The Continuing Story of Echo

I’ve had to change Alexa’s name.

Unfortunately, Alexa was in “earshot” of both the living room television set and my wife’s more recently acquired Echo Dot. The Dot is a sawed-off version of the original Echo. As far I can tell, stature is only difference between the two Amazon entities.

The default “wake word” for both units is “Alexa,” which summons the cloud-based artificial intelligence answering to that name to do your bidding. Artificial is an appropriate adjective, but I question the noun it describes.

001sign
Signs of Trouble

Early in our relationship, Alexa was jumping in whenever she heard her name on TV. Usually, she claimed that she didn’t understand the question. At other times, she launched a lengthy Wikipedia reading, leaving us to theorize about the relationship between what she had heard and her response.

This was often unintentionally amusing, but it did not happen so frequently that it crossed the border into annoying. That brings me back to the Dot.

The Dot was installed in my wife’s art studio, a location which is about as far from the kitchen location of the original Echo as you can get and stay within the house walls. It soon became apparent that any commands issued to Alexa Dot in the studio were also heard and obeyed by Alexa Echo in the kitchen.

I was instantly irritated and initially puzzled when Alexa Echo would inexplicably burst into song as I was trying to follow hushed dialog on TV. It didn’t take long to determine the problem. My wife and I have very different tastes in music.

So, Alexa Echo is now just plain Echo. The other alternate waking names are “Amazon” and “Computer.” My personal choice, “Hey, Dumb Ass,” is not available, yet.

Using “Amazon” would have been a costly mistake, as I frequently use that word in normal conversation, and rarely in a good way. Echo is ever-ready to order something for me, and I really don’t need a string of appearances by pizza deliverers or ride-sharing services

I was tempted by “Computer,” with its Star Trek connotations, but I wisely concluded that name would be an insult to Computerkind throughout the United Federation of Planets.

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Planetary Explorers Confounded By Giant Enigma

Don’t mess with the Giant.

We learned that fundamental rule very early in our stay here. The natives take their god seriously.

“Do Not Touch” is a simpler way to put it.

Our lesson came the hard way. Six of our best people were killed on the first expedition to the Giant – felled by the otherwise most congenial people we have ever encountered on our planetary explorations.

0025sign Signs of Trouble

We don’t know whether the Giant is animal, vegetable or mineral. It was visible from orbit upon our arrival, which was the primary reason we set down here. The giant rules the horizon, driving us crazy with its nearby unknowability.

The giant appears to be worshiped by the planet’s primitive humanoids. We’ve been close enough to see the structures erected at its feet. Temples?

We’ve observed that some of those who march, single-file to the temples every four planetary rotations don’t always come back. Sacrifices?

Theories about the nature of the Giant abound, as one might expect in a scientific community denied access to the focal point of its curiosity and further hampered by an immensely hostile environment.

A few of us speculate that the Giant is a natural landscape feature, mindlessly forged by the same forces that shaped the planet as whole.

Unlikely.

The least discerning eye cannot escape the detail of the Giant’s sagging face and posture.

More likely. The Giant is a mountain, painstakingly transformed, Mount Rushmore-style, as a tribute to some fallen hero from the planetary past. Yet, the inhabitants to not appear to have the technological means to create such a monument.

That leads to my pet theory: The giant was a living being.

He was a member of a king-sized race which preceded the current dominant species.

Slumped in despair at the demise of the rest of his kind, he was the final victim of the ice age that suddenly engulfed his world.

Least likely?

A National Anthem for the Times

This popped up today on a humor forum that I frequent.

A heavy metal dubbed rendition of “What a Wonderful World” by the late, great Louis Armstrong, this video did, indeed, evoke chuckles as I watched.

Then, it struck me: This is also a sad commentary on the state of our nation — headed by a madman, torn by mass murders, driven to ultimate destruction by the senseless pursuit of wealth.

I submit you a worthy candidate for our new national anthem. Feel free to drop to one knee as you watch.

 

Suspected Alien Device Found


       (Dexter, New Mexico, Aug. 13, 2343)– Archeologists sifting through a late 20th century landfill site here near Roswell have discovered possible evidence of a past extraterrestrial presence on earth.

Archaeologists remain locked in debate over the possible purpose of a strange object recently discovered in New Mexico, but they have thus far been unable to reach consensus.

“We don’t know, at this point, exactly what it might be,” said a clearly excited Adolf Bingham, the archeologist in charge of the Dexter dig. “We’ve never seen anything like it before on earth. Nothing in our records even hints of such a strange mechanism.”

