Silicon Affinity

In 1952, British computer scientist Christopher Strachey taught the Manchester Mark 1 computer to write love letters:

Darling Sweetheart,

You are my avid fellow feeling. My affection curiously clings to your passionate wish. My liking yearns for your heart. You are my wistful sympathy: my tender liking.

Yours beautifully

M. U. C.

Strachey’s original program has been lost, but it was reimplemented by MIT digital media professor Nick Montfort in 2014, and now you can watch it pour out its heart online. (Here’s a PHP implementation.)


After 17 years, I think I’m going to take a bit of a break for a little while. I may post irregularly while I decide whether to continue.

In the meantime the blog archive and the podcast are still available. Thanks, as always, for reading!


P.S. Wow, thanks for all your kind messages! There are too many to respond to, but I’m reading every one. Thanks again!

“The Prerogative of Might”

A Slander traveling rapidly through the land upon his joyous mission was accosted by a Retraction and commanded to halt and be killed.

‘Your career of mischief is at an end,’ said the Retraction, drawing his club, rolling up his sleeves and spitting on his hands.

‘Why should you slay me?’ protested the Slander. ‘Whatever my intentions were, I have been innocuous, for you have dogged my strides and counteracted my influence.’

‘Dogged your grandmother!’ said the Retraction, with contemptuous vulgarity of speech. ‘In the order of nature it is appointed that we two shall never travel the same road.’

‘How then,’ the Slander asked, triumphantly, ‘have you overtaken me?’

‘I have not,’ replied the Retraction; ‘we have accidentally met. I came round the world the other way.’

But when he tried to execute his fell purpose he found that in the order of nature it was appointed that he himself perish miserably in the encounter.

— Ambrose Bierce, Fantastic Fables, 1899

The Wollemi Pine
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1994 bushwalker David Noble abseiled off a cliff 150 kilometers northwest of Sydney and found himself in a very deep canyon surrounded by trees with strange serrated leaves and curious bubbly bark.

He took a sample back to his colleagues at the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and discovered that he’d found one of the greatest living fossils of the 20th century, with roots in the age of dinosaurs 110-120 million years ago. Somehow the species had survived raging brushfires and 17 ice ages, apparently by retreating to a single canyon in a national park.

The location of that canyon has been kept secret to protect the survivors, which numbered only 100 adult trees in three or four patches, but a special auction in 2005 raised more than a million dollars from bidders eager to receive the first trees cultivated from the rare conifers.

Tim Entwistle, executive director of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens Trust, said that when he learned about Noble’s discovery he went through the classic stages of botanical shock: disbelief, amazement, and excitement. “The Wollemi Pine is a unique reminder that the world is full of undiscovered wonders, that there is a lot more to know about our planet and a lot to protect.”

(Richard Allen and Kimbal Baker, Australia’s Remarkable Trees, 2009.)

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Hi, everyone. This is just another update — I need to keep the Futility Closet website suspended for another month, through July, because the libraries I use are still closed due to the pandemic. We’re still producing the podcast in the meantime, and the archives are here if you’d like to browse them. If I can’t start up again in August I’ll post another update here. If you have any questions you can always reach me at Take care of yourselves!