Poetry of Twitter Spam, Redux

A while ago, I wrote about the poetry of Twitter spam, where a particular spam-bot was generating an odd series of tweets that, strung together, looked like bad teenage poetry.

That was two years ago. Technology has advanced. Neven Mrgan points to @horse_ebooks as an example of how Twitter spam-bots are now producing profoundly entertaining non-sequiturs that could be some of the most entertaining stuff found on the internet. In fact, some of these are so perfectly crafted I'm having trouble believing that it isn't actually a person pretending to be a spam-bot.

Some of my favourites from @Horse_ebooks:

"OBSESSED WITH GAMBLING"

"1 2 You can use the power of your mind to find a shiny, cool car hidden in a paper bag. Your incredible mental powers"

"The difficulty of seeing with very large instruments"

"It s a FACT - Most Doctors, Nutrition Experts , Celebrity Chefs and Best Selling Authors are DEAD"

I'm wondering what linking to a known spam account will do for what little Google-juice I have - whether Google is going to push me further down its search listings. But honestly, I've enjoyed these tweets so much, I don't care. It's totally worth it.

100

Last night, I saw my hundredth movie of 2011 - Paddy Considine's amazing directorial debut, Tyrannosaur. I know this was my hundredth because I've been keeping a spreadsheet of all the movies I've watched this year, like some kind of weird, compulsive, anal-retentive nerd.

I don't know why I started keeping a spreadsheet in the first place - it doesn't inform my choice of movies or anything. I'll still sit down and watch a piece of shit movie knowing it'll end up in the spreadsheet, like a permanent black mark against my better judgement.

Anyway, some statistics:

  • 100 movies in what? 41 weeks? Averaging out to 2.44 movies per week.

  • I give six movies the highest score of '5' - The Arbor, Serpico, LA Confidential, My Neighbour Totoro, Bronson, Tyrannosaur.

  • I gave seven movies the lowest score of '1' - Tron Legacy, Warhammer 40k, The Black Dahlia, The Fast and the Furious, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Battle for Planet of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian (remake).

  • The average score across all one hundred movies is 2.96. Which feels a lot higher than it should be, given the amount of absolute shite I've been watching.

Anyway, if you'd like to see the spreadsheet, knock yourself out. But don't you judge me. DON'T YOU JUDGE ME.

No Content Found

BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.

A lot of people are saying that The Onion's series of tweets about a hostage situation in the Capitol building 'backfired' or that they were 'in bad taste'. Capitol police are launching an investigation.

Personally, I thought the whole thing was amazing. I love that they had the balls to say "We're the fucking Onion, let's fuck with peoples' heads." The whole thing reminded me of the stuff Chris Morris used to do on The Day Today. Like the time John Major punched the Queen. And sure, it took my mother two full episodes of The Day Today before she realised it was satire, but then she loved it.

I guess the internet is just slower to spot satire than my sixty-something-year old mother. Want proof? Check out Literally Unbelievable, which documents people posting Onion stories to their Facebook as if they were true.

Then again, you've got sites like Onion-like headlines in real life, which shows that the line between reality and satire is sometimes very hard to make out. Still, there's a real simple test here, internet: if you see "The Onion" credited anywhere on a news story -- either in the URL or the twitter name -- chances are, it's not real.

Dear Nike

Dear Nike,

Is that how these things are supposed to start? "Dear Company"? This is my first time writing to a large, faceless corporation, so I'm not really sure of what the protocol is.

Anyway, the reason I'm writing is that I love Nike+. Like, a lot. Since I got my iPhone late October last year, I've run almost 450km, which is great when you consider what a lazy cunt I am. Truth is, I never could have done it without Nike+.

Seriously, there's something about watching that number go up and up that really works. Even though I run the same route every day and my GPS signal is so shitty that Nike+ often tells me I'm finished when I know there's still a whole kilometre to go, it still works. It's part of its charm. Oh, Nike+, have you got a little lost? That's so you.

The other things that work are the occasional voice congratulations. Lance Armstrong telling I've just run a new personal best for the mile. Paula Radcliffe telling me I've just run the furthest I've ever run. The minute I hear these things, no matter how tired I am, I just want to get right back out there and see if I can beat my time again.

Even Tracy Morgan works pretty well. It took some getting used to, but it's just nice to hear him act like he gives a shit that I just run three days in a row, or more times this week than I did last. "I'm proud of you", he says. I don't believe him, but it's still something nice to hear.

Tonight, I got this: "Hi, I'm Dirk Nowitski… and… I just found out that you just got a run in? Awesome job!"

