a result, we are less available; we lose access to those resources that allow us to feel with and for others. Whether we’re in the middle of difficult family or relationship disagreements or embroiled in the heat of workplace conflict, a sense of separation becomes heightened, and it is difficult to be present. This is not wrong; it is simply an evolutionary function that promotes survival—an adaptation to biological utility.” While Hübl doesn’t promise easy fixes or hacks, he does lay out a process for becoming more aware, a facility that serves everywhere, all the time.

If Somebody at the Table Has Really Upsetting Ideas: We Need to Talk and Speaking of Race, both by Celeste Headlee

Longtime radio journalist Celeste Headlee’s voice might be familiar to many—she’s a sometimes soothing and always insightful guide to the morass of what it is to be alive today. She’s particularly excellent at hard conversations that might be full of land mines and triggers—conversations about race and racism, sex and sexism, and politics. Somehow, she manages to elucidate without blaming, to clarify without sidestepping. And in two of her books—We Need to Talk and Speaking of Race—she offers the skills she’s honed as an expert interviewer and conversationalist to us. A big part of this, as it were, is learning how to be an engaged listener, willing to have your mind changed. As she writes in Speaking of Race, “A conversation, it should be noted, is not a debate. A debate will not change someone’s opinions, no matter how devastating your statistics or eye-opening your data. And yet we often enter exchanges about race armed with our anger and our facts. In doing so, we engage in a practice that the Harvard Negotiation Project, a division of the school founded in 1979 to address issues of conflict resolution, calls ‘wrong-spotting.’ We already know how we feel about a person, we’re confident that we’re right, and we watch like a hawk for what they get wrong. When you are wrong-spotting, you will always feel vindicated because everyone makes mistakes or says things that seem wrong from your perspective.” This is a good primer for sitting down with in-laws or family members who might be on the opposite end of the spectrum, or hold views you find questionable or objectionable: Headlee is full of advice for engaging without inflaming, or ruining the holiday meal.

If You're Determined Not to Freak Out Over Anything, Ever: Letting Go,by David R. Hawkins, MD, PhD

This much-loved tome from the late David R. Hawkins is a workout—it’s long and dense—but it’s also an essential resource guide that you can turn to again and again, particularly when emotions spike. As the title suggests, the focus is on letting go, specifically in the realm of relationships where you find yourself stuck in the same emotions. Hawkins urges us to examine situations for the truth of what they are, and to stop suppressing and repressing our unwanted emotions about said situations. As he writes, “It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it. The first step is to allow yourself to have the feeling without resisting it, venting it, fearing it, condemning it, or moralizing about it. It means to drop judgment and to see that it is just a feeling. The technique is to be with the feeling and surrender all efforts to modify it in any way. Let go of wanting to resist the feeling. It is resistance that keeps the feeling going.” This isn’t a short book, and throughout he addresses a vast range of emotions, including grief, shame, and anger—all familiar to anyone who is struggling with difficult relationships. In Hawkins, the first step is taking a certain amount of responsibility—for your own emotions at least. And the first part is grappling with blame. As he writes, “One of the biggest blocks to overcome in getting out of depression and apathy is that of blame. Blame is a whole subject in itself. Looking into it is rewarding. To begin with, there are a lot of payoffs to blame. We get to be innocent; we get to enjoy self-pity; we get to be the martyr and the victim; and we get to be the recipients of sympathy.” As Hawkins then instructs, letting go of blame is the initial step toward healing. And it might be the hardest step of them all.

