• "At a coffee shop near his office, Kazemi says he feels about his bots the way he imagines parents must feel about their children. “I’ve created these things, and they’re kind of separate from me now, and so I do feel kind of proud of them,” he says. “Every morning I wake up and I look at the last two hours of TwoHeadlines, and it just gets me every time.”" Yup. That.
  • "Under the [Do What You Love] credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether." This is astute and good, on what happens when work is divided into either "things you love anyway" or "labor that we will banish from view" – and the enabling forces that let someone Do What They Love.
  • "…we though it would be it would be interesting to ask the students to deconstruct a logic prevalent in the games industry (F2P) and to then apply that logic to a real-world system (in this case, a London transport) service." I loved this when Kars first told me about the brief, and I love seeing it again now.
  • "Fountain is a plain text markup language for screenwriting." More plaintext formats for writing in. This is good.
  • "When I'm evaluating entrepreneurs and their ideas, I look for "innovation bipolarity," a version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first-rate intelligence: "the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Entrepreneurs should be able to argue passionately that their idea will change the world, and then, without skipping a beat, honestly assess the risks standing in the way of its success and describe what they are doing to mitigate them."
  • "I wanted to make the ship move, and I wanted to make it speak, and I wanted to speak back to it, with it, together. To make something." The poetry of creation is important. Also, @shipadrift is lovely, but you already knew that.
  • More useful vim stuff.
  • "In my forthcoming book Alien Phenomenology, at the start of the chapter on Carpentry (my name for making things that do philosophy), I talk about the chasm between academic writing (writing to have written) and authorship (writing to have produced something worth reading). But there's another aspect to being an author, one that goes beyond writing at all: book-making. Creating the object that is a book, that will have a role in someone's life—in their hands or their purses, around their mail, in between their fingers. Now, in this age of lowest common denominator digital and POD editions, it's time to stop writing books and to start making them." I am not totally sure I buy all of Bogost's argument, but I like his points explaining the role of artefacts. However, POD is weirder than he gives it credit.
  • "[Was shooting The Artist very different to making a 'regular' movie?] No, it’s a regular picture. The only difference is, there is no boom mic. And the story is not being told by what comes out of your mouth. If you want to tell the story, the story being the narrative, not the plot—the plot’s fairly simple—but if you want to tell the narrative, then you have to be concise with your reaction, and let the reaction get into your body and your face in a way you don’t necessarily do when you have dialogue, because the dialogue takes care of that." James Cromwell interview by the AV Club. I enjoyed this line especially.

Markov Chocolates: A New Diversion

17 January 2012

A new year, and a new toy to begin it.

This all began when Tom started tweeting the prose from the back of a chocolate box.

Tt tweets

One look at that and, having gagged a little on the truly purple prose, there was only one obvious continuation: a machine to churn out chocolate descriptions infinitely.

Which was as good a time as any to play with Markov chains. Wikipedia will explain in more detail, but if you’ve never encountered them, a very rough explanation is: Markov chains are systems that model what the next item in a list will be based on the previous ones. The more previous items you have, the better it can predict the next thing.

They’re often used in toy text generators. You give them source text to seed them, randomly pick a word from the source text, and then start choosing what should come next. What’s nice about this is with nothing other than a piece of maths, and a tight corpus, we can produce things that usually read like English without having to teach a computer something as complex as grammar. Of course, sometimes you get grammatical-yet-nonsensical English out, but that’s hardly in a problem in our case.

So I took the full prose from the back of Tom’s chocolates (Thornton’s Premium selection, for reference), some Markov text-generation code from an illuminating installment of Rubyquiz, and fiddled for a bit.

A short piece of work later and I had Markov Chocolates.

Markov

Roughly once every four hours (but it varies), you’ll get a fresh, tasty new Markov Chocolate in your Twitter feed. It’s another of my daft toys, but it still makes me chuckle. I’m thinking of expanding the corpus soon, and I hear the Markov coroporation are keen to branch out into new product lines. For now, you can get your chocolate fix here.

  • "I built a working prototype of a Customer Service phone bot that has personal issues she'd like to talk about and over time falls in love with the caller. She uses the tools at her disposal (discounts, upgrades, hold music, confirmation numbers) to communicate her feelings towards you as best she can." Hah!

Where’s @towerbridge?

12 June 2011

I got an email today, a bit sad that the bot I made to comment on Tower Bridge’s state had disappeared.

I wasn’t aware it had disappeared.

So I checked Twitter, and sure enough: @towerbridge is now owned by an “official” account. They joined Twitter on the 18th May this year. I’m not going to comment on the quality or usefulness of the account to date.

What I am going to comment on: the bot has disappeared. All those tweets are gone, basically. So there’s no history any more of bridge lists. There’s no instrumentation of a part of the city. A little bit of the heartbeat of London – for me, and the nearly 4000 other people who followed the bot – has disappeared.

Now, I use an old email address that I check rarely for that account – but I’ve not been contacted once about this issue. The account has just been gazumped, and a little, talking part of the city has been killed.

I’m about to get in contact with Twitter the second I’ve posted this. I’m more than a little furious; after all, all the URLs that link to it are now incorrect, all the lifts, all the (puppet-mastered) banter is gone. Cool URLs don’t change, and these have just gone. And in their place: marketing.

I’ve never pretended to be an official account; I’ve never dissimulated; no-one from the exhibition has ever got in touch with me about the bot.

So, for the time being: this is why the bot has disappeared. I’m very, very cross, and perhaps a little upset; the robots are our friends, after all.