Freelance Temporal Control

A friend was visiting from Saturday to Monday, so I used the amazing power of freelancing to declare Monday an honorary member of the weekend. Truly freelancing makes all our dreams come true! There was another day of Race for the Galaxy, beer, pizza, a couple of hours of Horus Heresy, (which experts will recognize as “just enough time to unpack, set up, then carefully repack Horus Heresy”), and much rejoicing.

Then it was Tuesday. But it was the first day back at work after a weekend, so it was effectively Monday. And I still had to do all the work from the real Monday. Fool that I was! My blatant abuse of power, my reckless tampering with the timestream had created a Double-Monday. And lo, I have suffered the worst karmic petard-hoisting in history.

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Small Village SEO and Venice of the Cotswolds

Last weekend saw us at Bourton-on-the-Water, where we found that the-Water was so shallow ducks could stand in it. Occasionally and eponymously ducking to drift down the thin sheet of liquid which was apparently so impressive it had named the town twice. Because Bourton-technically-on-the-Water also announced itself as “The Venice of the Cotswolds”. Narrowly beating out an old leaning wall which make it “The Pisa of the Cotswolds”, or perhaps a large pothole for “The Grand Canyon of the Cotswolds.”

All but the latest LED screens are still deeper than this image.

All but the latest LED screens are still deeper than this image.

I’ve nothing against any lack of liquid — the pub taps were still flowing, and a shallow stage of ducks is a hilarious soap opera I could watch all day from any number of beer gadrens– but it’s an example of how desperate a town can be for distinguishing features. And worse, how disappointing those features could be if they’re overadvertised. A town-long ankle wading pool is a cute feature, but anyone expecting a city of canals would look at the single solitary stream, almost superfluidic in its single molecule thickness, and think that they should have gone to Birmingham instead. And that’s a damning review of any holiday plan.

In an age of internet navigation you’ll take anything that pushes you up the search rankings. But the result was a town overstuffed with shufflers meandering in and out of toy shops, all overbudgeting their two-hour “look at the canals” plan by about a hundred and nineteen minutes.

What’s worse is that such SEO shenanigans are unnecessary because Bourton-on-the-Water has Birdland, home of the Cotswoldian King penguins. There’s no moment like turning a corner in the English countryside to get a faceful of King Penguin. Alas, Birdland indulges in its own over-advertising, since a sign saying “The only king penguins in England and Wales” is really saying “There are totally king penguins in Scotland”. Simply claiming that you had the only King Penguins in England would have been enough — England doesn’t have any rival kings of any kind — but pushing the borders of what could be claimed only reveals the existence the Braveheart Kings who somehow still threaten Sassenach Spheniscidae superiority.

"We don't know, we were listening to a Morgan Freeman audiobook and ended up here."

“We don’t know, we were listening to a Morgan Freeman audiobook and ended up here.”

Dr X Rebuilt My Flesh!

Realizing that my wife’s qualifications and initials made her “Dr X” was one of the greatest moments of my life. Since then I haven’t just been a writer, I’ve been the “Husband of Dr X!”, or even the “Genderbent Bride of Dr X”, because adding adjectives is a core principle of “Describe your own life as pulp science fiction”-fu. And “describe your own life as pulp science-fiction”-fu electro-zaps the toxic waste out of any other motivational strategy you can be bothered to mention. And there’s real X-rated action in how she’s enslaved me with her mastery of flesh.

They say that the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Dr X knows that’s a pathetic underachievement. She seized my stomach’s supply lines and used them to replace my every organ with agents loyal to her commands. She’s been in charge of my food for ten years, which means that almost every cell has been rebuilt and restaffed under her exquisite instructions. (Sure, some of the neurons haven’t replaced, but I don’t see my brain squidging very far without the rest of the body).

She’s always loved food, and the great thing about a doctor in molecular genetics is that even the most complicated recipe is but the simplest lab protocol. Most menus don’t require twenty-page procedures of acronyms or radiation treatments. Even molecular gastronomy hasn’t gone quite that far (although it’s only a matter of time until radioactive roasting replaces Fugu fish as the “I can eat this specifically because I shouldn’t” silliness).

Don’t worry about any stereotypes. This isn’t the woman doing the dinner because she should, this is the high priest bringing us the divine because only she is qualified to do so, and in return the mundane are happy to clean the cathedral, and the dishes, and take care of the laundry and clean the litterboxes and do everything else. Because  food achieves everything religion ever claimed: it gives me purpose in this world, it gives me strength to do what is right, it restores my spirits when nothing else can, and it tells me exactly who to obey and makes me happy to do so.

The Dao of Dick Jokes

In the Cracked columns we often refer to ourselves as dick joke specialists, which can sound self-deprecating, but only if you’ve never had a real job. Jobs are work! Sitting around giggling about funrods is about as far from real work as you can get while still getting paid. It even counts as research and development, advancing the frontiers of human knowledge. I spend a lot of time thinking of ways to widen the field with clitoris gags and other hot-button issues.

But how does it feel to do that for a living? Like those long pig sausages and tongue-testing stations, it feels pretty good. And the world can’t tell me I don’t have a proper job when it pays people to phone strangers and annoy them with insurance adverts.

A friend of mine is a writer, but her housemate is a stockbroker, so when she complained about staying up till two in the morning to finish an article she gets less sympathy than you’d find on a human-hunting expedition. “I was up until three closing a six million dollar deal!” he crowed. Which sounds important as all hell, until you realize those weren’t the stockbroker’s millions of dollars. If they were, he wouldn’t have been up until three. And he wouldn’t have been discussing them with his flatmate. Those dollars belong to someone else. Someone who used them to hire an employee to broke their stocks, in the same way they’d hire an employee to unclog their toilets.

