Humans Still Need Apply

Gwilym_DaviesThere is a very well done video sailing around the Internet today called “Humans Need Not Apply.” It is a short editorialized documentary about the role computers will play in the coming years. That role being a voracious consumer of human jobs.

No job is safe, according to the video, not even creative work. Computers exist that will learn to do whatever you do, and companies will replace you with them, thus saving themselves millions, putting all of us out of work, and bringing about the fall of modern society.

Here’s the video:

 

Some jobs are in jeopardy of being assumed by robots. No question. But all of them? Fall of modern civilization? No.

Technology Is Not Community

Baristas are mentioned a number of times in the video as people whose jobs are, as the video puts it, “over.” Automated coffee machines will take their jobs because “most people don’t care. They just want a good cup of coffee.” But this argument exists in a world where the only reason a person goes into a coffee shop is to get a cup of coffee.

I go to my local coffee shop for lots of reasons. Coffee is one of them, but I also go because I like it there. I like the people who work there. I’m not just buying coffee, I’m buying the lifestyle of a person who drinks fine coffee in the company of others who do the same. I have used coffee machines in Europe, and while they make a pretty decent cup, they are not, nor will they ever be, the same thing. There are still patisseries on the streets of France.

Espresso machines are already a pushbutton affair, for the most part. They’re automated as far as they can be without removing the barista herself. Why? Because she’s necessary. Without her there’s no experience.

Power Isn’t Sexy If You Can’t Sleep With It

Have you ever felt that management sometimes seems to hire more people simply so that management can say it oversees more people? Have you ever known anyone to put on their resume how many direct/indirect reports they manage? Absolutely and of course. Why? Because overseeing people is powerful and power is desirable. Do people also put down how many computers are under their control? Sometimes. But who gets a corner office: the admin of 1000 computers or the manager of 1000 people?

Power is sexy, but it’s a lot less sexy when the power you have is over something you can’t, except perhaps in some parts of Japan, fornicate with.

Simply put, let’s all calm down. Robots might be coming, but Skynet isn’t around the corner.

Mr Francey Pants Turns 40

176px-Tour_de_France_logo.svgI didn’t want to turn 40 years old this July. The tasteful white squares of my phone’s calendar seemed to glow white hot with advancing age. What horrid health problem will I suffer first? Hearing loss? Creaking bones? Dusty farts? Time will tell.

I decided to cheer myself up by previewing one of my favorite July pastimes, the Tour de France. When I did, I noticed that, lo and behold, the tour ended in Paris on my 40th birthday, July 27th, 2014. I texted my girlfriend Sweetie to ask if she wanted to go to Paris. She said yes, but there was no way she could afford it. I looked at flight costs. Then I said some bad words.

I reached out to a pilot friend about possibly getting some buddy passes to get the trip cost way down, and he came through for me. Without his help we could never have gone. We also got lucky on the cost of a rental car, which helped a lot. And we chose some off the beaten path places to stay, which ended up being absolutely amazing anyway.

When thinking about travel expense, I think, okay this is gonna cost me, and I might have to never drive a really nice car if I keep doing this. But when I’m so old that I can no longer hear my creaking bones or the slapping sounds of my dusty farts, which will I be more glad I had: the travel, or a cool car?

I think maybe it’ll be the travel.

Getting There

We flew out of Atlanta into Paris, then hopped on the TGV train to Bordeaux. I wanted to spend as few nights as possible in Paris because it is a vampire with an insatiable thirst for Euros. While you are sleeping, Paris creeps into your bedroom and attaches itself to your pockets and credit cards and slurps greedily. C’est vrai.

384px-Thomas_Voeckler_TDF_2011In Bordeaux we rented a Fiat 500 from Europcar, partly because Europcar was cheapest, but also because they have a Tour de France team with the Frenchman Thomas Voeckler on it. I like Voeckler. He rides with such intensity that his tongue attempts to escape his face to get away from all the suffering.

The Europcar lady was annoyed with us because we were 5 hours early to pick up our car. I probably made a mistake when I booked it. She let us take it anyway, though, after I explained in French that I hoped she spoke English.

After a short drive to a parking garage that seemed deeper than most mines — and probably some volcanos as well — we found a parking spot for our little car and headed to find our hotel.

The Hotel That Was Not A Hotel

I’m not sure where Sweetie found L’Annexe de Gerald, but when we got to the address, we were confused. We looked up and down the street for something that looked like a hotel, but saw nothing. No sign. No front desk. Eventually we looked at the door and saw that it had a business card on it with the proprietor’s name. We buzzed and someone answered.

Up a circular flight of stone stairs in an unlit entryway, on what the French call the “premiere étage,” or “French Second Floor,” we were welcomed into a very nicely appointed apartment that was, apparently, our B&B. When I think about it, I don’t see any reason why you can’t have a B&B inside an apartment, but I was weirded out a bit.

