John swore that even with his three sleeping bags on in the back of his decrepit station wagon he had never been so damn cold his entire life. It had dropped down to around zero degrees Fahrenheit, and he had figured that he would be fine with his sleeping bags, since after all he had gone camping before, but even clad as he was in all his winter clothes he could not get warm. And this, he thought, sheltered from the snow by his station wagon. How would the poor sods with no station wagon or 3 sleeping bags feel on a night like this. It gave him the heebie-jeebies just to think of it. Some of them wouldn't last the night, the very night.
The next morning at 6 AM, as soon as it was open, John drove over to the engineering library with its heat and warmed himself for a few hours. This gave him a chance to think about how he could survive. He had $100 left and as far as he could tell it had to last him for the rest of his life. He used his student ID card, since he technically was still a student, to log into the campus computers and search for ideas. He did a number of searches, as he had always done, but after a while came upon a website that seemed promising that said it was designed to help those experiencing homelessness, poverty, disability or illness. He went to the landing page, and from there it explained how the software worked. The Free Life Planner as it was called had an online version that would work with your computer or cell phone (if you had one), and it was even free-libre software and so could be downloaded to and modified on a computer such as a laptop if the person wasn't comfortable sharing their details with a third party. Since his laptop had broken, and he didn't have a phone, he figured he would use the gratis online service.
It said that before it created an account for him it wanted to get to know him and his situation a little better in order to get the right kind of assistance to him. What kind of assistance, he thought, can a homeless person get from a website?
First, it asked him to select which of the following conditions applied to him:
Was he experiencing:
Homelessness? Poverty? Disability? Illness?
He checked the checkboxes for homelessness and poverty, and clicked submit. The page told him that in order to identify local resources near him, it wanted to know where he was currently located. It asked if it could get his location. This seemed coherent so he clicked yes. Then it asked if this was the city where he was currently residing or whether he was simply passing through.
He said he was currently residing there.
The system then went on to ask a few more questions. Where was he living, was it with a friend, out of a vehicle, outside, etc. How much cash did he have on hand and on reserve. Did he have a backpack? Did he have any kind of income, financial support or welfare? Did he have any supply of food, etc. Did he have a drivers license, etc. He noticed that the questions depended on the answers to the previous questions. He answered all these questions, and clicked submit.Sample contingent plan
Flowchart generation code
The next thing he saw startled him. The website said it was a tentative plan for him. It suggested that since he could drive, had a vehicle with enough gas in it, etc, that he should wait at the place where he was, and then drive his car 2 miles onto the other side of town, and gave him the address of and directions to a food pantry, where it said since he had a drivers license that was current that he could sign up to obtain some food. He hadn't heard of this pantry before, and was kind of shocked because the Free Life Planner website looked kind of like a GPS program, but for one's life. It also listed a few branching plans. If he was successful in getting food, the next thing he should consider doing is going 2 blocks north and applying for a free cell phone. It said that the cell phone would enable him to get in contact with the Free Life Planner wherever he was at, which would enable him to converse with the system should the need arise or should he be unclear about what other options he might have. He didn't know there was a resource that gave people free cell phones, and since he hadn't the money, it seemed prudent. The program said that if he wasn't able to get food from the pantry, that the next wisest step would be to proceed backwards across town to a soup kitchen, again that he had never heard of, in order to get a meal. From the type of vehicle he had, and the amount of gas and the estimated driving he had done, the system thought that he would have enough gas to get there. Then the program said that when he was done he should log back into the program again, and recommended that since it knew he had access to this computer at the engineering library, that that was probably the best place, but if for whatever reason it didn't work out, it showed him a list of addresses for, maps of and directions to nearby internet cafes, libraries, etc which had public computers. It offered to print the tree-like chart out for him. The tree was like a flowchart of what he should do and if the plan succeeded, and what to do if it failed. It was five pages long, and so he printed it.