I don’t work with millions dollars, and when I talked to mortgage broker they found “freelance comedy writer” slightly less attractive than “unpaid arsonist”, but as you work your way through to the arse-end of the day you have to digest what your job is really doing to the world. I get to make some people laugh. And I’m extremely happy with that.

The Most Terrifying Television

The scariest television I ever watched wasn’t a horror movie. Horror movies tend to be technical exercises, evaluating the special effects like a gymnastics judge in the Gorelympics. “4.5 points from the Cenobite judge in the 100 meters catch fire and run screaming before decapitation; good greasy smoke, but botched the cut between actor and unconvincing mannequin”. The clichés are always more painful than the injuries.

The scariest television wasn’t even the news report on a measurable decrease in the air quality of the UK due to pollution. Nor the resonance of watching this in an airport bar. No, the scariest thing was how that report then brought in a specialist to explain how that would be bad for business.

That’s terrifying. We’ve reached a point where poisoning the air isn’t just a real problem, but a problem they feel the need to explain, and the explanation they chose was that it would cost businesses money. “Not being able to breathe” is the first and most urgent problem any person can have. The only physical lack which could kill us quicker is a lack of absence of antimatter. And that one works too quickly to terrify. Breathable air is the most important thing there is, and the news had filed under financial news.

Imagine how they present other stories:

  • The unstoppable flesh-melting plague is expected to impact bikini sales.
  • Global thermonuclear war and its impact on the real estate market.
  • The asteroid on collision course with Earth is having a cooling effect on hedge fund investments.

It turns out the entire country gradually asphyxiating could cost corporations money in lost labour. Oh no! That’s the sort of shit which would make a Blade Runner shake their head at the inhumanity of greed. That’s half a step from telling you to be careful not to break your leg, because they want to use your femurs as low-cost furniture struts to seat your replacement. And they’re expected to start next week, so if you could get outside and take a few deep lungfuls that would really help the schedule, thanks.


True horror fans will enjoy 10 More Hellraiser Sequels, or if you want to see Luke in horrible situations we have Irish Rail and the Toilets of the Future.

Irish Rail and the Toilet of the Future

I spent some time on Iarnród Éireann last week because the only alternative was heading for the west coast on Irish buses. Which are only slightly slower and more painful than designing and building a cannon to blast your own ass straight up, impacting eighteen minutes later when the world has turned beneath you. The train arrived forty minutes late and missing a carriage, the staff cunningly combining the worst of all possible options: being able to delay the train while trying to fix something instead of being able to actually fix it. Nothing defines a transport network like saying “I don’t know if this will work, but I do know the passengers can suck it while I try.” The already late train then slowed down as the engine overheated, becoming The Little Train That Could You Give Me A Minute Here.

All this despite tickets prices apparently index-linked to the price of a palanquin carried by Olympic marathon medallists. So where has all the money gone?

It’s all gone into the crapper.

(This is where I’d show a picture of the toilet, if I was the sort of person who visibly took pictures of toilets while standing near doors of speeding trains I could be hurled from.)

I don’t have a picture, but trust me, these things are bigger than the train’s control cabin. They’re probably bigger than some of the crew’s apartments. I don’t know if the Sumo Transport Corporation sold off excess modules, but it’s a pooradox, because the only humans who’d need a chamber this big couldn’t pass into the train to pass into the toilet. It would have been more space efficient to beam excrement out of passengers with a full transporter bay.

The huge curved sliding door turns like the Earth, and about as quickly, and the automatic motors can’t be manually pushed. Because if there’s one door you want to have a chance of crippling failure it’s the one to the toilet. Let a robot give your newly lightened load a stately unveiling with plenty of time for eye contact with your impatient successor. They’ve already slowed down toilet access more than mathematically possible – the new chamber takes up the space of three regular toilets, and there are normally only two at the end of the carriage –  so the door helps them space ablutions out in time as well as space.

Once you’ve made it past the half-hourly opening of the portal, the natural instinct to lock the door faces three buttons the approximate size and frequency of traffic lights. Green to open the door, red to close the door, and another red to lock it. Because the builders (not makers, we’re on construction-site scales here) can’t aspire to such cunning as traffic lights. You’re given a whole zero seconds to work out the difference between red and green before being blared at by recorded message to lock the door. If Irish Rail have heard of comfortable interface design, they decided the toilet was no place for it. The male voice commands with the disgusted authority of, well, of a man who knows its now his eternally automated job to tell grown humans to lock the toilet door behind them.

Having gained access to the small mobile county of Toiletford you find the standard small toilet tucked in the corner. You get the feeling they’d built this chamber for an ornamental fountain before shamefacedly remembering the realities of filling people with tea in a sealed and shaking container. The vast unadorned floor is the most and least perfect breakdancing surface ever built.

The only possible reason for building this vast delay chamber (instead of the two most luxuriously spacious standard train toilets they could have included in the same area for half the cost) is some bogger being a bit too impressed by a product pitch. I know we all want the robotic future, but it probably shouldn’t be built by the the guy in charge of installing shaking shitshacks on a rail line whose primary PR message is “Aye, aye, we’re working on it.”

There is another explanation. Sliding armored panels, reinforced plumbing, and voice synthesis: that’s all we’d need to build a fully functional RoboGarda. I can only think this is a prototype to test how the components put up with pissing people off, and the opposite, in preparation for a Dublin night deployment.

UPDATE: Doy, of course it’s for wheelchair users etc. This has been my daily reminder of “Shit I take for granted, quite literally, because it’s not a problem I have“. Respect to Iarnród for implementing such accessible facilities so thoroughly instead of shoving a single disabled legal requirement into a corner behind locked doors.