Sunday, 7 November 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)

I was a bit put off the first time I heard someone describe white wine as ‘dry’. It certainly isn’t dry. It’s a fucking liquid. It is most definitely WET. Describing a wine as dry makes me think of a Jacob’s cracker type of texture, something so dry that you have to gulp down water along with every sip. Or a bottle somebody filled with sand and then labelled it wine. THAT would be dry. That’s what I think of when something is described as dry. As it goes, while wine might not be as wet as, say.. water.. it’d take the harshest moisture critic in the world to describe it as “dry”.

It was, after some drunken arguing, explained to me that dry in this context meant bitter and tangy. So who made that call? Who said ‘dry’ suddenly meant that? So it seems at some point somebody was drinking wine and thought “I need a brand new word to describe this distinct kind of flavour”. But no! Apparently the dictionary is already filled with silly words like “quoin” (an external corner of a wall) that there’s no more room for wine-specific words. So what he did is just added another meaning to a word that already existed. There’s no real policy against that. If a person starts being a complete frinzledart and inventing words left and right then he’s either declared a Shakespearean-esque genius or a pretentious turd. (I am willing to bet Shakespeare himself was at some point called a pretentious turd in his day). But if you start randomly adding new, different meanings to already existing words, then no-one even bats an eyelid! The hypocrisy is very varnished. It’s practically decaffeinated!

When someone first described a musical note as “sharp” did a nearby listener back off, afraid he might cut himself on the sound waves? I think these alternate meanings trickle into common usage annoyingly well. A specific term previously reserved for angles greater than ninety degrees now means anything indistinct or dull.

But these double-meaninged words only allow meanings to be tacked on if there is no room for confusion between the two meanings. If someone described one of their friends as ‘sweet’ I wouldn’t immediately start thinking they were sugary and delicious. I wouldn’t start vigorously licking their face. Well depends if it’s a girl or guy really. And this is my exact problem with describing white wine as dry! There IS confusion between the meanings. If the word used to mean bitter-when-describing-wine was, say, “leafy”, then that’s fine, you aren’t going to start thinking your wine is a tree, because the meanings are so far removed from each other – in the same way you aren’t going to run into shade and have a chilled drink if your friend points out a hot girl coming down the street. But ‘dry’ is a word that is used precisely to describe how liquidy something is – to then apply that to a liquid but say it has a different meaning altogether is just haphazard. How would you describe wine that is particularly sandy? People would start thinking you meant bitter!

The person who came up with ‘dry’ humour had the right idea; no-one is going to start thinking his jokes need more water added to them.

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)

Choosing a pet is a tough decision. Before you can even reach the life-changing choice of Johnny Brown-with-black-spots or Timmy Black-with-brown-spots you first have to decide on a species. While my lady friend insists cuteness is the most important attribute to consider, I don’t entirely agree. I think that a pet has to have some sort of usefulness; like protecting your home from burglars. So our choice of pet is stuck somewhere between a puppy and a rhino, with (some great advances in genetic sciences notwithstanding) no compromise in sight.

The good thing about a rhino above, say, a guard dog, is that it’s sure to finish the job. No fucking burglar is going to survive that onslaught. You may worry that having a burglar-decimating pet might lead to some troubles with the law. But I don’t think so.. I think as long as you have a big clear sign outside your house you aren’t liable for the safety of intruders. And the best thing is that no-one will take seriously a sign stating “WARNING: RHINO INSIDE”. They’ll glance at it, think it’s a joke, break in and end up with a hole the size of a baseball bat in their forehead. HA. If you add “WITH BIG HORN” to the sign they’ll probably take it even less seriously.

Your only challenge then is to teach your pet rhino the difference between you, your friends, the mailman, the milkman, Santa Clause (DON’T impale) and burglars (DO impale). The easiest way is probably just to teach it to gore anyone wearing a hoody. This doesn’t allow for the possibility of having hoody-wearing friends visiting, true – but let’s face it, that’s never gonna happen.

