My Phone is Spying on Me

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone‘ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”
― Philip K. Dick

Oblique Strategy: State the problem in words as clearly as possible

As the Internet Of Things slowly makes its way, flooding our lives, I installed a new smart doorbell last night. The packaging was a thing of beauty, unfortunately I’m not smart enough to open it correctly and ended up having to tear it up to get the stuff out. Things were obviously carefully thought out – they had a lot of stuff in that beautiful little box – including a tiny orange plastic spirit level with a cute little bubble.

I love the postmodern slant on the installation instructions. For example, little plastic anchors are included – in case you need to put the doorbell onto brick or concrete. The instructions say, “If you’re installing on wood or siding, put the anchors in that drawer of stuff you never use and skip this step.”

It was dark and cold outside, but I managed to get the thing installed. I wondered why they were so anal to include the spirit level, but realized that, because the doorbell had a camera in it, if it was installed on a slant, the image would lean. It would look like a Batman Villain was at the door.

The only problem was that the best instructions were on videos which were played on the phone as the process proceeded. And, of course, there was some hooking up to the internet involved. The problem was, to install the thing, I had to throw the breaker to the doorbell transformer (24 volts won’t kill you, but it can make you notice your nervous system). Of course, the cable router is on the same circuit. Luckily, there was an abbreviated set of old-school paper printed instructions.

I only had to wait several time while the internet rebooted to go on to the next step.

Unthinkable Complexity

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”
― William Gibson, Neuromancer

One of the nice things about travelling around the… well, around… looking at sculptures is when you find stuff by sculptors you’ve seen before – and especially when you’ve done entries on them.

At the new Hall Sculpture Garden at the side of the new KMPG Plaza Building in the Arts District I found Stainless Internet by George Tobolowsky. His work is scattered around the Metroplex – including two at the Irving Arts Center:
It’s a Slam Dunk
and
Square Deal #2
Take a look at them – compare and contrast.

The Stainless Internet George Tobolowsky 2015, Stainless Steel Hall Sculpture Garden Dallas, Texas

The Stainless Internet
George Tobolowsky
2015, Stainless Steel
Hall Sculpture Garden
Dallas, Texas

The Stainless Internet (Detail) George Tobolowsky 2015, Stainless Steel Hall Sculpture Garden Dallas, Texas

The Stainless Internet (Detail)
George Tobolowsky
2015, Stainless Steel
Hall Sculpture Garden
Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 8 – Nirvana

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day Eight – Nirvana, by Adam Johnson

Read it online here:

Nirvana

As I look through the short stories I have chosen for this month, I see that I have been tending to the venerable classics – Hemingway, Salinger, Eudora Welty, Kate Chopin, Willa Cather… only Daniel Orozco could be considered new – the rest are hoary old chestnuts.

So today I’ll add something new, modern, post-modern even. Today’s story is set in the near future and is full of what marks our age – for good and bad. It’s a story of dot-com millionaires, private miniature drones controlled by Google, the newest Apple invention – the iProjector, artificial intelligence, and a mysterious circuit board from India that can crack any cryptography.

The tough nut to crack when writing about such things is to make it human. As interested as we all are in the technology of the time, it doesn’t serve very well at tugging at our heartstrings.

But Adam Johnson pulls it off. He works by giving the story a hear-rending human situation, one that goes so far beyond what technology can affect – all the bells and whistles of today are revealed as mere tinsel and foil, window dressing for the inevitable doom of our lives.

Or is it? As the story progresses the human tragedy and the digital world begin to spiral together in a dance of death and hope – and it the end the human and the artificial meld together in an epiphany of sorts.

It’s quite a thing.

I have to admit that until I read this story I knew nothing of Adam Johnson or his work – even though he won the Pulitzer Prize last year for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son. I think it’s time I read some more.

Charlotte’s mother arrives. She brings her cello. She’s an expert on the Siege of Leningrad. She has written a book on the topic. When the coma is induced, she fills the neuro ward with the saddest sounds ever conceived. For seven days, there is nothing but the swish of vent baffles, the trill of vital monitors, and Shostakovich, Shostakovich, Shostakovich. No one will tell her to stop. Nervous nurses appear and disappear, whispering in Tagalog.

