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October 12, 2017  12:05 PM

Virtual inanity

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Mark Zuckerberg has apologised for an insensitive Facebook Spaces broadcast in which his cartoon alter ego takes a chirpy virtual reality tour of hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico.

Facebook’s cause in partnering with NetHope and American Red Cross to aid communities affected by the hurricane is a noble one, but exploiting the disaster to show off a frankly naff-looking technology-in-progress is resoundlingly not.

Zuck segues out of chatting about the joys of these crumby 360-degree videos to “see what’s goin’ on down there” in Puerto Rico. “You can get a sense of the damage the hurricanes have done,” he grins, bobbing about looking like a character from ‘90s video game PaRappa the Rapper, in the foreground of locals trying to recover some semblance of their former lives whilst tolerating whatever’s being shoved in their faces to film them.

Before long, the novelty of high fiving his colleague in flooded streets gets a bit boring for him. They head back to California. “Let’s get rid of this transport orb,” says Zuck, as he dismissively flicks an orb containing scenes from Puerto Rico out of sight with the frivolous air of an ASBO version of The Giant from Twin Peaks.

Before long, they “teleport” to the moon. It’s nicer on the moon, eh, Zuck? Not so… watery.

October 5, 2017  12:05 PM

Is it too late now to say Siri?

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

People are trying to work out why Siri thought Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit Despacito was the Bulgarian national anthem. But the chance to enjoy the error for yourself has come and gone.

Indeed, Apple’s virtual assistant has since been put straight, and now correctly answers Mila Rodino when quizzed on the subject.

It’s admittedly challenging at first to find similarities between Despacito and Mila Rodino. As we all know, the latter was written and composed by Tsvetan Radoslavov before heading off to fight in the Serbo-Bulgarian War in 1885, while the former was conceived by a Puerto Rican man who likes to make love slowly.

It’s only when you look closer that you start to see how Siri got the two songs confused. The Bulgarian national anthem has famously had a few updates since it was adopted in 1964, most recently having the verses tweaked in 1990. Similarly, Despacito has been remixed with vocals by Justin Bieber.

You must then turn your attention to the lyrics themselves. Mila Rodino obviously features the words, “Oh-oh, you are my sunrise on the darkest day, got me feelin’ some kind of way”, which is virtually interchangeable with Bieber’s lines, “Proud Balkan Mountains, next to it the Danube sparkles, the sun shines over Thrace”. Or something like that. Easy mistake, to be fair, Siri.

September 27, 2017  3:30 PM

Jack rabbits on

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Twitter’s move to double its 140-character limit to 280 has been marked by CEO Jack Dorsey unwittingly composing the worst tweet of all time, in a failed mission to justify the merits of waffle.

Reading his debut mammoth tweet in full, a prime example of the sheer redundant rambling a 280-character limit promotes, was one of the most gruelling internet experiences Downtime has ever withstood – and you bet we’ve seen YouTube footage of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke with Foo Fighters.

So basic were the words used to express Dorsey’s simple idea, yet also somehow so gratuitous.

To but skim through the tweet is to achieve the effect of drowning in a vat of Alphabetti Spaghetti made from a script to a lost Michael Bay adaptation of The Bell Jar. When you finally reach the end of it, he links you to a blog explaining the concept in slightly more detail. The man has no mercy.

But Dorsey is at least a benign ruler. The inevitable backlash has seen users editing the tweet down to the beloved 140-character limit, but he seems to have taken it all in his stride.

Donald Trump could take a lesson in humility here. We don’t see him addressing criticism for his own capricious abuse of power with bland old retorts like “Fair. I’m still getting used to it.”

September 21, 2017  2:58 PM

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of Jobs

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Apple proudly claims it’s set the path of technology for the next decade with its iPhone X, but it would’ve been nice if it just did that with the one it announced half hour earlier.

Instead, the feeling of having an out-of-date handset comes as an instantaneous freebie with the purchase of the iPhone 8. Only the iPhone X maps your face onto the pile of poo emoji, which as of this month is a new bare-minimum communication standard.