After some pondering I thought of a possible compromise between house protection and cuteness. Perhaps we do get a bunny! Say, the cute one, with little spots on his nose like freckles (no-one wants an ugly bunny – unlike ugly ducklings they don’t form great protagonists). Let it do bunny things, as and when it pleases, but there’ll be one small addition to his hutch; a panic button. Then it can act cute all day long but as soon as some hoodies arrive on the scene it leaps and presses the panic button with his furry paw, which, like burglar alarms, contacts the police directly. Problem solved, your cute bunny has brought justice to these scummy hoody wearing burglars.

.. The only tiny downside is correctly teaching your bunny when and when not to press its button. ‘I’ve run out of carrot’ doesn’t count as a police emergency, bunny. I guess the same applies to teaching rhinos not to disembowel the milkman, but in the bunny’s case it could result in police forces being diverted from genuine emergencies. “News at ten: fourteen toddlers decapitated in nursery massacre. Police rerouted from scene moments prior to deal with “a minor lettuce crisis”.’

Instead perhaps a ‘bunny’ division could be formed at your local police station. They deal exclusively in bunny-crimes: whether it be hoodies invading the flat, misplaced cabbage or simply baby bunnies neglectfully hopping on the alarm. The bunny detectives will be there, ready to respond, day or night.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)

Snuggling in bed with my lady friend, I find her cuddling up close; so close in fact I am falling out of the bed. “What are you doing here?” I inquire; we have four pillows and a large quilt for a reason. I religiously stick to my half of the bed. “I want to be wherever you are” she replied. “So if I left the country..?” I said. “I’d find you!” she said. Worrying as the prospect was, it made me think about how far one would travel for a loved one. If I smuggled aboard a NASA mission to the moon, on Apollo 50 (or whatever number they’re up to) would I later find Apollo 51 landing with my lady friend aboard, financed by her, their priority objective to reunite us?

I doubt she would have the money to buy a space rocket, but certainly there are genuine ways to exploit (for the greater good of course) a person’s desire to be close to a loved one. Put a man’s wife on an island and he will build a boat. Put her on the other side of the universe and surely he’ll invent interstellar travel! My plan is thus, find an extremely intelligent scientist, kidnap his wife and fake an alien abduction. It’d have to appear pretty genuine. Not just a piece of paper glued with cut out magazine letters saying “goT YouR wife – come tO GalaXY M87 in tHe viRGo ClusSter iF U wAnt hER bACK!!!”. But like genuinely convincing. Hired actors could provide convincing eye witness testimony, that they saw the house surrounded by bright lights and floating objects. News teams would be brought in to cover the event. A few top figures would be in on the plan, but having reporters themselves flabbergasted at the event would add huge amounts of plausibility to the story. His house would be burnt down. A charred skeleton of the maid could be discovered (faked or real, no matter; she’s probably Mexican) amongst high levels of radiation. And best of all some mocked up camera-phone footage of his wife being taken, alive, by unknown alien figures.

Then of course you put the wife, blindfolded, in some underground cell for the following years, while Mr. Scientist becomes obsessed and fanatical. He spearheads a project to follow the alien ship’s ‘radiation trail’ (another fabrication of course) across the galaxy to a far off solar system by inventing faster than light travel. His determination would be unrivalled. His kids would beg him to let go, but he would soldier on, spending night and day testing new theories, new experiments, to create the ultimate space travel engine. He would break every rule in the book, and grow cold and methodical over the years, not stopping until he is done.