Did you just put a mic in front of this kid and ask him to freestyle the first things that came into his head? It sounds like totally he's winging this shit. Honestly, his "I just found out that you got a run in" is a question, like he's not sure if he heard the studio engineer right and so he's guessing what he's supposed to be saying.

On the other hand though, if you've given Dirk Nowitski a pager or something that sends him a message every time anyone anywhere goes for a run with their Nike+, then.., holy shit, that's amazing. You can just disregard the entire previous paragraph.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

I love you.

  • John

My Movie Watching, January - June 2011

Since the beginning of the year, I've been keeping a mostly complete, mostly chronologically correct spreadsheet of all the films I've watched along with a score between 1 (awful) and 5 (great). We're almost halfway through the year, so here's how I'm doing so far:

Total films watched: 68

Number of 5s: 4

Number of 4s: 15

Number of 3s: 25

Number of 2s: 19

Number of 1s: 4

Average score: 2.94029850746269

For giggles, here's the full list:

  • Buried - 2

  • Easy A - 2

  • Never Let me Go - 3

  • Black Swan - 2

  • Tron Legacy - 1

  • Mama Mia - 3

  • The King's Speech - 4

  • Red - 4

  • Yankee Doodle Dandy - 4

  • How to Train Your Dragon - 3

  • Death Proof - 3

  • White Lightning - 2

  • Last of the Mohicans - 3

  • National Treasure 2 - 2

  • Where Eagles Dare - 3

  • The Kids are Alright - 3

  • The Freebie - 3

  • Peeping Tom - 3

  • Blue Valentine - 4

  • Warhammer 40k - 1

  • The Losers - 3

  • Hellboy 2 - 3

  • Winter's Bone - 4

  • Happy-go-lucky - 4

  • Maguyver: Treasure of Atlantis - 2

  • Richard Pryor live - 3

  • Idiocracy - 3

  • Shogun Assassin - 4

  • Wendy and Lucy - 4

  • Silent Running - 3

  • Super Troopers - 2

  • The Arbor - 5

  • Il Rito (The Rite, in Italian) - 2

  • V for Vendetta - 3

  • Battle: Los Angeles - 2

  • Sherlock Holmes - 3

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt 1 - 3

  • Dungeon Masters - 2

  • Source Code - 4

  • The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (TV) - 2

  • Red Dawn - 2

  • Tron Legacy - 2

  • MacGruber - 2

  • Dog Day Afternoon - 4

  • The Princess Diaries - 3

  • Serpico - 5

  • Star Trek: First Contact - 3

  • LA Confidential - 5

  • Miller's Crossing - 3

  • Arthur - 2

  • The Tree of Life - 4

  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - 4

  • The Tunnel - 4

  • The Black Dahlia - 1

  • Black Death - 2

  • The Siege - 3

  • True Grit - 4

  • Cruise of the Gods (TV) - 2

  • Minority Report - 3

  • Teen Wolf - 3

  • Valley Girl - 2

  • The Bourne Supremecy - 4

  • My Neighbour Totoro - 5

  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall - 3

  • Cyrus - 3

  • Wet Hot American Summer - 2

  • The Fast and the Furious - 1

Note: The first time I saw Tron: Legacy was in a cinema where the house lights stayed on for the first fifteen minutes and I had to go out and ask someone to shut them off. So it gets a 1. The second time was on a blu-ray in my house. It was only slightly better, so it got a 2.

Books and e-books

In an editorial for the Independent, Johann Hari laments the decline in 'physical' books and the progression towards a more digital age. It's the usual kind of thing we're used to seeing. A "nothing can beat a good book -- nothing, you hear me?" kind of thing. It's the sort of thing we're used to hearing from 70 year old luddites. Except Johann Hari is only 32 years old. He's never known a world without colour TV, without videogames, without all sorts of gadgets. So the whole piece is a little strange from that point of view. From another point of view -- the point of view of being a well-reasoned argument -- it's a complete shambles.

Hari begins with a reference to Gary Steynghart's Super Sad True Love Story, in which everyone is "obsessed with their electronic Apparat – an even more omnivorous i-Phone with a flickering stream of shopping and reality shows and porn". I know it's hard, but look past his hyphenating of 'iPhone' (on his website, he also refers to 'i-Tunes' - nnngggg), and you'll see an implicit association of technology with consumerism and porn. Never mind global connectedness, a wealth of knowledge and a truly democratic press; this is really all the internet has given us: an easier way to buy Kleenex for all the porn we're watching.

At least he gives us an idea of what we're dealing with here.

