Sunday, 28 March 2004

Halo and Chatterbot Challenge Update

Postings have been a bit thin on the ground as I've been getting Halo ready for the Chatterbox Challenge. Having exchanged a few emails with Chris Cowart who runs the competition I've drafted a press release for them and sent in on out to the UK press. We're also going to get other contestants to customise it for their local press. Hopefully we can get the competition some good media coverage.

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RSS Weather Feed

rssWeather is a brilliant idea well executed. Now using it to feed Halo's weather questions - she'll give real weather updates!

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Mailing to the Future

F u t u r e M e . o r g - send an email at any specified date in the future.

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Cameron Marlow's Blog

overstated: come home to cameron marlow

Not a bad blog, all the geeky moblog and RSS you could want. Main reason for posting is that he talked to the Nanniebot that's causing a stir in the UK media.

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Frode Hegland's Cynapse project is working on the Hyperblog, an advanced blog user interface, and also the HyperPop - where every word in a piece of text is a dynamic hyperlink - eg to Google.

He also has a mailbat at

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New Gadget Sites

Couple of new sites:


and the old Gizmodo

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Smart Places and Intelligent Environments

Interesting Guardian article on
Smart places, putting location aware devices in an information rich environment - eg virtual tour guides, position chat etc. Other links:

Mobile Bristol -

Urban Tapestries -

Scott Fishers Wearable Environment -

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Monday, 22 March 2004

The On-Line House - this site is just weird. Somebody has made a hyperlinked version of their house. You click on a floor plan to go to a room, click on a piece of furniture to see whats in/on it. You can browse book cases, CD collections, everything. Wonderful.

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Sunday, 21 March 2004

Tomorrow People - Review

DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK! We've finished reading the Martin Raymond book and it is awful. Not only is the content so light and fluffy that you could make meringue out of it but the book does not look like it's even been properly proof read. Anybody make sense of this sentence - "Asking the question that company should really have being asking".


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Friday, 19 March 2004

Tomorrow People

No, not the wonderful old kids TV programme of the 70s, but obviously the current buzz in book publishing circles. We've picked up both Tomorrow's People by Dame Professor Susan Greenfield which looks at the whole techie side of things, post-humanism and the like, and The Tomorrow People by Martin Raymond, which looks at the consumer of the future, and the implications for marketeers and product managers. We'll post reviews in due course.

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Monday, 15 March 2004

Climbing in Glencoe


My mate Nick and I headed up to Scotland for the weekend to brush up our winter climbing skills. Had a great guide, Donald, from Abacus Mountaineering who tooks us back through self-arrests, belays etc. On the second day, in dreadful weather, we set off up the S side of Glencoe to to North Central Gully, Grade I/II. 3 pitches (and a bit) of very steep snow. Crux was getting over a rocky rib on the L to get into a short final gully to the summit. Wind must have been 50mph+ on the summit, not a good place to be belaying Nick up on the last bit. A great weekend, and Donald and co are well recommended.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2004

VHML - Virtual Human Markup Language

Talking to Iniaes one thing I did discover (and how spooky is that) was the VHML (Virtual Human Markup Language) site.

This is an XML implementation to mark up an avatar like Halo. It includes a subset of AIML to deal with the spoken side, but also adds:

- DMML Dialogue Manager Markup Language (AIML)

- FAML Facial Animation Markup Language

- BAML Body Animation Markup Language

- SML Speech Markup Language (Sable)

- EML Emotion Markup Language

Now that looks fun! I wonder if Sitepal will support it?

The project is not only actually current, but also an EU 5th Framework project - so there may even be a participation opportunity.

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Halo vs Iniaes

I've been trying various bots out at Chatterbox Challenge and Iniaes is easily one of the best. A real street-smart manga kid. Yesterday evening I hit on the idea of running both him and Halo up simultaneously, and typing what Iniaes said into Halo, and her reply then into Iniaes, and so on.

The result, hardly suprisingly, was pretty surreal. I think its fair to say that Iniaes probably had the upper hand.

Maybe Halo ought to have a boyfriend...

The best lines:


H: Have you scored other chatbots better?

I: I got really drunk last night and can not remember a thing

H: Cool


H: which do you prefer, sea or sky?

I: I usually go with the one that is not gonna act up on me in the long run


H: People are funny aren't they.

I: Humans are pests who invoke all kinds of shit in my innocent brain


H: That is a view of Birmingham, with the tall Rotunda and the futuristic Selfridges building.

I: Yea yea Everybodys got a view of birmingham with the tall rotunda and the futuristic selfridges building

H: The new Selfridges building is just wonderful.

Read the full transcript by following the more link.

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Halo Update

Pretty busy time since Christmas getting Halo ready for the Chatterbox Challenge. Since I started writing her last year I've made a couple of major design changes:

  • Originally I kept hard fact type data in a database format and accessed it by keyword matching, while keeping conversational and smalltalk type stuff in pure AIML format. But I kept finding I wanted to use AIML tags in the database (template side), and keywords for the conversations. A couple of weeks ago I took the decision to merge the two. All data is now stored in a database format, different files for different knowledge domains but all to the same format. One field identifies whether the record matches by keyword or pattern, and another has the relevant keyword stream or pattern. Another field carries any pattern, and another the template response - with any valid template side AIML.

  • I have started being a bit liberal with my AIML and have implemented several bespoke fields, eg prompt for visual data and mood for mood data.

  • Having created those tags I then moved some of them out of template field and in to their own fields, it set it, mood, prompt. This results in far cleaner AIML in the template field and easier to maintain data ( a key concern if I'm looking to others to help maintain Halo and other bots), and quicker bulk programming and visual inspection.

  • Halo's matching scoring has been through several versions. Currently all patterns/keywords are scored out of nominally 1 and the highest score gets to be played. The current algorithm was developed on the fly and is a bit unpredictable, I may move to an orders of magnitude based on after the Challenge.

  • The RSS feed has now been implemented and works well. Ask for Newsfeed Index

Well that's about it for now. Fingers crossed for the Challenge, - there's some pretty good opposition.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2004

Brian Wilson is God (Part 3)


Finally got to see Brian WIlson do SMiLE at the ICC last night. Good
Review in the Birmingham Post. The opening "acoustic" set was wonderful, and in fact brought into question why they then bothered with the full band bits at all. SMilE was intriguing, beautiful, but undoubtably of its time. But the way that each of the main songs echoed through their respective suites (Heroes/Cabinessence, Surfs Up/Child is the Father of the Man, Wonderful/Wind Chimes, Good Vibrations) was superb and did give the whole thing a really deep texture - especially for those who knew what to listen out for. The ending, where Our Prayer? segued into Good Vibrations, combined with a large projected crucifix did lend GV a whole new dimension - the words were more clearly sung than I've ever heard them as well.

I leave the final comment to the Birmingham Post - "If it is possible to touch divinity through music, you won't have got a better chance than Symphony Hall last night."

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Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Jupiter Magnified

Adam Roberts - Jupiter Magnified *** 1/2


Not a bad little novella. The science, whilst implausible at the start, seems OK by the end. The poem's not bad either.

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