Until finally he finishes his work, clinging on to the hope that she is still alive out there.. somewhere in the cosmos.. imagine that laboratory. Mr. Scientist is coming to work early, hardening himself to lead the rescue mission for his wife in his newly built faster-than-light spaceship, when lights flicker on revealing his whole science team; balloons fall from the ceiling, banners reading ‘Just Kidding’ are displayed. SURPRISE!! She’s been here on Earth all along! His best friends burst out laughing, in tears they can finally stop the act. They’re all lining up to confess their little parts. Geoff, the chief lab tech, explains joyfully how he was the one who entered in the fake data onto NASA’s radar systems of the ship entering and exiting Earth’s atmosphere. John and Barry, the good natured jokers of the lab, were the costumed aliens; I swear to god, you were about one second away from seeing the costume stuffed in my locker one day, exclaims Barry cheerfully, slapping his sides. Cindy, the obsessive analyst, reveals she was the one who blew up his house and maid. Her tragic infertility, that she tearfully claimed was hereditary? That was really a result of mishandling the plutonium they left at the house’s remains!! John, your brother in law and best friend, remaining by your side, keeping you from turning into an alcoholic? He was just paid by the government to keep you on track!! He doesn’t even LIKE you!!

All of this, just because genuine love is such a strong emotion that people will do anything for it. So, there’s been a bit of manipulation, a few white lies, sure, but you can tell history would look back on it with fond giggles, impressed and awed at the story behind our first trip beyond the solar system.

Surrounded by tearful laughing colleagues, relieved they can finally stop the pretence, Mr. Scientist is numb and confused. “My wife.. where is she?” Oh, dear me, sorry, we just got caught up in the moment, Mr. Scientist. Yea – she died in captivity about two years ago.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)

I am scrolling through my unsent drafts on my phone. Being a fairly changeable, easily distracted kind of guy I find a multitude of undated, ambigious message-starts; texts I started writing but never finished and never sent. I find my own forgotten past intriguing. “Something very rare just happened” states one, ending abruptly there. “I’m 100% sure that” entices another. “I’d really like to see”. “I just thought of something”. You could play a game; invent your own ending!

One message I find was never intended to be sent; it was a quick note I wrote on my phone because I didn’t have a pen at the time. It was a thought I had about Einstein and his famous quote: ““Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity” which already is a bit harsh, but he slyly adds “..and I'm not sure about the universe” just to really hammer it home. This is in reference I believe to the Atom Bomb being used to slaughter thousands of innocent civilians. Mankind’s stupidity makes a pretty powerful case for itself, but I, fifty odd years later, do feel that statement lingering over humanity a little bit. It’s hard to make a comeback to that. Today’s generation would probably come up with “Your MUM’S infinite, Einstein!”

One way I hope we can get past this blemish is to prove Einstein wrong about nukes. Use them against bloodthirsty aliens, aliens so outright and undeniably evil that if Einstein were still around he’d modify his statement; “Two things are infinite: the universe and how freaking evil those aliens are, you feel me?” This would be a great situation for humanity to prove the benevolence of nukes. Now most of you smarty pants are probably thinking ‘But if aliens developed sufficient technology to space travel to Earth, surely nukes would be piss poor compared to their weaponry?’ Well first of all the way you think is so predictable I’ve pre-empted your train of thought. But also, how much do we really know about how aliens think?

For all we know, the evil aliens don’t constantly war and arms race amongst themselves. Maybe they got up to muskets and thought “Fuck YES. We have a weapon that can kill a guy twenty metres away instantly? This is it. This is the best weapon anyone could possibly invent. No-one will top this. This is weapons done. Weapons: check.” Alien 2 chimes in; “Ok we’ve packed the muskets, now how do we power the spaceship?” Alien 1: “Well, coal, of course!” Alien 2: “Don’t you think there might be a better energy source we could research into?” Alien 1: “Listen, Larry. We have a black, naturally occurring substance that gives off harnessable when set alight. Do you really think the Earthlings will have touched upon this kind of technology? Next you’ll be saying they’ll be lighting rooms without candles!” Laugh. Laugh. Snort. Snort. Stupid Larry.

