Algorithms

I’m a bit hyper-alert to looming trouble at the moment, so a minor event this morning escalated to me on the phone trying to get a consultation with the doctor. In fairness to me, we probably needed it and it does no harm to have them keep an eye on my mum given her ongoing neck problem. Less fair to me would be the suggestion that I did panic a little because I know we’re about to head into the weekend and I hate the bucketload of celestial crap that always seems to descend on a Friday.

In any event, I rang (pro-tip: hitting 5 on the phone skips the three minutes of COVID related gloom) and asked for a consultation. None available. I could, however, get an “e-consultation” (all together “ooooo!”) if I visited the practice’s website…

“Okay,” says I, “I’ll do just that.” After all, it’s a bit like Apple with their ‘i’ products. Stick an “e” in front of nearly anything and it will sound exciting.

e-finger.

e-lampshade.

e-Chorlton-cum-Hardy.*

Now, this is about to turn into one of those “computers are crap” stories but a quick reminder: I’ve been programming computers since I was 13, I have a computer degree, worked in IT support and as a programmer. Built dozens of websites, maintained even more, and still occasionally code when the fancy takes me. In other words: my arrogance around computers is pretty obnoxious. Computer addiction is my vice, which I’ve thankfully managed to control since the next level up, I’d be into hacking, which seriously appeals to me, except I’m law abiding and have a phobia about being gang-raped in a US maximum security federal prison.

But I digress. Here I go onto the doctor’s website thinking it will be easy…

Such hubris! I was appalled at how bad I was at navigating the website. I’d suddenly turned into one of those geezers you see in the library using a mouse upside down and pressing it with their elbow.

I just could not make it work. I couldn’t even find the button that I needed. In the end, I had to ring the surgery just to have the website explained to me.

Eventually, with help, I found the button and I set to my task of booking the e-consultation. The system asked me for details of the problem, which I give it within 400 characters. Then it took me into one of those multiple-choice systems where none of the choices related to the matter in hand. There was no “skip” option, so I had to click the nearest issue (nausea) which started to ask questions that had increasingly less relevance to the reason I’d rang. I’m pretty sure at one point it was asking if my mother had recently travelled through parts of Equatorial Guinea…

After I’d clicked through those questions, a huge warning sign came on telling me to seek medical advice immediately, probably because it though it had detected a case of Ebola. I ended up ringing the surgery again simply to say they could stand down whatever emergency biohazard operation had been triggered by my answering the multiple-choice questions wrong.

In the end, the kind receptionist filled it in for me, trying to give the algorithm the info that would get us to where we needed to be. Such efficiency. The computer system was at least one order of magnitude less efficient than the old system which involve me ringing them up and saying the words “can I book a phone consultation with the doctor, please?”

And that, I guess, is the moral of this story and so many stories. It’s why I quit computing. Not because I dislike them. I just hate them when they’re done badly. There’s a whole industry of sharp suited types who make a fortune producing this crap and are beyond criticism because IT is the new black magic. This is the spell that lures so many government ministers to their doom. Million of years of evolution have produced organic computers that are still better than the silicon equivalents in some matters. It’s like the story I noticed in The Telegraph this morning that says researchers believe that mask weaking can produce a form of immunity from COVID-19. Forget the daft apps. The government learn how to program people better or, at least, remember that people are the important part in any complicated system.

* Looking for the spelling of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, I spotted this, which is a semi-detached house in the Manchester region. Imagine have your house tagged with this. How? Why?

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Why Dunciad.com?

It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?

Really?

Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.