Software Development Magazine: Inside the Stupid Fun Club

Riding around in a remote-controlled car seat while being shot by ping-pong balls. Software Development Magazine wrote an article called "Inside the Stupid Fun Club" (registration required).

The author, Alexandra Weber Morales, unexpectedly encountered the Sad Robot, broken down and crying for help on the streets of Oakland.

We were shooting a couple of hidden camera reality TV "One Minute Movies" for NBC: one of a Sad Robot torn apart into pieces and pleading for help from passers by, and the other of a Robot Waiter taking orders, serving food and bantering for a tip in a barbecue restaurant.

I (Don Hopkins) developed the custom "robot brain" software for Will Wright's Stupid Fun Club, mostly in Python. It involved writing lots of high level Python code and XML data, and integrating all kinds of different software components together with SWIG, C++, ActiveX, Java, IRC, HTTP and WiFi. The robot features 3D facial animation, speech synthesis and recognition, conversational scripting, artificial intelligence, personality simulation, telerobotic remote control via wireless networking, with an interactive web interface for controling its behavior in real time.

For another Stupid Fun Club project, I also used Python to develop expressive synthetic speech authoring tools (audio speech "phonoscoping", like visual animation "rotoscoping"), and talking toy simulations.

Python is ideally suited for brainstorming and prototyping new product ideas, as well as developing custom real-time robotic software for supporting creative Stupid Fun Club projects like reality TV production.

Dave Winer Speaks at Microsoft about Standards versus Open Formats

Dave Winer spoke at Microsoft, and discussed the definition of "blog". An important point he explains is why he makes a distinction between "Standards" and "Open Formats":

[28:00 into the video]

Question from Microsoft: How is that different from having a departmental web page?

Answer from Dave: It's not different. In 2004, a personal web site is a web log. And in 2004 in my opinion, a departmental web site is also a weblog.

We've worked on the user interface, and we've worked on the technology, and it's gotten easier, and there are certain standard practices, and that's all sort of boxed up in this concept called "Weblog".

AIML: Artificial Intelligence Marketing Language

Stanislaw Lem writes wonderful satirical introductions and reviews of imaginary books in his real book Imaginary Magnitude. Here's an actual review of a fictional introduction of an imaginary book that I'd really love to read, A History of Bitic Literature:

Un Valor Imaginario (Imaginary Magnitude) by Stanislaw Lem

The introduction to A History of Bitic Literature brims over with startling ideas. The work introduced is a multi-volume survey of literature written by artificial intelligences, such as an extrapolated work of Dostoevsky's that Dostoevsky never dared to write himself, revolutionary books on physics (in this case the content is, I am afraid, rather less shocking than Lem intended it to be--I've read weirder things in orthodox textbooks--the last chapter of Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler's Gravitation comes to mind), and a mathematical work revealing that "the concept of a natural number is internally contradictory." Mentioned in passing is a procedure that can transform great philosophical systems into graphical representations that ultimately end up sold as mass-produced knickknacks.

Here's is an actual review of Lem's real book, A Perfect Vacuum, which fictionally reviews the imaginary book, Non Serviam:

Vacio Perfecto (A Perfect Vacuum) by Stanislaw Lem

The best two pieces, though, are the last, "Non Serviam", and "The New Cosmogony". "Non Serviam" was reprinted in Hofstadter and Dennett's book "The Mind's I". It is supposed to be a paper by a researcher into "personetics", the science of creating artificial personalities inside worlds inside the computer. The researcher has absolute power over his creations; he can bring them into existence, destroy them, and change their world at will. He is to these creatures as God would be to us. His main interest in them, therefore, is having them argue theology. Most of the paper is a debate among the personoids on what should be their proper attitude towards their creator. Their conclusion: "we shall not serve".

Stanislaw Lem inspired me to write some parodies of web pages promoting XML applications that didn't exist at the time. But now they actually do exist, by one definition or another: AIML and BSML!

At the time, I was just making fun of VRML, and the people who push and hype useless standards for questionable political reasons instead of practical technical reasons. But as I read through the contraversy surrounding RSS, RDF, Atom and other syndication formats, somehow I'm reminded of AIML and BSML...

AIML: Artificial Intelligence Marketing Language

BSML: Bullshit Markup Language

I received this request to take down my BSML web page, but I would rather have my constitutionally protected right to free speech, than the appreciation of a company that would seriously use the name "BSML". Are there a lot of people named "Gene" working in the Biological Sciences industry?

From: Gene Van Slyke
Sent: Monday, November 12, 2001 10:37 AM
Subject: BSML Trademark


While reviewing the internet for uses of BSML, we noted your use of BSML on While we find your use humorous, we have registed the BSML name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and would appreciate you removing the reference to BSML from your website.

Thanks for your cooperation,

Gene Van Slyke
CFO LabBook

BSML: Bull Shit Markup Language

XML Pie Menus

Chris, a computer science student from who's interested in user interface design, asked me some interesting questions about pie menus:

First, were you happy with The Sims' implementation of pie menus? It seems as though it doesn't necessarily provide all of the great features of an ideal pie. The targets aren't infinitely 'deep' -- the user needs to click directly on the button. Perhaps more importantly, the targets aren't in predictable locations (they items are dynamic based on a very complex set of inputs.) Don't misunderstand; I loved the game and felt the the interface worked well. I am interested in the design decisions that were made.

The other thing I wanted ato ask was, have you any opinions on the game Sacrifice? I was very drawn to its pie system, and am always surprised that there has really never been much mention of it when it comes to discussion of pies, and pies in games. Thank you for your time,


Thanks for your thoughtful questions!

I'm glad to hear fasteroids still works after all those internet explorer patches that have come out since I wrote it. I hope the Eloas patent doesn't force Microsoft to break browser plug-ins like fasteroids and pie menus on purpose.

I'm pretty happy with the way The Sims pie menus turned out, considering the time and design constraints. But of course there are several things about them I would change and extend if I had the time.

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