I Made a Bible Bot: How and Why?

I’ve long been fascinated by Twitter bots — those seemingly-autonomous bits of
programming that retweet, follow, compose and respond to messages, etc. Truth be told, I’ve always wanted a bot, but since I have little to no knowledge of coding/programming language, I always assumed that creating my own was just a pipe dream. Turns out I was wrong.

In this post I’d like to first introduce you to my bot and then I’ll tell you how I made it.

After experimenting with a few different iterations over the weekend, I launched a “Bible bot” that is currently alive and well in cyberspace, tweeting its little digital heart out and gathering followers (an impressive amount so far, actually). What is it tweeting, you ask? For the most part, just gibberish that it puts together at random from the text of the King James Bible. But occasionally it comes up with something that (unbeknownst to it, of course) is really pretty clever. Here are a few examples:

I’m not sure what, if anything, I will do to hone or improve the bot in the future. It is currently doing exactly what it was designed to do, namely, amuse people in general and me in particular. It’s only been live for a few days now, so I suppose we shall see what the future holds for it.

So how did I set it up?

From start to finish, the process was actually much easier than I thought it would be, mostly because I found someone else who had already done the “heavy lifting.” That someone is Zach Whalen, an Associate Professor of English, Linguistics, and Communication at the University of Mary Washington.

Thanks to a push in the right direction from another of my Twitter pals, I stumbled upon a helpful post on Zach’s blog where he walks you through creating a Twitter bot using a Google spreadsheet that he designed. (Note that this sheet will only allow you to create a bot that posts; if you are interested in building a bot that can retweet, respond to tweets, or follow accounts, you will need to look elsewhere.) Zach’s post is remarkably clear and detailed, so I will refrain from reproducing a step-by-step here (if I can follow it, then trust me, so can you). All you need to get started is a Twitter account for your bot and a Google account for the spreadsheet.

After the initial linking up of the spreadsheet with Twitter (which can be a tad tricky, but stick with it), there are only a couple of parameters to set: frequency of posting and “data sheet.” Frequency is straightforward: how often do you want your bot to post? Every hour? Twice per hour? Once per day? Etc. “Data sheet” refers, essentially, to how you want your bot to compose its tweets.

lfmU5E0pThere are a few different options in this data sheet category, all of which are useful depending on your goals. I chose the “markov” option, meaning that my bot uses an algorithm to generate random text from a supplied body of text. The supplied body of text can be anything. The spreadsheet comes with the full text of Sense and Sensibility so that you can experiment before copying and pasting in your own text.

The text you supply the markov algorithm can be pretty much anything (I think). Because my bot is a Bible bot, my text is the Bible — King James translation. I chose King James for two reasons: 1) because I thought (rightly) that it would be funnier; and 2) because I found the King James Bible in spreadsheet form online, which meant that I could copy and paste the whole thing in about twenty minutes. Win.

With all of the text inputted, I set my bot to post a new tweet every thirty minutes (every fifteen minutes strikes me as excessive, and I got impatient having to wait an hour to see new content) and hit “start.” The results so far have been quite amusing.

And that’s why and how I made a Bible Twitter bot! Follow (or just observe) it on Twitter by clicking here.

And follow me by clicking here!

The Experience that All Researchers Share

There are few things more depressing than thinking of a great idea for a book, doing enough research to be sure that no one has written a book like it in 100 years, and then discovering a book that you didn’t see before that looks to be more or less the same as the book you want to write.

Your heart sinks, and you convince yourself that you’ll find your original idea someday.

But THEN, when you read the introduction to the book you just found, you see on the first page the words “secret brotherhood” and “Jesus.”

That’s when you know that you have discovered a book written by a crazy person.

That’s when you get back to work on your own book.

Another Apple for Wittgenstein

Those familiar with Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations will chuckle at the title of this post while they are reading it. Those not familiar will not get it, but they will still enjoy the post.

Wednesdays at our house, at least this semester, are “papa days.” That is, they are the days that I stay at home, all day, with Jane, the rambunctious two-year-old that I’m proud to call my daughter.