So the aliens (who I feel I’ve humanised a bit too much, especially the one I called Larry, so in keeping with their evilness, please imagine they were murdering puppies during the previous conversation) turn up at Earth in their wooden, steam powered spaceship brandishing muskets and BOOM. We decimate them all with a swarm of nuclear missiles. Smugly, we sidle over to Einstein’s grave. “So,” we say, grinning, “what was that about atom bombs and human stupidity, Einstein? We must be really stupid to keep making atom bombs, eh?” We start getting rowdy and kicking his grave. “Those stupid inventions didn’t just save Earth from aliens or anything did they? Eh, Einstein?”

Really, what’s so bad about nukes? The ‘worst case scenario’ figures in an episode of 24 don’t seem too high whenever there’s a dirty bomb in LA (read: every episode). Hell, one episode a nuke even went off and around one hour later, in real time, this was old news. I feel the people who come up with worst case scenarios don’t use much imagination. “10,000 people die.” Yea, but surely like a worse case would be 10,000 people die then you stub your toe? And slightly worse is if you then spill your coffee. What about if, by total coincidence, at the exact time the bomb detonates, the sun went supernova obliterating the solar system? That’s like, the worst case scenario. And at the other end of the spectrum, the best case scenario isn’t just that prevailing winds blow the nuclear fallout to an uninhabited area of desert. No – the best case is if the terrorists change their minds. And then buy everyone ice cream. Be more honest in your scenario predictions.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)


A spider started crawling up my wall. I moved coldly to terminate it. Only after it was in its kitchen-roll-ey grave did I stop to consider the morality of my actions. Killing creatures with brains smaller than specs of dust is just a bit of a gray area for me. I still can’t decide my position on the issue of vegetarianism. Given the slew of Mcdonalds adverts oozing into my subconscious constantly, vegetarianism as a protest doesn’t change anything. ‘That’s not the point!!’ cry the vegetarians. Well what exactly is the point, veggies? You don’t want to eat meat, fine – I don’t like the idea of eating sushi but you don’t see me demanding a nut-based substitute. Ironically I actually love vegetarian food; I just wish I could eat it without the ideology. I’ve been suspiciously questioned just for eating a vegetable burger, as if by doing so I’m picking a side.

Spiders. Is killing them wrong? I’d like to hear something solid on both sides of the argument. Is there anywhere I can view a real debate on this kind of issue? I say ‘this kind of issue’ but I actually mean this exact issue, specifically.

Anyway I afterwards assured a nearby timid girl that Mr. Spider had gone to spider heaven. And I began to wonder what said place would be like. Loads of spiders crawling around on clouds? I really doubt any spiders would rate that as eternal bliss, mainly because their existence boils down to pissing off humans. They wouldn’t want a spider heaven. They’d want to come to our human heaven and crawl all over our walls. And given their short lifespan, the amount of dead spiders in heaven they must outnumber us humans hugely. I can picture turning up to heaven to find a swarming mass of spiders, wasps, cockroaches and snakes fluttering, skittering and writhing like one giant monstrous organism. The humans have backed into one tiny corner of infinity battling the swarm away, terrified, tearfully screaming at approaching newcomers: “Don’t go into to the light! Go back to Earth and wipe out the spiders for good! Only you can save us!”

Obviously the big G wouldn’t allow this really. But it did make me wonder how much compromise would be required in this infinite happiness. Because shaking hands and swapping stories with Einstein, Martin Luther King, Charles Darwin and Dennis Hopper (insert more politically correct greats here) might be a blast for all us peasants but I’m pretty sure Einstein is fucking sick of it. I’m pretty sure his idea of heaven is not playing host to a bunch of simpletons with stupid questions. I’m pretty sure he wants some fucking peace and quiet. It’s a clear conflict of interest. (I never really understood the phrase ‘a conflict of interest’. It seems that more or less everything is a conflict of interest. A game of darts is a conflict of interest. Both players are interested in seeing the other player lose. It’s a conflict of interest!)

