Implementing perceptual dependence between a computer and its environment

Oliver, 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:

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.


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


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.

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.