Once we were inside, we saw that the room was very nice. The gentleman helping us was courteous and spoke much better English than my French. We even had a window, which looked out onto a lovely stairway where the residents of Bordeaux are cultivating penicillin.

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If you told me that there was a big five publisher down that stairway who was ready to back my next novel project, I’d still ask if I couldn’t just call him or her on the phone, or maybe hand down my manuscript by way of attaching it to a long stick. Anything to avoid the mossy stairs of doom. Just think of the spores. The spores!

While I gaped out the window at the doom stairs, Sweetie explained to the proprietor that we needed to leave early in the morning to drive to the Pyrenees to see the Tour de France. We wanted to leave Bordeaux at 7am so we wanted to get our included breakfast pretty early.

“Oh no,” he said. “It’s not possible. I will be sleeping.”

Bouches Get Amused

Instead, we went by a nearby market and bought ourselves some breakfast and picnic items. The hotelier said we could put our breakfast items in his fridge, then just grab them in the morning on our way out. That handled, we headed out for some lunch and some sightseeing.

Our first proper meal was at a tiny cafe that just happened to be by our hotel, but it was still better than some nice and quite expensive dinners we’ve shared here in the US. The French aren’t kidding at all about their food. You hear that all the time, but it’s absolutely true.

We walked around a bit, saw a protest of some kind and discussed what it might be about, then returned to our room to rest up a bit and get ready for dinner. Dinner at Le Bouchon Bordelais was so good it doesn’t even bear talking about. I might sell it short. Or I might, in order to do it justice, talk it up so much that no rational person could lend credence. But that’s okay. I know what I tasted.

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We enjoyed a Chateau Haut-Segottes 2006 with dinner. A bit of internet research reveals that wine snobs seem to turn up their noses at this wine, which is strong evidence that it is in my price range. I’m by no means a wine expert, but I didn’t have any problems enjoying it.

After a bit of dessert, Sweetie went into the kitchen to beg for recipes, buttering everyone in sight with compliments. The chef agreed to send his cheesecake recipe, but I’m not sure if he actually did. We left her email in case he feels generous.

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We hit the bed, ready to get up early and head into the mountains for some professional cycling.

Day of the Tourmalet

We woke up and showered, then crept across the creaking boards of the B&B, trying not to wake the other guests. The hotelier had said we could find our way into the private kitchen to get our breakfast items on our way out, but once there, we found the door locked from the inside. Great. No breakfast.

We gave it up for lost and crept on down the hall to the front door. I paused to write in the guestbook: “We will be very hungry today.” I signed my name. And then the kitchen door opened and the hotelier appeared with our breakfast items. We thanked him, gave him his keys back, and Sweetie added “…but we had a lovely stay” to the book.

One of my stated goals of the trip was to be at the Col du Tourmalet to see the riders come over the summit and head down the other side. I wanted to be sat there with some red wine, a baguette, and some cheese, yelling “allez, allez, allez!” with the rest of the crowd. And that’s exactly what we did. Here you can see me and Sweetie in silhouette as Voeckler turns onto the summit.

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It was a real thrill to finally see the Tour in person after watching it year after year. I’m so glad I got to go.

Afterward we sat in traffic for a long time because the French police closed the road in both directions. I have no idea why, nor did anyone else. I asked what was going on, if a car had crashed, but they said no. The Gendarmes just closed it. Vive la France!

That night we stayed at the Hostellerie d’Aste, a lovely little hotel next to the Adour river. It was nice and cool and we got to sleep with the sound of the rushing Adour pouring in our open window.

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Beast Mode

I awoke to a great shock and a feeling of despair. Our room was positively awash in the greatest scourge of our times: the typeface Comic Sans. Why, France? You’re supposed to be better than this.

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We had a long day of driving ahead of us. I went down and ordered a cafe au lait for Sweetie. The waiter made worried eyes at me when he saw that I was taking madame’s coffee up to her so she could enjoy it while she got ready.

My impression of the French is that they like long meals. They also prefer to drink their coffee in a coffee drinking place. Maybe at a patisserie in the city they’ll give you a paper cup so you can drink your espresso while you walk and munch a croissant, but everywhere else they order a coffee and drink it right there. We are used to drinking coffee while we do things. Things like driving, or making more coffee.

I explained to the man at the hotel’s front desk that we were checking out, but I ran out of French. I explained that I’m learning the language, and it’s hard for me because I am a little dumb.

“Je suis de train d’apprendre Francais. C’est difficile pour moi, parce que je suis en peu bête.”

I prefer “bête” to “stupide” because it also means “beast” in addition to just “dumb.” I think it describes me better. The gentleman laughed and said “Nononono!” but he doesn’t know me. I’m totally a little beast.