So how does God handle this balancing act of constant compromise? Obviously you want to enjoy heaven with your friends and loved ones, with whichever people you choose. But suddenly you’re in a game of politics. Say you want to keep a small close-knit group to enjoy never-ending happiness with; then someone suggests “We have to invite John!” Great. ‘John’. Sure he’s an OK guy. He’d certainly make it past purgatory. But now he’s involved we’re leaning towards eternal mediocrity. You just never got along with ‘John’. After countless millennia you might finally snap, and scream it isn’t heaven with John around. Suddenly all your shocked friends are deserting you to go live in John’s corner of heaven. Suddenly heaven doesn’t seem so great. Suddenly heaven is a pile of shit.

A final worrying train of thought I have pursued is that we all might get our own personal heavens. All of our friends and ideal lovers there, smiling at us; but all just fake constructs to make us happy. And with that thought, I have ruined heaven. Now, no matter what, if I die and go up to the big white cloudy place there will be a permanent niggle in my mind that is could all be false. Any time I see Rachel McAdams smiling at me telling me how she loves my skinny ribs and German accent I will be plagued with doubt that the real McAdams is out there somewhere in her own personal heaven, dancing in a nightclub with Brad Pitt and Paul Bettany. Even if it is entirely genuine, she is the real deal, I will never be able to tell. And therefore I can now never enjoy heaven. The lovelier it is, the more I’ll believe it’s fake.

God, give me a lobotomy.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)

It’s interesting; the difference between ‘shy’ and ‘anti-social’. The actual difference is good looks. If a good looking guy announces sheepishly that he is a bit shy, girls will regard him as cute, endearing and even outright brave for openly admitting it. If an ugly quiet guy mumbles it, people scowl, jeer and look generally disgusted. Ugly person hasn’t hurt anyone! Ugly person is still the enemy. Simply being quiet is an act of war. Surrounded by loud drunk people, trying to logically explain you don’t enjoy drinking is like trying to batter down a brick wall with bubble bath foam. You will be drowned out by yells of “CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!” and elongated incomprehensible vowels.

I don’t really regard myself as a shy person, but by god am I regarded as one! Now entering my twenty-somethings, the volume has been switched up. Talking is off the table. Is has to be yelling now. Your average group of people now blare incessantly. I’d have to visit a vocal coach to maintain that level of volume. They literally ‘blare’. A verb that used to be reserved for the horns of cargo ship is now used to describe your average – not a select subgroup, but your average – twenty to thirty year old. It seems once you reach twenty if you don’t add ‘fucking’ at random points in every sentence you aren’t a real man. “Can you pass the remote please?” are the words of a pissant. “Change the channel” is for when you’re in a good mood, like once a year at Christmas perhaps. “Gimme the fucking remote for fucks sake” is a step in the right direction.

I consider myself a fairly regular, inanely normal person. I wake up. I read the paper. I drink coffee. I eat food. I go out. I come home. I study a fairly bland degree. But no! – this is not normal, it’s become apparent. Wild, selfish and reckless is the new black, people! Hearing the previously quite reserved people are now frequently visiting the pub, normal has angrily raised the bar. Anything short of frequent drug use, drunken one-night stands, pregnancy scares, broken bones, bricking policemen, bottling your friends and stabbing your enemies is now considered fairly prudish. You have to up your game to be normal now, I’m afraid. Class A drugs are the new tipsy. Threesomes are the new twosomes. Casual sex in the car park is the new snogging behind the bike shed.

One of my greatest curses is my brutal honesty. Many attempts from people to banter with me have been victim to the cold knife of grim, dull logic. Thus I recall soon after I moved to this country, being in a club, talking to a girl.

“Me and boyfriend weren’t really sure about coming out tonight,” she said. “Sometimes it seems an effort to come out, know what I mean?”

I replied: “My social life consists entirely of coming here once or twice a week and I hate it. I dance to music I despise, trying to drown it out with good music in my head. I drink little, pretending to be drunk and enjoy myself to fit in, pray that something interesting happens to me so I can at least take with me some kind of anecdote to recall later, other than the usual ‘I was too drunk to remember anything!’ default option.”

