In some weird way I feel bad about Palmistry for All, since I scanned the original from my collection and (with the Distributed Proofreaders team) produced the text Kessinger scraped to give you that crummy version.
is yet another automatically generated book from the Project Gutenberg archive of public domain works. It was published in 1916 by the mysterious “Cheiro”, who notes in the text that he is retired and anyone claiming to be him should be taken as an impostor! Cheiro’s real name was William John Warner, and he was a well-known occultist of the kind you’d find hanging out in aristocratic circles in the early 1900s.
Couple of amusing things: Amazon reviews of this book complain that there are no illustrations, which makes a book on palm reading kind of useless! In my edition there are illustrations, so it must have been updated due to complaints. The other funny this is this page in the front of the book, listing Kissinger Legacy Reprints’ other “scarce and hard-to-find reprints”:
, by Marc Quaranta. This is exactly the kind of book that I don’t want to read: someone’s first stab at what appears to be young adult fiction. We’re almost immediately introduced to three characters who are all 24-year-old men, which caused me to guess that the author is a 24-year-old man. Turns out I was right! Anyway, I’m going to read this simply to spite myself. Maybe I’ll read it out loud to my spouse. I am not expecting to like it, but then, what’s a random shopper that doesn’t buy you something you’re sure you’ll dislike?
Just kicked off the February order. The total ordered was $48.16, and this month’s order was made possible by generous donations from Hunter Willis (@bhunterwillis) and “Claus from Denmark”. Many thanks to both of you!!!
Amazon has lots of algorithms that try to determine what kind of a consumer you are. I’ve always maintained that if a computer program ever attains sentience, it’s likely to be Amazon’s recommendation engine.
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to keep track of what kind of person Amazon thinks Random Shopper is. For the first two months, it didn’t offer any recommendations because it didn’t have enough data. But it’s finally started recommending things for Random Shopper to buy. I’ve pasted the list below.
Probably the weirdest thing about it is that it’s almost what an alternate-universe version of myself would buy: a version of me that was slightly more interested in sci fi and film studies. Still, the fact that it’s got plenty of political philosophy and Philip K. Dick stuff makes it not too far off from my own tastes. (Granted, the companion book on Covenant Discipleship is… not really my thing.)
(Note: AdBlock will block these images. They’re affiliate links. Gotta fund this project somehow!)
For this month’s shipment, I got two books: Machiavellian Democracy, by John P. McCormick; and Canadian Notabilities Volume I, by John Charles Dent.
First, let’s talk about Canadian Notabilities. First of all, it is a work in the public domain that you can read online for free. I’m excited because I knew from my test runs that sooner rather than later I would receive a public domain book. There are tons of these on Amazon—in fact there appear to be nine separate editions of this book alone, available for purchase anywhere from $0 (free ebook) to $88.99 (unadorned paperback)!
I’m not sure what the original publication date was for this book, but the author only lived from 1841-1888, so I assume it was published in the mid-19th century. It’s a collection of short biographies of notable people from then-recent Canadian history.
I just got it tonight so haven’t read it yet, but the first page is pretty interesting! It’s setting up the story of Thayendanegea, AKA Joseph Brant, a Mohawk leader from the late 18th century. I was ready to read some pretty racist stuff, but at least the first paragraph is strikingly modern in its treatment of First Nations:
Most of us have grown up with very erroneous notions respecting the Indian character […] We have been accustomed to regard the aboriginal red man as an incarnation of treachery and remorseless ferocity, whose favourite recreation is to butcher defenceless women and children in cold blood. A few of us, led away by the stock anecdotes in worthless missionary and Sunday School books, have gone far into the opposite extreme, and have been wont to regard the Indian as the Noble Savage who never forgets a kindness, who is ever ready to return good for evil, and who is so absurdly credulous as to look upon the pale-faces as the natural friends and benefactors of his species. […] The fact is that the Indian is very much what his white brother has made him. The red man was the original possessor of this continent, the settlement, of which by Europeans sounded the death-knell of his sovereignty. The aboriginal could hardly be expected to receive the intruder with open arms […] It would have argued a spirit of contemptible abjectness and faintness of heart if the Indian had submitted without a murmur to the gradual encroachments of the foreigner […] The first and most hideous butcheries were committed by the whites. And if the Indians did not tamely submit to the yoke sought to be imposed upon their necks, they only acted as human beings, civilized and uncivilized, have always acted upon like provocation.