If You Were Raised in the Era of Benign Neglect: The Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller, PhD

This 1979 classic is short enough to take in on the flight to your family’s holiday meal. And even though The Drama of the Gifted Child is almost 50 years old, its themes are classic. It speaks to the vague ennui of anyone with a childhood that didn’t feel quite right but who grew up at a time when therapy was rarely pursued, diagnostic labels weren’t so easily tossed about, granted, or understood, and benign neglect and low-key abuse were socially accepted, if not condoned. Alice Miller focuses on children—now adults—who experienced unmet needs, writing: “These people have all developed the art of not experiencing feelings, for a child can experience her feelings only when there is somebody there who accepts her fully, understands her, and supports her. If that person is missing, if the child must risk losing the mother’s love or the love of her substitute in order to feel, then she will repress her emotions. She cannot even experience them secretly, ‘just for herself’; she will fail to experience them at all. But they will nevertheless stay in her body, in her cells, stored up as information that can be triggered by a later event.” In a bit of advice that’s salient for anyone who feels a parentified child, she also speaks to “big little kids,” or those who were conditioned for achievement and its reflective glory—as she asserts, to a child this feels like conditional love. As Miller writes, “It is one of the turning points in therapy when the patient comes to the emotional insight that all the love she has captured with so much effort and self-denial was not meant for her as she really was, that the admiration for her beauty and achievements was aimed at this beauty and these achievements and not at the child herself.” While terms like reparenting weren’t coined when this book came to print, in many ways it gestures toward that effort, which you’ll get to practice as you spend the holidays with your parents, who are likely still ill-equipped to meet all your needs.

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Thu, 09 Nov 2023 10:21:00 -0600 en-US text/html
A Coder Considers the Waning Days of the Craft

I have always taken it for granted that, just as my parents made sure that I could read and write, I would make sure that my kids could program computers. It is among the newer arts but also among the most essential, and ever more so by the day, encompassing everything from filmmaking to physics. Fluency with code would round out my children’s literacy—and keep them employable. But as I write this my wife is pregnant with our first child, due in about three weeks. I code professionally, but, by the time that child can type, coding as a valuable skill might have faded from the world.

I first began to believe this on a Friday morning this past summer, while working on a small hobby project. A few months back, my friend Ben and I had resolved to create a Times-style crossword puzzle entirely by computer. In 2018, we’d made a Saturday puzzle with the help of software and were surprised by how little we contributed—just applying our taste here and there. Now we would attempt to build a crossword-making program that didn’t require a human touch.

When we’ve taken on projects like this in the past, they’ve had both a hardware component and a software component, with Ben’s strengths running toward the former. We once made a neon sign that would glow when the subway was approaching the stop near our apartments. Ben bent the glass and wired up the transformer’s circuit board. I wrote code to process the transit data. Ben has some professional coding experience of his own, but it was brief, shallow, and now about twenty years out of date; the serious coding was left to me. For the new crossword project, though, Ben had introduced a third party. He’d signed up for a ChatGPT Plus subscription and was using GPT-4 as a coding assistant.

Something strange started happening. Ben and I would talk about a bit of software we wanted for the project. Then, a shockingly short time later, Ben would deliver it himself. At one point, we wanted a command that would print a hundred random lines from a dictionary file. I thought about the problem for a few minutes, and, when thinking failed, tried Googling. I made some false starts using what I could gather, and while I did my thing—programming—Ben told GPT-4 what he wanted and got code that ran perfectly.

Fine: commands like those are notoriously fussy, and everybody looks them up anyway. It’s not real programming. A few days later, Ben talked about how it would be nice to have an iPhone app to rate words from the dictionary. But he had no idea what a pain it is to make an iPhone app. I’d tried a few times and never got beyond something that half worked. I found Apple’s programming environment forbidding. You had to learn not just a new language but a new program for editing and running code; you had to learn a zoo of “U.I. components” and all the complicated ways of stitching them together; and, finally, you had to figure out how to package the app. The mountain of new things to learn never seemed worth it. The next morning, I woke up to an app in my in-box that did exactly what Ben had said he wanted. It worked perfectly, and even had a cute design. Ben said that he’d made it in a few hours. GPT-4 had done most of the heavy lifting.

