Post-silly season blues leave me bereft of autonomous robot limbs

Nothing to look forward to now… except perhaps the 1980s

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Oh, the things I could do with a third hand! It could hold things steady while my other two hands are occupied. Hang on, I have a better idea: I could use my two existing hands to hold the things steady while my third hand gets down to work.

Come on, now, you must have found yourself in circumstances that might have been enhanced with the help of a robotic limb that you could control purely with your mind. Just imagine! You could… well, you know… you could…

You could use it as a bottle holder.

Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory/ATR

© Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory/ATR

It only stands to reason. Put me in a lonely cubicle of wage slavery overnight to debug 10,000 lines of shitty code with nothing but a mind-controlled robotic hand for company, and I too would rig it up to pass me the Highland Spring.

Living the dream…

… just not the particular dream I had been hoping for; the one involving Shirley Manson, Rachel Weiss, two dozen oiled space hoppers and a moving coil galvanometer being one of my favourites. That robotic arm could have been invaluable while I got on with my frenzied all-night pumping action. Those space hoppers don’t inflate themselves, you know.

Still, those clever researchers at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto obviously have their sights set higher than bicycle pumps and have better uses for crude actuators than measuring the current around middle-aged British actresses and other such Garbage. Water bottles it is, then, for our telepathically manipulated robotic arm, which can mean only one thing: I have been a self-inflicted victim of silly season news.

“Silly season” is the scientific term we in the UK use to describe the summer weeks during which our elected Parliament enjoys a recess, there are no major acts of statesmanship reported in the news, and Brexiter politicians fuck off abroad to check on their offshore tax evasion schemes. Media outlets are therefore forced to fill their CMS inches with whatever nutso press releases turn up unsolicited in their inboxes that morning.

Around the same time that I was reading about disappointingly limp applications for psy-directed robo-dexterity, my mind whirled at learning that Python continues to be the world's No.1 programming language (pushing Assembly down to 10, apparently), spam is still the malware of choice after 40 years of online crime, and that a "15-Year-Old Isle of Man Student Wins Bronze Medal at Microsoft World Championship".

Heady stuff, indeed.

To escape the potential future shock that such mind-blowing breakthroughs in science might provoke, Mme Le Dabbs reverted back to the 1970s and 1980s by compiling what we used to call "mixtapes" but what is better known today as "playlists" – of no longer than 1 hour 15 minutes so that each would fit on an audio CD.

Yes, a mixtape on CD. Why, what did you think? That we'd hunch over a tape cassette deck armed with Scotch tape and a hexagonal pencil for three days to get both sides of a C-60 done?

And no, not a shit 1980s mixtape like the one featured in Guardians of the Galaxy, which was clearly compiled by a Californian dopehead for whom post-punk completely passed them by and whose only reminiscence of new wave had something to do with rubbing more wax on their surfboard.

Mme La D has been smuggling these CDs into our local gym, where the audio setup, like the fitness equipment, and indeed the best years of most of the clientele, is strictly last century. Her aim is to relieve the boredom of having to work out to the squeaks of all those Crazy Frog impersonators bleeping from today's radio stations by hijacking the hi-fi with her pop favourites from 30+ years ago.

Of course, her choice is coloured by a Gallic upbringing followed by a British retrospective influenced by yours truly. So surprised gym-goers have found themselves stepping on to the treadmill to the familiar vocal squealing of some modern flat-haired, orange-faced cretin, only for the soundtrack to be replaced midway by the strains of Téléphone’s Au coeur de la nuit, Cerrone’s Supernature and PiL’s This is not a love song.

This does not normally cause a problem, although Klaus Nomi’s rendition of Purcell’s Cold Song (incredibly, a chart hit in continental Europe in 1982) tends to cause general bafflement among gym members, causing them to slow down in deep thought before stumbling off the machines and heading to the changing rooms for a good cry.

After one particularly successful audio hijack mission in which La D managed to smuggle Shine on you crazy diamond parts I-IV into a spin class, much to the confusion of the instructor (and alas I was “unable to help with technical thingummies”), I return to yet another entertaining inbox full of season silliness.

Today’s favourite is Foodvisor, an app that counts your calorie intake by recognising a photo of what you’re eating by using “AI algorithms”. It’s meant to “help people eat healthier” – if not write grammaticallier – and they’re calling it a “Shazam for food”.

I can’t resist a challenge so I cooked up tofu, pepper and mushrooms with wholemeal pasta and added a home-made tomato sauce. Here’s Foodvisor going all “Shazam!” on it.

Foodvisor app

God, I love silly season.

Next is a Tappable survey report that claims 1 in 10 millennials “would rather sacrifice a finger than give up their smartphones”. Prove it, I say! “A further 23% would even sacrifice one of their senses,” the report continues, failing to notice the irony that this particular sampling of millennials have evidently done so already.

Another contender for Press Release of the Season is one for a taxi service in Finland that refuses to accept money as payment. Instead, passengers must sing throughout their journey. Apparently, this is supposed to draw attention to the quiet electric motor in the Fortum Singalong Shuttle vehicles.

You want to share? No thanks, I’ll take the next one.

My last crowd-pleaser of silly season is the updated product line of gyroscopic scooters and skates unveiled by Segway-Ninebot. My outright favourite is the Segway Drift W1 – not because of the product so much as the publicity shot. It features the uncoolest-looking man I’ve seen since the day I was doing my homework while listening to DAF’s Der Mussolini and my dad came in to my room, said “This has got a bit of a beat to it!” and began dancing using only his hands, like dads do.

Segway Drift W1

Now that we’re returned from vacation, politicians and all, the fun is over and it’s back to proper work again. Less silliness, shorter days, lower skies.

Bugger.

Put on an ’80s CD, s’il te plaît, il commence à faire froid. I may as well listen to something worthwhile as IT companies turn down the thermostat on their autumn announcements. New iPhones? CES previews? Oh, let me fruh fruh fruh freeze again to death.

Youtube Video

Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He gives credit also to Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering, for getting silly season on track back in June for claiming: “In iOS 12, search now starts working for you even before you start typing with search suggestions.” Er, OK… @alidabbs



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