This morning we were hanging out in the living room after Ellen left for work. I started going through what we had to get done before it was time for her nap. “We need to go to Trader Joe’s to pick up some dessert for tonight, and then we are going to the Apple Store to pick up a special cable for my laptop.”

You know, of course, that the Apple Store is the place you go to covet all those shiny computers, phones, and tablets. But if you had never been there before, and you had never even heard of such a place, you may imagine that it is a store that sells fruit.

And that is what Jane thought it was: a store that sells fruit.

We hopped in the car and I said, “Where are we going?” She responded, “The Apple Store!”

The whole way there she sang in the back seat (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star), “Apple store, apple store, apple store, apple store” (go on, try it – it’s adorable).

When we got to the Apple Store her enthusiasm waned. “Here we are,” I said. She looked at me with the saddest face I’ve ever seen. “Where the Apples go?”

It was only then that I realized my mistake. I had spent the last hour getting my daughter excited about going to a store filled with one of her favorite foods. She began to cry, so I picked her up and promised that she could have as many apples as she wanted for lunch. I then offered to buy her an iPad. She said no.

Language is powerful. So is innocence.

The Ark has Sailed!

As noted in a previous post, an ambitious dutchman has for some time been constructing a replica of Noah’s Ark. Now, it would seem that the ark has sailed!

From Slate:

Complete with mock giraffes and penguins, a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark has opened to the public in the Netherlands just in time for the Mayan apocalypse.

The project is the result of a 20-year effort by Johan Huibers, a wealthy Dutch creationist who says he had a dream that resembled the biblical tale of Noah and the vessel he built when the Earth flooded. The 427-foot installation is scaled based on archaic units cited in the original holy text. There are a few live animals on the ship, including chickens and parakeets, but most are life-sized sculptures.

For those who require more modern comforts at the end of the world, there is also a movie theater and a restaurant on board.

The finished attraction may not hold two of every species on Earth, but it can accommodate 1,500 people at a time.

I’m disappointed that the builder did not venture to actually test this baby by filling it with livestock, but I’m glad he decided to include a restaurant and movie theater.

Umberto Eco on Busyness (or the lack thereof)

From Umberto Eco’s “How to Spend Time” (pp. 122-125 in How to Travel with a Salmon):

When I call the dentist to make an appointment and he tells me that he does not have an hour free at any time in the coming week, I believe him. He is a serious professional. But when someone invites me to a conference, or to a roundtable discussion, or asks me to edit a Festschrift, or write an essay, or join a panel of experts, and I say I haven’t time, no one believes me. ‘Come now, Professor,’ he says, ‘a person like yourself can always make time.’ Obviously we humanists are not considered serious professionals; we are idlers.

On Reading Apocryphal Narratives

Today, whilst reading some Jerome, I stumbled upon the following gem from his Epistulae, in which he instructs a certain Laeta on how to raise her daughter:

Let her avoid all apocryphal writings, and if she is led to read such not by the truth of the doctrines which they contain but out of respect for the miracles contained in them; let her understand that they are not really written by those to whom they are ascribed, that many faulty elements have been introduced into them, and that it requires infinite discretion to look for gold in the midst of dirt (Epist. 107.12).

Gold in the midst of dirt? Ouch, Jerome. Ouch.

Wonder what he’d say about those of us who write dissertations on apocryphal writings?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m a sucker for church art projects (especially those created by children). This past weekend, beloved spouse and I were speaking at a church in Whitewater, WI. Before our talk, we were hanging around in the hallway, and I spotted a series of paper crosses. They were decorated with post-it notes containing what appear to be maxims on how to live better, more faithful lives.

Many of the maxims appear to be written in some dialect of Middle English.

A few of my favorites, with translations (pictures below):

  1. tele the shroth (tell the truth?)
  2. de Helfoe (be helpful)
  3. de kine (be kind)
  4. de nise de gade (be nice to God)
  5. pray to Jesus evrebe (pray to Jesus everyday)
  6. dont swar (don’t swear)

photo 3

photo 2

photo 1