Saturday, July 31, 2010

Follow Up - Twitter Network

As it turns out, the reason some links were missing is because the api only allows you to retrieve the 100 most recently follows for a user.

So with the 10 people I follow who follow over 100 people, there were some connections missing. So being the oddly determined character I am, I went through these people's follows by hand, looking for any missing connections. Et viola:

This is a stripped down version of the one featured in yesterday's post - people who never tweet [dead accounts] are omitted.

In case you were wondering, shinelikestars6 has a red circle on account of him being my nemesis. And he insisted upon it. The interactive version is here.

Here it is without me in the graph [interactive here]:

And finally, here's a different approach I tried:

It gives a slightly different view of the connections - slightly clearer. It's hand drawn, cause, well, it was just easier to do it that way.

The interesting thing I found while doing this was that some people I thought followed each other, in fact, don't. But there you go.

The other thing I tried to do was a video showing the connections being formed over time. But the result was a complete mess, and nothing like what I had in mind. Still, I've got the data, so if I ever work out a better way of doing it - watch this space...


Friday, July 30, 2010

Twitter Friend Network

I'll get to the technical stuff shortly. All you need to know right now is that this is a network map showing who follows each other.

Size of the bubbles is proportional to the number of links to it.

That big blob in the middle that everyone's connected to is me, obviously. It should be labelled, but, apparently it hates me.

Oh, and that's just a screen shot up there. The real, interactive version is here.

Okay, so what happened was I was playing with the Twitter API for Python. I already had this idea - for the people I follow, who follows who (within that group)? Now when I first thought of the idea, I thought I'd have to go through everyone by hand. So thank God for the API.

What the code does [you can find it here if you're interested] is retrieve a list of the people I follow, then for each user checks which of the other users in the list they follow. Then outputs the result.

I know, that's basically what I said up there. But it really is that straight forward.

Well, it actually wasn't that straight forward. For some reason it missed out some connection that I know were there. In particular, Charlie Brooker was causing a few problems (and I'll be damned if I know why).

But I tried my best to make do, and the first graph was a complete and utter mess - the celebrities were causing too much 'noise'. It was obscuring the graph.

So once I'd removed the celebrities, Charlie's delinquency wasn't a problem anymore. That being said, I did have to go through the list afterwards making a few corrections. And there may still be errors in the data. If you spot any, please let me know.

And that's pretty much it.

But while I'm on the subject, the website I used to build the graph was ManyEyes [brought to you by IBM]. It does a crap load of different graphs and infographical goodness, and it's definitely worth checking out and having a play with.

So yeah. Enjoy. And if you make any fancy graphs of your own, please do share.


[edit] - I created a more stripped down version by removing the people who never tweet. It looks a lot more clear.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

If You Liked Inception...

If you didn't know by now, Inception is the most epic film in existence that everyone is talking about, with the ending that people will furiously debate until the end of time. And it will make your head explode.

It's also responsible for a new spate of 'ironic' reality questioning; much like how The Matrix gave us "or are we really in the matrix?", etc. Thanks to Inception we now also have "or are we really dreaming?" (and derivatives there of).

But I digress. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't being entirely sarcastic up there. It really is an amazing film, and no doubt has already earned its place in cinematic history.

As the title suggests, this blog is intended to suggest films, TV and books that go along similar lines or have similar elements to Inception. And hopefully, these will be things you'll be interested in watching or reading. (Assuming you haven't already).

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It's just a few I thought of. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments.

Now, I should forewarn - while I'm not going to explain the plot of Inception, there will be spoilers. The same goes for the other films and books I'll be suggesting. Consider this fair warning.

And besides, if you don't know what's going on in the film by now, you clearly need to go see it again!

Ocean's 11 (et al.)

I can't say I know or have seen many heist movies. The ones that immediately come to mind though are the Ocean's films. And I suppose there is similarity, in that they and Inception both involve convoluted plans required to pull of the heists/inception. But as I say, I haven't seen them. But they seem like they'd be worth a look. I certainly intend to see them at some point.

The World is Not Enough

What I do know a little about is Bond films. And while there's little to compare to, I thought I'd bring up a part of this one.

One of R's inventions in this film is a pair of glasses that create an immersive simulated reality, used for agent training. The reason I bring this up is because the dream-share technology in Inception was originally designed for military training. (I know, it's a weak comparison.)

