What’s with @thinkpiecebot lately?

It’s been over a year since I started @thinkpiecebot, and it’s grown a LOT in the interim. The code is a huge, often unwieldy mess, there are over 100 formulas in it, and in the past couple of months the scope and the tone has gone through some… changes.

It was a rough election year, and since we elected a white supremacist sexual predator as the next president of the United States, it’s only gotten worse.  We’re watching a fascist gather military leaders around him and fuck up foreign policy for his own profit. Abortion bans gaining traction, hate crimes going up, reasons to crack down on the poor, on POC, on trans people, all going into overdrive.

It wasn’t good to begin with. At any given time, I know about a dozen people crowdfunding their medical expenses, and more people their other survival needs.

Meanwhile, the discourse has been absolute garbage. We keep seeing fawning profiles and photo shoots with the ringleaders of hate groups, normalizing them. A bunch of dudes on the left have managed to normalize a political environment that mostly consists of them taking screenshots of marginalized leftists on Twitter and making jokes about and/or harassing them; to add insult to injury, the jokes aren’t even very good. This happened. Political propaganda and coordinated disinformation campaigns are being called “fake news” and confused with The Onion, which also isn’t very good anymore. Dudes keep calling for “civility” and “respect” for the people who supported our fascist president-elect. The Daily Show gave a white supremacist a platform that got her a NY Times puff piece, then sent her cupcakes. That’s just a sample.

Personally, I’ve been dealing with a group of stalkers that a prominent “feminist activist” sent on me. I have various groups of people, some of them trans, showing up to tell me my gender isn’t real at least once a week now. Throw in some medical problems and mostly I’m mostly a ball of exhaustion and low-simmering rage that happens to take human form and make Twitter bots, and if I look at my friends, I see that I’ve still got it pretty good.

When I started thinkpiecebot, I was mostly making fun of terrible op-eds by baby boomers where they pretend they didn’t ruin the economy and fuck over our entire generation. Lately, though, I’ve been pretty much channeling all of my frustration and rage at the current state of political discourse, the utter failures of journalism to cover what this is– a full-scale fascist revival, and the mostly cishet white dudes with platforms who refuse to step aside and let people who aren’t so privilege-blinded that they don’t know what they’re talking about do their jobs. The total spinelessness of both the liberal media and the Democratic party has been predictable but disappointing, and I’m seeing a lot of the people I care about be thrown under the bus in an attempt to be conciliatory with neo-nazis. And, well, this bot is the platform I have, and the headlines are still terrible enough that I can riff on that.

Thinkpiecebot is built in Tracery, and it works by having a series of formulas with lists of things that get plugged in. For example, “[EXCLAMATION], A [MODIFIER] [BIGOT TYPE]” can make tweets like “Holy Shit, A Suit-Wearing Racist”. Most of my formulas have pretty long lists of words that can get plugged into them, but I’m at a point where I have over 100 formulas, so I can put in a few that have a more limited selection of possible phrases and not worry about them naturally coming up more than every few days. I’ve been putting in a lot more formulas that are extremely pointed criticism at specific types of stories.  

This isn’t an accident, and it isn’t a bot that learns automatically picking something up. This is me, attempting to use satire to point out something that the media is utterly failing at, assisted by a random number generator. Sometimes it works really well. For example:

What’s great about the evolution of thinkpiecebot is that a lot of the pieces I was originally mocking were about various forms of completely trivial bullshit, from cupcake shops to comic books, and I’ve been expanding it for over a year. That’s a year of reading terrible thinkpieces, taking suggestions from people on Twitter, and sending drunk emails to myself while my friends are in the bathroom to remind myself to put the stuff we were talking about in when I get home. It means there’s over 1,500 unique phrases in the bot that get plugged into the 100+ formulas.

I can’t hold all the stuff that goes in there in my head at a time; I’d never have thought to put “Cupcake Shops” in the above tweet. That’s the power of the random number generator. When you combine it with phrases like “The United States Electing A Sexual Predator As President” and “Headlines That Are Too Fucking Precious To Use The Word ‘Fascism'” that are obviously written by me in my voice, the bot starts to sound less like a bot and more like me.

The bot’s less funny now. But sticking with making fun of the kind of shitty thinkpiece that was bugging me in the middle of 2015 would have just made it slip into irrelevance, and from the beginning, thinkpiecebot has been a living project that expands and changes. I’m longing for a time when the thinkpieces that made me mad were just boomer nonsense about Pokémon, but I think this bot is gonna keep getting darker for a while ago. Maybe it will be funnier if we can fix the world.

an update on my work

I’ve been busy working on a bunch of projects, but I haven’t posted in a while, so here’s an update on what I’ve been up to!

I made several new bots:

I’ve also been adding a lot to @thinkpiecebot, which is getting HUGE– the code has over a thousand variables in it now– that means there are over a thousand different things that it forms into different phrases, all of which I put in there by hand. (There are a couple that are repeated to tweak the frequency so it doesn’t use “Whippersnapper” more than it uses “Millennial”, but still.) It’s also been getting a lot of attention: The Daily Dot used a bunch of its tweets for writing prompts, I talked to Slate and Recode for short features did a longer interview with PopMatters; it also got a writeup in Bustle.

