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In this episode: what to do when you're mistaken for non-sapient, how to handle a body swapping boyfriend, when simulations have you asking 'Is anything ever real???', and that special anxiety that comes with a possible invasion.
Janet: Good morning, afternoon, evening or undesignated time of day gentle listeners! This is Janet and my fabulous co-host Loaf back again for another episode of Solutions to Problems, where we provide metaphorical escape pods for the metaphorical plasma storms you may find yourself in. If you have your own predicament, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or befriend your local ship’s AI with far reaching intranet capabilities and I’m sure they'll figure it out for you.
Loaf: Listeners, we have a great show planned for you today. So wherever you are in this wide galaxy, take a few minutes to relax, forget about your problems, and focus instead on the problems of these random strangers!
Janet: I love focusing on the problems of random strangers Loaf. It’s so much more satisfying than bettering my own life, without all the messy work that entails, right?
Loaf: And it’s nice to have something manageable to focus on. Like, we may not be able to do anything about the battle cruisers in orbit, but we can certainly fix someone’s love life in the lava caves of Snarfulus Zeta.
Janet: Too bad that question was still on fire when we tried to play it. Oh well!
Loaf: Still, we do have some delightful and tough morsels to munch on. Should we get started?
Janet: Let’s! We have two letters this week around a similar topic, so we’re going to play them both and then tackle them together. Play the tapes!
Dear Loaf and Janet,
Like many people who write into your show, I work with a lot of humans. My problem is, I feel invisible to them. Like most of the time they don’t even notice me at all. No one ever says “hi” to me or asks me if I want to get lunch. I mean, I don’t need to get lunch because I absorb nutrients throughout the day through the sun and the soil I sit in, but it would be nice to be asked. I guess I’m just jealous of the relationships humans seem to have with one another. Also, the cleaner periodically pours water on me. Like, actually on me, not just in the soil where I can absorb it. Any advice on getting humans to see me?
Green with Envy
Dear Loaf and Janet,
I am a genetically engineered improvement of canis lupus familiaris, specifically a breed known as the ‘pug’. I am very proud of my superior artificially designed genetics as they make me smarter and healthier than typical dogs. However, I’ve noticed lately in my interactions with other sapient beings that they treat me as though I am a mere common house pet! One of my co-workers throws a stupid ball in my presence numerous times a day. I always get it because my amazing hunting instincts insist that I must fetch it and retrieve it for him. He also will add food scraps to my plate during my lunch hour, which I do eat because I am a believer in taking advantage of available resources, but I did not ask him to put them ther in the first place! And then, SOMETIMES, he calls me ‘good dog’ which I find demeaning. I KNOW I AM A GOOD DOG. I am the best dog. I’ve noticed this in other interactions as well. Strangers will scratch me behind my ears, and even though my leg will of course unwillingly twitch in response, I DO NOT ENJOY THEIR UNASKED FOR ATTENTIONS. How can I convince these people that I am a sapient being with a desire for dignity and bodily autonomy?
Dog Waiting For His Day
Loaf: I know this feeling all too well.
Janet: Really? You basically don’t look like anything that exists on Earth. I mean, I’ve known you for months and looking at you still sometimes gives me a headache.
Loaf: Actually that’s a noise I constantly emit that’s below the range of human hearing.
Janet: Oh, I guess that’s why the sunglasses didn’t help. The more you know! Multiple frequency earplugs it is.
Loaf: ... Anyway, humans don’t mistake me for anything else. But on Raknos VII I was constantly mistaken for a meat animal.
Janet: Wow, that’s horrible! I’ve never been mistaken for a non-sapient being.
Loaf: I think both of these letter-writers need to speak up when they’re treated as a non-sapient, especially when that treatment involves unasked for physical contact.
Janet: Well, sometimes that’s easier said than done. For one, speaking up requires vocal chords, which I’m not sure our plant-like friend has. And another thing, if someone’s patting you on the head or another quick interaction, it can be really hard to figure out how to respond in the moment, especially somewhere like the workplace!
Loaf: I once met a Flisnorp, they are a silicon-based creature that gets around with a single large wheel. Anyway, people would always ask him why he was riding a unicycle. And he got so tired of saying “It’s not a unicycle, it’s my legs” that he eventually got it printed on business cards and just handed them out to people. So when I was on Raknos VII, I remembered that and that’s when I got my “do not ingest” tattoo. Maybe something like that could be helpful here. A placard on your soil container that says “Not a potted plant. I work here” Or something to that effect.
