Paul Bunyan and the Spambot
Well, Paul Bunyan had been busy out in the woods for a while when the Internet came up, so he came to the party kind of late. But it wasn't too late -- what really piqued his interest was when he heard about editorials, or 'blogs' as they used to call'em back then.

Paul had always been the world's biggest logger, so naturally he took a real cotton to the word "blogger", once he'd heard it. He had to ask what exactly it meant, though -- fortunately, Babe the Blue Ox had considerable Google-fu, and was able to point him in the right direction almost immediately. And while they were all sitting around the camp jawboning about this new development out in the city world, his old friend and camp cook Sourdough Sam made him a bet that, even though he was the world's most famous logger, he probably couldn't be the world's biggest blogger.

Well, Paul Bunyan was always a sucker for a bet, and anyhow lumber futures were down, all the rivers he knew of had been tamed, there was no room for new Great Lakes, and frankly, life had been boring of late. So with a gigantic laugh that was heard as far away as San Francisco, Caracas, and Berlin, he took Sam up on that bet.

Naturally, just getting Paul Bunyan online was already no mean feat. There was no broadband available in the remote areas of the woods where they'd been working, so the first thing he had to do was string optical cable from the nearest T1 line, which was clear down in St. Paul. For anybody but Paul Bunyan, that would have been near impossible, but ol' Paul just ordered a couple flatbeds of the finest glass windows Minnesota had to offer, chewed'em all up in a single mouthful, and drew'em out between his teeth to spin three hundred miles of perfect fiber optics. Then he just coiled it all up in a loop, and walked all the way into town, stringing that cable all the way. So getting online wasn't a real problem.

No, the real problem was using a computer built to the scale of a normal man! To Paul, the biggest font available was like microfiche, and he'd never been fond of reading much but lumber futures, anyway. And the largest screen they could find was no better than an old Nokia mobile phone for Paul.

Well, asking around a little about the display options, Paul managed to rustle up an old, shut-down drive-in movie theater. He'd always liked the drive-in, because it was the only movie theater he could fit into. The earphones were difficult for him, though, since they wouldn't reach more than six feet off the ground (when they'd come out with AM radio speakers, Paul'd gone to the movies nearly every Saturday for a year. He had to special-order enough popcorn, of course, because it took two trucks -- unpopped -- to fill him up. And he normally took his soda pop by the tanker car full; he'd just cut one end off, dump in the ice, and he was in business.)

So anyhow, they managed to get the computer projected out onto the drive-in movie screen, and that was all right, because that was about the size of a small laptop for Paul. But that still left the problem of the keyboard! He tried whittling a telephone pole down to a point, and using it a stylus, but he crushed every keyboard he tried it with, even industrial ones. Finally, though, they managed to set him up a keyboard using prefab concrete sidewalk slabs for the keys. He used some tweezers ten feet long to paint letters on them -- he needed the letters, because of course, this was the first time he'd ever needed to type, so he had to hunt and peck.

Later, he wrote that keyboard up for MAKE magazine, but for some reason not many people ever used it.

So now, once the input/output and connectivity were all taken care of, Paul Bunyan had to learn to blog. And it was a hard row to hoe, because he had never even imagined the vastness of cyberspace -- it made even Paul Bunyan feel a strange feeling he'd never felt before. Turned out it made him feel a little small!

But Paul was nothing if not dogged in his pursuit of a goal. He'd laid out that he was going to be the biggest blogger on the planet, and by gum, he'd do it. So he dug in his heels and started blogging.

Well, the first week was underwhelming. Technorati had him ranked with an authority of 1, down around three bazillion, and talk around the kitchen was that Sam was going to win that bet. Paul started to realize that perhaps his logging skills weren't going to help him out too much in the blogosphere. But he also figured that some ramp-up time was permitted, so he just squared his shoulders, and started blogging more furiously.

By the second week, Paul was starting to get the hang of it. He opined on politics, he posted funny pictures of cats with captions, and Babe the Blue Ox with a colossal flapjack on his head. He found the most fascinating gadgets and told tales of his personal history. And by the end of the second week, his ratings were pretty OK, but still nothing to write home about, and Sam was starting to eye the Sears and Roebuck catalog, looking for stuff to spend his winnings on.

Paul couldn't have it known he'd lost a bet, though, so he sat back on his heels a little and thought. Now, it's true that Paul Bunyan is best known for his physical attributes and prowess, not for his thinking -- but that really just reflects his times, not the man. Paul's brain was the size of a Pontiac, and he put all that mental horsepower to figuring out just what the point and purpose of blogging really is.

