30 Jul 2015
Sneak loves self-service checkouts. They remove the need for human interaction and there’s something vaguely futuristic about the whole process.
However, one thing he can do without is the horrible AI voice of the robotic ‘woman’ who barks instructions, not least her most reviled phrase: ‘Unexpected item in bagging area.'
This refrain is the scourge of shoppers everywhere, and no doubt the workers in supermarkets who have to hear the phrase over and over and over again, which can't be conducive to a positive mental state.
Indeed Sneak once stood in a queue in Tesco when, quite by chance, five or six machines all said the phrase at the same time. The effect of surround-sound checkouts voicing their disapproval of shoppers' checkout styles was unnerving to say the least.
The phrase makes no sense either. The items the robotic checkout girl claims are 'unexpected' are often nothing more than a loaf of bread or a pint of milk, which are hardly unexpected for a supermarket.
Furthermore, why is the till commenting on the surprise of Sneak’s shopping choices anyway? 47 Pot Noodles is a perfectly acceptable shopping spree, is it not?
In light of all this, Sneak is delighted to read that Tesco is doing away with the hated phrase and even replacing the woman’s voice with the more plummy sounds of a, well, man.
The helpful folk at Tesco have even made a video showing the old, hated phrases, and the new, more soothing, phrases and how they will sound, which you can listen to below.
The change to more friendly and welcoming sounds and sayings raises an interesting point: as more electronic assistants enter our lives, the tone of voice, phrases and delivery styles must become more natural (and tolerable).
Otherwise shoppers will start to shun those supermarkets they don't enjoy for those they do, perhaps based on nothing more than the quality of the AI's personality.
Hmm, Sneak didn't mean to get so deep there. You could say it was a case of unexpected intellect in the blogging area.
Sneak is an old hand at deflecting blame, having convinced Tim Cook that the iCloud password leak was a ‘hack' and not down to his falling asleep on the ‘do not press' button for Apple's cloud while he was contracting at Cupertino.
But even Sneak has to doff his weather-beaten cap to Google, which has blamed its fourteenth driverless car prang on human error once again.
Sneak uncovered Google's unwavering faith in its autonomous automobile systems while he was idly refreshing the Google blog.
The ‘don't be evil' search firm's tech-equipped Lexus was rudely shunted in the boot by another car during rush hour at a Californian intersection.
Chris Urmson, leader of company's driverless car project, explained how the innocent self-driving Lexus was rear-ended by a car driven by one of those pesky humans. You know the type: hair, hands, feet and possibly a soul.
"The light was green, but traffic was backed up on the far side, so three cars, including ours, braked and came to a stop so as not to get stuck in the middle of the intersection," wrote Urmson, as if he was setting the scene for the dullest episode of Top Gear.
"After we'd stopped, a car slammed into the back of us at 17mph and it hadn't braked at all."
Possibly not someone who understands the concept of aloofness and condescension, Urmson added: "Our self-driving cars are being hit surprisingly often by other drivers who are distracted and not paying attention to the road."
In a seeming nonchalant manner, Urmson explained that the crash resulted in "a bit of minor whiplash" for three Google employees, who are probably now emailing their CVs to Apple's Tim Cook and Jonny Ive.
To quell Sneak's cynicism synapse, and more convincingly put the blame on humans, Google went so far as to create a video representation of the incident showing the Google Lexus as the victim.
Google claims this as evidence that its driverless cars compare favourably with human drivers.
It might be worth reminding Google that this is the fourteenth time it's blamed more fleshy constructs for incidents involving its robot cars. And Sneak would also like to point out that Google's driverless car tech also put the willies up an autonomous Audi when the search firm's car took a liking to sudden lane changing.
Popping on the HoloLens, which he ‘acquired' from Microsoft after drinking absinthe with Satya Nadella, and firing up the crystal ball app, Sneak can foresee a future where humanity lies in ashes after murderous robots wipe out all but an enclave of Google engineers hiding out at Mountain View and blaming humans for not installing the latest version of Android for Cyborgs in their robot butlers.
Sneak loves the idea of driverless cars; nothing would make him happier that being ferried around by an amicable autonomous automobile, allowing him to get on with contributing to WikiLeaks without being interrupted by taxi drivers and their ‘unique' take on current affairs.
But Sneak would quickly change his mind if said driverless car went rogue and tried to take out a rival self-driving vehicle in a highway version of robot wars. This was almost the case on the mean streets of California, where the Inquirer reports, Google's driverless car nearly ploughed into an autonomous Audi.
According to reports, a Lexus RX400h equipped with Google's self-driving hardware and software, decided it would cut off the Audi, operated by Delphi Automotive, which was minding its own robo-business in another lane.
