Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Mug Chain

I am having a pleasant instant-message conversation with my brother about what we did on our respective weekends. Suddenly, apropos of nothing, the conversation takes an unexpected turn:

BROTHER: Did Alan Turing actually used to chain his mug to the radiator?

ME: I don't know. Did he?

BROTHER: I can't remember if it's true, or whether I made it up.

ME: I once tied a mug to myself*, but it wasn't my 'magic' Alan Turing one.

I do some digging on the internet, and discover several references to Alan Turing chaining his mug to the radiator. I duly inform the brother.

BROTHER: Ha! I knew I hadn't made it up!

ME: Is this for a client?

(My brother works in marketing too, and is often required to come up with 'creative ideas' to promote some piece of software or other.)

ME: Are you giving away branded 'mug chains'?

ME: Give us your business card, and we'll give you a FREE mug chain - just like Alan Turing's!

ME: Radiator not included.

It becomes apparent that my brother has sloped off, no doubt unable to withstand the vim and verve of my potent wit, so I relate the conversation to Mr BC instead.

MR BC: Is the mug included?

ME: Hm, I didn't think of that.

A companionable silence descends. Presently:

MR BC: It would need to be quite a long chain, so you could lift the mug to your mouth.

Suddenly this doesn't seem to be such a bad idea at all. Branded mug chains would be cheap to produce, and would surely be popular among the Turing-worshipping geek community, who would no doubt welcome a means of keeping their 'special' mugs - which they probably got from Linus Torvalds's secret bunker at the alpha launch of the Linux kernel in 1992 - out of bounds to their colleagues.

The chain could also imply 'security', and would therefore be an ideal booth giveaway for a security software company, like an antivirus company. And what's more, by ensuring that the mug is not used communally, the chain would - quite literally - prevent the spread of 'viruses' across the 'workspace', thus giving concrete, tangible form to an abstract, metaphorical notion; something the software industry has always struggled to do.

I am on marketing fire! I sketch a rudimentary mug chain on my to-do pad, and make a note to fax it to none other than Siralan** himself.

It is at this point that I notice it's already midday, and there's washing to be done, and boxes to be packed, and carrot cake to be made - and before I do any of that I have to write an article about online video for one client and a list of recommendations to the governments of Central and Eastern Europe for another.

The mug chain will have to wait. But ITS TIME WILL COME, goddammit.

* A true story, but one for which the world is not yet prepared.

** Sugar, not Turing. Alan Turing is dead, for a start, and therefore doesn't have a fax machine. And he wasn't a 'Sir', although he did more for this country than Suralan ever has, and what's more Suralan wouldn't even have had a company if it hadn't been for the work of his illustrious predecessor. And besides, faxing my idea to Turing, the rightful originator of it, would be tantamount to commercial suicide!


LC said...

Go outside more.

patroclus said...

But there are germs outside!

Hannah said...

How have you not eschewed everything else for the carrot cake? Food of the gods. And me, when I can get it.

patroclus said...

I've been quite hesitant to make the carrot cake because I've somehow managed to convince myself that no-one (except me) likes carrot cake, and it will end up in the bin. Your comment gives me hope and encouragement, and an excuse not to do any more work today.

Sylvia said...

Mug chain? as in chain attached to mug at one end, immovable object at the other end? I think I'm missing something here!
And definitely make that cake! Carrot cake is wonderful.

Dave said...

How do you wash it? Sounds like a breeding-ground for viruses if you ask me.

patroclus said...

I'm very excited at the levels of interest in the Mug Chain (TM), and as an authorised representative of Mug Chain Inc., I am only too happy to address your concerns about the product.

Sylvia: It's a chain that you can use to chain your mug (by the handle) to a nearby radiator, like a bike chain. It's got a lock, so you can unlock it when you want to convey the mug to the kitchen to fill it with tea, or coffee, or sweet sweet Bovril. The chain is available in metal or plastic, depending on your budget. I can do you a discount on orders of over 1,000. You'll need to supply your own artwork, which Mug Chain Inc. can transfer to the special Brand Lozenge that forms one of the links of the chain.

Dave: A great question. See above - the chain can be removed from the mug to facilitate washing of the mug.

I'm thinking about this way too much already.

james henry said...

Perhaps a sink and washing up bowl are also chained to the radiator? I'm sure Alan Turing wouldn't have embarked on this sort of venture without thinking through the details.

james henry said...

The hot water could of course come from the radiator itself I AM A GENIUS OF TURING-LIKE PROPORTION.

patroclus said...

I'm off to check in the Alan Turing biography that Wyndham gave me, to see exactly *how much* he'd thought it through. The last thing that Mug Chain Inc. needs right now is an embarrassing copyright show trial with the Turing estate.

Tim Footman said...

As long as the mug isn't used for drinking apple juice. That would be in poor taste.

As would dangerous quantities of oestrogen.

Dave said...

James, I too thought of that, but have you ever seen the water that comes out of radiators? You would not want to wash anything with it.

You could stand a washing-up bowl on the radiator, though, and allow the water to warm up that way.

Provided the radiator had a flat top, of course. Perhaps a small metal shelf should be supplied with the chain.

Billy said...

Have you faxed Suralan yet? Could there be other tie-ins to go with it? A Godel dinner service for example.