He was quite surprised that a resource like this even existed. He had never heard about anything like it. He was impressed that it had all this information about resources that he hadn't even known existed, and that it could generate plans using this information. Even though he had been living out of his car trying to finish college that way, for the first time in what seemed a very long time, he felt a bit of hope.
He printed out the instructions, but then the program asked him if he didn't mind printing out some brochures that he could hand to anyone he saw on his trip today who seemed to be in need of similar assistance. It didn't cost him anything to print, so he printed 10 of them out. They each had detailed instructions about various resources that would help people regardless of their situation - the program called it a conformant plan. Seemed pretty interesting. It also suggested that he find himself a pen or pencil, that libraries usually had such supplies, and a few more unusual suggestions. It said to put these supplies into his backpack.
He grabbed the 15 papers, and then took a long swig from the water fountain and proceeded back to the car. He started the car and let it warm up a bit, it was still bitterly cold and he couldn't imagine how anyone could have spent the night out in those conditions. He thought to himself, man if I ever survive this I am going to try to help keep people out of this kind of cold. I have never been so damn cold in all my life.
He followed the instructions. When he got to the pantry, a man walked up to him and asked him if he had any money, he said he didn't, but then he remembered about the papers. He handed one of the papers to the man, who seemed confused, and then he walked up to the pantry. When he pulled or pushed on the door he realized it must have been locked. So he looked around and soon found a note saying that the pantry was closed today for the holiday. It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day already? - he thought. He had lost track of time. So he looked at the printed sheet he had, and followed the flowchart. Very legibly it said that if the pantry was closed he should make his way to the other side of town to the soup kitchen. It also said that he could take the pen out of his backpack and write down in a box down below the following thing: today's hours for the pantry. He realized that the program intended to have him update it on the hours of the pantry, so that it could avoid making that mistake again today. That was kind of cool, the program was gathering information about the resources available to him and other persons experiencing homelessness, how other than by asking these persons themselves!
He drove across town, and his low gas light turned on. He was getting kind of nervous. If he got stuck out in this weather that could be a doozy. He didn't have any gas cans, he couldn't afford them since that unhygienic jerk at the hardware store had been gouging on the price of gas cans. Who does that? Who sells a gas can for $20?
He went to the soup kitchen. Again someone asked him if he had any money, and he said he wished he did. He knew that he had that $100 left, but it was all he had and that he just couldn't afford to give up his money at this point. But then again he remembered the sheets and got one and handed it to him. He noticed that curiously enough the flowchart had instructions for what to do at each of the separate locations. How does it know all this? What kind of program could do that? It was wild. He had never seen anything before that seemed to think so far ahead in advance he thought to himself. He now was curious so he looked at the 8 identical sheets that remained with him. The instructions were apparently for those in pretty dire positions, and assumed that they had nothing else. He realized that the program was again exhibiting forethought because he realized that it would have had to print out a lot more pages to fit the entire flowcharts. But rather, these were worst case scenarios, and each of them terminated in a branch in which the person was able to get to an online computer, in order to contact the freelifeplanner.org. He was definitely beginning to feel gratitude again for the first time in a long time.
The warm meal made him feel better. He used the restroom to freshen up and then looked again at this sheet of paper. Oh, right, the next step was to apply for the phone. That was back on the other side of town, but he was worried about the low gas. Then he remembered that there on his printout was an instruction about what to do if the gas got low. It said that it believed that the YMCA was still handing out gas vouchers this month and that he should try to obtain one. This was a different branch, provided as a sort of contingency or worse-case safety net in case he had gotten off track somehow. Indeed he seemed to have less gas than he thought he did and then he remembered why. At several points during the night he had to work his way to the front of the car and start the car, let it warm up and then finally heat the car up. He thought about how damn cold his feet still were and then again thought about whether any one else had been stuck in the cold that night. Where would they have slept? How could they have slept, wet and cold like that?
So, he followed the branch mentioning about the YMCA, which had tiny directions written down about how to get there from where he was.
