Chocolate bars should tell the truth.

God damn you Trader Joes 4lb chocolate bar that’s only sold at Christmas. Some babies weigh less than that, you know.  I think chocolate retailers should just be more blatant about what they’re selling – a chocolate bar that size should be shaped like a bag of potatoes, or a cellulite riddled arse. Small bars should be molded to resemble rotten, jagged teeth.

I’ve been sending some low-level damnation towards the gargantuan chocolate bar (minus two thirds now) for a couple of weeks now, but it was particularly vitriolic today. Basically I got the lovely news that a plethora of medical tests I had done last week (oh my gosh, really a plethora! By the time they stopped drawing blood out of me for a jingling bag of test tube vials, I was convinced my left arm was noticeably less full than it used to. That was just the blood work – there was a myriad of tests done on other body bits and pieces too, things were scraped, swabbed and excreted.) were all absolutely A-OK! Not that I was feeling particularly ill, just submitting to a regularly yearly check up that I’d put off for four years. Anyway with my trademark lack of will power, I decided to celebrate my standard blood sugar and cholesterol levels with a hamster sized chunk of chocolate. My averagely healthy body is regretting that celebration right now.

In a vague attempt to combat this self abuse I did some yoga today, outside under fairy lights in the yard with the company of a young budding yoga-latte. Gosh it was lovely: soothing music in the background, nothing too strenuous, some pleasant chat and all rounded off with the epiphany that I need to spend more time lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling.


The Next Big Thing in Tech

So apparently, the big brouhaha at the Consumer Electronics Show last week is the increase in sex tech. Or to put it in a 1980s B movie way, The Rise of the Sexbots.

The show included robot pole dancers (google it) with shapely mechanical thighs, flexible knee joints and rectangular cubes for heads that reminded me of traffic lights. Solana sexbots with their interchangeable heads have gotten a lot of attention, not least because sex with a headless body is inherently creepy no matter how much objective logic you apply to it.

Sex tech was always going to be a big thing, we were just waiting for the digital mechanics to become more sophisticated, and it brings with it some pros and cons.

Pro: everyone can get some. Right? There’s another option out there for the sexually frustrated or restricted. I’m thinking about people assigned to remote locations: astronauts in space; military postings; scientists living in the polar regions for months at a time. There is a school of thought that they could be used in prisons to combat rape, but I don’t think it would change much – sex crimes tend to be about exerting power and dominance over another being. Exerting dominance over a robot… what’s the point?

Con: let’s say that the AI does advance – which it will in the future – then people might value a relationship with a sexbot that can be programmed not to fight or criticize and will stay eternally beautiful, far above a relationship with a real person. Wouldn’t that mess with the individual psyche? Then as it becomes wide spread, with the group psyche? Might we always be aware that deep down we love a machine, a more heightened version of how crazy in love some people can be with their cars, and regret that we spurned other more difficult relationships with people, in favour of it? Or would we tell ourselves that the human brain is just a computer, so AI is basically the same as humanity, and therefore the love you feel for a machine is real? Look at R2D2, he might be fiction but he’s utterly beloved.

Pro/Con: The emergence of the digisexual. This is already a thing, people who don’t want to have sex with other living creatures but get their kicks completely from sextech. But if you make and mass produce convincing sexbots, then presumably you’ll get mass digisexualism. I can’t decide if it’s a pro or a con, because on the one hand is it really so bad that there are people who only want to have sex with robots? The population would probably decrease, which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on how long that decrease takes. But on the other hand, sex (and love, because the two do go hand in hand) is part of the inherent fabric of our world. Traditionally we tend to be emotionally closest to a long term sex partner so if you get a lot of people who write themselves out of that equation, do you end up with a lot of people who just don’t relate that well to others? Or what if you get people who are in relationships but prefer sex with robots to sex with their partners – that’s going to make for some uncomfortable dinner conversations.

