The bored, polite bot

A while ago I created this bot that fetches a work from the Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design Department of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and posts it to a website and to twitter, three times a day. I like this pace. It’s not an overload. But sometimes it’s not enough. What if I want a new image right now. The easy option would be to surf to the Cooper Hewitt site and add a query into the search field. The not so easy option would be to create a twitter bot that posts an image of a thing if you ask it to. Politely.

So imagine that you’re bored and you want to see an image of a shark. Now you can ask @onethingplease to send you a shark, please. Be sure to include the word ‘please’. It’s a sensitive bot that will not answer you without it. And right so. The internet can use some manners. But if you do ask it politely it will do its best to find an image of a shark — or whatever you ask it — in the Cooper Hewitt collection. And after a few minutes of searching it will probably send it to you. Or well. Probably not. It is not that accurate. But the results are definitely more surprising than all those fancy “intelligent” image search algorithms we’re used to.

A few of you will try it out. And ask it to send you an image of beer. Or wine. Or a book. Or a computer. Or a lion. Or an alien. But most of the time this bot will be idling. In order to prevent it from getting too bored I gave it the power to update its profile pictures if nobody has asked it anything in the last 30 minutes. This means it will probably do this at least 40 times a day. And nobody will notice. Which makes you wonder. If a bot updated its profile pictures and no human saw it, did it actually happen?

A take-a-break-bot

Last week I was working on a course with a colleague of mine. After a while he told me to take a break. He suggested me to play a game called Pause on my phone. I told him that instead of playing games during my break, I usually take a look at the ceiling. And when I looked up I realised that most ceilings in offices are rather dull. So I created the Ceiling Bot.

If you let it, that site will notify you every two hours that it is time to take a look at the ceiling. If you click on the notification you’ll see a new ceiling. Most of these ceilings are probably much more interesting that the one you see when you look up right now. Like this incredible glass dome. Or this chandelier. 10 minutes is probably not enough to see all the details in this ceiling of a mosque. Or this ceiling in a bar. It looks like in the past ceilings were much more important than they are today. Looks like we’re not very interested in looking up anymore.

If you like, you can follow the ceiling bot on Twitter as well.

One day I might create a back-to-work-bot that shows you a computer screen after the ten minute break is over.

Visual translations

In summer I sometimes lay on the grass with my kid and look up at the sky. And we tell each other what kind of shapes we see. Turtles, birds, dogs, horses — indeed, mostly animals. We see shapes we recognise.

The Google Street View car doesn’t just take pictures of streets, it also looks up and takes pictures of the sky. Katie Rose Pipkin created a website that shows these pictures. But it doesn’t just show them, it also translates them. It does so by virtually laying OCR software on the grass and asking it what it sees. On the coordinates 44.296576,43.168091000000004 for instance it sees

. _\ J . . < _ 2m

I see several smileys when I look at those characters.

The Daily End Of Time

Yesterday I saw this tweet that mentioned the welcome news that the end of the world has been delayed by two days. It will now end on the 25th of September, instead of the 23rd. So with a bit of luck I can still teach my class on Friday. It depends a bit on the exact time and how long such an event takes.

The world has ended at least 165 times in the past 2000 years, according to this list of dates predicted for apocalyptic events. And it has been ending most regularly in the last 50 years or so. I had no idea the world was such a dangerous place to be on!

I thought it would be interesting to make the Daily End Of Time: a bot that tweets — and archives — about one of these catastrophic events. Every day it picks a random end date from the past or the future, and tweets how long ago the world ended. Or how long we still have. It adds a link to the person, or group, who predicted this particular apocalypse. Very interesting reading material. There are a few people who predicted more than one apocalypse! Harold_Camping for instance was very thorough. He predicted six eschatons. Just to be sure, I guess. You’ll also find some surprising names on this list. Isaac Newton for instance! He believed we still have some time. But he might be wrong, and in a few days we might see the world end yet another time.

With a bit of luck you’ll be able to see two or three more updates before the 25th of September though. I hope you enjoy it!

It was 13:37 everywhere

I created a new bot. Twenty four times a day, at 37 minutes past the hour it tweets a location on earth where it’s 13:37 at that very moment. One minute later this location is added to this list of past places where it has been 13:37 before.

The Daily Synonym

A few days ago I created this rather slow animation of the word minimalist and its synonyms. As you can see, the animation isn’t about minimalism at all, it’s about shaping each letter as random as possible by using random values for quite a few CSS properties. While I was looking for synonyms of the word minimalist I noticed that synonyms are more random than I initially thought. For instance, both modest and artist are synonyms of minimalist. And yes, if I search for synonyms for modest, the results will be completely different than when I do a search for artist.