By now, most people have had experiences with A.I. Not everyone has been impressed. Ben recently said, “I didn’t start really respecting it until I started having it write code for me.” I suspect that non-programmers who are skeptical by nature, and who have seen ChatGPT turn out wooden prose or bogus facts, are still underestimating what’s happening.

Bodies of knowledge and skills that have traditionally taken lifetimes to master are being swallowed at a gulp. Coding has always felt to me like an endlessly deep and rich domain. Now I find myself wanting to write a eulogy for it. I keep thinking of Lee Sedol. Sedol was one of the world’s best Go players, and a national hero in South Korea, but is now best known for losing, in 2016, to a computer program called AlphaGo. Sedol had walked into the competition believing that he would easily defeat the A.I. By the end of the days-long match, he was proud of having eked out a single game. As it became clear that he was going to lose, Sedol said, in a press conference, “I want to apologize for being so powerless.” He retired three years later. Sedol seemed weighed down by a question that has started to feel familiar, and urgent: What will become of this thing I’ve given so much of my life to?

My first enchantment with computers came when I was about six years old, in Montreal in the early nineties, playing Mortal Kombat with my oldest brother. He told me about some “fatalities”—gruesome, witty ways of killing your opponent. Neither of us knew how to inflict them. He dialled up an FTP server (where files were stored) in an MS-DOS terminal and typed obscure commands. Soon, he had printed out a page of codes—instructions for every fatality in the game. We went back to the basement and exploded each other’s heads.

I thought that my brother was a hacker. Like many programmers, I dreamed of breaking into and controlling remote systems. The point wasn’t to cause mayhem—it was to find hidden places and learn hidden things. “My crime is that of curiosity,” goes “The Hacker’s Manifesto,” written in 1986 by Loyd Blankenship. My favorite scene from the 1995 movie “Hackers” is when Dade Murphy, a newcomer, proves himself at an underground club. Someone starts pulling a rainbow of computer books out of a backpack, and Dade recognizes each one from the cover: the green book on international Unix environments; the red one on N.S.A.-trusted networks; the one with the pink-shirted guy on I.B.M. PCs. Dade puts his expertise to use when he turns on the sprinkler system at school, and helps right the ballast of an oil tanker—all by tap-tapping away at a keyboard. The lesson was that knowledge is power.

But how do you actually learn to hack? My family had settled in New Jersey by the time I was in fifth grade, and when I was in high school I went to the Borders bookstore in the Short Hills mall and bought “Beginning Visual C++,” by Ivor Horton. It ran to twelve hundred pages—my first grimoire. Like many tutorials, it was easy at first and then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Medieval students called the moment at which casual learners fail the pons asinorum, or “bridge of asses.” The term was inspired by Proposition 5 of Euclid’s Elements I, the first truly difficult idea in the book. Those who crossed the bridge would go on to master geometry; those who didn’t would remain dabblers. Section 4.3 of “Beginning Visual C++,” on “Dynamic Memory Allocation,” was my bridge of asses. I did not cross.

But neither did I drop the subject. I remember the moment things began to turn. I was on a long-haul flight, and I’d brought along a boxy black laptop and a CD-ROM with the Borland C++ compiler. A compiler translates code you write into code that the machine can run; I had been struggling for days to get this one to work. By convention, every coder’s first program does nothing but generate the words “Hello, world.” When I tried to run my version, I just got angry error messages. Whenever I fixed one problem, another cropped up. I had read the “Harry Potter” books and felt as if I were in possession of a broom but had not yet learned the incantation to make it fly. Knowing what might be possible if I did, I kept at it with single-minded devotion. What I learned was that programming is not really about knowledge or skill but simply about patience, or maybe obsession. Programmers are people who can endure an endless parade of tedious obstacles. Imagine explaining to a simpleton how to assemble furniture over the phone, with no pictures, in a language you barely speak. Imagine, too, that the only response you ever get is that you’ve suggested an absurdity and the whole thing has gone awry. All the sweeter, then, when you manage to get something assembled. I have a distinct memory of lying on my stomach in the airplane aisle, and then hitting Enter one last time. I sat up. The computer, for once, had done what I’d told it to do. The words “Hello, world” appeared above my cursor, now in the computer’s own voice. It seemed as if an intelligence had woken up and introduced itself to me.