Pro/Con: sexbots as sex workers.  Possible pro from this is that if you can manufacture robotic sex workers then it might lead to a decrease in sex slavery, and forced prostitution. (The cynical side of me says that naff all will change because people in the sex trafficking business might see investing in robots as more expensive than kidnapping and abuse.) Another possible pro though could be a decrease in STDs. Presumably, robots can’t contract them, and can’t pass them on… not unless you get a manky one that hasn’t been cleaned properly, ewwwww. Con: repeated wear and tear on a sexbot.. is anyone else imagining some ghastly mechanical malfunction ending up in a lot of blood and pain? Also I think you’d probably get a decided increase in prostitution because people would justify going to a sexbot as not cheating. Which in itself probably is not that big a deal, but gosh wouldn’t it be easy to get into the mindset of associating a robot prostitute as not that different from a human prostitute and vice versa, and then that blurs the lines of what’s cheating and what’s not. Which then leads us to the real fear that if sexbots are too realistic, it can blur your perception of the real people you have sex with, in a similar way that porn gives a false impression of what people like in the bedroom. If you’ve got a sexbot that’s always willing, subservient, never says no… would you expect and pressure a human partner to be the same?

We’ll find out in the next few years!

I drove to Pasadena last week on a raised freeway. To my right was the on ramp to another freeway directly below me. The on ramp curves up and around in a very steep incline probably 50 feet up. Normally I never notice the ramp, but it stood out because it was still. All the traffic was stopped, and a police car was parked some way ahead of the halted cars but closer to one lone car that was pulled over at the edge of the ramp. Next to the car was a man standing on the outside of the railing in a black t-shirt and beige shorts. There was a police officer sat on the railing a couple of feet away, close enough to talk but not close enough to touch the man, so if he did jump, there would be no chance of saving him.

This image keeps surfacing in my head, which is not surprising. Despite living in an age where depression – ranging from mild to debilitating – is a common struggle for the majority of people I know, I’ve not actually known that many adults  who wanted (or want) to end their life. Most of them I think wanted their life to change rather than end, and the one who wanted an ending succeeded a long time ago. But I’ve never seen someone there, ready to do it. So I keep thinking about this moment on the bridge, and wondering what the cop was thinking. Was he calm and resigned to whatever outcome came about, or was he panicking  inside and feeling like the man’s life was in his hands? Then I wonder about the man, he was in shorts and t-shirt on a rare cold and rainy day. Was he on his way somewhere else, driving alone in the car and struck by the thought that he could end it all right now? Or was it a deliberate plan, had he purposely left his home and gone to the freeway so that no one he knew would have to find him?

Then I wonder about the people who called the police. Did they drive past and register what was happening straight away, or did they think that maybe he had a different purpose for being there, maybe reaching for a cell phone he’d dropped? I often explain away the worst case scenario without even thinking about it. Did anyone want to stop and talk to him, or did everyone come to the decision that the police would be the best people to deal with it. I know I would have been terrified to take on that mantle, terrified to make the move or say the word that would prompt him into letting go of the railing, and even more terrified later that I could have said the right thing, but didn’t stop.

Harry Potter and the Disney Slapdown… and some philosophy thrown in for good measure.

I found this post in my drafts from earlier this Summer.

I am theme parked out this Summer.  Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios, and 18 hours of Summer insanity in the big wahoonie – Disneyland.

Or at least I thought Disneyland was the big one, after a trip to Universal Studios I’m not so sure.

I’m not a huge Universal fan, whereas I am a Disneyland junkie.  It’s been a while since I stumped up the cash for a Disneyland pass but it will definitely happen one day again in the future – maybe next year…. maybe this year… maybe this week.

The rest of the world though seemed to be all about Universal this year.  When I went to Disneyland, their splendid Fast Pass system ensured that even during the height of Summer when every single kid across the USA is off school, we never waited more than 35 minutes for any ride, and the only horrendous bottle neck area was – as always – outside the Tarzan treehouse towards the Pirates of the Caribbean (it’s just too skinny a patch of tarmac).

