My Science Fiction Twin

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Avoiding “All the Same, All the Time” Syndrome

This tweet by Carlos Whittaker has been retweeted by a few of my Internet friends:

I’m not quite sure what he means by “lie,” though this subsequent tweet by Alan Jacobs certainly seems to be relevant here.

It’s strange that Whittaker equates 15 minutes of reading and praying with being “like a monk,” and even stranger that he thinks that quiet time is mutually exclusive with encountering God through a party. I see assumptions like these a lot, and I’ve decided to call it ASATS – All the Same, All the Time Syndrome.

ASATS demands that our spiritual life should be “all the same, all the time.” Everyone must have the same spiritual temperature as I do right now – invariably, this temperature is “enthusiastic and full-spirited” – and no one can depart from this temperature at any time. Everything must be awesome, all the time, and everyone must be all in the same place spirtually, all the time. It helps if everyone is in the same place, physically, too. None of this sneaking off and having a quiet moment!

ASATS is one of the reasons why my wife and I have stepped away from the dominant “contemporary” worship style of evangelical churches and sought out churches that use historically rooted liturgies. In contemporary worship, it’s always a party. We visited a church recently that used a countdown clock to mark the exact moment when worship would begin. At 0:00, the drummer immediately launched into an uptempo rock beat. Within moments, it was as loud as a rock concert. The music remained within a few decibels of the same volume up until the moment the sermon began. Even the announcements and welcome message were given over loud background vamping. Though this was only one Sunday, I bet that most Sundays are exactly the same. No one programs a worship countdown clock on the spur of the moment. Continue reading

How (and Why) I Wrote My First Twitterbot

This week, I wrote my first twitterbot.

For a while, I’ve been interested in Twitter robots – not spambots that auto-follow everyone who mentions Justin Bieber, but those that do something interesting with language or online data, such as Metaphor-a-minute, which uses the Wordnik API to generate random metaphors, or Library of Aleph, which tweets captions (without the photos) from the Library of Congress’s photo collection.

I’ve wanted to create a twitterbot, but didn’t think of an idea until this week while listening to one of my favorite songs, Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?”, and about to tweet (for the 2nd time) my favorite lines:

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?

It struck me that questions found in song lyrics could make a good Twitter account. Questions in song alternate between the profound:

– and the ridiculous:

A single line from a song can also be rich in memories and connotations. I now had my idea for my twitterbot.

How I Wrote It

There are a ton of “how to” options online. Because I want to learn more about Node.js, I chose this tutorial from Christian Paulsen to create the basic structure and functionality of the twitterbot.

Next, I needed questions. I put out a call on Facebook for my friends’ favorite questions from songs and ended up receiving more than 150 suggestions. I put all these into a text file and created a script that selects a random line and posts it on Twitter. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I put the script on Github.

To automate posting the questions to Twitter, I downloaded LaunchControl, a small utility that lets you create and edit automated tasks on a Mac. Technically, LaunchControl just provides a GUI for Mac’s launchd process – see more here – but it makes launchd’s fairly confusing format much more readable. I have the script scheduled to run every three hours at the moment.

This process isn’t perfect – it runs whenever our computer is being used, but not if it’s asleep or off. So one of my next steps is to convert an old Mac into an always-on home server that can (among other things) run the Twitterbot 24–7. I’d also like to make the posting a bit less random by avoiding repeated questions too frequently or grouping some multiline questions together.

Overall, the project was very fast (started on Thursday night, finished by Saturday morning) and tremendous fun, and I’m collecting ideas for other bots. I’d like to try pulling texts from an API or a public domain source (Book of Common Prayer, perhaps?) for my next one.

Oh, and be sure to follow Lyrical Questions on Twitter.