I created a website that will look for a synonym of yesterday’s word, every day at 13:37 CET. It started with the word random, which was synonymised to haphazard. According to the Big Huge Thesaurus haphazard can be synonymised to hit-or-miss, slapdash, slipshod, sloppy, careless, random, or haphazardly. Depending on which word the random algorithm chose next, this could have gone in completely different directions. It went back to random, but it could also have chosen something like careless. I wonder how long it will take until it reaches the word orderly.

I’m pretty happy with the website. It looks focused, and I think it will look even better after a few months, years, decades. You can follow the progress via The Daily Synonym RSS Feed if that’s your thing. For the rest of you I created a Daily Synonym twitter account, which looks pretty good as well, if you ask me.

Some notes for the fundamentalist synonymists among you: for practical reasons I accept not only synonyms, but also similar terms, and even related terms. There would simply not be enough results if I didn’t. And if for whatever reason there are no results for a certain word — for instance, there are no synonyms for the word entity — it starts with random again.

Just the properties

I think Hay Kranen wondered if an entity is still an entity if you only show its properties. Even if I didn’t get it, I find his new project fascinating to look at. Unfortunately it doesn’t work on my old Blackberry Playbook. So instead I use a redundant iPhone — with the iCab browser in kiosk mode — as an art frame.

I look at it every now and then. And then I see something like “This is a scientific journal”, and I think about what the journal could be about. I’ll never know. Another one was about someone who was born in Montreal. Would it be Mike? I haven’t seen him in 10 years. I recently found out that his old e-mail address doesn’t work anymore. When I meet Canadians I always ask them if they know this Guy from Canada called Mike.

And when I read this one — he died on 01-01-2005, he’s an art historian — I thought no he isn’t. This amuses me more than it should.

If you like stuff like this as well you should learn Dutch and subscribe to Hay Kranen’s newsletter.

Random words

Computers are pretty good at generating random numbers. This fact can be used to generate things like logo’s for us. Yesterday I created a little tool that does just that. I needed this tool because I want to print the word Minimalism onto a t-shirt. It styles every letter as random as possible every time you refresh the page.

But computers can do much more than styling stuff for us. They can also create unique content. Katie Rose Pipkin and Loren Schmidt created this wonderful site that describes a different city every time you refresh the page.

This somehow reminded me of the Drunk Men Work Here Weblog Service, with its unique Zero-Click™ posting technology. I created a blog there many years ago which has been posting things every day since, but I can’t remember its name. It’s somewhere in this list.

A Photon, Sturgeon’s law, and the size of everything

There’s this video of the solar system where you travel away from the sun at the speed of light, like a photon. After three minutes this photon reaches the first planet, Mercury, which looks like a small marble. It takes more than eight minutes to reach Earth. It goes on and on for 45 minutes through empty space, passing a little ball every now and then. Alphonse Swinehart took a few liberties while creating this video. First of all, there is no sound in space — which can be emulated by switching off the sound of your device. But more importantly, all planets in our solar system seem to be perfectly aligned. Which in reality they are not. Which made me realise that almost every photon that leaves the sun will never meet anything at all.

I had to think of this video while I was watching the Universal Slide Show in the Image Section on the incredible Library of Babel. The Library of Babel contains all texts that have ever been written, and all texts that will ever be written. It also contains all pictures that have ever been created, all pictures that will ever be created, and even all pictures that have never been taken: every portrait of every person who has ever lived is in there somewhere. The Universal Slide Show shows all of the images, one at a time. I’ve been watching the slide show for quite a while, and so far, all of the images look similar: an image of random noise. This made me wonder. What are the chances of hitting an image of something that can be recognised? Would it be a similar change as a photon traveling from the sun passing by something in the solar system?

This made me think of the ultimate conclusion of Sturgeon’s law. Sturgeon’s law states that 90% of everything is crap. You could apply Sturgeon’s law to the remaining 10%, and conclude that 90% of the things that aren’t crap, turn out to be crap after all. And so on, ad infinitum. When you replace crap with emptiness, you have the changes of a photon passing a rock: very close to zero, but it happens. And if you replace crap with noise you have the chances of seeing a recognisable image on the Universal Slide Show, or finding a readable text in the Library.

The universe is filled with countless stars, and filled with even more planets and other stuff. But the chances of a photon ever hitting one are almost zero. The Library is filled with incredible amounts of readable stuff, and almost unimaginable amounts of recognisable images, yet the chances of stumbling upon one are almost zero.

And then I read that the Library of Babel is bigger than the Universe.

All the books ever, for free

If I wait long enough — and I keep paying my hosting bills the next six trillion years — my server will generate all possible different rectangles in my Daily Rectangle project. It is a long term project.

Jonathan Basile is not as patient as I am. He created this project that is much bigger in size and ambition than my simple rectangles. He created — and finished — the Library of Babel.

At present it contains all possible pages of 3200 characters, about 104677 books

And yes of course, it also contains this blog post.