In Universal however, the week after all the LA kids are back in school, I played chaperone to a gaggle of young park enthusiasts. We waited over an hour for most of the rides, and we navigated our way through sardined packed oceans of people, in single file the aforementioned enthusiasts hanging onto my back pack straps like baby elephants gripping trunk to tail.

I blame Harry Potter for this.

See here’s the thing, Disney films are known and loved, but mostly by children in the Western world who like to collect the fluffy toys and the merchandising.  JK has fashioned a world that unites adults and children across the globe because they all want to live there, and has created characters and plots that enthrall people and spark lively, enthusiastic debate in over 70 different languages.

Universal has now made Hogsmeade, and Hogwarts a reality, allowing fans to immerse themselves in a life-size fantasy.  Fans of all ages, from every corner of the planet. Translation: many people; every sodding day of the year.

I understand this. I love JK Rowling’s fictional realm, and it is a huge relief to be immersed in tangible make-believe as opposed to being overtly aware of the uncomfortable 3D glasses on my face. But two hours for a ride???  Seriously? Go home! Take up hang-gliding, it will be better, and last a lot longer than the ride.

On a side note, I am not a huge fan of 3D rides… they’re okay, but I like movement and seeing things without goggles.  I avoid wearing my glasses; and when I’m in new places I’ll drive through the suffocating Summer heat with the windows rolled down because looking at it through car windows makes me feel like I’m watching it on a TV screen. Similarly I take very few pictures when I’m traveling because I don’t like looking at things through a lens (and really crap at taking pictures too, I’ve never cared enough to put in the effort – pathetic but true).  I am, and I assume everyone else is too, innately concerned that experiences should be real. My favourite professor from university – and coincidentally the only one whose surname I cannot remember, and have been unable to remember for around 17 years now which is profoundly irritating – posed the question to us: would we prefer an idyllic easy lifestyle or one of hard work and harsh conditions, if in the idyllic lifestyle we were owned by someone else who imposed no rules or obligations upon us, and in the harsh life we were free people? In later years when The Matrix came out, it occurred to me that this was a variation on that question, would you want an idyllic life if it wasn’t real? Do you want to run on a treadmill wearing a VR headset watching trees on a film, or do you want to run in the woods? And that therefore, ‘freedom’ and ‘reality’ are intertwined for us. It is an inherent notion within the mind that a real life is free life.


Fatbergs .. they are real.

Fatbergs are real.  No this is not a cruel new term for the obese, it is instead the word being used to describe the congealed mass of oils, fats, nappies, baby wipes and other crap we’re not meant to flush down the drains because it clogs up sewers.  Nice!

Earlier this year London sewage staff had the unenviable task of breaking up a gargantuan fatberg. Measuring 250 metres long, and weighing in at 130 tonnes (that’s in metric, it translates as 143 tons and 820 ft long for los Americanos, also translates as FUCKING HUGE) the vomit inducing monster log was blasted with high pressure hoses for weeks.  Most of the berg was recycled into biofuel (yay green technology!) but a teeny tiny little shoe box sized chunk of it is to be immortalized as a display at the Museum of London.  It smells so vile it has to be air-dried, and then housed in a sealed unit for display.

Please feel at liberty to insert your own pun here, the best I could come up with was ‘People will pay to see any old shit.’


FILE - This is Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 file photo of a fatberg covering an 1852-built sewer at Westminster in London. Part of a different monster fatberg that clogged one of Londons sewers is destined for fame in a museum. The Museum of London said T
This is actually a different, smaller fatberg … but you wanted to see a picture, right?



A quick fire break down.

I wasn’t going to write about the fires, but then I figured maybe folks in the UK were scratching their heads and thinking, “What’s going on?  Why is everything burning?  Southern California’s got huge cities and the rest of it is desert or ocean!! Why has this not come to an end yet?”

Weeeeeeeell.  There’s a couple of factors at play.

First of all Southern California has a lot of hills and even within the mega metropolis of LA County there’s undeveloped land which really isn’t suitable for building so you end up with large areas of scrubby plants that make excellent tinder. That’s what’s been happening in the Bel Air neighbourhood, the fire that was right next to the 405 freeway .. the one with the pictures that looked like people were taking a commute through hell.

