Monthly Archives: October 2006

That’s the beauty of…

Two days ago, a computer somewhere ticked over, and our house became slightly greener. Adding to our already quite high smugness quotient, we’ve decided to take the plunge, pay the few extra pounds, and switch over to wind power. Not quite in the sense of putting a turbine on our house, though maybe in a few years who knows? But for now, we’re with Ecotricity. That company’s New Energy tariff allows you to buy about 30% of your electricity from their windfarms, and crucially the profits from the tariff are ploughed back into new windfarms, creating a sound environmental feedback loop which in time should turn the 30% into 100%.

So the electricity’s sorted. Now, how about the gas?

Granted, gas isn’t the most ecologically sound fuel in the world in the first place, being derived from fossils and all that. But using it directly to heat your house does at least make more efficient use of the thing than burning it in a power station, turning the generators to create electricity, and transmitting it across wires… and then using the electricity to heat your house.

So what is the least worst option for gas supply in the UK, short of actually ditching our one-year-old condensing combi boiler and putting solar panels on our roof instead? There are plenty of supply companies in the UK that trumpet their green energy credentials, but unless I’ve missed something, those talk about the green-ness of their electricity rather than their gas. We’re on the lookout for gas suppliers that aren’t quite as ecologically and ethically dubious as the average, whatever that average might be. Those that plough money into biofuels, those that encourage you to reduce your energy use year-on-year, or as a last resort those that are just plain indefinably nice. Any suggestions?

And the clocks were striking thirteen…

OK, here it is, Life in 2020 as viewed from 1984. I make no comment, or apology, but should probably point out that this is a translation from the original Welsh, which you can read, uncorrected, here.

Apologies to the two of you that actually wanted the rubbish poem. Maybe I’ll set up another Battle of the Homeworks sometime later.

Life in 2020

7.00. “Hello Rhys. Tea or coffee today?” asks my robot. “Tea” I say. This happens every morning at seven. After I drink the tea, I go into the floor mover. I press the button “Living room.” The floor mover is similar to lifts from the old days. Anyway, the doors open to a fairly small room with a panel of buttons in its middle. I sit on a chair and press the buttons: “Breakfast,” “Grapefruit,” “Egg,” “Sausage,” “Bacon,” and “End.” A few odd sounds and a small paper comes out of the panel. This is what’s on the paper:

Grapefruit – Ready in 15 seconds.
Egg, Sausage and Bacon – Ready in 2 minutes.
Tea or Coffee?

I press “Tea” and a cup of tea and a grapefruit come to my chair. Press “Table”, and a table emerges from a hole in the floor. Before leaving, my robot reminds me to choose my lunch now. I press more buttons and the robot tells me to be here at one o’clock promptly. This is the procedure every meal time. I press “End” and the table goes down to be cleaned before lunch.

I press the “Computer” button. The machine emerges from the hole in the floor. This computer doesn’t have any buttons. It can speak and understand your voice. I say, “News.” The machine starts. “These are the headlines. One thousand robots go on strike in a rocket factory in Manchester. Dyfed’s schoolchildren go on a trip to the planet Pluto today. The Senate meets today to discuss a tunnel for mobiles under the River Severn.” I press the button, “End.” Down goes the computer, back into the hole.

I press “Videophone.” The gadget comes up from the floor. I lift the receiver and put the camera in the right place. I type my cousin’s number on the special panel. I wait a second. Then I see his picture in his house in London, he too is on holiday. I have a friendly little chat and arrange to go and see him after lunch.

About 12.00. My leisure is interrupted by the deafening noise of the videophone. A call for me. I’m supposed to go to the Dyfed Robots work centre, where I’m employed. A bug in the work program has made the robots run wild. I rush to the mobile. I press the buttons, “Factory” and “500 kilometres an hour.” I hold tight – and within seconds I’ve completed the journey of ten kilometres. After three quarters of an hour of pressing buttons, everything’s back in its place in the centre.

