Braking new ground from the sidelines

To set the scene: I am at the local sports ground, watching my daughter play football, which we in Australia call soccer, so as not to confuse it with all the other codes of football, which allow you touch the ball with your hands.

This is either ironic or stupid, but since it is too early in the column for me to get off-topic, I’ll let it go for now.

I am not the sort of parent who embarrasses their kids by yelling out pointless instructions or offering opinions on the referee’s parentage. I keep quiet and applaud all good play (and indeed much poor play) by either side. This ensures that my daughter still talks to me, at least as often as her busy Minecraft schedule allows.

Just in case anyone thinks I am actually sending my daughter down a mine, ‘Minecraft’ is a computer game in which you build your own world, with cattle and crops and things, by taking over the television and the Xbox for hours and not letting anyone else watch anything (a least, that is how it happens at our place).

I don’t mind this, because there are plenty of worse computer games my kids could be playing, for example Fortnite. This is a game in which kids – usually boys – select avatars – usually anatomically impossibly-proportioned females – and alternatively shoot or blow up, from what I can tell, everything.

They can also buy digital devices that only exist in the game, but which cost real dollars that only exist outside of the game, usually in the wallets of non-digital parents. So I am happy that Minecraft is the game of choice right now.


Anyway, back to me watching my daughter play football.1 Or, at least, I am trying to, but I cannot ignore the conversation an opposition parent is having right next to me. Partly this is because he has a fairly loud, droney voice, and partly because the subject matter is deeply concerning.

In short, he had determined that the brakes in his car (which presumably he used to drive his daughter to the game) were not especially functional, and he was going to fix them. That in itself isn’t so bad, except that he went on to note that he had acquired his brake-repair knowledge by googling it.

Now, I’m not ‘above’ googling instructions on how to do things. For example, I recently googled the instructions for our egg cooker, but I think there is a slight difference. If the googled instructions for the egg cooker are wrong, the consequence is that I get a hard-boiled egg instead of a runny one; whereas if the brake-repair instructions are wrong, the consequence is that the parent finds himself parked in the Brisbane River trying to remember what Mythbusters said about getting out of a car which is underwater.

For those who aren’t mechanically inclined, I advise that the brakes are the thing on the car which stops it from moving.2 This is important, because cars need to do two things: go and stop. A car that doesn’t go has made the transition from vehicle to very expensive paperweight;3 a car that goes but won’t stop is technically a missile.

So brakes are very useful on a car, being responsible for 50% of the car’s function, and I am not sure that relying on googled brake-repair instructions is a great idea, in the same sense that I am not sure that Dettol is particularly effective against COVID. This is because some of the stuff on the internet is not correct, indeed is just the opposite (incorrect). You may have noticed this.

Even more concerning was the fact that the parent in question was expressing in some detail what he intended to do, and it was clear that he knew less about vehicle repair than I do, which is really saying something. Not that I am completely clueless on this subject; growing up in Ipswich, I have of course participated4 in many engine rebuilds, and the fact that most of these involved Meccano sets and Lego does not, I think, detract from my expertise.5


This brought two things to mind: one, I was going to give the brake-repair parent a bit of a head start getting out of the carpark, and probably avoid his suburb for a while. And two, we no longer need to worry about a Terminator-style machine uprising, because it already happened and we didn’t notice it.

Indeed, it makes a lot of sense really – why would the computers need to go to the time and expense of building robots that look exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger to hunt down and kill humans, when we are more easily eliminated by putting faulty brake-repair instructions on Google? If you are looking to comfort yourself by pointing out that most of us aren’t that silly, think about the Nigerian money scam.

That scam involves sending a poorly spelled, grammar-free email to random people and asking for their bank details on the basis that a huge sum of money will be deposited therein. It is so obvious it barely counts as a scam, and is one step up from a burglar sending an email along the lines of, ‘please let me know when you are heading off on holidays, and if it is not too much trouble put the keys under the doormat’. It has made billions over the years, and still works to this day.

Or consider how we navigate these days. Once, it was simple: if I wanted to tell a mate how to get to a restaurant or party, I’d simply tell him the name of the nearest pub or football ground, and it would sort itself out. My social group being who they were (and are), there was always someone who knew how to get close enough to where the party was, and if there wasn’t they still ended up at a pub or the footy, so everyone was happy.

These days, I tap the destination into my phone and follow it, even if that means I end up driving towards Toowoomba to get to the Gold Coast, or into areas not traditionally designed for cars, such as the Coles bakery.

Again, if our robot overlords really wanted to get rid of us, they would simply hack our GPS so that when we headed to our favourite destinations,6 our phones would lead us directly into the ocean. Face it, if your phone told you that the nearest Bunnings was in the Marianas Trench, the only things that would stop you driving your car directly there are: 1) the lack of petrol stations along the way, and 2) drowning.


For example, not so long ago I had tapped in the address of the football field where my daughter was scheduled to play, and began blindly following the directions before my phone cranked out. I was making good time, and singing along happily (and in damned fine voice too, I might add) to All the Madmen by David Bowie, when it occurred to me that we were heading north which seemed to me a strange direction to take when going to a team that played on the south side.

A quick check revealed that the phone was taking us to a ground with the same street address, but in Kirwan, which is a suburb of Townsville, which is somewhat more than a 35-minute drive from Brisbane. I suppose it is a lucky thing there is no ‘Marianas United’ in my daughter’s league.

The point is that even now your phone may well be controlled by Skynet, which is probably preferable to Apple, but still not good. As a precaution, I recommend buying a compass, and possibly – if your brakes aren’t working well – an anchor.

© Shane Budden 2021

1 How about that, turns out it is never too early for me to get off-topic.
2 Unless it is a Ferrari, which never run for long enough to need to have brakes engaged; they have been known to break down on the assembly line.
3 Or Ferrari.
4 In this case, ‘participated’ means nodding sagely as other people do the actual mechanical bit, and occasionally mumbling something about a ‘manifold’ or ‘solenoid’.
5 At least by the standards of the internet.
6 Which, as we know from contract tracing COVID cases, are hardware stores, bottle shops and fast food places – another reason the robots won’t need to actively eliminate us.

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