Then there’s the fact that we had a normal Winter last year that included rain… lots of it. You’d think that lots of rain would prevent fire, but the reality is that the rain promotes a burst of vegetation growth, we have a glorious, incredibly beautiful spring, and then all that dense vegetation dries to a crisp during the long hot summer and you have about five times more extra tinder than you do during drought periods.

The winds.  For the duration of the fires we’ve been having massively strong on shore winds, pushing fires further and further inland to areas with even more isolated areas of scrubby dry plants to feed the flames.  Fire also creates it’s own thermal currents providing a little extra hot breeze to help spread those embers.

The locations.  Okay so here are two problems: 1) These fires start in the hills and take hold of enormous uninhabited tracts of land where it can spread very quickly, those areas are difficult for fire crews to get to.  So even if you have a lot of fire engines able to join the fight, you don’t necessarily have easy access to the fire for all of them.  2) The fires have broken out in multiple locations spread out over the Southern part of the state, with hours of driving in between them.  Typically when there’s a big fire, crews from neighbouring cities will be called in to help, the bigger the fire, the further crews will travel to help.  But with seven fires in very spread out locations, the engine power, people power and helicopter power is spread very very thin.

Evolution. There are a lot of California native plants that evolved to have a symbiotic relationship with fire.  The fire actually plays a role in the germination of seeds, and clears the dead scrub freeing up room for new growth, thus facilitating plant procreation. Wildfires are an inherent part of the landscape here, hugely populated areas are not.

Moving forward the next worry will be mudslides.  If we have another wet Winter, with no vegetation protecting the ground, all the water will soak into the loose topsoil and then gravity will get to work on the hills.  Hmmmn.  It’s December 10th and it’s over 80 degrees outside so rain doesn’t seem likely.  But without rain… we’ve got the worry of more wildfires.

And that’s why we are ablaze.

Do this before bed.

We are at record levels of light pollution, according to clever people who have figured out how to get paid for writing interesting stuff that may or may not be true… I’m inclined to believe this one though.

So yeah, the mega metropolises and general spread of electricity means that the earth is a less dark place than it used to be.  No biggie right? Well… apparently it is.

The extra light means that our sleep patterns are being disturbed and we’re not getting enough snoozing time.  Being someone who hasn’t slept properly in years, I’m firmly in the camp of ‘this is a problem’. (As opposed to you little lambkins that get 8 hours of uninterrupted bliss a night and gambol about merrily all day long thinking that the rest of us just need to drink a cup of chamomile tea before bed.) Bottom line, lack of decent sleep causes stress, weight gain, memory problems, and makes you look and feel like a badger tore off you head and shoved pine cones down your neck.

Anyhoo, researchers are saying that humans are finding ways to compensate for light pollution such as the simple yet elegant black out curtains. So that’s all well and good for them, but the light pollution is damaging the animal population.  Ah yes those little critters that lack opposable thumbs to draw curtains.. or indeed walls from which to hang them.

So these poor darling squirrels and ..woodpeckers… rabbits.. foxes.. frogs (my animal knowledge is a bit limited) are suffering from disrupted, insufficient sleep. They awkwardly shuffle around in the mornings desperate to find a discarded Starbucks cup, preferably one that contained a double espresso. They ramble through the day with sore eyes and a grouchy demeanor,  longing to curl up in the shadows instead of.. scampering about? Squeaking? Oh hell, what do animals DO all day?  I know foxes hunt, but what about rabbits?  They just seem to hop about with no purpose.  Frogs… same thing but less hopping, more sitting staring into space. Woodpeckers.. are annoying.

Annoying or not they are suffering from sleep deprivation.  But fear not folks, I have the answer to our forest (/golf course/school playground/alley behind the pub) friends problem.  We can solve everything if we unite and – ready for this? – if we unite and.. turn the lights off before bed.

Seriously, just remember to switch the bloody lights off.