The rise of the robots

job 2

‘It’s the beginning of the end!’ wailed Mike. ‘You see, we’ll all be gone by Christmas. Unemployed!’

We all perked up at the thought.

Anyway, you’re wondering what’s happened to distress the usually calm and collected Mike. Our benevolent rulers have bought a robotic lawnmower. (Why the designers chose that name and not robomo, I can’t imagine.) Since Mike is our main mower, and as the oldest, gets a bit paranoid about losing his job (he has no need to, everyone loves him and our place of work would decay to a soulless husk within weeks without him) he sees the robomo as a direct threat.

‘Look at him, evil, lurking,’ said Mike as the happy little robot trundled along. The rest of us started making plans for googly eyes or deely boppers to decorate our new robot colleague, while Mike made plans for a terrible accident to occur. Our boss kindly informed Mike that this robot is not seen as a replacement, but as a way to free up our time for other gardening, but Mike isn’t convinced.

‘This is how it starts!’ he whispered to me.

Have any of you had to worry about automation taking your job?

When computers first started to get clever enough to do our jobs, they promised us a life filled with leisure instead of work. I don’t why that suddenly became Humans, you are obsolete! Keep out the way and starve quietly!

Complain! Complain! Complain!

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An allium

Any of you keeping track might know that I bought a new laptop a few days ago. And in many ways it is great – it doesn’t take half an hour to open Word, it doesn’t crash at the sight of WordPress and it’s not held together by elastic bands and bulldog clips.

However, there’s one small problem. When I was looking at the website, the size of the hard drive was listed as two different amounts: 1 terabyte (huge!) and 250 gigabytes (foolishly small). After reading the reviews and asking Hamoudi what he thought, we came to the conclusion that it had two hard drives and one was 250GB and the other was 1TB. We were both wrong.

So what turned up was a laptop that has only 250 GB of space, once I put photos and music on it, it was half full. So I wrote to the dealers, and said very sweetly, ‘YOU LIED TO ME’.

A nice woman wrote back asking for proof of the misleading website, which I sent, she said ‘Urrr, ok I’ll get back to you in a bit.’ I said ‘cool, btw I don’t want to return the laptop, I just want to be compensated for the external hard drive I’ll have to buy.’

Yesterday afternoon I checked my email, nothing. Then late last night the doorbell rang with a parcel for me. It was an external hard drive for 1 terabyte. No note, still no email, but exactly what I wanted. That they didn’t contact me to tell me it was coming made this an obvious shut up and go away gesture, which is fine by me, I love being paid off.

Complaining can work, my friends. Just don’t abuse it.

Word of the day: Gudgeon  – a person easily cheated

“there’s no defense except all the errors made”

 Charles Bukowski, Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit

How to be happy?

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Nothing’s happened for me to write about today, things are calm and quiet, but I have had one thought on what it takes to be happy:

I don’t believe there’s a universal secret to happiness, we’re too varied, one person’s blissful life is another’s miserable cage. So there is no rule book or map to follow, you just have to use trial and error to work out what’s right for you. Experiment, explore, ask questions. And then, when you’ve found the life that gives you peace and meaning, you have to develop the strength of mind to ignore all the people telling you you’re wrong about it.

Hopefully tomorrow there’ll be the usual ridiculousness to write about, I’m not much of a philosopher.

The image is a face sculpted in sand taken next to the Thames.

My Flu Hell! (It wasn’t too bad really)

I can never fully commit to a clickbaity title.

Flu
Flu virus image from AJP.com.au

I haven’t written much over the last week because I’ve had flu. It wasn’t too terrible, although I suspect this is mostly down to luck, since my flatmate has had a horrendous time. However, not having had flu before, I was surprised that it’s distinctly different from a cold in a few unexpected ways. Not all flus are the same of course, but these symptoms seem to fit fairly well with the NHS guidelines, suggesting that they’re typical. I’m posting about them in case this would be of use to some of you. Whether you need to know what to expect with your own bout of the lurgy or need to convincingly lie about symptoms to your boss, either way, I’m here to help.

Unexpected symptoms of flu

You can’t sleep. The first sign that something was really wrong was waking up about thirty times in one night, with a few hours spent just staring at the ceiling. I managed to snatch a few hours in the week by dosing up on Night Nurse, but it wasn’t until I started to get better that I had a proper night’s sleep. I couldn’t sleep in the day either, which meant the hours went really slowly.

