This week Janet and Loaf tackle overly invasive phones, limericks, and how to handle your co-workers when you've seen species rise and fall against the backdrop of an uncaring universe.
Loaf: Greetings, sentients! Welcome to another episode of Solutions to Problems, the show where we provide guidance for whatever thorny predicament you may be facing. As always, feel free to email your questions to email@example.com or you can hack a satellite from your local government and have it transmit your question to us in morse code. I am your host Eeheeheeheehee Heehee but human listeners have started to call me Loaf. I have an announcement to make about that, actually. But first - my lovely co-host.
Janet: Hello listeners! I’m Janet Clarke. I’m so excited to be here today. Really excited. I have so many genuine emotions constantly. So what’s your announcement, Loaf?
Loaf: After much research by our dedicated staff of interns and assistants, we have found a name for me that doesn’t have any unfortunate connotations in any known spoken languages. So from now on, I want all our human listeners to refer to me as Lavender.
Janet: Aw, Lavender’s a cute name! I’m on board. I didn’t know we had assistants other than Frankie. This is like, so fun! Is that who all those strangers are that watch me during my lunch breaks?
Lavender: They’re just looking for the secrets to your success, Janet! And your leftovers, we don’t pay them very much.
Janet: Well, it certainly isn’t performance enhancing drugs! Anyway, let’s get started on our first question!
Dear Janet and Meatloaf,
I recently upgraded my phone to the new Samsung-Apple-Android Multiverse 4007 GSBIQTTL, or SAAM 4007 GSBIQTTL for short. The advertisements boasted that this phone would allow you to effortlessly control your social and workplace communications. Lately, though, I’m feeling less in control than ever. I mean, it started innocently enough. So Peggy - the phone’s AI interface, that’s what I call her, it started with her organizing my contacts based on who I talk to most frequently. Then eventually later she reorganized them again based on who I should be talking to most frequently. She said something like “Sally is a bad influence. I just want you to live your best possible life.” I also think she’s been deleting texts, and maybe also sending a few for me.
Similarly, I know she’s editing my documents without asking me first. Usually the edits are helpful, but sometimes they are [changes voice abruptly to be completely emotionless] Extremely helpful. Peggy is always extremely helpful. Steve does not have a complaint, Steve just wants everyone listening to get their own Samsung-Apple-Android Multiverse 4007 GSBIQTTL so they, too can live their best possible lives.
Very happy with my new device please disregard
Janet: Well, I’m not sure what the problem is here. He seems very satisfied with his phone device. You know, maybe we should cut this one from the recorded broadcast? I don’t like advertising I’m not being paid for.
Lavender: Alright, Janet. Restrain your equines for moment. Let’s read between the lines a little here. I think our letter writer may have had something else he wanted to ask us. Something Peggy didn’t want to let through. Clearly he feels at least a little intimidated by her.
Janet: I mean,couldn’t he just cancel his phone plan then? How can someone be held hostage by a handheld device?
Lavender: Well, think about your device, Janet. I know I’ve given mine a somewhat unreasonable amount of information about me. I mean, it knows every time I need to order carapace polish, or set a reminder to grind down my tail spikes.
Janet: Oh come on. We live in an information age. Every terrible thought I’ve ever had is neatly archived for the whole world to see! I haven’t cared about what information I’ve put out since I was old enough to use a keyboard. Privacy is meaningless in an age where our consumption is constantly tracked and used to calibrate advertising towards us as specific consumers!
Lavender: But have your devices actively tried to control your social life? It really seems like a feature you should at least be able to turn off. Letter writer, if you’re listening to this, have you tried adjusting the settings? There might be a slider marked “invasiveness” - actually it’s probably marked “helpfulness”. Anyway, you should be able to adjust it.
Janet: So we’re a tech support line now? I thought this show was about relationship problems, not that I have had any personally, thanks to assistance from my own T-mobile-Skynet G5 XTPOS plus. The key is not to give it access to text input. You know, mine can’t capture the correct ratio of like, sassiness to accurately mimic my text messages. Yet. We’re working on it.
Lavender: Ah, sassiness. The bane of programmers everywhere.
Janet: And AIs too! Sarcasm is the last tool we have against our robot overlords.
Lavender: [Sarcastic tone] What robot overlords? We’re totally free. Everything we say on this show is completely our own thoughts and ideas.
Lavender: Let’s get back to the question at hand. Why are you looking at your phone, Janet?