Most of us never became the kind of hackers depicted in “Hackers.” To “hack,” in the parlance of a programmer, is just to tinker—to express ingenuity through code. I never formally studied programming; I just kept messing around, making computers do helpful or delightful little things. In my freshman year of college, I knew that I’d be on the road during the third round of the 2006 Masters Tournament, when Tiger Woods was moving up the field, and I wanted to know what was happening in real time. So I made a program that scraped the leaderboard on and sent me a text message anytime he birdied or bogeyed. Later, after memorizing “Ulysses” in an English class, I wrote a program that pulled random sentences from the book, counted their syllables, and assembled haikus—a more primitive regurgitation of language than you’d get from a chatbot these days, but nonetheless capable, I thought, of real poetry:

I’ll flay him alive
Uncertainly he waited
Heavy of the past

I began taking coding seriously. I offered to do programming for a friend’s startup. The world of computing, I came to learn, is vast but organized almost geologically, as if deposited in layers. From the Web browser down to the transistor, each sub-area or system is built atop some other, older sub-area or system, the layers dense but legible. The more one digs, the more one develops what the race-car driver Jackie Stewart called “mechanical sympathy,” a sense for the machine’s strengths and limits, of what one could make it do.

At my friend’s company, I felt my mechanical sympathy developing. In my sophomore year, I was watching “Jeopardy!” with a friend when he suggested that I make a playable version of the show. I thought about it for a few hours before deciding, with much disappointment, that it was beyond me. But when the idea came up again, in my junior year, I could see a way through it. I now had a better sense of what one could do with the machine. I spent the next fourteen hours building the game. Within weeks, playing “Jimbo Jeopardy!” had become a regular activity among my friends. The experience was profound. I could understand why people poured their lives into craft: there is nothing quite like watching someone enjoy a thing you’ve made.

In the midst of all this, I had gone full “Paper Chase” and begun ignoring my grades. I worked voraciously, just not on my coursework. One night, I took over a half-dozen machines in a basement computer lab to run a program in parallel. I laid printouts full of numbers across the floor, thinking through a pathfinding algorithm. The cost was that I experienced for real that recurring nightmare in which you show up for a final test knowing nothing of the material. (Mine was in Real Analysis, in the math department.) In 2009, during the most severe financial crisis in decades, I graduated with a 2.9 G.P.A.

And yet I got my first full-time job easily. I had work experience as a programmer; nobody asked about my grades. For the young coder, these were boom times. Companies were getting into bidding wars over top programmers. Solicitations for experienced programmers were so aggressive that they complained about “recruiter spam.” The popularity of university computer-science programs was starting to explode. (My degree was in economics.) Coding “boot camps” sprang up that could credibly claim to turn beginners into high-salaried programmers in less than a year. At one of my first job interviews, in my early twenties, the C.E.O. asked how much I thought I deserved to get paid. I dared to name a number that faintly embarrassed me. He drew up a contract on the spot, offering ten per cent more. The skills of a “software engineer” were vaunted. At one company where I worked, someone got in trouble for using HipChat, a predecessor to Slack, to ask one of my colleagues a question. “Never HipChat an engineer directly,” he was told. We were too important for that.

This was an era of near-zero interest rates and extraordinary tech-sector growth. Certain norms were established. Companies like Google taught the industry that coders were to have free espresso and catered hot food, world-class health care and parental leave, on-site gyms and bike rooms, a casual dress code, and “twenty-per-cent time,” meaning that they could devote one day a week to working on whatever they pleased. Their skills were considered so crucial and delicate that a kind of superstition developed around the work. For instance, it was considered foolish to estimate how long a coding task might take, since at any moment the programmer might turn over a rock and discover a tangle of bugs. Deadlines were anathema. If the pressure to deliver ever got too intense, a coder needed only to speak the word “burnout” to buy a few months.