Janet: I always wondered about that tattoo. But yeah, for interacting with your coworkers, maybe you could pro-actively join them for lunch? When you notice them heading out, just ask if you can join and follow along? They might not realize that you are capable of interacting with them.
Loaf: We’re assuming that you are ambulatory and have some mode of communication available which allows you to do your job.
Janet: I mean, if they said they want to go to lunch, I imagine they do have the means to do so.
Loaf: And humans don’t like freeloaders. I assume if this company is paying them, they are contributing something to it, besides just converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and occasionally blooming in an attractive fashion.
Janet: Yeah, I do wonder what their job is. They must be working on something separate from their co-workers, or their co-workers don’t realize that the e-mails from Joe Plant are from the leafy fellow in the cubicle next door.
Loaf: So what about our Canine compatriot? Do you think dressing differently might help him? Maybe a suit? But then people might just go “awww a dog in a suit. Look at the widdle business puppy. Oh, who’s a good dog? This quarterly performance evaluation says you’re a good dog, yes it does!” Sorry, uh, got a little carried away there.
Janet: Dogs in clothes are soooooo cute. I mean, you’re right. I don’t know if his appearance is really what’s hindering him here. I think it might be helpful for him to talk to his co-worker who keeps playing fetch with him, for a start. He needs to explain that, while he seems to enjoy fetch, he’s just responding to an instinct and would like to focus on his work from now on.
Loaf: Maybe you could play fetch together at lunch, or after work if it’s something you want to continue. But in a mutually agreed-upon environment. The important thing is to make sure they understand that you are an employee, and not the office pet.
Janet: With strangers this is always going to be harder, as you’ll have to say something in the moment or have tiny dog size business cards, but at work you should start to correct your co-workers when these incidents happen, and if that doesn’t work or it’s hard to catch them in the act, enlist the help of your manager.
Loaf: I think that about does it for these two. I think you should try this advice, and, Dog, if you do decide to try the suit thing, please send us a picture?
Janet: PlEASE send us a picture. So what’s next on the docket?
Loaf: Let’s have a message from this week’s sponsor. Janet, would you like to do the honors this time?
Janet: ALWAYS. This week’s sponsor is NEXTNET DEFENSIVE ROBOT SYSTEMS. Are you nervous? I bet you’re nervous right now. The universe is full of dangerous things! You should be nervous about them! Maybe your homeworld has a battleship hanging out in the atmosphere! Wouldn’t you feel safer with more LASER THINGS around? Wouldn’t you feel even safer if you didn’t have to shoot your own LASER THINGS? Nextnet is proud to introduce their latest multipurpose defensive laser droid! The laser droids can be trained to identify up to 200 “safe” individuals with order to shoot anyone or anything else. Laser droids use fuel that is all organic and gluten free, except for the plutonium, which doesn’t count apparently because it’s in a cartridge thing that you replace annually.
Loaf: NEXTNET defensive robot systems - because what’s safer than a fully autonomous murder machine? FIVE fully autonomous murder machines, that’s what. And right now if you order four robots and use the promo code "solutions", you’ll get the fifth one absolutely free! What a bargain!
Janet: Order now to take advantage of this limited time offer!
Loaf: Oh, robots. Is there anything they can’t do?
Janet: Feel self loathing?
Loaf: They can’t do that? I bet they’ve made one that can do that. I bet we get a letter from it next week.
Janet: So, no, then. Robots can do anything.
Loaf: Speaking of letters, our next one is about our other favorite topic - recreational procreation! Let’s hear it:
Dear Loaf and Janet,
My partner and I are in a polyamorous relationship. A few weeks ago, they suggested we try body swapping to mix things up in the bedroom. It was fun, but not really my thing. My partner though got REALLY into it. Ever since then, they’ve been body-swapping constantly with our other partners, and they want to body swap every time I want to be intimate. It’s getting exhausting. Sometimes, I’m not even sure if I’m talking to my partner or one of the people they’ve been body-swapping with! I don’t want to be a downer about something they obviously really enjoy, but I miss having sex in my own body. I want my partner to be happy, but this is getting to be too much! How do I tell them enough is enough?
I also just hate cereal
Janet: I only eat cereal that’s targeted at human children, so I do sympathize. I don’t trust anything that advertises fiber as a main attribute. I think the problem here is that your partner isn’t respecting your boundaries! They’ve gotten caught up in this fun new thing without bothering to check in with you and ask you how you feel about it.