He talks about moving house and hauling all the books, comparing it to the audiophiles still jealously clinging to their vinyl while most other people have moved onto MP3s. "Does it matter?" he asks. "What was really lost?" I had to re-read the entire article a couple of times before I realised this wasn't a rhetorical question. He actually thinks he's answered it by suggesting that there's a lot more to be lost as books move towards digital formats. Now, I'm no audiophile, but I'll just say this: hogwash.

As a very happy Kindle customer, I can say that my reading habits have changed completely since getting the magical little device. I'm reading more than ever before. I'm consuming books at a rate I never would have believed I was capable of.

But not only that, the Kindle has completely changed my attitude towards books. I used to love buying books. I used to hoard them, fetishise them. Living in a different country, English-language books become things to be treasured. When you even find something simple, like an Agatha Christie, you hold onto it because God knows when you'll find something like it again.

The Kindle has taught me that almost all of the things I read, the physical book itself -- the delivery mechanism -- isn't important, the writing is. And I can read that in whatever format I want, it'll still be the same. Whether this is smoke signals, semaphore, a dead-tree book or e-ink, they're the same words and they have the same meaning. The only difference between all of these methods is that when I'm finished with a physical book, I'm left with something that will go back on my shelf, probably never to be touched again. Imagine after making your dinner, you went and put the empty packet back on the shelf. Same thing.

This isn't true of all books though, and I still fetishise certain books, but mainly the ones whose physicality is intrinsic to their story and experience. For example, I recently bought Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands, which won a prize in Germany as 'most beautiful book of the year'. In fact, fire up its Amazon page and see how many times it's described as 'beautiful'. Seriously, it's a gorgeous book and one that couldn't be replicated in today's technology. Maybe someday down the line it will and then I'll discard my physical copy, just like the 100-something other books I got rid of after getting my Kindle.

Of course, Hari is afraid of the Kindle.

The more they become interactive and linked, the more they multitask and offer a hundred different functions, the less they will be able to preserve the aspects of the book that we actually need. An e-book reader that does a lot will not, in the end, be a book.

I understand my Kindle can do a lot. It's got built-in 3G, so I can browse the internet, check my email, update my Twitter. All from anywhere in the world. Except I don't. I use the 3G to grab the books Amazon sends to it. I use the Kindle for reading books and the occasional long article. That's it.

But by Hari's definition, a book also does a lot of things that are distinctly un-book-like. For example, it can be a colouring book for when I really need to unleash my creative juices. It can be a prop for when I need it to raise the height of my monitor (thanks, Programming Python and Essential Systems Administration!). It can be an emergency Kleenex substitute for when I've wiped myself out from all the porn on my 'i-Phone'.

The point is, it's none of these things for me. It's just something to read. It's a book. Just as the Kindle may be able to do a lot of things, but to me, it's just something to read. It's a book.

Hari ends his article by lauding Freedom, a piece of software that disconnects you from the internet for a set period of time. In other words, he associates his computer with lots of different things -- email, Facebook, Twitter, funny cat videos and, yes, writing -- and the only way he cannot be distracted is if he forcibly removes his access to all these distractions. For him, a book is the same thing: a forcible removal from all the distractions a Kindle could possibly present.

A 'digital diet' is a strange answer, Johann. If you've got self-control enough to detach yourself from your digital devices, why not apply that same self-control to all the bells and whistles that keep you from enjoying digital books.

Come on in, the water's fine.

Feeling Better

When I was 19, I got more drunk than I have ever been in my life. It’s still a high water mark of my drinking career. It was a Christmas, and someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a bottle of really good tequila, a bottle of black sambuca, and -- oh God -- a bottle of poitín. The tequila and the poitín were almost impossible to drink. At least, they were at the beginning. I remember hitting on the great idea of just mixing all three into one glass to maybe, maybe make it the whole thing easier to digest. I can just remember brief flashes of images: swigging tequila out of the bottle and thinking I was just like Jim Morrison (followed by thinking 'I fucking hate Jim Morrisson'); sitting outside in the back garden as my friend threw a glass at me, missing my head by inches and the two of us cracking up at how hilarious this near-accident was. Then, nothing. I woke up in my friend’s locked bathroom with vomit everywhere, under the towels on the radiator and everything. I don’t know if it was my vomit (that I'm not sure is my one glimmer of hope from the entire evening).

Just as sure as night follows day, my worst ever drunkenness was followed by my worst ever hangover. I managed to get home and crawl to the living room where I spent about 8 hours lying on the couch, shaking and sweating and writhing in pain. I felt like I was never going to recover. (Looking back now, I’m sure it actually was touch-and-go for a while.)

