The Future of Twitter

An unpolished quickie : I'm typing over a dinner plate.

Twitter is brilliant, amazing, game-changing, revolutionary. It's winning features have been discussed to death, I don't need to analyse that here. But it has a couple of really glaring failures.

For one, it's impossibly inconvenient to reconstruct a conversation between two people if you don't follow both of them. So your friend is having a conversation with someone you don't know, and it's on your favourite topic, and you can't really meaningfully participate, nor even easily historically reconstruct the conversation. It sucks.

For two, it's single-channel only. You can't send a tweet to a subset of your followers. If you want to tweet about personal stuff to your daytime friends, and tweet about programming stuff to your geek friends, and about party stuff to your pervert friends, you have to set up separate twitter accounts for each group, and have everyone follow the appropriate sub-selection. So hard to manage that nobody does it with a granularity of greater than two. Most people don't even do it at all. So everyone's signal-to-noise is ramped way up, because the topic you follow anyone for is diluted by all the other shit going on in their life, most of which you usually couldn't give two fucks about.

Fixing both of these would be REALLY frakking awesome. Would really expose all the nebulous potential that Twitter users can see right there just beyond reach. Twitter itself won't do it - they are too afraid of souring the magic sauce that has given them such amazing penetration. So expect a Twitter-killer, sometime this year. Incorporating some sort of equivalent of chat rooms or private channels.

Funny thing is, once you do that, what you're left with starts to look an awful lot like IRC. Like the man on BSG says "All of this has happened before, and will happen again, and again, and again."

25 Things About Me

Facebook meme (login reqd). Overdue, and in the third person. Deal.

1. As a child, Jonathan used to sit and read from novels and fat encyclopaedias every day for hours on end, while licking his finger and dipping it in the family sugar bowl.

2. Jonathan is compelled to either court or ditch people he meets, purely to keep the number of active friends currently in his life a prime number.

3. In his late twenties, Jonathan took to applying neat turpentine to his scalp so that his bald head would make him look more intelligent and academic.

4. As Jonathan writes this, he is wearing his wife's jeans. They are at once too tight and too loose in various unfamiliar places.

5. Jonathan named his pet rabbit Benny, after his brother. When we found out about the skin cancer we had Benny put down straight away. It wasn't until a full eight weeks later that Jonathan finally got an appointment to have his tumour removed.

6. Jonathan distinctly remembers an innocuous seeming moment when he was twelve years old. Doing math homework. Somehow or other he knew that the answers he kept getting were wrong. He was hacking away at it, determined to figure out his mistake, when suddenly, out of the blue, he had a small realisation. He could just submit the exercise with the wrong answers intact. It wouldn't matter one iota. He would get a few questions marked wrong, but would still be in the top handful of people in the class, and that would be that. Nobody would ever know that he hadn't tried his absolute hardest. Regardless of whether one interprets it as the onset of slackerdom or as joyously claiming his own freedom of will, academically it was all downhill from that moment.

7. As a child Jonathan loved ice skating, although you'd never know it to see him now. He was put off it by an accident on the rink when aged about 12, which left him house-bound for three months, waiting for his prosthetic ear to take.

8. Jonathan's first job after graduation was R&D on systems to analyse radar echoes. As well as perennially hot-button topics like identification of 'non-co-operative' aircraft, other applications included the early detection of hairline cracks in the internal blades of jet engines, without having to actually take the engine apart. In simulating the typical damage a jet engine suffers, for a few hot sticky days in the summer of '94, Jonathan got to be the guy who tossed thawed supermarket chickens into the shrieking intake maw of various Rolls Royce low-bypass turbofans.

9. Jonathan's favourite food is Christmas pudding (in England, a dense moist alcoholic fruit cake, you wouldn't like it), although this probably has some unfair weighting in the grand scheme of comparative gastronomics, due to the traditionally prescribed infrequency of its ingestion. Next up would be good (not medium) sushi. While I'm being picky, can I also echo Douglas Adam's exhortation that tea should only be made using water which is boiling, not boiled.

