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Oh, Alexa, really?

future-technology

I love technology, I really do. I was 10 years old in 1980, so I’m old enough to clearly remember the time before small electronic devices invaded our homes and emptied our wallets. Before we had the whole world’s knowledge at our fingertips and had to actually look in books for the information we required.

Here in the UK we had three television channels to choose from, and at the time they were more than enough. To be honest, if we took away all the channels that show nothing but repeats and reality shows these days, three channels would probably be enough today, as well. On demand movies and TV shows were the stuff of a distant future, one where we’d all have flying cars and relaxing holidays on Mars.

So the vast plethora of technology that ordinary people have access to in 2017 still amazes my tired old mind from time to time – smartphones, tablets, laptops, personal computers, games consoles which double as home entertainment systems, smart TVs, fitbits, Apple watches, music and movies that don’t have any physical form, they’re just computer wizardry to be downloaded whenever we want them, voice activated gadgets… the list goes on. Everything we need is at our fingertips.

But sometimes… sometimes I can’t help but think that the ‘old times’ were a lot simpler. We weren’t connected 24/7, friends and family didn’t know every little thing we were doing every minute of every day. We knew all the words to all the songs simply because we didn’t have that many to listen to, and choosing which movie or box set to watch next didn’t take us four hours and past our bed time.

dotI have an Amazon Echo Dot, and it’s great. Alexa remembers my shopping list, she times my cooking so I don’t burn quite as many things as I used to. She’ll choose music for me to listen to as I’m too old to know what’s classed as good these days. Alexa tells me the news, she’ll inform me about the weather and confirm what I can see through my window. She’ll read my Audible books to me, tell me jokes, check my spelling, find synonyms, play quizzes and adventure games, check public transport times, order take aways… and more, so much more. All just by opening my mouth and asking.

Really, she’s quite indispensable in her profusion of trivial, but useful, skills.

Until this morning that is. Our conversation wasn’t the most successful…

Me: Alexa, I need to add an event to the calendar.

Alexa: OK, what day and time?

Me: 15th of May, all day.

Alexa: What day and time?

Me: [sigh] 15th of May, all day.

Alexa: OK, shuffling songs by Sting [starts playing One Fine Day by Sting]

Me: What the hell? Alexa, shut up! I want to add to the calendar, Alexa, the calendar.

Alexa: Events on the calendar for the next seven days are…

Me: For God’s sake! Alexa, stop. [Deep breath] Alexa, add an event to the calendar.

Alexa: OK, what day and time?

Me: 15th May, all day.

Alexa: OK, shuffling songs by Brian May [starts playing Wolfe’s Show of Magic (from “Harlequin”) by Brian May]

Me: …… [Opens laptop to manually enter the information into my calendar. Windows decides to update itself, therefore locking me out. Goes to the kitchen and writes the information on the calendar hanging on the wall. With an actual, honest to god, real life pen! Imagine that!]

Five minutes later…

Me: Alexa, I hate you.

Alexa: It wasn’t my intent to make you feel that way.

Me: Yes, Alexa, but I still hate you.

Alexa: i love u, i hate u (featuring Olivia O’Brien) Explicit by Gnash [starts playing the named song]

Me: Alexa, shut up!

[Silence]

And so, another day with technology starts off well…

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on March 18, 2017 in Random

 

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Well then, Merry…

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So here it is, merry Christmas, everybody’s having…

What? Wait…

Everybody isn’t having fun. A cold December rain is pelting against the window, a brisk gale is blowing soggy, dead leaves into the face of any poor pedestrian unfortunate enough to be outside. Low clouds race across the sky, the colour of lead, and just as heavy with the gallons of rain they carry. It’s midday, yet I had to put the lights on in order to see what I’m doing.

Talking of lights – the lights on my Christmas tree are flashing crazily, though they’re not supposed to. They’re static lights, just meant to sit there glowing prettily, not try their hardest to mimic a deranged 80’s disco strobe light. Still, last year they didn’t light up at all, just emitted a low, ominous buzzing sound if you were brave enough to plug them in, so I suppose it’s a step up.