And to my great surprise she said “Yea me and my boyfriend feel like that all the time.” That was nice to hear. Clubbers-who-hate-clubbing, hear me – you are not alone!

Monday, 30 August 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)

Who invented kissing?

I pondered this recently, while kissing, as it happens. I broke off the kiss to introduce this train of thought. Do animals kiss? I mused. My kissing partner at the time (kissing partner? Kissee? Co-kisser?) shrugged it off, but neither of us could think of an animal that kissed. Not even apes, who apparently share 99.9% of our DNA. Which indicates that we’re 0.1% away from being banana-loving tree dwellers. I find this a little bit hard to believe, not just because that tiny fraction of our genetic makeup must contain our gigantically superior intellect (hopefully anyone intelligent enough to be reading this won’t be a gorilla and therefore won’t be offended) as well as our more modest body hair, our beautiful opposable thumbs etc, but just because it seems weird that 0.1% can determine so much about a species. What if the 0.1% had gone the other way, would we be walking around on our hands without ears, hearing with our noses and eating with our toenails? We got very lucky that a minute, 0.1% change happened to make us extremely intelligent and handsome and not so achingly stupid that the apes referred to us as cockroaches of the jungle and threw their banana skins at us. Hurray for evolution. If I met evolution at a party I’d buy him/her a drink.

Anyway, animals don’t kiss, and our mouths obviously weren’t designed for kissing; they were designed for eating, breathing, yapping and blowjobs. So at what point did kissing become such a staple diet of love across the world? Were there at some point secluded tribes in Africa (home of secluded tribes) who when they first came across civilised society and saw a man and a woman kiss burst into exclamations of shock and disgust?

“What are you doing?”

“We’re kissing. It’s a way a man and a woman express their love for one another.”

“THAT’S how you express love? By rolling your tasting organs over each other? That’s practically cannibalism! ... which we highly approve by the way, us being generic African tribe”

“How do you express love for one another?”

“By tickling the undersides of each others feet with Zebra hairs of course. Our way makes much more sense. And it’s far more hygienic.”
Something along those lines anyway. I wonder if this ever occurred, or is kissing just a universal human trait we all started doing and enjoying around the same time? Regardless, I explain adamantly to my Mutual Kissing Beneficiary (who at this point has got bored and is attempting to sleep), there must have been a ‘first kiss’ in the human race, somewhere, at some time. I can picture a moment of awkwardness between two cavemen.. well one caveman and one cavelady.. between two cavepeople as they stare at each other gormlessly, unable to express their heartfelt emotions neither physically nor verbally. A long evening stroll by the river has just occurred (I’m sure that walking predates kissing?) followed by some gnawing at animal carcasses and a glass of red wine – I mean, whatever beverage cavepeople had at hand. Dinosaur milk. Caveman stares at cavelady, attempts to compare her to a summer’s day, but hasn’t quite got the grasp of seasons, nor similes. But suddenly, human nature takes its course and they find themselves, a little bit surprised, biting at each other’s faces.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)

A new shampoo has been developed for women (or men I guess, but the sleek stylish packaging hints that it is aimed at women) who perform maintenance to volcanoes. It also might be handy for astronauts being sent into the sun. ‘There is REALLY a product aimed specifically for those two kinds of people? Are you sure?’ I hear you ask. Yes I am sure. I couldn’t be surer.