The other thing I want to note about this book is how weird its page layout is:
The margins are very thin, and the text is big — but the end result is that while it’s easy to read the big letters, it’s actually tiring to move your eyes left and right over the page.
Machiavellian Democracy is a book that foregrounds the democratic leaning in Machiavelli’s political writings (while his name is synonymous with self-interest, his actual philosophy is far more diverse than popular imagination gives him credit for). From the description of the book:
Inspired by Machiavelli’s thoughts on economic class, political accountability and popular empowerment, McCormick proposes a citizen body that excludes socioeconomic and political elites and grants randomly selected common people significant veto, legislative, and censure authority within government and over public officials.
A randomly selected legislative body? In what will be a surprise to no one reading this tumblr: THAT is something that I can get behind.
(Also, from the amount that was spent and the prices of these books, I’m pretty sure there should be another shipment coming to me, but it might be on back order or something. I have no way of really knowing without spoiling the surprise. Hmmm.)
I wonder what you’ll do if you get a DVD from the wrong ‘region code’ or maybe even in ‘PAL’ format? In looking at this, I did it manually with the Wordnik ‘word of the day’ … “attacca”, and an Amazon search, scrolled down to the first physical item, which is this (admittedly awesome) 1966 Italian Sci-Fi DVD.
It’s an “alternative to the traditional age-based Communicant’s Class, offering Reformed and Presbyterian churches of any size a way to bring students into the church as communing members when the students are ready.”
I’m going to read this, as it’s pretty short, but… I am neither Presbyterian nor a parent so. Yeah. Just skimming the first few pages it’s interesting to read a book that presumes A LOT about its audience. Not only is it using terminology I don’t understand, but it’s also making moral and ethical and personal assumptions about me as a reader that are out of the ordinary compared to what I usually read.
Next up, we have Screamers, an obscure sci-fi movie from 1995:
According to IMDB, it’s based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, who is a science fiction author I like — his stories have formed the (often very loosely interpreted) basis for tons of films, many of which suck, some of which are wonderful. This one is probably going to suck, but I look forward to watching it.
The first part of a three-part (I think) December shipment has arrived!
Yes, it’s The Oxford History of World Cinema. Um, wow, yet again I get something that I’m interested in reading. Flipping through it, it’s a reference book that covers major historical movements in cinema with a bunch of sidebar biographies of key figures. It certainly earns its “World” title: in addition to covering the usual North American and European film history, about 1/3 of the book discusses the history of film in China, Japan, India, the Arab Middle East, Iran, Taiwan, Australia, Russia/USSR, and other areas of the world.
I’m fairly film-illiterate. My wife (who went to film school) and I are thinking of doing a one-Kubrick-movie-a-month thing in 2013, so this might provide some good background reading to help me appreciate the project in a historical context.
According to the text messages I get from Amazon about shipments, I should get the next two packages tomorrow. The excitement is palpable.
December Order: Placed! (Also: My Bot Doesn't Listen to Me)
Thanks to the kindness of a donor who gave $7.22 to Amazon Random Shopper, plus last month’s leftover budget, I was able to increase the bot’s budget for December to $60!
…it spent $64.43.
This is possible because I actually had about $70 in gift card money on the account. From my test runs I know that sometimes you end up spending more on an item than what appears in the initial search results. The initial search results are where the bot evaluates a bunch of products and decides what is in its budget. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m always buying new products, but sometimes it shows you the price for a used product. I will look into this more when the shipment arrives and I learn what the actual products in question are!
I’d like to address one very valid class-based criticism I’ve seen of Amazon Random Shopper. Namely: I can’t believe this guy has $50 a month to burn on random stuff. I would spend it on things like food and rent. What a waste of money.
The way I look at it is this: I’m spending $50 a month on art supplies. Some people might spend $50 a month on painting supplies: canvas, paint, brushes, etc. For me it’s a bit more abstract than that, but that’s what I’m doing.
This does not invalidate the original criticism, which could equally apply to painting supplies, or music equipment, or anything else like that. I am operating from a position of privilege where I can afford to spend money to make art. But I would ask you to look at this as a hobby or a side project, rather than a waste of money, as though I’m burning $100 bills. I would ask you to think to yourself, “Would I be this irate if this person were spending the same money on art supplies?” If that still seems like sheer waste to you: that’s okay, too.
