Downtime


January 16, 2020  10:23 AM

Get Huawei done

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The BBC’s Dan Walker has sat down with Boris Johnson to probe him over all manner of hot topics, including the government’s decision to let Huawei build its 5G telecoms infrastructure.

Having dismissed a doting US dossier, this was Johnson’s chance to put our minds at ease. How would he allay his nation’s fears of potential espionage? Why, by saying: “If people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”

And far be it from a Football Focus presenter to kick the tyres of a statement like that. That would require listing some names: we could arguably get Samsung in, for instance – or Fujitsu, Nokia, Ericsson or Cisco. But Walker left it, seemingly satisfied that Johnson’s only given reason for the UK’s controversial association with Huawei is that we don’t have anyone else’s number.

Maybe Walker thinks that’s all we cereal-grazing proles deserve. When a politician gets an overwhelming mandate to lead a country by comparing the General Election to Dyno-Rod, they know they’ll never have to bore us with many details. Johnson should have just broken the fourth wall and said: Oh, come on. Why would China spy on you? You’ll willingly bung us a bob to have a Big Ben bong for Brexit and you love Ant and Dec. Does that about cover it? You’re not exactly opaque, are you. Now eat your 5G.

January 8, 2020  3:22 PM

Reinventing the ball

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Samsung may have rattled through a number of new technologies in its CES 2020 keynote, but Ballie quite simply stole the show.

The very next day, Downtime interviewed several etymologists to try to get to the bottom of the rolling robot’s unusual name, and many speculated it could have derived from the fact that it’s a ball.

Our fascination with balls can be traced as far back as Costa Rica’s Diquís times (700-1530 AD), when over 300 stone balls were sculpted and dotted around the houses of their chiefs. Brain-damaging History channel alien conspiracy show Ancient aliens has deemed these spheres too perfect to have been created by human beings, but when you look at them now, you just wonder why these supposedly super-intelligent aliens weren’t able to make them follow people around and tell them when to go for a run. Ballie can.

Say aliens really did make those stone balls. We’ll let them have it. But haven’t they been resting on their laurels ever since? Maybe they were smarter than us once, but we’ve come a long way in the past few years. Any alien at CES would have seen that.

At this point, what is it that extraterrestrials are meant to be able to do that we can’t? It’s always said that they’re watching us, but we can only see one species sticking cameras on its balls.


January 3, 2020  12:11 PM

Y2.02K

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So here we are in 2020, and almost everything is still working as normal. The apocalyptic Y2K bug that caused such a thrill 20 years ago found its sequel in Y2.02K, but rather than nuclear reactor shutdowns, oil pumping station failures and Hawaiian power cuts, all we got this time was a couple of poxy video games not running.

Indeed, it was a mundane dawn of a fresh decade for everyone but the gamers looking to play either Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order or WWE 2K20 in the early hours of New Year’s Day. While Downtime was scouring every takeaway app in existence to find somewhere that was open at 3am, they were busy tweaking their systems back to 31 December 2019 to trick their games into launching.

Time being a famously abstract human construct that no other creature on the planet observes, we saw the news of these systems being sent to 31 December 2019 as the perfect excuse to return ourselves to 26 December 2001, where we could be found tentatively altering our PlayStation 2’s internal clock back to 25 December 2001, just so we could carry on playing The Simpsons: Road Rage as Christmas Apu.

It felt like a taboo to toy with time then, but now we know it ultimately changes nothing. Happy New Year.


December 11, 2019  4:33 PM

Not 4 sale

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The man behind State Snaps, a set of social media pages with over a million followers, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for getting his cousin to try to steal a domain name at gunpoint.

In what could easily pass as the trendiest Fargo storyline yet if only it had happened a bit further north, Iowan twentysomething Rossi Lorathio Adams II was so intent on acquiring the domain “doitforstate.com” from its stubborn owner that he tracked them down to their home.

