All posts made in Feb. 2002:

Chimera is without doubt the fastest Mac OS X browser I have ever used. And because it uses Mozilla's rendering engine, it's got all the standards without the bloat. An absolute joy.

Back on the aimbot trail. Zorkbot is an AIM bot interface to the old Infocom game Zork, but I've not managed to play any of the game yet.

And I'm slightly concerned about all these cyberslut aimbots. Not that I can find a single one online (and I've tried them all). Tell you what -- if you manage to find one alive, could you send me a transcript? Just for research purposes, you understand.

Celestia, space simulator. Wow. (Mac OS X version.)

True random number service. Generated using atmospheric noise, apparently.

If you're on the Upsideclown mail list I think you'd better read it online today, because it's unlikely to get through your mail filters: "Have you ever wished for larger sex organs? NO surgery, NO medication, NO tax, NO cost. Our FREE course will involve YOU, your PROGENY, and your DESCENDENTS in a genetic arms-race of primary sexual characteristics on a currently unpopulated Polynesian island."

It's 100% genuine me, today, with Spam Quartet. Enjoy.

Web Color Theory [Mundi Design] is an interesting way to play with colour combinations, especially the webpage example (icon at bottom-right of the app).

The Alphabet Synthesis Machine: "an interactive online artwork which allows one to create and evolve the possible writing systems of one's own imaginary civilizations" [via MeFi]. Produces your own downloadable TrueType font.

Okay, so you take 3000 patients with a particular blood disorder and they're a mix of people who recovered and people who didn't. Next you divide them randomly into two groups of equal size -- one is the control group, and one is the intervention group. Now: You say a prayer for everyone in the intervention group.

With me so far? So what happened? It turns out that the group that were prayed for were more likely to recover quicker and less likely to die than the control group. So far so power-of-prayer.

Get this: By the time the prayer had been said and the study was made, the patients had either recovered or died at least 6 years earlier.

It's in the British Medical Journal (the paranormal special issue, I admit): Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection. Remote. Retroactive. It all violates my world view and universal model in pretty fundamental ways, but it's still fucking wicked.

Interconnected is two years old today. Now there's a thing.

Take the god quiz then go and read Tom's post about morality and god. Spot on. Why people insist on morality necessarily having a non-human origin is beyond me. And why this quiz makes the same assertation just pissed me off.

New Upsideclown. Drop Dead Letters: "I would leave a message in a Dead Letter Box, somewhere in London, and then provide clues to the other two until they found it. The turn would then move on."

I often think about this. What if there's a dual London? Lives parallel to our operating in the same physical space but with completely different goals? Things that are meaningless to me (like the etchings on the kerb stones) might be important symbols of ground warfare and disputed territories. Anyway.

Also, new Upsideclone. From a new writer too, matzu. High energy. Good laugh. Send in the clones: "a clone is simply a genetic copy - in fact, its not even 100% a perfect copy, as Dolly has shown us by getting arthritis - although to my eye, all sheep look the same and I wouldnt put it past certain members of the scientific community to just wheel out another sheep and say "hey. heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeres Dolly!" like I could tell..."

(Get either of those 'sites by email. Subscription details at the bottom of the articles. And we're always on the lookup for new clones too. Submission info can be found on the Upsideclone homepage.)

Matt blackbeltjones' post about conversational interfaces has kicked off some good comments, complete with links to new and old command-line interfaces on the www.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the Superdrive Apple new iMac advert look like the desklamp computer gets caught checking out its cock? "oh. hi."

Today I'm pondering scientific synthesis, in particular the cross-pollination of various disciplines. What brings this on? Mostly thinking about linguistics and physics. It seems that the shift from rules-based to constraints-based language transformation could be illuminated by comparing it to the contrast between the traditional formulations in physics and that of the Principal of Least Action. And Optimality Theory appears to be a method that draws a lot on ideas from neural networks. (We'll not even get in to the various influences of fads in computer science on mental models, or thermodynamics on theories of mind.)

So what I want to know is: What's the history of the great scientific synthesis? Has it ever been formalised, or even recognised? Is there a model for extracting patterns from theories and applying them to different disciplines?

"When the objects of an inquiry, in any department, have principles, conditions, or elements, it is through acquaintance with these that knowledge, that is to say scientific knowledge, is attained. For we do not think that we know a thing until we are acquainted with its primary conditions or first principles, and have carried our analysis as far as its simplest elements. Plainly therefore in the science of Nature, as in other branches of study, our first task will be to try to determine what relates to its principles.

"The natural way of doing this is to start from the things which are more knowable and obvious to us and proceed towards those which are clearer and more knowable by nature; for the same things are not 'knowable relatively to us' and 'knowable' without qualification. So in the present inquiry we must follow this method and advance from what is more obscure by nature, but clearer to us, towards what is more clear and more knowable by nature."

From Book I of Aristotle's Physics.

Linguistics: The main ideas of Word Grammar. See also, Encyclopedia of Word Grammar: "The most general claim of Word Grammar (WG) is that knowledge is organised as a network of concepts which define one another". Interesting. But from what little I've read, this theory doesn't appear to have attracted much peer interest.

Nice. Words that don't have counterparts in English [via marginalia].

Matt o' blackbeltjones makes a response about conversation interfaces, and: "the resurgence of popularity of what amounts to the command-line interface, especially amongst younger people, due to SMS and instant messenging."