Is your Black Friday shopping experience terrifying? Are you at a loss for what to buy? If you’re a fan of Amazon Random Shopper and would like to support the project, you can buy it an Amazon Gift Card!
All proceeds will be used to buy random crap chosen by the Amazon Random Shopper algorithm, and will be blogged right here on this Tumblr. If you want me to thank you on the blog, just say so in the gift message, and let me know what name you’d like to be credited as.
Cartesian linguistics refers to a form of linguistics developed during the time of René Descartes, a prominent 17th century philosopher whose ideas continue to influence modern philosophy. Chomsky’s book, Cartesian Linguistics, manages to trace the development of linguistic theory from Descartes himself to Wilhelm von Humboldt, or in other words, directly from the period of the Enlightenment up to Romanticism. The central doctrine of Cartesian linguistics maintains that the general features of grammatical structure are common to all languages and reflect certain fundamental properties of the mind.
Chomsky’s book received mostly unfavorable reviews and critics pointed that “cartesian linguistics” fails both as a methodological conception and a historical phenomenon
This was really cool to receive. Upon opening the package, it was obviously a CD but… of what?? There’s not much to go on. Something foreign, probably? From the back of the CD cover I could tell it was from Sweden and printed in 1999. But what kind of music? I had no way of knowing, so I popped it in a CD player in my car.
Let me tell you: the tension was palpable. It is not often that I get a CD where I have no idea what’s on it, and can’t even make good inferences from the cover.
I pressed play and was delighted to hear what seemed to be a modern avant-garde composer working with dissonant electronic sounds. This is some seriously good shit. It’s fantastic, like nothing I’ve ever heard — specifically it makes my car sound like it’s falling apart, and actually startles me at times.
Turns out Ákos Rózmann (b. 1939, d. 2005) was a Hungarian avant-garde electro-acoustic composer who worked in Sweden most of his life. According to this article:
“As a true modernist, he didn’t compose with an audience or the critics in mind. His mission was to compose for the future. It was his conviction that the mystical energy for compositional work should derive straight from God.”
All in all, this was a sort of creepy shipment. It sent me a book by someone who’s known for charting and modeling the human mind, and sent me some music that is extremely mechanical and almost random.
Hi. I’m Darius Kazemi. Recently I’ve been making a bunch of weird stuff that randomly generates things. For example, there’s the Twitter account @metaphorminute, which tweets a random metaphor every couple minutes. There’s also OutSlide, which generates a slide deck from an outline that you enter by picking the first Google Image result for each phrase.
I’ve had an idea for a long time now. It’s inspired by one of my favorite feelings: when you order something on Amazon, and it’s put on backorder, and then you forget you ordered it, and a year later it arrives—and it’s like a gift you bought yourself.
Well, I thought: what if I just wrote a program to buy stuff for me? The first iteration of this was going to be a program that bought me stuff that I probably would like.
But then I decided that was too boring. How about I build something that buys me things completely at random? Something that just… fills my life with crap? How would these purchases make me feel? Would they actually be any less meaningful than the crap I buy myself on a regular basis anyway?
So I built Amazon Random Shopper. Every time I run it, I give it a set budget, say $50. It grabs a random word from the Wordnik API, then runs an Amazon search based on that word. It then looks for every paperback book, CD, and DVD in the results list, and buys the first thing that’s under budget. If it found a CD for $10, then the new budget is $40, and it does another random word search and starts all over, continuing until it runs out of money, or it searches a set number of times.
It can’t spend over budget, because it has its own Amazon account, and I give it a gift card. There’s no bank account or credit card info so it can only spend what’s on the gift card. As my friend Daniel Joseph put it: “Here you go, child-bot. Have fun at the mall with the other bots. Don’t spend it all in one place!”
How do I manage to do this? With the magic of PhantomJS, a really neat little program that spawns a virtual web browser that I can control with code. My system is basically an automated browser that buys me stuff.
Today I finally got the system working end-to-end, and it bought me $37 worth of stuff (out of a $50 budget. How frugal!). What it bought, I won’t know until it comes in the mail.
You can stay tuned here, where I’ll be posting a log of what Amazon Random Shopper buys me. I’m going to give it a budget of $50 a month for the next… well, I’m not sure how long, but we’ll see.