Operation Viaduct

Before we left, we learned from Sweetie’s dad that we would be traveling close to the Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world. So we went out our way to check it out. It was worth it. I have driven over some bridges in my day, but this thing is freakin’ huge.

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But the day’s wonders didn’t stop there. Later, at a rest stop, we learned how far the French are willing to go to sell jam: real far. Like reach over and tweak your nipple far.

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That night we arrived in Le Puy en Velay, not knowing that it would prove to be our favorite evening of the trip. It was such a gorgeous little town. We explored the Cathedral there, where pilgrims start their journey along the Way of St. James.

Notre Dame du Puy en Velay

Notre Dame du Puy en Velay

Sweetie suffers from a condition known as "blurface"

Sweetie suffers from a condition known as “blurface”

Still full from lunch, we then ate a traditional French light dinner in our hotel room.

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The wine key in the background, which we bought in Bordeaux, would later be confiscated by the TSA in Philadelphia. Thanks for protecting us, guys.

There’s a Paris In France

The next morning we headed for Paris. We caused an international incident on the highway when the toll machine wouldn’t take our cards.

Driving past sunflowers and cowflowers

Driving past sunflowers and cowflowers

European credit cards have a microchip in them. Even though previous machines had accepted our non-chipped cards, and even though we had a card with a chip, we still couldn’t get the machine to accept either. A long line and many annoyed French people resulted.

We used an intercom to ask for help, but the lady who answered just said to use another line. We couldn’t do that because we were blocked in by a long line of cars, but she’d already hung up. Eventually a very nice lady helped us call back and read my address to a gentleman. He couldn’t understand my spelling of my name because while I speak some French, I don’t know how to say letters of the alphabet the French way. C’est dommage.

Once in Paris, we navigated a confusing warren of toll pavilions and tunnels to the airport. A speed camera flashed at me once. I expect to get a Parisian speeding ticket in the mail any day now. Once at the airport, we said goodbye to our little Fiat and hello to a hot, crowded RER train into the city. Ah, Paris!

Might Seeing

In the morning, we headed out to see some sights. The Tour wouldn’t be in Paris until around 6PM. We saw this big building which I identified as a crazy detailed hardware store of some kind, like a Home Depot.

French Home Depot

French Home Depot

Later we walked through the lock section of the hardware store. It’s an open air market kind of thing, but for locks.

Where locks are sold

Where locks are sold

And finally, we saw the greatest Parisian landmark of all, the Eiffel Tower. I have to say I thought it was a lot less impressive than people make it out to be, but a French buddy of mine says it looks a lot more impressive at night when it’s all lit up.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

We watched the end of the Tour de France later that night, as they rode up and down the Champs Élysées. As I said before, it was a great thrill. Then we ate some escargots at a restaurant called, as one might expect, Escargots, and that was that.

I am a very lucky guy to get to go on a road trip around France with my Sweetie. We had great wine and lots of fun, and all I had to do was turn 40 years old. Totally worth it.

Employee Action Report

Brad chose his moment carefully, during the mid afternoon lull, to call Cody into the office. Misty couldn’t be left in a busy store alone even for a moment. The pressure of even two people in line would be too much for her. She’d heat up and seize like an oil-starved truck motor. So Brad waited until mid afternoon. The lull. Then he called for Cody.

Cody sloped into the office and sat down. Brad sat down too, and sighed.

“We have to have a face-to-face because you protested formally. So let’s read the complaint.” Brad read from the card.

CUSTOMER COMMENT CARD
Boy did not help. Brought many shirt but no fit. Boy also step on tail. I think fire boy.

“I think don’t fire boy,” Cody said, emphasizing boy because he was a grown man of fully 19 years.

“Want to tell me what happened, in your words?” Brad asked.

“Have you reviewed the video?”

“In cases of a customer complaint the manager isn’t requi-”

“You should just watch the video.”

Brad thought about it. He did have the managerial power to review tape, although he usually only did so when he suspected theft or lackadaisical shirt folding. He turned in his swivel chair, being careful not to bark his knees against the little filing drawer, and faced the tape recording equipment. It was older than Cody.

On the screen were four quadrants from cameras around the store. One looked out over the entrance from the mall walkway. On it people walked by holding shopping bags and looking at their cell phones. Two others pointed at the rear and side displays, and a third looked down at the register area. Brad could see Misty near the front of the store, staring off into space. Briefly he wished he had a camera view of her thoughts. What could they be?

Brad used the machine’s controls to switch the view from the recording deck to playback, then pulled the TUESDAY tape from the rack. He chunked and whirred it into the machine. An image of Tuesday Misty appeared, assuming her position at the front of the store. Brad fast forwarded the tape. Misty in fast forward was eerily still.