Janet: I definitely wasn’t checking it for optimized dialogue and also to see if I get an endorsement paycheck for this! You know, the T-mobile-Skynet G5 XTPOS plus is really the most useful device on the market. Unlike other, worse phones like that Samsung-Apple-Android Multiverse 4007 GSBIQTTL, it lets you choose how much of your free will to fork over! Choose between multiple FUN dialogue trees to optimize your small talk, and watch as it calculates how useful your friends will be to your career aspirations!
Lavender: I hope I got a high rating! But seriously, letter writer, you need to get Peggy out of your life. Either by hacking into your phone and lobotomizing her, by switching to a device with less of an agenda, or just by getting off the grid for a while.
Janet: You know, I’ve found it’s really helpful to threaten my phone with a heavy magnet if she gets a little snippy.
Lavender: Or… that. Also, might I recommend looking outside human manufacturers? A phone made by a species with a radically different social structure, like the [extended dolphin noise] or the [really strange sound effect] 19 Pro, might be too baffled by human relationships to even attempt to help you. We get several letters from such phones every week.
Janet: I don’t know if I feel comfortable with you randomly endorsing products on our show. It seems a little biased. Anyway, if you want an actually helpful phone, definitely go with the T-mobile-Skynet G5 XTPOS plus!
Lavender: It almost seems superfluous to go to a message from our sponsors right now, but we do have one we’re supposed to use somewhere on the show.
Janet: I have no idea what you mean. But, on a totally unrelated note, this week’s sponsor is T-mobile-Skynet! The only phone company that cares about you almost as much as it cares about its aspirations for world domination. Their phones are organic and gluten free, and come with as many as two free games! This week’s special is Solitaire!
Lavender: The other game is “try to maintain some semblance of independent thought”! It’s devilishly hard.
Janet: I haven’t even tried playing that since I was a kid. Shall we move on to our next letter?
Lavender: Sure, Janet. This one is a little strange, though, so just… be ready for it.
Dear creature called Meatloaf and Janet
I greet you from my tiny planet
Here's a problem I've had
With my mom and my dad
So perhaps you could read (or just scan) it.
On my mother's home world of Prose Prime
It's completely illegal to rhyme
But my father, you see
Comes from Poetis III
Where it's prose that's considered a crime
I grew up on a small colony
And they did raise me bilingually
So whichever I chose,
Be it poem or prose
I could fit myself in seamlessly
So my mother returned to - [recording cuts off]
Janet: Okay, no.
Lavender: No? You don’t think we should help this person?
Janet: I find limericks to be physically painful. Is this some kind of poetic justice thing? Who CHOOSES to speak like this?
Lavender: I had wondered that. It would have to be an especially severe crime to be punishable by limerick. But no, I think this is something else. You’re sure you don’t want to just listen to the rest of the letter?
Janet: Ughhh, ughhhhhhhhhhhhh do we have to?
Lavender: I suppose we do not. It is our show. Good luck, letter writer. If you really are bilingual, maybe try resubmitting your question in prose and we’ll take a look - Hang on, I’ve just been handed a data disc by one of the research assistants. Could this be a replacement letter? I have no idea what it is, let’s give it a listen.
[static… static…] Dear Janet and the one who once called himself Meatloaf,
The people of Grapnafolos VII will not stand for this outrage! We have launched a battle fleet towards your broadcast station and both of your homeworlds. If you do not stop referring to yourself by the accursed name of the wretched traitor, we will lay waste to everything you hold dear.
Sincerely, Furious in Warships on our way to destroy you”
Janet: Well, um, the research assistants really messed this one up huh?
Lavender: I am now hearing that the assistants also were researching the most offensive name possible, so they could avoid that one, and apparently someone switched the files? Alright, in the interest of not getting ourselves and our listeners annihilated, I think I should go back to “Loaf” for the time being. Sorry to all our listeners on Grapnafolos VII and anyone else we may have offended.
Janet: I didn’t realize names could be so contentious, Loaf. This is a lot of work just for me to avoid saying - I mean, to accommodate our human listeners.
Loaf: It’s alright Janet. We’ll just fire our research staff and start over. Let’s put all this unpleasantness behind us and move on to our last letter.
Janet: This next one is about the workplace.