As for the movie as a whole, its quality is a little dubious at best - as with most of Brosnan's Bond films. And it features possibly the worse line of dialogue in cinematic history: having saved the day, Bond now gets to screw the girl - Doctor Christmas Jones (played by Denise Richards). The line is "I thought Christmas only comes once a year". If you're not cringing right now, you have no soul. Or didn't get it.

But like Joel Schumacher's Batman films, is just a bit of fun, so long as you don't take it too seriously. Daniel Craig's Bond films on the other hand..!

Philip K. Dick

So setting aside reality, here's where things get more interesting. Philip K. Dick, aka the Hollywood Sci-fi gold-mine, is the man behind Minority Report, Total Recall (based on "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"), A Scanner Darkly, Paycheck, the upcoming Adjustment Bureau and of course Blade Runner (based on the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"). There may be others.

But the one in particular - the book I'd like to mention is UBIK. At it's highest level of reality, UBIK portrays a world where 'Telepaths' can be hired to read minds (and obviously steal thoughts and ideas). There are also 'Anti-Telepaths" who can be hired to block telepaths - kinda like how Cobb offers to teach Saito to protect himself from dream thieves.

But that's not even the main point of the story. As the story progresses, the nature of reality or what is and isn't reality, gets much more perverse. It's a little complicated to explain without just reciting Wikipedia's summary. But the book is definitely worth a read. And fingers crossed someone gets around to adapting it to film.

While I'm at it, I'd also like to mention Man In The High Castle. Not so much for it being comparable to Inception, but simply because it's worth mentioning. Man in the High castle imagines a world in which the Nazi's won the Second World War. Now you're probably thinking the idea isn't that unique. But where this story gets particularly twisted is where one of the characters is writing a book where he imagines a world where the Nazis LOST the Second World War. And it's also worth pointing out that this world he imagines is different from our own.

But really, any of his book are worth reading. The films, you'll get varying mileage with. But still worth considering.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is fantastic. That is all.

Okay, I can't profess to knowing a lot about the old series (beyond a few episodes). Maybe someone can help me out there? But I do know the revival series. And while some of the episodes are duds, overall, if you haven't watched it you really should.

If you are a fan, you probably know where I'm going with this - Amy's Choice.

One of my favourite episodes of the latest series, and perhaps even of the revival. In this story, The Doctor and co. find themselves jumping between two possible realities. The villain - The Dream Lord (played magnificently by Toby Jones) - offers them the following gambit: one of the worlds is real, one is a dream. In each world is a deadly danger. If you die in the dream world, you wake up safe and sound. If you die in the real world, you're dead. Which is real?

So as it turns out, both 'realities' were really dreams, which may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but that wasn't entirely the point of the episode. Watch it. You'll see what I mean. I promise it'll be worth your while.

Another pair of episodes worth mentioning are Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead (written by God among men, Steven Moffat). In particular, these episodes involves a simulated reality, created to keep a little girl's mind alive. And when a major catastrophe happen in the library it resides within, instead of all the visitor are 'saved' by being taken into the simulated world. The people within this world aren't aware their world is simulated, and some of the inhabitants are in fact projections (the children in particular).

Again, that's not the whole story, and it really should be watched.

Michael Gondry and Charlie Kaufman

Between them, they've created some of the most magnificently insane films you will ever see.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Following a particularly painful break-up, Jim Carey and Kate Winslet decide they want to erase all memory of each other (though each doesn't know the other is doing the same). The film overall is fantastic, if a little confusing in places. But what we get to see, in relation to Inception, is inside Carey's dream as he tries to hold on to his memories of Kate - by hiding her within other memories (not meant to be erased by the process). It's hard to explain. Just watch it.

Science of Sleep - Don't be put off by the subtitles. It's quirky, it's romantic and it's bizarre as hell. What's not to love? What you also get are occasional cut-scenes where the protagonist explains 'the science of sleep', in his own quirky way. It's really best watched, rather than me trying to summarise it. [I'm not just too lazy to explain. Honest.]

Being John Malkovich - is batshit insane. That is all.

Chris Nolan

The man himself. Really, any and all of his films are worth watching. Between the writing, the cinematography, whatever. It's all fantastic. You should definitely watch them.