10. Jonathan hypothesizes that the normal operation of the human mind's stream of conciousness must include a supervisory mechanism, to detect and inhibit recursive or cyclic patterns of thought, viz. thoughts that trigger a chain of associations causing the original thought to re-occur. It is clearly useful for us to be briefly reminded of all related concepts whenever a new stimulus hoves into view. Equally clearly, it would be disastrous if we were to mentally bounce back and forth between two or more closely related concepts, each reminding us of the other in rapid succession, ad infinitum. The chain of associations must be damped down once each related concept has been highlighted in our awareness. Jonathan further postulates that one of the effects of certain mind-altering substances, and of some mental illnesses, is to inhibit this inhibitory mechanism. In such a state, the host mind is unable to maintain a train of thought or singularity of purpose, since every step along the conceptual route is strewn with tar-pits of associations, trapping the conciousness in a vegetative trance of cyclic ideas, or else in a disturbingly repetitive cycle of behaviour. Incoherent dysfunction such as this is an outward symptom of the unblinkered mind's new-found ability to gaze, for the first time, directly upon the face of an actual, literal infinity. The depth of recursion only limited by the bandwidth of conceptual reverberation. This results in sensations of considerable awe. Both the positive and negative aspects of such a state are compounded by the common additional effect of lowering the mind's threshold required for one concept to be considered as 'related' to another. This leads to streams of conciousness in which entirely unrelated or even contradictory ideas can be subjectively perceived as not only being deeply related, but as actually being identical. Hence black is white, false becomes true, life is death, one is all and all is none. The feedback causes these thoughts to occur with great intensity, lending them a feeling of spiritually deep profundity. The subject's stereotypical inability to coherently reformulate these ideas when sober is directly due to the fact that such thoughts are, under normal circumstances, quite literally unthinkable, except for the kind of indirect and abstract representation that comes from merely describing them, as opposed to truly, deeply believing them. (Update: These ideas had clearly been stirred up of late by my being halfway through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, a novel about addiction, related mental dysfunction and their relationship to freedom of will. Imagine my lack of surprise, then, when I reach page 1,048 (footnote 269, sub-footnote a, no joke) to discover Wallace had already written a rant of his own, very similar to this one, on 'labyrinths of reflexive abstraction', which he had clearly been leading up to for a long time. Like, say, for most of his writing career.)

11. Jonathan writes down his selections for the national lottery, but never buys any tickets. To date, he has chosen the winning numbers five times.

12. People who are into nice clothes are just pathetic beacons of insecurity. I mean, all well and good to pick a nice color of (T-)shirt off the rack if you're confronted with a rack from which to choose. Or to dress up with your friends for a particular event, which is a giggle. But if you're going to more effort than that, or if you propagate the fallacy that your industry demands it, then you're a moron and I despise everything you stand for. Ditto for expensive jewellery or nice watches or fancy cars or all the other claptrap accoutrements with which people distract themselves from a witheringly inadequate life. As I write this, I'm planning to go out this afternoon to [accessorise ]{#query .query}for a black tie event later tonight. Stabbed in the back by the dark tides and treacherous undercurrents of my own very human psyche. (Update: From my office, the windows overlook the preposterously over-dressed Nathan-Barley-esque cavorting which takes place outside a London fashion house.)

13. Jonathan enjoys stalking round the house naked when his housemates aren't watching.

14. Jonathan very much enjoys dreams of flying, and notes that for him, it requires a symbolic flapping of arms to supply a motive force, and an appropriate arching of the body to pull off manoeuvres, not entirely unlike the motions of snorkelling. Which he also loves.

15. Jonathan wishes his friends lived closer. On the same street would be nice.

16. Jonathan should have set off for work ten minutes ago.

17. Jonathan is deeply envious of people who can juggle.

18. As has been remarked upon elsewhere, there's nothing quite like a freshly-shaven scrotum. Truly breathtaking.

19. Jonathan has spent a few weeks learning about 500 digits of pi. The world record is 67,890. (Update: The challenge for you is to determine which 500 they are.)

20. Jonathan has only in recent years begun to realise that he isn't actually a very good computer programmer after all. For the time being, he consoles himself with the philosophy that understanding this is probably a necessary step on the long road to enlightenment.

21. Jonathan would like to learn how to disagree with [idio]{style="text-decoration: line-through;"}people more constructively, without putting both them and himself on the defensive. Was very impressed last week listening to Iain Simons talk about setting up the National Videogame Archive, who's response to some fairly cutting criticism appeared to be a deep and abiding curiosity. (Although when I tweeted him about the discussion afterwards he half-joked that 'of course I was boiling with rage inside') Nevertheless, this seems like a very promising approach. How to nurture it?