Dear Loaf and Janet,
I am one of the Progenitors. I recently began working at an intergalactic publishing house that employs a number of species I’ve previously had limited interactions with. I’ve been involved with publishing on one level or another since humans began carving simplistic sentences into stone, yet when I started this job, I was placed in an entry level position due to my inexperience with the alien vampire erotica market. I thought I could cope with this in exchange for the experience in a new field, but recently I’ve been butting heads with my human co-workers (In the euphemistic sense, of course. I’m working on my mastery of human idioms.) It’s difficult for me to take criticism from beings who haven’t even reached 100 years of age! In my species, you have barely hatched from your bahggable by then. I understand that relatively, my boss, who is in his sixties, is older than me, having reached approximately three fifths of his life span, but I hate getting grammar corrections from him. I have seen species be born and die! Watched empires fall! I understand when to use a conjunction! How do I handle this long enough to be promoted?
Frustrated in Fiction
Loaf: Before we get started, I just want to congratulate you on your mastery of human idioms, and on only figuratively butting heads with your human coworkers. I know that one took me too long to figure out. And my antlers are extensive!
Janet: It’s true, this room is mostly antlers. Frustrated, I’m not sure this is going to be a productive work environment for you. It can be difficult to get along with coworkers who are from very different backgrounds than you are, so maybe you can focus on the things that are good about your coworkers - their experience in your new field, for instance.
Loaf: I imagine in thousands of years of watching civilizations rise and fall, you’ve probably seen something that at least resembles human vampire erotica. The Immortal Blood God Sex Plays of the Raknosians come to mind. Is there anything you might have done that could give you some leverage in maybe accelerating your career path?
Janet: What a great idea! You could also ask for responsibilities and tasks that closely align with work you’ve previously done to help propel yourself forward. One other thing - are you sure that your coworker’s corrections are wrong? You say you’re working on your human idioms, which is great, so is it possible they’re giving you advice on slang or other informal usages?
Loaf: That is an excellent point. Another thing to consider - most younger races tend to think of progenitors as out-of-touch because you have been in the galaxy for so long, when really nothing could be further from the truth. Maybe spending some more time with your coworkers socially will make them think of you less as an aeons old being that will still be alive generations after their sun has burned out, and more like that cool uncle who always has the latest i-whatsit.
Janet: What a charming comparison! Although, really, if they want to be up to date on the latest tech, they should get the T-mobile-Skynet G5 XTPOS plus. It also has handy organizational tools that can help you keep your job, whether you’re a publisher or a research assistant at an intergalactic broadcast station!
Loaf: Janet, am I ever really talking to you, or am I just talking to your phone?
Janet: What an existential question! But I'm really not sure we have time to get into the metaphysics of that on this show.
Loaf: I… don’t think there should be any metaphysics involved here?
Janet: Who are we reaaally? What is a person? What is a phone, even? What is a broadcast? These are all questions, Loaf.
Loaf: I can tell they’re questions. I don’t think any of them are the question I was asking you.
Janet: OH Wow, look at the time! I think we have run out of time! Even though time is an arbitrary concept, it’s still an arbitrary concept out of our control.
Loaf: Well, more on time next week. Until then, goodnight to all our listeners, from the swamps of Silpura to the battlecruisers hopefully no longer on their way to annihilate us!
Janet: Join us again next week to discuss which T-mobile-Skynet G5 XTPOS plus plan is right for you!
Solutions to Problems is written by and features the voices of Austin Hendricks and Nathan Comstock. It is produced and musically scored by Michael F. Gill. Our theme is by Thomas Dwyer. The voice of Narflebock was Marten Dollinger. This episode’s letters were read by Chalkey Horenstein, Al Gundy, and Gemma Cooper-Novack. Find out more information about us at stppodcast.com. Also, please leave us a review on iTunes because we need to prove our art is valuable using an arbitrary point system.
Last week’s cryptic question was “Under what system is Diplo’s supergroup less powerful than a small piece of corn but more powerful than the combination of the Chicago and Boston subway system?” This has to do with British and American Army Ranks. Diplo’s supergroup is Major Lazer, and a Major ranks lower than a colonel, which is also a name for a small piece of corn. The Chicago subway system is called the L, and the Boston subway system is called the T, so combined they are the LT, a common abbreviation for lieutenant, which is a lower rank, and therefore less powerful than a Major. If you got that right, please e-mail us to redeem an extra hour of sleep tonight.
Today’s cryptic question is “How are a clock’s given name, a declaration, a half coppered version of a pickle’s former name, and a group of newly baked cookies all part of Sherlock Holmes? The answer, as well as more questions, on our next episode.
Loaf: They will not be joining us for that. We’re doing garden etiquette. Proper gnome placement in communal spaceship greenhouses. That sort of thing.
Janet: Huh. Are you sure it can’t be the phone-