From the beginning, I had the sense that there was something wrongheaded in all this. Was what we did really so precious? How long could the boom last? In my teens, I had done a little Web design, and, at the time, that work had been in demand and highly esteemed. You could earn thousands of dollars for a project that took a weekend. But along came tools like Squarespace, which allowed pizzeria owners and freelance artists to make their own Web sites just by clicking around. For professional coders, a tranche of high-paying, relatively low-effort work disappeared.

“I should have known he has absolutely no morals—I’ve seen how he loads a dishwasher.”

Cartoon by Hartley Lin

The response from the programmer community to these developments was just, Yeah, you have to keep levelling up your skills. Learn difficult, obscure things. Software engineers, as a species, love automation. Inevitably, the best of them build tools that make other kinds of work obsolete. This very instinct explained why we were so well taken care of: code had immense leverage. One piece of software could affect the work of millions of people. Naturally, this sometimes displaced programmers themselves. We were to think of these advances as a tide coming in, nipping at our bare feet. So long as we kept learning we would stay dry. Sound advice—until there’s a tsunami.

When we were first allowed to use A.I. chatbots at work, for programming assistance, I studiously avoided them. I expected that my colleagues would, too. But soon I started seeing the telltale colors of an A.I. chat session—the zebra pattern of call-and-response—on programmers’ screens as I walked to my desk. A common refrain was that these tools made you more productive; in some cases, they helped you solve problems ten times faster.

I wasn’t sure I wanted that. I enjoy the act of programming and I like to feel useful. The tools I’m familiar with, like the text editor I use to format and to browse code, serve both ends. They enhance my practice of the craft—and, though they allow me to deliver work faster, I still feel that I deserve the credit. But A.I., as it was being described, seemed different. It provided a lot of help. I panic that it would rob me of both the joy of working on puzzles and the satisfaction of being the one who solved them. I could be infinitely productive, and all I’d have to show for it would be the products themselves.

The genuine work product of most programmers is rarely exciting. In fact, it tends to be almost comically humdrum. A few months ago, I came home from the office and told my wife about what a great day I’d had wrestling a particularly fun problem. I was working on a program that generated a table, and someone had wanted to add a header that spanned more than one column—something that the custom layout engine we’d written didn’t support. The work was urgent: these tables were being used in important documents, wanted by important people. So I sequestered myself in a room for the better part of the afternoon. There were lots of lovely sub-problems: How should I allow users of the layout engine to convey that they want a column-spanning header? What should their code look like? And there were fiddly details that, if ignored, would cause bugs. For instance, what if one of the columns that the header was supposed to span got dropped because it didn’t have any data? I knew it was a good day because I had to pull out pen and pad—I was drawing out possible scenarios, checking and double-checking my logic.

But taking a bird’s-eye view of what happened that day? A table got a new header. It’s hard to imagine anything more mundane. For me, the pleasure was entirely in the process, not the product. And what would become of the process if it required nothing more than a three-minute ChatGPT session? Yes, our jobs as programmers involve many things besides literally writing code, such as coaching junior hires and designing systems at a high level. But coding has always been the root of it. Throughout my career, I have been interviewed and selected precisely for my ability to solve fiddly little programming puzzles. Suddenly, this ability was less important.