The one in particular I'd like to point out though is Memento. The protagonist suffers antereograde amnesia, meaning his short term memory can only hold the previous 3 minutes. The film, then, basically runs backwards, starting at the end, and ending with a twist beginning. Once you realise what's going on (in terms of the plot running backwards), it really is amazing.

The Matrix

Much as I hate these knee-jerk comparisons - and even more so the claims that Inception is a rip-off - I do have to mention The Matrix. Surely everyone's seen it by now?

Basically, it turns out the world the characters 'live' in is really a simulation, and humans are really just batteries in the real world - a robot ruled dystopia (or something like that). Neo, "the chosen one", having seen the true world must now fight some sort of battle for some reason to save the other rebels who have also seen the true world.

The interesting comparison, besides the obvious interacting in a simulated reality (which can also be manipulated), are the agents. The agents act as a sort of anti-virus software within the dream who take human form and seem to have minds of their own. Also, they're complete and utter bastards. Their job is to kill the rebels - if you die in the simulated reality, you die in real life; contrary to the rules of Inception. The parallel then is to the anthropomorphic defences within the Fischer's mind, who are also determined to kill the intruders.

But despite my derogatory remarks, it is worth watching - if only because it's considered "culturally significant". The sequels I haven't seen. Most reviews say they're crap, but obviously I can't judge.

Okay, while we're on The Matrix, I would also like to bring up a book - Illusion, by Richard Bach (more known for writing John Livingston Seagull). Illusions centres on an unlikely 'messiah' (Don) and the protagonist (Richard), his self-appointed apprentice.

What Don tries to teach Richard is that the world is really just an illusion, and performing miracles is just a matter of being fully aware of the illusion and learning to manipulate it - such that you can walk on water, walk through walls, think things into existence or make them disappear (and so on).

I'll be honest, I think this book is fantastic. Slow start, but the philosophy in it..! Buy it!

Shutter Island

Now, here's an interesting one. In Shutter Island, Leonard DiCaprio plays a cop investigating an impossible escape on an island-based lunatic asylum. But here's the interesting part - while on the island, Leo has to fight within his own mind to try to distinguish reality from fantasy, all the while being haunted by visions of his dead wife. I know, right?

Okay, I'm not suggesting either ripped off the other. The two films are actually very different. Just thought I'd point that out.

The Prisoner (Remake)

Hated by almost everyone who held the original series too dear to judge this mini-series on its own merit, the remake ended up getting far less respect than it deserved. Outwardly, the premise is the same – protagonist, Number Six, quits important job, suddenly wakes up to find he's a prisoner in 'the village'. He's constantly trying to escape and the main antagonist, Number Two, is constantly thwarting him.

But realistically, the remake is, in fact, more of a re-imagining. This becomes abundantly clear when you get to the big reveal ending. It this version, the village in fact doesn't exist in the real work. What it is, is a higher state of consciousness - held inside the mind of one 'dreamer' - into which the villagers are brought. But while the shared consciousness in Inception was used for the redistribution of information and ideas, The Prisoner uses this world as a sort of rehabilitation centre - Six having been brought in to eventually be broken and to take over for Two, being a kinder sort of leader than the devious and malicious Ian McKellen.

Regardless of how you felt about the original series, this really should be seen as something distinct. And while it is a bit slow to start and very baffling in places, it deserves at least a chance.

Nightmare on Elm Street.

As far as I can tell, in these films dreams can be shared. Okay, you probably already know the story - Freddy Krueger was killed by these parents, so now as some sort of un-dead being, he takes revenge by attacking their children in their dreams. Or something like that. Okay, I haven't seen it.

Anyway, the major way this differs from Inception is that any injuries inflicted in a dream is translated into the real world - and that includes death! Other than that it's a fairly bog-standard horror film, but still worth seeing by virtue of the fact it's a classic. And I don't know, maybe it (or its remake, or its sequels) are good. You'll have to ask someone who knows.

2001: A Space Odyssey

The final part. What the fuck is going on there!?

Explanations in the comments, please. Best I can tell... I.. I don't even know. It's like a weird dream or hallucination or something, well outside the bounds of reality. And did I mention it's completely inex-fucking-splicable. Magnificent, marvellous piece of cinema though! The whole film is. And Nolan did give it as one of his influences.


