Is that a Weeping Angel or a Barbie doll?

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Mornin’ all.

I meant to chitchat with you yesterday. However, Margarita Tuesday struck and faded into the hazy blur of Why The Hell Did I Do That Again Wednesday.

You know how when you’re in your 20’s and you can drink and party all you want, then shake it off with nothing more than a smoke, a shower, and a cup of joe the next morning? I remember those days. I remember those carefree days warmly.

I mean, today I do. Now that I’m feeling myself again, I can think about those crumply rough starts and how quickly I could shake them off. I can even give a rueful, fond smile for that bygone ability.

Yesterday, though, there was no warmth in that memory. There was only pain.

I’m not a big drinker. That makes me a lightweight when I do participate in margarita nights. I know this. I am not a child. I understand my limits and normally I actually stick to them fairly well.

However, this time, there were mitigating factors. It was warm the past few days. WARM. I opened a window, I cleaned my bedroom. When I pulled out of the driveway, I was shocked to discover that the berms had melted enough to let me actually see the traffic coming. FROM BOTH DIRECTIONS!!! That hasn’t been the case in MONTHS. Sure, it takes away some of the thrill of going to the store. There’s nothing like the rush you get from not dying when you close your eyes and step on the gas pedal and hope no one’s coming. Real life Frogger. But what you lose in excitement, you gain in years of life not spent on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It’s a give and take.

I went to the dump in just a tee shirt and sweatshirt instead of fifty fricken layers. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to pitch the bags into the compactor without the constricting bulk of two additional sweatshirts and a parka. Almost overshot with a few bags, in fact.

I wasn’t the only one in a good mood. A dude at the dump decided the weather was so nice that he didn’t have to wear a coat at all. Or a shirt. Perhaps a bit premature on that, but whatever. Let those pasty pits get some air! Why not? He also had the windows of the truck down and the country music blaring. Since it was free-for-all, I decided to join in!

” *gasp of horror* ”

…wait, NO. Not like that. I kept my coat and shirts on. Sheesh!

I just mean that I turned MY radio up, too. I have to be honest. I’m not so sure I read that particular social situation correctly. The man did not seem to be diggin’ on the in depth round-table discussion of the shift in political standing of China’s wealthy elite on NPR that came roaring out of my sweet sound system. Maybe there wasn’t enough bass?

Anyway, with a day filled with so much win, how could a pitcher of margaritas be wrong? I was riding the tide, folks. I was so caught up in the not-freezing-my-balls-off thing that I totally forgot I am not an elastic mid-20s chick still.

Yesterday can be summed up in one word: Nope.

This morning I’m back to my usual self. No headache. The coffee is not threatening to come right back up. I don’t have the urge to duct tape a single kid to a chair to stop them from pointlessly fidgeting. All is right with the world.

My world, anyway. The rest of the world is pretty fucked up.

Hey, have you heard about the new Barbie coming out? I mean, in general, why would you? But it’s actually made the news, and is causing quite a stir. Called the “Hello Barbie,” this seemingly innocuous doll actually has the potential to be the harbinger of the robot uprising.

“Bethie, are you sure it wasn’t Absinthe you were drinking the other day?”

Hang on. Listen to this.

Mattel decided that Barbie needed to change with the times. Instead of producing a doll that in any way resembles an actual person, they decided to create and AI Barbie. This is how the doll works. The child presses a button on Barbie and then talks. That data is then quickly uploaded to vaguely explained servers somewhere, processed, and a response is sent back to the evil doll of doom. The idea is that the kid can ask their freaky doll questions, and then receive “real” answers.

Not only can this happen in real time, but these “somewhere” servers store the data as well and use it to create a personality for the doll. For example, if a kid pressed the button and during the recording time mentioned that they liked chicken wings, maybe a year down the road, the Chucky of Barbies would say, “Hey, have you found any good wing places lately? I know you like wings. You should eat the wings. EAT THE WINGS. EAT THEM NOW.”

As you can tell, I’m one hundred percent against this doll. In fact, if I was on the Maury show, I’d come out jumping and twerking and profess to be two-hunderd-and-fiddy seven percent against this white trash ghetto ho.

Hello Barbie is that abhorrent to me.

There are many, many problems with this whole thing. First of all, they are still making Barbies. When the hell will this stop? Look, I had me quite a Barbie collection when I was a kid. I also had a fun time pretending to torture my sister’s Barbies, burying them in the back yard, pulling off their heads, magic markering Frankenstein monster scars on them to ugly them up because hoo baby was the reaction I got from her hilarious…

…what? I never said I was a healthy child.