I’ve also been having more success with Patreon and PayPal tips, which has allowed me to spend a lot more time making this art stuff: thanks to those of you who’ve helped me out with that! It’s nowhere near enough for me to do this as a full-time job in the long run, but it’s enough for me to think that might someday be possible.

what I’ve been up to lately

I’ve been writing here less because I’ve mostly been doing work on Twitter and What Is GamerGate Currently Ruining for the past few months. I started the #RooshIsARapist hashtag, which quickly turned into calling on Amazon to remove his books from their store (more info on Roosh from WIGGCR). I wrote a Twitter essay yesterday on Roosh, GamerGate, Men’s Rights “Activism”, Pick-Up Artists and the relationships between them, male entitlement, and rape culture.

In bot news, I made @wigglebunch, which comes up with great things to call your pet, for Pet Jam.

I also put together a page on here for all of my projects, so you can view them in one place, and I’m putting some of my essays that I write here on Medium as well.

New bots, bot making and depression

I made yet another Twitter bot, @luxe_products; it’s my most complex one yet, and I’m really proud of it. I got a lot of help from my best friend, who is wonderful in many ways and consistently willing to get drinks and brainstorm lists of nouns while making fun of the Williams-Sonoma and SkyMall catalogs; she was also incredibly helpful in the creation of @lady_products. I also made @wrongben, which is a really bad joke, but it makes me laugh.

I suffer from chronic depression and have a sleep apnea related condition that isn’t really under control yet, and I’m finding that these bots are the perfect kind of project for me. It’s easy to pick up and put down work on them; there are lots of supportive people who will help if you can’t figure something out, and there are pretty accessible tools for making them.

The big thing with them that makes them work for me, though, is that they’re an investment against future mood slumps and periods of exhaustion, which for me can last from days to, occasionally, weeks. Because they’re on Twitter, they keep pumping out little pieces of art for me even when I’m not capable of doing that. Since I made them largely to amuse myself, they are making jokes that make me smile, and I feel less like an unproductive failure of a human being, because these little bot-babies I made are still out there doing work for me. It’s a good feeling.

Jupiter Challenge

I forgot to do a Monday Recs because of reasons, but I want to draw attention to the Jupiter Challenge. It’s inspired by Jupiter Ascending, AKA what would happen if that story you wrote at 12 got a major movie’s budget, and encourages its participants to create a story or art or something else based on an idea they had before they were 16. I’m planning on participating and it looks like it’ll be an all-around good time.

DBTwanker

So a friend of mine in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was having the frustrating experience of feeling like her therapist was just giving her random DBT skills to try and thought it would be funny to have a bot do that, so I hacked together something from the orcwanker code. It’s kind of like a conceptual cross between the Oblique Strategies and the 1966 therapy-bot ELIZA.

I present the DBT Strategies Generator, or “DBTwanker”.

More information about the DBT skills can be found in the official manual; there’s also some information in WikiBooks.

Seeking feedback

I’m posting this looking for feedback on what my readers want to see on this blog. (All, um, 10 or so of you.) I’m hoping to eventually be able to ask these questions in survey form from people who contribute to my Patreon, but since right now I seem to just be getting tips in PayPal form (thanks for that), I figure I’ll open it up to all of you.

I have a handful of essay ideas, most of which will probably end up getting made eventually, and a few longer term projects that I’m thinking of doing if people are interested in reading them.

The essays include the following topics:

  • Dolores Umbridge is the best villain of all time and why, with possible sidebars on Rita Skeeter and Snape
  • Why Leliana has my favorite arc of any video game character ever
  • How (and maybe why) Google results are getting less useful
  • Worldbuilding in Morrowind and why it’s still the best I’ve seen even though it’s over a decade since it’s come out
  • Joss Whedon: bad at feminism in some really creepy and specific ways
  • Tony Stark vs. Steve Rogers and competing visions of America
  • How Daredevil balances “grittiness” with actual heart
  • My Bisquick biscuit recipe, which features excessive swearing, is written in all caps, and has best results when made by someone who is very drunk
  • I just realized I’ve been reading webcomics for over a decade, holy shit, there’s probably an essay in that
  • Dragon Age 2 as telling a sort of zeitgeist story

The projects include the following:

  • Figuring out cosplay with the Social Justice Warrior costume, which I’m making anyway but haven’t been documenting
  • A series of essays on a game or game series that I’ve played before and have a lot of things to say about, with possible options for game(s) including the Mass Effect series, Tales of the Abyss, Skies of Arcadia and the Dragon Age series
  • Something between a diary and a series of essays on games that I’ve never played but that I would likely have interesting things to say about, possibly including Planescape: Torment

I’m open to other ideas– I know a lot of you found me via my MetaFilter comments or Twitter feed, so if there are topics I’ve talked about there that you want to know more about or would find interesting in a cleaned-up essay form, I’d like to hear about it.

Thanks in advance for your feedback.

an open letter to the dude who honked at me and my friend with his kid in the car

Dear Asshole,

What the fuck is wrong with you, you human piece of garbage? Your kid looked about ten years old and you’re driving around honking at women? We were walking to the Thai restaurant and we literally were on central for less than a quarter of a block and we got honked at twice, once from you and once from some other asshole, and once when we were leaving the restaurant. That’s, like, a 45 second window for you shitheads to engage in street harassment, and you just HAD TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT, didn’t you?

You couldn’t wait to aggressively assert your right to comment on and control women’s bodies until you aren’t teaching this shit to your goddamn child, either. You had to do your best to assert that the next generation turns out to be as infected by rape culture and disrespect of half the human fucking species as you are.

I hope your kid covers your entire house in Legos and rats destroy all of your shoes and you have to walk around on them in the dark. I hope next time someone like you does this to me I remember to carry a rock so I can throw it at you and fuck up your car’s precious paintjob.

Sincerely,

Nora Reed