Well, that is to say, I can’t think of a single other use for ‘Dove Therapy Heat Defense Shampoo’, a shampoo with a title that sounds more like something a HAZMAT team might resort to only when they are entering the most perilous of situations than a beauty product. Apart from perhaps, I guess, people who spend a lot of time in a sun bed, but something doesn’t fit quite right with that. I believe it’s because, if you are a person well aware that you are about to expose your heat to such extremes of temperature that a shampoo has been specifically designed to defend it then surely you would simply avoid going into a sun bed in the first place. Buy some spray tan or some such gizmo. The title of this product is so ominous that rather than making people think ‘that’s the perfect product to go with my hair straighteners!’ it’s more likely to make one say ‘Hair straighteners, what was I thinking? I refuse to expose my hair to these conditions. I love my hair.’ For those volcano abseilers out there whose (presumably brave and self sacrificial) line of work forces them to dangerous depths, it’s quite touching to find Dove catering very specifically to their needs. Must be a small market though; should we expect to see ‘Dove Rotten Fruit Proof Defense Shampoo’ for the girl who frequents pro abortion campaigns? How about ‘Dove Anti-Radiation Defense Shampoo’ for those planning a vacation to Chernobyl? Or ‘Dove Active Semen Defense Shampoo’ for the girl with specific sexual needs who’s a bit panicky her hair will feel slightly crusty afterwards?

The number one customer for this product is most likely Cillian Murphy, him having been the only person I can think of offhand who’s been to centre of the sun. Oh, I think the beautiful Rose Byrne accompanied him. I believe it was in some sort of documentary.

Apart from what I’ve seen in my local supermarket, I haven’t seen any marketing for this product. I haven’t seen any T.V adverts, which means Dove probably missed a good opportunity to get Cillian Murphy with his silky hair blowing around in the wind whilst he smirks knowingly at any passing gas giants. Cillian Murphy, it’s worth noting, is an actor I think deserves far more publicity then he gets, thus is one of a few actors I try to drop into conversation whenever possible. Person: “I saw Avatar last night, Zack!” Me: “Oh is that the one with Michael Keaton in?” .. at which point Person either says “No..” to which I reply “Oh, sorry, I thought you meant something different,” (but I’ve still done my duty by dropping his name in) or they say, baffled, “Who’s Michael Keaton?” at which point I get to revel in saying “WHO’S MICHAEL KEATON? He’s only flipping BATMAN!”. Then if they snort “You mean that guy from Terminator 4?” I get to punch them, before comparing the way that both actors brought Bruce Wayne to life in distinctive and exciting ways.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The World of Robots. By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)


I wake up. The church bells of my nearby church are going off, monotonously, in a rhythmic sequence. Dong, pause, dong, pause, ad infinitum. Aren’t the church bells supposed to dong once for every hour it is? Did they suddenly change overnight the way time is measured.. to the metric system perhaps? And it’s now one hundred and twenty five o’clock? The church bell ringers are definitely feeling the strain of this sudden change; their workload will slowly increase per hour until they reach one thousand o’clock, at which point they breathe a sigh of relief and drop back down to one again. They’ll be demanding a payrise very soon.

During the night before, I think as I make coffee, the church bells unfailingly struck upon every hour, because god instructed the church to taunt those who still aren’t asleep at dong-dong-dong-dong four in the morning. I ponder as to whether there are late night bell ringers in the tower, paid overtime for the night shift, clocking on while Steve and Terry, the lightweight daytime ringers clock off and scurry home. Or whether there’s just some mechanical device set to do its business on the hour, every hour. It's business being bell ringing. A robotic bell ringer.

Of course, I remain slightly cynical. Religion and technology don’t exactly go hand in hand. Religion throughout history has been angry at science every time science has come up with an idea that challenges its world view. Galileo Galilei is said to have demonstrated that mass didn’t affect gravity’s force on an object, an act which outraged the church. Because apparently god was explicit about this in the bible, stating “And one rock and one piece of plaster, when dropped, will travel differently depending on how much they weigh. To which Moses nodded, smiled, pretending he understood. He then asked again about how much longer they would be wandering the desert.” Anyhow, religion said no, Galileo said yes, dropped two cannon balls and proved it, and religion said no again. Until eventually they came out in agreement stating “Yes, that’s what god said all along.” A convenient new testament added to the bible saying how god was just kidding about what he said to Moses, and also that evolution was all his plan also.

But it’s the twentieth century now (I presume so anyway, I’ve not been quite clear since someone told me that the 1900s was not the 19th century. An attempt to create a formula to figure out what century a year was in was probably tainted by the fact I thought the show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was set in the present day), and after all Robo-Bell-Ringer B.R.I.A.N (Bell Ringing Is Absolutely Nice) is one of god’s creatures too. A sentient one even, perhaps. 

