Digital Ischemia

17/09/2019

Highbrow Raising

I was recently accused of ‘highbrow’. This concerns me. Firstly, I feel my content is far too eclectic and mongrel to be highbrow. Highbrow implies refinement. Not smut. Secondly, why is highbrow pejorative? Why must it imply elitist exclusivity (an intellectually snobbish way of saying intellectual snobbery)? Should we not maintain the dynamic range of subject matter? Or, conceited to say so, but even raise the level of debate? Rather than, say, BBC-style, dilute to the lowest common denominator.

There is surely demand for miscellaneous, middle-aged, middle-class, morally philosophic pedantry? I will not be smart-shamed! No, as always happens when I’m challenged, I will be defensive, obtuse and perverse.

What is it about Benjamin Britten’s writing for strings that makes them sound as if they have been recorded in mono? There is some characteristic compression in space, pitch and amplitude that seems perfectly suited to the recording technology at the time. After all, his name is an anagram of tin bert. Bert being a technical term in the sound engineering world, for which I have not yet found satisfactory definition, but surely subtly modifies the derogatory ‘tinny’.

Where Mr Britten and I can share common ground, I believe, is in a penchant for the night male. Sadly that only works as a homophone, a fact that Mr Britten might appreciate, as one whose aural orientation was for his own generation.

This is the night male crossing the border,
Breaching the fence and restraining order.
Obsession, fixation, denying he bored her:
These are the terms of his psychiatric disorder.

Past new cut grass and mower-scarred boulder;
Trailing his phlegm over his shoulder.
Snorting noisily as he passes,
Silent smiles from his punch-bent glasses.

Left hand on down-pipe, right hand on ledge,
Anything for pleasure, scars give him edge.
Hauling up buttocks, embedded with grime:
The gradient’s against him, he’s in decline.

Birds turn their heads as he encroaches,
The full moon blushes at photos he poaches.
An un-neutered cat howls at her mate,
Then squirms away, hissing with hate.

In the dorm he passes no-one awakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes…

Hm, my mental stylus seems to have skipped to AC/DC… Yes, it’s Night Prowler. But ghastlier yet, the tune is something else: Night Fever. Yes, the Bee Gees. No one can possibly need YouTube karaoke support for that, so I offer it merely for citative rigour. One song to the tune of another, but not at all what Humph intended. And Benjamin must be rotisserating in his monochrome satin shroud. WH Auden has surely evaporated in a plume of disgust. Still dismissing me as highbrow?

As it turns out, the only nocturnal emission in my vicinity is something that quips in the night. Promising but thus far I am haunted only by a bird. Of the female gender. If it actually is Ms Tawny Owl. But this is more my desperate grasping, ahem, than the confident result of research.

Quizzing the internet for “identify nocturnal bird call site:uk” returns primarily, reassuringly, the enquiring mind of the RSPB: where did you see it? Um, garden. How big? Approx. 40dB. What colour of feathers? Black. Type of beak? Open. Doing what? Calling! What colour legs? Black. Unfortunately only my answer to the first question is acceptable to the RSPB, reducing the ‘field’ of potential results to a mere 157. ‘Call’ themselves bird experts.

The rest of the search results are lifestyle magazine-style articles discussing, silently, an arbitrary selection of nocturnal animals. Or—shudder—amateur bird nerds querying forums about their own personal encounter which sounded like (a) a dementor, (b) boiler pipes freezing, (c) a cow being unwell, or (d) a maniacal laugh. No help.

History is written by the victors.
Self-help guides are written by the lucky.

We all want to be helpful, to share our good fortune, but I think lifestyle gurus over-estimate their level of control in the process. Their personal random sequence of experiences and behaviours become the magical formula to fix everyone. Their perspective on the world becomes the universal panacea. Then the marketing kicks in. Marketing, ironically, alienates me. Marketing ironically, ironically, might get my attention.

Book introductions are a good gauge of the author’s effort and commitment. I enjoy openers along the lines “I just can’t put into words the rollercoaster experience of the past few years”. Oh please try. Oh, you have. Oh dear, I can’t seem to stop the book snapping closed.

While we’re in the realm of people volunteering unsolicited advice, I particularly love the half-baked ones.
“You can easily calculate how much protein you should eat with this formula: Your body weight X 0.5 = grams of protein to eat.”

I should eat half my body weight in protein? Daily? Seems unlikely.
Do you mean my body weight in kgs? Then about 25g protein? Seems inadequate.
Surely you can’t mean my body weight in imperial measures if you’re talking about grams of protein?! Less than 4g protein? Ridiculous.
Pounds then? American style? Sigh. Then I should eat 54g protein per day. That’s the first one that sounds believable.

Or, of course, perhaps you mean per week or per year. But I have now spent so much cognitive energy on this ‘easy’ calculation I will need to protein binge for the rest of the year. Last pernickety thought: multiply by a half rather than divide by two? Maybe your arithmetic needs a little more protein.

That’s your sneak preview of my 2020 Edinburgh Festival Fringe show: Fussy ain’t Funny. That should lower the highbrows.

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15/09/2019

No Question

I have switched off my answerphone. The thing we used to have before voicemail. Not a separate device, not quite that antiquated, but a landline connection ‘service’. This reactionary decision is the culmination of a concatenation of rabid hyper-marketing blunders. The answerphone ‘service’ would spring into action after two and a half rings. For me to issue cognitive demand and observe the statutory latency before my pitiful physical husk will spring into action and reach the phone in person takes at least seven rings. Therefore I was receiving a lot of frustrating messages:
—advantage of this FREE offer please dial 2 now.
Or
Sorry we have been unable to reach you. Please could you contact us at a time that is convenient to yourself on buzz clonk between the hours of distorted exhaling.
Or
Please can you call the health centre.

