Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

Gill's Journal, Issue

Quarterly magazine of The ARM Club the Leading Independant
RISC OS Computer User Club.
For this issueís journal, I thought it might be interesting to tackle a spod trait that has been mentioned in previous issues, but never fully analysed. Iím going to write about indecisiveness. I think. Maybe. (Sorry, oldest joke in the book. Wonít happen again!)

Itís a trait that varies between fascinating and frustrating, with occasional detours into funny or freakish. Why canít spods make up their minds on anything? Is it really so hard to agree a place to eat, or somewhere to go for a drink, what to do for an evening out, or even just pick something to eat from that long and complicated McBurger menu? Surely not!

There's no doubt about it, our diarist Gill Smith decisively tackles one of the big problems of life among the spods with no hesitation, indecision or faffing about.
And as with every other strange, seemingly inexplicable spod trait, yours truly, Gill Smith - investigative journalist, sets out to discover the truth behind the faffing. Weíre going to analyse this properly. The major questions of journalism are these: who, what, when, where, why and how. Letís take them one at a time.

Who? Spods. Itís spods that faff like no other groups of people I know. Plausibly, the more technically clued-up, the bigger the dithering. Weíll look into that one later. Spods dither more in groups than alone, as far as my survey can tell. (It is the collective term after all: a dither of spods.) Of course, that can either be put down to a cumulative effect of many spods make long-winded decisions, or that each individual spod doesnít have enough ideas, or enough complicated options, by themselves, to have to decide between them. I mean, hereís a tricky one: RISC OS, or MS Windows? Now let me think.

What? The Ďwhatí of this one is the faffing, dithering indecisiveness. What spods do is faff. They fail to make their minds up. They ponder and consider various options, while rarely reaching a conclusion, usually in a force ten gale, or better still, a blizzard. If thatís not an option, then theyíll instead mull over the multiple possibilities offered by the question of food, just when youíre feeling that Comic Relief might like to pop round and film you keeling over from hunger for their next show. After all that indecisiveness, what you need is a drink. Unfortunately, thatís forced another long session of indecision as to where, unless youíre smart enough to have brought a hip flask. Heck, the amount of dithering that goes on, you might want to go for bringing the whole barrel!

When? Now this is a really easy one. Anytime. Absolutely anytime. Spods can dither at any hour of the day or night, (to the best of my knowledge!) They have a particular specialist subject of dithering when youíre about to miss a train home, when youíre already late for the restaurant booking, or when the West End show that took three years to decide to see is starting in thirty seconds, at least fifteen minutes walk away. Whenever spods are gathered together, faffing is the inevitable result. Perhaps even, wherever a spod is, regardless of the group effect, a certain amount of indecisiveness ensues.

Where? Now this is another easy one. Anywhere and everywhere! Put a spod there, faffing will happen. Itís inevitable. I have noticed certain stronger effects however. Iím sure meetings are more prolonged, and the committee attending faff longer in when theyíre at our house. Possibly this is related to comfy chairs and cushions being available to sit on, so the desire to stop dithering and finish the meeting just disappears. Cushions for Christmas for everyone else who has meetings then! Iíve also noticed the force ten gale effect. It is never, ever possible to make a decision as to where to go for a drink, whilst still inside the nice, warm, comfortable restaurant. No, faffing has to happen somewhere cold. Particularly favourites include street corners, where the wind has ample opportunity to whistle along at high speed, and just outside nice, alluring pubs that we could go into, if it were possible to reach a decision to do so.

Iíve also noticed an effect by which standing in something known as a Square has at least a squaring effect on the time spent faffing. Maybe itís cubing, or preferably something mathematically much more complicated that would take a lot longer, and a lot more dithering, to work out. Whatever the equation, Leicester Square has an awful lot to answer for. And never take a spod to see Nelsonís Column; heíll spend hours deciding on the best possible viewing angle, before changing his mind, as the light has changed by then. Both the time spent there, and the likelihood of the light changing are of course dramatically increased if an arctic storm is somehow managing to creep up the Thames, or if you have a larger number of spods to dither together. And itís not just London Squares. Iíve noticed the same danger in a few of the smaller squares we ventured into around Birmingham. (Unless that was the effect of the half-naked Mermaid statue. Iíll leave you to decide on that one!)

Why? Now, as this is by far the most complicated question to answer, Iíd like to leave it until last. If only, that is, I can think of any possible answer for the last question: How?

How? I suppose this is the time to explain fully to the uninitiated exactly what dithering looks like, and how to recognise it. If I could, Iíd also offer a whole series of tips on dithering avoiding and early warning faff prevention, however, Iím still not convinced that itís possible. Any hints you have, do send them in. I need your help!

Indecisiveness can be spotted from a distance on a street corner, (or a town square!) when you notice an immobile group of people. Unlike Ďtouristsí who can also be found in the same places, and whose actions can easily be mistaken for faffing, a dither of spods has no hi-tech video cameras, no maps, guidebooks, or any tacky souvenirs. If there is technical equipment in sight, it is a psion or palm machine, being used to calculate the exact place on the GPS that the spods are currently at, allowing them to then determine which of the possible 27 pubs around the outside of the square might be nearest. Said pub will of course then be disregarded, because one of the spods once knew someone who had a friend, whose cousinís best friend had thought about going there, but had heard from a friend-of-a-friend that their great-auntís step-sonís ex-school-friend had decided he didnít feel like going to it.