You can’t do anything. I wasn’t so ill that I was stuck in a bed all week, instead I was stuck in a chair unable to move and very bored. Normally I don’t have the patience to watch TV, but for the past week all I’ve done is stare at Netflix like a zombie. I’ve watched Dirk Gently, Sense8, The Good Place and Community, and it’s sort of been fun. Unfortunately I was quite enjoying Sense8, but now I doubt I’ll be able to finish the series because my attention span has returned to its natural scattered state.

You feel queasy all the time. Neither me nor flatmate actually were sick, but we both struggled to eat. Usually we have fairly vegetarian diets, but neither of us could eat any vegetables. Instead he ate very little and only sausage rolls, and I ate considerably more, but only roast chicken and bread (and chocolate and ice cream, cos there is no illness that can keep me from those). I still can’t face milk.

You lose the ability to gauge temperature. The first day I got sick my teeth were chattering so hard I’d thought they’d break.  At other times I’d be boiling with fever, until the paracetamol kicked in. Then I’d become just warm, except the heating in my flat struggles when it get’s below five degrees outside, and I definitely shouldn’t have been warm. Even yesterday, when I went back to work and the sky dumped an inch of snow on me I didn’t really feel cold. I’m hoping it’s a symptom that sticks around for a few more weeks.

The cough is very annoying. And painful. It’s a dry, pathetic sounding cough (think Zoolander when he thinks he’s got black lung) but I keep getting stuck on a loop where I can’t stop coughing until I can’t breathe and my head is pounding.

The only other symptoms are: a sore throat that feels like I’ve swallowed a golf ball on fire, and shooting pains through my arms and stomach. Oh and moving reeeaally slowly, getting out of breath if I have to climb any stairs or pick anything up.

Now all I’m left with is the cough, so I think it’s fair to say I’ve been let off pretty lightly compared to many.

So over to you all, any of you had flu recently? Or have you never had it, and like a colleague of mine, suspect all flu is just colds for whingers?

 

 

What It’s Really Like to Not Get Catcalled

Juda's code014

This is a huge lie: “You’ll miss getting hassled in the street when it stops happening.”

When I was younger (teens, twenties and thirties), I frequently got harassed in the street. It was probably because I walked a lot on my own – I did this because it was, and still is, one of my favourite things to do, a time when my imagination can let loose and fly. Harassment would vary from shouts, to being chased by cars, to being followed on foot; from a friendly chat that would slowly, inevitably become aggressive to being grabbed. It felt relentless and meant that I always kept my head down and tried not to look anyone in the eye. On a couple of occasions when I accidentally looked up and caught the eye of a passing stranger, they turned around and started following me so that I had to hide in shops to avoid them.

I’m not particularly good looking and I’ve never dressed in a sexy manner, I was just a young woman on her own, walking around. And I hated it. Not only because it was scary and dangerous at times, but also because it interrupted my flow of thoughts with something tedious and banal. However, when I complained, what many men and women told me was:

“You’ll miss it when you’re older and it stops. Then you won’t feel attractive any more, you’ll feel invisible.”

And since I’ve noticed this is a common message in our society, I would like to point out,

It’s absolute bollocks. Not being harassed is fucking great.

Firstly, I haven’t become invisible. People, more often men, still make eye contact, but instead of this leading to trouble, it leads to something mellow and friendly – maybe a smile, maybe a hello. It’s lovely, and because I don’t have to worry about it suddenly turning nasty (which almost always used to happen, and never happens now), I can feel safe making that eye contact. I don’t feel invisible, I feel like a normal member of the human race amongst other normal members, instead of feeling like a frightened mouse with a flashing light on my head drawing in trouble.

Secondly, I know we are taught that how you look is incredibly important if you’re a woman, but people ‘being attracted’ to you is a pain in the arse a lot of the time (I put ‘being attracted’ in quotes, because I’m not sure that’s really true, it’s more that you’re present and female). Useful if you want someone to fancy you, sure, but when I’m walking around with my head in a daydream, I don’t want anyone to fancy me. I’m busy.

And finally, I didn’t feel attractive back then. I think having constant comments on my looks made me too aware of them. Even if all you hear are compliments, it makes you aware of your flaws, tense about the prospect of not being attractive, so the result is you feel unhappy with your appearance. Now that strangers are polite and disinterested enough not to interrupt me to tell me how I look, I just don’t think about it that often, I can keep my thoughts to things I actually care about, such as rambling on like this.