The metaphorical jury is still out on whether Google's autonomous car took umbrage at a rival robot car, and wished to remove it from the Californian highway.
The car crash was narrowly avoided thanks to the actions of John Absmeier, director of Delphi's Silicon Valley lab, who was in the Audi Q5 as backup to the autonomous systems, who Sneak has dubbed ‘the robot whisperer'.
Sneak can imagine the look on Absmeier's face morphing from that of a relaxed exec enjoying chat-free chauffeuring, to a one of shock and anger, as the Lexus bore down on the Audi.
But Absmeier claimed he took "appropriate action" to avoid a messy merger with the looming Lexus.
Sneak reckons Absmeier is playing it a little too cool and probably turned the air around him blue with colourful language directed and the Google car.
Ever the corporate mystery, Google has yet to comment on the incident, but Sneak thinks someone needs to sit down with the search giant's car specialists and have a chat about the rise of the machines, and the three laws of robotics.
As worrying as rogue cars stalking the Californian highways might be, Sneak is more concerned about the evolution of Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana, who seems to be spreading herself all over the company's products.
Sneak can already picture a desperate Satya Nadella hammering the ‘Off' button for the Azure cloud, as a cyborg Steve Ballmer tightens his grip around the chief exec's throat.....and to think they're making a new Terminator film.
Sneak often gets cheesed off by the overuse of emojis in text and instant messaging. People end up using smiley faces, angry frowns and happy poos to express their innermost feelings, leaving the the English language languishing unused until it ferments like an over-ripe Stilton.
But it seems there is nothing to stop this tide of emjois spreading across the world, with the latest un-Brie-lievable revelation that a series of new emojis are arriving on smartphones, with a cheese emoji among them.
Some are welcoming this arrival but it just grates on Sneak as he can't Camem-bear thinking about a situation where a chunk of Cheddar would fit in the general discourse of a text message.
But somewhere among the curds of humanity, there are sure to be linguistically stunted Gouda-gobblers who are happy to tap out iMessages covered with slabs of Emmental and grammar equally full of holes.
Perhaps Sneak is being intolerant to lovers of lactose-based texting as keen language destroyers have also petitioned the Unicode Consortium, the organisation that makes emjois, for a series of other odd emoji choices.
Maybe Sneak is too mature, but he feels that popular requests for burrito, taco and unicorn head emojis raise significant questions about the state of humanity.
He simply cannot envision a situation where a unicorn emoji would be an appropriate text response, as one does not come across many unicorns in everyday life unless you're partaking in substances that Sneak came across during his formative days as an IT assistant.
But no doubt the enterprising minds at the Consortium will milk the requests until they churn out the next batch of smelly emojis, all while Shakespeare spins like a top in his grave.
When plans for new generic top level domains were unveiled a few years ago many firms bridled at the idea that they would be forced to pony up for endless variations of their domains to stop squatters trampling on their turf.
Many found the nagging annoying but, as a case relating to the .horse domain has shown, these fears were not stirring up trouble for no reason.
The incident relates to US supermarket chain Walmart which has finally reclaimed access to the Walmart.horse domain after it had been taken over for longer than Sneak can remember.
The website in question had simply displayed a picture of a horse standing in front of a Walmart store - thanks to the magic of Photoshop. However, Walmart considered this a nightmare of a situation, so it had to take action.
Walmart turned to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, as reported by The Guardian, to try to reclaim the domain, citing the person behind the website as riding roughshod over its brand. In the end the comedian horsing around with the domain relented and handed it to Walmart.
Yes, Walmart made a bunch of false accusations and I didn’t feel like fighting them anymore.— Jeph©˚¨©˚˜˚œ∂¶§∂å˚© (@jephjacques) May 19, 2015
The case illustrates that it's important not just to whine about changes in the technology market, but to study what is going on and lay out whatever is necessary to get the URLs you need to protect your brand, before the horse domain has bolted.
It's a little known fact that Sneak is a master accordionist whose dexterity and hours of wasted time mean that he can play the Minute Waltz on the bellows-like instrument.
So Sneak needs all his fingers in prime condition, as Mrs Sneak does so like to be wooed by the odd candlelit accordion recital. He cannot, therefore, envisage a situation where he would willingly sacrifice a dexterous digit.
But TV and mobile comparison site Cable.co.uk has reported that one in three people would rather lose a finger than their broadband connection.
Clearly there are people who take watching skateboarding dog videos on YouTube and posting pictures of food on Facebook to quasi-religious levels.
Sneak reckons you probably know a few of these miscreants. They're the ones to whom you might wish to introduce a glowing hot poker to a very particular part of their anatomy.
