Entries for August 2011

August 23, 2011

Idea: The @TwentyWords Retweeter

This has been on my “Ideas to post” list for what seems like a couple years already. I keep going back and forth between “I should just post it as an idea” and “No, I should actually make it a real thing.” And then I go back and forth between “This is a good idea” and “It’s not that good” with the occasional “Maybe it’s an annoying idea” thrown in for good measure.

Anyway, it’s been on my list so long that I think it’s time to get off the pot and just post it. So here it is:

You know how sometimes you get an automated tweet in response to something you wrote? It’s often spammy, but sometimes it’s something strange like @AllTheCheeses that retweets any time someone mentions cheeses. Or @thedreamstream that retweets anyone who talks about their dreams.

I came up with an idea to turn automated retweets like this into a game that’s actually played on Twitter.

I registered the username @twentywords. The idea was that @twentywords would automatically retweet anyone who used one of 20 secret words. By following @twentywords, you could try to figure out what the trigger words are. And the first person to reply to @twentywords with a list of all twenty words wins. Then a new bunch of words are picked and it starts all over. @Twentywords would follow the winners, keeping a running tally of who has won.

Most people wouldn’t know that @twentywords exists until they notice that it retweeted them. They’d wonder “Who is @twentywords and why is he or she retweeting that totally mundane thing I just wrote?” so they’d check out the profile. And in the profile it would explain that @twentywords is a game and explain the rules with a link to more info. It would start out slow but grow organically as more people happened to discover the game because they happened to be retweeted.

That was the idea. One problem I ran into was picking the words. If they’re too common, the account would go crazy retweeting, and it wouldn’t be difficult for people to scroll through the retweets to find the 20 words. And if they’re too obscure, the game would be impossible.

Also, it turns out that many uncommon words in everyday life are still pretty common on Twitter. With 175 million registered user, a lot of obscure words get used a lot.

See for yourself. Think of an uncommon-but-not-too-uncommon word, and do a Twitter search to see how many people used it today. Sarcophagus? Alveoli? See what I mean?

Hmm. Maybe I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a different game. Is there a Twitter equivalent of Googlewhacking?

August 1, 2011

Neil Illusions

Forty years ago, in the April 1971 issue of New Scientist magazine, a new type of optical illusion was described: Neil Illusions, named for the man who discovered them, Allan Neil, of the Institute of Behavioral Research at Texas Christian University.

Here’s how Allan Neil described this new category of illusions in the article:

These new illusions, in sharp contrast to those of the 19th century, do not violate the invariance of parity, charge conjugation or time reversal. Full scale research has not yet begun on the information-processing mechanisms which respond to the subtle factors in these illusions, but the preliminary studies have not overestimated their importance.

Here are the examples he gave:

Amazing. You can read the entire article as it appeared in the original issue online at Google Books. (The issue also has an advertisement for the Beckman DB-GT Spectrophotometer, which has the slogan, BECKMAN CAN HELP — with spectroscopy.)

I think more research needs to be done in this field. I’m sure there are other undiscovered Neil Illusions out there. Every year the Neural Correlate Society holds a contest to find the Best New Optical Illusions. I think they should add a category for the best Neil Illusion.