Well preserved by the arid climate of New Mexico, the gumdrop-shaped device appears to be made of an otherworldly, greenish-blue, plastic-type material, lending further credence to theories of its alien origins. Plastic manufacturing has been banned from this planet for more than three centuries.

An insignia of some sort is emblazoned on what finders believe to be the front of the object. The marking resembles a partially-eaten apple, which has left analysts espousing a variety of theories.

“Some of us think it might have been a juicer used to process an alien fruit resembling our apples,” Bingham ventured. “Others believe it may have been a vacuum cleaner.”

“We haven’t dared to attempt disassembling the device,” Bingham added, “but we have noted several small apertures its exterior, indicating that limited attachments were possible. We may know more once we get inside.”

An obvious handle atop the artifact supports the vacuum cleaner theory. However, the device weighs more than 17 kilos, limiting its portability, unless it had originally been equipped with wheels.

“Another theory is that the makers of this device were significantly bigger than humans,” Bingham said. “It’s entirely possible that this object served as nothing more than a decorative, albeit gaudy, paperweight on some Amazonian alien file clerk’s field office desk more than 200 years ago.”

       The paperweight theory is currently the leading contender, according to a reliable source involved in the archeological analysis.

 

 

If you got a cheap laugh from this story, consider buying the book Truth Is An Amusing Concept. You’ll get dozens and dozens of cheap laughs  (only 1.253768844221106 cents per page — see? cheap!). The print edition makes an excellent bathroom reader, sure to delight guests at your next party.

As an added bonus with any purchase, you’ll get that inner glow and sense of well being that comes with helping an old man retire. Everybody wins.

 

Steampunk Sculpture or Alien Artifact?

It began with the DirecTV guy, Mike.

During the course of troubleshooting our equipment, he set every receiver in my house to the History Channel. That’s how I caught the tail end of an American Pickers episode and learned of the Forevertron.

forevertron
The Forevertron — artwork or a transportation device left behind by crash-landing aliens?

 

It was a steampunk fan’s dream – on steroids. The Forevertron is 50 feet tall, 120 feet wide. And weighs 600,000 pounds. It was created by lifetime scrap metal collector and artist, Tom “Dr. Evermor” Every.

Sure. That’s what they want you to think.

More likely, the real explanation for its presence is something more like this …

 The Wanderlust came down hard — not as hard as it might have, considering that it was a starhopper.

A big boat like that has no business chugging through a planetary atmosphere at 5,000 feet, but the captain was looking for signs of intelligent life on, of all places, Earth.

 When the Firefly Drive, never intended to be used for anything but parking, suddenly quit under the strain of that gravitational proximity, the ship had nowhere to go but down.

The pilot was good. He headed for a dense pine forest and brought the ship’s nose up as much as he could. Slicing through nearly a mile of standing timber brought the ship to a gradual, smoking halt, turning what would have been complete destruction into mere cataclysmic damage. The trees slowed the ship, but they took their toll.

The Wanderlust had found its final resting place, a scenic Earth locale known as North Freedom, Wisconsin. Fortunately, the hopper had been cloaked when it came down. The incident was neither seen nor apparently heard, raising the question: If an interstellar spacecraft crashes in the woods when no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Nobody came to investigate.

The crew took stock. Miraculously, none had perished in the crash. The front third of the Wanderlust had been turned into scrap metal. Navigation, life support and communications were gone. The first two no longer mattered; the third did. The aliens had no ride home and no means of calling for one.

On the plus side, the planetary atmosphere that had flooded the ship when its nose was destroyed was breathable, and it looked as though the local flora could provide edible grains for the distinctly birdlike aliens when homegrown supplies were depleted.

Much of the ship’s equipment remained functional. The transporter showed promising signs of life, but its range was limited to the typical distance from orbit to planetary surface.

The crewmembers knew the drill. They got to work.

 Yes, the Wanderlust would fly no more, but the crew could re-purpose its surviving equipment for alternative transportation. What they couldn’t salvage, they could find in stealthy visits to Terran landfill sites.

Within a surprisingly short time, they had constructed a device that, with a little help from lightning, took them to their nearest outpost.  The device remained behind, mysterious, and nameless, until Dr. Evermor claimed it as his own.

shuttlecraft
Giant bug sculpture, or badly damaged shuttlecraft?

Meanwhile, back in reality (or as close as I get) …

Holy Sith! The Forevertron incorporates such exotic components as a pair of Thomas Edison dynamos, a giant telescope, and the Apollo 11 space capsule decontamination chamber.

