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Archives for March 2013

Ah, the traditional Easter facehugger…

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 9.32.39 PM

Whatever you’re doing …


Watson Has No Sense of Humor

Teaching IBM’s Watson the meaning of ‘OMG’

The scientific test to gauge if a computer can “think” is surprisingly simple: Can it engage in small talk? The so-called Turing test says a computer capable of carrying on a natural conversation without giving itself away can be considered intelligent. So far, no machine has made the cut.

Eric Brown, a research scientist with IBM (IBM), is charged with changing that. The 45-year-old is the brains behindWatson, the supercomputer that pummeled human opponents on Jeopardy! in 2011. The biggest difficulty for Brown, as tutor to a machine, hasn’t been making Watson know more but making it understand subtlety, especially slang.

It seems like an even better version of the Turing Test would be based on whether the computer could make the humans LOL. I did a bit of light Googling to see if there had been a test conducted along those lines and found this article from 2008, in which one computer told the following joke:

Roberts said Elbot worked by catching some of the judges off-guard with provocative answers or impishly hinting that it was, in fact, a machine.

“Hi. How’s it going?” one judge began.

“I feel terrible today,” Elbot replied. “This morning I made a mistake and poured milk over my breakfast instead of oil, and it rusted before I could eat it.”

Roberts also said Elbot tried to dominate the conversation to keep it from wandering into areas it was not properly programmed to handle.

Sounds to me like Elbot has better social skills than I do. (zing!)

Then I hopped over to Cleverbot to see if it could recognize random allusions to high-minded fare, and incorporate them into jokey banter. Transcript:

User: Schenectady. (I always like to lead with a word that is inherently funny.)

Cleverbot: Ist das dein name? (Is Cleverbot being snarky or does it think I’m speaking German?)

User: Yes.

Cleverbot: Hi, Kara. Then you must me a girl. Nice to meet you. I’m a girl too.

User: What? That makes no sense.

Cleverbot: But we’re married. (Admittedly, this is not a terrible response to the comment ‘That makes no sense.’ Also: is Cleverbot making a reference to current events?)

Then I tried again.

Cleverbot: Who is going to speak first?

User: I speak for the trees.

Cleverbot: Yes but out of context. (Good comeback, Cleverbot!)

User: Have you not read the Lorax?

Cleverbot: No.

User: Then you wouldn’t recognize my allusion, which is too bad. I hope this makes for a good blog post. We need more traffic. Then again, there’s always money in the banana stand. (The ultimate test: has Cleverbot memorized transcripts from Arrested Development?)

Cleverbot: That would be you.

User: BURN! Well played, Cleverbot.

Cleverbot: Too true, too true.

Walmart for Lent


Consumer alert with a capital C.

More Lawler, more Lost

Alan Jacobs Gets Lost

Percy is to us what Virgil was to Dante, but cannot fulfill that role straightforwardly because of our hostility to anyone who claims moral authority. But maybe a sardonic, foul-mouthed, bourbon-drinking Catholic Virgil is the one we both need and deserve.

Alan Jacobs writing in Christianity Today. Excellent longish essay well worth the read.

Lawler gets Lost

Dreher in Covington

Percy and Passover

Over at, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Greenberg cites The Moviegoer: Binx’s search as exodus.


A toast

Here’s what you need to know for this one. Flannery O’Connor shares a birthday with The Wife (March 25). Flannery O’Connor gained early fame for having a chicken that could walk forwards and backwards. A critter got into our coop two weeks ago and ate all our chickens. Yesterday, a kind soul donated five laying hens to The Wife, but they had been kept previously in quarters that were too close. As a result, they pecked each other, and all but one has a backside that is bereft of feathers.


Flannery O’Connor’s hen

Was trained in ways that I am not

She’d walk the line and back again

Whilst I just slip or hold my spot.


Now Deirdre Katherine, once called Scholl

Has chickens five, with backsides bare

And my frequent slips of mind and soul

Leave me as exposed back there


But Flannery and Deirdre, too

Found grace and truth in frightening things

O’Connor in the things freaks do

And Deirdre in our wedding rings


So they drop eggs and I raise wine

For our divine apothecary

She covers both their ass and mine

Southern California gothic – scary.