1.00. Back home for lunch.

1.30. Back into the mobile. I press the buttons “London” and “400 kilometres an hour.” I sit back comfortably and read a book. Reaching London at last, I see my cousin. A day’s holiday for us both. An afternoon in a special exhibition called “Life in the eighties.” I see wonders. Only one robot and that a very awkward and clumsy one. (Oh dear, think about making a meal without the help of one of these!) I see the ZX81. This is terribly old-fashioned, row after row of silly buttons and only 16k of memory – this was really only a toy for small children. But still, a million people bought it – something hard to believe.

But the greatest wonder was a gadget called a car. A huge box on wheels using something called petrol and belching dirty smoke sometimes too. An expensive gadget swallowing costly liquid. Clothes! People washed and ironed clothes in those days. Thank goodness for cheap clothes you can throw away after a week of wearing them.

An interesting afternoon, but all good things must come to an end and I go home over the second Severn bridge. Call at the doctor. Stand in front of the large screen which tells me that I am well. After a tasty meal, I play chess against the computer. The game carries on for hours but in the end the same thing happens time after time – the computer wins.

I chat to my robot about the day’s events. The robot in its turn will put a summary of all the events into a special book called a “diary.” After a year the robot will give me this book to keep, and maybe I’ll give it to my children – who knows. I close my eyes and go to sleep after a very busy day. Good night!

Those embarrassing early works

It comes to something when you offer to post on your blog something you wrote over 22 years ago, but I’m afraid that’s what I’m about to do. It’s not that I’m bereft of ideas, honest now, really; it’s just that I found some homework books from 1984 when I was at my mum’s over the weekend. Reading them now gives me much the same feeling that I expect to get reading this in 2030 – torrents of mediocrity interspersed by occasional gems of averageness.

Still, which would you rather have first? I’m afraid there’s no ‘reopen nominations’ button, and I will log your IP address if you click ‘Vote’, but with all that in mind…

Go on then:

Life in 2020, which is vastly more prescient than you’d expect
The School Trip (based on fact), an astounding piece of doggerel

Just a roll, just a roll…

So we live in quite a studenty area of Swansea, and at the end of September each year we get the stereotypical student junk mail through the door. So far we’ve got the flyers from PETA claiming that we’ll each eat three cows during our lifetime (what, only three?) We’ve got Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat proto-Assembly members trying to be legends in their own press releases, all with some justification. We’ve yet to get the Legalise Cannabis Alliance pushing any hemp-based paper through our door for us to throw straight in our recycling, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

And on top of this, of course, we’ve got an approximate hundredweight of take-away and fast food vouchers and menus. So with my best economy hat on, I sat down and worked out the best combination of vouchers to use to save the maximum amount of money. There were times when Numberwang made more sense, but eventually I dragged our lodger along so we counted as two customers, and we invaded our local Subway.

After we explained what we wanted to do, and the heads of the sandwich artists (no, really, that’s what they’re called) stopped spinning in confusion, we were offered our free drinks. Now naïve money-savers might go for the fizzy stuff off the mixers, but no, not me. Because I’d read at least three pages of Eric Schlosser’s book, and so I knew the devious tricks that were being played on me. I wasn’t going to fall for a so-called free Coke that probably only cost the chain 3p. No, I went for the ‘gourmet’ coffee. Quite a sensible option for a take-away meal, I felt.

And so we arrived home, sodden after a rain shower, after having passed the hot coffee from person to person to stop our hands from burning up. And so I drank the luke-warm, rained-on, slightly spilt and vaguely disappointing coffee with even more smugness than usual, knowing that Subway had probably lost at least 20p on our sale.

So if you get any promotional vouchers through your door and feel like using them, here are my words of advice. Don’t plump for what’s practical in your situation. Go for the slightly more expensive options instead. Even if you don’t particularly like them.

Because that, comrades, is how we’ll bring capitalism crashing down at our feet: by going out and spending money to get things we neither need nor want.

Vive la revolution.