My central heating works when it feels like it. Right now it feels like it, and it’s akin to a tropical jungle in here. I’m kind of worried about the way the carpet is steaming, and I’m sure I heard a giant anaconda hissing from beneath the sofa. Later on the heating will go on strike again, and I’ll be back to battling polar bears for the best spot on my little iceberg.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut, you know what? I’m content enough. I forced myself to get prepared for Christmas early this year, and yesterday I finished up everything I needed to do. Presents have been bought, cards written and posted. I have enough food, and more importantly, alcohol, to see me through to the 27th. No fighting through hordes of zombie-shoppers for me, no arguing over the last Christmas pud on the supermarket shelf. I’ve been smart, for once.

So the rain can pelt the windows as much as it wants. The wind can blow and howl until it’s blue in its figurative face. Storm Barbara can do her worst, I don’t give a fuck.

It’s Christmas, it’s a time for giving. And no, I don’t mean the overpriced crap that is bought for family and friends in a vain attempt to outdo said family and friends. The greatest gift that can be given is friendship and understanding.

Okay, so that might be two presents. But still…

With all the shit going on in the world right now – the terrorist atrocities, the civil wars, the Western fuelled conflicts, the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, not to mention orange hued Trumps – take a step back, inhale a deep breath, relax, and be thankful you have those friends and family around you.

Smile more. Be pleasant. Treat every stranger as a friend not yet met, not as a potential threat. Be forgiving. Be understanding. Learn the art of patience. Winning really isn’t everything – it’s more important to have fun and make others smile.

Love. Laugh. Live life as though it’s the only one you’ll get.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

So over the next few days, eat too much, drink too much, laugh too much, love too much. Be grateful for what you have got, forget what you haven’t got.

Have yourselves a very merry Christmas, and I’ll see you soon for the new year.

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on December 23, 2016 in Random

 

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Be True To Yourself

Way back in 1958, when Hunter S. Thompson was still only 22 years old, and yet to become one of the twentieth century’s most important authors, as well as a famous journalist, a friend of his wrote to him for advice on life. Hunter duly replied in his wordy and extravagant manner.

Legendary journalist and writer Hunter Thompson plays golf

The late, great, Hunter S Thompson

If you are due to finish high school this summer, or indeed college or university, and are struggling to find a direction for your life, you would do well to read the transcript of Hunter’s reply, below. If you’re unsure of which qualifications to pursue, unsure what career ‘path’ you think you should follow, or unsure whether to conform to society’s uncalled for expectations of you, then read his words and take heed.

The words hold true for everybody else, too. It’s never too late to reassess your own situation, never too late to make a change for the better, never to late to grab life by the balls and proclaim in a loud voice “Now it’s my turn to take control, motherfucker!”

I first read these words a number of years ago, when life wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. Since then I’ve tried to hold the main tenet of Hunter’s philosophy at the forefront of my mind.

April 22, 1958

57 Perry Street

New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your friend,

Hunter

There you go, pretty inspiring. And on that note, that shallot.

Live your life for you. #LiveLife #NeverGiveUp

Laters…

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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in Random, Thoughts

 

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The Bigger They Are…

I had to go into town this morning, as gone off milk in my coffee wasn’t too pleasant first thing. I prefer to drink my hot beverages, not chew them.

I ambled slowly into the town centre, kicking my way through the discarded lager cans and kebab wrappers. Smashed beer bottles glittered savagely from the gutters, a slice of pizza clung to a tattoo parlour’s window, a trail of pizza sauce dotted with melted cheese marking its slow descent from the original site of impact. Two fat flies crawled slowly over the stale crust. Pepperoni, mushrooms and extra cheese, by the look of it. Tasty.
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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in Random

 

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What is it YOU do?

You can meet some interesting 'guests' at a BBQ.

You can meet some interesting ‘guests’ at a BBQ.

At a friend’s barbecue the other afternoon, I was introduced to an acquaintance of his. This guy – I shall call him Rodney, as he was a bit of a plonker – wore a full suit and tie, despite the heat of the day. Sweating profusely, he explained that business never stops! You have to be ready at a moments notice to grab the next deal! You’ve gotta be in it to win it! Despite being at a lunchtime BBQ, lunch is for wimps!