And that got us thinking. Maybe we’re supposed to feel like we’re never good enough. Maybe Apple looks at the business model of organised religion and wants a piece of the pie.

Only then does it all start to add up. To visit one of its many stores, now rebranded as Town Squares, is to be part of a holy communion. To attend a keynote at the new Steve Jobs Theater, as Tim Cook gets dewy-eyed from the pulpit about the founder’s Toys ‘R’ Us-bankrupting legacy, is to go on a sacred pilgrimage. And to never afford the one device that converts your expressions into animated crap is to be born in eternal sin.

But the glamour of a keynote presentation never really captures the reality of obtaining a new iPhone, which historically takes place slumped over a desk in a drawn-out haggling exercise with a phone shop employee who inexplicably has a Samsung Galaxy.

September 7, 2017  9:21 AM

eharmony and Alexa are officially an item

Zach Emmanuel Profile: Zach Emmanuel
Artificial intelligence, ECHO

“Let me tell you about your first match. Ooh la la! She lives five miles away!”

You probably wouldn’t think Alexa would say something like that but now it can, thanks to some creative intervention from the love gurus at online dating site eharmony.

As a result of their tinkering, eharmony users can use their Amazon Echo devices to find out information about new matches, hear their messages, find out who’s viewed their profiles, and request the pics of any potential love matches get sent direct to their phones.

Eharmony said its relationship with Alexa is strictly business, and is based on the realisation that (according to ComScore) 50% of all online searchers will be voice-based by 2020.

Aside from “Oh la la”, the eharmony-infused Alexa can say other stuff like, “You have five unread messages. Woo hoo!”, as part of eharmony’s wide bid to help the lovelorn singletons of the world feel less alone in their quest to find the one.

At least that’s the story Romain Bertrand, the company’s UK country manager is sticking to. “We know online dating can sometimes feel like a daunting if not solitary task. We’re confident that with Alexa on board we can increase confidence and create a deeper sense of intimacy for those using our service.

“Alexa will act as a guiding hand giving feedback on matches’ interests, personality traits and crucially, their levels of compatibility.” Which is kind of sweet, but also a bit creepy, if we’re honest.

The eharmony-Alexa integration is available now, but only install it if you promise not be that person who asks “Alexa, are you single?”.

August 31, 2017  10:49 AM

Activate living within its memes

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

It’s hard to imagine any attempt to create a Tory answer to Momentum going very well, but the bumbling inception of Activate has exceeded all expectations of ineptitude.

The all-new “independent grassroots campaign” is struggling for credibility, and whoever’s in charge of its social media doesn’t seem to know up from down.

Half of Activate’s inaugural tweet, featuring a meme that enjoyed its heyday almost a decade ago, was cut out of the preview, which made the post look decidedly pro-Corbyn.

The peculiar opening gambit was soon deleted, but not from our minds. It overlooked every current meme, such as ubiquitous masterpiece “Distracted Boyfriend”, in favour of some old Star Wars patter from 2010. These people want us to trust them?

The throwaway, amateurish nature of meme culture makes it harder to actually get it wrong, but Activate, on its maiden voyage in trying to stunt a generation’s interest in socialism, managed to put out the weirdest and most humourless attempt of all time.

It took another misstep when it changed its Twitter handle without updating the link on its own website. This saw someone take the original handle and instantly turn it into a parody account, which the official website linked to for a whole day.

At the time of writing, the parody account has almost as many followers as the official account. The latter remains dazed, frozen in its own inability to navigate an unforgiving social media ecosystem it knows nothing about, since its last tweet on August 29, presumably trying to work out its next move.

How does Momentum make this all look so easy? Might there be some kind of correlation between the possession of rudimentary millennial values and social media nous?

August 24, 2017  4:40 PM

It’ll be alt-right on the night

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Calamitous alt-right website Breitbart has been tricked into an email exchange with a prankster posing as Donald Trump’s recently dumped adviser Steve Bannon.

Under the guise of Bannon, back in the website’s bosom since being spat out of the White House, the prankster got Breitbart’s editor-in-chief Alex Marlow to engage with his emails. They wandered into the absurd when Marlow fell for the Bannon impersonator’s tale of Trump decanting wine through wife Melania’s tights.