They're two quite different things I think. I could see IM being used in both command line and conversational capacities, at seperate times. (Come to that, are there any good command line equivalents available by IM? How about piping information from bot to bot?)

The command line, because of its context, is very obviously an abstraction onto a computer, and it's critical to learn a new grammar to communicate. An IM client, because of it's context, is at face value only an abstraction to a human/human conversation. There's a difficulty here in that people expect a greater level of intelligence and understanding -- but there's also attributes that make the job easier. For example, it's okay to say "I don't understand". Also, people are familiar with scripted conversations, from telephone callcentres and the like. I can see a command line being extremely useful over IM, but I can also see a conversational interface being something different and useful in it's own way.

I was thinking earlier about how to storyboard conversations. If it's a standard flowchart, or graph: A node, or state, can be a point at which the bot returns information or asks a question. Arcs are various user responses. So far, so www. What the conversational interface allows is arcs to shortcut nodes by giving more complex responses. [I'm modelling all of this internally with maps, according to the sameness of interfaces.] And this allows for long-term more complex interfaces. As the landscape is explored and more keywords are learned by the user, shortcut arcs from what were ostensibly simple nodes can be discovered. This is something that can't be done on the www without altering the pages and disrupting the familiar interface. Another difference is that obvious unambiguity can be used in the interface to hint at shortcuts -- on the www, the hierarchy is not a beast easily disturbed.

Splendid Upsideclone today by Kevan: Litter: "The litter drone pedals its ten woodlouse legs against the sky, slower and slower. It is a piecemeal twenty-sixth-generation Model Twelve-C, constructed from fragments of the refuse it has been programmed to collect; a functional copy of whichever twenty-fifth-generation Model Twelve-C assembled it."

Very Philipkdickian today.

If you send an AIM to twatcaller, it'll call you a twat. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Comic. Fantastic. Red Meat.

Walking through London, I've seen symbols carved into the kerbstones. Crosses with a dot in each quadrant. Triangles. What do they mean? Who put them there? Are they the marks of an urban landwar operating below usual sensory levels?

Hierarchies I have known and loved. Where previously mentioned in this weblog, original reference is in brackets.

Do you have any favourites? Mail me and I'll add them to the list.

Brilliant Upsideclown this morning from Dan: Text Only.

(You can get articles on Monday and Thursday by email. Send the word subscribe to

I've been writing AIM bots recently. It's an interesting interface exercise.

A conversational interface is so different to web, to gopher, or mobile phones. Because of the context you're inclined to assume more intelligence in the bot than there actually is. And a hierarchal interface just doesn't work. More than ever here the user path has to be short -- I suspect I get frustrated more quickly because I'm used to working around deficiencies in websites, but not in my friends. For instance, the IM bot SmarterChild does a lot of the things I'm interested in, but I always forget about it. Why? Probably because it goes to the portal approach. It's because it does so many things the interface is harder -- more choices, even if I go there just to check out the movies.

So I've come up with principles and ideas.

Principle | Use any method whatsoever to shorten the user path. This means making the decision of choosing to IM the bot a navigation decision. Instead of one bot, have several that perform different tasks.

Principal | Behave in a conversational manner. Because the user will expect intelligence, don't put the bot in a situation where difficult-to-parse answers are possible.

Concept | How about looking ahead a step in the navigation, and making sure as many options as possible are identified by different names? That way the user can skip ahead a step and as long as it's unambiguous the bot can jump ahead too.

I think the coolest thing these bots to is refer do each other. "No I'm sorry I can't tell you that, but I have a friend who can help". And then, from another bot: "Hi there. You can type X to find out about Y". And then in the future the user can go straight to the second bot, if that's what they want.

Conversational interfaces are hard. But then I realised that all the bot should be doing is following Grice's maxims for conversation. Everything else should follow from there.

The Jack Principles. The game You Don't Know Jack simulated a gameshow plus host. The principles used to make the host converse naturally were strict and surprisingly effective.

[Warning: Viewers who do not want to see an extremely geeky post, look away now.]

Colour me impressed with POE. POE is an event-based object environment for Perl. It provides a framework to handle messaging between different processes, and allocation of processor time -- so, for example, it's very good at doing server based things. And the interfaces are designed really well. I managed to hook it into a different event handler, and effectively deal with incoming requests quite happily with my first script, in one attempt. That's after only one evening browsing through the documentation.

Resource to peruse come down to two. A Beginner's Introduction to POE covers the introduction and some sample scripts (it's essentially the POE manpage). For more in depth information, check out the POE Wiki for documents (POE::Kernel and POE::Session is probably all you'll need), and Cookbook scripts. For multiuser, interactive Perl applications, I reckon this is where it's at.

[Viewers, you may now open your eyes.]

Quick reminder: We're always on the lookout for more writers for Upsideclone. The submissions guidelines are, to be frank, a bit too brief -- but that's not a bug, it's a feature.

Oh wow. The Internet Archive Movie Collection. There's almost a thousand to choose from -- but Stewart has some good suggestions.

RavenBlack's found The Perfect Job in today's Upsideclone. (Which is one of those pieces that's made me think far too much, and I'll have to braindump here some time next week.)

Ascii, javascript Mandelbrot [via haddock] generator. Way cool.

Exceptional high-resolution photographs of the Horsehead Nebula.