22. Jonathan believes that if there was ever a God or Gods, it or they have fucked right off, and don't seem to be coming back. We're on our own in this. Get over it. However, he is very willing to entertain the idea that the act of prayer or meditation may well be a helpful psychological device, you can keep doing that if you wish. Just don't dress it up with all your stupid bullshit. (Ah! Oh! I mean, I'm deeply curious about how you reached these conclusions, please share your enlightenment with me.)

23. Jonathan loves each and every one of you. Yes, even you.

24. Jonathan is beginning to realise that it is actually way more taxing to write 25 false things about himself than it is to simply write 25 things about himself. He may have to mix and match. But can you tell which ones are which, and identify the pattern in which they are arranged?

25. Jonathan is trying to come to terms with the fact that people are almost never able to consciously think in a rational way. I'm including you in this derogatory generalisation, but that's OK, because I'm including me too. This would all be fine if, as the startlingly prescient and insightful Paul Graham pointed out, ideas were still just badges used to demonstrate affiliation. But nowadays civilisation has given our ideas real leverage, such that the ideas we choose to hold now actually have some effect on the world around us, more than simply acting as banners under which social groups gather in the voting alliances of human power struggles. Which, again, would all be fine, if only we recognized all of this, and took account of it when judging the worth of our own decisions and opinions. For the most part though, we just wing it through modern life using the subconscious instinctive emotional responses that have served humankind and its animal forbears relatively well through all of prehistory. The relevance of these instincts, though, and the value systems they have bequeathed us, are now dwindling in the face of rapid changes to the world, wrought by our overwhelming dominance over our environment, and our resultantly multitudinous populations. The problems we face, both day-to-day as individuals, and those which must be surmounted for the long term survival of our species, are drastically different from any that we have previously encountered. Our normal modes of operation will not suffice. We rush forwards on behavioural inertia, destructively applying the hard-won lessons of distant millennia, which taught us that survival absolutely depends upon ruthless conquest over other species, and dominance over our environment. However, these behaviours are no longer in our best interests. In fact, they lead to a unhappiness, social instability, and needless cruelty and destruction. To break the cycle of escalating competition and subjugation as resources are depleted in an increasingly crowded world, there is only one desirable solution. A future in which everybody wins. Kindness and enlightenment spread across the globe, allowing people to happily make best use of our limited resources. This one solution is this: People are going to have to learn to be rational. This is not going to be easy. The first step on the road to wisdom is to acknowledge and embrace the fact that we are not, unaided, capable of rational thought. We need to integrate checks and balances into our decision making processes, both personally and institutionally, in order to preserve and build upon any glimmers of sanity in our outlook. There is already a name for living like this. It is called science. Science is not wearing lab coats or slavish adulation of technology. It does not mean an automatic refutation of religion or creationism or any of its other traditional foes. Science is inherently neither for nor against any particular politics, ideology or lifestyle. It simply means to humbly question ourselves and our innermost assumptions, to diligently maintain objectivity, and to let our beliefs follow tentatively wherever the evidence leads us. Those who distract from the truth by forcing their assumptions upon others, by espousing their own party or special interest group, or encouraging the adoption of deeply-held beliefs - they shall not be tolerated, and we shall remove them utterly from the decision-making process. Only with such discipline and dedication will we uncover the path to happiness, save ourselves and fulfil humankind's manifest destiny. Come, wherever you are, and kneel with me, kneel before the mighty altar of science, saviour of us all. The geek shall truly inherit the Earth.

25 Things About Me : Recipe

Once you've been tagged, write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you (and/or I think you might go to the trouble).

(To do this, go to 'notes' under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

You Invite Them To Yourself

Cover Art

Me and the other Pillai's are very happy to announce that the album is finally done. This is the culmination of what turned out to be over two years of hard work for all of us, and despite or perhaps because of all the barrys and the tears, in the end we're pleased as punch with the way it has turned out. It's already all over the Internets, but if you want to indulge us, you can buy a copy here.

Show last command exit value in Bash shell prompt

Stick something like this in your .bashrc file:

# display red exit value if it isn't zero
GET_EXITVAL='$(if [[ $EXITVAL != 0 ]]; then echo -n "\[\e[37;41;01m\] $EXITVAL \[\e[0m\] "; fi)'
export PS1="$GET_EXITVAL$PS1"

Command exit values other than zero are displayed in the subsequent prompt:

Check out the little red '1'

(see the little red '1').

