Tuesday, August 31, 2010

WordCram: An open-source Wordle-like library

If you're a programmer, and you want to create Wordle-like effects in your own software, then you couldn't do much better than to start with WordCram. WordCram is an excellent new open-source project, designed to work as an extension library for the Processing programming environment. I like the way it's designed. I like how simple it is to use. I love that the source is freely available, so that you can study it, learn from it, and improve it. Please go check it out, and give the author some love.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Wordle as "Beautiful Visualization"

O'Reilly has a nifty series of books on "beauty" in technology. Editor Julie Steele asked me to contribute a chapter about Wordle to the book on Beautiful Visualization. If you're a visualization fanatic, then you may want to go buy a copy (for which all royalties go to Architecture for Humanity). However, if you're merely curious about how Wordle came to be, or how it works, you might enjoy this PDF of Beautiful Visualization, Chapter 3: Wordle.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Berylium is Back

Due to popular demand, I've put Berylium back. Who knew it had such a following?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tagxedo is amazing

Not so much an "alternative" to Wordle as much as "Wordle - the next generation". It's a leap forward both in the layout algorithms (which permit sophisticated shape-filling) and the design of the tweaking interface. It's very unusual to find a programmer who has both the sophisticated algorithmic know-how and the keen sense of user-centered design that Hardy Leung exhibits. He clearly has had an eye on the various warts in Wordle, and has addressed them with energy and determination. I wish him and his project(s) well. Go check it out!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Google News

On February 19th, I amicably parted ways with IBM Research, where I had spent over 6 years fiercely manning a very small tiller on a very large ship.

For the 4 weeks following, I joyfully hacked on Ben Fry’s and Casey Reas’s Processing project. I spent a couple of those weeks trying to stabilize the tooling around their nascent support for the Android mobile platform, and then dove into some of the guts of the language itself, adding support for most of Java 5’s new features. Finally, I fixed all open bugs around the “auto formatter”, which is supposed to neaten up your rat’s nest of code, but had been mangling and eating it under certain circumstances. It was an exhilarating month, which tells you exactly how much of a geek I am. To be paid for it was almost unbearably wonderful.

I spent a lot of time with my family, and a lot of time at various public libraries. Thank you Lincoln and Arlington, for your beautiful libraries, your kind librarians, and your free WiFi.

This past Monday, March 29th, I showed up at 5 Cambridge Center for my first day as a Noogler, which is what new Google employees are officially called. I’m proud to say that I’ve joined the team behind the amazing Google books.

Right now, I’ve got my lips to the fire hose. There’s no good way for me to express to you how complex Google’s engineering culture is, having its own succinct and expressive jargon, a custom tool set, and a Jovian scale. As I learn to crawl, my contributions there will be unglamorous—incremental improvements to this or that web page on a mobile device; a widget or two. But I hope, over time, to make some significant mark, and to be able to tell you about it with pride. But first I’ve got to learn C++, the language in which it’s “harder [to shoot yourself in the foot], but when you do, it blows your whole leg off.”

Wordle will continue to be freely available. I have no plans to change anything about it (although I have been experimenting with some new palettes during those few free minutes between making school lunches and collapsing in bed).


A beautiful and exceedingly clever visualization of how word frequencies change over time in some corpus. Timecloud. Brilliant. (Via an email from Rob James)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

This "Sex" Which Is Not One

I've received a bunch of notes in response to my recent FAQ entry on the name of the Sexsmith font. They've mostly been favorable, but tonight I received this:

Thank you for your response about the "Sexsmith" font title. While I appreciate your quick wit and understand your frustration, my seven year old students (and their moms and dads) probably won't appreciate it as much. So while I love to play on your site, I am unable to provide my young friends with an opportunity to be technology-forward in their learning. It is unfortunate that one thing prohibits that, but it also sucks that I could get fired for allowing my kids to play with a site that has "Sex" anywhere on it, no matter the context.

Thanks for being so understanding,
[Name Withheld]

I have to admit that on this point I am not "understanding". It seems completely insane to me, and insane in a characteristically American way. In no other country could there be such a force-field of anxiety around the juxtaposition of three letters. In this case it's particularly bizarre, given that the word "Sexsmith" has nothing whatsoever to do with "sex". It has to do with seaxes. And while I'd love to stop using "sex" as a weapon, I'm afraid I can't buck history (or philology) on this one.

But, for the sake of argument, let's pretend that we're actually talking about, you know, it, or matters related to it. Out of curiosity, in one of these benighted school districts where evolution is "just a theory" and Ptolemaic cosmology is on equal footing with Copernican, what word are you permitted to use when you need to denote that property of a person that is determined by the presence or absence of a Y chromosome? Do you call it "gender"? What kind of reproduction is practiced by most multicellular lifeforms on Earth? Genderual?

For that matter, what instrument did Christopher Columbus use to determine his latitude? Trick question! He used a quadrant, not a gendertant.

I suppose we should all be grateful that I chose not to use this font; it would be a lot harder to fully justify.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What happened?

On Saturday evening, I received an email concerning a perceived trademark infringement on the part of the Wordle web site. In the spirit of "better safe than sorry", I took the site down right away.

Because of the unbelievable ruckus that ensued on Twitter and in the blogosphere—even the WaPo picked up TechCrunch's story—I quickly found myself in possession of meaningful information and legal counsel.

Unfortunately, I can't give you any details about exactly what the facts are, and what I'm doing about them. I can tell you that a very kind, warm, and competent IP lawyer is helping me.

In a way, I feel like I've won my own little version of the DARPA Network Challenge. Instead of finding 10 red balloons, I found a handful of lawyers (and ex-lawyers, of whom there seem to be many). Can I get DARPA to write me a check for $40K? There have got to be defense applications of Wordle, right?

I cordially thank the many people who wrote to me offering support, and who used various social media to discuss this spot of bother.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nothing personal.

I've recently posted personal opinions and natterings here, which reduces the value of this blog as a source of Wordle-related news and notes. I'm not going to do that anymore. Those of you who are interested in my personal doings, thoughts, and aesthetic leanings are warmly invited to follow me at http://pheinberg.tumblr.com/ and as @pheinberg on twitter.