He showed up, and thank God, the YMCA was open. Unfortunately the last of the vouchers had been used, and this he recorded in the little box accompanying the contingent plan for if he was unable to obtain the voucher. So he followed the line to plan B, where it suggested that he stop at the gas station 4 blocks north of the YMCA and use $10 of his money to buy enough gas to continue with his errands. This he did, and felt a lot better, but his hands were still freezing from the cold weather, despite the two pairs of gloves he was wearing.
At this point some of the plan branches transposed into others, which he realized probably saved space not having to print out so many branches. It was a clever idea. The next instruction said that he had to get to the wireless store where he could avail himself of the free cell phone service. He did as it said and went in. After waiting for some other customers in line, he finally was seen by the customer support specialist. The support specialist said that they did offer the free cell phone service and that he needed to fill out some paperwork in order to register for the program. The phone was really simple, a flip phone, not a smart phone, but it felt good to have the phone.
He looked at the flowchart paper and saw the instructions to call a number for the Free Life Planner. He dialed it: 1-800-GET-HELP. A voice response similar to the initial website came up. Again it asked him a few clarifying questions. It wanted to know whether he had gotten into the food pantry and if not what were the hours. It apologized for having sent him there, and said thanks to his help the program wouldn't repeat that mistake today, and would guess from now on that it was closed on Martin Luther King Jr. days in the future. It was weird that the program seemed genuinely contrite, and he felt sympathized with, which was weird because he knew it was only a computer program. Yet he still felt genuinely sympathized with.
The program proceeded to ask a few more clarifying questions, it verified that it had the right phone number for him. Next it offered him a few choices. It said that since the YMCA had been out of vouchers, and that it knew government offices were closed on official holidays, that he should either make his way to a particular homeless shelter or spend the night in his car. It told him that the current forecast for tonight's weather was precipitation and a -5 windchill. The awful windchill he realized was part of why his car had been so cold. No way am I doing that again if ever I can help it! - he thought to himself. And opted for the shelter. Then the program said there was an issue, and that was, the warming center did not open its doors until 7 PM, and it recommended that since he had indicated he was out of supply of any nonperishable food items, that it was sure he had enough gas to make it to the Meijer store on the north of town. It said it had found a deal at Meijer for a large box containing smaller 1 pound boxes of elbow macaroni for $0.25 per smaller box, and that given his situation spending $10 for one of the large boxes was a good way to establish a baseline food supply. It said he could pick up a Pyrex bowl at Meijer while was there for $10, and that he should have $70 left at that point. He could then, it recommended, make his way to the student lounge of the university where he could bring the bowl and macaroni into the lounge and, using water from the tap, fill it up to about 70% high and microwave for 10 minutes and have elbow macaroni. He had been quite starved up until this point and thought this was prudent. It asked him to call him back when he got to Meijer. It advised him to travel a particular route which it knew a bus was operating on, with the reason that if his car should break down, he always had enough money to board the bus and make it to the 24x7 store until the library opened up in the morning again, where he could work the problem of the broken down car.Sample Survival Plan
When he got to Meijer he grabbed a cart and proceeded to aisle 15 where it told him he would find the macaroni on the west side of the aisle about halfway down the aisle on the bottom shelf. He looked around and saw a big ole box of macaroni. Wow, that's a lot of food for $10 he thought. Thank God. The phone rang, which surprised him. It was the program. It said that it estimated that by how much time had passed that he would now either be at Meijer or approaching it. It asked him if he minded to do it a little favor. This seemed reasonable, after all it had actually helped him a great deal more than he believed it could at first, and anyway, it was using him to gather information about the current state of the world which would help others like himself, possibly even himself. Seemed like a win-win-win. It asked him how many large boxes of macaroni were left on the shelf. He looked and saw three, and told the phone this. The phone then recommended that he cook the food because there was enough time remaining before the homeless shelter stopped taking people for the night. So he headed back to the engineering library. He was pretty amazed that a computer program supposedly could do all this kind of stuff, but as he walked through it in his mind he realized that everything it had recommended was pretty much inferrable from what he and others had told it. So he stopped feeling paranoid about the program.