This obviously all sounds a bit over the top. But we didn’t realise at first that Adams had been operating under the domain “doit4thestate.com”. We can imagine how, as his empire grew, so did his obsession with replacing that corny number four. How are you seriously meant to build a credible brand known for sharing clips of Iowa State University students rubbing their boobs and jiggling their butts with a domain that isn’t totally earnest?

And so Adams’s cousin was sent into the domain owner’s abode, gun in one hand and easy, step-by-step guide to moving a domain to another GoDaddy account in the other, to correct that undeniably gauche number four once and for all. Shots were fired, but unlike in Fargo, no one dies in this story. Unless you’re reading this in like 2030, when we refuse to delete this post at gunpoint.


December 4, 2019  4:05 PM

Walking on the water

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There wasn’t much fanfare around Amazon Prime’s midweek maiden voyage into Premier League football coverage. We’d have missed the delectable choice of fixtures altogether had we not opened the app to check on the order status of a used £1.81 hardback of Hugh Cudlipp’s 1976 memoir Walking on the water.

That’s what we love about Amazon: the fast and cheap procurement of out-of-print books with titles that prophesy a Gabriel Jesus brace. It’s hard to care that it only paid 2% tax on £10.9bn UK revenues when you just want to find out how a former Mirror editor felt sacking their old mentor Cecil King for breach of conduct.

As you may have guessed, our evenings are relatively free, so we tuned in. Amazon’s arrow logo, curving into a coy, Anne of Cleves smile that says “I’m extracting all of Earth’s resources, ha” gently nestled inside the scoreboard; and former Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong – best remembered for kung fu kicking Xabi Alonso in a World Cup final – was one of many familiar faces in the punditry team. All in all, it felt about as guilt-free as asking Alexa to tell you a joke before saying “Alexa? I love you” in an empty room.

And so, just as Anne of Cleves escaped the guillotine, and Nigel de Jong escaped a red card, Jeff Bezos escaped reproach for seamlessly exploiting one more part of our lives. Cecil King could never.


November 28, 2019  10:49 AM

Keep on truckin’

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Elon Musk has explained why the windows of Tesla’s tank-like Cybertruck smashed during a humiliating launch.

Chief designer Franz von Holzhausen cut a gleeful figure as he prepared to throw a steel ball at the armoured glass – but it shattered on impact. “Let’s try another one,” he beseeched his boss in a hellscape fast resembling a space-age boules tournament gone wrong. The second window met the same fate.

The problem was, according to Musk, the order of the demonstration. In retrospect, he said, they shouldn’t have hit the vehicle with a sledgehammer before reaching for their balls.

To Musk – and Von Holzhausen, who’s probably already been sent to Mars without supper for this debacle – we say accidents happen. But see it as a wake-up call; a lesson that cockiness gets you nowhere.

Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. If Musk had his way, the steel ball would’ve bounced straight off the window and into one of Von Holzhausen’s eye sockets; the billionaire’s version of a Love Island hunk being taken out by a cork at an Ibiza champagne party.

It’s time for Musk to get serious, lest a ball through a window is but an apéritif for one of his tunnels crushing a city of commuters – or worse, one of his brain-computer interfaces mistakenly playing footage of James Corden and Kanye West’s Airpool Karaoke.


November 20, 2019  5:17 PM

(What’s the story) morphing Tory?

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“You dressed up party lines as a fact-check service. That is dystopian,” Emily Maitlis told Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly on the BBC’s Newsnight after the leadership debate. But like a child who’s worked out the worst a teacher can do is hand him a detention, he gawped back at her with the brass neck of a headteacher’s son whose only after-school plans involved searing the legs off ants with his glasses.

She had a point, though. The governing party’s press office Twitter account shapeshifting into the made-up “factcheckUK” during a debate certainly fell into the category of “not on”.

It reminded us of when US comedian Jaboukie Young-White’s verified account morphed into a doppelgänger of the official Cats movie account in the summer, blending in with the film’s promoted material with a tweet that read: “The cats in Cats (2019) will have realistic spiked penises.”

