how and why @nerdgarbagebot works

As usual, I’ve made a few new Twitter bots since my last update, but I want to talk a little bit about how a particular one– @nerdgarbagebot— works.

a screenshot of @nerdgarbagepitches

I’ve been talking a lot on Twitter about how simple bots can be to set up. I use Cheap Bots Done Quick and the Tracery visual editor for mine, so I hardly have to look at code when I’m writing them– my screen actually looks like this:

a screenshot of the tracery visual editor

Both of these are free tools that you can use to make your own bot; all you need to do is register a new Twitter account to get started.

The results of nerdgarbagebot are pretty varied and rich, but the code is really simple– it only actually has 13 variables in it:

  • Work titles (“Jurassic Park”, “The Sims”)
  • Creators (“George Lucas”, “Nintendo”)
  • Elements (“mermaids”, “a plot”, “interpersonal drama”)
  • Comparative adjectives (“grittier”, “with swears”, etc)
  • Formats/mediums (“tv show”, “installation art piece”, “webcomic”)
  • Genres (“gothic”, “cyberpunk”)
  • Settings (“on the high seas”, “in a modern high school”)
  • Story types (“coming of age story”, “mystery”)
  • Characters/People (“Yoda”, “Joseph Gordon-Levitt”)
  • Character roles (“mentor”, “president”)
  • Audiences (“tweens”, “atheists”)
  • “Imagine this” intro phrases (“Imagine”, “I need you to picture”)
  • “Fund this” intro phrases (“Crowdfund this”, “Please support my”)

For each tweet, Tracery at random chooses from a list of formulas, which are written like this:

  • It’s a #genre# version of #titles#, with #element#.
  • #imagine# a #format# version of #titles#.
  • #imagine# a #genre# #format# version of #titles#, but with #character# as the #role#.

I’m increasingly realizing that the reason bots like this work really well– compared to ones like @BuzzFiendNews, which I am still struggling with improving– is that even though the format is simple, every phrase is something that the bot’s audience brings their own baggage and associations to, so the tweets tend to be more unique in and of themselves.

BuzzFiend is a lot harder to add variation to, because even though each tweet has different words in it, every tweet using a specific formula tends to be similar to others. A joke about eating humans tends to be pretty similar to other jokes about eating humans, whether those humans happen to be sidekicks or princes.

Thinkpiecebot, nerdgarbagebot and some of my other bots, especially @likeuberbut, manage to capitalize on people’s existing ideas. Thinkpiecebot’s funniness in particular comes from the unexpected combinations that it produces being put into the recognizable headline format, but doing that ended up being complex– I have over 50 formulas in it and nearly as many variables, and I’m constantly updating it so that it keeps up with the zeitgeist.

Nerdgarbagebot is brand new, and I’ll probably have to continue updating it to keep things current, but I’m having a lot of fun with it– I hope you like the results too!

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.

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.

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.

the Sadie Method of Homeland Security

When I was growing up, the dog we had, a lovely Lab/Chow mix called Sadie, would bark at the mail carrier every day. This clearly was very effective: every day, she scared the mail carrier away. We referred to this as the Sadie Method of Homeland Security.

There are two possible catastrophes she was preventing:

  1. The mail carrier could break into our house and steal our things and possibly murder all of us.
  2. The mail carrier would just stay on the porch, and the next day another one would come by, and soon there would be so many postal workers on the porch that we would be unable to access the house.

if your styleguide is disrespectful, update your style guide

This means you, New York Times.

Here’s the deal: if the point of your article is to talk about different pronouns (even if that isn’t the only point of the article), the best way to do that is by using the damn things. Playing the pronoun game with your subject makes you sound incredibly stilted, and in combination with phrases like “born female”, as opposed to a phrase like “assigned female at birth”, makes you look both ignorant and bigoted.

The refusal to use any pronouns at all looks like one of the many failures that journalism frequently has by attempting to be neutral. It’s related to the “false balance” problem that comes up when reporting issues where one side is clearly lying, or the issues that come up when covering issues like the anti-vaccination movement or climate change where the science is clear, but there are people who choose to disbelieve the science.

These articles are more feature-y, but it’s still that attempt to be neutral that’s creating a trap. Here’s the thing: you can’t be neutral on social justice issues. When one side is “this is who I am, and I would like my self and my identity to be respected” and the other side is just a mess of linguistic prescriptivists, who are wrong, people who don’t want to use respectful language because they do not want change, and bigots, attempting neutrality is just reinforcing a marginalizing status quo.

There is nothing sacred about your style guide. English language pronouns were not passed down to us from God. Fix it.

This post is elaborated from a series of Tweets.

Walkies Simulator

In case any of you missed it, I wrote a Twine game called Walkies Simulator for Ruin Jam, a game jam dedicated to ruining video games. (Here’s the link for if you want to play it in your entire browser window instead of in the itch.io interface.)

Here’s what my friends the critics are saying about Walkies Simulator:

  • “gud gam”
  • “it was cool but i couldn’t make any progress because I kept saying “dog” in the first screen”
  • “This game does not adequately simulate taking a cat for a walk. please add that as DLC.”