Twitter Bots

Mon, 10 Mar 2014 23:55:55 +0900

I've already posted about this too much on Twitter, but over the last couple of weeks I've turned out a couple of bots: @ArkhamSingles, @LesserKnownCase, and @CyberSkyMall. The technique is basically the same as the (now mostly broken) Poe-based character generator I wrote a few years ago.

The way it works is simple: first, using a part-of-speech tagger, pull all the nouns and adjectives out of a source document. Then, using WordNet, sort the nouns into broad categories, in this case events, locations, items, and words that describe people. Create a fill-in-the-blank sentence with some adjectives in front of nouns of the right category and you've got MadLibs.

The fun thing about the technique is how authors are as distinctive as you'd expect; on top of that, since the method just uses lists of words, it's easy to mix things together so you can get, say, half Indiana Jones and half Lovecraft.

I put an old version of the code on GitHub a while back; I'm cleaning it up to be a little easier to use. Python's NLTK helped make the tricky parts easy (though the POS tagging and sentence segmentation is really slow), but unfortunately there's nothing quite as mature in Javascript. While natural has the WordNet part taken care of, pos-js uses a single pre-trained tagger, so I need to test it to check the quality of the segmenter and tagger (both already problems in NLTK). Especially given that pos-js is semi-unmaintained it might make sense to just implement something from scratch. Of course, even if all those problems are worked out WordNet and a pre-trained tagger bring a lot of data to load into the browser for a one-off job.

A much easier proposition is putting the pre-compiled list files online so they can be used to make generators; Abulafia makes this easy, and I've gone ahead and added generators for Lovecraft, Leiber, and Dunsany. If there's any other author I should toss up, do tell me.

Besides that the next thing to do is make a Japanese version - since Mecab and Japanese Wordnet are both relatively easy to use that'll actually be easier than a web port. Ψ

Competetive Bingo

Thu, 23 Jan 2014 07:56:11 +0900

Bingo works better as a metaphor for death than as a fun party game - you know your number's going to be called eventually, but you don't know when and there's nothing you can do about it. Though there is at least one online guide to bingo strategy, it's not strategy in the conventional sense (since tips are things like "use auto-daub" and "buy more cards"). While this has its advantages - primarily in lowering the bar to playing about as far as it will go - here are some ideas for a way to add actual strategy to Bingo. As a downside, note that most of these make the game less suitable for vast numbers of players. (If you need a thinking game for that situation, try Streams.)

The basic idea: only the first square is picked randomly, in the usual manner; after that, one player is chosen randomly from those who did not mark a square, and they choose the next square to mark. Control then passes to one player randomly chosen from those who didn't mark a square and so on until the game ends.

This means that any move that gives you an advantage (by marking one of your squares) also reduces your control over subsequent outcomes (by passing play to someone else). Since it's typical to play with multiple cards, count each "card" as a player - while this makes it easier to monopolize the game, you are necessarily giving your enemies a square for every one you give yourself, which means that as long as no one player holds a majority of the cards everyone should have a fighting chance. (Really, though, it might be better to limit everyone to the same number of cards rather than allow power imbalances.)

One potentially unclear situation is what to do when everyone (or nobody) marks a square. Two obvious options are 1) pick a random square in the usual manner, or 2) pass control to a random player. The first option adds a strong element of chance to the game as non-intentional moves can change strategies, while the second gambles on getting control again directly and skipping the normal limit on passing control.

The above rules are all that's needed to make the game strategic, but here are some other complications that might make it more interesting:

I'm not sure how well any of this would work, but I'd like to give it a try sometime. If you give it a try, be sure to let me know. Ψ


Tue, 21 Jan 2014 22:36:19 +0900

Chicchi is a Japanese finger game frequently played by schoolchildren. It actually has a lot of names - the Japanese Wikipedia entry lists seventeen common ones - but the most common one I've run into is issei-no-sei. Besides being good for kids, it's a game that's simple and interesting enough to play with drunk friends. The rules as I learned them go like this:

In the version I played you cannot put your thumb down once it's raised. Apparently this is a less-common variant, but I strongly recommend it since if you let people put thumbs up and down the game can go on forever. The downside to having thumbs "stick" is that it can make the endgame a simple matter of turn order, but that seems a fair tradeoff.

Because of all the names it can be hard to search for online; in particular, issei-no-sei was used as the title of a Natsume Yuujinchou OP, obliterating any other search results. I had more luck with another name, ๆŒ‡ใ‚นใƒž (yubi-suma):

Two interesting things about the video:

In the States there's a drinking game called Fingers that's similar, but with alcohol and simpler rules.

Recommended for your next pub stop. Ψ

School of Seven Bells

Mon, 20 Jan 2014 23:55:54 +0900

Benjamin Curtis, the guitarist for School of Seven Bells, passed away December 29 from lymphoma.

I'm not entirely sure how I first came across School of Seven Bells, but I have two distinct early memories of their music. One is listening to Alpinisms while burning incense in the first private room I ever had, a sublet maybe ten-by-ten feet with a matress on the floor, that I stayed in the summer after sophomore year. The other is hearing the opening of Iamundernodisguise and feeling a chill and the certain knowledge I was in for something different.

Two years later, in 2010, they put out their second album, Disconnect from Desire, and their sound (like my life) had changed quite dramatically while still being unmistakably itself. I went to a small show at The Middle East on September 11. After the show the members manned the merch table themselves and I bought a copy of both records which they generously signed; Benjamin complimented my (ridiculous red polyester) shirt. It was a good show.

Another two years on, in 2012, SVIIB has a new record out, Ghostory. It has a sound that's both different and characteristic (again), and I'm living in Japan. In a bit of luck their tour for the new album has a stop in Tokyo (they're still the only act I've seen in both Japan and the States). The opening act was long and strange - I remember nothing about the music, only that the video was a cross-country drive with almost no cuts that went on for the better part of an hour. The show was good, but larger than the one in Boston; the band disappeared after the encore and the venue emptied out almost as quickly.

Updates after Benjamin was hospitalized indicated he was still working on songs, but there's (understandably) been no official updates since his death. The fan twitter and tumblr have been posting photos, obituaries, and other rememberances.

I don't have anything clever to say or anything to sum this up. Sometimes things just happen and they're bad. To everyone who knew him, I wish them peace; and to Benjamin, well, Thanks. Ψ

Things That Happened in 2013

Sun, 19 Jan 2014 02:06:36 +0900

I wrote a big long thing and it was dull, so here's a big long list instead:

2013 was pretty good. Here's to hoping 2014 will be even better. Ψ

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