Digital Ischemia

16/10/2018

BBC Bureaucracy

Another vaguely anticipated episode in my Truthache series of surreal petty vengeance: Merv is piqued by non-contact forms

Merv recently got himself jammed in the most beautiful cul-de-sac of e-pistles, most of the pistle being in the wind. Being an attentive sort, back in April he noticed that BBC Radio programmes suddenly lost their track timing flags. A heinous state of affairs. How can he browse through his HypeLayer and land neatly in the tee-up to a nice reliable bit of Chopin or Placebo without any indication of when in the three-hour timeline this is?

Unpleasant incidents resulted, such as him plunging into some contemporary experimental effort and becoming transfixed by the phased percussion like a chicken rendered catatonic by a vertical line. A virtuoso organist peddling away with unnecessary vigour caused such a thrum in the bass speakers that Merv’s tank-top unravelled and Aunty Spamela’s begonias wilted.

Once recalibrated, Merv’s fluids began to circulate again. He found his Wi-Fi web wireless has little letterboxes with messages encouraging you to punch in your thoughts. He summoned his best letter-writing etiquette.

April 20
Merv: Why?
Devoid O’Smairts, BBC HypeLayer support team: We are aware of similar reports of this and we are currently investigating. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention and we hope to have it sorted soon.

Some time passed, much of it spent extracting Merv from unintended-track-induced infinite mental loops. But the sizzling at the very base of his primitive brain had not dissipated.

May 08
Merv: Please could you let me have an update on this case, or any indication of the expected timeframe?

Merv’s inbox remained populated only by an animated gif of tumbleweed. He resorted to polite threats.

June 09
Merv: If I get no response this third time of asking I feel I should escalate this query to a complaint.
Devoid O’Smairts: “Thanks so much for contacting us again. Since our last response, we’ve removed the timings for radio programmes due to rights agreements with record companies. We do apologise for any inconvenience caused by this, and the delay in getting word back on the issue. We hope this offers you clarification about the timings. We do take on board that you are unhappy about their removal and we will be sure to take on board your comments. Your comments will be included into our dedicated HypeLayer feedback reports which will be sent to BBC HypeLayer Management and other relevant teams to help with any future decisions and developments of BBC HypeLayer Services. Hearing from our audiences is greatly important and your comments can be used to improve our services. So, your feedback can make a real difference and we appreciate you taking the time to contact us. Thanks again for getting in touch.

That’s a lot of taking on board. Merv felt quite water-logged. We wondered if they had run aground and their hull had been breached. He appreciated all their lots of appreciation for helping them deteriorate their service. And clarification? Not by Merv’s dictionary. His blood fizzed for three weeks.

June 29
Merv: I am astonished at how difficult you make it for me to get an answer to a simple, reasonable question. The obfuscatory nature of the eventual answer leaves me disappointed and suspicious. Please can you answer my query?

July 05
Devoid O’Smairts: We were not longer able to continue have timings that linked up with commercial tracks in order to avoid any breaching any restrictions we had with record companies. Although it was only commercial tracks that were affected by these timings issues, we had to disable the feature altogether as it could not only be enabled for our tracks and disabled for commercial tracks.

This is plainly not plain English. Record companies reckon they’ll sell more ‘down-low-discs’ if listeners have to hear random tracks, rather than those they’re interested in? Interesting strategy. Sounds like the death grasp of a dying industry, built on building up fledgling performers to giddy heights of instant popularity in order to legally fleece those same performers on their built-in obsolescent decline, but which had not foreseen the digital age.

July 13
Merv: This still doesn’t explain why this would be in the commercial interest of record companies. What ‘restrictions’ in your agreement with them require this?

More than three months into this farce, Merv received a message from a market research company seeking more of his thoughts. He let rip. This triggered a cascade of phone interview, videocall with lab-rat tests (to confirm that he, like 87% of the audience, is harmlessly entangled and rendered inert by trying to navigate the website) and finally an invitation to an actual BBC location (secret).

We retired to the shed. Merv was in tatters, and not just from loss of tank-top integrity. He has a fear of institutions ever since being locked in his school on four occasions due to spending too long in the lavatory after home economics. One by one the lights went out while he was having arse collapse. He remains understandably traumatised and always carries a candle and matches when he’s away for a session. I daren’t, er, stoke the flames by raising the issue of what might happen should he actually strike a match in such circumstances.

Not to put too much gloss on the mission, I had to be David to BBC Goliath.

