We’re car-ried away by this cutting-edge technology

Recently, I’ve been reading the newspapers quite a lot.

I had stopped for a while because I found that everything in the papers was just depressing, and I’m not really the ‘let’s face the truth’ type. I’d rather sit inside a closed cardboard box and make vrooming noises than face whatever it is that’s happening in the outside world.

A little privacy, please?

But now that I’ve started reading the papers again, I’ve realized that I was wrong all along.

As it turns out, making vrooming noises is what’s happening in the outside world.

I read this article about gesture technology, which says that you can now operate your car using simple hand gestures rather than having to go through the tiresome task of pressing a button every time you want to switch on the air conditioning or lower the windows. From what I gather, the car will be equipped with some sort of gesture recognition system. I don’t know how it works, so I’ll assume it has to do with black magic.

So basically, you make the gesture and the computer recognizes the command, and then, well, you just sit back and wait to crash. Because it’s a scientifically proven fact (maybe) that any technology with the word ‘recognition’ in its name is destined for doom.

The New York Times reports that this new technology will make “driving safer and more enjoyable”. Either this is meant to be subtle sarcasm, or they’re being deliberately stupid (or extremely optimistic, in kinder words).

How can you possible think that a computer system that (allegedly) recognizes hand gestures can keep you from crashing into a hedge? When I bought my iPod, the writing on the instruction manual said that it had voice recognition. It didn’t. However, it did have the unique ability to carefully listen to what I said and then say something so diametrically different from what I just said that I began to doubt my own sanity. After all, how does “Play songs by Coldplay” sound even remotely like “Search the web for Guantanamo Bay”? And correct me if I’m wrong, but “Coldplay, damn you!” doesn’t sound like “Hello kung fu”. If it can’t handle voice recognition, how could it possible handle gesture recognition? I could make all sorts of gestures, but how would that stop me from running over a pedestrian if the computer system is attempting to change the radio station?

Also, I don’t know how the companies expect us to remember which gesture to use for each command. I don’t even remember how I was supposed to end this sentence. They can’t possible think that drivers will remember that the pinky on the right hand means brake and the index on the left means ‘turn the volume up on the radio’. The only way to solve this problem would be to include a ‘gesture’ section on the driving tests. A lot more people would fail the test, and then there would be fewer cars on the road…hey, now I understand the NYT’s logic. Fewer cars mean fewer accidents and “safer driving”. Hmm.

And what if you’re driving with a passenger? I don’t think the gesture technology can recognize different passengers. So there you go. Your three-year old at the back can accelerate with a nod of her head. And don’t get me started on quarrels over the radio station. All over the world, people in cars will be winking and nodding vigorously every time there’s something good on the radio. No wonder the aliens haven’t visited yet.

The radio problem brings me to another point. There you are, after a long day at work, nodding along to a nice, peppy song on the radio. And suddenly, the boot begins to open. You turn around sharply, and then the windows start to roll down. You take one hand off the steering wheel in shock, and the car screeches to a halt. You get out and walk home, alongside several other people whose cars attempted to mimic Transformers when Channel 4 played a nice song.

In fact, I’m quite surprised that governments would even allow this. You’re not allowed to speak on your cell phone while driving, but you’re allowed to play a single-player game of twister. I’m not an expert, but I think that doing complicated manoeuvres with your hands and feet every time you want to switch on the air-con is not very safe. And who knows, you’ll probably end up upside down in a ditch just because you decided to scratch an itch. Or sneeze. Or move your head slightly.

I’ll say one thing though – this technology will make newspaper reports about car accidents much funnier:
“Two people in the vicinity suffered minor injuries in a car accident yesterday. Primary police investigations blame pop diva Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time for the unfortunate incident.”

How to make an environmentalist

This post reflects the opinions of the author and is not intended to hurt the sentiments of anyone who is related to W.H Davies/ enjoys bad poetry/ makes a profession out of getting offended easily.

Now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll begin.

