Psychology, Tech

Hey, What’s Your Name?

Google Home Mini

Image by antonbe from Pixabay

Our current group (party, gaggle, company) of smart-speaker voice assistants have real names, Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google.  Eh.  Why didn’t Google give their assistant a name, a proper name.  She clearly has a personality of sorts, even if it is pre-programmed, and apparently now has feelings to hurt if you swear at her or speak impolitely.  If she was a real person she would, I’m sure, be embarrassed by her name and people would say “did her parents have a bad sense of humour?”

It’s not just me being flippant, for me it just doesn’t feel natural saying “OK Google” or “Hey Google”.  I’m sure they think it sounds cool but imagine if everyone who meets you and asks you a question had to prefix it with “Hey Joe” or “Hey Sue” or worse still “Hey Human” it would get boring very quickly, for both parties.  As for “OK Joe” – that just sounds unnecessarily aggressive.  I think it’s the “OK” or “Hey” prefix that niggles, just asking “Google?” would be a little better, to be fair.

If we are to, in the future, have a natural verbal interaction with technology it has to be exactly that – natural – not an excuse to crowbar the name of the service provider into the conversation.  At the end of the day you’re likely to know you’re using a Google device.  Their approach seems to hark back too much to the original Star Trek’s “Computer…”

Hey Google, please grace your AI with a real name, those of us who feel daft saying “Hey Google” might use it more.  Personally, having lived in Newark, and more specifically worked with a certain Mr Johnson for twenty years, a natural way to summon her would be to say “Now then Mush, what’s the weather like today?”

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Music, Psychology

Whoopin’ an’ a Hollarin’ Live From Madison Square Gardens

I don’t like live albums generally, mainly because most of the ones I’ve heard have been by American artists in front of American audiences and what normally happens is the singer will start singing and then half the audience recognise what they’re singing and start whistling, cheering and shouting “yeah” at a volume that drowns out the music altogether.  This wouldn’t be so bad but they do it throughout the song.

Showing that you appreciate that they’re playing a song you like is fine but what’s the point when you can’t hear the song for all the hollarin’ goin’ on.  You might as well sit at home and listen to the album.  It seems, like so much such behaviour, to be about self again – a kind of exclamation of how much more you appreciate it than everyone else, a kind of competitive congratulating, as though the artist will notice you specifically.

I don’t mind the audience singing along however, I myself remember singing loudly, along with everyone else in the crowd, to “Vienna” when Midge Ure played a free live concert here in Newark many, (oh heck, many) years ago.  That felt like a magical experience, a shared experience, being part of the song as we were all in harmony with the singer on stage, but whistling and shouting “yeah” isn’t being part of it. 

I recently heard an artist interviewed in the sixties mention that audiences in the UK were different, more attentive – that’ll mean less hollarin’, I’d assume.

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Fashion, Psychology, Society

Rescue Rover

Cat and Dog

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Today more people in the UK get pets from animal rescue centres than other sources and this is a good thing for the animals that have been removed from cruelty or neglect and the various organisations doing the rescuing do a great job.  Battersea Dogs and Cats Home even say in their adverts “rescue is our favourite breed”, to encourage people to look beyond pedigree and perfection to choose a pet.

Why though do so many people who obtain their pet this way emphasise the fact whenever they mention their dog or cat – for example someone writes in to a radio show saying “From Ellie, Tom and Boris, our Rescue Dog”?  Is it now a fashion tag – along the lines of “shabby chic”, or a badge of honour – a way to look good in other people’s eyes, to show how caring you are?

Personally whenever I hear the words “our rescue dog” I imagine that at any moment a beeper will go off and the dog will grab a rucksack and head off out the door and up a mountain clutching a Kendal Mint Cake. 