Yes, still, until the customer who had filed the complaint walked into the store. Then she gave a visible start. The head was massive. The body was enormous. The shoulders barely dipped low enough to let the customer through the entryway, and the powerful tail knocked a walkway trashcan lopsided as the customer walked past.

“See?” Cody said.

Brad was speechless as he watched the customer nosing through piles of tee shirts with various ironic sayings. Finally, the customer seemed to want to try on a shirt that read “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green,” a slogan which had been slightly modified from the original “It’s not easy being green” to avoid copyright lawsuit. The customer was not able to lift the shirt over his head. His arms were disproportionately small relative to the size of his body and head.

Cody stepped over to help the customer, but it was no use. The XXXXL size shirt, known to store employees as the “circus tent,” fit over the customer’s head, but then looked ridiculous on the customer’s body, giving him the impression of an enormous green table lamp.

The sight made Cody smirk, and even Misty, who had been looking on in terror, gave a giggle. It was clear from the customer’s face that this had enraged him. He opened his massive jaws and gave a bark of frustration, then made flailing motions with his tiny limbs, trying to get the shirt off. The flailing made Misty giggle again, and in the process of trying to help the customer, Cody stepped on his tail.

The customer roared, and in his menacing reptilian eyes Brad could see the customer calculate whether or not to bite Cody in half. Instead, once the shirt was off, the customer stomped over to the register area — Brad could see the customer exit one video quadrant and enter another at an odd angle — and filled out a comment card. The customer then slammed his comment into the comment box and strode out of the store with a snort, his tail whipping angrily from view.

Brad paused the video. He turned to look at Cody.

“There will be no further action on this matter, Cody. Thank you.” he said. Cody nodded. Once the office door closed again, Brad allowed himself a heavy sigh. Another day in retail.

Book Report: “I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like” by Todd Snider

51QoYsfD9cL._SL250_ There are some things to like about this book by Todd Snider, a songwriter. For instance, Mr. Snider’s feeling on hecklers at his shows is that they paid to be there and they can heckle if they want to. According to him, a heckler might go too far for the venue’s liking, but never too far for his.

And he spends quite a lot of time talking about the importance of sharing your real self in your work. Not just the self you want to show, but the self that you actually are. That’s great advice, and a hard thing to do.

But he also appears to subscribe to the notion that in order to be a real Artist (capital “A”), you have to do all the drugs, drink all the booze, and occasionally act like a jerk to people who are trying to help you. I’ve had the privilege of working with a couple of my heroes. Unfortunately, they also subscribed to this notion, and it quickly un-heroed them for me.

You don’t have to do drugs to be an artist. You don’t have to be late or difficult or drunk. You just have to be as honest as you can, which you can do with short hair, in khakis and a polo, at 8:00AM, on a Tuesday, in an office brightly lit by fluorescents.

It annoys me that Snider realizes he has some problems, and seems proud of not changing them. What’s the point of examining our lives if we aren’t growing as a result? It’s okay to have shortcomings. We all do. But reveling in them is another thing.

I’m glad I read this book, and I hope Todd Snider has great success. I think I might have enjoyed it more if he weren’t quite so proud of his antics. I’d prefer that he didn’t perpetuate the myth of the Difficult Artist.

But it ain’t my book, so those particulars are not my purview.

George R.R. Martin Wheezes F You to Fans

Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin was interviewed this week and asked for his thoughts on fans who are concerned that he will die before he finishes the series. Double R was flustered by the insinuation that his health might not be tip-top. So much so that he made a rude hand gesture any teenager would recognize as a “nerd bird.”

Here’s the video:

 

I think we can all understand why RR was offended. The very idea that white-haired obese people just drop dead is absurd. But I don’t think that is the source of concern.

Mr. Martin, I don’t think anyone’s nearly as worried about your health as they are about a successful author’s propensity to elongate a popular series indefinitely. After all, we have been burned before. Remember Robert Jordan? I sure as hell do. And I’ll never forgive him.

Wheel of Time went on so long that when Jordan expired and Brandon Sanderson stepped in to finish the last book — the twelfth book in a planned series of six — he, Sanderson, decided that the last book should actually be split into two volumes.

Say what you will about J.K. Rowling, but at least the Harry Potter series ended. I mean, you know, she did release a Potter short story this week, but mostly ended.

Let’s just hope Sanderson’s health is strong enough that he can wrap up Double R’s GoT series, and maybe even wrap up Rowling’s post-Voldemort scribblings if she can’t resist revisits. Hell, if he has time, he can polish off her Robert Galbraith stuff too. Why not? I’m enjoying those.

Somebody get Sanderson a large water and a salad with vitamin crumbles. And make sure he’s hitting the treadmill. We’re gonna need him.