Hanggliding Over Volcanoes

About four months ago, I gave one of my old friends a floppy disc, one of those archaic, flimsy ways to transfer data from the last century. He vanished back to the depths of Kent with it, I flew back to Singapore and didn’t hear another word from him for months. That made me sad.

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Anniversaries and terrible ideas

East Coast Park
We had a day of birthday and anniversary celebrations today. In the morning, a birthday party for a three year old over at East Coast Park. Everyone else there seemed to know each other from the same church, a place in a shopping mall near our old flat in Chinatown, surrounded by Korean barbecue joints and dodgy karaoke places. Well, redemption theology does suggest you put churches near where there are people needing to be redeemed. People kept asking us if we went to the church, which made me wonder if either the establishment is utterly enormous, or they just aren’t very observant and never remember anything about the rest of the congregation. We ate too much ice cream and cake, came home, then La Serpiente sacked out.

At two this afternoon, we got up and crossed the road to our friend’s birthday party, where I met a guy who was a painter. “Ah, like Hitler” I said, going for the most demented conversational gambit that crossed my mind. We talked about work, and Nazis, paint and adolescent scrawlings in all-boys schools, and then I told people about my latest business idea*: a meth lab in Singapore.

Nobody would be stupid enough to have a meth lab in Singapore, as they’d be bound to get caught and executed. Which makes for the perfect cover, as nobody is going to be looking for something that doesn’t have any chance of existing. And if you want to double bluff things, why not tell everyone you’re building a meth lab, thus further shielding yourself from suspicion?

I’m not sure what the target demographic would be. Probably hipsters obsessed with Breaking Bad: but are there many of them in this compact city state? Perhaps before forming a proposal and going to the bank to get funding, more research is required. Somebody at the party said they could introduce me to a police officer though. That would be handy.

This evening we left such idiocy behind for our anniversary dinner (the anniversary of our first date, rather than our marriage). This year I was a month and a half late, but compensated for that with lots of wine and apple and pinenut crumble. We were at a lovely restaurant, spoiled only by the blue glow of every other person’s smartphone. Why go to a fancy schmamcy restaurant just to check your email?

* Well, business idea as in “something that’s going to end up in my time travel novel as an example of something very stupid that somebody’s going to do, rather than my plan to get rich and retire”. Just in case you’re reading this with irony-proof goggles.

Yes Dear

“The whole point of AI –“

“Is being able to ignore your wife without being caught.”


“Think about it, the Turing test isn’t really designed to see if a computer can pass as a human or not. It’s there to see if you can convincingly feign attention to a conversation.”

“That’s not the point”

“OK, to be fair the early ones weren’t great at it. There was a prototype bot that would just say ‘yes dear’ regardless of what you said to it, but they’ve been making great strides.”

“I think your wife would notice pretty fast if you were doing something else and getting a chatbot to talk to her.”

“Well, duh. But it’s fine on video calls. We don’t even have to bother with the video – we just fake the bandwidth dropping until the image freezes, and then you can run it with voice synthesis.”

“The greatest minds of our age are concentrating on ways to not have to listen to their wives over Skype?”

“No, don’t make it sound so awful. It’s open sourced – they want to enable everyone to avoid having to listen to their wives.”

“Phelps is making stuff up again” said Nina. “Or rather, not paying attention to what’s happening. You have to give him some credit though, it is all about the bandwidth.”

“The bandwidth?” I asked.

“Is there an echo in here or do you just like repeating what I say? Yes, the bandwidth. Skype has predictive speech built into it now, so that when the bandwidth drops, you don’t notice because the conversation continues – the Skypebot will just predict what the other person would have said to you, and then splice that into the stream.”

“Yes, but then if the bandwidth is bad, the other person can’t hear anything either.”

“Yes, but. You have a Skypebot on either end doing the prediction. So that way the whole conversation stays in sync. Simple.”

“How can you be so sure they’ll stay in sync? Surely you’d need more bandwidth to feed the information back to somewhere else to make predictions than – “

“You really don’t understand information theory, do you Wong?”

Phelps guffawed. “You do realise that the main application is just for the husband and the wife to simultaneously ignore one another?”

“Yeah, they’re outsourcing their marriage. Like, wow, I’m so amazed by that innovation.” Nina sneered and then stood up. “See you geniuses later.”


“You’re a burrito” he said.

“Is this one of those racist metaphors about food? Because if it is, champ, you win the prize for being unobservant – I’m Chinese American, not Mexican.”

“Maybe he thought you were a small Spanish donkey.”

“Thanks Nina.”

“I’m not being racist” Phelps said.

“For once.”

“I can’t be racist, I’m a computer programmer!”

“Okaaay. I’m just going to tiptoe around that non-sequiter -”

“Are you calling me fat?”

“No, I’m not calling you fat, Phelps. Although you’re the one that called me a burrito.”

“I’m trying to tell you, I’m not doing that. It’s your classification.”

“Classification? I’ve been classified as beans wrapped in bread?”

“When you put it like that,” said Nina, “he may have a point.”

“No,” groaned Phelps. “You’re a burrito. B. U. R. R. I. T. O.”

“I can spell, Phelps.”

“It’s an acronym, which is what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“An acronym for what, Phelps?”

He blushed.

“Go on, what does it stand for?”

Phelps looked at his shoes, cleared his throat. Eventually he looked up, staring off into the middle distance.

“Bored. Unreliable. Really ignorant. Totally obstreperous.”

“Yeah, well says who? And burrito has two rs, not one.”

“The first r is for reliable, as in ‘unreliable'” Nina said.

“Well, thanks for that” I said.

“Don’t get mad,” said Phelps. “It’s the computer that decided that.”

“The computer that you programmed! And anyone, Nina, you can’t sit there looking so smug. What’s your classification?”


“And what does that stand for?”

“Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

“I’ve had enough, I’m going” I said, gathering my things into my bag and then stomping away. Until I remembered Nina had driven me over and I had no other way home. Who says I’m unreliable?

Coffee and writing

I settled down and wrote a thousand words of my time-travel/xenophobia story at lunchtime today, while my wife and children slept. This made me feel very productive, but also utterly exhausted, as I missed out on that crucial nap. It’s hard to balance creativity and sleep. I suppose when you’re younger and have less responsibilities you can stay in your garret and smoke clove cigarettes, and be more productive. Perhaps I need to just drink a lot more coffee. An awful lot more coffee.
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The Heisenberg Infidelity Principle

I always enjoy hearing about the contrasting mores in different societies. Over lunch today we discussed what is the Japanese concept of cheating in a relationship. (One of my colleagues had been to Tokyo recently, and corroborated what she’d been told by asking three different Japanese people: who am I to argue with such significant sample sizes?)

Was there a physical line you couldn’t overstep? Was it something psychological? Something mental? Perhaps these questions revealed more about the people asking…
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