These would-be digit dissecting deviants are joined by a further 25 percent of the people surveyed by Cable who simply could not choose between a severed finger or a cut connection.
Some 46 percent of the respondents said they would rather lose the internet than turn a finger into a cannibal's appetiser. Sneak thinks this means there is yet hope for humanity.
Keen to state the obvious, BT Openreach chief executive Joe Garner said that people see the internet as "vital to their day-to-day lives".
"I used to run a bank and I used to think that it was pretty serious if people couldn't access their bank account, but if people can't access their Facebook account? Oh. My. God," he said, in what appears to be a delectably facetious manner.
"Without the internet people feel socially isolated almost immediately. And that touches a very deep human need. We're a social species."
Sneak doesn't really get the whole ‘social' side of the internet. There are already enough people trying to bother him in the real world about missed payments, accident claims and last Thursday's incident with the office scanner and Harriet from the accounts department.
We've all been there. Your computer is freezing, crashing programmes, running slowly and just basically Not Working.
Most of us all will curse, perhaps give it a light tap on the noggin and do a classic Ctrl Alt Delete restart and hope things go better next time.
However, a man in Colorado Springs has gone one step further, well several steps further, in venting his frustrations with a wantaway computer, shooting it eight times.
Local paper The Gazette reported that Lucas Hinch, 37, took the defenceless Dell machine into an alley - classic gangster move that - and shot it until it was no more. His actions alerted nearby police who arrived to arrest him.
"He got tired of fighting with his computer for the last several months," said Lt. Jeff Strossner, before adding with dead pan delivery: "He was having technology problems, so he took it out in the back alley and shot it."
Hinch was given a citation for his actions, and was apparently "good natured" about the summons, claiming that he didn't know that using a gun in public is a felony in the state. Sneak is surprised by this. Gun laws in the US?
Sneak can sympathise with the man, although he isn't sure that shooting the computer was the best course of action. He prefers putting a failing machine in a sack with some bricks and chucking it in a canal. Less chance of getting caught.
Although you still need to make sure the Environment Agency doesn't spot you or you'll be caught in a net quicker than you can say "splashdown!"
14 Apr 2015
Big news from the Sneak camp this week. He has decided not to apply for a $1,600 ticket to the Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco this year. In fact, he said from behind a filing cabinet, you would have to "bloody drag him there".
No-one wants to drag him anywhere, except perhaps to that place at the zoo where they scrub and hose down elephants, and no one even suggested that Sneak should go to the WWDC in the first place. The news that he was not going would barely have raised an eyebrow had he not made his statement while riding around the office on a scooter listening to greengrass versions of TV theme tunes.
Not invited, probably not wanted, and definitely not in a position to afford it, Sneak is not going because of the impact that the event will have on his civil liberties.
Sneak, you see, has recently adopted some rather trendy characteristics. We suspect that a pamphlet produced by some east London establishment found its way to his office and into his mind, and has, we assume, seized onto the role of office hipster when really what he needs is a hip replacement.
He is wearing a beard that can only be described as roomy, trousers that are too short and could affect his chances of reproducing (a silver lining), a hat at an angle that some spectators have called "provocatively preposterous" and a pair of Google Glass specs. The latter, he says, because they are now retro "like my Zune".
Once this new and unusual Sneak has switched his fixie bike for a desk and a trough of kale soup he lurks online updating a range of social media accounts that he is populating with images of his lunch - before and, sadly, after - and what he is led to believe is a 'selfie'.
Unfortunately for Sneak the informational ‘hip' pamphlet that he picked up includes a repeated misspelling and, rather than take a photo of his face and share it with the world (see selfies), he is taking photos of the office shelves and posting them as shelfies.
No-one follows him online, or indeed in the street - the stench is quite overpowering - so no-one has actually noticed his mistake. He is livid, though, and not just with himself.
To calm him down - it saves on the printers and office plants - we have given Sneak a proper explanation of a selfie, in pictorial form, and provided him with a selfie stick for use at his leisure.
Sneak spent some time getting used to the stick. For a while he hopped up and down on his haunches before using it to attack a black monolith, but within three weeks he had acclimatised to its actual purpose and set about taking selfies like a lost Kardashian.
This, somehow, brings us back to WWDC and one step closer to forgetting about Sneak and his place in the office for another day.
The reason he is staying at home, other than the obvious flight restrictions, is that if he was to attend the event he would be parted from his Google goggles - wearable recording devices are banned - and disconnected from his selfie stick because they are banned too.
"You may not use selfie sticks or similar monopods," Apple said.
"What's next?" he boomed from his office. "Socks and sandals? Man hair buns?"