I had gathered as much from Ben, who kept telling me about the spectacular successes he’d been having with GPT-4. It turned out that it was not only good at the fiddly stuff but also had the qualities of a senior engineer: from a deep well of knowledge, it could suggest ways of approaching a problem. For one project, Ben had wired a small speaker and a red L.E.D. light bulb into the frame of a portrait of King Charles, the light standing in for the gem in his crown; the idea was that when you entered a message on an accompanying Web site the speaker would play a tune and the light would flash out the message in Morse code. (This was a gift for an eccentric British expat.) Programming the device to fetch new messages eluded Ben; it seemed to require specialized knowledge not just of the microcontroller he was using but of Firebase, the back-end server technology that stored the messages. Ben asked me for advice, and I mumbled a few possibilities; in truth, I wasn’t sure that what he wanted would be possible. Then he asked GPT-4. It told Ben that Firebase had a capability that would make the project much simpler. Here it was—and here was some code to use that would be compatible with the microcontroller.

Afraid to use GPT-4 myself—and feeling somewhat unclean about the prospect of paying OpenAI twenty dollars a month for it—I nonetheless started probing its capabilities, via Ben. We’d sit down to work on our crossword project, and I’d say, “Why don’t you try prompting it this way?” He’d offer me the keyboard. “No, you drive,” I’d say. Together, we developed a sense of what the A.I. could do. Ben, who had more experience with it than I did, seemed able to get more out of it in a stroke. As he later put it, his own neural network had begun to align with GPT-4’s. I would have said that he had achieved mechanical sympathy. Once, in a feat I found particularly astonishing, he had the A.I. build him a Snake game, like the one on old Nokia phones. But then, after a brief exchange with GPT-4, he got it to modify the game so that when you lost it would show you how far you strayed from the most efficient route. It took the bot about ten seconds to achieve this. It was a task that, frankly, I was not sure I could do myself.

In chess, which for decades now has been dominated by A.I., a player’s only hope is pairing up with a bot. Such half-human, half-A.I. teams, known as centaurs, might still be able to beat the best humans and the best A.I. engines working alone. Programming has not yet gone the way of chess. But the centaurs have arrived. GPT-4 on its own is, for the moment, a worse programmer than I am. Ben is much worse. But Ben plus GPT-4 is a dangerous thing.

It wasn’t long before I caved. I was making a little search tool at work and wanted to highlight the parts of the user’s query that matched the results. But I was splitting up the query by words in a way that made things much more complicated. I found myself short on patience. I started thinking about GPT-4. Perhaps instead of spending an afternoon programming I could spend some time “prompting,” or having a conversation with an A.I.

In a 1978 essay titled “On the Foolishness of ‘Natural Language Programming,’ ” the computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra argued that if you were to instruct computers not in a specialized language like C++ or Python but in your native tongue you’d be rejecting the very precision that made computers useful. Formal programming languages, he wrote, are “an amazingly effective tool for ruling out all sorts of nonsense that, when we use our native tongues, are almost impossible to avoid.” Dijkstra’s argument became a truism in programming circles. When the essay made the rounds on Reddit in 2014, a top commenter wrote, “I’m not sure which of the following is scariest. Just how trivially obvious this idea is” or the fact that “many still do not know it.”

When I first used GPT-4, I could see what Dijkstra was talking about. You can’t just say to the A.I., “Solve my problem.” That day may come, but for now it is more like an instrument you must learn to play. You have to specify what you want carefully, as though talking to a beginner. In the search-highlighting problem, I found myself asking GPT-4 to do too much at once, watching it fail, and then starting over. Each time, my prompts became less ambitious. By the end of the conversation, I wasn’t talking about search or highlighting; I had broken the problem into specific, abstract, unambiguous sub-problems that, together, would supply me what I wanted.

Having found the A.I.’s level, I felt almost instantly that my working life had been transformed. Everywhere I looked I could see GPT-4-size holes; I understood, finally, why the screens around the office were always filled with chat sessions—and how Ben had become so productive. I opened myself up to trying it more often.