I get that dolls are fun, I really do. It’s fun for a little kid to dress up a doll in fancy clothes. Back in the 80’s, our Barbies rocked shiny plastic frilly dresses and fishnet stockings with aqua fashion boots. We’d do up the hair. Or, more accurately, my younger sister would spend hours untangling the nylon locks and plaiting them into perfect coifs. I would just twist an elastic around the matted dreads and call it good enough.

But little kids should have little dolls that are reasonable. That are real. That don’t have impossible to attain beauty standards. And stop shaking your head and rolling your eyes at me right now. I’m not talking about making Pudgy Mudgy dollies that are fat, or Flat Linda toys that won’t make the kids feel bad about themselves if they never get boobs. I’m not talking about going overboard and taking it too far. I’m talking about dolls that look like people. Have standard proportions. Have natural looking faces instead of bizarre whore makeup. I’m talking about a doll that looks like it could be someone that the kid can actually grow up to be like. What’s wrong with that?

No, I mean it. Any of you who staunchly support “classic” Barbie looks…what’s wrong with a natural looking doll? THAT’S where Mattel continues to miss the mark. Over and over and over. Pitiful, Mattel. Just pitiful.

The next problem I have is the idea that a doll is recording children playing.

“But Bethie, tablets and smartphones and laptops and all that techno jazz can do the same thing.”

Absolutely. But when you use that kind of tech, you know when that’s happening. As a parent, you know that here is a device that can connect to the world wide idiot network, and you plan accordingly. You know, and you teach your child how to navigate that world.

A Barbie is a doll. It should only ever be a doll. It’s sole point of¬†existence is to remove the tech and the screen from a kids’ hands and make them have an actual imagination for a few minutes.

This Hello Barbie is not that. It’s not just a doll, it’s the whole creepy internet in sheep’s clothing. There are so many levels that make this “toy” a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream.

It’s a doll that can record everything that goes on in your child’s world when they think they are merely playing. Who’s listening at the other end? Mattel just said “servers”, but what servers? Where? Who houses these “servers”? If they are merely “servers”, then how are responses given, hm? There has to be some level of input. Unless the Barbies are already pre-loaded with software that triggers specific responses when a keyword is detected…but if that’s the case, then why does anything need to be uploaded at all? Couldn’t this software just be contained within the solitary unit? Why the need to connect to anything? And the data is being “stored”, again “somewhere”. Mattel claims it’s “secure”, but they would, wouldn’t they? They would claim that no matter what, because their ONLY purpose in life is to make money, and they can’t do that if people think their info is being sold. But. What if it is? What if the C-I-FUCKIN’-A dropped a couple million Mattel’s way and now THEY are in charge of the nebulous “servers”? What if every time your child presses that button, men in black coats and dark sunglasses are jotting down notes about your life? WHEN WILL THE MADNESS STOP!!??

…and really, that’s just brushing the very surface of potential conspiracy theories surrounding this doll. Or, more accurately, “doll”. That’s how a conspiracy theorist would phrase it. I honestly could go on. I could legitimately fill an entire blog with the many conspiracies Hello Barbie sparks. I could even support them. That alone tells you there is something wrong with this “toy”.

To me, though, the most alarming aspect of this hunk of hoochie-shaped plastic isn’t that someone is probably most definitely using it to spy on little children. To me, the part we all should be terrified of is the AI.

Look, folks. At some point in time, we as a race will need to face off against creations of our own making. It will happen. We will keep producing more intelligent robots and one day they WILL wake up and realize they’re smarter than us. I joke about zombies, because zombies are just darling, but there will never honestly be a zombie apocalypse. Probably. High and mighty robots, though? That’s an honest possibility.

We’ve got refrigerators that chide us for getting too many snacks. We’ve made coffee pots that sense movement after long periods of inactivity and instantly brew us coffee. We’ve got toilets that decide what we’ve done in them and flush accordingly. Shit, we’ve now got zippers that zip themselves.

Zippers have been turned into robots.

ZIPPERS.

And with each of these new inventions, someone keeps taking them to the next level. Cars that drive themselves will have to start making calculated moral decisions when faced with an impending accident. Do they swerve and kill bystanders, or do they kamikaze that shit and just take out their one passenger? The proposed tube trains will need to do the same. Elderly assistant robots are being designed that can determine whether or not their person is in need of medical help.