Bust magazine image
Image: In the Crimean city of Sevastopol, February 29, 2012. Reuters/Stringer

TLDR: I’m aware that most men don’t harass women, but it is surprising the number of men and women who still think it’s not a big deal, not worth complaining about. When women do speak out (which they’ve been doing a lot recently) others get quite annoyed with them, “It’s only a compliment!” they say. My point is, I don’t think street harassment is just annoying and occasionally harmful, I think it buggers up how all people connect to each other, it makes both men and women angry with each other. Not getting hassled means that women can have calm, friendly connections to others, and it takes some unnecessary tension out of life. Which seems like a definite good thing.

Anyone else feel the same? Anyone think I’m talking nonsense? If so, why? All comments welcome, I love a chat.

 

Just Brush It Off! (Sexual harassment at work)

Weinstein

Sexual assault in Hollywood has been a hot topic for a while now (Weinstein et al). I’m a bit slow to form an opinion, so I’ve kept quiet, but just when it seems the story has finished, a new victim steps forward and tells of some horror that happened to her (or occasionally him). I think I’ve finally worked out how I see this, so here’s my take.

On the whole, people have reacted to the Weinstein stories with disgust, surprise and anger which is good, although how surprised people have been that this happens has surprised me. Fortunately there are plenty of women speaking out to say that this is not an isolated problem, this is endemic to almost all workplaces, which is definitely my experience. However, I think there is a danger of the discussion getting diluted, with one line of thinking being:

But a lot of these experiences are not a big deal, why does it matter if someone puts his hand on your knee, just brush it off!

I do understand this line of thinking, because most of experiences I’ve had weren’t a big deal at all, and I wasn’t bothered by them.  However, the point is

                                 NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

No harassment, no matter how small, makes the world a better place, and while most instances might be nothing much, the accumulation of many many instances makes life more difficult than it needs to be, it drives a wedge between people, it wears them down. In a workplace the focus should be on the job, with a degree of professionalism as the norm. And each small instance makes the big, serious instances more likely to happen, because they normalise wrong behaviour.

For me there are two straightforward demands that should come out of this, and apply to all people of any gender and in any job:

  • Professionalism should exist in every workplace, and no sexual intimidation should ever happen. No one should have to fend off unwanted advances. Focus should be on the job, it shouldn’t be sexual at all. (I realise there may be exceptions, after all many people meet their partner at work, but I don’t think it’s extreme to say that actual sexual interaction and banter should be kept outside work, so that people can choose if they are part of it or not.)
  • A level of polite respect should exist between strangers in the street. No one should be demanding attention from strangers without good reason. No one should be shouting any insults, personal remarks or trying to touch a stranger. This also goes for racist or disablist comments too, or just personal comments to a stranger, why is it necessary?

I’d be interested to hear if you have some disagreement with those requests, maybe you think they’re too extreme and controlling. I believe much of how we treat each other (superficially, at least) is down to habit rather than some innate ‘rightness’ or inevitability, and so if the current habits are harmful, we need new ones.

So anyway, when people shout about the smaller incidences that have happened to them, it is not because somebody touching you on the knee is traumatic (usually, anyway), it’s because there needs to be a change to how we treat colleagues and strangers, and that includes the small stuff.

But why do the protestations have to be so shouty and demanding? Why can’t everyone make the point calmly?

This applies to not just this issue, but a few other matters of discrimination affecting small groups. It’s natural to recoil when you hear someone being unpleasant, even about  a legitimate grievance. However, I believe it’s essential to be shouty in order to bring about change. The thing is this:

PEOPLE DON’T LIKE CHANGE

And altering how people work together and interact, is a massive undertaking. In the past mistreated people have reasonably and calmly expressed that there is a problem in how they are treated, which sometimes lead to others thinking ‘Oh yes, that seems unfair’. However, because people don’t like change, just thinking this didn’t alter their behaviour at all. Everything stayed the same.

It seems the only way to get people to change is by making ‘staying the same’ more distressing than making a change. An effective (if highly irritating) way of doing this is by being loud, obnoxious, demanding and unrelenting. This is what I believe we are seeing at the moment, and it seems to be working. When change happens, which certainly seems more likely now than ever before, then all the demanding can stop.