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Cars, DIY, Fashion, Psychology, Society, Transport

Less is More & More is Less Authentic

Car

Image by strikers from Pixabay

Why do so many people not want others to know what they drive?  So often it’s bloody obvious.  A common practice is de-badging which removes everything including the makers marks, the Vauxhall, Ford or Peugeot badges etc.  I’ve often wondered if some of them have watched TV police shows where they say “you’re looking for a dark blue Ford Fiesta” and they’ve thought, I can get one over on them, I’ll take all the badges off so they won’t know what kind of car it is at all.  Generally though car customisers say it’s about individuality, about not caring about such superficial frippery as brands and badges.  Okay.  It’s definitely not about not wanting people to know they actually drive an everyday branded car, of course, which brings me onto the additions…

Image does matter to some people though to the extent that they add badges that weren’t there when the car left the factory.  I’ve seen many old BMWs in particular which are clearly not M3s or M5s (the details are all wrong, I’m a car geek and make no apologies) and yet the badge on the back says 325i (petrol) when the car’s clearly a Diesel and there are M3 badges on the side, usually applied in the wrong place and at some kind of jaunty angle too – if you’re going to make out that you’ve got a higher spec car than you actually have then at least settle on one model rather than mixing two together and then find out where they’re meant to go and use some masking tape to mark out their location first – there’s this magical thing called the internet that has lots of instructions and even pictures, Google Image Search is your friend.  A quick search on Ebay reveals thousands of badges that can magically transform a humble hatchback into Type R – not even just a Civic Type R but a Fiesta Type R, a Polo Type R, a C3 Type R…  (glances outside at the silver car in the car park).

The best fakery I’ve seen (by which I mean the most unbelievable) was a brand-swap.  It is common for people who own Smart cars to apply the badges of Smart’s parent Mercedes Benz to their cars but the association on this one was, as far as I know, non-existent.  I saw a Ssangyong SUV parked and I noticed after a few moments that the badges looked odd, the owner had glued AMG badges over the Ssangyong ones, not replacing but stuck on top of the originals.  I looked at the back as he drove away and the same was true at the back but then the piece de resistance…  “Turbo” badges which were clearly from a Porsche, I could tell by the distinctive style of the lettering.  There was another equally preposterous badge on the rear but it escapes me what it was – something like AMG’s Black Edition or something similar.  Lastly I did see a 2004 Volvo V50 sporting Ferrari badges.

Finally there are the attempts to make an older car look newer – now this can have merit, it’s been done on Wheeler Dealers on TV many times including a Land Rover, a Range Rover and a Merc G-Wagen and it can even add to the resale value but another example that takes the biscuit was an Audi A3 which had the split-grille that preceded the current single, large trapezoidal one they use across the range now.  In an attempt to look newer the owner had painted the silver bit of the bumper between the two grilles black, painted or removed the top chrome trim of the bottom grille and the bottom of the top grille and added stick-on silver trim at the edge of the bit he’d painted.  Five stars for the idea, one star for the execution.

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Politics, Psychology, Science, Society

It Was Bound To End In Tiers

I’ve just heard yet another news report about anti-lockdown protests in London, people chanting “take your freedom back.”  What freedom has been taken away exactly?  The freedom to contract a potentially deadly virus and then pass it on to someone else who might then die or perhaps the freedom to die yourself?  Such people say it’s their responsibility if they catch it, or they don’t believe it exists – one man, when asked if he had a face mask said he hadn’t and was asked to remain behind the screen instead at which point he said “it’s sad that you’ve got to believe in this crap”– and this attitude demonstrates the levels of sheer selfishness in modern society and ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence – ask someone whose relative has died from it if it isn’t real.  Their protest is not about freedom, it’s about ego.  It’s about being told they can’t have parties, go to the pub and show off to their friends.  If they wear a mask then it means accepting, visibly, that they’re not able to do whatever they damn well like, that they’re not so badass and indestructible.  They’re terrified that they’ll look silly in a mask, weak, or afraid of the virus.  They’re terrified they’ll look boring, subservient or submissive, it’s not cool to follow rules.  They want to show that they’re too special or tough to be affected, that even if they catch it it won’t bother them, when this attitude is demonstrated by so-called celebrities who should be setting a good example then it’s all the worse.

What they’re also showing is that they care not a jot about anyone but themselves.

Since we started wearing face coverings in the UK I’ve seen quite a few people, men and women, wearing a mask over their mouth but not nose – a fundamental misunderstanding of the plumbing inside their own heads and the nature of Covid-19, preferring to live, as it does, in the lungs not the mouth, it’s not fatal halitosis.  I also saw a young couple, of the type you see on so-called Reality TV shows – all gelled hair and excessive makeup.  He was wearing a mask and at first sight she wasn’t, until I noticed she was wearing one – on her wrist.  I know she might have had a good reason to take it off but you have to wonder if she was instead taking the definition of “wearing” at face value, or not face value.  In our shop a man came in with what appeared to be a scarf covering his mouth and when he started to talk he pulled it down to around his neck.  I saw the same thing in another shop.  I wonder what they think the face coverings are actually for.  Similarly during the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia there were spectators stood in the road on the slow climbs, leaning in to within a couple of feet of the riders, shouting “encouragement” at them, many with their masks worn round their neck or on their chin at the most – potentially one big dose of the virus sprayed into each cyclist’s face.  No doubt it would have been the same at other such events.  I’ve even heard it said that “it’s ok, I’m outdoors” – hence large groups travel halfway across the country to see some snow.

