Shimeji and Your Friendly Desktop Characters


It probably doesn’t cross people’s minds to have some strange character sitting (or even moving) on their computer desktop. You don’t need it. It’s purely for entertainment. If you ever want it though, it’s hard to find.

The idea of desktop characters is a cute one. Naturally, then the Japanese must have this. They call them “shimeji” (though if you try to look up that word, you will find it refers to mushrooms).

First, alittle trivia: If you have ever used MS Office 2000, you may vaguely remember the annoying paper clip character that everyone closed. It was new, unique, and ugly, not to mention way ahead of its time. These days, we use a form of natural language processing for chat bots rather than desktop apps. While the paper clip character may have been somewhat helpful, what people may rather have – if they want it at all – is some cute animated creature that stays out of their way or one they can at least move out of their way.

Given how useless and annoying but cute and entertaining these things can sometimes be, I sometimes wonder if anyone is making any money doing this. There are some sites with free or for-pay characters, but at the moment, it is difficult to find any jackpots. Top search results give sites with lists, but many of the links are broken. There are a number on Pixiv via the tag search if you are interested in anime.

It seems there are a few for Mekaku City Actors characters.

One bummer is that they can be processor intensive, and as screenshots often show, they have a tendency to duplicate until they fill your screen. Fortunately, this can be reset. I found that the Ene one (and I imagine this is similar for others) has a task bar icon with a right-click menu. The menu was in Japanese, but there was an option saying 一匹だけ残す , pronounced いっひきだけのこす and meaning “to leave only 1 remaining”. The option saying 増やす (ふやす)  means “increase” and it adds another one.

Tangent on Chat Bots

There was news about Amazon Echo and a “new” social problem starting to arise: Kids ordering stuff without their parents’ permission. By being accessible by anyone standing in the room, such a device is susceptible to abuse. And that doesn’t consider that Amazon isn’t also monitoring your buying habits at the same time.

Natural language processing (NLP) is a hot topic in the tech world right now, and while some of the discussions is on things like Amazon Echo and related products, there’s alot of chatter about chat bots – relatively inexpensive (but not necessarily easy to set up) programs (or extensions) that allow users to have their basic questions answers and their business needs taken care of. Most of these bots are on business websites, but let’s take it a step further.

Imagine having a desktop application open all the time that performs all sorts of tasks for you. In a sense, it’s a big fancy scripting program with an NLP algorithm built on top. Like Amazon Echo, it could definitely be the subject of abuse if given too much power and made publicly accessible. Fortunately, computers can be locked down in different ways. There are kids that are clever enough to get around most parents’ ideas, yes, but there are means to prevent this from happening because you can have total control of the system (like disabling the internet), unlike Echo where everything is in an enclosure, no hands required. I do wonder if it has specific-person voice recognition.

I considered making such a desktop application for a chat bot, but it seems more effort than useful. Where I believe it would find most of its usage would be for elderly individuals who can’t figure out how to change their preferences on the computer (such as their desktop wallpaper) or other miscellaneous technical tasks that they can’t be bothered to learn and don’t have someone else available who can take five minutes to do it for them.


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