People who have dropped their phone into the toilet before have a very specific way of picking it up.


I missed this on Friday but a Monday is equally close to the weekend, just on the wrong side of it, yes?

Here are the rules about First Friday Free Fiction:

1) This story (Equipoise) is the intellectual property of and is copyrighted by me Jake MacMillan. You can read it here for free but don’t pass it around (if you want to share it with people send them here to read it) and definitely don’t share it or any part of it without attribution.

2) I’m not going to tell you anything about the story, i.e. – its genre or length or general subject matter, because as a genrista (a loyal follower of the Genrist), you are blind to such trappings and simply want to read a good story.

This month’s free story is called Equipoise. Enjoy.

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Just watching the first episode of AMC’s excellent and disturbing series Humans and my first thought is that it would be stupid to make robots look like humans. One excellent reason for this is embodied in the scene where the family’s new robot is serving breakfast and the mother keeps telling it to sit down and join them.

People who aren’t rich aren’t comfortable with being served. It’s the reason Americans are overly familiar with waitpersons in restaurants. We want to feel like this nice young person just popped over to fill our tea glass out of the goodness of her heart.

There’s another really good reason not imbue machines with human faces, even ones that aren’t particularly expressive. We have a tendency to anthropomorphize our pets. We project human emotions and feelings onto them as a way of including them in our families (and probably to banish some sense of loneliness). How much emotion would we project onto something that actually had a human face?

The show calls out this problem quite explicitly in a scene where a husband comes home to find his wife being exercised by a hot young man. It’s obvious the “young man” is a robot but it’s equally obvious from the husband’s expression that he’s feeling jealousy.

This would not be a problem if the robots looked like this:


And less like supermodels.

Modern Times

I accidentally watched an episode of Undercover Boss last year.  This was one of those drive-by viewings where you turn on the TV, the show is on and your Id can’t look away no matter how much your Ego and Super Ego try to reason with it.

In this episode, a guy who owned a novelty toy company went down to work in one of his own warehouses as a picker.

I worked in a warehouse for a while during high school and it was one of the better jobs I had during that time (the worst being all fast food and retail jobs.  I truly hate working with the public) as it mostly consisted of driving a forklift, taping boxes, checking pallets, the kind of stuff I could do without engaging my brain which left more gray matter for writing stories at night.

What I saw on this episode of Undercover Boss horrified me.  The pickers in this warehouse were fitted out with a literal robotic overlord that yelled at them all day, “Pick A1B22! Pick A2B33!” And, of course, the robots were programmed to drive the workers at particular pace which was just a little bit shy of so frantic that every shift would end with a workplace murder-suicide.

Forget creepy looking robots, this is the true Uncanny Valley, the time between now and the moment when the machines just flat out take our jobs.  The time during which we work for them.

And what was truly creepy about this particular Voice Directed Warehouse (VDW) system was that it had a name. Jennifer.  When the pickers get behind, they call out, “Slower, Jennifer!”  Seeing this filled me with an overwhelming sadness.  I was watching a human beg a machine to give him a fucking break.

But the truly sad thing is that in ten or fifteen years, even that job won’t be available for humans.

The Original Avengers

When I used to watch The Avengers reruns on TV as a child, I would get the feeling that I was witnessing a joke whose punchline I didn’t quite get.  As a show, it was quirky and weird and felt like a story being told by someone who wasn’t entirely stable, while the other spy shows in terminal reruns in those days had a uniform sense of lock-jawed seriousness they borrowed, I think mistakenly, from Bond.

Except for two: The Prisoner, which made no fucking sense at all but which I love to this day, and The Avengers which I could never quite figure out.  Was it a comedy?  Was it a parody?  Was it a straight up spy story?  Or was it just stupid?

Like I say, I never felt fully in on the joke but I suspect it was a combination of the first three things above.  It definitely wasn’t stupid.  It may have come off as strange and offbeat but I think that was the point.

And it was never dull.

Diana Rigg (along with Yvonne Craig) became one of my first television heart throbs and Patrick Macnee’s John Steed would form the basis for my idea of a man who was cultured and self-contained.  An image that many actors would attempt to reproduce over the years though few would have Macnee’s success.

Most of the papers say he died yesterday at the unfathomable age of 93, but I prefer to think he quit the field like a gentleman.

I think it’s sweet that The Most Interesting Man In the World will only be photographed with his daughters in those ads and commercials.

That Sound

I just turned on my TV and heard “that” sound. A sound hauntingly familiar to anyone who saw Alien or Aliens in the theater. That particular beeping of the locator device they use to track the monster(s) that are about to kill them. It’s a sound spiked with desperation and panic and defeat.

My first thought on hearing it was to wonder which scene I was about to be subjected to, the one in the ventilator shafts on the ship or the one when they come through the ceiling in the station.

Turns out it was the opening scene of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.  I’ve never seen this movie and, with a Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating of 12 percent, I’m not ever likely to, but it was a good instinct on the director’s part to open with that sound.  It certainly had me hooked for a minute.

It made me wonder what other sounds have bled over from popular culture to haunt our waking hours. The “Deet! Deet! Deet!” from Psycho.  The Halloween theme song.  The whispered voices from Friday the 13th.

I would add the gothic chorus from The Omen but that bit has been so overused by other movies that the teeth have been removed from its bite.

Stock Photo Monday #3

Easter Bunny: The Gritty Reboot

There are days when my brains feel like cheap, imported cardboard.  Not quality, American made cardboard, mind you, but the sketchy imported stuff.  This is one of those days.

Above The Line

I’m always flabbergasted when I hear that a particular star (usually Tom Cruise) is being paid $20M to star in a film.  The first thing that occurs to me is: Couldn’t they get someone who can run toward the camera for, say, $10M and use the leftover money to pay teachers?

Okay, what I actually think is “give the leftover money to me” but I think I come off better pretending I care about teachers.

The truth is, actors do open movies… sometimes… and for some people.  While you probably wouldn’t even bother going to see a Mission Impossible movie without Cruise in it, I can’t help but think that Edge of Tomorrow would have made its way to profitability quicker with a different star out front (and also a better title).  When you see Tom Cruise’s name, your expectations for what you’re going to see fall into a very narrow realm.

For the record, I’m not saying Cruise wasn’t great in the movie, he was, but it was a stretch for his public persona that may have limited the number and kind of people who came out to see the movie.

And there is one actor who gets me on board any project he’s in, as well.  Stanley Tucci. He literally makes anything he’s in watchable at the very least and often lifts the material to another level.  I even watched The Devil Wears Prada because he was in it.  And you know what?  The parts he was in were really good.

As a result, I ended up watching a TV show that I normally would not have even heard about: Fortitude. It turned out to be excellent.  If you haven’t seen it, give it a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

I should add that everyone in the show is great, including Michael Gambon and a lot of European actors Americans might not be too familiar with.  It was just that hearing Tucci was going to be in it brought me to the show while the writing, production value, and excellent acting kept me with it.