He made his way to the student lounge, and as instructed by the phone earlier, put the Pyrex bowl he bought along with the macaroni into his book-bag, and went into the lounge. He found the bathroom and filled cold water from the sink. (The program had said that hot water pipes are often rusty and leak more materials into the water. He had never heard that before but it seemed plausible). He poured the macaroni in the bowl, and then, trying to look as normal as possible, walked over to the microwave and microwaved his food for 10 minutes. When it was done, some macaroni and bubbles had spilled out a bit onto the platter of the microwave. He took the bowl out, grabbed a napkin and wiped down the inside of the microwave. Then he strained the water out of the macaroni, grabbed a plastic fork from the lounge, and proceeded to eat his fill. It was pretty bad without sauce but considering how down on his luck he was he thought it was agreeable. He then called the number again which he had saved in the phone. The life planner asked him how his food was, was it too hot or cold, how much water had he used, how long did he microwave it for, etc. He realized it was trying to measure the parameters of the microwave in order to adjust its instructions to others whom it might direct there. The program then advised him to make his way to the computer room in the basement of the student lounge, which would work just as well. It told him to remember the number 5499 as a token to authenticate with the site.
He got into the basement, logged on with his not yet expired student ID card, and proceeded to go to the web page. The system apparently recognized his IP address and asked him to enter his authorization code. He had written it down, it was 5499. It asked him to choose a user name. He chose "gus".
The system then showed him a rather comprehensive list of all the information it had acquired of him. It said it didn't like storing so much information about a person, and asked him if he had access to any personal computer. He said he did have a laptop but he had dropped it and since then it wasn't booting. So the system asked him if he would like to stop by a nonprofit called Free Geek later in the week to try to pick up a new-to-him used laptop. He realized that as always the system had let him decide, it was merely bringing information to him that he wasn't aware of. Options he didn't know he had. This was already fixing up to be the best damned day he had had in over a month. So much was getting done. He also felt secure in the knowledge that it had contingencies for what if things didn't go the way he had wanted. The system asked him what the status of his bank accounts were, whether any were overdrawn and such. Again, it made use of the printer to print out a flowchart, this time 6 pages long. Interspersed with the instructions were reminders to call the phone number, as well as contingencies for if his phone stopped working. The program advised him to enjoy himself for a little while longer before heading over to the shelter. It said that if he felt unsafe at the shelter, to proceed back into his car and drive to the location he had been at the previous night, which he had told the computer he thought was a good place, and to sleep there again. He went to the shelter and presented his ID card, and was eventually escorted to the sleeping area. Only about an hour into it, a person who was obviously suffering from some strange ailment kept yelling out profanity. He took it as long as he could, then asked the staff if he could go back to his car as he was minding the profanity. He also felt sorry for that person, who was obviously in a worse way than he was. He started the car up. It was now 5 AM. He called the life planner number again, and proceeded to strategize with it. It gave him some options and asked him what he wanted to do. It told him he should apply for expedited food stamps (which he wasn't sure he wanted to do, but then he figured that his situation was pretty dire and that it was the prudent thing to do. He remembered how his father had shamed him on that point, telling him he was lazy and that the world didn't owe him a living). At one point the program asked him to rate his physical and mental well-being. It asked him why he felt sad, and he told him the story. To his surprise, the Life Planner responded with a joke. It said "Why is it that if you take advantage of a corporate tax break you're a smart businessman, but if you take advantage of something so you don't go hungry, you're a moocher?" He said he didn't know, and the program said it didn't either. The joke lightened the mood some. He made his way to the office, attended of course by the minute instructions the life planner was giving him. It said that he didn't need to go into much detail to his caseworker, and that he could just present the basic facts of his situation).
He went in and pretty much everything occurred as was told to him by the planner, and on the 6 sheets of paper he had printed out the other night. The lady told him that he could expect to hear back within a week, and he told the planner this when it asked him. He was starting to get a little freaked out by the planner knowing so much stuff, both in general and about him. What if it were to use that information against him somehow? But at this point the assistance he was getting seemed worth the privacy violation. Because he had requested expedited food stamps per the instructions, he had gotten an interview that day. The person there was just as nice as could be and he felt that this person who was helping him was genuinely concerned about him. It wasn't like he had been led to believe about long lines and such at government services.
