I Haz Been Betrayed

There was only one quiet interval at work today wherein I could check my email, and there was this cry for help from my stepmother.  She’s got a new cell phone. 

What new cell phone? I fired back while my stomach made like iron and nickel on the molten earth and sank.

I will not mention the make and model, as that would betray where I work, and I do not want to tempt my corporate overlords into separating me from my only means of acquiring kitty kibble.  Needless to say, she’d chosen the one phone that is the bane of my existence (and the source of considerable job security).  It’s one of the most complicated phones we carry.  And this purchased by a woman who, a few years ago, swore she’d never own a cell phone ever in her life, and who only last year was flummoxed by a pre-paid flip phone.

So I spent my lunch hour muttering “I can’t fucking believe you bought that fucking phone!” whilst helping her bring it to the point where it could potentially make and receive calls.  I feel betrayed.  I expected better of my family.  Next thing I know, my dear old Dad will be calling me up wanting help with the same model, or worse.  At least I know the ins-and-outs of the thing.  And at least they won’t blame me for its quirks.


At least I have solid proof, should I ever need it, that my bitching about this phone in my private life carries no weight with anyone whatsoever.  Even my own family doesn’t listen to me.  So the company needn’t worry about my impact upon its sales…

I Haz Been Betrayed

Perhaps It'll Ask WolframAlpha Instead

A couple of years ago, I wrote a scene wherein Dusty, my FBI agent character, is given a Miraldian “PDA” – a semi-sentient little alien device that makes the iPhone look like an actual big dumb brick, and is only called a PDA by my Earthling characters because, well, people use old names for new things. It provided an opportunity for a moment of levity:

“Go on,” August said. “Ask it a question. Any question.”

She cupped the PDA in her hands and looked down at it. Ultra-advanced alien technology was roughly the size and shape of a cosmetic compact, and shiny metalic pastel peach in color. She would have preferred black, with a lot of LED buttons and flashing lights and something, anything, to say this wasn’t just a little hollow lump of metal. The whole situation was surreal. DVDs traded for technology that might as well have been magic? She couldn’t help herself. “What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?”

“Forty-two,” an androgynous little voice promptly said.

She nearly dropped the PDA. And then she shot an accusing stare at August. “You’re winding me up.”

“No, it Googled it.” August bent over her computer and typed the question in. “That’s what it’s trained to do when it’s not sure what the answer is. If you ask for detail, it’ll tell you how it got the result.”

He showed her the search results on her screen. He was right. If you asked Google, it came up with Douglas Adams’s answer.

And, indeed, if you Google that question, the top results refer to Douglas Adams.

With this background, you’ll understand why this tidbit from Kevin Drum caught my attention:

…I tried out the WolframAlpha search engine today for the first time. It’s been getting generally panned, but it sure did an impressively good job on my test drive query. Check it out:

You’ll also understand why I promptly scampered over and asked the self-same question Dusty had asked. And why I burst out in such peals of delighted laughter that the cat nearly suffered cardiac arrest:

It’s too bad “It WolframAlphaed it” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as Googled, eh?

The search engine isn’t perfect, o’ course. I stumped it with “Does Dana Hunter drink tequila?” which should’ve been a cakewalk (yes, Dana Hunter drinks tequila. Duh). But it’s an awesome concept, I’m sure it’ll improve with age, and I think it’ll quickly become my boon companion on the research front.

Go forth and have fun with it.

Perhaps It'll Ask WolframAlpha Instead