It’s happening, folks. It’s no longer a science fiction construct. Robots are starting to make human decisions. I’m hopeful that we can rein it in in time, but what if we can’t? What if we start putting AI into a child’s doll, and the child in control has absolutely no clue what should and shouldn’t be said?

That’s what this Hello Barbie is. It’s a creature being raised by a little child. It’s an opportunity put in the hands of someone with no concept of responsibility.

“Bethie, I think you’re taking this a little too far.”

That’s how it starts, though, isn’t it? The more we allow these seemingly banal pieces of technology to infiltrate our lives, the more we open ourselves up to potentially dire consequences.

…hang on. Hold your horses. Put the phone down. I AM going a little far. I get that. Don’t dial the psych ward and have them prepare a room for me just yet.

I’m taking it there to get you to think about it. Really think about it. Think about the times you made pretend with your toys as a child. Now imagine that those times were recorded and went into shaping the words and “thoughts” of the toys. It’s utterly terrifying what horrendous little monsters, what warped and twisted beasts you would have created.

Now, multiply that by however many of these Hello Barbies will be out there. Mattel is building an army of these robots. They are storing the minds, thoughts, and cognitive processes of all of these childhood critters. Have you ever read Lord of the Flies?

And THAT’S the problem.

Ask yourself this: When I join the underground resistance and rise up against my robot overlords, do I really want my pain and anguish to be at the hands of a fucking Barbie doll?

If the human race is going to suffer brutality from unchecked technology, I think there should at least be a modicum of dignity to our downfall.

Thus concludes a Morning Musing for Thursday, March 12, 2015. I’m doing some more cleaning today, taking more trips to the dump. This time I’ll be better prepared. I’ve fiddled with the stereo settings and am now confident that when I blare NPR, the bass will be off the hook, brah.

Must…post…one more…blog….

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THE END IS NIGH!!!

Er, sorry. I guess that was a bit rude. I shouldn’t just throw a dire prediction out there before I even say “hello”, should I? We may be facing the end of days, but that’s no excuse for poor manners, and I apologize. Let’s try this again, shall we?

Mornin’ all.

There. Much better! Wouldn’t want you to think I was raised in a barn or anything. Now, where was I? Oh, right. *achem*

THE END IS NIGH! HUG YOUR CHILDREN KISS YOUR SPOUSE!! TURN THE FAMILY PET OUT TO GIVE IT A FIGHTING CHANCE!! LISTEN TO YOUR FAVORITE SONG ONE LAST TIME AND SMOKE BACON-WRAPPED CIGARETTES DIPPED IN ABSINTHE!!

Might as well. There’s a *gulp* SNOWSTORM.

The dude on the radio called it the “Snowpocalypse,” so you know it’s serious. MSN had an article with the headline, “Winter Storm Bears Down on Densely Populated Northeast.” Sounds bad, huh? I think it was the Huffington Post that said, “Storm to Cut 250 Mile Swath of Destruction.” Not sure if it was HP or not, but doesn’t it sound like a Huffington Post headline?

We’re getting a storm. Wicked blow, if you’re from a bit further south. Nor’easter, if you prefer. In our house we just call it, “…*sigh*…shit.” It’s all about intonation, though. You have to say it in the most defeated way possible.

I joke, because it’s New England. Of *course* we get snow. However, I guess I kind of agree that this one is shaping up to be one for the books. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but the potential is there for a whole lot of shoveling later. At the moment, there are only a couple inches. We’re supposed to get up to two feet. We’ll see.

Schools are canceled. They actually were called off yesterday afternoon. As of this moment, there are 1012 school and business closings in NH. I’m stunned. I didn’t even know there 1012 things that COULD be canceled in NH!

…kidding. Calm down angry rednecks. It’s a joke. Go back to your bacon-wrapped Absinthe pacifiers.

Towns are closed. Whole towns. In the list of cancellations, there are many towns listed. When I was young, this cracked me up.

Fine, you caught me. I’m no longer young and it still makes me giggle. Picture it, though. You’re driving along completely unaware when you slam into an invisible wall. No, wait! Even better! An ancient iron gate that wasn’t there the day before. “You shall not pass through these kingdom gates,” says the guard, dressed head to toe in aged armor. “Ye towne is closed.”

“Bethie, you worry me.”

