The Humble Cactus

Boing Boing: Conservapedia’s entry on the cactus

Ah dear, i’m still laughing at this. You couldn’t make up this stuff for quids.

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Thousands of Androids dreaming of Electric Sheep

the electric sheep screen-saver

Those who know me know that evolutionary computing has fascinated me since high school, when I first come upon papers describing experiments at evolving tiny computer lifeforms that interacted and competed in order to obtain the most energy (food) as efficiently as possible.

Completely aside from the expectations of the developers of the system, evolution took these tiny organisms in directions they never expected.  Rather than just directly competing, they found ways to attack each other. Some became parasites – abandoning much of their code in exchange for greater speed of execution and latching on to other organisms – using their victims code to gather the energy and then siphoning it away.

An arms race followed, with anti-parasite organisms and anti-anti-parasite organisms.  I was enthralled.

Whilst at university, one of my lecturers introduced me to the work of Karl Simms, who, using similar but slightly different techniques, managed to evolve artwork on his computer.  By “breeding” works of randomly generated art together, you could guide its evolution and create some truly amazing pictures that, in theory, were made by the computer rather than by you.

Many people (including seminal authors F. Kenton Musgrave and Darwyn Peachy) have taken this much further – and if you’ve been following gaming news, the upcoming “Spore” uses these techniques to create entire worlds, as well as the animation and actions of the creatures in them.

Electric sheep has taken it to the web, creating a massive shared delusion amongst our computers.  They are all dreaming of electric sheep.

You can download the screensaver client from them and immediately become part of the network. ‘Sheep’, or colourful fractral screensavers, will be downloaded to your harddrive and displayed as your screensaver.  At any time you have the option to vote them up or down – those with the highest votes have a better chance of being “Bred” against other screensavers to produce the next generation of sheep.

At the same time, electric sheep takes advantage of your idle processor by farming out small pieces of the new-born sheep to your computer, which then renders a frame and sends it back.  As a single sheep can consist of thousands of frames – and any individual frame can take quite a long time to render – this leverages distributed computing in a very successful way.

Anyone who wants a unique screensaver experience, or is interested in genetic evolutionary computing, i’d suggest you check it out.  If you’re interested in the more technical aspects, the code is all gpl’d so you can browse to your hearts content.

Dodgy Domain Scams

Occasionally you see something that is so dodgy, so sleazy, so … brilliant, that you just have to sit up and applaud. Today I found one of these.

Anyone who spends a bit of time on the net are familiar with the idea of domain name scamming. The idea is to raise traffic to your site by capturing user who actually want to be going somewhere else.  You can do this by stealing domain names of course, but its a bit hard and the true owners of have a hell of a lot more money that you and are quite willing to sue you into oblivion.

However, might not be registered.. or or  or any other of a thousand misspellings.  This is a much used and highly looked down on practice that many companies have, often unsuccessfully, tried to fight.

Today, I found the ultimate.  Someone entered a link into our intranet site, a simple link to another place on the site. Clicked on it to test and BAM!  Porn site. to be precise.  I tracked the problem to the system adding a superfluous http:// to the beginning of the link, resulting in two http://’s in the link.

It would appear then that this ratedx site has somehow managed to get http://http:// to redirect to their site. It wont work if you put just http://http:// because thats an invalid url, but add any alpha numeric character after that (whether it be http://http://a or http:// and you’ll find yourself in porn central.

Adding an extra http is a common problem of automated link systems.  I must applaud this incredible rort of the system, well done ratedx.

Also, welcome to our website blockers. We don’t want staff visiting you by accident.