Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Episode 8: ATMs: known unknowns no longer lost in translation

As on the previous day, lethargy prevailed among the small group assembled in C-block; this time, the location was a bar in the same building and their pale faces and muted chatter bore testimony to the excesses of the night before. Correspondent gazed into the distance, Cynic idly swirled the ice cubes in his gin and tonic and braced himself before tasting it, Clever exhaled as he leaned back on the banquette, Correct warily sipped his drink and both Coin and Cutback nursed soft drinks and grimaced when the door slammed shut as Conspiracy joined them.

‘Morning,’ he said, checked his watch and added: ‘Or afternoon, more like. Looks like you guys feel much the same as me. Good fun last night, though.’

‘It was,’ said Clever, groaning as he looked at his watch. ‘Hell, I’ve got a meeting to attend soon…just as I was getting comfortable, or less uncomfortable, here. ’

‘Unavoidable?’ asked Correspondent.

‘Unfortunately, yes. There’s a shindig planned today to officially launch the ATM app. It'll feature a lot of smug self-congratulation so I'd rather stay here but that wouldn’t be viewed favourably, methinks. I have been one of the participants in the project.’

‘Does the app work the same way as the ATMs themselves?’

‘Yep,’ replied Clever as he fished a mobile phone out of his pocket. ‘Here, I’ve got a few minutes to spare. Let me show you.’

The creation of ATMs (Automated Translation Module) was a Wordsdrow technological innovation, one universally approved of. Each building contained at least one ATM, a machine with an inbuilt screen and keyboard, which facilitated translation between various idioms and vernaculars of spoken and written English as requested by the user – “words are our common currency” was the logo. A panel of experts – Linguist, Scholar, Lexicon, Grammar, Locution, Context, Dialect, Cant and Jargon – compiled the first ATM memory bank of words, phrases and expressions. This steering committee was augmented by another group – Clever, Nuance, Satire, Editor and Caricature – who added a more caustic edge to some of the interpretations until the archive was deemed sufficiently comprehensive to cope with any queries.

Many of the OED fraternity saw it as a useful educational aid while others delighted in its inherent lampooning of pomp and hyperbole. A recently completed second phase of the project was to create an app for mobile phones, laptops and personal computers as Clever demonstrated to his colleagues. ‘This is the app; you just select the mode and…’

‘Hang on a sec, Clever,’ interrupted Cutback. ‘I’m not completely familiar with the ATMs; can you give me the Luddite introduction, please.’

‘Sure. You know the basic concept? How any phrase or expression you enter into an ATM is converted into say, Plain Speaking or Shakespearean or Bloke in the Pub, etc? Well, the choice of idioms has been extended for the download app. We now have Corporate Speak, Twitter, various newspapers and so on. Let’s take an example. Go on, try any phrase.’

Correspondent giggled. ‘OK, here’s one. Remember that gobbledygook from Donald Rumsfeld about the war in Iraq when he was US Defence Secretary? That stuff about known knowns and unknown unknowns. What does it make of that?’

Clever nodded. ‘Good one. I’ll get the quotation from Google. Jesus, it’s even worse than I remembered. “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know”. I’ll just paste it into the ATM app.’

Clever did so and held out his mobile phone for inspection:

        Politician: There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

        Politician (decoded): Send in more troops.

        Shakespearean : Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.

        Plain Speaking: Shit happens.

        Bloke in the Pub: Politics, innit? Fucked if I know what he’s on about, mate.

        Cliché: You never know what’s around the corner.

        Corporate Speak: We must avail ourselves of the opportunity to pick the low-hanging fruit and going forward, incorporate a holistic approach to maintain this sustainability. We must also ensure that our interests are ring-fenced within identifiable parameters, copper-bottom ourselves against whatever is brought to the table and socialise our findings. But we must also think outside the box to guard against anything beyond the event horizon and upskill our core competencies in readiness.

       Corporate Speak (decoded): New game plan needed or it’ll be time to shoot the puppy and actionise some downsizing. Aw to heck with it, let’s have another round of redundancies, anyway.

       Posh: I feel at ease with the familiar; I have a townhouse and a small place in the country – Lincolnshire, it’s called. It gives a chap a bit of solidity, a bit of background, something to look forward to at the weekend. But I’m not comfortable with all these johnnies turning up out of nowhere with their new money which they’ve acquired from God knows where. One doesn’t recognise any of them from Eton or Oxbridge. We’re hardly likely to have any friends in common and they all have those dreadful plebeian single-barrelled surnames. Most unsettling.