The first lockdown was imposed because something had to be done fast to keep people apart as face masks weren’t readily available.  But it was also because of the reason the subsequent lockdowns have happened – because a large number of people won’t follow rules and as such they have to be legislated into doing so.  We’re told to wear masks, many won’t; we’re told to stay two metres apart, they won’t; we’re told not to go to each others houses or gather in large groups, people gather in large groups and have parties at each others houses, or just continue to visit their friends and family like nothing’s happened. 

The lockdown measures aren’t the fault of the government or scientists but the arrogant and/or stupid who refuse to follow simple rules, who can’t compromise for a year – to go without socialising, to go without their holidays like most of us have.  If they’d be sensible then the pubs that they complain about being closed could still be open.

Those crying about losing their freedom would still expect the NHS to make them better if they catch the virus, they’ll probably also be the ones shouting loudest to get the vaccine first too. Our global situation needs cooperation not selfishness – we’ve seen plenty of the former but sadly too much of the latter.

[For those outside the UK the title refers to our Tiered Lockdown system, where we’re mostly in Tier 4, or is it 5?]

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Blog on The Landscape, Outdoors, Psychology, Society

The Psycho Path Test

…or how to restrain yourself after being nearly barged into the path of a speeding van.

Street

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

There are “Rages” for everything these days so I feel justified in adding another here – Pavement Rage. It’s not new but I’ll elaborate anyway. Some months ago I suffered yet another example of pedestrian selfishness. There is a road in the town centre which has pavements either side of a single traffic lane, the pavements used to be about one person wide but have been widened to accommodate two people side-by-side, which is fine until you get a couple walking along and you’re walking towards them and when you meet neither of them wants to move either in front of or behind their partner and you end up getting forced to step into the road, hopefully avoiding any traffic. You can’t even stand still as you’ll just get barged aside without so much as an excuse me. I don’t mind if the people are unable to step aside easily, such as the elderly or disabled but for two able-bodied people to refuse to give way to another person is just ignorant and it makes you want to scream sometimes. Hence the pavement rage.

Some other choice examples…

I was walking along a wide pavement when a family group was walking towards me, not one of them moved aside and I ended up stood in a flower bed as they sauntered past. Then a chap in Lycra leaving a shop gets on his bike on the pavement, starts pedalling and swerves right across in front of me, nearly knocking me over – without even the slightest acknowledgement or apology, he hadn’t looked before setting off so was probably oblivious to my presence anyway. Another evening while walking home in the dark I saw a light on the path ahead of me, hovering silently, moving rhythmically side to side, was it an alien presence? No, it was a woman on a bike, I stepped into a driveway to let her go past, nearly twisting my ankle and falling over in the process, and she rode past without so much as a “thank you”.

On a Saturday morning, walking along a wide pavement carrying two heavy bags of shopping I was approaching a woman with a pushchair and two kids, one on either side of her, taking up the whole width of the path, seeing that she had no intention of getting either of her kids to move out of the way I considerately stepped off the pavement and stood in front of a parked car – she then strode past again without so much as a thank you; because obviously she was entitled to take up the whole path and I was obliged to move out of her way so therefore she had no need to be grateful, how selfish I am.

The worst was when I was walking along the same narrow road mentioned above, eating a bag of chips and a couple were approaching from the other direction, they looked well-off from the way they were dressed and as they reached me the man, who was on my side of the pavement, nearest the buildings, had no intention of moving out of the way, having that typical modern arrogance and sense of expectation that other people should get out of his way, because he’s important. To avoid losing my dinner I had to swerve closer to the building and nearly fell against the window of a pancake shop. I immediately turned and shouted after them “well don’t mind me” but they ignored me, the look on the face of the woman who was sat just inside the same window told me she couldn’t believe the other man’s behaviour either.

