Published: Thu 03 January 2013

Implementing perceptual dependence between a computer and its environment, 2010

psworld is work of ‘philosoftware’. It began as a modification of the utility, ‘ps’, found on all UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems.

ps is used by people and programs to quickly sort and print a table of processes that are running on a computer. Here are just a few lines from the command ‘ps ax’, executed on the computer on which I’m writing this text:

            PID  TTY      STAT   TIME COMMAND  
            3529 ?        Ss     0:00 dhclient wlan0  
            3735 ?        S      0:00 tlsmgr -l -t unix -u -c  
            3877 pts/0    S+     0:00 mutt  
            4714 ?        Ss     0:00 xterm  
            4715 pts/1    Ss     0:00 bash  
            4869 pts/1    S+     0:00 /bin/sh ./firefox  
            4872 pts/1    S+     0:00 /bin/sh ./ ./firefox-bin  
            4876 pts/1    Sl+    7:51 ./firefox-bin  
            4928 pts/1    S+     0:00 /usr/lib/libgconf2-4/gconfd-2 12  
            8727 ?        Ss     0:00 xterm  
            8728 pts/5    Ss     0:00 bash  
            8901 pts/5    S+     0:00 irssi  
            9730 pts/0    Sl+    0:00 vim /home/julian/.tmp/mutt-nohost-1000-3877-9

psworld maps these processes onto visual features in the world, creating a perceptual dependence between a computer and the world around it. As the computer’s visible surroundings change, the instability of the operating system increases.

An example: a computer running psworld is in a park watching a bird in a tree. If the process ‘Firefox’ is attached to the bird’s head and the bird suddenly flies away, Firefox will be terminated on the computer. Similarly, a breakfast scene may include many processes attached to various edibles on the table. As breakfast is eaten, dependent processes on the computer will be terminated.

A breakfast is an example of a highly unstable environment whereas a lifeless concrete room, in continuous even light, is not.

psWorld psWorld psWorld psWorld Photo by Crystelle Vu. psWorld Photo by Crystelle Vu. psWorld Photo by Crystelle Vu.


Thanks to P. Basso and C. Confetti for the macros.

Source Code

The source code for psworld is available. It was built on both Debian and Ubuntu systems with GCC 4.3.2. psworld was (mostly) written on a train from Delft to Berlin, July 2010.

Related Projects

psDoom is a modification of idSoftware’s Doom whereby the player terminates processes by shooting monsters in the game.

Torrent Raiders is a game by Aaron Meyers whereby the player intercepts actual bittorrent downloads by shooting game entities that represent those processes.


  • TEA Super Connect, Taichung City, Taiwan
  • ISEA 2011, Istanbul (group show)
  • Techno Ecologies, Riga, 2011 (group show)
  • _moddr Exhibition, iMAL, Brussels 2010 (group show)
  • VIDA 13.0 award exhibition, ARCO, Madrid, 2011.