The critically acclaimed graphic novel series by geek God, Neil Gaiman. "It chronicles the adventures of 'Dream' of 'The Endless', who rules over the world of dreams" [wiki]. I haven't read it yet. But I swear to God I will!

While we're on Neil, one work I have read is Signal To Noise, which includes Dave Mckean's gorgeous illustrations (see also:  Arkham Asylum). Signal To Noise is the story of an old man, dying from cancer, but who's determined to finish writing his last film – an apocalyptic tale, set in 999AD. Along the way you get general blurring of reality as his condition deteriorates. I know I'm not talking it up much, but trust me, it's amazing.

Oh, and also, Stardust – fantastic. Film and book.


Okay, I'm starting to run out of steam here. So to finish off, here is a list of films and books where reality is distorted; whether by drugs or madness or just in general weirdness (all of which I would recommend):

The Machinist
Truman Show
Requiem for a Dream
Trainspotting (Irving Walsh)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thomas)
American Psycho (Brett Easton Ellis)
Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)
The Wall (Pink Floyd)
The Atrocity Exhibition, by J.G. Ballard
Mobius Dick, By Andrew Crumey
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Various works by Edgar Allan Poe

Feel free to suggest more of your own.

Special Mention - Jorge Luis Borges

I haven't read any of his work myself, but I've heard people recommend Borges' work time and time again. Rest assured I will read some of his eventually. And you should too.

The reason I mention him is because Nolan has stated in interview that Inception shares some basic ideas from some of Borges' shorts stories, including in particular The Circular Ruins and The Secret Miracle.

Now I'm not going to try and summarise them, because I'd just be rephrasing the summary from wikipedia. But they certainly look interesting, and if I ever get my hands on copies, I shall add them to my reading pile.

Anyway, that should be enough to be getting on with. There are other works that Nolan himself gives as inspirations and influences, and I'm sure you have your own suggestion. Do share.

And if I've got anything wrong above, feel free to correct me. I, by no means, claim to be 100% accurate.

Anyway, enjoy!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How do you categorise tweets?

Obviously there are several different approaches. But the three main ones I'll be focusing on are "Content", "Originality" and "Audience".
It can be difficult to categorise tweets in terms of these individually, though. So the easiest way to start off is to look from an outside perspective - how followers may interact with a tweet when it pops up in their time-line.
To demonstrate the different interactions, I've put together this sort of flowchart,
So what this does, is show the different ways a person may interact with someone through a tweets. As you go down the levels, you start to interact more directly with the tweeter.
Level 1 is deciding whether to read the tweet or not, usually based on who tweeted it, or a quick glance.
Most tweets will stop at Level 2. Personal response is how you react emotionally; whether it be laughter, anger, an uplifting feeling of inner joy... Whatever. The important thing about Level 2 is it still involves no direct interaction with the tweeter.
When you get to Level 3 interaction, things can get a little more complicated. Level 3i gives the different ways a user might interact with the tweeter, numbered one (least direct) to five (most).
NB/ Passive responding is posting in response to, but not directly at the original tweet(er). For example, if you post your own tweet inspired by the original user's.
Like if someone posted something about Tabloids, which in turn made me rant about mass media, but not retweeting, quoting or @-replying the original tweeter.

What this means now, is that we can look at the above in reverse - what we get is a way of defining tweets in terms of how the writer intends them to be interacted with, (ordered by increasing degree of interaction).
[Keep in mind though, that intention doesn't always match up to real response.]

Type 1) Ignore/Disregard
Content: Venting, or thinking out-loud. Whether tweeting for tweeting's sake, or just trying to get something out of your mind or off your chest.
Originality: Generally, 100% original.
Audience: No-one

Type 2) Consume
Content: To inform, entertain or inspire. Jokes, news, interesting thoughts, etc; But things you don't necessarily want or expect a response to. Retweets (of other sources) and shared content/links also fall into this category (as do quotes).
Originality: Can vary from completely original, to entirely someone else's work.
Audience: Anyone and everyone. Though some content may be targeted at a more specific group.

Type 2i) Promotion
Content: Like informing, only indirect. Usually, it involves linking to something of your own - e.g. a blog or a creative piece. In the case of celebrities, this may also include new products, up coming events, etc.
Originality: Generally original/links to original content. Can include quoting another person's praise/promotion of your content.
Audience: Anyone who's interested or willing.

