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Chapter 1 - Caught short

 

"I've been caught short and I'm desperate, can I please use your guest toilet," she'd begged.

"Sure, come-on up, level twenty-seven," a cultured female, North American voice had replied. She was greeted at the door by a mature, beautifully dressed, woman with a big smile and was ushered through the kind of tasteful apartment only old money can pull off, to the guest toilet. The woman reminded Bianca of that attractive society woman from the 1970's Jackie Onassis. The similarity was striking and perhaps deliberate, thanks to a little 'remodelling'.

There was a small annex with a hand basin, various soaps and a pile of guest hand towels. Very old world for the late 21st century. But the toilet itself was not old world.

Bianca was initially surprised by the alacrity with which her strange request had been granted. No questions asked.

She'd been trying on clothes with Margery. They've been at Bergeroff Goodman, an up-market store. Bianca had been brought here for the first time by Margery, who frequents such expensive places.

At Margery's insistence they had been back and forth to the crowded change rooms half a dozen times, trying variations on the same theme, when all the water Bianca had been absentmindedly sipping from her bottle while working at her screen this morning, caught up with her.

The sales person directed her to the store 'restroom' but when she got there, she found a long queue. Among them was a group of very well dressed and obviously wealthy young women, Busies, who were there finding outfits for the big fashionable New Year's Day race-meeting, the Delhi Cup. A young women kept allowing others of their group join the queue ahead of her.

With every new entrant Bianca's need was becoming more and more urgent so she decided to go across the walkway to the Plaza Grand next door. The Ladies' Restroom there was empty. But like other five-star hotels in this part of the city they have iris recognition so that only current or regular guests can open the booths.

That's the trouble with the 'posh' end of town - no public toilets.

Leaving the hotel into the street Bianca noticed an historic apartment block with one of those antique panels of call buttons and a camera. She'd pressed them one after another until someone answered.

Now, as she closed the outer door, she stopped short. Could she go in there? She was like a person confronting a primitive outhouse in regional Asia for the first time. This one has a pleasant smell and is a lot more than a hole in the floor with two ceramic stepping stones. It's perhaps the most beautiful loo she'd ever seen: spotlessly clean in shiny deep grey patterns and solid gold fittings yet it's a lot more alarming. She'd instantly recognised the pattern of indented dots on the tiles lining the room for what they are, micro cameras and illuminators across the spectrum from infra-red to ultraviolet. And if that isn't enough, the haptic toilet seat is certain 'give-a-way'. This is a total body scanner. What was she to do? 

But now she was desperate. Its very availability had made her need more urgent. She just had to pee.

Less sophisticated scanners, some as primitive as a single camera, are quite commonplace and not just in toilets, dressing rooms in clothes shops are a favourite. They aren't legal but the owners are not usually perverts. They earn credit feeding the data collected to BoganVillia the marketing corporation that collects data on every potential consumer by any means available, like offering loyalty cards and giving away bonus points for travel. Their favourite ruse is gift or Christmas cards, the gift that keeps on giving, to the vendor alone, when the card recipients' buying patterns are tracked, the time limit expires or residuals remain unspent. If she's given one Bianca thanks the giver for the sentiment and then throws it away. BoganVillia also tie purchases to credit credentials and track product searches in The Cloud until they have a complete profile of a buyer's purchasing behaviour, interests and overall annual expenditure, which obviously, matches income, less positive or negative credit accumulation, once known as savings and debt.

There are many Busie companies, at arm's length from BoganVillia, that install scanners and on-sell the data and every now and then they get caught and fined. BoganVillia stands by the 'principle' that data should be unfettered by secrecy, no matter how they were obtained. So, they continue to pay for these data according to market value.

'Jackie O' is obviously, a society matron who entertains the big end of town. The market value of their secrets is probably quite high. So, she's installed this little earner to keep her in beluga. Somehow the Virtual Police in The Cloud justice system never seem to catch them at it. You'd think the massive data bursts would be easy to detect.

Only one in several million people would recognise the technology in this room. But Bianca comes from an information engineering family where this kind of thing was discussed over meals since she was an infant and she wrote her thesis on bio-cybernetics. The moment she steps through that door she knows that she will be identified. The software will match her face and iris details with BoganVillia's vast database of identity records. Everyone, even she, leaves personal details in The Cloud. For example, every time someone checks your photo ID or tags you in a picture, an identity record is created. Her file in the BoganVillia database will be updated. Her present body dimensions as if naked, in the various poses she adopts preparing to sit, will be mapped to micron level noting any blemishes, tattoos, piercings or other modifications. Her garments will be identified and traced back to the manufacturer, then forward to the moment she purchased them. Any loose dust, hair or skin cells will be sucked into the ventilation system and analysed. Her current state of health will be determined from temperature variations across her body, complemented by an ultrasound scan of her internal organs. Little ticking sounds and flashes will test her hearing and eyesight. Urine and stool samples will be taken and analysed as they became available.

Like Sherlock Holmes, BoganVillia will have a good idea of: where she's been and where she is going; her style preferences; what and when she's eaten this week; and of course, any recent sexual activity - when, with whom and possibly how; from DNA residuals in the aforesaid. This intelligence BoganVillia will on-sell to anyone wanting to market anything to her. She will be assailed by even more offers matched directly to her needs, tastes and activities.