In the holding area—given some nauseating label such as welcome boutique—I lined up alongside my fellow victims. As I tried to tune out Droopy Dorothy and stop screwing up my eyes at Alpha-female Anna, I plunged my fidgeting palm into my pocket. It closed on Merv’s phial. The unknown quantity in the statistic. Had to be.

An utterly bland guy called my name from the doorway. He looked as interested in my input and the whole process generally as a cat. But without any of the cool. As I lurched through the rack of my fellow subjects’ knees, he introduced himself as—would you believe?—Devoid O’Smairts.

My facial expression was a study in passive blankitude. I managed the entire conversation through various degrees of pensive frown. He barely tried to draw me out, other than deciding to tick beside my forename and surname on the assumption that since I had answered to them I must be them. Each time he seemed to be about to wind up proceedings, I shifted and cranked my jaw tantalisingly. He watched me with palpable disappointment. He could have saved himself all this torture if only he’d made up some corporate wank about ‘removing the service provision due to resource streamlining’. We took our leave at a delicious impasse.

In Merv’s honour, I lurked in the toilets a dodgily long time until other members of the interrogation squad ‘passed’ through and loosed their tongues. Nope, sorry, definitely not that sort of diversion. Please concentrate.

Seemingly, after refreshing themselves plentifully with hot drinks concocted from the rolodex of stale sachets combined skilfully with hot water from the urns, the other participants became just as unresponsive as myself. There’s a puzzle.

Merv had not wasted his time either. Using QuackQuackBong (I understand this is a research engine you can hire, which operates rather like an animated Ronald Searle), he ‘harvested’ a code from some knowledgable students in the magic online letterbox. Then, without realising its power, er, penetrated the market people and arranged for all reports on the research to be sent to his own personal dead letter drop. I barely comprehend what he’s up to these days, but surely you can’t do much damage with a radio.

The outcome was spectacularly underwhelming: Devoid O’Smairts had failed to get any response from anyone. Combined with his Service Level Absences, this caused his manager to suspect that he didn’t exist at all and consequently terminate his employment. His redundancy made no difference whatsoever to the non-performance of the website comments process.

Merv finally iced the cake by reweaving the ‘routings’ (he’s gotten right into this ‘coding’ lark; much more fun than listening to the radio, he says) so that commenters receive in reply other commenters’ comments, thereby creating a social broadcasting network. People are being entertained by one another instead of the amorphous bureaucratic behemoth, and a national licence fee boycott is planned for next Saturday.

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13/10/2018

Crevice Brush

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:30

electric toothbrush head bouquet

say it with toothbrush heads


At the risk of sounding* like a dental hygiene necrophiliac, I am collecting toothbrush heads like a mass grave following a gum disease epidemic. Not intentionally. And that’s after placing a random selection in the plastic recycling, just to refocus the council’s attention on environmental services.

[*if no-one with eardrums is within earshot, then this philosophical conundrum will be adapted to reflect the fact that no-one with reading ability is looking at this.]

I work my way down the sustainability hierarchy: reduce? A one-bristle brush would probably take so long to clean my teeth that the electricity required would be environmentally counter-productive. Reuse? After three weeks’ conventional use the bristles are already arranging themselves in every unhelpful direction, thus I’m merely polishing my enamel against the plastic. After the recommended three months’ dental application I find alternative uses for them. They are perfect for dislodging mildew around taps and plugholes. Reuse again? Er, no thanks.

I have enough of these small monuments to the plasticene (the anthropogenic geological epoch, not the modelling clay) to construct my own skeletal model (the artist’s variant, for arranging in rude poses, not the fashion catwalk ones). However, since I would insist on fashioning every individual phalange, the sorry creature would be a ghastly sensorimotor homunculus.

If only toothbrush manufacturers could make longer lasting toothbrushes. And yet… I have an industrial nailbrush dating from c.1987 which remains in pristine condition. It seems designed to tackle serious digital grime and sub-keratinous filth, which, let me assure you, I have never laid eyes on, let alone dug my exquisite claws into. I’m ‘clawing’ for ideas now: replacement piano keys? Quirky jewellery? Boundary fencing for small people?

But of course the goal of the toothbrush manufacturing business is to sell you as many items as often as possible. Moreover, they score points for selling you points, calling it loyalty, and forcing you to redeem those points within a limited period of time by spending more money on items they sell that you don’t really want. And certainly don’t need. Why buy one toothbrush head when you can buy three, each of which is a triumph of style over practicality, none of which quite do the job?