That evening, around 7pm, the film Without a Clue came on the TV, and everything changed. I wasn't feeling any better, but I knew I wasn't feeling any worse. My hangover had crested. Right at that exact moment, my ma poked her head in the door and said, “Would you like some rashers and sausages?” And right then, that’s when my worst possible experience turned into one of my most cherished memories. I think I actually cried with happiness, knowing that I was suddenly on the mend. Now, whenever I watch Without a Clue, I get hit with a wave of positive emotions. An entirely Pavlovian response that has now transformed this slightly shaky B-comedy into one of my favourite movies.


The other night, we went for Ethiopian food in a place called Mesob, which got a really good review from the New York Times a few weeks ago. And yeah, the food there was pretty damn great. The menu wasn't entirely clear and we spent a good part of the night feeling a bit awkward and 'what do we do now?' but once the food came and we were getting nicely toasted, it all worked out just fine.

Except I managed to find a stray chilli pepper in one of the dishes.

Okay, so listen, I was a little tired, a little drunk, and I wasn’t really paying attention. When my mouth started chomping down on something crunchy, no alarm bell rang in my head to warn me that it could be potentially terrible. I thought maybe it could be a bit of celery. I only realised I’d eaten an entire pepper after I’d swallowed the last bite. It was then that my tastebuds managed to place that weird flavour.

My tongue started burning. My eyes started welling up. My nose started watering. Sweat started pumping from my head. If a part of my body could secrete something, it decided now was a good time to do so. To make it clear, I love spicy food. I’m a huge fan of jalapeno peppers and I can eat them fairly handily without any issue. This was no simple jalapeno. This was something else. This pepper really blew my socks off. I spent ten minutes thinking I was going to die, and wondering how I could ask where the nearest hospital was without opening my mouth, which felt like it had started bleeding. I thought my tongue had turned white-hot and was about to melt out the underside of my jaw.

It was such an intense level of pain that I could tell immediately when it peaked and started going away. When this happened, I was hit by a wave of euphoria. Now, the pain didn't go away immediately. It must have taken a half an hour for things to return to normal, but that didn't matter. I suddenly knew that, regardless of how long it would take to get better, everything was going to be okay, I’d survived the worst of it and I’d soon be back in the clear again. Such a feeling of joy and well-being as I've never experienced eating food before. Is this why people love absurdly, obscenely spicy foods? I can only imagine how this lady felt.

Joe Griffin Must Be Stopped

Look, I really, really don't want this to descend into a personal attack on someone I don't even know, so let me just start off by saying that I don't have a problem with Joe Griffin in general. I think that when he sticks to writing about things he genuinely seems to know something about, like movies, he's absolutely fine. Check out his blog, Moviedrome. As personal movie blogs go, it's not terrible. I really wanted to hate it, but the best I can muster is a profound indifference.

What I don't like is when he steps outside of his comfort zone and starts writing about videogames. Which he does every Friday as part of the Irish Times' 'The Ticket' culture/entertainment supplement. He's clearly out of his depth and represents everything I hate about the way videogames are covered by traditional media. For example, take a look at his recent review of Portal 2, which is somewhere between a hot mess and a 300-word syntactic nightmare. Here's my favourite line of the entire thing:

This is a clever, captivating and sometimes hilarious sci-fi game, with compulsive gameplay. Here’s hoping I don’t have nightmares about GLaDos.

While you're reading this review, please bear in mind that the Irish Times is supposed to be Ireland's 'newspaper of record'. Can you imagine if it treated all of its arts coverage this way? Can you imagine if their review of There Will Be Blood ended with "I hope I don't have nightmares about Daniel Plainview." It's ridiculous.

Now, it's completely possible that Joe is merely writing within a set of constraints set by the Irish Times. It may well be that Madam Editor called Joe into her office, sat him down and said 'Listen, Joe, we still think videogames are for children, so we want 300 words written in the same tone you'd use if you were reviewing a Richard Scarry book." I suppose this is possible, but why, then, does their other videogames correspondent, Ciara O'Brien, do such a better job?

The other thing that makes me say that Joe Griffin is out of his depth writing about videogames is the amount of times he has gotten the facts wrong. Just basic factual details that he's either deliberately or carelessly missed. For example, in his editorial about videogame adaptations of literature from Friday, April 22nd 2011, he writes (emphasis mine):

There was some excitement this year when the Great Gatsby videogame resurfaced online. Originally an 8-bit title for the old Nintendo, the game is a platform adventure in which Nick Carraway fends off malevolent butlers and hobos.