This may sometimes be of benefit, for example, when she returns, Bergeroff Goodman could potentially know her exact shoe and clothing sizes from her underwear out. Yet, Bianca hates these intrusions. They will also know how much she spent on her current clothes and underwear; they may think they know her credit status; and they'll have a good idea of her taste from past purchases. The sales person will be even snootier than he was before.

If she used toilets like this regularly the details of her life would be recorded and mapped year-round 24/7. And if the data fell into in the wrong hands her identity could be stolen or an Avatar could be constructed that was visually and tactilely identical to her in every way, when experienced in 6D virtual reality. With touch and smell; and this simulation would be a pervert's dream. Men and women would leer knowingly at her in the street.

The fact that illicit data collection had been going on since the earliest days of The Cloud didn't excuse it. Bogans might not care or know about their file but it's not for her.

Yet she has to pee. The hand basin is an option but there's probably a camera out here too.

Fortunately, for Bianca, there's a more reliable option. She's a Grad with advanced coding skills and Isis, her Virtual Personal Assistant, hosted in The Cloud, has a 'stream blocker and scrambler' installed that Bianca wrote years ago when still a teen. Of course, a stream blocker is not strictly legal and it's forbidden to hack into and scramble data in The Cloud, so she uses it very sparingly. But this is an emergency.

If Isis simply blocks the data stream it will certainly set off an alarm. A debug routine will start and a repair bot may even be deployed. All she wants at this moment is to have a pee; not have to deal with a torrent of messages or a loo that starts sounding an alarm.

Rather than speaking out loud Bianca, who can read and write, discretely taps in a message to Isis telling her to randomly scramble any data generated by this thing as it reaches The Cloud. Isis replies with a quick vibration in her pocket communicator. At last, she can sit down. It's safe.

***

As she sat there admiring the technology in the most advanced body-scanner she'd ever encountered she was intrigued and happy. Everything was spotless. Apart from being a total body scanner it was a very nice loo. No doubt Jackie O has the ultimate in cleaning robots. And her apartment was the most tasteful she'd ever seen. Bianca wondered who she was, obviously, someone well placed in society. It would be nice to get her real name on the way out, maybe aunty Miranda knows her?

A thought occurred to her.

Here was this very nice loo just when she desperately needed it and she'd only found it by pressing all the buttons on a random apartment block - essentially by chance.

The Cloud has an almost insatiable demand for new Apps - applications that help people find likeminded others for almost any purpose, from quilting to musical farting; that amuse them; and that manage their daily lives. What was needed was an App to match those who nature called to empty loos. Air - loo? Air Ones and Twos? Almost every dwelling had a guest toilet so why not rent one out occasionally to those in need?  Bogan's Apps allow their VPA to tell them what and when to: eat, rest and play; when to ablute and when they should exercise or give vent to their other bodily functions. But until now, not where.

In this case there would be few Bogans but Jackie O outside would be delighted to have a lot more up-town customers to scan for additional credits.

Bianca could begin to knock something together when she got home tonight. Then she had a better idea. She is facing a couple of challenges in her new life and maybe she can kill both birds with one stone.

 

 

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Travel

Canada and the United States - Part1

 

 

In July and August 2023 Wendy and I travelled to the United States again after a six-year gap. Back in 2007 we visited the east coast and west coast and in 2017 we visited 'the middle bits', travelling down from Chicago via Memphis to New Orleans then west across Texas, New Mexico, Nevada and California on our way home.

So, this time we went north from Los Angeles to Seattle, Washington, and then into Canada. From Vancouver we travelled by car, over the Rockies, then flew east to Toronto where we hired a car to travel to Ottawa and Montreal. Our next flight was all the way down to Miami, Florida, then to Fort Lauderdale, where we joined a western Caribbean cruise.  At the end of the cruise, we flew all the way back up to Boston.

Seems crazy but that was the most economical option.  From Boston we hired another car to drive, down the coast, to New York. After New York we flew to Salt Lake City then on to Los Angeles, before returning to OZ.

As usual, save for a couple of hotels and the cars, Wendy did all the booking.

Breakfast in the Qantas lounge on our way to Seattle
Wendy likes to use two devices at once

Read more: Canada and the United States - Part1

Fiction, Recollections & News

Christmas 1935

 

When I first saw this colourized image of Christmas Shopping in Pitt St in Sydney in December 1935, on Facebook  (source: History of Australia Resources).

I was surprised. Conventional history has it that this was in the middle of the Great Depression. Yet the people look well-dressed (perhaps over-dressed - it is mid-summer) and prosperous. Mad dogs and Englishmen?

 

 

So, I did a bit of research. 

It turns out that they spent a lot more of their income on clothes than we do (see below).

Read more: Christmas 1935

Opinions and Philosophy

Whither Peak Oil

 

 

The following paper was written back in 2007.  Since that time the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) struck and oil prices have not risen as projected.  But we are now hearing about peak oil again and there have been two programmes on radio and TV in the last fortnight floating the prospect of peak oil again. 

At the end of 2006 the documentary film A Crude Awakening warned that peak oil, ‘the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum production is reached, after which the rate of production enters its terminal decline’, is at hand. 

Read more: Whither Peak Oil

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