Young-White’s poetry saw Twitter suspend him, but in this case the Tories got off with a warning: “Any further attempts to mislead people by editing verified profile information – in a manner seen during the UK election debate – will result in decisive corrective action.” Downtime is therefore happy to report the end of Vladislav Surkov-inspired Tory skulduggery in this General Election.


November 14, 2019  12:45 PM

Deepfake it until you make it

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What are the chances of deepfakes poisoning the integrity of the UK’s current General Election? Probably a lot higher now a think tank has created clips of the two frontrunners endorsing each other for the likes of The Telegraph to share under the headline: Jeremy Corbyn urges voters to back Boris Johnson for prime minister in disturbing deepfake video (which at the time of writing is the fifth-highest result when you search their names on YouTube). Whoops!

Less highlighting the threat deepfakes pose to democracy than actually fuelling it, then, research organisation Future Advocacy and artist Bill Posters have unwittingly cast themselves as the younger, more sinister Hitchens brother to JOE.co.uk’s exuberant-but-dead Christopher.

The experiment, however, falls at its final hurdle by failing to use an adequate Corbyn impersonator, leaving him sounding a bit like Alan Bennett standing in for David Walliams in a Dennis Waterman sketch.

Undeterred, the Barclay boys mouthpiece, already spending £275,000 a year on Johnson, has tried its luck with a misleadingly lopsided title. But at least it had the decency to annex a clarification that it’s a deepfake right at the end of it – something its readership will surely pick up on before voting Conservative anyway.


November 6, 2019  7:46 PM

Enema at the Gates

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The Conservatives’ doctored version of Keir Starmer’s Good Morning Britain interview left out our favourite bit: an arms-folded Piers Morgan insisting he’s “absolutely fine” with 26 billionaires owning as much as the planet’s poorest 50% because the likes of Bill Gates have given a lot to charity.

That’s not to have a pop at Bill Gates. His foundation does in fact part with about £4bn a year, which makes him one of our nicest billionaires. But when you realise Gates’s net worth increased by almost £14bn in 2019, Morgan’s unbounded commitment to spouting fawning casuistry for rich, powerful men is plain for all to see.

Even Harry Enfield’s Tory Boy would struggle to defend the rate at which Gates and every other major tech billionaire saw their wealth swell this year (punch-drunk divorcé Jeff Bezos aside). Their philanthropy might well extend further than that pathetic Waitrose token kingmaker routine of yours, but this isn’t as much about the goodness of individual billionaire hearts as it is about a system that lets Bezos stay on top by paying his workers starvation wages.

So while Morgan dreams of one last Miami Beach stroll with Rupert Murdoch, or titters over handing Donald Trump an Arsenal shirt, us non-sycophants will continue to raise our eyebrows over the existence of a maligned yet resilient community: billionaires.


October 30, 2019  4:48 PM

Life comes at you up to 1.5 times faster

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

The world of entertainment has come down on Netflix like a ton of bricks for trialling a feature that allows content to be watched at different speeds.

We don’t know. Is this really such a big deal? Netflix’s latest glitzy addition, Steven Soderbergh-directed The laundromat, is a fine example of an experience that would be improved with the option to slow things down to absorb information-heavy lectures about shell companies before breezing through every last ambling, tangential narrative strand you’re never getting back. Come to think of it, the timing of that release is suspicious.

But whether we think Netflix is intentionally commissioning films so incompatible with real time that users embrace functions designed to warp it is irrelevant. We’ll happily watch whatever moving colours and shapes Netflix’s bottomless chum bucket has for us at any speed.

Aaron Paul, the 40-year-old who recently reprised his role of a 25-year-old for the Breaking bad film, is a real authority on the concept of time, and he thinks playing with the speed destroys his art. How he’d deal with a movie night with our tea-brewing, dishwasher-loading, piss-taking parents and their feverish use of the more widely accepted pause function is anyone’s guess.


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