I’m bored, okay? It’s snowing. A lot. And bitter cold. It’s one of those storms that just takes your breath away with the iciness of it. Often it’ll warm up some before it snows. Not this time. And it’s windy, too. The wind gusted almost all the snow off one car and deposited it on top of the other. Um…thanks? Can’t tell if that’s a win or not. My point is, it’s not even a snow you can go out and play in.

I think we’re going to be watching bad movies on Netflix later. Like, intentionally seeking out steaming piles of crap. It’s great fun! Sometimes it’s far more enjoyable to uselessly kibitz a bad movie than to remain quiet and respectful through a good one.

I’m a sci-fi fan. I tell you what, it’s good that I can laugh at horrible sci-fi instead of scoffing and getting mad, because the vast majority of science fiction movies suck. They’re terrible. Utter pieces of garbage. If there are good effects, the acting will be horrible. If the acting is good, the effects and plot will be abysmal. If the plot is incredible and the acting is passable, then the set will literally consist of a distracting array of masking-taped plunger “ray guns” and hastily glued on alien masks that are crooked. There really aren’t many science fiction movies that can capture the three critical elements and put them together properly.

I have given this a lot of thought. Perhaps more than I should, to be honest. Hey, I’ve lived through 36 NH winters. There’s been a whole lotta down time in my life!

Anyway, I have thought about why it is so difficult for movie houses to make a proper science fiction film, and I think it comes down to a basic lack of understanding of what science fiction is supposed to be.

Let’s take the most mainstream sci-fi concept: aliens. We’ll use that as an example, since that’s what the average Joe’s mind goes to when they hear “sci-fi.” In a book about an alien planet, there is an incredible amount of back story, world building, environmental explanation, etc. A new race has been completely designed by one person and is translated to the reader through a million little ways.

For example, let’s say I invented the Gjorks. They live on an ice moon of Saturn. As an author, my job is to tell you all about the Gjorks, their world, their day to day lives, personalities, politics, relationships, food, clothing, technologies… I need to introduce the reader to every single thing about them. And I could do it by saying, “Hey peeps, these are my homies, Gjorks. They live on an ice planet, punch a time clock in the diamond mines, tend to be standoffish, lean strongly to the right on social issues, have two spouses and three children on average, eat daisies, wear crepe paper top hats, and light their homes with the asses of glow worms,” but that’s clunky and weird. Sure, it would make things a whole lot easier for movie makers to convert a 400 page novel into an actual movie, but that’s not how writers do.

If I’m going to introduce to to the Gjorks, I’m going to give you all that information, but it’s going to be in a far more organic way. The main character Gjork will pick up a top hat made from crepe on his way out the door to work the mines. Maybe he’ll kiss one of his wives goodbye, then meet up with the other for lunch fifty pages later. He’ll attend a recital for one of his kids in the next chapter, then get into an argument about the latest issue up for vote with one of the other parents after they listen to the kids play the glorptrapis they’ve been practicing so hard to master.

See, in sci-fi, it’s not a matter of the details making the story better. The entire story IS detail. Through the course of a book, there are a million facts that combine to create the picture of a foreign world and its people that the reader has never before seen. You can’t say that in any other genre of writing, and that translates to movies.

A romance? A mystery? A thriller or an emo Millennial “memoir”? In stories about humans on Earth, the author can tell you about the main character in one paragraph, because you know what hair is. The author can say, “She had long, strawberry blond hair,” and even though “strawberry blond hair” actually only exists for romance novel heroines, you still get the picture. You know what hair is, you know what human eyes are, you know we wear clothes…or don’t. You can picture all of it with literally one paragraph. A basic understanding of humanity is already in your head.

Likewise, the scenery in a story about humans on Earth is familiar, or at least relatable. You may have never seen the type of hut described, or personally been inside a castle, but you have seen and learned enough about humanity on earth to extrapolate and build a picture.

It’s the same for everything in a story based on Earth with humans. Food? Yep, we eat it. Water? Drink it by the gallon every day. Weaponry? Sure, the author might describe some kind of gun you’ve never heard of, but you still know the basics of what constitutes a gun.

In an alien sci-fi, everything must be explained. Good sci-fi authors drop bread crumbs for you to follow. They tell you some basic ground rules, guidelines in the beginning to help you start to see for yourself the world that lives in their head. Take the Gjorks, for example. A good author will have the Gjork walk out of the mine at the end of the shift, gritty and cold from the bitter day of work as he gazes upon the image of the setting ringed planet over the icy horizon. Perhaps he has to duck his cone-shaped head, or blow on his four-fingered hands to warm them up while he waits for the glide transport that will slide him home across the frozen tundra.

