HNY2012

Happy New Year to you! Hope you’re suitably recovered from whatever midnight craziness you’ve likely experienced.

A quick recap on my year would look like this: worked hard, learned lots, had fun, met a girl, didn’t blog enough.

For some reason I can’t shake the sense that 2012 will be a sensational year, so I’m fighting through a hangover to make the optimistic promise that I’m going to blog much more, every day in fact.

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It could be a photo, it could be a cool video, a gallery, a full post or just a single idea. Either way, it’ll be the stuff that I think will make for an interesting visit.

So keep clicking, and look out for some great stuff on the horizon.

Right, time for a bloody mary, I reckon!

Strategy Bot: An Experiment in Social A.I.

In this post I’ll introduce you to my new pet project: an experiment in Twitter automation. The Strategy Bot (pictured) is ‘programmed’ to select & retweet key digital media resources, case studies or news items that provoke a higher understanding of the formation of good digital strategy.

Strategy Bot
He thinks, therefore he tweets.

Some context… I will typically have the odd side project on the go at any one time. Recent examples have included:

  • Recategorising all my RSS feeds for mobile, web & iPad
  • Linking up Instapaper / ReaditLater / Pinboard & Twitter
  • Testing Facebook ads to see if I can drive Twitter followers
  • Playing with XFBML, the new Follow button and Google +1
  • Sketching people’s Twitter avatars with my new stylus

All of the above would be worthy of a blog post, and that might happen for a couple of them, but there’s been one project I’ve been thinking about for a while that I reckon just needs to be shared, because, dear reader, I need your help!

I’ve been interested in getting the most out of Twitter for a while, and I’ve been certain there is some utility among the network’s parasites: the lowly twitterbot. I’d love to perform an autopsy on one to see how they really work, as there are some excellent cases of these automata being actually quite useful or cool. For example:

  • Spotibot – @replies suggested music based on your requests
  • Wikipediabot – random links to Wikipedia pages every hour
  • Easy Joke – RT’s with “that’s what she said” on certain phrases

There are loads more listed on the Twitter Fan Wiki, and of course there are millions of spambots that behave in similar ways. But I wanted to make something that would be primarily useful to me, and that others might enjoy too.

The idea arose from the need to detect, share and archive truly excellent links, without cluttering my personal Twitter feed. Did you know you can automatically add Twitter links to Pinboard for archiving? It’s a bloody useful way to passively log the stuff that’s held your attention. And did you know you can create a self-hosted archive of all your tweets? I use Tweetnest to this end, where I’ve been logging my personal tweets here. Try searching for something!

Mr. Strategy Bot is just another way to add useful stuff to my own personal content library. But throughout the course of his life, I’d like him to be useful to everyone. Or at least, everyone that works in digital media (you gotta have a niche). So how should I automate him to this end?

In my attempts to pin down what makes these robots work, I found a number of approaches, typically making use of Twitterfeed (a pretty blunt RSS syndication tool) or the Twitter API (way over my head). I needed something that would let me ‘scrape’ the top links from a list of Twitter users, and automatically RT the top five links.

I have totally failed in my attempts, even after a whole evening spent in the depths of Yahoo! Pipes. For now, I’ve had to settle on the manual way. Yep, I’m manually RT’ing the links until I find a better solution, five a day, with a bit of prose each time to help round out his character.

I will continue to research means of automating his behaviour, as I think the idea of one’s own personal virtual pet social robot is a really powerful idea. Wouldn’t you agree?

[box]Please leave a comment if you can help create virtual life! Let’s give this guy his own A.I. existence out in the digital ether.[/box]

In the meantime, you should follow him on Twitter here.
He’s programmed to follow back!

30 Day Song Challenge – Week Six

Day 26: a song that you can play on an instrument

Bonobo – Black Sands (album)

I can’t play any instruments, but this is the album I like to play about with on Djay, mixing software for iPad

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Day 27: a song that you wish you could play

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

Voted best guitar solo ever, so get ready for a face-melter! Thanks to Andrew for the hookup.

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Day 28: a song that makes you feel guilty

Chemical Brothers ft. Richard Ashcroft – The Test

Hmm… no comment.

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Day 29: a song from your childhood

Leftfield – Melt

I remember this blaring out over the kitchen speakers as I began to develop a taste for music.

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Day 30: your favorite song at this time last year

Way Out West – Only Love

These guys were the soundtrack to my summer last year – nearly that time again!

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So there we have it, people – thirty songs that mean something to me in (at least in some small way). I hope this has been at all enlightening, it’s certainly been fun to put together. Don’t forget, you can always submit new music to me by adding to my collaborative Spotify playlist.

Happy listening, Tom x

Tintin & The Uncanny Valley

I wonder if Spielberg, Jackson, Wright, Moffat, Cornish et al have considered the mystery of the ‘Uncanny Valley’ in their latest CGI film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn?

I’m talking about the principle that when things appear, or intend to appear as visibly human as possible they often can’t jump the gap in one’s perceptions, thereby freaking the living crikey out of an observer.

The Uncanny Valley

Take some time to digest the diagram above, and then hit up the video below to see what I mean. My suspicion is that, yeah, they’ve just about played it safe, but the characters in the film will feel less familiar than they did in the comics, or even the cartoon series.

For more on the Uncanny Valley, check out my post on Branded Robotics, where a leading scientist gives me his thoughts on what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, the Tintin creators have done their research too.

30 Day Song Challenge – Week Two

Day 6: a song that reminds you of somewhere

Faithless – Sweep / Insomnia

Mind-blowing first ever gig with all sorts of crazy lights, at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge. You’ll be missed, Faithless!

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Day 7: a song that reminds you of a certain event

Sister Sledge – We Are Family

Every single New Years Eve ever spent with family, and who can blame us?

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Day 8: a song that you know all the words to

Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy

Haha – yeah, I went through an extended Jamiroquai phase. It was a difficult time for my family.

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Day 9: a song that you can dance to

Pop Levi – Dita Dimoné

I’m not a very good dancer, but I could clap my hands convincingly to this, I reckon.

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Day 10: a song that makes you fall asleep

Pat Metheny – The Truth Will Always Be

Dad used to play this on long and sleepy car journeys, so I associate it with dreaming. Works every time.