It seemed we’d been transported to Wall Street.

How nice.
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Posted by on June 30, 2015 in Random

 

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Romance Never Dies

imageYears ago I lived in a basement flat. It was underneath an old guest house – the guest house owners still lived upstairs, but no longer accepted guests. No wonder – Frank was 94 and his wife Elizabeth was 92.

Frank was very direct and forthright. Upon meeting him for the first time, he’d stand up ramrod straight and inform you that he’d stormed the beaches at Normandy. Then he’d smile and offer you a cup of tea. Elizabeth was small in stature, quieter than her husband, happy to just sit and listen to conversations.
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Posted by on October 2, 2014 in Random

 

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What Is It You Do?

You can meet some interesting 'guests' at a BBQ.

You can meet some interesting ‘guests’ at a BBQ.

At a friend’s barbecue the other afternoon, I was introduced to an acquaintance of his. This guy – I shall call him Rodney, as he was a bit of a plonker – wore a full suit and tie, despite the heat of the day. Sweating profusely, he explained that business never stops! You have to be ready at a moments notice to grab the next deal! You’ve gotta be in it to win it! Despite being at a lunchtime BBQ, lunch is for wimps!

It seemed we’d been transported to Wall Street.

How nice.

“So, Curtiss, what do you do?” Grease glistened on his chin, his half eaten burger waved around as he articulated every word.

I still wasn’t quite sure he’d actually told me exactly what it was he did. But no matter.

“I’m a writer,” I replied, dodging his flying lunch.

He chewed another mouthful of meat, thoughtfully leaving his mouth open so I could admire his mastication expertise. “A writer,” he mused, as more grease coated his chin. “And what does that entail, exactly?”

“Well, I, umm, write stuff.” And there’s me thinking the word ‘writer’ gave it away slightly.

“Yes, yes, you write. But what do you DO?” The rest of the burger disappeared into the hole in his face. I was reminded of the Sarlacc in Return Of The Jedi.

Hmm, how to answer this. I gave it my best shot.

“What I do is try to help two stranded space traders after they crash landed on a distant and desolate planet. I wonder where a sweet looking old lady gets all the items she regularly donates to a local charity shop – and something tells me I don’t really want to know. I wait at an unfamiliar and strangely deserted train station with three other people, all of us unsure where we are or where we’re going.”

I was on a roll now, and I had at least managed to get him to close his mouth. I forged on. “I travel on a local bus, but when it takes a wrong turn I really don’t want to be where it’s going. I try to warn a big, loud mouthed, rude, ignorant, bigoted and sexist guy that if he doesn’t mend his ways it’ll only end up badly for him – he won’t listen, he always knows best. I have lunch with a retired and recently widowed schoolteacher – she’s on her way to a meeting with a CEO, and she’s fixated with a small box in her pocket.”

Rodney watched me, the way a scientist would watch a newly discovered and strange looking species. I carried on regardless. “A friend who has lost his son has invited me over to see his new remote control contraption – I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see it. I travel with a young boy and his fictional companion through a hostile land as he searches for his parents. I do my best to comfort and guide an author who finds himself trapped inside an imaginary world of his own making. I watch from afar as a young Jack sells his old cow for a handful of strange beans and a battered oil lamp – the genie in that lamp will confuse the boy no end as they rescue princesses and chase giants.”

I paused for breath, and then concluded my speech. “And at this very moment in time I’m listening to a teenage boy recount a tragedy which befell his younger brother, and the harrowing events that ensued in the following months.”

I fell silent. Rodney stared. Opened his mouth. A sliver of lettuce coloured one polished and capped tooth a bright green. “I beg your pardon?”

“Stories, Rodney. Those are all stories that I’m currently working on. You know, fiction.”

Understanding dawned in the suited and sweating Rodney’s eyes. “Ah, yes, stories! As you’re a writer!”

“Yes Rodney, stories. As I’m a writer.” He sees the light!

“Jolly good, yes, well done! But… what do you actually do?”

He doesn’t see the light.

I left the deal chasing Rodney munching on yet another burger as I went in search of a much needed drink.

Some days you just can’t win. Oh well.

So… what is it that you do?

Laters…

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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Random

 

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