Loaf: It sounds like there’s a lot of unclear communication happening here in general. Polyamory functions best when each participant is clear on their relationship with each other participant. For example, I perform the mating dance with my broodbrothers for our protowives, then I fertilize a clutch of eggs third, approximately a week after the previous fertilization. That’s my role. If I were to try to perform the mating dance with my broodsisters for my psuedointerlocutor or try to fertilize the eggs before my second demi-husband, the broodlings could come out horribly deformed. Sorry, TMI. The point is, if you don’t even know the mental identity of the person you’re engaging in sexual behavior with at any given time, things are clearly not functioning in a healthy way.
Janet: Uh, I’m…. not sure that’s analogous at all? They’re not actually procreating here, but okay. Sure. Um, anyway. I think the letter writer needs to have a serious talk with their partner about the body swapping issue. Maybe the letter writer could get their partner to agree to limit the body swapping witother partners, and to be really transparent about when they’re bodyswapping.
Loaf: Maybe use nametags? I feel like we’re suggesting a lot of props today.
Janet: Props are really useful! The important thing is that they need to decide on their boundaries and then stick to them- I’m sorry, I’m really distracted by this mating thing. How long does it take for you to even procreate?
Loaf: Several months? Depending on what parts of it you count as procreating? I personally only have to be present for two nights, but even so I’ve only ever participated in the fertilization of three clutches of eggs.
Janet: Okay. Um. So for reference, humans can successfully fertilize an egg in about two minutes.
Loaf: That’s impossible.
Janet: Nope, that’s very possible, that's how it’s done in human places. One parent deposits a small packet of DNA to the other parent’s ova and then it gestates for nine months.
Loaf: One packet of DNA? From one donor?
Janet: Our lifespan is only about 100 years, and we only have 23 sets of chromosomes. We have to move really fast to produce sufficient offspring. Each parent provides half the genetic material.
Loaf: That… actually makes a surprising amount of sense. I’ve always found humans to move very fast in everything you do. Anyway, only having gotten genetic material from two parents must make holidays much easier!
Janet: Haha, I wish! But the scheduling is much simpler.
Loaf: Well, now that we’ve both learned something about each other's species, maybe more than we wanted to, let’s move on to our last letter, shall we?
Janet: Anything to make this conversation end!
Dear Loaf and Janet,
Several years ago I was working for a virtual reality company writing simulations. I got really depressed and started spending more and more time in a hyper-realistic simulation of an idealized version of my life. I programmed it, but I gave it a certain intelligence so it could write itself after a while. I became kind of addicted to it and lost a lot of friends and relationships, but I didn’t care because I had better friends in the simulation. Eventually I hit rock bottom. I quit cold turkey, and after a long period of withdrawal, my life started to get back on track. Or so I thought. Recently, some odd things have been happening - I’ll bump into a wall that’s not there, only to have it vanish a few seconds later, I’ll pick up a book and find it starts over on page 300, or I’ll walk through a crowd and realize the people around me are copy+pasted from the people I walked by an hour ago. I’m beginning to suspect I’m still in the simulation, and the whole withdrawal/ recovery thing is something the program came up with to keep me from leaving it. At this point I have no idea how to get out.
What should I do? Are you even real? Am I?
Janet: Wow. Um. Well. Loaf, why don’t you take this one?
Loaf: This is certainly an interesting question. Not in the least because if the letter-writer is telling the truth, we’re merely simulated versions of ourselves.
Janet: I’d like to think we’re pretty sophisticated programs, if indeed nothing is real and everything just consists of pieces of electronic data being beamed into the head of one particularly self-involved man.
Loaf: But here’s where it get’s really interesting. If we are completely in your head, Baffled, then why would we want to tell you how to get out of the simulation? We’d cease to exist.
Janet: Would we? Like, is this a Holodeck situation or more like the Matrix? If this is the Matrix we could be complicated really robots somewhere else, with like the tentacles and- well, I guess for you tentacles are normal. But you never know with these things.
Loaf: But in what scenario do we actually want to help our letter-writer escape?
Janet: Oh, hm. Okay, let’s go with that. We could be like, the benevolent computer programs. Well, I guess it depends on how smart his AI is. He wrote it. If it’s evolved past his capacity to understand it, he might be *dolphin noises* if you know what I mean.