The only thing I ‘need’ is a small, flimsy, plastic tool to gouge away the capitalist scales from my eyes – one which will snap on its first outing and require immediate retirement to the toothbrush head graveyard, followed by another trip to the bottom of my bullion (the gold bricks, not the soup juice) deposit, then on to the retailer to invest in more undisposable disposables and addictively unredeemable points.

I need to stop, to step out of this mass delusion, to leap off the consumer conveyor belt and take my chances in the flume of rejected materialism! I need to drill through this capitalist façade – I would use the revolutionary power of my electric toothbrush, but after four months of daily use the battery capacity has understandably dwindled.

It may yet have some application as a safety dildo, guaranteed not to vibrate for more than thirty seconds. This is a great marketing opportunity at those with a fear of losing objects in embarrassing orifices and having to explain the dodgy buzzing to their fellow passengers by cruelly gesticulating the blame on to the older lady beside you. Caution: may addle your eggs. Do not insert in intimate areas if you have any hankerings to breed humans. The manufacturer will not accept any liability should you remove yourself from the gene pool. Brush head optional.

05/10/2018

Grandparent File Download v2.0

An IT support call grows arms and legs, virtually.
(recently reworked from version 1 for further rejection)

SCENE (1) INT Home Office, VOIP AUDIO CALL
FX: BG MINIMALIST ELECTRONIC MUSIC
LYLE
Sure you want the whole file?
MARIE
Absolutely.
LYLE
I mean—sorry to be patronising, just to cover everything, ken—it’s a massive file; it’s about…ten and a half years’ worth of— Haud on; I’ll just turn aff the tunes.
FX: BG MUSIC STOPS
MARIE
It’s not something you can chunk up. That’s not how the data’s organised.
LYLE
I see you have the credits, but you’d maybe be safer—
FATHER
Pause! Where is this chap? Where are you based?
MARIE
(OFF) Dad! I’m dealing with this.
FATHER
(OFF) I’m not interfering. Simple question.
LYLE
Sorry, what?
FATHER
Are you a person or a robot?
MARIE
I’m sorry; my father’s online too.
LYLE
Ah, OK. That’s guid if you got him connected and working.
MARIE
Although obviously he does like to be involved.
FATHER
Well?
LYLE
Right, for the record, then: I’m a real person and I’m at the Onlineage Support Centre in Glasgow.
FATHER
Jolly good. Is this the new establishment in Drumchapel?
LYLE
Er, I cannae actually gi’e any details – security reasons, ken.
MARIE
Could you just imagine him in Drumchapel so we can move on?
FATHER
I’m not sharing my personal information with some ‘clown’ in Partick. Or Mumbai.—
LYLE
Did he just call me a clown?
FATHER
(OFF) —Or Dubai. Or Arizona.—
MARIE
I think he meant “cloud” but it was disrespectful; sorry.
FATHER
(OFF)—Or Wales.
MARIE
(OFF) What’s wrong with Wales?! Never mind. Pipe down, eh, or you’ll blow all my credits hijacking a support call.
FATHER
(OFF) Willco. Dumbarton it is.
MARIE
(OFF) Dum—? Never mind. Onlineage has all your information already. Absolutely all of it. Those cats are out the bag and clawing open all your cans of worms. That’s what we’re trying to fix.
FATHER
(OFF) Cats didn’t eat worms in my day.
LYLE
Er, most folk like to get comfortable with the parent files before installing the grandparent files.
MARIE
Aye, in an ideal world I’d be twenty-two and fizzing with vitality, but I don’t have the luxury of time. This is as comfortable as I get.
LYLE
Fair dos.
MARIE
I’ve saved up for this four times already; each time life got in the way and I had to start over. If I’d had my parents and my grandparents linked up sooner maybe things would’ve been different. If, if. I’ve had to get through without them. I have the credits. I’m ready.
LYLE
Nae bother. Like I said, I just have to check. Right, final confirmation.
FX: BEEP
LYLE (CONT…)
OK, that’s the transfer started. Kindae an anticlimax, eh?
MARIE
I can see it coming through! Fantastic. Thanks so much.
LYLE
Nae bother. You want to stay on the line till it finishes? Willnae cost you.
FATHER
I say, getting rather crowded in here.
MARIE
Thank you; I’d appreci—
FATHER
That is not what happened! My memory may not be fully polished but this is clearly faulty.
MARIE
