Robert Hampton

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16th January 2012

United We Scanned
Posted by at 10.17pm | In the News | 1 response

Esteemed documentary maker Richard Wilson has done a programme for Dispatches about the shoddy customer service that results when real human beings are replaced with computerised services. This slow move towards robotized customer service has been going on for years, so I’m amazed that Channel 4 have only just noticed it. Perhaps a commissioning editor there listens to Adam and Joe. (“The Easter Bunny gets funny!”)

I haven’t actually watched the programme. If I want to see Richard Wilson as a crazy old man irritated by every aspect of the modern world, I can watch his classic series Duck Patrol. But I was alerted by Twitter (cheers Seb!) that one of the features was about supermarket self-service tills.

I like supermarket self-service tills. Anything that reduces the amount of actual human interaction I have to do is fine by me. However, I was reminded of something that happened when I paid a visit to the Tesco Superstore in Liverpool city centre last year (I’m full of Tesco anecdotes, me).

I used the self-service till and happened to have a discount voucher with me, so I scanned it.

“Please insert coupon in the slot provided.”

Okey-dokey. I posted the coupon and waited for the machine to respond.

“Please insert coupon in the slot provided.”

Ah, right. The pleasantly-voiced computer hadn’t noticed me sticking it in her slot. Unfortunately the machine, believing that I was pulling a fast one, completely locked up, refusing to do anything else except repeat the coupon mantra over and over.

Noticing my problem, the supervisor came over. I explained my predicament to her.

“Ah yes,” she said, “this is a common problem. I know how to fix this.”

And with that, she placed her lips on the slot and gently blew into it. This satisfied the machine, allowing me to continue my transaction.

What a wonder of technology these machines really are. If the supermarkets ever follow through on their threat to replace staffed checkouts entirely with self-service machines, I can look forward to a wonderful future, filled with rows of shoppers lovingly French-kissing their checkouts.

It’s so exciting… I can feel an unexpected item in the bagging area just thinking about it.

27th January 2008

Thank God for that
Posted by at 5.06pm | Television | No responses

I’ve been reacquainting myself with Whose Line is it Anyway? Not the hacked-to-ribbons versions that are being shown on Dave, mind, but the unexpurgated versions available free (albeit DRM-crippled) from 4oD.

I’m currently making my way through series 3. This is something of a re-evaluation for me. When Paramount Comedy repeated the complete run of the show a few years back, my impression was that these early episodes were “not very good”. Despite the presence of great improvisers such as Mike McShane, Sandi Toksvig, Paul Merton and Tony Slattery on the panel, yours truly had started watching the show in the mid-90s, during the dominance of the Colin Mochrie/Ryan Stiles/Greg Proops triumverate, and couldn’t imagine a show without them.

Now, ten years later (has it really been that long?) I’m able to appreciate these early episodes more. While perhaps not as consistently funny, they have a genuine unpredictability and edginess which is somewhat lacking in the later episodes, and missing almost entirely in the American version.

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