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On Salmon, Trout, and Chat

Several friends of mine have reported strange chat sessions over the past few months. The chats are a form of mediated communication between strangers that seems either like a prank or an art project (or perhaps both). The scenario generally goes like this:

1. A chatbot (posing as a human) starts up a conversation via AOL Instant Messenger (or another chat service). Some bots (like TheGreatHatsby) use a single, distinctive opening line like, "I say, old bean, have you seen my hat?" while others use a randomized statement intended to spark a conversation.

2. Unbeknownst to the first user, the chatbot has also initiated a similar chat session with another user.

3. When both randomly targeted users reply (generally with a statement along the lines of, "Who is this??"), the chatbot connects both bewildered users via some behind-the-scenes magic, and bizarre chats ensue.

Because to both users it appears that the other user initiated the chat session, confusion is common in the first lines of the chat -- but very often, it settles down into an actual conversation between two complete strangers. Here are the first few lines of a chat session from a Livejournal user who was recently contacted by the RegretfulCoho bot:

[01:18] RegretfulCoho: Hi.
[01:19] thesquidflu: Hi!
[01:19] RegretfulCoho: lol What's up
[01:19] thesquidflu: not much!
[01:19] thesquidflu: How about you?
[01:19] RegretfulCoho: Not much at all, who is this by the by?
[01:20] thesquidflu: I'm... Brandon! Who's this?
[01:20] RegretfulCoho: Brandon who?
[01:20] thesquidflu: [last name redacted]
[01:20] RegretfulCoho: Do I know you from somewhere?
[01:21] thesquidflu: I... I don't know!
[01:21] thesquidflu: hehe
[01:21] thesquidflu: where didja get my aim?
[01:21] RegretfulCoho: You just now msg'd me
[01:21] thesquidflu: You messaged me first, according to my aim!
[01:22] RegretfulCoho: Ok
[01:22] RegretfulCoho: Is this a bot program?
[01:22] thesquidflu: Nope!
[01:22] thesquidflu: hahahah
[01:22] thesquidflu: :D
[01:22] thesquidflu: I'm a real boy!

The chat continues for almost half an hour, as the users collaboratively try to figure out what's going on, and eventually land on the Wikipedia page explaining the phenomenon. These chatbots are often called Salmon bots (the "Coho" referenced in the chat log above is a species of salmon) or Trout bots, as the bots themselves adopt various fishy names and implement different strategies for passing messages. Some of the bots actually filter the conversations, removing screen names and words related to bots. Others simply connect two users and let the chat happen.

A Livejournal community has formed around this phenomenon, called themissinghat. Users post their experiences, including chat logs -- some are filled with profanity and confusion, others are just friendly chats between strangers. You can now even request a Salmon bot connection, in case you want to try out the randomness for yourself. Wow.

Have you been chatted up by a fishbot? Share your experiences in the comments.

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The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo
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Jeff Bezos Is Helping to Build a Clock Meant to Keep Time for 10,000 Years
The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo
The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo

Few human inventions are meant to last hundreds of years, much less thousands. But the 10,000 Year Clock is designed to keep accurate time for millennia. First proposed in 1989, the long-lasting timepiece is finally being installed inside a mountain in western Texas, according to CNET.

The organization building the clock, the Long Now Foundation, wanted to create a tribute to thinking about the future. Founded by computer scientist Danny Hillis and Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand, the group boasts famous members like musician Brian Eno and numerous Silicon Valley heavyweights. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is putting up the $42 million necessary to complete the project, writing that “it's a special Clock, designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking."

Measuring 500 feet tall when it's completed, the clock will run on thermal power and synchronize each day at solar noon. Every day, a “chime generator” will come up with a different sequence of rings, never repeating a sequence day to day. On specific anniversaries—one year, 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years—it will animate a mechanical system within one of five rooms carved into the mountain. On the first anniversary, for instance, the clock will animate an orrery, a model of the solar system. Since they don’t expect to be alive for many of the future anniversaries, the clock’s creators won't determine animations for 100, 1000, or 10,000 years—that'll be left up to future generations. (To give you an idea of just how far away 10,000 years is, in 8000 B.C.E., humans had just started to domesticate cows for the first time.)

Though you can sign up to be notified when the clock is finished, it won’t be easy to see it up close. The nearest airport is several hours’ drive away, and the mountain is 2000 feet above the valley floor. So you may have to be content with seeing it virtually in the video below.

Clock of the Long Now - Installation Begins from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.

[h/t CNET]

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Tynker
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Barbie Is Now Giving Coding Lessons
Tynker
Tynker

Mattel wants to help 10 million kids learn to code by 2020, and the toy giant is enlisting one of its most career-focused assets: Barbie. According to Engadget, Mattel is working with the coding education company Tynker to make seven Barbie-themed computer programming lessons.

Barbie has been a pilot, an architect, the president, and a computer engineer, so there may be no better character to teach kids the joys of coding. The lessons, arriving in summer 2018, will be designed for youngsters in kindergarten and up, and will teach Barbie-lovers more than just how to make apps. They’ll use Barbie’s many careers—which also included veterinarian, robotics engineer, and astronaut—as a way to guide kids through programming concepts.

An illustration depicts Barbie and her friends surrounded by cats and dogs and reads 'Barbie: Pet Vet.'

A screenshot of a Barbie coding lesson features a vet's office full of pets.

There are plenty of new initiatives that aim to teach kids how to code, from a Fisher-Price caterpillar toy to online games featuring Rey from Star Wars. This is the third partnership between Mattel and Tynker, who have already produced programming lessons using Hot Wheels and Monster High.

Kindergarten may seem a little soon to set kids on a career path as a computer programmer, but coding has been called “the most important job skill of the future,” and you don’t need to work for Google or Facebook to make learning it worthwhile. Coding can give you a leg up in applying for jobs in healthcare, finance, and other careers outside of Silicon Valley. More importantly for kids, coding games are fun. Who wouldn’t want to play Robotics Engineer Barbie?

[h/t Engadget]

All images by Tynker

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