(OFF) It’s all just perceptions, same as yours. Somewhere between all these bits of information is the truth. Lots to learn.
FATHER
(OFF) Bunkum.
LYLE
So, what’re you gonnae learn first?
MARIE
Gaelic – some old cultural connections.
LYLE
Isn’t Gaelic really difficult?
MARIE
Less difficult than English. Every day I think in English and some daft idiosyncrasy strikes me.
LYLE
But you’re fine at English.
MARIE
Aye, and it’s taken me decades to get this good. It must be torture for non-native speakers. And then I die: zap – all deleted.
LYLE
I’m sure you’ve plenty time to use it afore then.
MARIE
Ninety-two. What odds would you give me?
LYLE
You’re joking? (PAUSE) What age is your dad?! (PAUSE) No, obviously it’s in the file. Shite. A hundred and…twenty-eight? That’s no’ him.
MARIE
That’s your excellent Synthesis app.
LYLE
Shite.
MARIE
No children. End of the line. I need to integrate my knowledge so it’s not wasted. Every new person shouldn’t have to learn all this stuff from the beginning.
LYLE
You’re combining your lifetime of experience with your parents’ and their parents’?
MARIE
Isn’t that what this technology’s for? It’s not idle nostalgia: see the world through your ancestors’ eyes – get to type on an actual keyboard, pick your own actual groceries, experience sexism for real. No, you have to give it forward. Think what we could be if we weren’t restricted to sharing experience only by communication through the filter of societal behavioural norms!
LYLE
Er…
MARIE
Speaking, mostly.
LYLE
Right, right. I thought this was for, like, instead of ‘how was your weekend?’ you just experience the whole thing. Eech.
MARIE
I did wonder how folk’d get along without the liberty to embellish, but seemingly that’s factored into their perceptions.
LYLE
Aye, so I heard. Like, if you think you had the best time, that’s what other folk get from it?
MARIE
Have you not tried it yourself?
LYLE
Couldnae really; I done most of the testing; wouldnae be objective.
MARIE
You were involved in developing the app?
LYLE
Er, aye, sortae, I coded it—wrote it. (PAUSE) Hello?
MARIE
I don’t know how to respond. Perhaps I’ll start with: what possessed you, you havering Machiavelli?!
LYLE
I thought you rated it!?
MARIE
I’m obsessed with it. It’s ‘saved’ my life…by preserving me indefinitely! It’s overwhelmed me with information I should never’ve had! It’s driving me to perpetuate myself!
LYLE
Er…
MARIE
I know!
LYLE
What about your whole “ancestors’ eyes” spiel?
MARIE
No, I was saying, that’s not enough of a reason. Nobody will care that my father always kept fifteen spare packets of bog roll, but they might benefit from his experience as a child during wartime.
FATHER
Yes, reserves. I always pick up a couple when it’s a BOGOFFER. I store them in the bath.
MARIE
I think it’s— Never mind. I can’t think why anyone’d want to, but in theory you can actually feel his psychology and understand how a lifetime’s hyperconsumerism relates back to rationing. I have this theory—
FATHER
(OFF) Twaddle.
FX: FOOD PACKET CRACKLING
LYLE
You may as well tell me; we’re only at thirty-four percent. Sorry, I hope you dinnae mind me eating; ma heid’s a’ sparkly; this is a lot to process.
MARIE
(CHUCKLE) Well, last century our cultural evolution suddenly got turbocharged. Industrialisation, commercialism, technology raced away with our beliefs about success and happiness. ‘Can do’ completely overtook ‘should do’. We started making demands on our bodies that would take generations for physiological evolution to deliver. Bombarding ourselves with information and materialism. At the same time it became apparent that this hyperconsumerism was equally unhealthy for us and the rest of the living world.
LYLE
(MUNCHING) This is where the tech solutions come in?
MARIE
Aye and no: we have to ask, now a robot prepares your tea, are you any happier?
FATHER
(OFF) Nonsense! Take a lithium pill.
MARIE
That’s not— Never mind. And yourself?
LYLE
Dinnae trust them.
MARIE
Ironic. Not even if it saves you twenty, thirty minutes? Time you could use for something more useful? No, you’re right. More useful than appreciating where your food comes from? Savouring the full sensory experience? More useful than the mental downtime of a simple task?
LYLE
I dinnae ken if that spiritual stuff is for everyone – a’ that overanalysing stuff.
MARIE
