Digital Ischemia

03/10/2019

Pratchett’s Prescience

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld counterpart for Capability Brown, Bloody Stupid Johnson, offers mindwarping clues to understanding our present political predicament

Lancelot Brown (born c. 1715–16, baptised 30 August 1716 – 6 February 1783), more commonly known with the byname Capability Brown, was an English landscape architect. He designed over 170 parks, many of which still endure. He was nicknamed “Capability” because he would tell his clients that their property had “capability” for improvement.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capability_Brown

Ironically his poor mother was too early to receive this assessment of potential, hence the inordinately long labour to bring Lancelot into existence. 250 years later, modelling one of his incidental, recurring characters on Brown, Terry Pratchett went three better.

Perhaps the Discworld’s most notable inventor is Bergholt Stuttley “Bloody Stupid” Johnson, an architect whose ability to get things wrong bordered on mythical. Although evidently able in certain fields, Johnson is notorious for his complete inability to produce anything according to specification or common sense, or (sometimes) even the laws of physics. This fact never stopped him from trying, however.

Johnson was not incompetent, far from it; indeed in many ways he was a kind of genius. Pratchett suggests on numerous occasions that he possessed a kind of “inverse genius;” as far from incompetence as genius but in the opposite direction. … While π ≈ 3.142 is a fundamental constant, in the backstory to Going Postal Johnson manages to produce a wheel for which π = 3 as part of his Automatic Mail Sorter. As with a significant number of his creations, the Sorter did work, but the implied distortion of space-time created some side effects, including the Sorter’s ability to sort mail (i.e. output sorted letters) that had not been written yet or might never be written.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_of_the_Discworld#Bloody_Stupid_Johnson

This has dazzling ramifications for the Westminster Plan to Make Britain Best Blighter Again, a slippery beast that no one person knows in its entirety and does not exist in the conventional sense. So, if we can distort the fundamental rules of space-time, the Plan may actually work, for certain values of ‘work’, and of course with some interesting side-effects.

The fact that [Johnson] continued to receive commissions after the defects in his abilities became apparent is considered to be the ultimate expression of the apparent thinking behind the Victorian follies, i.e. an indication that the person commissioning the work can afford to waste money like this.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_of_the_Discworld#Bloody_Stupid_Johnson

This is the first rational explanation for Brexit. Commissioning irrational, inept, inarticulate people to deliver this historic act of self-harm is the ultimate expression of British power. “We are so {insert current promotional superlative} we can afford to squander and destroy vast swathes of our resources and opportunities.”

No drawbacks really, just excepting that tiny wee issue: THIS ISN’T A FANTASY WORLD. It’s enough to make you wish for a transparent tyrant in the style of Lord Vetinari, but that’s just my personal fantasy.

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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.

24/08/2019

A Manifesto, by the Omphaloskeptic Party

As we were waiting on the stair,
For a chance that wasn’t there,
We saw a wolf and then a bear,
And third a pregnant mountain hare.

These things have disappeared from our biotically denuded, cartridge case-littered isle. Also apparently under threat is the pregnant human. The honourable member for Waitrose Helensburgh raised the concern that Britain is shrivelling – that is, the human population thereof. Not himself personally, of course, for he is deliberately concentrating all his energy into the head end, ahem, and what becomes of the rest is unimportant. But if the falling reproductive rate of females – currently around 1.8 children per female – continues, ultimately the British will cease to exist as a race. This is not a personal exhortation, of course; all tacitly accept that my eggs are quite addled.

The Party’s broad sweep over social issues includes views on abortion. Although there are strong arguments pro, the venerable patron of Paisley Podiatrix would not like to ‘undertake’ the procedure himself. This is just as well, since his current inventory of surgical implements comprises a dazzling array of sugar-encrusted kitchen utensils and a pair of pliers for stubborn fastenings.

Next the Marks & Spencer-moccasined member asserted that single parents are on the rise. This is simple statistics: as a nation we are losing interest in breeding. Completely missing the point, I countered that people will not stop having sex; life is hard enough. Opinions have changed little since the 60s, when any of Hrabal’s young beauties would tell you you might as well be buried alive if the man in your life has a faulty fandangle, which sounds even more, er, galvanising in Czech.

We swivelled our bradawl-like intellects to the ethics of childminders. Mothers are under pressure from the backwash of the suffragette movement to exercise every single one of their hard-won rights. They must return to work full-time as soon as possible. No matter that gender parity is a hormonal beast. Women are entitled to work as long as men, just not for the same pay.

However, women are currently entitled to longer maternity leave. And to wrangle to their heart’s delight with the Dostoyevskian dilemma of flexible working patterns. Anything less than full-time remains an admission of inferiority. A lack of professional commitment. So they grasp ‘compressed hours’ – full-time hours over fewer days. Leaving them a longer ‘weekend’ to engage in ‘compressed hours’ full-time parenting. Because if you’re working in order to pay somebody to look after your children, like every stage in any process of value conversion, something gets lost.

Consequently, with unanimous support, we propose to introduce both parity of paternity leave, and parity of pressure on fathers to reduce their working hours commensurate with their partners to at most seventy-five percent. Thus, by equally sharing the professional shame of being a parent, we can accelerate the depopulation of Britain, and allow its recolonisation by more intelligent mammals.

Quoth Beethaven “Leonore!”, lightning to strike thrice, and that concludes this manifesto on behalf of the Omphaloskeptic Party, brought to you in dysfunction with powdered fresh ginkgo biloba leaves.

18/08/2019

To Mount

I received a USB flash drive through the post. That was a fraught first sentence. I received a flash through my letterbox. An unexpected portable insertable. Trying to avoid proprietary labelling as well as euphemism. Thankfully I handle far fewer floppies these days. Lately I have been too close to the nerds again. Nerds are riddled with smut. And fantasy fiction. You have only to glance at the names of open source file types. Anyway, USB flash drive is the most universal, generic, non-proprietary, inoffensive name for those portable mini memories.

