P&J Column 16.3.17

Is your microwave spying on you?*

*[Spoiler] No.

Prof Hector J Schlenk, Senior Researcher at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science:

As a scientist, people are always asking me questions like “Why are repairs to public buildings like the Townhouse so expensive?” “How do we know it won’t fall down now they’ve finally taken the scaffolding off?”, and “Could you please come down from that ladder, sir?”,  but this week I have mostly been asked about US Presidential Aide and former Terrahawk Kelly Anne Conway. She was on the news discussing the threat of covert surveillance by means of devices such as TVs, smartphones and, most terrifying of all, “microwaves that turn into cameras”.  As I always wondered if the ‘Transformers’ films weren’t more documentary than Hollywood were letting on, I hurriedly conducted my own investigation, dismantling a microwave oven with a variety of screwdrivers and the lump hammer I keep about my person, in case of emergency.

Microwaves are, as well as being the ideal way to turn leftover macaroni-cheese into soft-palate searing lava, a form of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, not far from radio waves, and visible light. So the idea that such a device might have the potential to record sound, images or other data is not completely ridiculous. No, I’m kidding – it’s totally bonkers. Microwaves emit radiation, whereas recording devices are detectors. It’s like suggesting that light bulbs can smell. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though, and I must confess that that important observation didn’t actually occur to me until after I had entirely smashed the casing, stripped out all the components and drilled through the device’s magnetron tube. And that’s when I was thrown out of Curry’s.

The Reverend Edmund Everend, Minister, Holburn North North East

And so it begins again: or maybe it doesn’t.  Nicola Sturgeon has fired the starting pistol on the second independence referendum, only to be forcefully reminded by Teresa May that it’s Westminster’s pistol, and she only gets a shottie of it in certain tightly-circumscribed situations.  All the while, Nicola addresses us with what she hopes is a look of grave seriousness, but which I find reminiscent of my dear departed mother, a martyr to acid indigestion.  Teresa, by contrast, considers mere gravity to be for the weak, and goes directly for stern hectoring.  Well, it worked so well for the Scottish Tories under Thatcher.  I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that spin doctoring session: “Teresa, about Scotland…” “Don’t worry, I’m going to haughtily lecture them on what do. They’ll love it, especially when I – a person pursuing a separatist agenda in pursuit of a divisive referendum – tell them they can’t.”  In the meantime, as a man of faith, I confess myself deeply troubled by the whole sorry mess, and fearful of the dispute, division and despair that I can foresee; but as a canny investor, I am looking at buying into a Glasgow-based firm that sells toughened safety glass, window shutters and fire extinguishing equipment.

J Fergus Lamont, Arts correspondent and author of “Nicky-Tams and Skinny Jeans – the Corn Kister in the 21st Century”

I was delighted to slake my cultural thirst on Sunday night with a splendid mocku-docu-drama on Channel 4 (There is now a fourth channel. Perhaps “T.V.” is not to be the flash-in-the-pan it first appeared.)

“The Jump” (you won’t have heard of it, as it received little or no publicity) pitted an unlikely band of protagonists against the perils of an icy mountain, engaging in a series of convoluted challenges designed to eliminate the weakest of the herd until only the strongest survived. Dripping with symbolism, this innovative format was redolent with a sense of the eternal struggle for survival in an increasingly cold and dangerous world.

The tense battles were interspersed with perfectly irreverent interjections from host Davina MacCall (a name for the future, who surely needs to be given more air time). She perfectly lampooned the social media generation’s profligacy with expressions of heightened emotion; ironically declaring that she “loved” everything and everyone in a manner that transcended the tedium of repetition to emerge again as a sort of healing mantra.

And so to the denouement. The final 4 contestants were forced to perform “The Jump” to determine the winner. With 2 athletes and a beauty queen among them the stage was set for the predictable triumph of a physically superior specimen. Yet there was a twist. The final competitor, an individual with no discernable talents, referred to, incomprehensibly, as a ‘reality star’ emerged victorious. And as he strode forward to receive his prize, some delicious anagnorisis befell our hero; his trophy was a giant cowbell, symbolising that despite his singular victory he remained, firmly, one of the herd.

I wept.