These are all examples of how much of our society has become so self-obsessed, so arrogant and aggressive, that people have the expectation that other people should stop for them, or stand aside for them, that they’re sense of self-importance is so strong that they feel that they can just do whatever they want to and sod anyone else. Has it really become wrong to be considerate and polite?  I hope not.

[The title was of course inspired by that of Jon Ronson’s excellent and fascinating book, The Psychopath Test]

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Beer, Fashion, Food, Marketing, Psychology, Society

This Is A Blog Post… With A Twist

Gourmet Burger

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Some things are fine as they are yet people think that they’ve got to be reinvented, altered, made edgier, to be trendy, to appeal to the “modern consumer” who wants new experiences, blah, blah, blah. So we end up with food with unusual ingredients – Salted Caramel, Salted Chocolate, Chilli Chocolate – when I was growing up that would be the description of a Choc Ice. If there’s a left-field ingredient and especially if there’s a high-end price tag then it’ll be popular, just as if you call a coffee with milk an “Americano” or a “Flat White” then those people who consider themselves cooler than everyone else will flock to have their branded wax cups with their names scrawled on the side visible for all to witness. I’m avoiding the word “hipster” here but, they know who they are.

I particularly dislike the phrase “with a twist“. I enjoy Fish and Chips, I like them with Mushy Peas (not a pea crush, or puree), or curry sauce (not a spicy jus, thankyou), what I really don’t want is a twist, as in “Fish and Chips with a twist” or a “Bakewell Tart with a twist” – which will again indicate some odd ingredient has been used, like chocolate in a Spaghetti Bolognese. Conversely though the same phrase has now become so fashionable amongst the media that even just having different normal flavours are described as being “a twist” such as the Lemon Bakewell, which isn’t really a Bakewell but I like them anyway – this shows that some variations can work, as long as they’re in harmony with the original, a pickled onion Bakewell would be diabolical.

The “re-imagined classics” though are made all the worse when you see the portion sizes – a tiny piece of battered cod sat on top of a log-cabin shaped pile of ten chips, chunky of course, with a small ramekin of pea puree and whatever makes the twist, a tiny piece of “Beef in Artisan Ale Gravy Pie” floating on a smear of mashed potato, or a handful of chips sprinkled with chunky sea salt in a miniature galvanised bucket with fake newspaper round the edge, to look “authentic“.

Some of the best food is simple, tasty and satisfyingly filling. There’s no “twist” that can make a tray of chips, smothered in curry sauce with a battered sausage perched precariously on the top after an evening of beverages at the local pub any better than it is.

And the twist is… no twist. Not even a slice of lemon.

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Food, Psychology, Random, Society

A Pork Pie, Out of Place

Pies on a wall

Pies on a Wall image by Andy Vickers

I was once walking in the countryside of Yorkshire and saw two unaccompanied (presumably meat) pies on a dry stone wall, there was nobody within sight who could have left them there. What a waste of a good pie. A few years later and more locally…

I looked in the discounted items fridge in the supermarket, saw a twin-pack of pork pies and put them in my basket. Only much later at home when I thought that I’d need to eat them as they’d be near their “use-by” date did I look at them and realise they hadn’t been reduced at all, I looked at my receipt and I’d paid full price for them. Someone had apparently seen some cheaper ones in the fridge and instead of returning the ones they’d put in their basket to where they were on the proper shelf they’d just stuffed them on the discount shelf, for someone else to put back presumably, as it’s their job to repatriate such items, of course. I check for the yellow “oops” stickers religiously now, especially if something seems too good to be, er, reduced.

I wrote the above a while ago, but strangely I’ve been seeing this much more since the covid-19 lockdown period began, all I can think of for this is that people appear to follow the rule of not putting things back on the shelf once you’ve touched them but instead wait until they’re on an aisle where no-one can see them and then they dump the unwanted pack of chocolate deserts amongst the bread.

Unless it’s a secret tactic by the supermarkets to tempt you into buying things you might not have noticed. Hmm, maybe not.  Strange days indeed.

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Marketing, Psychology, Society

Stand There, Wave This

Cyclists

Image by stokpic from Pixabay

It’s probably not a new idea but I’ve only really noticed in the last few years because I’ve been watching the cricket and the Tour of Britain when it caused massive disruption, sorry, “brought valuable income”, to my home town. The idea in question is handing out flags and banners for spectators to wave during events where, unlike football, the spectators are unlikely to be wearing sponsor branded clothing.

