Swearing Is Big and Clever

  • Post by JuliaRez
  • Sep 05, 2021


A 60p-from-ebay cuckoo clock hacked about enough such that it calls you a twat.


Because swearing is always funny.

… It’s going to need more of an explanation than that.

My recollection is that I was in the bar with the rest of the volunteers, having it Dead Dog after a FantasyCon. One of the raffle prizes had been a ‘cursed’ doll that someone had made, and that kind of inspired me to opine at some length that an ideal thing to have would be a sweary cuckoo clock. I made mention of it on FB, and I have a horrible feeling that was me making a rod for my own back, because.

… So the thing is that I had/have spent a few decades struggling with depression, and a common sort of unpleasant feature was (and hopefully not ‘is’) that I would come up with an interesting and/or daft project, start upon it with the best of intentions and the good wishes of my friends, because I have excellent friends who appreciate that sort of weird idea… And then fall into a pit of despair for the next several months. During that time I would sometimes look at the part-complete project(s) (and stories and and…) and not even be able to remember the sort of person who would have thought of something so brilliant.

Depression is shit. Avoid it as best you can.

Anyway. Through I have no idea what means, I got the sweary clock working-on-a-breadboad and it was exactly as funny as I had hoped. I threw the breadboard bits onto some veroboard that fitted nicely in the clock and was going to package the thing properly so it looked like an untrammelled cuckoo clock. Which is the point that it stopped working. My best guess remains stray capacitance or some other marginal thing in translating a very narrow pulse from a cheap mechanism that either came out of the black wire or the other black wire, into something that an ESP8266 could recognise, which no longer worked when not a mess of jumper wires and wobbling components.

Oh hello Captain Depression is it that time again?

For want of something constructive to do, I hacked a test mode into the c0de, which just looped all the swearing so as to try to make it obvious where the problems might be lurking.

So there was this thing on the bench, going “Fuckwit, wanker, twat, bellend, useless tosser..” in my voice and loud enough that it was quite hard to concentrate.

The story I tell people is that this was the point I worked out that I had created an external representation of at least one of the daemons inside my own head. I don’t remember working it out quite that neatly, but for the sake of the arc of the story it will do.

Once I’d worked that out, I experimented a little with the notion, and I will describe that object in a different post.

A longer version of all of this turned into a talk for EMFCamp2018, which seemed to go well. That was also the weekend where I came out as a trans woman to a whole set of people, so that kind of half explains the way the talk went. However, as is the way of these things, thinking about the whole process in order to turn it into a narrative for the talk, altered the narrative itself. Which, y’know, I’m as much of a post-structuralist as the next trans woman.

A while after that I just thought ‘fuck it’ and glue-gunned all the components to the outside of the clock, attached a photo-interruptor that came from an arduino-sensor selection-box ditto, and had the bastard thing burst into life.

As an aesthetic it’s part Roadkill, part Bosuzoku/Shakotan Silhouette car, but mostly, er, JHR. It’s something else I plan to experiment with, now I’ve kind of got a handle on what it is.

More recently, I sparked the thing up after a while and discovered that its voice was Just Wrong now.

It was my ‘old’ voice. The one that no longer fits with how I perceive myself, or how I want to be perceived. I just didn’t recognise the person making those noises that I’d captured as MP3s, so I re-recorded all the swearing in a more familiar and suitable timbre/tone.

I was explaining a lot of this to some other trans people on A Discord when I realised that the old swearing was all inward/accusatory. They were the voices inside my own head berating me for being sad and depressed and unable to finish things.

The new swearing was all outwardly directed. It was the voice of a justifiably angry trans woman letting off steam about the broken and unjust society around her. A far more mentally healthy attitude I think you’ll agree.


Cheap and nasty plastic cuckoo clock from ebay ESP8266, Earle Philhower’s lovely audio library, some dreadful hacking of my own.

C0de, of a sort: https://github.com/hirez/swearyclock