As far as Downtime material goes – to channel the hacker’s favourite comedy icon Alan Partridge – this is all “lovely stuff”.

But it’s hardly shown Breitbart up, has it? No more, at least, than a sewer rat would mind you decanting a toilet onto it.

In that sense, the prankster, who goes by the predictably nerdy alias of Sinon Reborn, picked an easy target. This wouldn’t even make the top of Breitbart’s August blooper reel. It recently posted some claptrap about migrants on jet skis with a picture of footballer Lukas Podolski riding one during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

It’s already responded to the email hoax by saying it didn’t reveal anything it wouldn’t publish anyway. If only owing to it being an impossible task, this isn’t an organisation that can look any more ridiculous in private than it does through its daily online content.

August 16, 2017  4:56 PM

Damore you talk, the less you say

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

James Damore thinks he was frogmarched out of Google for telling the truth. In reality, he wrote a 10-page memo, cobbled together from scraps of research chosen to fit his intense fear of gender equality, scrambling to contort his cloistered world view into a case for protecting the boys’ club he’s always felt so safe in.

Life has since come at him with such speed that he’s wound up on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, a place where people who aren’t moral amoebas are referred to as “liberals”.

With the look of a fellow who’s just been waterboarded with Vicks VapoRub into a sniffling endorsement of the network’s delirious assertions, the unemployed engineer was a bystander as Carlson denounced Damore’s beloved Google and used the sentiments of the memo to support his own insatiable attachment to 1950s gender roles.

To paraphrase David Brent, you write one manifesto calling women neurotics and you’re labelled a sexist.

Damore is now no more than a mascot for alt-right propaganda, but Julian Assange believes Google should have let the memo start a conversation to see if employment diversity might be a load of old tosh after all, rather than remain in 2017. He even offered Damore a job himself.

Unless that job is mucking out the Ecuadorian embassy bogs, we respectfully disapprove.

August 10, 2017  12:22 PM

The simpler Burr necessities

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

It has emerged we may have spent more than the past decade creating complicated, unmemorable passwords and changing them every few months for absolutely no reason.

Bill Burr, the author of the publication that went on to become the template for password security, has confessed to regretting his advice that they should include random numbers, capital letters and symbols to make them harder to crack.

That’s quite a legacy for someone so under the radar. It would be forgivable to assume this kind of monumental everyday global annoyance was at least set in motion by a household name like Tim Berners-Lee or… we don’t know… Alan Sugar. Not someone who, when you Google him, hides behind the namesake of a stand-up comedian who once played a bit-part role on Breaking Bad. Why did we listen to him?!

Indeed, the real focus of our collective chagrin is a faceless, retired 72-year-old mid-level manager from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Every forgotten exclamation mark that’s locked us out; every number we’ve added to an already obscure word; every ‘s’ we’ve replaced with a dollar sign: that was essentially this man telling us to waggle our phones in the air on one leg to get a better signal.

August 2, 2017  12:40 PM

The ballad of Bob and Alice

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Previously on Downtime, we saw Mark Zuckerberg rule out AI’s potential for disaster with all the casual oblivion of a scientist in the opening part of a film of that very genre. Elon Musk, as though swatting away a mosquito, accused him of simply not understanding the technology. Facebook has since reported the abandonment of an AI experiment after two chatbots started negotiating with one another in ways it couldn’t understand.

Brisket followed by humble pie for Zuckerberg, then – but what do we know about these chatbots? Will they change the way we negotiate forever?

Left with the task of bartering between themselves for various hats, balls and books with pre-determined values, chatbots Bob and Alice did away with conventional English and went about discussions using a parlance that can only be described as repetitive gibberish not heard since the rise of the Chuckle Brothers in 1987.

But might it be a more effective way to go about business than we humans could ever grasp? Given our low self-esteem since machines started beating us at board games, we think it probably is.

So here’s to the future transfers of all our favourite footballers being finalised with that memorable new household phrase, “balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to”.

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