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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary

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modern life

My Struggle Is Real

SPARKLING MIKE

Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk have each expressed their belief that Artificial Intelligence may be the most dangerous existential threat to the survival of the human race. For decades, Artificial Intelligence has been depicted in science fiction, television and film. Sometimes it’s a benevolent presence, like R2D2 and 3CPO in Star Wars, Data in Star Trek or Rags the dog in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper.” However, more often than not Artificial Intelligence lurks as a menacing and darkly malevolent force in films like 2001- A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, as well as in television series like Battlestar Glactica.

Who can forget this classic showdown between man and machine in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001- A Space Odyssey.

Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Dave: What’s the problem?

HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?

My own troubled history with AI dates back as far as I can recall. It begins with me trying and failing to draw a diagonal line on an Etch-A-Sketch that only drew vertical and horizontal lines. Then there was the very first video game “Pong.” It was a game of virtual ping pong which consisted of a dot bouncing back and forth across the television screen. Hours of good, clean late night stoner fun. But I couldn’t even get that right. Got crushed each time I played. Do I even have to mention “The Clapper?” Lately my dysfunctional relationships with AI include contentious exchanges between me and the disembodied androgynous voices emanating from my GPS and my vehicle’s Blue Tooth interface. Also now I have both Alexa and Siri to contend with. I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel like having a conversation with my devices every time I turn around. That super perky upbeat cheerfulness is just too much in these nihilistic times, especially before I’ve had my coffee.

Today I burned up an hour of what’s left of my mortal existence on this planet trying to convince a series of robot overlords that I need to speak with an actual human being in customer service to schedule an appointment. It’s like passing through the Seven Circles Of Hell, the Bardo and Purgatory just to get another sentient being on the other end of the line. Today’s interaction involved a protracted struggle just to utter a simple phrase a robot would comprehend.

Robot: “Thank you for contacting customer service. You can talk to me like a real person. Ask me anything. For example, you can say “How much credit do I have available? When is my next payment due? Do you wanna dance under the moonlight?

Me: “I need to speak with a customer service representative.”

 Lots of background noise, whirring, clicking and popping as if somebody is typing a transcript of my request.

Robot: “I’m sorry. I did not understand you. Ask me anything. For example, you can say: “How can I buy the entire boxed DVD set of Battlestar Galactica? Do you know the way to San Jose?”

Me: ” I need to speak with a customer service representative.”

 More popping, clicking, buzzing, whirring, typing noises.

And so, on and on we went, until I was a jibbering idiot barking out monosyllabic commands like a drunk calling out for more whiskey at closing time.

Robot: “I’m sorry. I did not understand you. Let me connect you to a Customer Service representative. This call may be monitored.”

Customer Service Representative: “Hello. This is Mathew. For security purposes, what is your Service Contract number?”

Me: I recite an unintelligibly long string of alpha numeric code.

Customer Service Representative: “I’m sorry, but that contract has expired.”

Me: “No. There must be some mistake. I have the Service Contract right here in front of me and it doesn’t expire for another six weeks. May I please speak with a supervisor?”

Customer Service Representative: “Absolutely. Please wait while I transfer your call.”

Five minutes of waiting while insipid music blasts the shit out of my ear drum.

Customer Service Robot Supervisor: “Thank you for contacting customer service. You can talk to me like a real person. Ask me anything. For example, you can say “How much credit do I have available? When is my next payment due? Do you wanna dance under the moonlight?

 ME: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL: I’m sorry, Mike. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

ROCK N ROLL BOT

“Short Fuse” Published in The Bitchin’ Kitsch

“Short Fuse,” my twisted flash fiction piece about  going off the deep end is published

in the December 2013 issue of The Bitchin’ Kitsch. 

Humble and heartfelt thanks to

Chris Talbot-Heindl ~ Co-creator and Editor of

“The Bitchin’ Kitsch  ~ A zine for open creativity”

Follow the link below and go to Page 29

http://www.talbot-heindl.com/dec2013

cropped-THE

 

When Bad Things Happen To Good Appliances

thinkerPeople use all kinds of different sources of wisdom to help predict the future and guide their decisions. Some methods of divination include reading the flights of birds or searching for answers to the mysteries of life in oracle cards, yarrow stalks, coins, tea leaves or the entrails of animals. For the ancient Greeks it was the Oracle at Delphi. The Vikings were big on reading rune stones. For some it’s the Bible. For others it’s the daily horoscope in the newspaper or Dial-a-Psychic. Me, I draw old folk sayings from a hat.

Old folk sayings have guided me through many of life’s tough choices. Here are some of my favorites:

A poor excuse is better than none at all.

Better late than never.

Better weak beer than lemonade.

Better bowlegs than no legs at all.

Bad breath is better than no breath at all.

Good things come in small packages.

Bad things happen in threes.

Go all the way on the third date.

More on this later.

We were doing a load of laundry last week. It was business as usual until the final spin cycle which sounded like the space shuttle lifting off from a launching pad in the utility room. The entire house vibrated with the sound and fury of a star going super nova. After it wound down and stopped, I unloaded the laundry and spun the basket around a few times. It sounded fine. So I thought this might be a small hiccup and it would go away by itself. This is where folk sayings come in handy to help me justify sheer insanity. Let sleeping dogs lie, I thought. This kind of logic is like hoping a flat tire will repair itself while you’re driving. This is why I’m not a mechanic or a surgeon.

A few days later I mustered the courage to do another load of laundry and everything sounded good until the final spin. This time it was the starting line at a NASCAR race or an F-15 taking off from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. The machine was vibrating like a jackhammer and walking across the floor under its own power. This was as close to poltergeist activity as anything I’ve seen in this house. With another nugget of folk wisdom blazing in my brain, All good things must come to an end, we put in a call to a repairman.