However, my opinion is always a work in progress, if you spot any flaws in my thinking, or have anything to add, please comment below, I look forward to hearing your take on this…

 

 

 

Doing Christmas Your Way

 

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A Mexican Santa

Here’s to the Rebel Christmas!

Here’s to all of you who do Christmas your way. And all of you who don’t, but want to.

There are many rules for Christmas: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, crackers, decorations, cards. And then the rules within the rules about how to do each of those things. It can end up being exhausting and stressful, instead of merry. For me, the best Christmases have been when I’ve abandoned the rules and found a new route through the festive season. A rebel Christmas doesn’t have to be anything fancy, it just has to be what you and those you’re spending it with, truly want.

Whether it’s huddled around a two-bar fire with your loved ones, with the only decoration a Christmas Cabbage tree (with tinsel); or on your own, eating chocolate pudding in the bath and singing along to the radio; or a rowdy drunken family Christmas shouting at the telly, the turkey, and each other.

My favourite Christmas was also one of the toughest. I had just moved to Mexico City with a guy I barely knew. We had had plans of finding work, but Christmas is not a good time for that, so we found ourselves broke and living in one hotel room. The streets were filled with sparkling coloured lights, but unlike home, these lights all played Christmas songs in bleeps, most of them slightly out of tune, all of them clashing. We saw Santas climbing up the side of buildings, reindeer on rooves. We went to markets and saw row upon row of little white Jesuses, and then row upon row of little black Jesuses. Mexico City loved Christmas. it was fun, but also threw into sharp relief the fact that we had no idea what we were doing or how it would work out.

We couldn’t afford to go to restaurants, and were living off cake; mountains of cake. We even tried the ham and sugar glazed doughnuts that the bakery sold (an incredibly inventive place). My companion, let’s call him Spider, got sick a few days before Christmas. So I found myself venturing out into the polluted, bewildering streets of Mexico to find something to cheer him up. I found strawberry yoghurt and a bookshop that sold books in English. I bought some spy novels and a Mills and Boon.

On Christmas day itself, we had a feeling of fearful doom and displacement, but together me and Spider fought the blues and spent the day reading our new books to each other in silly voices. We treated ourselves to a meal (with vegetables!) and the TV was showing the film Night at the Roxbury. It’s not the most sophisticated film ever, but it was just the kind of daft, joyous nonsense that we could deal with. We weren’t sure we were going to survive Mexico, but we were sure as fuck going to enjoy Christmas.

(note: we did survive Mexico, it’s an amazing city and once Christmas was over it wasn’t so difficult to find work.)

So to everyone making their own celebration, whatever you call it, however you do it, Merry Delightful Christmas to you. Relish every small delight on this day, when all the usual humdrum stops and can be replaced by whatever.

Reasons to be Cheerful part 2

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Not a picture of me, but a beautiful lady I met in Mexico many years ago, who was growing older with style and grace (which I won’t be doing)

Continuing my looking-for-good-things on Mondays…

It’s very easy to get down about getting older, we are told to feel as if life will end when we get old and decrepit, but this week I have been compiling a list to put me in a good mood. My plan for when I’m too old to work and gad about:

Computer games – I’ve played them on occasion, they’re quite fun, but they just seem to eat time and when there are so many things I want to do while I can, I tend to avoid playing. However, once I’m old, and computer games are even more advanced than now, then I’m throwing myself into them with abandon. Fighting zombies in a bombed-out city with a machine gun? Brilliant. Going virtual diving in the sea looking for buried treasure? It’s going to be incredible.

It won’t matter that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket – well, it probably isn’t doing that any more than it was when I was young, but I’ve spent a life time stressing over global warming and nuclear war and when I’m old that can stop. I’m not saying those things won’t matter to me anymore, but my time of being able to do something to fix them will have passed; it won’t be my world anymore so I’ll stop fretting.

Vanity – I’d say on the whole I don’t worry about how I look. The last time I got a haircut was in 2000 and I haven’t worn make up in years. However, there’s still a small part of me that panics that I’ve got something stuck on my tooth, or that my clothes look scruffy. When I’m old, I’ll look any which way I want and it will be called eccentric, people will excuse my odd appearance with fond, patronising smiles. It will be wonderful. As the poem says, I will wear purple.