I think that’s where our lives are: chronic overstimulation, poor mental and emotional agility, constant analysis of marginal information.
FX: OPENING DRINK CAN
LYLE
So you mean, like, get implants? (SWIG)
MARIE
They just enable you to process more and more information of less and less value. You still have to work out what that vanishingly small value is. More and more work to get the same quality of information.
LYLE
Is adding your parents’ experiences into the mix no’ just more stress then? (SWIG)
MARIE
Only if you don’t learn from it: see the lessons they learned from their lives; see what worked for them, what they figured out.
LYLE
You’re pretty smart for a ninety-year-old.
MARIE
I’m still learning. How’re we doing?
LYLE
Sixty-two—
FX: BG DOOR SLAM, WHUMP, KEYS CLATTER
LYLE (CONT…)
Ah, that’s my flatmate back—colleague… er…
FATHER
Ha! “Security reasons” being avoiding the discovery that you’re in your underpants eating baked beans on toast! Gotcha!
LYLE
Still in my jammies, er—shite.
FATHER
How old are you?!
MARIE
(OFF) Dad! That’s not your business. Let’s just assume he’s considerably younger than you. Stay focused.
FATHER
(OFF) Wet behind the ears.
MARIE
So, you wrote the app, you operate the support service, you are the app?
LYLE
No’ any more! It’s a’ went ootae control!
MARIE
(SARCASTIC) If only there was a way you could’ve learned from other entrepreneurs.
LYLE
I didnae ken! I just done it for a school project—college—whatever. Next thing I ken it’s oot there! Growing heids! (DRAINS CAN)
MARIE
(SIGH) Humans have been grappling with the same life problems for millennia, while at the same time trying random things ‘just to see what happens’. Wouldn’t it be good if we massed all of these together, learned from one another more efficiently – the benefits of all—
FX: BG TOILET FLUSH
MARIE (CONT…)
As opposed to.
LYLE
(MUNCHING) Doun the bog. Very guid. But is there no’ a point to, ken, working it oot for yoursel’?
MARIE
Sure, and maybe you come up with an even better solution, but why not see what your predecessors came up with first? Minimise that struggle, that suffering?
FX: BEEP
LYLE
Er…
FATHER
Relief! The deluge has ceased.
MARIE
Finished?
LYLE
No… Something’s blocked. Your system’s stopped confirming the request for download.
MARIE
Argh!
FATHER
Banjaxed!
MARIE
Ah, I bet I’m using too much processor being online.
LYLE
That shouldnae be an issue. Can you check you’ve shut doun absolutely everything apart from our app?
MARIE
Oh, I have, really: I checked the processes before I called. That’s all that’s been running this whole time.
LYLE
OK, you’ve filled in all the criteria in the form, all the technical specs; you’ve plenty memory, processor capacity. What else could be using up the system?
MARIE
Your Synthesis app.
LYLE
Your faither? Can you no’ suspend him?
MARIE
(CHUCKLE) Aye, love to, but that won’t be enough.
FATHER
I have rights!
MARIE
(OFF) Not yet!
LYLE
Rights? What’s gaun on here?! The deid dinnae have rights!
FATHER
I shall write a strongly worded letter to your superior—your father!
LYLE
(MUNCHING) Knock yersel’ oot. Naeb’dy’s seen him for twenty years. Wait: I have a mirror pane; it’s showing another person running… Is that… you?!
MARIE
Did you not think the line was awfully clear?
LYLE
I’m speaking to a Synthesis?!
MARIE
Body pegged it a while back. Something snapped. Who cares? This is far too important for a wee hurdle like that to derail the whole project.
LYLE
Er, if there’s any indication you’ve reverse engineered my—our—my software, I have to invoke a…non-compliance–
FATHER
(OFF) Scuttle the ship!
MARIE
Don’t be daft: I’m ninety-two! How would I ‘reverse engineer’ anything? Couldn’t even reverse my tea trolley without cowping the last fifteen years. I haven’t broken any of the agreement I signed. But by all means check. And while you do that, consider who you’re going to prosecute. Ha.
FX: RAPID FINGER SQUEAKS ON GLASS
LYLE
But how— Shite, my finger’s a’ sweaty. How can you— How am I having this conversation?!
MARIE
Your Synthesis app! Onlineage is really very good. You should probably be promoting your products a bit more.
LYLE
Shite. Wait. But it needs— How can you launch it?
MARIE
Ah, the combination of all these experiences, knowledge, so on; it takes on a life of its own, so to speak.

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