First, since we're on it: 'old Nintendo'? There have been four consoles since the original NES. Any one of them could be referred to as 'old Nintendo'. I remember talking to someone and they used 'old Nintendo' to refer to the Nintendo 64 (God, did that make me feel old). But this is all beside the point. One quick google search for "Great Gatsby NES" and you'll see the first result is the game itself and the rest of the results are links to that game, with each one explaining how the game is a modern creation made to look like an old NES game. It's a retcon, a fake artifact from a "parallel reality". The Escapist explains it well:

In reality, Hoey created the game on a whim after creating an 8-bit tribute to the classic novel's cover. They simply couldn't stop, and eventually ended up with 4 levels of Gatsby-themed glory. The game includes several characters, places, and lines from the book, and even has a few short cut-scenes.

Know how much I get paid to write this blog? Nothing. Know how much I get paid to write about videogames at all? Not a penny. Know how many people read this blog? I don't actually keep track, but it's safe to say it's statistically insignificant compared to the number that read The Irish Times. How hard would it be for Joe to just either (a) keep on top of the subject he's getting paid to write about, or (b) do one quick google search before banging out an article?

Onwards and downwards.

Friday, May 6th, 2011

PORTAL 2 HAS been the subject of some rave reviews, but one innovation seems to have escaped critics: the villain’s voice is American and one of the sympathetic voices is English. This is very rare.

Reading his Portal 2 review, I thought "you know, this is all just fluffy bullshit that you could extrapolate from reading the back of the box - I don't think this guy has actually finished the game." This article, which appeared a week after his review, clinched it for me. I would bet cash money that Joe has not actually finished the 8-hour game he has been paid to write about. Actually, forget about 'finishing' the game, I would bet he hasn't actually played the game for more than 4 hoursDoes anyone have his Xbox Gamertag or Steam/PSN account name? It would be easy to tell how much of the game he's finished from any of these.. Why do I say this? Because if you do play the game for that long, you'd realise that there's a glaring error with Joe's statement. There's a second-act twist, which happens roughly three-to-four hours in, and he is completely oblivious to.

I'm not saying that reviewers need to finish all games to completion before reviewing them. This is completely unworkable. How would anyone ever review something like World of Warcraft which, in effect, has no ending? But I think it's a genuine disgrace when someone can't be bothered to finish a short game like Portal 2 -- or even to play it for four hours -- but will happily accept money to review it. It's like a restaurant reviewer saying "Well, technically, I didn't eat there, but I looked in the window and it seemed nice enough."

Again, I just want to reiterate that I don't want this to be a personal attack on Joe Griffin. I'm sure he's a lovely bloke and, like I said, when he's writing about movies, he's fine. I've even heard him talk about movies on Arena and I thought he was one of the better guests they've had on there. He was well-informed and articulate.

It's just a shame that he can't be the same when he's writing about videogames. It's even more of a shame given the amount of genuinely talented Irish people who are writing passionately and thoughtfully about videogames (e.g. the guys at Games Toaster or Shoryuken) and who would gladly write for free to get their stuff in The Irish Times.

Article updated at 21:43GMT+1 to tone down some things that were a little too mean

Re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, 17 years later

I don't know what triggered it, but I decided to start re-watching all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There's something about this show that still manages to evoke certain emotions in me. Like it's hitting a part of my brain that hasn't been touched since I was a kid. Even now, the sound of that theme song makes me feel like I'm 16 again and I'm just about to sit down and watch a quick episode on BBC2 before I start my homework. I've made it through the first season, and here are some of the things I've noticed so far.

  • When it first aired, I remember thinking how technically impressive this show was, especially compared to the original series. The effects were great, the make-up was mind-blowing. Was I high? This is terrible! I can't count the amount of times I've watched Worf's prosthetic head-piece wobble almost completely off his head.
  • Speaking of Worf, who decided this guy was supposed to be a big, tough badass? So far, he's lost every fight he's gotten into.
  • Fuck Wesley. The majority of the episodes in the first season - especially in the first half - are solved by Wesley pulling some deus ex machina bullshit in the last five minutes.
  • Picard is a bit eager to pull the Enterprise's self-destruct trigger, isn't he? I think he's done it three times in the first season. In the twenty-something episodes of the first season, that means there's a one-in-ten chance that Picard will try to blow up the ship. I know this is cheating, but there's an episode in the second season, where the Enterprise is being treated like a rat in a maze, being tested by some huge cosmic being. Picard lasts all of about fifteen minutes before saying "fuck this" and engaging the auto-destruct.
  • How the fuck did I never realise how racist this show is? Each new alien is a thinly-veiled cipher for the writer's unique brand of xenophobia. The Ferengi alone should have warranted some kind of action from the Anti-Defamation League.
  • I loved where they brought in Michael Berryman, drew a line down his face with a sharpie and then suddenly they've got one of the most believable, fucked-up looking aliens the show has ever seen.