Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary



My Struggle Is Real


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.


Love Is Never Having To Change Your Password

Love Is Never Having To Change Your Password

Bleeding Heart

“You’ve got an invalid haircut / And it hurts when you smile / You’d better get out of town / Before your nickname expires” Warren Zevon ~ Life’ll Kill Ya

I’ve been hearing a lot recently about the “Heartbleed” bug, an insidious super cyber thief that invades websites, steals personal security information, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data. I’ve never changed some of my passwords, ever, since the dawn of time, or at least since my last three computers passed away.

This morning I opened an e mail from a company whose name I did not even recognize informing me that, although they had no reason to believe their security had been breached, they were advising everyone on their client list to change their passwords. I’m on THEIR client list? Who the Hell are these people? This really got my attention since I don’t even recognize their name or remember doing business with them. I have no record of my user name or password with them. However, they remember me, and if THEY have my e mail and other information, I can only assume the situation is far more serious than I even want to know. My cozy little veil of denial dropped away as I realized, that while my slovenly ways in never organizing my sock drawer may never result in any kind of serious consequence, outside of occasionally mismatched socks, THIS could cause some serious grief if left unattended. With a deep sigh of resignation, I decided to go all in and change my user name and passwords for over 32 websites. TODAY. Right now. No more screwing around.

After much pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth and rending and tearing of garments, I completed this odious task. My brain was fried and I was a gibbering idiot, reverting to one finger keyboard pecking and using a cheat sheet. But maybe this is the kind of rigorous mental activity that helps stave off Altzheimers, or causes a complete mental breakdown. Now, If only I could remember my own name….

Many sites have a “password helper” that rates the quality of your password on a spectrum of “strong” to “this really sucks. Why don’t you just advertise it on Facebook?” If you follow their recommendations you’ll create passwords like the rare Enigma machine used by the Nazis to send coded messages. My usernames and passwords are combinations of irrational numbers and Pleadian star language, closely modeled after the nuclear launch codes, and the secret combination that protects the vaults at Fort Knox. The problem is, I’ll never be able to remember any of them. They’re all so counterintuitive that it takes two or three tries for someone blessed with sausage fingers like mine. I feel like I’m already trying to hack myself. This is not good, since many sites freeze your access for at least 24 hours after three bungled attempts.

I’ve already had this error message more than once: “Hey numb nuts! You entered an old password. You changed your password 4 hours ago.”

Old dogs learn new tricks slowly…..

Rock and RollBot
Rock and RollBot

Lost in The Matrix

Lost in The Matrix: Vol. I


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?

Watching TV by Candlelight

Rock and RollBot

Do you realize if it weren’t for Edison we’d be watching TV by candlelight?  Al Boliska”

He strikes a heroic pose

his bicorne hat cocked at a jaunty angle

he gazes out across the sodden fields of Waterloo

stands in that iconic hand-in-waistcoat gesture

Napoleon’s hand cradles his iPod Touch

dials in the 1812 Overture

on the Classic Works of Russian Composers play list


The streets of Vienna are slick with new fallen snow

he works late into the night

hunched over a desk in the mahogany paneled study

illuminated by soft light from a MacBook Pro laptop

Dr. Freud’s face is a mask of bewilderment

as he Googles the meaning of the idiom:

“Yo Mama!”


The ship’s pilot peers through the astrolabe

sailors cluster together, speak in hushed tones

about sea serpents & sailing off the edge of the earth

Cristoforo Columbo emerges from his cabin

announces the East Indies will have to wait

his search on Mapquest has revealed

they are headed for someplace called The Bahamas 


He picks up his fiddle

plays a tune that he can’t get out of his head

he’s just been told there’s trouble at Circus Maximus

“No reason to get get my toga in a twist” he thinks

“It’s only a little fire. How bad could it possibly be?”

Distracted, Nero sets the fiddle down & goes into the other room

to update his Facebook status.


How the tides of history might have turned

had Genghis Khan’s relentless advance

across the steppes been broadcast

on his twitterfeed & The Declaration of Independence

written on GoogleDocs

the Pony Express ~ going nowhere fast

had homesteading rights included

unlimited text messaging

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