Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Her vs. Siri: What's love got to do with it?

I recently saw a trailer for the movie “Her,” starring Joaquin Phoenix. In it, Phoenix’s character decides to purchase an OS1 which is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. The OS1 is named Samantha, and the main character falls in love with her, hence the movie’s title.

Now, I’ve not seen the movie, the IMDB synopsis goes on to say that “Samantha has powerful intelligence that she uses to help Theodore in ways others hadn’t.” This made me laugh, thinking about my own “relationship” with Siri, my artificially intelligent operator on my iPhone (and I use the term “intelligent” loosely).

Siri and I have been in a relationship now for three years, and contrary to this movie’s theme of falling in love, I can barely stand her. One of the first times I ever called on Siri to “”help me in ways others hadn’t” was when I was in search of vodka. Let me explain.

I had never in my life had a need to buy vodka, but after ordering vodka penne pasta while in Portland, I decided to try it on my own. I went to Fred Meyer and asked someone in the produce section where I could find vodka. He answered, “At a liquor store.” Turns out Fred Meyer doesn’t sell hard liquor. Who knew?

So I got to my car and had to admit that after 17 years of living in Roseburg I had no idea where a liquor store was. I picked up my iPhone and hit the Siri button. “Siri, where is the closest liquor store?” I asked.

She answered, “Let me check … it looks like the closest liquor store is 1 mile away, would you like me to get directions?”

“Yes,” I answered, smug in my mastery over my circumstances, with Siri’s help of course.

After a minute, she said, “Follow these directions to 2152 NE Vine Street.”

Easy peasy, I thought, as I started following her verbal instructions. As I turned past Coastal Farms and Ranch, I thought, “This doesn’t seem right” but I soldiered on, trusting Siri’s intelligence over mine. Big mistake.

As I pulled up to 2152 NE Vine the sign read “Vine Street Baptist Church.” Ummmm, what are these people using for communion?

I picked up my phone again and started yelling at Siri this time “WHERE IS ANOTHER LIQUOR STORE?” Had someone been outside my window listening, I wouldn’t have blamed them for calling the police.

This time she directed me to an actual liquor store in the strip mall at the corner of Garden Valley Boulevard and NE Stephens, you know, a location I had PASSED ON THE WAY TO A BAPTIST CHURCH.

“Idiot,” I mumbled … to my phone.

It was not one of my best moments. But it wasn’t Siri’s either.

Next up, I needed to call our son. His name is Nathaniel, but he goes by Natty, and I have him programmed as such.

“Call Natty,” I said to Siri.

“What is your daddy’s name?” she asked.

“No, Siri, Natty!” I said louder, as if she was just hard of hearing.

“Why don’t you just tell me who your daddy is.” She chirped, as if nothing was wrong and she wasn’t actually an imbecile.

“N-A-T-T-Y!” I screeched while at a red light, averting my eyes from the person stopped next to me, gawking at the lady in full meltdown mode next to him.

“Who would you like to call?”

Seriously? And they call this INTELLIGENT.

Finally, I pulled over into a parking lot and dialed Natty’s number the good old fashioned way. I guess I sounded edgy because he asked, “Are you all right?”

“Yes, it’s just that Siri is stupid,” I answered, them immediately realized how ridiculous I sounded, even to myself.

“Okay…” he said, checking his own smart phone for a good therapist for his mother, I’m sure.

So, if I do happen to go see “Her” at the theater, I’ll be the one scoffing at the screen, intermittently yelling, “Yeah, right!” when Samantha actually gets something right.

As William Congreve wrote in 1697, “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned by her OS1.” Or something like that.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

When the heart of rock and roll requires a defibrillator

I’m not handling the aging process very well. I fight it constantly, trying to stay relevant in an ever-changing world. I fancy myself a hip mom who “gets” the humor, music and movies that our kids like, but the older I get, the more my plan of eternal hipness is unraveling. And to be honest, I’m not sure I have the energy to fight it anymore.

Take the Top Ten Albums of the Year. When the list came out at the New Year my husband said, “Do you recognize any of these artists or groups?” I looked over the list and had never heard of any of them. “Neither do I,” my husband said sadly. Keep in mind, this is the same man who followed U2 on a set of concert dates around Ohio and Michigan in the late ‘80s, got his 55-year-old Dad to listen to an entire Rush album with him in high school, and spent the night outside in a lawn chair so he could be first in line for Huey Lewis and the News tickets (not one of his prouder moments).

And me? I sang in a garage band until I had to quit because our jam sessions conflicted with volleyball practice (I had my priorities). I knew the lyrics for every song ever written by The Bangles, I got my hair cut just like Pat Benetar, and I had my very own “Born in the U.S.A.” t-shirt from the Boss’s stadium tour in 1985. Oh, I was cool all right.

So here we were, two previously hip and relevant parents, who didn’t know a single Top Ten act in 2013 and we … wait for it … couldn’t care less.
“Ah, well,” I said, handing the list back to Craig. “I’m going upstairs to take a nap.”