Sarah said...

I hate carrot cake. I personally wouldn't want to eat it. But, in my experience, I'm in a minority.

An alternative use for a mug chain is that espoused by stewards at festivals. Or at least the one I work at, anyway. You use a chain/clip/carabina/piece of string to attach the mug to a belt loop so it's always available for coffee refuelling. And you can take it off to wash the mug/drink from it.

patroclus said...

Tim: Or cyanide.

Dave: I believe that in James's scenario, the water from the radiator is not for washing the mug, but for making a tasty hot drink. However, I have anticipated all of these design flaws by making the chain lockable and unlockable. Unlock it to make a drink and wash the mug, then use it to chain the mug safely back to the radiator once you've finished using it. Easy! There's room for more than one James Dyson in this country, you know.

Billy: How about a dinner plate in the form of a Mobius strip? Not very practical, though, especially if you had a lot of gravy.

Sarah: Where do you stand on banana muffins? And yes, the Festival Mug Carabina sounds like a close relative of the Mug Chain. Damn, someone got there before me.

Annie said...

Going outside meant I missed all this.

Take it on Dragons' Den, go on, I dare you.

james henry said...

Actually wait, yes, the water would probably be a bit icky.

Wise Dave is Wise.

Boz said...

I am with Hannah - carrot cake is truly food of higher deities.

Does the chain come with an attachment for plates of cake? Is it machine washable? Is it a hazard for younger tea-drinkers?

Annie said...

PS - unconnected but I thought of you when I saw this programme about robots and AI, (available on bbc iplayer):


patroclus said...

Lots of people like carrot cake, hurrah!

Boz: In answer to your questions:

1) Only if you buy the associated Chain Plate (TM), which has a special flange with a hole in it for insertion of the chain.

2) Yes.

3) Probably, but as it is designed purely for use in the office, one would hope that all users would possess adequate levels of maturity and motor control. You never know, though...

Annie: Thank you! I may use that as the first thing I upload to Twine (which is a fancy new thing a bit like del.icio.us, but which has the disadvantage of not working with either of the browsers that I use, grrr).

Betty said...

I hate to be the voice of doom, but the metal chain would be a conductor of heat from the radiator to the mug. The mug would become too hot to handle, potentially causing burns, and could even crack. Too many hazards - unless, of course, you decide not to switch the central heating on and wear a coat indoors instead.

patroclus said...

My god Betty, you're right. From now on, all Mug Chains will only be available in cheap grey plastic.

(What do you mean, the heat from the radiator might melt the plastic, releasing potentially lethal toxic fumes into the enclosed office space?)

Matt said...

The radiator chain/mug thing could be the latest in a line of radiator inspired goodness. I give you:
the radiator food warmer

Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

Oh, please think longitudinally. We have no radiators. And in South Africa, where I would have come from if I'd been born and bred there, and where Turing is no less honoured than elsewhere, the concept of central heating is unknown. There has to be an alternative: could you conceive of chaining the mugs to the carrot or other fine cake? Or would this be a step too far?

Dave said...

You could supply a stake with the chain, to be driven into the ground if no radiator falls to hand.

This would also avoid the heat-transfer problem.

patroclus said...

Now look - I know there are no wrong answers in a brainstorm, but even so:

Matt: I looked at that radiator thing, which looked quite cool, but then I thought 'but why wouldn't you just put your mug and your muffin *on* the radiator, and cut out the middle man?'

Dad: I suppose that in exceptional circumstances you could chain the mug to a window catch or other fixed and immovable object. Remember, team, it's all about not letting someone else use your mug. Chaining it to a piece of carrot cake would be futile - doubly so, because the mug thief would probably be very tempted to steal the cake too. Unless it was Sarah, of course.

Dave: This is good out-of-the-box thinking, but in my experience, most offices have solid floors. You could try driving the stake into the pot of the nearest Schefflera arboricola, but I fear that this would, at best, only be a temporary solution, for the stake could easily be uprooted, allowing the felon to make off with the mug (albeit with stake and chain still attached).

Tim Footman said...

People without radiators (because it's too hot to require central heating) can just chain their mugs to the aircon. Or to the ceiling fan. Or to the punka wallah, if he doesn't mind.

patroclus said...

Tim: Now I'm imagining a sort of Indiana Jones-style action sequence in which the baddie is gruesomely decapitated after being forced into a sweaty office filled with mugs attached by chains to ceiling fans...

Sarah said...

I don't like bananas either, so banana muffins are right out.

I really like chocolate muffins though, if you are ever making any.

patroclus said...

Sarah: I'm just waiting for raspberry season, then I will make chocolate and raspberry brownies, mmm. In the meantime, carrot cake and banana muffins all the way.

Anonymous said...

never mind suralan - go straight to the top! the dragons' den!!! i'm still trying to perfect the prototopes of the knitted internal organs i'm hoping to pitch.
see you there

Anonymous said...

is it true, btw, that the apple logo was inspired by turing's untimely end?

patroclus said...

RG: Ooh, we could do a tie-up (or 'co-branding exercise', as they call it) - you could get a knitted pancreas charm for your mug chain!

I think Apple Computer claimed the apple logo (with the bite out of it) was based on Turing's demise so as to deflect the lawsuit from Apple Records. I don't know what its actual origin was, though.