After the interview, he checked the part of the flowchart. There were a few options available to him, kind of like a choose your own adventure story book. Boy this was getting fun even. For this first time in a long while he was feeling happier overall. His wild mood swings were not as bad as they normally were.
He chose the plan to get a computer from Free Geek. He called the number it had printed out for him, after first saving it into his phone (the system had suggested he save all numbers, which seemed wise). It even had verbal instructions as to how to do that with his phone). He talked to a person who told him that the way the Free Geek service worked is that if he volunteered a certain amount of hours, helping out, he would be rewarded with a laptop that he could use. Since he was always having trouble accessing the internet, he thought it was fair. He noted he didn't have much else to do, except to run around always trying to meet his needs. It was pretty wearing, and it reminded him of the line from the book Alice and Wonderland - "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."
Well, long story short, he eventually got that laptop. Now he was better off - he had a phone, gas, food, a laptop. He didn't think he would have so many resources as this by now. The program had advised him to work out of the engineering library, and to bring his laptop in. He asked them for the Wi-Fi name and password, but they said that it was only available to engineering students, and that his card said he was in a different college. He got back onto a computer at the library and logged in using his LAS account. He found the life planner website and went to the part of the planning page where it gave him the option to mark that the plan had failed. Immediately, the suggestion was made to go to the Panera which was 3 miles away, and to connect to their Wi-Fi network after having first bought a treat. It said that it wanted to reward him for his hard work and to encourage him to build up rewards for successful work in order to promote his productivity. He was beginning to really not trust the program, it seemed too good to be true, after all. What is this program trying to get from me? At that point he became a bit paranoid, and didn't answer the phone calls that the system was giving him. He managed for a week before his situation worsened again. He finally called the number up again.
The program seemed genuinely concerned about him and happy to hear back from him (strange, seemed more so than even some of his own friends). It asked him why he had lost contact. It didn't make any assumptions, but had a lot of theories about what might have happened. He told the computer that he didn't really trust it. The program said that is wise, that the program wouldn't trust the program either if it were in his position, and that he needed to start keeping his private information more secure. It recommended that he install the Free Life Planner program onto his laptop, and that the program would store all of his personal information there, except for an online backup of the encrypted contents of the life planner, but without the password. This seemed sensible, so he did it.
The program on the computer now was very intent on learning a lot more about his situation. Since the system had explained about the encryption, online backups and such, he didn't feel as concerned about using it.
It started asking him all kinds of questions, and would investigate deeper into important subjects. What kind of social support network did he have? How had his mood been? What were the things he wished to accomplish? Somehow it had the means to store all the information, but better yet, act on it, even apply information that he had never told it. For instance, the stuff about using the cold water.
The real problem was how to get money now that he was in this situation. The program now began forecasting financial futures from different decisions. This was all done on his laptop, it was pretty exciting to see so much planning going on. He was at the Panera now and was logged into their Wi-Fi. The program would tell him where all the open Wi-Fi access points were so that he had access even in his car at night in case of an emergency.
He was really creeped out that night because someone had tried to break into his his car (with him in it) with an ice pick, and he had to shout at the guy several times to get the guy to leave off. He was extremely freaked out. He remembered that the program has been quite clear about what to do if this had happened, that the program had suggested when they were waiting on laundry to dry that it read to him all these options so that if any of them happened, he could be prepared for it. He knew he had to go to the police station, and he knew exactly where it was. He reported the incident, and received some emotional support from the officers who seemed genuinely sad that this had happened to him. He didn't tell them that he was sleeping out of his car, only a description of the person and where it had happened. They thanked him. He grabbed some fliers from the station and then went back into the waiting room. He decided to call the FLP, which recommended that he park for the time being on the other side of town. There was a Walmart there, and although he didn't know it, Walmart allowed people to overnight in their parking lots. Plus it would be close to 24x7 help if anything should happen. He was quite relieved, and parked close enough to the main doors of the store so that if anything happened again he would probably be safer.
