Monday, 30 August 2010

The World of Robots By Zack Kaufen (

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 (

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 (

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 (

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.