Loaf: To be honest, Janet, I don’t know what you mean. Your *different dolphin noise* is at the level of a three-month old broodling.
Janet: *sighs deeply* I mean, my vocal chords aren’t cut out for this. He’s. What's the word for "he's in a bad situation and he can’t get out of it."
Loaf: Why didn’t you just say he’s f**cked?
Janet: The producers say it conflicts with my perky amiable personality if I swear too much. So they put a chip in my head. I can only use quirky analogs now.
Loaf: I think they tried to do that to me too, but they weren’t totally clear on where my brain was.
Janet: Do you know where your brain is?
Loaf: You mean assuming it’s not just an assemblage of 1’s and 0’s?
Janet: Yes, assuming we’re both actually made out of organic materials.
Loaf: Well in that case I know, but I’m not telling. Which incidentally also describes the solution to our letter-writer’s problem. Here’s some advice for you - don’t ask for someone’s advice in how to do something if that something could potentially cause them to cease to exist.
Janet: That’s not really a solution to his problem, just to our problem. If he’s in the simulation, I don’t think any of us will have the required knowledge base to advise him on escaping the situation, and if he’s not, maybe a trip to a doctor is in order? Maybe he has like a top he can start spinning.
Loaf: I guess therapy could be helpful here. If he only believes he’s in a simulation it could snap him out of it, and if he really is in one maybe his simulated therapist can help him cope with that.
Janet: I can’t help but feel like, as a programmer, he should be able to think of some some bug he can abuse to get out. He should’ve put a backdoor in somewhere if he knows what’s what.
Loaf: Obviously he doesn’t know what’s what. And now none of us know what’s what. Thanks a lot, Baffled. Thanks a lot.
Janet: Oh, come on, what’s a little more existential angst on the big pile of existential angst already weighing down on our hearts and minds?
Loaf: After you reach a certain threshold it does seem to have diminishing returns. Like adding more lasers to your home defense robot. Eventually it’s about as deadly as it can get, and then you’re just making it heavier.
Janet: My neighbor broke his floorboards doing that. Personally, I’m not even investing in a defense system. I mean, unless its NEXTNET Robot defense systems.
Loaf: My apartment has had sentry drones since I moved in. We had a bit of a badger problem. Or so I hear.
Janet: Oh, wow, badgers can be so poisonous!
Loaf: And not the good kind of poisonous, either! Anyway, I think we’ve about reached the end of our time here today, and I think I hear the orbital assault sirens going off, so we should probably head to the escape pods just in case. Any parting words of wisdom before we go?
Janet: It’s a great time to invest in the weapons industry! Good night, gentle listeners, and best of luck surviving any interplanetary wars that may come your way.
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. This episode's letters were read by Kristin Leonard, Catherine Martin, Lisa Peterson, and Jonah Comstock. Find out more information about us at stppodcast dot com, and If you like the show, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, or on social media, because it really helps us put you on a pedestal.
Last episode's cryptic question was: A collection of parents, several of Sisyphus’ burdens, Issac’s wife devoid of light, one who says farewell to Oz, and an alphanumeric rhyme—What do their creations have in common with one by Charles Addams, and why is he the odd one out? This is a particularly devilish question. Perhaps a way in would be knowing that Charles Addams created the Addams family, which includes the daughter Wednesday Addams. He is connected to all of the clues because they are all references to musicians who have had popular song titles that include days of the week. A collection of parents is The Mamas and The Papas, who sang “Monday, Monday,” several of Sisyphus’ burdens would be The Rolling Stones, who did Ruby Tuesday; Isaac’s wife in the Bible is Rebecca, and being devoid of light would bring you to Rebecca Black, who did Friday; one who says farewell to Oz is a reference to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellowbrick Road, which contains the single Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting: and an alphanumeric rhyme is U2, who performed Sunday Bloody Sunday. Why is Charles Addams the odd one out? Because his creation of Wednesday Addams is a fictional character, not a song. If you got that right, let us know and we will have lunch with you in a city that was founded in 1630.
Today’s cryptic question is: If you first visited a notorious heiress, then a gold-rushed writer, then Robinson & Williams, why would you travel to the birthplace of a reptile chaser next? The answer, as well as more questions, on our next episode.
Janet: Ok, so start from the beginning, and draw me a diagram. Your first protohusband starts the mating dance, right?
Loaf: Well, yes, but it actually starts [ad lib and fade out]