Type 2ii) Retweet
Content: As in Type 2, but created with the hope or intention of being shared and spread around. These tweets my include phrases like "RT if", "please RT", or "RT to win" (but won't always be so direct).
Originality: Usually original, unless already retweeted from original source.
Audience: Anyone who'll play along.

Type 3) Reply
Subgroup a) Direct
Content: Could be potentially anything (including any Type 2 content). But usually more personal and conversation specific.
Originality: Content dependent. Original, more often than not.
Audience: Clearly directed at a specific individual or group, either by name or @user

Subgroup b) Passive
Content: Also known as "baiting" - a tweet engineered to provoke a response (positive or negative) from it's intended audience. This can include things like open question or requests, flame-baiting, cries for attention, sympathy seeking, etc. Outwardly, these tweets can appear as though they're Type 2.
Originality: Tends to be more original, but not always.
Audience: Varies with the poster's intention. Can be a specific person or group, or just anyone who'll take the bait.

Fringe Cases.
Obviously, these cases aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Where multiple categories overlap, we get the below:
NB/ Type 2ii may be seen as the overlap of Type 2 and Type 2i

Case 1-2) Biographical
Content: This happens when a user over-estimates their followers' interest in the details of their personal life. As a result, these usually get ignored.
Originality: 100% original
Audience: Intended, anyone and everyone. Actual, approaches zero.

Case 1-3b) Passive aggressive.
Content: Directed at a specific user or group without explicitly saying who. Usually malicious.
Originality: Almost always original. But, may include quotes, either from the "target" or from e.g. a song - expressing the poster's emotion.
Audience: Not intended to get a response from the "target". Sometimes directed at a specific user or intended to gain sympathy from a wider audience.

Case 3a-b) Indirect
Content: An open tweet (visible to all followers) not directly aimed at, but mentioning a specific user or group.
Originality: Usually original, but can include shared content.
Audience: Anyone and everyone, but with emphasis on the mentioned user(s)

Case 2i-3a) Directed Spam
Content: Junk. Links to spam sites. Tends to mention several @users.
Originality: Usually nonsensical junk.
Audience: A spam-bot will usually scan tweets for mentions of a given word of phrase and target those users. Almost anyone is a potential target.

Case 2i-3a-b) Friend Promotion
Content: This case covers things like Follow Friday or any instance when you praise or promote another user.
Originality: Completely original, unless retweet-based.
Audience: Usually everyone. But can be a specific group (usually with a common interest.)

Of course, don't assume this is a comprehensive list of tweet types. These are just the ones I could think of. Feel free to post others you think of in the comments.

Twitter Celebrities.
Using these categories, we can (to an extent) define a twitter user by which type of tweet they post the most. With your standard everyday user, this isn't always easy. Celebrities on the other hand, tend to fall into one category more than any other.
So here are some examples:

The Entertainer/The Joker

Comedians in particular; most of what they post are jokes, amusing anecdotes or links to funny stuff.
A sub group of this is The Spoof/Parody account. These are, as the names suggest, accounts claiming to be famous people (real or fictional), organisations, or even animals or inanimate objects. Almost everything they tweet is a joke (with varying degrees of quality).

"One of Us"
Also known as The Biographer, they remind us that sometimes, the lives of celebrities are just as boring as our own - albeit with more round the world travel and encounters with other celebrities. Okay, so some have interesting lives. But that's often not the case.
Also in this group are those who will frequently interact with fans, or even with other celebrities - a truly surreal experience to observe. Especially when the fight.

The Shameless Self-Promoter
Everything or almost everything they tweet is an advertisement for their new product, there next gig, their next TV appearance, their new column, etc. While occasional promotion is okay, and sometimes welcomed, too much will have you reaching for the unfollow button.
The worst example of the is The RSS Feed, an account where the only posts are links to the user's latest blog entry.

The Opinionated/The Activist
When you follow certain people, you pretty much expect this sort of thing - the politicians, the satirists, etc. The majority of what they tweet are their opinions, and in particular (but not necessarily) their opinion on matters of or relating to politics.

The Sharer/The RT'er
This category often overlaps with The Entertainers and/or The Opinionated. In special cases, if you @reply them with something funny or interesting, they will retweet you - instant fame!

[But keep in mind, a general unspoken rule of Twitter is not to pester the celebrities. It's just common courtesy.]

So, now you know. Go forth and tweet, my friends!