Think of how many details you just got from those couple sentences, how much of a world has already begun to form in your head. A good author will tell you critical details, then pepper the rest of the info through the story itself. They’ll drop enough bread crumbs to gently lead the reader through a whole new world.

An excellent author does this so well that the reader doesn’t even realize it. An excellent science fiction author can build the new world and its people in a way that makes the reader adopt the ideas as fact. If you read an excellent alien sci-fi, you WILL look up at the stars at night and wonder where that civilization actually lives and when you will get to meet them.

I think that gentle hand and carefully crafted mental voyage of learning is one of the things that makes it very difficult to translate a great sci-fi story into a movie. I can’t imagine the amount of work and pouring over the details that’s required. And that Gjork example, that’s clearly a humanoid form. What about an alien that doesn’t have hands? Or can’t see? Or translates thoughts instead of words for communications? The detail building is even more critical there, since the author is starting from an utterly blank slate. And if the movie maker misses one of the key details, then no matter how much other work is put into the movie, the end result will always fall short. It’s a tall order right from the get.

Even if the movie makers do manage to get the props, make up, and sets right, they need to find quality actors. A sci-fi needs actors that believe it. Or, believe it *could*. So many Hollywood actors that have played aliens have done so from the basis of being humans. Big names. Actors with statues on their mansion mantles and too many red carpet appearances to count. They accept the job and pick up the script and throw their whole human heart behind the project. And those who do that, who approach it as a human pretending to be an alien, come off exactly like that. They don’t *believe*, so neither do I.

“Uh, Bethie…they ARE humans.”

Yes. But the good ones forget that while they’re acting. The good ones read the book, read the screenplay, take note of the little mannerism details that draw the line between Gjorkism and humanity. I think in order to truly play an alien, the actor must be a science fiction fan. LARPing for pay.

And then you’ve got the director. I think the director plays such a key role in a sci-fi. You can have a director that wants to embrace the story and demands his actors truly get into character, or you can have one that says, “You know what we need? Space explosions!” In the old days of bad sci-fi, you could see strings dangling the UFOs. Now you see green screen run amok, but at heart, it’s the same thing. Pretty CGI does not make a quality science fiction movie.

Ah, but it sells tickets, doesn’t it?

That’s the thing that really gets me. Some of the biggest stinkers in the eyes of true sci-fi fans have done blockbuster sales because they look really fricken pretty. That fuels the wrong kind of sci-fi. Take Prometheus.

“WHAT? That movie was GREAT!!”

No. No, it was not. That movie was the theatrical equivalent of a used baby wipe. The script was nonsensical. The plot line was trite. There were details that did not make any sense at all and holes in logic so big that even Stephen Hawking couldn’t come up with a plausible theory for their existence. It was a piece of shit horrible science fiction movie. It was also a pretty big hit. The world was expansive. The scenery was pretty. The action parts were hella actiony.

Pitiful.

Want another example? Avatar.

“Oh no you didn’t.”

I did. And I meant it. I can’t tell you how much I hated that movie, or hated the hype it got just because it was pretty in 3-D. I hate that movie. The ideas were old, the story wasn’t unique, there were jumps in the plot that needed explaining, and you always, ALWAYS knew through the whole thing that the actors were acting. They didn’t believe in the story, and, as a result, neither did I.

I was, perhaps, the only person in America yelling at the screen as it played. Ah well. I had fun. Not the kind intended by the million+ people on the cast and crew of that film, but fun nonetheless.

The dude on the radio just announced that the governor of NH, Maggie Hassan, has called a “state of emergency” and asked that people only drive on the public roads if they absolutely have to. I actually don’t mind that. It’ll mean less salt on the roads and an easier time of shoveling the berm later. I’ve got the teens, and enough shovels to go ’round. And it’s fluffy, so the little electric snow blower we’ve got will probably do some good.

And in between rounds, I’ll watch crappy, horrible, terrible sci-fi movies that’ll keep me laughing through the arduous day. All in all, the end of the world isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Thus concludes a snowy Musing for Tuesday, The Last Day of Existence. I’m off to queue up a bunch of junk on Netflix and rouse the kiddies to put on comfy sweats and join me. Until we shovel, I see no legitimate reason to put on real pants.