Roast Beef Dunwich, our horrifying new Twitterbot

Have you ever wondered what items would be on the menu in a cosmic-horror-themed diner? Me too! Well not at first, but I had a fun Twitter handle (@eatroastbeef) that I wanted to do something neat with, so I thought it would be fun combine a bunch of unspeakable descriptions from Lovecraft novels along with tasty menu descriptions from various local restaurants and fast food chains. Ideally, the bot would then send tweets with a name, short description, price, and calorie count.  Like this:

Christine had written her own Markov Chain script for a similar project earlier this year, so we thought that would be perfect for this project. While Christine worked on the code, I collected as many descriptions as possible to feed to the bot. This was the most tedious part for me as I had to scour the web hunting down good sources, then usually needing to click copy and paste multiple times on each item on their menu and add them to our list. Many sites didn’t even have this info on one page, so I had to load a new page for every single item. This was hours of work, but it was so much fun to see the bots descriptions improve and change with each new menu we feed it. For the Lovecraft text, I started off by just feeding in all of his novels, but that often yielded some boring tweets. I was lucky to find Yog-Blogsoth, which collected every single Lovecraft creature (no matter how obscure) and listed it along with the specific block of text that describes it. This meant all of our Lovecraft text was just the gruesome descriptions, with none of that plot stuff to get in the way. It was still a ton of copying/pasting/checking for duplicates, but it saved a ton of time. 

We had some decent names to choose from, but ended up calling our “diner” Roast Beef Dunwich. I banged out a mascot and logo and the end result is online now. We don’t curate the feed, so there’s bound to be some gibberish, but so far we’ve seen some great tweets. Be sure to give @eatroastbeef a follow for a small dose of absurd tweets throughout the day. 

My favorite food title so far.
No wait, this is my favorite item title! “NYARLATHOTEP MASHED POTATOES THAT ENDED ARBYS”?! How did it even come up with that title? 
Gluten free!

Fun fact, we have yet to see a single Shoggoth or Cthulhu callout since our bot went live. I think I’ll freak out when it happens. 

For more information, check out Christine’s post about Roast Beef Dunwich… and be sure to follow and share our ghastly creation

 

Twitter Cards for WordPress tutorial

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 11.22.50 AM

I’ve been doing some work with Torque Magazine and WordPress engine lately and really digging it. My first column for them was how to install Twitter Cards, the automated image previews that show up on Twitter links, on your WordPress site. In the process, I added Cards support on this site and was blown away by how easy it was. Be sure to check out the article for the full tutorial, though I might suggest using the Twitter Cards plugin in since the WordPress SEO plugin has some bug in it where it uses the last image from each post (instead of the featured image).

 

A fancy Superbowl spread for the Father Alfred Center

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Munchery here before, which is a shame because it’s AWESOME. Most delivery in SF is limited to heavy foods, but Munchery offers really fantastic meals straight from gourmet chefs to your door. If we were doing the “It’s like ____ for ____” game, Munchery would be the Uber for chefs.

Usually, Munchery only delivers Monday through Friday, but this year they are doing a special Superbowl Spread menu (wings and fancy things) and decided to promote it with a special contest giveaway. I entered, because I always enter these types of things, and was delighted to find out that I won $60 in food. The only thing is, I don’t really care about the Superbowl, in fact we’ll be camping and climbing in Pinnacles while it’s going on. So I started looking for folks to donate the food to.

Turns out that many shelters don’t take unpackaged/pre-cooked donations. Luckily, my friend Troy put me in touch with St. Anthony’s dinning room program, which put me in touch with someone else, who talked to someone else… and finally I was talking with the Father Alfred Center, who help addicts get back into regular work habits in a safe environment. They’ll be having a little Superbowl party and are really psyched about getting three orders of the 9 Layer Dip to celebrate with. I’m still a bit low on cash right now, but if anyone is interested, you can donate to Father Alfred here. $250 provides six weeks of job prep and training for a person in recovery.

Thanks to Munchery and Dave Makrinos from Father Alfred Center for making this happen.

 

Encouraging sites to offer PayPal alternatives

note: see an update from Bandcamp below

PayPal has recently stepped into some deep shit with their poor handling of Regretsy’s toys-for-kids campaign, but this certainly isn’t the only issue that’s come up. In fact, just yesterday there was a big story about my friends at Zivity losing their account… then there’s George RR Martin, Wikileaks, PirateBay, and many others.

Rather than a straight up boycott (or signing another useless petition), I’ve decided to try to affect change on a more immediate level by writing sites that I love to use, but only accept PayPal payments. After all, it’s hard to boycott PayPal when so few popular sites offer any alternatives. Below is a copy of my recent email to the awesome folks at Bandcamp.

Hi guys!

I’ve been a longtime fan of BandCamp, and have nothing but good things to say when describing it to other musicians. The only problem I sometimes have is that Bandcamp only takes Paypal for payments. I’ve long wanted additional payment options, especially since PayPal started shutting down accounts of Wikileaks, Regretsy, Zivity, and even a few close friends of mine.

I know that PayPal is just too big for me to influence directly, but I’m hoping in writing this letter that Bandcamp would consider adding PayPal alternatives, such as WePay. Though I certainly plan on continued use of your site, I am currently shutting off the payment options for all of my albums on Bandcamp (http://docpop.bandcamp.com/) and keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll soon offer different payment alternatives. To be clear, I’m not trying to get you guys to remove PayPal, I’m simply asking that you consider offering alternative payment methods. I’d hate to think of the number of sales that you and I could both be missing due to only accepting PayPal.

Thanks!


-Doctor Popular
Mobile Phone Musician and Photographer
www.DocPop.org
www.ObjectiveScenes.com
www.BeepsAndSmudges.com
www.twitter.com/docpop

update: I received this email from Ryan at Bandcamp

Hi Doc,

Thanks for the message and the love. We’re exploring alternate payment systems for the future, but there isn’t a set timeframe yet. Please watch the blog (blog.bandcamp.com) for updates.

FWIW, after the earthquake in Japan, charity compilations on Bandcamp raised over $75K for the survivors. Another album recently raised several thousand dollars for the families of FDNY firefighters killed in 9/11, and dozens of other charity releases have raised funds to support PTSD therapy, cancer treatment, and the building of schools, among many other causes. All of these transactions were processed by Paypal.

Regarding the Regretsy situation, PayPal has been in top form. Please check this out and balm your mind: https://www.thepaypalblog.com/2011/12/regretsy-issue-resolution/

Thanks,
Ryan
Bandcamp

Rather than bore you with my full response, I’ll just summarize by saying that I 1) thanked him for his quick response, 2) stressed that this issue is not specifically related to Regretsy, but more about offering alternatives for whenever a company like PayPal starts to piss people off, & 3) mentioned that PayPal may have done the right thing in light of public reaction, but other services that get poor treatment may not be so lucky. The last part was maybe unnecessary, but I think I felt somewhat defensive about the charity paragraph.