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Return of the flying car, just when we all need to escape • The Register

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Did you enjoy World Pasta Day? It was last Sunday. Me, I made a big bowl of it and tucked in along with my mates Mark Arony and Al Dente.

“World Pasta Day” indeed. I have so many questions. Who invents this nonsense? How does one go about registering such a pivotal moment in human endeavour? Who approves it? Some bewigged official in Geneva? What does the stamp of approval look like?

Or can anyone claim a day for themselves? I dunno… World Leaf Blower Day, perhaps, or the International Day of the Shoelace.

I might also point out that I was born on Schicksalstag, the so-called Germanic “Day of Fate”. I was thinking that I might register it as a trademark and earn micropayments every time a TV channel runs footage of the Berlin Wall coming down. (That’s done it: all you need now is my mother’s maiden name and the name of my first pet, and you’re rolling.)

Today, 30 October, is henceforth to be known as “Let Me The Fuck Out Of Here Day.” My host country has slammed down the pandemic shutters once again, and I feel the familiar stirrings of that old stir-craziness. Not that there’s anywhere to go that would let me in without confining me for two weeks in an Ibis Budget hotel bedroom – accommodation that would make Ghislaine Maxwell’s prison cell seem palatial by comparison.

The real bug is being nagged by The Management to favour teleworking. Someone who noisily insists that you must immediately do what, in fact, you are already doing is the very definition of a loathsome nag. Work from a home office! Use teleconferencing! Walk on your feet! Sit on your bum! Breathe with your lungs! Come on, do as I say!

All this does is remind me and my neighbours the dire state of our broadband service. I may only live in the seventh largest city in the country but I have (genuinely) remote colleagues living in the wastes who have faster internet than me. Me, I’d get swifter comms by sending smoke signals from the roof.

It’s not so much a case of not being able to stream a film while recording another simultaneously. It’s more like not being able to open web pages on two devices at the same time. So what do my neighbours and I do? When it matters, we piggyback the 4G from our mobile phones.

Roll on 5G, I say, and bugger the consequences. Frying the brains of our children, creating a crack in the time-space continuum and awakening Cthulu from its damp slumber will all be worthwhile if it means I can spend half the day staring at a wall of bored faces while a tired voice moans “You’re still on mute” every couple of minutes.

Yup, it’s “Let Me The Fuck Out Of Here” Day. I feel a bit of mid-column Lenny Kravitz coming on.

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Talking of flying away, I note that one of the thousands of claimants to having “invented” a flying car has, contrary to all expectations, gone and built one.

Stefan Klein has been working on his designs for 20 years already, which rather explains why he looks so miserable in all his photos, but only got around to showing off a mock-up at expos roughly this time last year. And this week, the project got off the ground – literally.

For me, a flying car has to be a roadcar that flies, not a bulbous light aeroplane that under no circumstances would ever be allowed on the public highway without a flunky running ahead waving a flag. Obviously what we all want is a Jetson anti-grav buggy that folds itself into a briefcase. What Klein offers is an atompunk stretch limo that does a James-Bond-meets-Transformers act in less than three minutes, once you’ve driven to your local aerodrome and safely parked on the runway apron.

OK, so it’s a big bastard and I wouldn’t leave it unattended in an Aldi car park in South Shields, but once it’s in the air… yup, that’s a flying car. If only they’d let you fold out the wings while you were already thundering down the runway – now that would be pretty Gerry damn Anderson, eh?

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One can dream. Back in the non-prototypal world, I’m wondering what effect the second-wave lockdown will have on the speed of my skinnyband service.

During the first wave back in March, the government ministers of this country debated Netflix’s offer to throttle its own bandwidth consumption in order not to disrupt distance-learners and teleworkers like myself. Perhaps there is something to be learnt from this earlier experience.

Luckily, as you might expect from our elected defenders of citizen security, their confidential ministerial discussions held in March via remote conferencing were immediately hacked and the recordings leaked to the press. The conversation went like this:

Cédric O (his real name!), secretary of state for Digital: “Italy experienced a network slow-down, even for important things, due to the explosion of porn and online games.”

Sibeth Ndiaye, government spokeswoman: “It would be great to see Cédric explain that on television. Personally, I’d be hard pushed to look after kids without being able to go the park or watch Netflix. There are going to be some family dramas.”

Agnès Pannier-Runacher, secretary of state for the Economy: “Surely if you YouPorn at 10.30pm, that wouldn’t disturb anybody… It’s just a matter of organisation.”

Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, secretary of state for Transport: “Noted, Agnès, thank you for your valuable advice.”

Pannier-Runacher: “You can always count on me.”

Cédric O: “Djeb, if you prefer YouPorn to Netflix, just say so, we can pass it on. I was planning to call YouPorn and PornHub.”

Marlène Schiappa, secretary of state for Equality: “With YouPorn, you can always ask people to send you their amateur content. Netflix is for families.”

Pannier-Runacher: “I think you’ve loosened up quite a bit, Marlène.”

Schiappa: “All the same, this crisis presents an opportunity to experience unforgettable moments in life.”

Ndiaye: “And discussions between ministers that will go down in French history.”

Most of this shower of clowns have since departed the gilt halls of government, with the exception of the Bond-villain-named Cédric O. Some of them are even under investigation by the justice system for their failings during the initial COVID-19 outbreak. The only thing to learn from this is that no matter the seriousness of the topic nor the seniority of the participants, every remote vidconf is doomed to descend into chat and bantz. Don’t expect this to change any time soon.

It looks like my only chance of escape will have to be virtual. To that end, a UK tech startup called Propelmee has opened a public beta for a system that lets you teleport into remotely controlled robots.

Read that last sentence again, aloud to your cat if you like. You know a disappointment is coming, obviously, but stay with me here. For the next couple of weeks at least, you can remote-control your own Challau robot in real time and trundle on a virtual visit of a variety of British locations, from stone circles to lakesides, and from historic Oxford to London’s Trafalgar Square.

Sure, Propelmee’s Challau platform is essentially a remote-controlled webcam on wheels. Just as with Klein’s flying car prototype, there is a huge gap between what it is and what I want. My ideal flying car would not be a one-seater stretch minibus. But that remote robot, hmm… Make it stereoscopic and binaural, and send it to my VR headset, perhaps? Better still, put me in a cryogenic tube and teleport my consciousness to the remote avatar, like they did in Dark Matter before SyFy cruelly cancelled Series 4.

Look, if I am to be put under house arrest repeatedly every five months from now until eternity, thanks to shit-eating carnivores with no awareness of their absent standards of personal hygiene, I’m game for any escape from my punitive teleworking cell. And if it’s only going to be virtual, at least someone’s trying to make it real virtual.

You can escape via the public beta here. Are you going my way?

Uh oh, I feel another Lenny Kravitz coming on…

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He marvels at the idea that local businesses are being told to work remotely given that one of his largest local employers is Ubisoft. Good luck with finishing off Beyond Good and Evil 2 via your shitty 4Mbit home broadband, guys.@alidabbs

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