Wednesday, August 23, 2017

AI or AS?

Artificial intelligence may well be the future but they will have to weed out the artificial stupids first. Consider the following email, not the first of its type, received here at Ramblings Towers this morning from a sender claiming to be in Belmont, California.

Want to simplify your multi-location phone administration? It asks me in the subject. Yes sure, if I had a multi-location phone administration system no doubt I would be looking to simplify it, but why I would wait until some chancer happens to email me about it is something to be pondered. Anyway, let us move on to the first couple of lines of the epistle.

Hi Thomas,

Because Bristow has multiple locations I wanted to follow up on my last email about your phone system.

There's nobody here called Thomas. And Bristow is a cartoon character about whom I have created an extensive and award-winning1 website. So what is going on? The program that has generated this spam email has grazed my website, found the first name on it and assumed that this must be a business. It is hard to think that someone writing code to support a mass spam-out to potential business customers could have come up with anything stupider. I assume it is a program, rather than some bored intern trying to flick through a long list of names from a directory or some such, because it would be apparent to any human, even an intern in California, that my website does not relate to a business. And that there is nobody called Thomas referred to in it. And that my real email address is displayed fairly prominently, so they couldn't even get that right.

I don't think I will take up the kind offer to phone them tomorrow, especially as they have not offered to accept the cost of the call. Perhaps if they offered some extra incentives then we might consider which of our many locations (bedroom, study, living room) could successfully leverage2 a new phone system. How about an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco for myself, Mrs. Commuter and Thomas? But if they insist we can leave him behind to look after our many locations.

1.  Bound to get one sooner or later so this is not as inaccurate as some may think
2. You simply have to insert this awful word into any business conversation with an American if you wish to be taken seriously. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Brian Aldiss

Very sad to note the death yesterday of Brian Aldiss, one of the finest writers of science fiction this country, indeed the world, has seen. When I first began reading SF, back in the 1960s, he was already a star. His Helliconia trilogy is the best extended piece of SF I have read, not just imagining alien civilisations on a planet in a binary star system with immensely long seasons and a complex biochemistry that has adapted to them, but in creating believable and sympathetic characters. And in Report on Probability A he achieved the equivalent of Waiting for Godot - a story in which almost nothing at all happens but which is compelling reading right up to the puzzling end with a single laconic line that makes you question everything that has gone before.

To a generation believing that Star Wars is the epitome of SF, Aldiss may be unknown. But I would take any one of his books against the entire output of Hollywood in this genre any day.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Limits of Belief

 Words change their meaning all the time in modern English. I found the misuse of one of them in the strapline of a petfood company advertising in the "colour" supplement of my weekend paper. It reads

       Royal Canin: Incredible in every detail                             
I have nothing whatsoever to say about the products of this enterprise. My pets comprise an unruly fellowship of eight goldfish who from time to time oblige me by surfacing from the inky depths of the waters on my estate [pond out the back: Ed] to consume some of the foul-smelling stuff I buy once a year to feed them with and I get the little pot from another supplier. But I digress. Consider the statement "incredible in every detail". What do you think they wish us to understand?
Incredible means not credible, unbelievable, outside the realms of possibility. It does not mean (or at any rate, should not mean) wonderful, brilliant, inspiring, boundary-pushing, 'gosh I wish I could do that' although these are perhaps the meanings the admen might hope we would attribute to it. Nor does it mean something that would be ok to post on Instagram and forget about within seconds, even though it seems some do indeed use it in this fashion. If you tell me something and I say "That's incredible", then I mean that I do not accept your statement. Thus;

"Darling, sorry I'm late, there was a traffic jam" is a fair statement.
"Darling, sorry I'm late, the bus hit a tree and it took thirty minutes for a replacement" is also fair.
"Darling, it's so exciting, I was abducted by space aliens, taken to a mothership and forced to drink four vodka martinis before they released me with a message for the leaders of Mankind" is incredible. Not in the sense of "wow, awesome dude" as our American cousins would perhaps have it. Incredible as in lacking any sense of believability, rubbish, a plain lie.

And so we turn back to the petfood vendors with whom we started. Every thing about this company is not believable, according to its publicists. Its claims about the value of its products. Its mission statements. The ingredients. Perhaps even the contents of its annual financial accounts. They have made it plain as can be - incredible in every detail. Not to be trusted or indeed to have any credence put upon them. Could this be their prawn sandwich moment?

Friday, August 11, 2017

New Look

I've chosen a new theme for this blog. The old one has been in use for a very long time. Maybe I'll revert to it or perhaps try something else. The Editor will be happy to receive any comments [Anything at all, really, don't be shy, I've very little else to do these days: Ed]

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Eating out the Caveman way

A compelling story in today's paper confirms that our Ice Age ancestors really did put human flesh on the menu. The bones found in Gough's Cave, Somerset, have been unmistakably cut up and defleshed deliberately.

Naturally archeologists and anthropologists will study all the evidence intensely and try to understand whether cannibalism was endemic at this time or a reaction to extreme conditions. The carvings found on the bones introduce, inevitably, the 'ritual' aspect. But there is another aspect of the whole affair that may be more relevant to the rest of us. If people were gathering to eat each other at this place, then surely they did it elsewhere, and were aware of the existence of other such places. And so they must have surely considered where was the best place to get a bellyful of the neighbours. Extensive and original research conducted for Ramblings has unearthed the following document, believed to have been nailed to a tree as part of the TravelCounsellor oracle much used in the early Stone Age.