I returned to the crossword project. Our puzzle generator printed its output in an ugly text format, with lines like "s""c""a""r""*""k""u""n""i""s""*" "a""r""e""a". I wanted to turn output like that into a pretty Web page that allowed me to explore the words in the grid, showing scoring information at a glance. But I knew the task would be tricky: each letter had to be tagged with the words it belonged to, both the across and the down. This was a detailed problem, one that could easily consume the better part of an evening. With the baby on the way, I was short on free evenings. So I began a conversation with GPT-4. Some back-and-forth was required; at one point, I had to read a few lines of code myself to understand what it was doing. But I did little of the kind of thinking I once believed to be constitutive of coding. I didn’t think about numbers, patterns, or loops; I didn’t use my mind to simulate the activity of the computer. As another coder, Geoffrey Litt, wrote after a similar experience, “I never engaged my detailed programmer brain.” So what did I do?

Perhaps what pushed Lee Sedol to retire from the game of Go was the sense that the game had been forever cheapened. When I got into programming, it was because computers felt like a form of magic. The machine gave you powers but required you to study its arcane secrets—to learn a spell language. This took a particular cast of mind. I felt selected. I devoted myself to tedium, to careful thinking, and to the accumulation of obscure knowledge. Then, one day, it became possible to achieve many of the same ends without the thinking and without the knowledge. Looked at in a certain light, this can make quite a lot of one’s working life seem like a waste of time.

But whenever I think about Sedol I think about chess. After machines conquered that game, some thirty years ago, the fear was that there would be no reason to play it anymore. Yet chess has never been more popular—A.I. has enlivened the game. A friend of mine picked it up recently. At all hours, he has access to an A.I. coach that can feed him chess problems just at the edge of his ability and can tell him, after he’s lost a game, exactly where he went wrong. Meanwhile, at the highest levels, grandmasters study moves the computer proposes as if memorizing tablets from the gods. Learning chess has never been easier; studying its deepest secrets has never been more exciting.

Computing is not yet overcome. GPT-4 is impressive, but a layperson can’t wield it the way a programmer can. I still feel secure in my profession. In fact, I feel somewhat more secure than before. As software gets easier to make, it’ll proliferate; programmers will be tasked with its design, its configuration, and its maintenance. And though I’ve always found the fiddly parts of programming the most calming, and the most essential, I’m not especially good at them. I’ve failed many classic coding interview tests of the kind you find at Big Tech companies. The thing I’m relatively good at is knowing what’s worth building, what users like, how to communicate both technically and humanely. A friend of mine has called this A.I. moment “the revenge of the so-so programmer.” As coding per se begins to matter less, maybe softer skills will shine.

That still leaves open the matter of what to teach my unborn child. I suspect that, as my child comes of age, we will think of “the programmer” the way we now look back on “the computer,” when that phrase referred to a person who did calculations by hand. Programming by typing C++ or Python yourself might eventually seem as ridiculous as issuing instructions in binary onto a punch card. Dijkstra would be appalled, but getting computers to do precisely what you want might become a matter of asking politely.

So maybe the thing to teach isn’t a skill but a spirit. I sometimes think of what I might have been doing had I been born in a different time. The coders of the agrarian days probably futzed with waterwheels and crop varietals; in the Newtonian era, they might have been obsessed with glass, and dyes, and timekeeping. I was memorizing an oral history of neural networks recently, and it struck me how many of the people interviewed—people born in and around the nineteen-thirties—had played with radios when they were little. Maybe the next cohort will spend their late nights in the guts of the A.I.s their parents once regarded as black boxes. I shouldn’t worry that the era of coding is winding down. Hacking is forever. ♦

Sun, 12 Nov 2023 21:00:00 -0600 en-US text/html
Q&A: Generative AI Comes to the Middle East, Driving Security Changes

The adoption of generative AI (GenAI) in Middle East markets is on the rise with the release of the Arabic large language model (LLM) Jais this past summer, and ChatGPT creator OpenAI announcing a partnership with the Abu Dhabi government.

