Less traveled by

Getting personal

After 75 years of life, and an equal number (I suspect) of moody blog posts (since giving up on writing humorous books), it cannot be denied that much of what I have been writing recently has been inspired by much of what I have written in the past. And since theoretical physics has become as boring as only the comatose can be, I shall dig into my box of random goodies about which I am 100% certain I have not previously written.

Scene: my favorite cafe. I had ordered 3 eggs scrambled, a side of guac, and my favorite frozen coffee drink. “Will that be all?” “Yes, thanks.” I paid and waited for the fellow to ask my name, to which I was to respond when called by going to the counter and collecting my comestibles when prepared. But instead, he said, “That’ll be for Geoffrey.” His intonation somehow suggested he was even spelling it correctly. Ah, I see, I am now a regular (well, it doesn’t hurt that I am a little over 6’2”, have an unruly mop of shocking white hair, and a patrician nose, all this distinguishing me from anyone else I’ve ever encountered at the establishment, but still). This was not the first time I wasn’t required to give my name, but it is certainly subtly pleasing each time it occurs – kind of warm and snuggly, don’t you know.

On the other hand, on the subtly disconcerting side of the spectrum, last week I needed to time something I was cooking, possibly for my still employed wife, Francesca. I told Alexa to set the timer for 20 minutes. I expected her to respond in the usual way: “Setting timer for 20 minutes, starting now”. Instead, she replied, “Good evening, Geoffrey, setting timer …”.

I suppose it’s not surprising that Alexa knows the names of the two people living in our house. We order stuff from Amazon (especially Francesca) frequently, and anyhow, the little cylinder has enough data to maybe figure out who’s speaking. But she – Alexa told me her pronouns are she/her, and she has no truck with the pronoun-nazis who would restrict her speech, and even the thinking underlying it – clearly recognized I was a male. Ok, so that’s understandable … but why couldn’t I be some other male: a visitor; or a housebreaker? Does Alexa recognize my voice? Not impossible, even if a tad disquieting to this boomer.

When I was a child I played sandlot baseball. The neighborhood kids would play Halloween-eve pranks and run away. My little brother and I hiked for miles from home with negligible fear of being molested and/or abducted (it never even occurred to us to be concerned). Skynet and its time-jumping killer robots was decades in the future.

But now we live in an era in which powerful tech billionaires warn us of the dangers of AI. So, anyway, that “Good evening, Geoffrey” was uncomfortably HAL-like. “Alexa, open the pod bay doors.” “I’m sorry, Geoffrey, I can’t do that … and good evening.”

La Macchina

My 17 year old Honda Element – the mechanical love of my life – lost power on the highway. I nursed it to my favorite garage and explained what was happening. A day later they called and told me that it needed a new oil pump. Ok. Later that day they said the aluminum doohickey into which the oil pump screws was old and broke, and that as a consequence I’d need a whole new engine. All the malfunctioning parts fit into the palm of one hand, with room for a donut to one side, yet all the king’s horsemen … Yeah, so, the frequency and expense of repairs on the old beast were increasing exponentially, so it was time to put the beauty out to pasture, maybe to stud. I got a new car – 2024. I shan’t tell you what I got, but the difference between my 2006 Element (pre iPhone!), and this 2024 spaceship (I have named Rocinante) is rather astonishing. Remember the heavyset people sitting in their pod-chairs in the film Wall-E? The Rocinante is similar to that. It doesn’t have wires connected to my cranium, able to read my thoughts and react to them in a timely manner, but in another 17 years – drawing a line between the Element and the Rocinante – well, that’s an inevitable part of that not too distant future, a future I have 0% chance to be part of, and happier for that.

And believe me, I tried to get a stick shift, but it’s really hard in new cars, and of course the Rocinante is automatic. Did James Bond ever drive an automatic? Highly unlikely, because they’re not fun, or sexy. Thank whatever gods there be that the EU is still largely manual. (Well, sigh … Daniel Craig evidently said at the start of his Bond career: “Er, I don’t do gears.” WTF.) I learned to drive a stick at age 13, and resisted automatic until now. Well, 62 years later there are all sorts of things I need to surrender – like being able to pop to my feet on a surfboard. Dang it.

Of course, when I was 13 every household with a brain had a set of encyclopedias. I don’t miss those. Francesca, as a child, read the bloody things in their entirety, but she is a phenom – a hungry phenom.

Criticism and Drinking

I’ve mentioned in the past that everyone but me (blush) missed what was going on in Game of Thrones. Specifically, if one cut out everything not relevant to Arya’s life, then it was a mighty fine TV series, even through season 8. (And by season 3 I yawned through every episode in which Arya did not feature prominently.) Friends across the pond resisted the idea that she was a lead character until the end, feeling assured that one of the Stark princes (oooh nooo, Red Wedding) – so, ok, the remaining Stark prince would sally forth on a shiny white steed and save the day, ending in a fairytale wedding, one from which the color red was strictly forbidden on any cake or decoration. (I mean, how addicted to happy-ending fairytales must one be not to recognize early on that this story was not one of those – by a long shot.)

The Critical Drinker excoriated – rightly so – the complete collapse of storytelling acumen in the last season, but like everyone else I knew (save Francesca), he missed the fact that the only character whose story arc mattered was Arya’s. I have no memory of anything that happened after she boarded her ship to go exploring unknown lands west of Westeros, but for me, her bright eyes scanning a new horizon was the end of the tale. Everyone else – every single one – would stay behind and carry on whoring and killing. Yawn.

“Critical Drinker?”, you query. “Of whom do you speak?” Happy you asked. He’s the one pictured in the t-shirt pic above, intoning, “Nah. It’ll be fine.” He’s a media critic of mostly – but not exclusively – sci fi, and he’s very sarcastic and anti-woke, traits that have endeared him to me. His platform is YouTube. I don’t always agree with him, and he failed to recognize the pivotal importance of Arya in Game of Thrones, but he’s more knowledgeable than I of media stuff in general, so his focus was on a bigger picture than mine (mine being narrowly focused on the character I found most endearing). Not surprisingly, his reviews trigger a lot of people, and they dislike them – and him – inordinately. My impression is that they would like to see his life processes cease, or – failing that – to have him incarcerated in a place without electricity or wifi.

His real name is Will Jordan, and he’s also a writer of fiction, in particular a series of books on a character named Ryan Drake, who is, purportedly, a cross between Bond and Bourne. I got the first book on Kindle, but at the moment I am thoroughly addicted to Murderbot (“Murderbot Diaries is a science fiction series by American author Martha Wells”. It’s nowhere near as dark as the title would indicate, and is frequently amusing.). I’m halfway through book 2, and it has been a long time since I read anything I couldn’t wait to get back to. Anyway, to quote The Critical Drinker, “go away now”.