Alcohol, drugs and smoking – I used to be a bit over the top with drug-taking and self destructive behaviour when I was younger, in many ways it was great. Then I grew up and became super careful, concerned I might cause myself long-term harm. When I get old enough for long-term not to matter anymore, I will make the most of this. It will be ace, I’ll be a tripping, smoking junkie granny. There may even be some exciting new drugs by then.

These are just a few of the things that no one seems to mention, and there are still all the traditional reasons to be happy – family, going on holiday (if you’re able) and even studying (my mum got her degree when she was seventy). So how about you? What’s going to make your twilight years a joy?

Gone Girl – A Tale of Abuse

gone-girl

There’s been plenty written about Gone Girl, about whether it is feminist, anti-feminist, post-modern and so on, but I’ve not seen anyone talking about how it seemed to me – a story of domestic psychological abuse. The victim in the story is worn down, isolated and humiliated while the abuser is manipulative, controlling and demanding. However, this is not seen as a story of domestic violence because the victim is a man.

For anyone who hasn’t read it, the tale is of a woman who marries her ‘perfect’ man and then tries to change him. When he doesn’t change in the way that she wants, she slowly destroys him; then disappears and frames him for her murder. The book is about him trying to prove his innocence.

At first when they get together, Amy pretends to be someone she’s not  (the ‘cool girl’) and when her real personality comes out – uptight, bitchy, controlling – he doesn’t like it and she takes this as a rejection and betrayal, for which he must be punished. From Amy’s point of view, she is the wronged party (which is common with abusers), she doesn’t accept that she started the relationship with a lie. Everything he does is taken as a slight. She sets him tests that he can only fail, and then instead of discussing it with him, she acts hurt; putting the blame for a situation she created, onto him. He learns to be constantly wary of letting her down, but her moods are so unpredictable, he can’t avoid getting things wrong. She isolates him from the people he loves, she belittles him until he starts to doubt himself. She slowly and deliberately breaks him, so that he becomes emotionally numb and dependent on her as the only one who can make him feel. If the genders were reversed, there would be no doubt that this was a well-written tale of abuse.

What set me thinking about this again was seeing a friend a few days ago. This friend has been in an abusive relationship now for over a decade. His wife is like Amy, in that she has a need to be perfect and believes that she is and he is not, so he must change. She insults him in front of his friends, shoves and pokes him, and blackmails him (if you leave me you’ll never see the kids again). Some of his friends think she’s a bitch, but no one acknowledges that this is abuse. Crucially, he doesn’t recognise this as abuse, and is now so worn down believing himself to be deserving of her scorn, that he can’t walk away.*

I think we are reaching a point where it is acknowledged that domestic violence can include women being violent towards men, but psychological abuse towards men is never labelled as such,and is even made a joke of. If a relationship is manipulative and isolating, and involves the slow destruction of one person’s psyche, then it is abuse.

More disturbingly, women are often encouraged in society to change the man they love. Instead of pursuing their own ambitions, they are expected to live out their dreams through their male partner. I’d have hoped this would have changed now that women have careers and passions outside the home, but it still seems to be a normal part of society. Of course, we all want to change small things about the ones we love when flaws affect us: persuading your partner to be a little more careful with money or a bit tidier; but these should always be minor details in a relationship built on genuine love and respect for who the other person is. And it’s a two-way street, a discussion, not a demand. If you genuinely don’t think someone is good enough for you, if you don’t respect their hopes for the future, then don’t marry them. Trying to ‘change your man’ to fit your own ideal is abusive.

My friend’s wife recently said to him,

“You were always intended as a project. I married you because I thought I could make you into something great. You’ve failed me.” To her, this is completely reasonable. Sadly, he now sees it the same.

Until we recognise that women can be perpetrators of abuse and that that abuse does not have to include violence, there will be no chance of stopping it. If we want equality then we must recognise that men can be vulnerable and that a relationship is about mutual respect and acceptance of each other’s failings, as well as a celebration of our differences. I think Gone Girl highlighted this brilliantly, it seems a shame that no one picked up on it.

*I feel I need to explain, my friend is not a submissive or weak man, he has always been funny, confident and tough. To look at him you would never think him a victim. I’ve found this is often the case with abused women also, it seems that if you and everyone else believe you can’t be a victim, then you are more likely to become one. Perhaps because your abuser’s interpretation that they are the victim fits better with your belief that you are strong.