Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Greetings and Salutations! (What the hell does salutations mean, is it really necessary when you've already greeted someone. When you're in Scotland does to greet someone mean something else entirely, I'm thinking of the way that most Scottish football supporters spend their lifetimes, head in hands, blaming the manager and 'greeting' on each others person. I digress.)

Your kind host of theSlog has invited me to join as an associate blogger and as such i feel honoured to write here all that befits a blog such as theSlog. Some of my postings will follow much in the vain of previous posts, ie. pointing you to wonderful imagery and design sites on the thing they call the information superhighway, but perhaps with a slightly different flavour, and also to write to you with everyday curiosities of mine and with which i shall make my first entry...

I feel compelled to tell you of a new realm in the land of automated processes, now this might not seem too interesting at first but please, bare with me, it is a tale of the utmost importance in this world of technological advancements...

It was not a short week ago when i had the pleasure of indulging in some digital cable television watching. I was enjoying such fantastic programs as Frasier and Cheers, chortling along, cup of tea in hand and with a blanket spread over me in my favourite of lifes positions, lieing down on the sofa. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon I thought during one of the intermissions when i was rudely awakened to the shortcomings of a world where electronic goods seem to be developing human frailities. The screen went blank only to be followed by a message in a 'soft' lucida sans type font and sky blue background telling me that my 'NTL box is having issues' and that they (who exactly 'they' are is as much your guess as mine) 'apologise for any inconvenience concerned'. Shortly after the 'issues' had been resolved and no more than a minute later i was happily watching perfectly crisp and clear television before i had even chance to get out of my seat, twiddle any knobs or even hit the thing. Now I'm flustered, what kind of issues could an electronic box be having and how did it resolve them?! Not only that but i was completely thrown by the softly softly approach it seemed to employ to tell me of its troubles, a human trait i'm sure, wrapping up a problem with a sugar coating, or in this case, sky blue screen and a 'soft' font. Now I'm not the biggest fan of Microsoft but at least when your computer has a problem it has no pretense of trying to break the news to you in a nice way, it simply dazzles you with a royal blue screen, an archaic dos type font and a string of unfathomable characters, without any hint of an apology. That's how the world works, humans squirm and hide behind issues, eventually resolving them in a longwinded manner and electronic equipment has in your face errors that can more often than not only be resolved by pulling the plug out of the wall. Not any more my friends...

Now this story may have worried you slightly, I admit it is not something that should send you running for cover, but perhaps to think a little about a world where electronic goods become more human. That was where i was until yesterday, when a second event occured that has given me cause for a greater state of alarm...

I was going about my everyday business (albeit one i don't do too often) and trying to borrow some books from the library. Now many of you will know that in our library at Glasgow University there is no longer any need to queue in the tpically British fashion for half a day to take out a book at the lending desk because we have these wonderful shiny self-service lending machines. Throw your card on top of it, locate the barcode in the book (OK, this bit is sometimes harder than you'd think but anyway), scan and walk away with a receipt in hand telling you when to take the books back, fantastic. I've descended the stairs to Level 2 where the queue at the lending desk is huge but spy an unoccupied self-lending machine, you dancer. I throw my card down on top and start trying to locate the barcode in the first book i wish to take out (which takes longer than you would assume a person of university level intelligence should take), i look up and to my horror there is a sky blue screen and 'soft' font message staring back at me. I nearly drop the pile of books I'm holding, my wonderful shiny self-service lending machine is 'Having issues' with my library card. Warning bells, no, they are louder than bells, warning sirens, claxtons and someone shouting 'oowoooogaaa' bounce around inside my head. I'm waiting for it to suddenly resolve these issues, send me into a cold sweat and make me start running. Thankfully it did not, it simply told me to go and stand in that queue and to get a human to deal with my library card issues which i duely did. Apparently these issues were simply unpaid fines and i coughed up the money reluctantly and got my books.

These are certainly worrying times, alas the library incident did not unfold into a more troubling event where the machine resolved its own issues, but it was close. Now I'm not saying that self-fixing is necessarily a bad thing, but for a machine to have issues in the first place and then to be able to resolve them without any human input is to me a cause of alarm. I hope not to have to write of any more incidents where machines are having issues, but please, i urge you to write in if you come across any incidents of the same nature. It is only by close monitoring of this situation that we can stop it from worsening. The beauty of electronic goods is that they are predictable, or at least, like in the case of microsoft programs, annoyingly useless and prone to failure, they do not and should not behave like humans, if they do we're all screwed.

Yours worryingly,
gaz

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