        Daily Mail: Fresh wave of immigrants leads to increase of “unknowns” in UK (on page 7: see the impact of this on your pension).

        The Guardian: House! US Defence Secretary raises Buzzword Bingo bar.

         Biblical: Therefore keep watch; because you do not know the day or the hour.

        Twitter: Muesli 4 b’fast as per and just had dbl(!) espresso. Going 4 it later with an unknown 2 me…ostrich + fava bean salad #OutThereSnacking

‘What a pity Crusade hasn’t arrived yet, he’d enjoy this,’ said Correspondent. ‘What’s really good is that they’re all so plausible. If you put in a Shakespearean quote, will it translate into the other forms?’

‘Yes. Let’s try, oh, I don’t know. Anyone got a line from The Bard?’

‘How about something from Hamlet? That “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well” speech?’ asked Coin.

‘Just as well Pedant isn’t here, Coin. That’s the frequently misquoted version if memory serves me correct. Ah, yes, here we are: “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?” That's a bit long-winded; I’ll exclude the last few rhetorical questions.’ Clever pointed to the screen. ‘See, I set the app to Shakespearean mode, copy the lines in here and then ask it to retrieve other forms. Here they come.’

      Shakespearean : Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.

      Posh: Awfully bad news about Yorick. Top fellow, Yockers - as we always called him. I knew him since prep school, fagged for him at Eton and we were rugger blues together at Oxford. Great sense of humour, top chap on a night out. It was him who threw the first bread roll that night the Bullingdon Club dinner got out of hand in a restaurant in Mayfair. Cool as you like when the manager was called, didn’t bat an eyelid but got the old pater on the blower and arranged for him to settle the bill for damages over the phone. Yockers himself even invited all the waiters to his box at Ascot during race week. Top man.

      Man in the Pub: Yorick, eh? Heard he snuffed it. Shame, diamond geezer he was. Always had a joke, a wisecrack and liked a pint. Loved him to bits, I did. Not like that, though. Oi, what you saying about me kissing him? Calling me a puff, are you? OK, outside now, I’m not taking that from no-one.

      Daily Mail: Exclusive! Prince: ‘My anguish over death of Royal entertainer.’ Hamlet sheds tears in moving tribute to deceased friend.

      Guardian: Digging His Own Grave: Royal accused of insincere platitudes over death of Court employee. ‘Prince H didn’t even know his alleged close friend, Yorick, was dead until skull found in unmarked grave’ says palace insider.

      Cliché: It’s always the good ones that die young.

      Twitter: Amazeballs! Rumoured Series 4, The Killing. Sarah L investigates death of Danish comedian,Yorick. Jumper colour unknown. LOL! #Skullduggery

      Plain Speaking: Yorick? Bloody nice bloke, he was. Sorry to hear about his death.

      Corporate Speak: It was with regret that we announced the departure of Yorick from this organisation a few years back. Yorick’s preference was to pursue other opportunities in the entertainment business and a subsequent heads-up from him indicated that he had right-fitted himself into a new role. The news that he is currently experiencing extreme lifestyle issues is one of concern.

      Politician: I wish to categorically deny the insensitive and baseless speculation over my involvement in the unfortunate death of Mr. Yorick. Even though his brand of what I believe is referred to as alternative comedy was not to my taste, this was no reason for me to wish him ill. His political views are from the other end of the spectrum to mine but I respect the democratic right of any individual to voice such opinions but only up to the point where they become personal and vindictive. It is my belief that Mr. Yorick’s regular portrayal of me as paranoid and petty did breach this level. OK, gentlemen, we’re off-the-record from here on. His death, untimely though it is, has saved me a great deal of time and expense in implementing legal procedures. For this, if nothing else in his sorry existence, I am grateful.

‘One more, please?’ asked Coin. ‘Can it translate from a foreign language and then further translate into a recognisable English idiom?’

‘Yes, it should do although something may be lost in the, er, translation. Thousands of popular phrases and expressions have been programmed into the memory bank and ATMs can link whatever’s requested to these expressions with a degree of accuracy. Of course, something completely random might faze it.’

‘OK. Can you try the “plus ça change” one?’