The repairman arrived at the appointed hour looking every bit the part of Dan Akyroyd’s classic depiction of the Norge repairman. I did not, however, look at his ass to see if his crack was showing. It took him less than 30 seconds to diagnose the problem as a bad bearing which probably caused collateral damage to the fleegywinkle, bearing straits and various and sundry other parts. He hammered away at his iPad for a few minutes and handed me an estimate for parts and labor. After I recovered from my apoplectic episode, I stammered: “It would cost less to buy a new machine.” “Exactly,” he replied. “Too bad you didn’t have the extended service contract. This would have all been covered.” I have always thought that extended service contracts were like buying protection from the mob and that stuff should last beyond it’s warranty period. But still, I was silently kicking myself for not buying protection from the mob.

“You know” he said, “there’s an old saying that appliances break down in pairs.This dryer is a ticking time bomb. Could go anytime.” Yeah.” I thought, “ Washers and dryers mate for life like black vultures, gibbons or albatrosses.” 

“I’m just sayin’,” he said, “If that fleegywinkle goes bad it will be like a claymore mine exploding in your utility room. If the shrapnel doesn’t kill you, cleaning up the flood will be like Love Canal exploded in your house.’

After he left I briefly contemplated going back to washing my clothes by beating them on rocks in the river. Then I realized there is no nearby river and that I had never beaten my clothes on rocks. I started shopping the internet for a washer that would mate with my dryer for the rest of its troubled and uncertain life. I also needed a washer that would stack underneath the dryer.

I quickly found one that I thought would work. It was also the least expensive. I was starting to feel like a mail-order-bride broker. I was also haunted by the old folk saying that a man who marries twice is a two time loser. I started to get the creeping feeling that it might not be possible to remarry my old dryer to a spanky new washer.

Armed with internet quotes, a newly approved store charge card, coupons with guaranteed rebates, perks and discounts and the resolve to drive a hard bargain, I entered the store. I had a quote for a washer for $599. With all the rebates, coupons and Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards, I thought I could wheel and deal my way out of there for about 500 bucks. I figured I could cover that by recycling my empty beer bottles.

What happened next will always be one of the darkest events in the voluminous annals in my personal Hall of Shame. It is why you should NEVER allow me to negotiate the final price of a new home, new car or a double de-caf, half-caf latte at Starbucks.

A sales associate came to my assistance with iPad in hand. He was quite near sighted and asked for my help inputting data into his iPad. Of course, luring me into this “helping” role immediately sucked me into letting my guard down. It took mere minutes to go from driving a hard bargain on a washing machine for $599 to the purchase of new washing machine, new dryer, (They mate for life, you know. Just like albatrosses.)  and all the hoses, fittings, duct tube, mounting brackets and five year service contracts for just under two grand. I’m using the term two grand because that’s how we roll when we’re playing the numbers in the back alley gambling houses of Detroit.

I left there with my head reeling and wondering if I need to enroll in a 12 step program for gambling addiction. I’m taking delivery on my new appliances tomorrow. Sometime between 8AM and 5PM. I’m waiting for my man.

At least, this time, I did purchase protection from the mob. For five years. We’re gonna drive this thing ’till the wheels fall off! Even if a fool and his money are soon parted, maybe by that time, I’ll be living in a Buddhist monastery on some bleak hillside, dressed in an itchy woolen robe and won’t be needing a washer and dryer.

Self Portrait
Self Portrait

Lost in The Matrix

Lost in The Matrix: Vol. I

Robot

Why is everything so friggin’ complicated? It seems like every time I turn around I have to learn some totally intense new technology with its own language just to be able to perform simple operations. The dashboard of my car is like the bridge on the Starship Enterprise. Although a monkey could probably snap good photos with my camera right out of the box, really learning how to use that thing requires a combined Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering, Applied Mathematics and Astro-Geophysics & I’m pretty sure the right combination of keys on my new microwave activates a Star Gate Portal for time travel.

Just the terms and nomenclature alone are enough to make my eyeballs roll backwards in my skull. Brings back memories of Dad trying to figure out his camera every Christmas. “Goddamn it Janet! Where’s the instruction booklet for this thing? And I can’t read this without my glasses, but I can’t find my glasses without my glasses….” And if everything isn’t constantly updated with new firmware, and a new operating system which can’t be downloaded with your current system but must first confirmed by clicking on this link which leads you to a whole new level of online clubs, social networks and akashic records verification systems to which you must belong just to be able to add your new can opener to your authorized list of wireless clients…and what the fuck was my password and pin for that????

Rock ‘n RollBot

I think it’s just that everything is constantly changing which leaves us in a state of continuous adaptation, which isn’t bad , it’s just evolution, which is a good thing. However, there are times when I just want to go from Point A to Point B without having to register online, fill out an exit survey, negotiate an extended warranty purchase, consult a glossary of nomenclature and symbols, use a proprietary allen wrench and fijiwinkle & jump through hoops navigating through 72 layers of electronic menus. And please don’t get me started about copy machines or talking to robots on the telephone.

This call may be monitored for quality control and data mining purposes, unless, of course, you really need help. Please have your original Social Security card, birth certificate, 3rd grade report card, 2 expired passports & a notarized note from your Mom ready as proof of your identification, but do not proceed before reading and agreeing to our 82 pages of terms and conditions before authorizing……. To return to the Main Menu Press 1, To hear these options again Press 2, To initiate Self-Destruct Sequence Press 3, To prove to yourself that you’re not actually in The Matrix or a character in a Samuel Beckett play Press 4, Para Espanol just yell: “Spanish!”

Self Portrait

Is there an App for that?

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