Has the practice computer spat me out as the winner of the monthly minor ailment lottery? Has my women’s invasive procedures number come up again already? More pressingly (shudder), why should I pay twice to get that information? It’s four pence per minute to make that call! On top of £1.80 per month! Plus VAT! And that’s without reducing to a monetary value my inestimable time and energy.

Dare I suggest that most of these messages are a waste of time even to listen to? My number has been registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) as ‘Do Not’ for many, many years. It used to be worthwhile – I mean, a maliciously satisfying experience – to keep a notepad of entrapment by the phone. When my blood was fizzing I would answer one of these irrelevant calls and persistently grill the hapless ‘agent’. I would note all their pertinent details and punch them into the TPS web form.

Initially the response would be helpful:
“TPS has notified the company you reported that a complaint has been received relating to a breach of the above regulation. They have been instructed to investigate your complaint and respond to us within 14 days of receipt of our letter of complaint. We have also asked that they do not make any more unsolicited direct marketing calls to your telephone number and that it is suppressed.”

I could hear stygian moans as the marketing monster was run through with my rusty skewer. I could hear sweat trickling as the ‘agent’ was spotlighted for sacrifice as an example the rest of the battery of oppressed operators.

But more recently responses have become jaded:
“Despite our best efforts, TPS has not been able to ascertain valid contact and/or address details to raise this particular complaint. … during the course of our investigation the company name and/or telephone number supplied is found to be fictitious.”

Fictitious?? Have they the temerity to suggest that I have nothing better to do than invent spurious marketing callers? As if I spend my time creating characters and scenarios! Tempting as this may be… in a reverse sort of way. But I’ll return to that idea. Backwards.

No longer satisfied by this expenditure of my precious time and energy, I resorted to simply not answering phone numbers I didn’t recognise. This is in addition to not answering calls when I’m in the toilet. Which happens often. The coincidence, I mean. I’m basically not answering the phone. Which brings me back to the thing that does. Did.

But let’s not overreact. Surely these things can be adjusted? No. This is where it all became hostile and polarised. Referring to my communication provider’s website, it seems I’m not the first person to seek to delay the answerphone’s doggy over-helpfulness. But, horrors! My communication provider admits to being merely a sheepish middleman in this unsatisfactory transaction. The actual service is provided by that paragon of customer-oriented quality and technical excellence: BT. Reference to BT’s website derives only the latest in a long series of customer disappointments: BT’s hair-trigger answerphone is not adjustable. In any way. Just no.

Slowly I succumbed to a surge of bile. For I have been inadvertently giving my small pile of groats indirectly to BT. Yet I firmly severed BT 10 years ago when I learned that (a) they were overcharging me in order to (i) bombard me with irrelevant marketing opportunities for which they would then erroneously charge me, and (ii) pour eye-watering sponsorship into irrelevant sporting occasions, and (b) their connectivity was no better than that of the gory strands that fall out of my womb every month. To BT or not to BT; there’s no question. I had been telephonically violated.

Victimhood doesn’t last long, however. Very soon it transmogrifies into evil plans. How to have my intricate and deliciously disproportionate rewengay… Introducing: the Questaphone(TM). Shortly.

Once hoisted into my loft, Providence will smile upon me: the first box I plunge my non-dominant hand into will give up not a dead mouse but the tape data recorder that accompanied my 1985 BBC 64K personal computer. I loved those 64Ks. I used every one of them. I would wake in the night and switch on the monitor to check it was still flickering with a coruscating cascade of coloured pixels. Progress advanced at a rate of one pixel every 10 minutes, pictorially representing carefully selected and previously uncharted territories of the Mandelbrot Set.

Rendering the full map of my specified coordinates in abstract space might not be finished until after breakfast. Which was just as well, because if I was too hasty or groggily malcoordinated in commanding it to print this magnificently, infinitely detailed design, the overheating processor would quiver, the monitor would collapse to anguishing black, and the night’s toil would be lost. Computer science lesson number one: they bust.

I also typed up my chemistry project on it – using a SodaStream to carbonate salt water. Not potable. This groundbreaking series of experiments would establish oceanic acidification versus the absorption of atmospheric gases depending on several unrealistic parameters. Not that anyone was paying attention to fringe treehuggery in 1989.

Shortly before that underrated thesis was complete, I literally bumped into the End of Space. Error. I had to split the document into two halves – title page to page 8 and pages 9-17 – and store both on the aforementioned tape data recorder. I could edit one half at a time. If page 8 spilled over, I had to write down those words and manually retype them on page 9. These days we grumble about the slowness of a device the size of a notepad as it hurls tyrannosaurabytes of data around the planet.

Aside from the nostalgia, what I’m after is the sound that tape data recorder made, to let me know it was faithfully reading data from the tape and passing it along to the computer, bit by careful bit. Except when the tape fankled. Computer science lesson number two: crunching and snapping means bust. That soundtrack is ingrained in my memory. Soon it will haunt every call centre that dares to disregard my Telephone Preference.

“Thank you for contacting me in 1986. Unfortunately I am not or was not or will not be answering the phone. Please find embedded in the electronic substrata of this call, undoubtedly recorded for training and quality purposes, the details of the hiding places of all my mountainous piles of groats.”

I have reverted to my grandfather’s assertion: “telephones are not for chatting; they are for making appointments.” Don’t call me. There’s no answer.

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