Today’s post will be about nature. No particular reason. I was just running out of ideas so I looked around for inspiration and saw two things that caught my attention: 1. My feet and 2. Some nature. Luckily for you, I decided to write about the latter.

To be honest, I don’t know that much about nature. Well, I know that it’s important and stuff. I’ve studied about it in Environmental Science and I’ve learned that nature is important ’cause it has ecosystems. And biodiversity. And trees. I think trees are actually pretty cool.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I aced all the tests.

Alright, I’ll admit that I’m kidding. I didn’t ace the tests, and honestly, I’m an ardent environmentalist. Well, maybe not ardent. I don’t ride biodegradable unicycles or anything. But I recycle and I don’t litter. So I suppose that counts as novice environmentalism.

I was first introduced to the ingenious new concept of nature-loving by the poem ‘Leisure’ by W.H. Davies. I was quite intrigued when I first read it, at age eight. “No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass” – I was left wide-eyed by the genius of the rhyme. Pass and grass! What mortal could devise such rhythm, such tempo? And the idea bewitched me: not having enough time to watch the squirrels hide their nuts – that was the story of my life! I began to revere W.H. Davies like a god. I quoted Leisure in every single essay and every single story I ever wrote (whether or not the topic was evenly vaguely related to nature), starting from an essay about man’s inability to enjoy the beauty of nature and ending with an essay about Adolf Hitler’s policies in Germany. I think I managed to attribute all of World War II to Hitler’s inability to just sit back and watch ‘the squirrels hide their nuts in grass’.

And now I feel like an idiot, because I’ve realized that what I’ve been quoting all along is just absolute rubbish. No offence meant to W.H. Davies or kin.

The very first line of the poem is, ‘What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare’. Oh my god. He wrote ‘stand and stare’. Stand and stare! Why would anyone in their right mind ‘stare’ at nature? The Oxford dictionary describes ‘stare’ as ‘look fixedly or vacantly at someone or something with one’s eyes wide open’. I really don’t think W.H. Davies meant to say that people should ‘look vacantly’ at nature. That’s actually entirely contradictory to what the poem is meant to say, i.e., that people should take more time to enjoy nature. Talk about the wrong choice of words.

I’ve been quoting grammatically inaccurate material for several years. That’s really bad for the reputation of a Grammar Nazi.

It gets worse. “No time to stand beneath the boughs, and stare as long as sheep or cows.” He used ‘stare’ again. And now he’s saying we should stare like farmyard animals do. He seems completely out of his mind, if you ask me. To be fair, it’s possible that his wi-fi was down when he was writing this poem, so he couldn’t Google for synonyms of ‘stare’ or words that rhyme with ‘boughs’.

I’ll admit that the rest of the poem was much more sensible than the shaky, somewhat repetitive beginning. But then he says, “No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night.” Stars in the day? It’s possible that there is a deep philosophical meaning hidden somewhere in there, but inexplicably, ‘ingestion-of-forbidden-substances’ is the only rational explanation that comes to mind.

Look at me, critiquing literature and all.

The reason for this rant is that I was recently reading essays by middle school children on the topic ‘nature’ and each one of them had quoted Leisure. Moreover, some had even gone so far as to paraphrase Davies with worrying results. “I love to stare at nature – I do it all day.” “It is important for man to take some time out of his busy day to stare at nature.” “Like the famous poet W.H. Davies says, man should stare at pigs and cows.”

It almost gives one the feeling that this is one of the tasks on Man’s daily checklist:
1. Go to work. Check.
2. Pick up the dry-cleaning. Check.
3. Stare at nature. Check.

Almost wants to make me become an anti-environmentalist.

And this is why I don’t like Leisure anymore. When I was younger I thought it was the epitome of poetic perfection, because it rhymed and everything. Now I think it’s preachy, grammatically incorrect, clichéd and overused. And that’s why schools that want to promote environmentalism should stop teaching children Leisure and should get them to read newspapers instead.

It’ll frighten them into becoming unicycle-riding environmentalists, I promise.