Though I do wish he’d have the robo-equivalent of an existential crisis, wonder what his purpose in life is (probably bell ringing by the way, Brian) and hurl himself out of the bell tower. So I could sleep in peace.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (zackkaufen@gmail.com)

I have just been to see Toy Story 3. While impressively leaping forward thematically from the first two films, it still left the biggest questions unanswered. Like an episode of Lost it concentrates on character relationships and themes of good and evil, whilst still tantalisingly avoiding answering the real questions that viewers have been asking since the first film. I don’t know if any other films in the series are planned, but to leave so much up in the air at this point would be criminal.

Toy Story, for the minority of uninitiated, posits a world where any kind of toy is actually a sentient being, imbued with thoughts, feelings and a voice. The twist is that whenever humans are near the toys deliberately revert to a still catatonic state so the humans simply treat them as playthings, unaware of their secret. While the story is set in a generic American suburb, the implication is that every toy worldwide shares this power to come to life. Toys have traits so close to humans that they speak our language and form strong friendships and relationships.

Intriguingly (and no doubt deliberately on the part of the writers) the films never once give reference to where this power to turn plastic into life comes from. Not one hint is given. Of course, internet theories about the cause are plentiful, ranging from a Beauty-and-the-Beast-esque witch (this is Disney after all!) to lost spirits of dead humans inhabiting the toys to live again. A more realistic school of thought is that the toys are highly advanced robots in the future, and perhaps everything we see is simply a test for their functionality. There is also the standard ‘it’s all a dream’ theory; very hard to prove or disprove. Fact is, the answer is either something being reserved for a future film, or just being deliberately left ambiguous by the knowing writers, who are probably smiling at their well kept secret that fans of the series are begging to know.

Many other questions and mysteries surround the enigmatic films. Where does the fanatical servitude of the toys come from? In Toy Story 3 the toys have been serving their owner, a seventeen year old called Andy, for many years, to the point where he no longer has any use for them. Without this purpose they become directionless and confused. The main character, a toy named Woody, remains unable to let go, following Andy without regard for the reality of the situation. The toys fear being thrown away, but it seems they are just as scared about Andy’s shunning of them as they are of their own deaths. This is most likely an allegory of religion; following a built in idea without hesitation or faltering of belief. Completely devoted when Andy wants them, completely hopeless when he doesn’t.

Another question is what specifically constitutes a toy? In the first film an etch-a-sketch walked around showing off his artistic prowess, yet lamps, drawing boards et al. are totally inanimate. You may think it is easy to define what is a toy and what isn’t, but Dr. Goldberg of Frankfurt (an old friend of my father’s) postulated: “A tennis ball is a piece of sports equipment. Draw a face on it and give it to a child and it becomes a toy .. does doing this bring it to life?” Definitely food for thought. In factories pieces of plastic are turned into toys. At which point during this long process are they born into existence as a being in their own right? Given that they don’t instantly jump off the factory line and celebrate their existence are they therefore born with the ingrained notion that they must never move while humans are watching? A surely poor celebration of life; to one second be plastic, the next have your own soul; yet unable to move, and completely obedient and subservient to their creators.

Given their lack of aging, it seems odd that the toys don’t think of better ways to be useful to the humans they adore. They could perform all kinds of manual labour without being fed or needing sleep. Yet they carefully hide from humans. The only instance where they revealed themselves was when faced with that or certain death in the first film – a handful of toys rebelled against their tormenting captor, attacking him physically in order to escape. Tellingly, Woody described this as “break(ing) the rules”. Whose rules? Anyone’s guess.

The films, complicated as they are, have gained a surprising audience amongst young children, unaware at the metaphysical conundrum at the heart of the story.

As for whether future films will answer the questions posed; only time will tell. I for one look forward to the next chapter.