This whole interaction reminded me of one of my favorite Jeff Foxworthy sketches where he’s telling how his parents can still embarrass him. He explains, “Especially the way they dress. See, 'cause I have a theory. I think your parents are riding along on the fashion train, and one day they go ‘That's it, I ain't going any farther.’ True story: last year, I'm in the grocery store with my dad. He is wearing a pair of platform-heeled Dingo boots, wide flair-legged Levis that only miss the floor by ten or twelve inches, and an "Over 40 and feeling foxy" t-shirt. I'm like, ‘Dad, people are staring at you.’ And he goes, ‘Well, son, there's something about a Dingo man.’”

What I’m saying is, when it comes to music, I’ve become Jeff Foxworthy’s father.

I’m the one who’s now asking, “How can you understand what that guy’s saying when he’s singing?” Or I ask my son, “Why does he have to sound so angry all the time when he’s screaming those lyrics?” Or I scratch my head and say, “Can’t she just wear normal clothes instead of trying to dress like an extra-terrestrial on stage?”

And then I remember how confused my parents were when I had my boom box cranked up so high the paint was chipping off the walls, playing Bruce Springsteen (“How can you understand a word he says?)”, Adam Ant (“Why is he screaming and wearing girl’s makeup?”) and Madonna (“You call those clothes?”)

The apple doesn’t fall far from the musical tree. I’m just sayin…

Maybe we’re not entirely off the charts musically. We’ve managed to stay up to speed in some genres thanks to our 18-year-old son. So we’re not hopeless, just tired.

I could fight this, I know I could. I could buy a Lady Gaga CD (or download it, however you do THAT), and listen to the lyrics and discuss them with the kids, but I simply don’t have it in me. These days, I’d take a nap over a Lady Gaga CD any time, and I’m hunky dory with that (kids, see your parents/grandparents for the definition, or you can use The Google).

I’ve spent my time on the Music Train and I ain’t going any farther. That train is now off the rails.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and plays her Bangles cassettes at extraordinary high volumes around Winchester, Ore. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Srsly, Oxford Dictionary? I'm not going to squee over this year's added words

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to put down my copy of “Anna Karenina” and stare into the abyss that is the new list of words added to the Oxford Dictionary Online, an institution that is clearly doing its best to ruin my children’s generation by adding ridic* words to the dictionary. (*Ridic — short for ridiculous. It was added last year. No, seriously.)

Now if I sound hoity-toity, it’s intentional. I understand that new words that make their way into our culture SHOULD be added to the dictionary, but sometimes the additions are just a sad commentary on the culture in which we live.

Like “selfie.” Not only did it make it on the 2013 list of new words, it was named the Word of the Year.

What is a selfie? It’s a picture you take of yourself, typically with a smartphone, and upload to a social media website (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).

In an article in The New Yorker, Katherine Martin, the head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford, was quoted as saying, “The concept of a Word of the Year is inherently subjective: We analyze frequency and historical evidence, but our real goal is to identify an emerging word that embodies the zeitgeist of the year, and that is the driving force behind the choice.”

So the “emerging word” and our culture’s “driving force” is … ourselves. I don’t think the “Me” generation of the ’80s can even hold a candle to our current cultural narcissism.

Here are a few other additions for this year’s Oxford Dictionary Online (and my editorializing comments. You’re welcome).

• Srsly: Short for seriously. Because those extra vowels take too long to add, what with all the selfies we’re taking.

• Digital detox: A period of time during which a person refrains from all electronic devices in order to actually speak with others sitting nearby. Much-needed addition, in my opinion.

• Flexitarian: A person who is primarily a vegetarian, but occasionally eats meat or fish. First it was vegetarian, then vegan, then pescatarian and now flexitarian? I have no words.

• Tray bake: A type of cake or food that is baked in a square or rectangular container and cut into individual pieces for serving. In my day, we called that … cake.

• Apols: (informal) apologies. Srsly?

• Babymoon: A relaxing or romantic holiday taken by parents-to-be before their baby is born. When Craig and I were expecting our firstborn 18 years ago, I think we went out to the Olive Garden the night before I went into labor and called it good. I feel robbed.

• Derp: Informal exclamation used as a substitute for speech regarded as meaningless or stupid. So which word do we use to describe how stupid the word “derp” is?

• Food baby: A protruding stomach caused by eating too much food. As in “No, I’m not seven months pregnant. That’s just my food baby from Christmas dinner.”

• Squee: An informal exclamation used to express great delight or excitement. You mean, squeal? Yeah, there’s already a word for that. Derp!

I know I sound like an old fuddy-duddy who is about to yell at the neighbor kids to get off my lawn, but how many kids are taking a break from their selfies long enough to play on my lawn? Srsly, I just think we need to draw the line without apols. Amiright*?

*My prediction for 2014 Word of the Year.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister or you can email her at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.