Things 125: Fun Club, Robot Books, Mirror Spider, Frog Fractions

Tim Link
As noted last time (which was, admittedly, a while ago), Octopus Fruitbat put on Competitive Sandwich Making at the Hide & Seek Weekender games event, with help from Phil and Deb. I wrote about it here, and it looked a bit like this:

Thing I Bought And Would Recommend: Fun Club
The webcomic “Cat and Girl” was originally recommended by me in Things 1, which I wrote so long ago the obscure Japanese game show video I linked to in the same edition has already spawned a UK version that in itself is now old news.

Cat and Girl is written by Dorothy Gambrell, who I’ve also mentioned in earlier Things as the author of Very Small Array, a sort of hybrid blog of data visualisation and cultural-critique.

What I’m trying to say is that Dorothy Gambrell is awesome, so when she makes a thing called Fun Club in which you buy a year-long subscription to receive monthly random things she makes, you should probably check it out. 2012 was the first year it ran, and included a diary for the year with complete-it-yourself personal data visualisations, a set of useful stickers that say ‘Bad Decision’ in large block capitals, and some postcards featuring combination bread/sausage creations she baked in the style of the electrical standards of various countries:

So if you like that sort of thing, you should probably sign up for the 2013 edition.

Video: The Spider
Here we see the fascinating results of confronting a spider with the Mirror Test. If you’re scared of spiders, you may find it worth gritting your teeth through to around 46s when the spider completely freaks itself out [note, the audio is not essential, but is quite apt]:

Link: Books by Robots?
I’m assuming that it’s some combination of things like Amazon Mechanical Turk and the recent developments in economical on-demand book printing that mean you can now buy this amazingly specific book on Amazon:

Imagine you were an aspiring bagel maker. How could you possibly resist such a perfectly titled book?

Well, you might be suspicious. If there’s a book like this for bagel-makers, how many other careers have they covered? Do a bit of searching, and you find further unlikely  variations on the theme, including books on how to land ‘Top-Paying’ jobs as a Binding Worker, Conservation Scientist, or Roughneck.

At this point, you might assume they are all essentially the same book with generally applicable advice on careers, interviews and the like, just with different covers.

But no!

Each book has a different author (so must be different), and thanks to the ‘look inside’ feature, we can see that the bagel book includes information specific to the baking industry:

We can’t be certain how much of this content was harvested automatically, but based on current trends I expect to see robots of the future writing arbitrarily many of books in this vein, and whole ecosystems of robot arbitrage emerging in the second-hand market for those books. Don’t let anyone tell you the future isn’t bright.

Game: Frog Fractions (via Dom)
This is a really fascinating flash game which you should definitely play if you like… games. I don’t want to say too much about it, but be advised that there is more to it than first meets the eye. Much more.

Set aside some time to improve your life by playing Frog Fractions.

-Transmission Ends


Things 123: Game weekends, Puffins, Lilith, Abstract Animated GIFs

Events Sandpit this very weekend (25th August), Weekender later (Fri 14th-Sun 16th September)
Hide & Seek are running one of their curated ‘Sandpit’ game events, taking place on Saturday and Sunday afternoons this weekend (25th and 26th August), unusually but awesomely located at the Natural History Museum. NHM page is here; a longer article about what’s happening can be found on Wired.

Then, from Friday 14th through to Sunday 16th September is Hide & Seek’s Weekender (facebook event here), mostly in the Clore Ballroom in that Royal Festival Hall place, this being as usual a whole festival of games, largely drawn from Sandpit events from the last two years.

This happens to include Competitive Sandwich Making on the Friday, which Clare and I will be running (here’s what happened last year when we ran first), this time featuring a secret rank beyond Earl of Sandwich, if people are competitive enough to discover it. There’s also lots of other amazing things happening, including two of my favourites: Die Gute Fabrik’s Johann Sebastien Joust and Viviane Schwarz’s Treasure Maze.

Tim Link – You’re In A Room
I finally wrote up the game Clare and I made for a more recent Sandpit: You’re In A Room, a sort of Whose Line Is It Anyway version of Knightmare; you can find out what on earth that means here.

Video – Puffin Webcam
In the exciting new world of putting webcam streams onto my TV for background entertainment, now that the Miranda’s Kittens feed is no longer live, I’ve had to find something else. It turns out there’s a whole range of great feeds available on, including a puffin cam.

Bonus videovia Clare while I was writing this
Dog swims with dolphins!

I recently wondered what really is the deal with the biblical (or is she?) character of Lilith, so I turned to Wikipedia on the subject, and found it fascinating – here’s just the section headings to give you an idea of the span of cultural records she appears in:

Mesopotamian mythology
Siegmund Hurwitz
In the Bible
Jewish tradition
Greco-Roman mythology
Arabic mythology
In Western literature
In modern occultism

The highlight for me was discovering that Lilith only appears once in the bible, and even then arguably so, in Isiah 34:

(13) [Edom] shall become an abode for jackals and a haunt for ostriches. (14) Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; There shall the lilith repose, and find for herself a place to rest. (15) There the hoot owl shall nest and lay eggs, hatch them out and gather them in her shadow; There shall the kites assemble, none shall be missing its mate. (16) Look in the book of the LORD and read: No one of these shall be lacking, For the mouth of the LORD has ordered it, and His spirit shall gather them there.

This makes “lilith” (in the bible at least) a hapax legomenon, a word only occurring once in the source and therefore challenging to decipher – given only this context, is she a demon, or just some kind of regular animal with sinister associations?

I also recommend reading this translation of Isiah 34 in full (it’s only ~400 words), as it’s use of hyperbole puts our modern tabloid newspapers and comment trolls to shame.

Pictures – Abstract Animated GIFs
I’ve seen some interesting abstract animated GIFs floating around the internet, and tracked them down to two artists: David Ope, and Mr Div. Here’s one example of each, and do click through to view the rest of their work:

David Ope:

Mr Div:

Puzzle – The shrinking empires
Here’s an unfortunately small version of a fascinating visualisation of world history (which we bought as a poster for the office from Stanfords, although they don’t seem to have them any more), with time running from left to right, and rough location on earth from top to bottom, with identifiable countries/kingdoms/empires marked out:

You can just about see the Roman Empire as a big blob of orange in the middle, the Ottoman Empire in blue towards the right, and the British Empire stretching wide in patches of red before retreating back home by the time we reach the right-hand side representing the present day.

Even at this scale, one pattern is apparent: they just don’t make empires as big as they used to. The closer we get to the present day, the smaller the tribal groups become. Why is this?