The Perverse Lucidity of Nostalgia

“In her final years she would still recall the trip that, with the perverse lucidity of nostalgia, became more and more recent in her memory.”
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

When I was a little kid I, because I was an army brat, saw a lot of movies. A lot of movies. You could see them on base for a quarter. A quarter was worth more then than it is now, but it was still pretty cheap. I thought everybody went to movies all the time for a quarter. It was a shock when I started college and realized that not all movies started with a playing of the Star Spangled Banner (like all films on military bases did – no matter where you moved, the movies would start the same way, with the same film behind the music).

In my isolation, what I didn’t realize is that these films were at least a year old. They were the equivalent of a lower-tier dollar theater today. The other thing is that I didn’t realize how bad some of these films were.

And as a movie-loving child, I didn’t realize how bad these films were, even after I saw them.

And, like a curse, I still remember so many of these films. I forget my ATM PIN number with regularity but hundreds of movies still well up from the stratified thick mists of memory up to a half-century fossilized now – still clear and sharp. But I remember them not as I am now, but as I was then. I recollect them as a wide-eyed child, sitting in the dark, in amazement and wonder at the flickering images on the screen.

Given the time, not surprisingly, a lot of them are of the cheap, second-rate, third-tier, science fiction, monster-riddled, space opera genre. In those days I thought The Green Slime was the greatest piece of art the world had ever seen. I remember enthusiastically hauling all my friends back the next day for an encore showing.

However, even within this fallow soil of vast film awfulness, a few jewels would fall. For example, I remember First Spaceship on Venus – an amazingly odd East German – Polish film adapted from a Stanislav Lem novel. How this came to be featured on American Military bases during the height of the cold war is a mystery. I was excited a few years ago when I was able to get a copy from Netlix. Now, the thing is readily available on the internet and, although dated, is still an effective piece of entertainment. I always liked the look of the rocket.

Movie Poster for First Spaceship on Venus (Silent Star) - I remember the excitement of seeing this poster, even though I was probably six years old at the time.

Movie Poster for First Spaceship on Venus (Silent Star) – I remember the excitement of seeing this poster, even though I was probably six years old at the time.

Then, a few years ago, something came along to through those old memories back into my face. Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you don’t already know, the idea behind MST3K is that an ordinary everyman is trapped by evil scientists on a space station and forced to watch horrible old movies. He builds a few robot sidekicks to help pass the time and this motley crew are shown sitting there in silhouette, throwing up witty insults while the execrable cinema offerings are running across the screen.

My kids always said I should be on that show because of my bad habit of insulting the television to its face.

What the problem was, is that a lot of those films from my childhood showed up on MST3K – and, instead of the glorious examples of moving picture shows they were revealed for the celluloid crap they really were. I suffered from a terrible rejection of the beloved icons of my childhood.

Even First Spaceship on Venus showed up there. What a sacrilege.

I was reminded about this humiliation last night when Paste Magazine published a list of The Ten Most Unwatchable Films Featured on MST3K. I didn’t realize it has been 25 years since the show started… time flies. One good thing is that a lot of these are now available on Youtube – if you have a lot of time to waste.

Of the ten Paste Magazine reviled films – these are so bad they are in a world of their own and I only remember one of them from my childhood.

I won’t tell you which.

I will own up to one film, though. There was one movie I was that, although I didn’t remember the title, I did recall many scenes… the beautiful french temptress turning into a horrible monster with glowing green eyes, the dragon, and most of all, the spinning yellow spiral that burned the brave knights to death. I had always wondered what movie that was – and then, one day, I saw a bit of MST3K and there it was… The Magic Sword.

And now it’s out there on the internet and I can watch it whenever I want to.

You know, it isn’t as good as I remembered it… but it isn’t really all that bad.

MST3K Version

Unmessed-with Version

First Spaceship on Venus (more accurately known as Silent Star)