As you know, Faithful Acowlytes, I am quite fond of Halloween, and I like to do something a little… ‘spooky’, for you all each year as the holiday approaches. This year I have spooked even myself. Before you click on the following link, a warning: this is NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED. Are you ready?

OK, do it.

See, I told you. Please compose yourself and we’ll reconvene in the comments for discussion.

Sometimes you find some very disconcerting things whilst browsing in secondhand shops.

Researchers at the Cornell Creative Machine Lab came up with the brilliant idea of getting Cleverbot, their ‘intelligent’ chat program, to engage with its own doppelganger.

Clever Clogs: meet Clever Clogs.


Charles Bonnet Syndrome is an unusual neurological affliction that causes mentally healthy people to see things that aren’t actually there. It is usually associated with advancing age and is thought to affect between 10% – 40% of people. Hallucinations seen by those with Bonnet’s Syndrome range from colourful patterns and textures on walls, through out-of-place objects such as bottles and vases of flowers, to animals and faces and people. Perhaps one of the strangest things about the affliction is that the hallucinated items often appear to interact with the sufferer’s real environment. Charles Bonnet, who first described the disorder, observed it in his 89 year old grandfather who hallucinated birds, horse-drawn carriages, animals and perhaps most disturbingly of all, a man who would come into his bedroom and smoke a pipe in the evenings, and who was still there the next morning when the old man awoke…

The British Medical Journal reports the case of an 87 year old widower who had, for six weeks previous to his diagnosis with the condition, been seeing people and animals in his house, including bears and Highland cattle.

He knew that these visions were not real and they didn’t bother him much, but he thought he might be losing his mind. The visions lasted for minutes to hours, and the cattle used to stare at him while quietly munching away at the grass.

Bonnet’s Syndrome occurs mostly in people with some kind of macular degeneration, and the most likely explanation for what is going on is that the sufferer’s brain, lacking the visual information it is accustomed to receiving, feels obliged to conjure up something to fill the space. That it chooses to integrate that ‘something’ with the world of the patient is perhaps the weirdest part of the illness.

The lesson here, in case this post seems somewhat obtuse, is that you quite literally can’t always believe your eyes. The strangeness of Charles Bonnet Syndrome illustrates profoundly how deeply etched into our being is the ‘need’ to make sense of the world in some way when deprived of the proper data. In the case of the sufferer of Bonnet’s Syndrome, the brain makes an unmistakeable and totally misleading judgment call.

If you’d like to read more about Charles Bonnet Syndrome there’s a great piece on Damn Interesting.


Image (in part) by William Fox Talbot from Wikimedia Commons


Halloween is one of my favourite festivals as you all know. It is the time of the year when we celebrate the dark and drear, when our imaginations wander to the chilly side of existence and we contemplate those things that cannot come out to play in the light of day.

So it is deeply disturbing to me, to see the Halloween tradition becoming cuter and cuter as the years go by. Cute pumpkins, cheery ghosts, jolly vampires, happy Frankenstein’s monsters… what the hell is with all that? Halloween is supposed to SCARE you, people. It’s not about CUTE. If you want cute you can get it any time of the year. In fact, all you wimps who want a Festival of Cute, why don’t you go make one. Put it in February, as far away from Halloween as possible. Then you can all go and revel in your Anne Geddes photographs and Hello Kitty pinkitude together and leave the rest of us to enjoy a decent scare-fest.

Crikey those Japanese roboticists are goddamned determined. Without even missing a balance-threatening beat after the cyberclockwork embarrassments that were Asimo and Aiko, they’ve wheeled a new proto-Terminator out of the lab. Now, the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology is presenting to the world their all-singing, all-dancing HRP-4C Gynoid1 Hmm. HRP-4C. Not exactly a roll-off-the-tongue kind of nickname, is it, really? I think I’m going to call it Harpy.

The YouTube clip above shows Harpy on stage doing a song and dance with some human girls as backup.2 Harpy’s creators have managed the build a robot so astonishingly sophisticated that it can move and correct its balance throughout an entire dance routine without faltering. They have, at the same time, demonstrated an impressive inability to get her body dimensions correct. Can anyone say ‘man hands’? Wait – can anyone say ‘orangutan arms’?

It’s not that the inventors haven’t given any thought at all to Harpy’s anatomy – she’s also done a little bit of modeling on the fashion catwalk, where it is obvious that the NIAIST drawing board wasn’t all doodles of just hydraulics and micro-relays.

Just look at that shiny titanium ass! I can hear what you’re thinking – she’s so sexy you want to marry her! Well, you can.

It’s OK – it’s a wedding. You’re allowed to cry.3

  1. Gynoid? Now there’s an expression that I don’t see catching on. []
  2. These Japanese tech folks need a bit of a refresher in marketing methinks. Demonstration Tip #1: don’t display your product next to something that is visibly superior. []
  3. Billy Jean? Why? Someone please tell me why? []

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