And once he'd asked that question, well, the answer was clear. People read blogs because blogs tell them what they are in the process of thinking. Blogging is a two-way street; the activity of blogging, like other community communication (forums and the like), is to evolve concepts and ideas -- even though they may well be trivial. So Paul had been going about the business all wrong! Instead of telling people what he thought they wanted to hear, he had to understand what they wanted to hear first, and then say that.

Rolling up his sleeves, he bent his head back to the task with renewed effort, with dust flying from his concrete keyboard, and steam just rolling off his head with the mental effort he was putting into this whole thing. To achieve the goal he'd set himself, he effectively had to get out ahead of the whole human race, think what they were going to be thinking in a day or an hour or even in five minutes, and nudge himself in the right direction. And to tell you the truth, nobody but Paul Bunyan could sustain that kind of effort.

And sure enough, just like the time he straightened out the Mississippi to get his logs to market quicker, and just like the time he cut down the ancient pine forests of the Dakotas, Paul Bunyan squared the circle of blogging, and for just a few minutes at a time, his massive noggin was anticipating the thought of the entire human race, just far enough. And his blog stats just fair flew up at that! For that short time, there was just nobody in the world more authoritative than

But just as he was about to celebrate, here came an upstart challenger! This other blog was moving up fast, and Paul was worried. Because if he couldn't stay the biggest blogger in the world for a convincing amount of time, there was no way Sourdough Sam would take that for a win. They'd have to go double or nothing, and to tell you the truth, Paul was getting a little winded, though he wouldn't have admitted it to a soul, 'cept maybe to Babe.

So he squinted down harder, and thought more furiously, and anticipated more agilely, and shot out in front again, but after a bit of that, well, there was that other blog again! Naturally, the only thing was to know his enemy, so Paul took a breather, and poked around at that other blog.

Well, turns out it was just taking his own posts and recycling them, but recombining them with other text out there in sometimes unexpected ways. When he looked even closer, he was pretty sure it was just automated to start with -- there was no human being in the world who could keep up with Paul Bunyan's typing speed, of course, now that he'd gotten the hang of it.

Paul Bunyan knew a thing or two about racing with machines, though. His old friend John Henry had done that, and Paul remembered how that turned out. But John had beat the tunneling machine by sheer strength alone; this blogging machine, this spambot, worked with words and concepts, so Paul would have to use words and concepts to defeat it.

Still typing furiously to stay ahead, Paul bent a portion of his brain to the task of flummoxing his mechanical opponent, and even though that portion was a small one, it was still larger than the entire brain of your off-the-shelf person. So in short order, he was able to embed little logic traps in some of his outgoing posts, to understand the structure of the bot.

And sure enough, he was able to fool the bot into producing gibberish without recognizable English syntax, and its authority fell off for a while, and Paul heaved a great sigh, and started to call Sam over to see the stats and pay up, so Paul could finally take a good, long nap (he figured 'bout a week or so would do.)

But just as he'd taken a deep breath to bellow out Sam's name, he saw that spambot gaining on him again! Well, he just couldn't have that, so he tossed out another logic bomb or two -- and they didn't touch it! The bot had adapted, and was passing all its output through a syntactic filter in order to detect malformed sentences.

Gritting his teeth with renewed effort, Paul thought up his next attack -- this time he put together some posts skewed in the semantic realm, and sure enough, the spambot fell for the bait, and started spewing out posts that just plumb made no sense. This wasn't as obvious against the backdrop of the rest of the Internet, of course, but it was still enough to blunt the machine's authority in the blogosphere, because incoherence is easy to find anywhere.

Chuckling, Paul drew in breath again, but before he could say more than "S!", there was his opponent again! Exasperated, Paul bore down again on the semantic traps, and sure enough, the spambot had adapted, and was checking all its posts for being sensible before they went out.

Well, Paul was stumped. If the spambot had started posting only sensible notions, then it really wasn't spam any more, was it? Was this machine really mechanical now? And while he was pondering that philosophical question (and, of course, blogging about it), he got email.

Turns out it was the spambot, offering a truce! And that was the most welcome thing Paul had heard all day, because as far as he was concerned, he'd already been the biggest human blogger for days now, and by all rights he'd won his bet. He rapidly explained the problem to the bot, and it agreed to shut up for a day, so Paul could win his bet and finally get some sleep.

So when you get right down to it, that's the story of how Paul Bunyan triggered the Singularity to win a bet.

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