D’accord, mon ami,’ Clever said, smiling. ‘OK, here goes.’

           French: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

        Plain Speaking: The more things change, the more they stay the same. End of.

        Man in the Pub: If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a bleedin’ duck, OK?

        Shakespearean: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

         Corporate Speak (Advanced): Hi, I’m Zak Poloneck from Zeitgeist Inc, leading brand strategists. We were called ?+!=ü but we re-branded because our switchboard operatives had issues around pronouncing our name when they answered calls. A while back, we were given a deliverable by a spectacles manufacturer to devise a new advertising campaign and brand name for their product. My take is that what people want is not something completely new but a familiar concept with a new twist; they’re comfortable with the idea of things changing but, essentially, staying the same.

 For the duration of this project, we used Zeitgeist’s favoured strategy: Ideas Delivered Into Optimised Thought. The acronym, I should point out, is intentionally ironic; I have found that clients and the public at large are receptive to humour. I formed a small team from some of our top creatives – Zed, our imagineer; Zap, our ideas consultant; Zeus, our blue sky thinker, Zoom, our envelope pusher; Zig, our vision facilitator and Zee, our trans-Atlantic transitioner.

We brainstormed, we focus grouped, we information gathered, we brain dumped, we looped the loop, we tripped the light fantastic, we skipped the light fandango, we ran ideas up the flagpole, we pushed ideas out through the creative catflap and waited to see if they’d return with a mouse or a bird for us, we dotted the i’s, we crossed the t’s, we umlauted the o’s and arrived at a plan of action. It involved shifting parameters, moving goalposts but we stopped short of re-inventing the wheel: there was no need for that.

So far, so normal...that’s pretty much day-to-day ops for us but this time, we wanted to go the extra mile, raise the bar, take it to the next level, vector these ideas into a reality sandwich and have it for lunch. We went paintballing, snowboarding, parachuting, bungee jumping, extreme ironing, abseiling; we went trekking in the Himalayas, we went on a safari in Africa, we buried ourselves alive for three days, we spent a weekend in a brothel in Nevada, we played Angry Birds non-stop for 36 hours, we considered undergoing transgender surgery but decided that wouldn’t necessarily help the project and, instead, opted to join a hen night in Blackpool and then we built a pop-up igloo in the Antarctic.

It was there that we re-convened the team and it all harmonised when we held a fusion workshop to decide on which idea we would present to our clients. We considered naming the product Portable Vision-Corrective Solutions but that wasn’t cutting-edge enough for us. Our suggestion – which we are passionate about and which our clients have enthusiastically accepted - is to brand the product A PaiR of GlaSses. I know: we see it as pure genius too.

I am now going to vacationise for a short period. As you can guess, this project has been creatively exhausting and I need some me time although I’m already conceptualising ideas for the next campaign; ideas which will soon be Ideas Delivered Into Optimised Thought. It’s all good.

         Biblical: What has been is what will be and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.

         Daily Mail: Official: French directives on changing how to live amount to nothing. On p.28: Why we must resist these vile EU plans.

         The Guardian: New claims of MPs expense abuse; Fresh allegations of newspaper phone hacking; Report shows 24 specific cases of Government U-turns.

        Twitter: OM actual G….Light bulb moment! Never throw anything away, it’ll b back in fashion b4 u know. #GetThatFashionistas

‘Satire had some fun with the ad agency one, I remember,’ Clever said with a smile. ‘He got carried away with all the mumbo-jumbo. OK, I really have to get on the move. It’s odd that Crusade still hasn’t arrived. He’s normally very punctual.’

When Clever left and a consensus was reached that a restorative walk in the cold December air would be preferable to remaining in the bar, Cynic called Crusade’s number to let him know.

‘Strange,’ he mused as he looked at his mobile before switching it off. ‘No reply, not even an automated reply. You don’t suppose anything’s happened to him, do you? He did seem a bit distracted last night.’

On their way out of the building, they called by his room but, again, there was no response. A note was pinned to his door by them indicating where they could be found and they departed in search of some welcome fresh air. By mid-afternoon, Crusade had still not made an appearance and the group decided to report his absence.
Next episode: Long night's journey into day....

Author's ackowledgement: Many thanks to the Bard of Battersea, Sean O'Sullivan, who provided the inspiration for the ATM idea.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment here...