It's the


bit which includes the last command exit value in the prompt, unless the value is zero, in which case nothing is displayed.


Directed: The Coen Brothers, 1996.

Some brilliant performances, some lovely moments. Emminently watchable. Interesting point, I don't know about Fargo itself, or The Dakotas, but the fine residents of Minnesota will insist that they neither sound or act like the depicted characters, which is of course absolutely charming. (love you guys! :-)

Fahrenheit 451

Farneheit 451

by Ray Bradbury (1953)

A tale of future urban America, in which political or critical thought is suppressed by overwhelming popular entertainment and by burning all books, told with Bradbury's typical simple and beautiful prose. Rarely has a tale suffused me with such peace and tranquillity than my making the transition from the frantic, advertising-saturated dystopia into the moonlit fields and abandoned railroads of the closing chapters.

The novel has a curiously bifurcated message for modern times. We would seem to be even more overwhelmed by noisy and crass distractions of types unimaginable in Bradbury's time, often unable to pry ourselves free from a myriad compelling sources of entertainment.

However, for all the negative impact this internet may have had on our peace of mind and our attention spans, it has also provided tremendous benefits that to a great extent defuse the novel's warnings. Books are now infinitely reproduceable. Dissenting thought or new ideas can easily be published and read by millions, free from fear of retribution by employers or governments, those weary giants of flesh and steel. Writing by any person in the world is routinely disseminated to and from the furthest corners of the globe in seconds. Instantly findable. Free from censorship. Archived forever. Unburnable.

This ease-of-use provides each of us with exactly what we demand of it. Just as Bradbury foretells, those of a studious mind, those with legitimate concerns, those with a desire to change the world or make something more out of life, these people will always gather to talk and plan and act. Only now, they can do so globally, instantly and effectively. For each of us, our salvation requires only that we choose to save ourselves.


10/10 if you fancy a bit of charming retro SF with a beautiful turn of phrase

0/10 if you think worrying about fulfilment in life, political affairs, or meaning in life is a big waste of time, especially if it's done by way of science-fiction metaphors and hyperthetical future scenarios. Let's go shopping!

Legend of Zelda : The Phantom Hourglass

Phantom Hourglass

Nintendo, 2008

Nintendo spin off a fourteenth iteration of the familiar and oh-so-beloved franchise. I'd only previously played the preposterously-sub-titled Ocarina of Time on the N64, of which I retain fond, sepia-coloured memories.

I found Phantom Hourglass to be engaging, and played it to a thoroughly jolly completion over the course of a couple of months. The gameplay and plot are a tad more casual and lightweight than Ocarina, as befitting play snatched while on-the-go on the handheld platform.

Using the DS stylus to control Link is delightfully transparent and intuitive. Just as for a mouse, however, expert users will eventually eschew it for many actions, preferring the speed, precision and tactility of distinct physical buttons.

On the down side, some of the puzzles are downright contrived. After introducing a handy little map, on which you can scrawl notes and reminders for yourself, the game then promptly takes it away again for exactly the levels on which it would be of most use, proclaiming 'you can't use the map here, some sort of magic prevents it.' Right. Up yours.

Equally intrusive, the dialog is entirely Nintendo-esque cutesy Japanese schmultz, and it would have improved the game no end for it to have been entirely absent.

Such niggles are few and far between, though. Time for another go of the newfangled rating system.

Rating: Place yourself somewhere between...

10/10 if you're into a deftly executed handheld riff on the Zelda series, beautifully integrated with the affordances and sensibilities of the hosting hardware in that way that only Nintendo can do. Lots to love here.

0/10 if you're done with revisiting timeworn ideas, even ones as compelling and charming as this, and yearn for a resurgence in experimental originality to kick the gaming industry out of one or two ruts (such as having a blind spot for crappy dialog.)

Shadow of the Colossus

Team ICO, PS2, 2005.

As is common for a title released in the autumn years of a console's lifetime, the programmers at Team ICO have mastered the PS2 hardware, and wring the utmost from it for this virtuoso performance.

