• "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.

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.

The point of Twitter

09 December 2011

John Gruber on the new Twitter iPhone app:

What also worries me is that these changes suggest not only a difference in opinion regarding how a Twitter client should work, but also regarding just what the point is of Twitter as a service. The Twitter service I signed up for is one where people tweet 140-character posts, you follow those people whose tweets you tend to enjoy, and that’s it. The Twitter service this new UI presents is about a whole lot more — mass-market spoonfed “trending topics” and sponsored content. It’s trying to make Twitter work for people who don’t see the appeal of what Twitter was supposed to be.

Yes, that. It increasingly turns out that the Twitter I signed up for – the Twitter in my head, as it were – is the MVP of something else. And now, the MVP is fading away and the something else is taking over. Which is fine for acquiring new users – after all, by and large, it’s a given that most people don’t use your product. But my mental model is stuck around five years ago, when I signed up.

I signed up for this product because it made mass-texting people when I was in town easy, and led to lots of serendipitous drinking and hanging out when I was in the city. On the radio last year, I heard someone explain Twitter as “a tool for following famous people and seeing what they’re up to“. It’s interesting how the product described in the new app feels like the product described by that radio pundit: a consumption tool.

For me, it was always about the permanent backchannel with my friends. I guess I’m looking for a new mobile client now.

  • "Sycorax is a Twitter client, written in Python, that choreographs the online behavior of fictional characters. Other tweet schedulers make your personal Twitter stream look like a clockwork robot is behind it, posting tweets at the optimal time for penetration into your social network. Syxorax lets fictional characters use Twitter the way real people do. Your characters can post at odd hours and talk to each other, taking their lines from a simple script you write, but without any ongoing work from you." Very nice.
  • "Bootstrap is a toolkit from Twitter designed to kickstart development of webapps and sites. It includes base CSS and HTML for typography, forms, buttons, tables, grids, navigation, and more." Really nice – straightforward, elegant, and a good starting point for the scratchy websites I tend to end up making.

@towerbridge: a bit more clarity

12 June 2011

Buried, somewhere in the inbox I use for the Tower Bridge account, was an email from Twitter Support. So, let’s get the apology out of the way: Twitter did contact me. It was buried in an old GMail account. And, sure enough, on the first of June, here we go:

Twitter responds to reports from trademark holders regarding the use of trademarks that we determine is misleading or confusing with regard to brand or business affiliation. It has come to our attention that your Twitter account is in violation of Twitter’s trademark policy:

http://support.twitter.com/entries/18367

This account has been suspended.

Let’s see what they have to say at the URL:

Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation.

OK, I can see the reasoning behind that. There’s not much space in the Bio field to explain that it’s not official, but their policy is clear: it doesn’t matter if you were attempting to mislead; if there’s any likelihood of confusion, you’re breaking their rules.

They go on:

  • When there is a clear intent to mislead others through the unauthorized use of a trademark, Twitter will suspend the account and notify the account holder.
  • When we determine that an account appears to be confusing users, but is not purposefully passing itself off as the trademarked good or service, we give the account holder an opportunity to clear up any potential confusion. We may also release a username for the trademark holder’s active use.

OK. So, what they did was the first thing.

There was no intent to mislead. Seriously, what else would you call a bot that did this? I can think of several alternatives, but in 2008, it seemed obvious.

Does it break the current terms of service? Perhaps.

What I’m really, really annoyed by is this: I have not been giving opportunity to clear up the potential confusion. I’ve just had the account suspended, the username taken, and, well, that’s it.

The account didn’t pretend to pass itself off as a trademark, or a registered company, or as anything related to the exhibition that runs within the edifice. If it passed itself of as anything, it was the structure itself. And everybody knows that really, bridges don’t talk, and certainly not that politely. There’s an interesting question – perhaps for a separate, less emotional post – about the relationship between the Instrumented City and the corporations that own the things that are Instrumented – but that’s not for now.

For now: I’m going to pursue this with Twitter, and at least resurrect the bot somewhere. When it comes back, it seems unlikely it’ll be at the original account name.

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.