Perhaps you’d expect people watching the Tour of Britain to be waving Union Flags as the cyclists sped past but no, they were enthusiastically waving little green flags in the faces of the lycra-clad pedellers. It soon became obvious that these flags carried the logo of the event sponsor. How does waving a piece of green sponsored plastic show your support to the event? Even national celebrations aren’t immune; I saw a clip of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations and there were people waving Union Flags, nothing unusual apart from the middle of the flag was covered with the “OK Magazine” logo.

At the cricket fans wave boards with “4” on it when a player hits a boundary, again for no apparent reason – everyone actually paying attention would be aware of the fact that he’d hit a boundary – but just as prominent as the “4” of course is the series sponsor’s name which I will not repeat here as the only advertising on this blog pays for the hosting so I don’t have to. This has also spread to snooker now as at the 2019 World Championship crowd members were holding sponsored banners with “Ton Up” on it to wave when a player scores a century break, accompanied by, when I saw a bit of it, John Virgo hysterically screaming “ton ups, ton ups”… For no apparent reason.

These are examples of how people desperate to be part of what they’re watching, the selfie generation who have to show they were there, to prove it by being in the photo, are tricked into advertising for the sponsors in the hope that they might be seen on tv because they’re waving their bit of printed plastic while also feeling that they’re more involved, as people don’t seem to be satisfied with being passive spectators any more.

(The writing of this blog post was supported by Yorkshire Tea and a Kit Kat, by the way.)

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Architecture, Outdoors, Psychology, Society

The World Wrapped in Cotton Wool

Warning Signs

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

In recent years, it seems to me, our urban architecture has turned into a sea of yellow and red warning signs and yellow and black striped tape.

Today there seems to be a constant corporate fear of being sued that has caused so much of this kind of protectiveness. For example the Royal Mail depot near me has big warning signs at the site entrance warning of a “Trip Hazard” which may be the ends of the lowered pavement where public pedestrians are corralled between railings towards where they collect parcels. Where this public path intrudes onto the roadway a big yellow line and accompanying signage tells the humans to not stray outside the lines lest they be flattened by Postman Pat’s little red van. There are further trip hazard signs and yellow and black tape at the actual entrance to the collection office as despite there being a ramp to one side the straight ahead approach involves negotiating, unbelievably, a normal height step. OMG, get me some climbing gear. Despite all this there are still the big signs saying “Beware of Vehicles”.  When I was young we were taught the Green Cross Code to follow when near roads.

Another example of the idea of “you didn’t do enough to stop me injuring myself” are scaffolding poles – “now padded for your safety and comfort” and also wrapped in yellow and black tape. I wonder whether it was a ploy to support the manufacturers of tubular yellow foam products, maybe they weren’t selling enough as pipe lagging but at some point in the last fifteen years it was decided that every bit of publicly accessible scaffolding needed legwarmers. On pavements the world over there are lampposts, street signs, litter bins, bollards, walls and even doorsteps or whole sections of buildings jutting out into the path of pedestrians yet none of those things are padded for your protection, or edged with wasp-coloured tape. You can’t say that it’s because as a temporary structure people might not be aware that they’re there as even a lamppost is an unknown obstruction to anyone who doesn’t know the area well – and even to someone who is local but not paying attention. I’m amazed that the lampposts and railings aren’t similarly adorned. Yet.

I can see the point of helpful signage, warning of a hidden step, or low beam, or something round a corner that’s not obvious, just as I can see the point of the interlock on my washing machine that stops you opening the door until the water’s gone – it saves you having to mop up the floor, and aircraft doors can’t be opened in flight for obvious reasons – but some things can only exist because companies think they need to protect people from themselves because they can’t be trusted to negotiate the world without explicit instructions. Trains for example used to have windows that could be opened while moving, as could the doors but not any more because someone might try to depart the vehicle at speed, or perhaps just part of them.

So we end up with shops selling luke-warm coffee or cups plastered with warning that the contents may be hot. Microwave meals similarly warning that on removing the item from the microwave the contents “may be hot” – well I would hope so otherwise it’s time to buy a new microwave.

Perhaps the companies have a point, that more people today don’t have or just don’t use common sense, or maybe that people are more willing to sue if they’ve not been explicitly told not to do something.  Either way at this rate there is a risk of missing the hazards because you’re too busy looking at the signs.

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