The gameplay consists of nothing more than a series of sixteen boss fights between your character and a succession of gigantic mythical creatures, each rising from the landscape upon your approach. Half stone, half furry flesh, these colossi shake the earth as they walk, and facing up to them, armed with nothing but a sword and a bow, elicits a genuine rush of fear, firstly as their size and magnificence become apparent, then as they stand up, and then, finally, terrifyingly, as they see you. Like moments from a piercing dream, playing this game is an experience that will not be forgotten.

It's in this emotive ability that the game's strength lies, and the initial adrenaline is only the most coarse example of it. Those disposed to gallop directly in the hinted direction of the the next objective would be missing out on large parts of what Colossus has to offer, and would be well advised to ease back, enjoy the view, and take some pleasure from the journey. For fully half your time will be spent traversing this epic landscape in search of your next quarry, and the landscape is fantastic, in every sense. Across open plains, rent by canyons and gorges spanned by ancient, elegant arches, past thundering waterfalls, though shafts of sunlight across boulder-strewn forest floors. Cutting through mighty, vine-covered ruins, now occupied only by lizards and hawks.

This tranquil exploration is punctuated by the excitement of the battles, forming a delightful sense of anticipation. The battles themselves are gripping and rewarding, and provides a enough of a challenge to stimulate a corresponding level of victorious elation upon bringing down each of the colossi. Interestingly, as the game progresses, the tone of the animations and solemn music begin to subtly expose these victories for what they are: the slaughter of a magical, unique and irreplaceable creature, leaving the world a more forlorn and empty place. This effectively leverages the player's third-person complicity in the killings, eventually evoking feelings of guilt for your premeditated attacks on your ultimately vulnerable victims. Reflective of your character's determination, heedlessly pursuing an outcome that is hinted at in his own deteriorating appearance, you have no choice but to carry on.

Overlaid on this evolving cyclic structure, a delicate narrative is unobtrusively woven, complete with possibly the most affecting death of a character in any videogame to date. The story culminates by exquisitely dovetailing with the opening of the game Ico (PS2, Team Ico, 2001), making this Ico's prequel (and finally explaining that game's protagonist's stigmatic horns.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Videogames are a nascent, immature medium. None amongst us can so much as dream of what they will one day be capable of. Look upon works such as this as history in the making, the first time a human has wrought a creative endeavour such as this, pushing forward the expectations and outlook of the whole industry, and spellbinding a generation.

Alright, we're done here. You may leave. Time for me to begin my experiments with a new subjectivity-proof rating system:

Rating: Position yourself appropriately somewhere between:

10/10 if you wish to enjoy the state of the art in what videogames as a medium are capable of.

0/10 if you are incapable of appreciating beauty or have no soul.

Beginning Game Development With Python and PyGame

by Will McGugan

Introduces Python, PyGame and game development ideas from the ground up, in a really pleasant writing style which is both unintimidating, clear and covers all the bases. It's definitely a book for beginners though, walking through high-school topics like bitmaps and vectors and matrices, but having laid the foundations, it works up to an excellent hands-on overview of using OpenGL in the final three chapters, including lighting, textures and fog. It makes all the topics very accessible, and does an incredible job of putting all the various topics to work together to form a cohesive and illustrating whole.

Nothing extremely hardcore is covered though. An 'ants chasing spiders' state machine is probably the most involved example in here, barring the latter parts of the OpenGL section, with four-state creatures beautifully explained and presented. If you're already doing OpenGL or game development, even as a piss-poor amateur like myself, you likely already know many of the things between these covers, aside from the PyGame specifics, which are generally transparent enough to figure out yourself.

Update: In the months since I wrote this review, I've found my thoughts returning to this book time and again, and have come to the conclusion that I gained more from its extremely clear exposition than I realised at the time. I'm revising the review scores significantly upwards to reflect this.

Rating: 10/10 for beginners. 5/10 for experts. Consider yourself somewhere between the two.



Director: Andrew Stanton

I resisted for quite a while, expecting cloying superficiality. I was wrong. Or at least I like this kind of cloying superficiality. Clearly made with love by a truly dedicated army of master artisans. Featuring sound effects from the same guru sound guy who worked on the original Star Wars, along with an animation team who watched every single Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin movie over their lunchtimes, to inspire them in the ways of visual story telling. With a hardcore Larry Niven reference and a serious environmental message in the background to boot. Huge fun. I watched it twice.

Rating: 8/10 - Thoroughly engaging, emotive and humorous.