No return address, no post mark, no message, no branding. Immediately perturbed by the threat of unsolicited files carrying viruses, I left it in porch quarantine. After a few days curiosity got the better of me – Fool! – so I tentatively began researching how to virus check a flash drive before accessing any of its files. Surely you do this as a matter of course, using your up-to-date anti-virus software? I hear you cry. Ah, no, recall my first revelation about the open source fantasy netherworld. Things behave differently here.

I suppose open source software isn’t worth hacking because its users are few and usually more deviant than the hackers. She said, rustling a greedy paper bag of fate-candy. Paradoxically, open source users are also more paranoid. Accordingly I have set this post to auto-publish, lest the Fossoway area should be electronically sterilised by rogue agents or one temerarious idiot. This also serves as an inbuilt excuse for substandard writing.

All this time I was of course wondering what might be on the unsolicited infernal device apart from diabolical code: text document? Images? Audio? Video? Cutting edge writer’s software? Legal or not? Was I actually the intended recipient – yes, my name and address are on the box – but had this been put in the wrong box?

Could it actually be something positive? Pleasant surprise from someone I know? But they would know better than to send something so suspicious. Or would they? They might be being amusing. Or clandestine. Perhaps there was to be a clue sent via another route – yet to arrive or already missed. Maybe it’s not storage but a USB travel toothbrush, or something similarly insertable but more entertaining.

Perhaps I have a stalker. Somebody trying to be overly-intimate. Unlikely. Cryptic and creepy don’t usually go together. Really, if it’s something I would want, the sender would have made it more apparent. First rule of resisting marketing. Better to leave it as an enigma. More fun. Perhaps something will turn up that will explain it. And destroy all my hopes and dreams.

Eventually, the opportunity of a failing PC became irresistible. I backed up everything and disconnected all my hard drives. I mean I pulled out all the cables, wrapped them in lead, or cardboard, which was lighter, removed them to the other end of the house, and closed the door. Not taking any chances. Full force neurosis.

There was little of any importance on the PC. Apart from the archaeological history of my snacks over eight years. Not connected to anything, if it got infected or corrupted or liquidated it was getting wiped anyway. Or surrendered to the great acme magnet in the sky.

But there is a problem with old PCs: not always compatible with newer technology. After all, that is how the manufacturers keep you rabidly gobbling at that endless consumer conveyor belt. What an exquisite irony that a new machine could connect but could also be vulnerable to it.

Unable to mount USB flash drive error dialog box listing unintelligible error codes

So often my problem: unable to mount.

31/08/2018

Mirabelle the Admirable Red Admiral

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 16:00

(disclaimer: may not be female, admirable or red)

August is for visitations. Nature creeps in at me. One of my veg box salad bags turned out to contain beetroot leaves plus a bonus gold lamé bodystocking or chrysalis.

red admiral butterfly pupa

Eye-catchingly glamorous – apparently a red admiral butterfly in embryo. Chores were immediately sidelined in favour of entomology windowsill. Nothing happened. Advised to keep the effort hydrated, I gave pupa and leaf a daily drip of water. I couldn’t resist a light examination. This produced obvious inner writhings so I desisted. With no idea of pupation timescale or its likelihood of survival after several days’ refrigeration, inevitably I missed the emergence.

red admiral butterfly empty chrysalis

After a tense search of surfaces, curtains, plant pot, I discovered a crumpled, desiccated butterfly perched on my baffy. Repatriated to the windowsill, I plied her with water and sugar-water in bottle caps, and more beetroot leaves for shelter. None were attractive. I pushed a cap of water near her and she stalked off in the other direction until she became entangled in spiderweb by the plant pot. Mostly she was inert for such long periods I kept thinking she was dead until she moved again.

red admiral butterfly standing on beetroot leaf

Why do I involve myself in these unnatural nature observations? After a couple of days’ impasse, in desperation I refreshed the water and plonked a kiwi fruit end nearby. I even poured some water into furrows of a fresh beetroot leaf incase the caps were too high-sided. Instead she nodded into a discoloured puddle beside her discarded chrysalis.

red admiral butterfly standing on beetroot leaf

This crumpled husk dragging about a small plot and refusing conventional nourishment seemed disturbingly familiar. Apparently prompted by my pointless foutering nearby, she pushed her front legs off the leaf across the varnished sill, sliding and retracting in a sorry dance. Concerned for her falling off, I pushed the kiwi chunk across as a barrier. She uncurled her tongue and probed encouragingly. I left her to it. She had a good sook then left her mark. I don’t know if this is a good rating or an emetic complaint.

kiwi fruit piece post-butterfly

With this happening late in the evening, my mind was already birling loosely on its spindle. Was this butterfly paralleling not just my feebleness but also my fussiness for drinking dechlorinated water in a plastic free vessel? For fruit sugar rather than refined? Exhausted by my ineptitude and daft notions, the following day she retreated to a dried leaf hanging behind the plant pot.

red admiral butterfly on dead leaf

The next morning she was definitely dead. I recognised the tell-tale sign of a detached head. Caring for your chrysalis score: zero. Whichever god has me on their observation windowsill, I’m ready for my head-lopping now.

red admiral butterfly dead

Perhaps the crumpled wings and the abdomen twisted like a modelling balloon were signs that she was doomed. Where were the myriad spiders that habitually prowl this habitat? Perhaps I should’ve put her outside for a bird. I’ve seen sparrows going at butterflies like snakes eating eggs, although a little more quickly. Where was the universal recycler? Playing god is a tricky business.

Compost in peace, Mirabelle.

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