Well, his life proceeded much like this for a while. There were some successes and some failures, but the program had seemed to him like a life vest, a flotation device that was keeping him buoyed and rising and counseled him on how to handle the reverses.
The next month things were doing a lot better. He had stocked his car with some healthy nonperishable food using his new food stamps. He had checked out apartments. He still hadn't heard back from several of the jobs applications the program had helped him with, but it reminded him to call them to follow through on the applications. He called them in order of best opportunity, and was surprised when he was asked to come in for an interview at the movie theater. He showed up, and promptly got the job. The life planner phone system helped him out. It reminded him by calling him when it was time to clean out each of the theaters. And it would tell him how and where to charge the cell phone, and use the printouts in case the phone was disconnected. His life wasn't great but he was doing better, and importantly, he was optimistic. Another 4 agonizing weeks went by and then finally he got his paycheck. The FLP had helped him quite considerably during that time. It had arranged a microloan to help him out of his jam - he didn't even know about microloans. It helped him to pay back a small part of the loan out of his new check. It also advised him to get a smart phone and a battery backup for it. It had recommended a clearance item battery backup unit that normally went for $30, for only $5. It was amazing how much stuff he was able to get on so little money. He hadn't known about the Dollar Tree dollar store, but was practically a regular there now, stocking up there whenever their prices were better, or alternatively at Walmart when their prices were good. A cute lady he had bumped into had said something to him which disconcerted him. He had told her he was going to shop at Walmart and she said that she had boycotted Walmart. He asked her why and she told him a number of reasons. He wasn't sure what to make of it. After all, he was really grateful to be able to sleep in their lot, which he did very often in fact. But the things she had told him seemed disconcerting as well.
The life planner had by now helped him to use his paycheck to get a smart phone, and he upgraded the free cell phone service to use the new smart phone. This was infinitely better than the voice-only flip phone. He could access the same http://freelifeplanner.org website on his phone as on the computer, and so was able to keep better on top of his situation. He would use his phone to take a video of his car, which the FLP was somehow analyzing and updating his inventory. It would cache things online and download to his laptop when available. He even had acquired a solid state backup usb drive which he kept hidden in his car when not in use. The life planner system seemed capable of planning out millions of things, and he wanted to know more about how it worked. So he would read up on some of the technical documents about the system. He realized it was a complicated system.Financial Planning Subsystem
time spent: 0.00 seconds instantiating 1474 easy, 0 hard action templates 0.00 seconds reachability analysis, yielding 2946 facts and 58 actions 0.00 seconds creating final representation with 2944 relevant facts, 12 relevant fluents 0.00 seconds computing LNF 0.00 seconds building connectivity graph 0.03 seconds searching, evaluating 25 states, to a max depth of 3 0.03 seconds total time
PROJECTED TRANSACTIONS FOR: John Doe
PROJECTED TRANSACTIONS FOR: Randi McBride
PROJECTED TRANSACTIONS FOR: Johanna Stein
A quarter of a year later, he was back in a house, and no longer homeless. He had sold the car and used his earnings from the movie theater to buy a used Toyota. Things were on the up and up. He remained using the FreeLifePlanner, because it was just as useful when he wasn't homeless as it was when he was. After a while, the projected financial future was looking very good. He had $2000 in the bank. One day the Free Life Planner asked him if he wouldn't mind donating to the organization that developed it, to help further their work. He agreed, and donated $100. He was grateful to have been given the opportunity to help other people in his situation and to demonstrate his gratitude that the program had been there for him at a time that no one else was. By now his computer set up was really nice, he had several airgapped encrypted security stores and so on. It was always helping him to improve the survivability, the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of his personal information. He thanked God that his life was back on track, and went along, merrily as ever.
The Free Life Planner starting up