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!

Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?

Maybe.

I’ve been reading a somewhat recent book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (an expansion of an earlier article). His thesis is simple: the internet is changing the way we think and the way that our brains process information, and not in a good way. At the end of the preface, Carr leaves the reader with a daunting statement:

The computer screen bulldozes our doubts with its bounties and conveniences. It is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master.

I am barely three chapters in, yet I’m convinced that he is on to something.

In the first pages of this book, Carr recalls the frustrating experience of realizing that he doesn’t read as well as he once did. Whereas he used to be able to sit for hours with a single book, now he feels restless if he spends too much time with a single text. He recalls that he used to wander the library stacks at his university and feel a sense of peace: the books weren’t going anywhere, and they seemed to whisper, “take your time.” Now, things have changed. Libraries are now intimidating places, and book stacks serve only to remind one that they do not have enough time to process it all. Something has changed, and that something, he argues, is our dependence on the internet, a medium that promises to dish up as much information as we want, and to do so at whichever pace we choose.

As I read these reflections, I felt as if I had found a kindred spirit. I share the frustration of not being able to focus on one thing for an extended period of time, especially when that one thing is a book or an article (I can, for example, clean my kitchen for hours on end). I get caught up in chasing footnotes, and many times I find that I am skimming entire chapters in search of key words and concepts. To be fair, part of this is the nature of graduate studies. If you read every sentence of every book twice, you will in fact never make it through the works necessary to your research. I realized in reading just the beginning of The Shallows, however, that I have begun to see books like I see websites…footnotes have become hyperlinks that must be clicked (as a case in point, did you click one of the links at the beginning of this post?), and long chapters have become burdensome and leave me wishing that someone would just get to the point and write a blog post.

This past summer, as I was studying for my qualifying exams, I made the conscious decision to do most of my work without aid of a computer. I know that I have a tendency to get distracted easily, and I figured that taking notes by hand would eliminate at least one distraction and, to some extent, slow me down a bit. I found the process of studying to be tiresome at first, but after a couple of weeks of leaving my laptop at home, I found that I was able to read faster and for longer, and that I was actually retaining information more efficiently. I attribute this at least in part to the fact that one becomes a more efficient reader by practicing. In light of this book, however, I now can’t help but wonder if my lack of technology while studying had anything to do with my studying more effectively.

Carr’s argument in The Shallows is more eloquent than what I have relayed here, and he backs up what he says with articles from neuroscience journals and researchers that I’ve (obviously) never heard of. I will look forward to seeing what else he has to say, as well as if he offers any advice on how to counter these effects.

In the meantime, I shared some of this with Ellen the other night, and we thought it might be an interesting experiment to try spending two hours per night “unplugged.” No phones, no internet, no TV. We can read, play games, sleep, talk, etc., but we can’t use anything with a screen. We’re both looking forward to this little “experiment.”

If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you feel the need to “unplug” from time to time?

Supercool QR Code Generator

If you’ve ever looked at a UPS box (or lately, at the corner of some TV advertisements), you’ve likely seen something that looks like this:

It’s a QR code, and now you can create your own, as I have done! The above code links to this blog. If you have a smartphone with a camera, you candownload an app that will enable you to scan them (there is a free app for the iphone that works quite well, called i-nigma 4).

Go ahead and try it…you know you want to.

HT Chris Brady @ Targuman

Ten “Internet Laws”

I came across these “laws” earlier today, listed here. They are important to remember, especially considering the number of political debates that are raging right now. You might just save yourself from embarrassment!

  1. Godwin’s Law — “As a Usenet discussion group grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” Generally, and in my opinion, when one brings Nazis or Hitler into a discussion, they’re effectively admitting that they’ve been backed into a corner.
  2. Poe’s Law — “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” As a recent example, consider the young woman who posted a video on YouTube the other day, wherein she thanked God for “shaking” some sense into the Japanese by means of a tsunami. I refrain from linking to the video here, as I have no desire to keep that fire burning.
  3. Rule 34 — “If it exists, there is porn of it.” Unfortunate, but I imagine it’s true.
  4. Skitt’s Law — “Any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself.”
  5. Scopie’s Law — “In any discussion involving science or medicine, citing Whale.to as a credible source loses the argument immediately, and gets you laughed out of the room.”
  6. Danth’s Law — “If you have to insist that you’ve won an internet argument, you’ve probably lost badly.”
  7. Pommer’s Law — “A person’s mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be from having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.”
  8. DeMyer’s Law — “Anyone who posts an argument on the internet which is largely quotations can be very safely ignored, and is deemed to have lost the argument before it has begun.”
  9. Cohen’s Law — “Whoever resorts to the argument that ‘whoever resorts to the argument that…has already lost the debate’ has automatically lost the debate.”
  10. The Law of Exclamation — The more exclamation points used in an e-mail (or other posting), the more likely it is a complete lie. This is also true for excessive capital letters.”

Cheers.