Of course, if youíve any sense, you arenít close enough to catch the above explanation. Go straight to the pub nearest them - you should be safe from spod invasion. If youíre out with a group of spods (I hope you have a good excuse!), dithering is much harder to avoid. I can only suggest what works for me - marrying the chairman and forcing him into decisions on pubs. This must then be sent out to all by e-mail, in plenty of advance, so that everyone knows when, where, and what theyíre doing, at every point during the entire evening, before any of them go anywhere near possible faffing sites. However, as the "marrying the chairman" bit has already been done, youíll have to think of your own solution.

I have also tried rushing straight to the nearest pub, restaurant, or whatever, and saying "This looks great," but somehow there is still always the need for a long and fruitless discussion, before anyone can go through the door, into the nice warm building. If only a decent pub chain would install a network, preferably wireless, then hours of available dithering time could be saved. Or if not saved, then spent surfing indoors to check out what local venues we might want to move on to.

My only other suggestions for stopping spods dithering is to gag the lot of them, and tie them together like a chain gang for all journeys between any two locations that cause indecisiveness. Unfortunately, that could get dangerous along busy town centre streets, so it might be best used for country areas, particularly where there is only one pub, and thereís nowhere for them to try to dither off to. It could get messy if they all tried to walk in different directions. The local casualty ward might find it somewhat odd to have twelve admissions all with ankles cleanly broken at exactly the same place, all because the front spod thought he spotted something dangerous like a tomato (see Eureka 35!), and tried to make a run for it!

Iíve managed to be very evasive in answering why spods faff, dither, and canít decide anything. Perhaps thatís my own form of indecision. But at least youíre highly unlikely to be reading this in a drafty, cold street, or as you fade away from hunger - unless maybe youíve been so absorbed in reading Eureka that you forgot breakfast, and are now regularly missing your bus to work with the excitement of it all. I thought not. And if so, well, really, itís your own silly fault, you know! The warning about dithering in a difficult climate was very early on. Youíve only yourself to blame.

Again, a whole paragraph avoiding answering the difficult question. Iím getting rather good at this indecision stuff. I also promised to come back to the question of whether increased technical ability leads to enhanced dithering skills. And we havenít yet looked at the possibility - even likelihood - that an increase in the number of spods available increases faffing time exponentially. Oh, OK, I give up; Iíll try and find some answers!

Why, exactly, do spods dither? In order to work out the answer to this, I decided to study the decisions that do get made. Iíve noticed the one question that does get answered, within a normal amount of time is "Tea or coffee?" Although of course you can rely on a certain Mr Ruck to be awkward about that one, everyone else manages to answer quickly and decisively. Theyíre pretty good on "Milk?" and "Sugar?" In pubs, they can handle "Do you want a drink?" even if deciding what that drink should be can become something of a problem.

A careful search for a common denominator in these questions is that theyíre all easy questions. Not in the sense that "What do you want to eat?" is, or should be, an easy question. In the sense of that there arenít many possible answers, and the answers are mathematically easy.

Take "Tea or coffee?" as example 1. There are only two answers on offer, and most spods can decide between two things. Like "run a large Acorn Show, that will be lots of hard work, and take up tonnes of our time: yes or no?" Simple for your average spod. "Milk?" again is a yes / no question. Thereís no need to think much, and the possibilities are nicely limited. Even the slightly more complicated question "Sugar?" has a reasonably limited set of answers. The answer is usually a whole number between nought and ten. In fact, most spods only seem to have one sugar, or none, making it a nice binary question once again, like "Milk?" And Iím sure thatís whatís important here. Iím not sure why it is, but spods can answer questions with binary answers. As the basis of every computer, everywhere, ever, something about binary is special to the spod, and questions that allow this sort of answer are computed quickly and efficiently. If there were only two restaurants in any given city, weíd be fine, if a little unlikely to get a table.

Iím now wondering if hex might be useful here. Would spods be capable of deciding between sixteen possibilities, simply because the computer also uses hex? If someone feels like compiling me a list of sixteen nice restaurants and pubs in the near vicinity of the Wakefield Show, Iíll get back to you with the results of the experiment shortly after the event.

The binary theory certainly explains the ease of answering "would you like a drink?" and the comparative complications of "what would you like to drink?" I mean, Iíve never found a bar with only two drinks choices. Nor one with a mere sixteen beverage options. I could hope to locate one with sixty-four, if you think that might help? It also explains the complications of choosing a West End show, compared with the simplicity of the decisions on whether (or not) to attend Corrs concerts. I think we might be onto something here. Iím going to present all choices in computable values from now on! If absolutely necessary, Iíll run through the options in pairs: "Chinese or Thai?" followed by "Chinese or pizza?" then "pizza or curry?" until we finally get full agreement to go for the usual pizza.

This would also make sense of the possibility that technical skills lead to enhanced dithering ability, as the more a spod is in tune with his computer, the more their ability to make choices would be influenced by binary values. And the more spods there are around, the greater the need for questions to fit into the digital approach, so that even with everyone offering some sort of answer, the overall result is still only one of two possibilities.

The excess time taken by collective spods, is all that time for them to work through each and every combination pair, before reaching a decision. Which explains why, when picking a pub in London, a decision can sometimes be reached before closing time the following day, so long as weíre a little low on committee members. Those who live in London particularly hinder the process, as firstly, they know more pubs, and so have more combination pairs, and secondly, they go and suggest these other pubs, meaning that everyone else has to reprocess their decision, including all the new data. Complicated stuff on a Saturday night!

Just to check my theory really worked, I put the question to Toby: "Can spods make simple, binary decisions?" You can tell what the two options are for the answer to this one - Toby said "Umm - maybe!"

Written by Gill Smith. Published Summer 2001. Reproduced with permission.