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Ben Harvey on getting your lines crossed

Ben Harvey

We once again welcome Mr Harvey (who, weather permitting, will be at the Unlimited Drinks next week) back into his Friday afternoon armchair here at SMS Text News. This week: Getting your lines crossed.

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Electronics is a complicated business (bombs, for example, often actually contain more that one red and one blue wire) and telecommunications even more so. I’m not talking about politically-complicated, or economically-complicated; I’m talking about just pure miles-of-twisty-cables complicated. Millions of users making billions of calls, all seeping through a global infrastructure of towers, routers, fibre-optics, net servers and gallant engineers with spanners and blue overalls and blue language.

Possibly the only other business of any comparable complexity is that endeavour of shooting men into orbit, and whenever I think of space exploration I always fondly remember an experiment in the 1950s when NASA – before precious humans were used – sent a poor little chimp up into the void in an effort to see whether or not mammals could perform any sort of task after the trauma of lift-off. They put this monkey in a capsule with a simple little machine in front of him – the machine had a light that lit up either red or green. If it lit up red then the monkey pulled a red-painted lever. If it lit up green then the monkey pulled a green-painted lever.

A-Level simple, right?

In order to keep the monkey interested (presumably the NASA boffins thought that, should it get bored, then in short-order it would be outside, climbing over the capsule’s windshield, pulling the wipers off and pushing poo into the radiator grill) they wired the machine up so that when the monkey got it right (green light, green lever) it was dispensed a little pellet of dried banana. But when it got it wrong, it was dispensed a sharp electric shock to the gonads.

(All of this, by the way, makes me imagine a dinner-party some years later, when some poor scientist is forced to admit to his peers that no, he didn’t design the engines. And no, he didn’t make the spacesuits. And, no, sorry, he didn’t train Armstrong. He actually spent his working life sellotaping furry simian coin-purses to fizzing, popping batteries).

Anyway, the point I’m – admittedly unsuccessfully – trying to make is that it’s important to pay attention to the little things in life. In this case, what NASA really should have done was to test the wiring before they shot the monkey into the stars because, after a year of practicing this test, and after sacrificing his cheeky little life on the altar of science, this monkey spent the last 45 minutes of his existence getting his orange-haired little love-pebbles repeatedly tasered because the connections in the machine had been installed the wrong way around. Green light + green lever should have meant a tasty treat, but due to an engineer trying to get to the canteen before that gutty arse Aldrin ate all the steak it actually meant that the little fellow’s prostate was in a rolling-boil, poaching his fatty tadpoles even before the cremation of re-entry.

The reason I’m educating you to this poor chimp’s plight is not because I have any particular interest in animal rights or rocket-science but more to draw parallels with the hazards of getting your wiring wrong. In the ye olden days a crossed line would only occur when the plucky young gel down at the exchange was so busy thinking about just how many GIs she’d have to bonk to get a pair of nylons that she’d plug the wrong line into the wrong socket. In these modern times it’s more a case of networks recycling telephone numbers and some pug-faced student buying a phone and ending up getting texts originally intended for Sven Goran Erikson.

This is an occasional hazard, of course, for all of us – like the circle of life wailed about in the Lion King, numbers are born, live, die and are born again and again and it’s a rare thing not to have had a confused call or message from some complete unknown who hasn’t updated their contacts since their mate started avoiding them. A slightly more pertinent point is how anyone could message the poker-faced, bed-hopping Swede in the first place, since Sven’s name on its own is getting towards 160 characters-long anyway.

The best way, though, of getting your calls and messages shuffled is to leave your handset on the table in a bar when you go for a tinkle – by the time you get back your friends will have joyfully swapped the names in your address-book around so that the texts destined for your girlfriend go to your boss and, like our friend the astro-chimp, instead of enjoying your banana you actually get your balls busted.

The things I’ll do for a promotion…

In much the same way was how that student (she’s got hair like roadkill, it’s amazing…) got texts from football agents to Sven Goran-Nokia I took a look at the inboxes of a handful of my handsets to see examples of messages that I’ve been sent when I really shouldn’t have been. Under the multifarious terms of the Data Protection Act, of course, I’m not legally able to tell you who sent them to me but hey…a shiny penny for anyone who can guess the senders…

+++I just want to go back to England, baby, I can’t understand the funny spelling they use over here. And they drive on the wrong side. I know you like the shops but this football team is just *rubbish*+++

+++I don’t care that you want another one, Ange! I don’t care that you’re the most beautiful woman in the world! I DON’T WANT TO ADOPT ANOTHER FUCKING CHILD! THIS MAKES FIVE!+++

+++Tony! How’s retirement suiting ya? Folks here move to Florida when they quit work – Dick says the tan would suit you! Hope you and Cherie are well. Be good to catch up. Need some advice on Iran, btw+++

+++Look, big man, what did I say? Simplify. Fucking simplify, yes? Yes? Good, solid British food and don’t be a cock. You don’t get to own as many restaurants as me acting like you are. Twat.+++

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Read more vintage Harvey here.

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