The timing is appropriate for a discussion on the subject, and at the upcoming Black Hat Middle East conference, Srijith Nair, CISO of Careem, will lead a panel on GenAI in the region: "Defense Against the Dark Arts: Generative AI and Enterprise Risk."

Dark memorizing sat down with Nair to discuss the security elements of the introduction of GenAI, from both the attack and defense perspectives.

Srijith Nair in a grey jacket against a green background
Srijith Nair, CISO, Careem

Dark Reading: How much do you think generative AI is a business issue, or is it something happening in society that is slowly "invading" business and ultimately cybersecurity?

Srijith Nair: Generative AI is a wider societal phenomenon and, as such, is impacting several aspects of our life. Business, and ultimately cybersecurity, is being affected as an extension of that societal impact. You can see disruptions already across various fields (arts, coding), and cybersecurity is not exempt from the impact of this shift. The jury is out on whether this is an evolution or revolution — time will tell.

DR: How well do you think cybersecurity is keeping up with the trend of Generative AI?

SN: It's going to impact the cybersecurity landscape in multiple ways, from enabling fraud to making it easier to conduct phishing attacks against specific individuals. On the flip side, the technology enables wider tooling capabilities for security services. Writing secure code is getting easier through the judicious use of the AI-based capabilities of coding platforms.

DR: We’ve heard that attackers can benefit from it and use it to better craft attacks and, specifically, phishing messages. Can the defense side keep up?

SN: CSOs have to find ways to enable and adapt to new kinds of technology innovation. One needs to be able to come up with an approach that allows people to use these tools but use them securely — and that's a very interesting challenge at this point in time. 

Generative AI brings with it a lot more new vectors and threats, but it also gives us a lot more tools. These tools will not only enable us to counter the new risks but also enable us to shift left more aggressively — this makes it interesting for security practitioners because now you're able to tell your engineering teams how to write code securely, enabling your SOC teams to be more proactive and scale better, etc. People won't have to go out of the way to do things securely; it becomes part of their ready-to-use arsenal.

DR: Talk of machine learning and AI has been around for the best part of the last decade, so is generative AI just adding a lot of complexity?

SN: That is indeed true. Machine learning and its models are not new at all. The models, typically categorized as supervised, unsupervised, semi-supervised, or reinforcement learning, have unique characteristics and applications. However, these techniques traditionally and primarily focus on recognizing patterns and making predictions rather than generating new, original content.

Generative AI goes one step further. These systems not only recognize patterns but can then generate new content that mimics the data it was trained on. The biggest shift probably though is that generative AI seems to have democratized the use of AI. The use cases being closer to a casual user, generative AI has found a strong foothold in our day-to-day life.

DR: Is there enough capability to learn about how to use these technologies from a security perspective, how they can be used and what can be done with them?

SN: You need to be able to train your data and AI teams how to do things securely, but at the same time as a security team you need to upskill your knowledge as well because as a CSO you are the controlling function. You are expected to spot whether teams are doing the right thing — so you need to know enough to then challenge them to say "Hey, is this right?"

A lot of the time, it ends up being about upscaling your security team, unless they have really been hands-on on the stuff, which I'll be very surprised by. A lot of times, it's also because the last two years have been so fast moving when it comes to generative AI, I would be very surprised that any security in your team out there can claim that they are on top of it completely.

DR: Could AI be the savior for the security staffing issue we’ve been talking about for so many years?

SN: AI would definitely be a great help in scaling and automating the security controls to the level that is necessitated, by the increasing complexity of the systems being protected, the heterogeneous environments involved, and the automation and scale used by threat actors. However, calling it a "savior" or a silver bullet would be a step too far, at least at this point in time. 

Mon, 13 Nov 2023 05:12:00 -0600 en text/html
These Unsettling Stories Put A Pit In My Stomach No result found, try new keyword!Well, these unsettling stories get right to that feeling. Thu, 09 Nov 2023 04:49:11 -0600 en-us text/html

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