Dr. Evermor’s Sculpture Park is only a little more than 100 miles west of me? A must-go day trip went on my calendar. Even Mary, my decidedly anti-science fiction wife, agreed to join me, once she had seen a few Forevertron photos.

Matthew, my 8-year-old grandson, who thinks a trip to the supermarket is a never-ending journey, was the toughest sell. He spotted what he thought were a TARDIS and a Dalek in the photos, so he was in.

crewmembers.jpg
More scrap metal artwork, or likenesses of the alien crew?

Two weeks later, under cloudy skies and a promise of sun to the west, we sallied forth. We wandered about the countryside near our goal for a bit — but we finally found the park, not visible from the highway, hiding behind a surplus store and what appeared to be a junk yard.

We were not disappointed.

Well, Matthew was a little bummed when we couldn’t find a Dalek, and the TARDIS he had seen in the photos turned out to be an old English phone booth — no phone but still bearing instructions for dialing numbers in Ireland.

Thanks, History Channel — and Mike.

Donald, the Teenage Toddler

Here’s a little ditty to help cheer you through the holidays. You all know the melody.

trumpxmas

We’ve had Andrew and Millard and Chester and Theo
Richard and Gerald and Ronald and Geo
But will you recall
The worst President of them all?

Donald, the Teenage Toddler
Had some very tiny hands
And if you ever saw them
You would scoff at his demands

All of the Teenage Toddlers
Laughed at him and called him names
They never let poor Donald
Spout his many brainless claims

Then one rigged election day
Voters seemed to say
“Donald, though your hair’s a fright
Won’t you march us to the right?”

Now teenage toddlers love him
And they tweet it out with glee
“Donald, the Teenage Toddler,
You have set our hate so free.”

The Pedestrians

In the beginning, well, a long time ago, anyway, were the Anabaptists; and the Anabaptists begot the Mennonites; and the Mennonites begot the Amish; and the Amish begot the religion known as the Pedestrians.

The Amish split from the Mennonites during the late 17th century over disagreements in, among other things, the practice of foot washing. The Pedestrians left their Amish brethren in early 19th century, following another podiatric dispute. While the Amish condoned the use of horse and buggy, the more conservative among them felt that if God had intended humans to travel recklessly about on wheels, He would not have given them feet.

pedestrians onlyWanting to move beyond buggy range of the wild Amish, yet mindful of their only sanctioned mode of travel limitations, 13 Pedestrian families trekked south in 1815 and settled in a area north of Freeland, Maryland. The settlement is known to its residents simply as “home,” although today’s tourists commonly call it the “Pedestrian Zone.”

The community, now numbering approximately 2,000 souls, has survived if not flourished. Current members of the faith are all direct descendants of the original 13 families. Converts are not accepted, and outsiders, “Yankees,” to the Pedestrians, may not live among them. Contact with the Yankee world is not encouraged. Largely self-sufficient, the Pedestrians produce their own food, clothing and shelter. They school their own children, tend their own sick and field their own semi-professional football teams.

By Pedestrian law, no wheeled vehicles are permitted within the community: no cars, no wagons, no rollerblades, no baby buggies, no rolling suitcases. Horses are used to pull plows, but they may not be ridden. All travel within the community is along a network of footpaths.

The paths are intentionally wide enough to accommodate only one walker. Whenever members of the faith traveling in opposite directions meet on a path, one must step aside and initiate the traditional Pedestrian exchange by saying: “Good day, my friend, what’s afoot?” The other must respond with: “We are, my friend; we are.” Both then continue on their opposite ways.

The faith has not been without problems. Although the foot is revered in Pedestrian teachings, it is not worshiped. Foot fetishism is strictly verboten. Any member who appears to be growing overly enamored of the foot must face the dreaded “Circle of Toe Jam.”

In this interventional procedure, the transgressor is placed in the center of a circle of back-facing chairs. Following a long, hard day in the fields, the Pedestrian elders enter the room, remove their boots and position themselves on the chairs so that their legs are propped on the chair backs with their feet dangling toward the center of the circle. Thus surrounded by a veritable forest of hideous and odoriferous appendages, the errant member quickly loses all lust for the foot and is allowed to leave the circle.

More trouble looms on the horizon for the Pedestrians. Tiptoeing among the faithful is a growing faction which believes that if God had intended for His children to lumber ungracefully about on their feet, He would not have given them toes.

Adapted from Truth Is An Amusing Concept