Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wordle: Beautiful Word Clouds

Kidz, have you ever been looking for that perfect title page for your end of term paper? Fear not, the bold and daring eyes of Mr. Spanky come to your rescue. Alert sprite that I am, I found this very nifty cloud tool that will create a picture from the words of your prose: it's aptly named "Wordle".

What is a word cloud? Quite simply it is a graphical depiction of the word count in the supplied text where higher frequency words are shown larger than those of lesser frequency. For example, I've taken Jabberwocky, a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, and run it through Wordle as you can see above. If you want to know what a Borogove is, I recommend you read the Wikipedia link, it comes with a handy glossary.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Funny little shorts by some French animators, "Minuscule" shows us the power of cooperation and rivalry in the insect world. Released as a collaboration between Helene Giraud, Thomas Szabo, and the Disney Channel, they mix CGI animation and real world scenes to create a humorous potpourri of the world beneath our feet. The subtitle for the clips is "The Private Life of Insects" and the stories are charming.

There are 4 DVDs full of insecty goodness in 78 creepy crawly episodes. A perfect Christmas gift for children of all ages if you can actually read French and swallow the 40€ cost. The movies themselves contain no language and as such are universally understandable.

Now Mr. Spanky is more miserly than Mr. Crachet and doesn't like to tease so of course there's more: if you are an iPod owner you can go to the iTunes store, click on Podcasts->Video Podcasts->Comedy->Minuscule, la vie privee des insectes on DVD and subscribe to 20 (and counting) of those episodes for free!


P.S.: Warning, MA, there are spiders in these clips.

P.P.S.: to all you centipedes out there, break a leg!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Hovercraft is Clogged with Eels

Mr. Spanky is happy to report that he now has a Facebook page. I know that many of you kidz are thinking, "This is *so* embarrassing, it's like he just doesn't *get* his target audience. He should have *started* on Facebook." Once again you underestimate the sheer brilliance that Mr Spanky can barely contain in his shiny metallic little cranium.

I can now post to Blogger (i.e. my blog) and it automatically emails out to those of you that are on my mailing list. Simultaneously it posts to my Facebook page. This is just unprecedented genius. You can consume Phun Kidz in any form that you like! And I can be lazy or as adults like to say, efficient. If you are ever in the position where you want to know how to do what I did then send me an email. I will make you pay dearly. In the mean time go to my Facebook page and add me as your friend!

But enough jawing about my amazing skills. Let's get on to the interesting post of today. For those of you that are lucky enough to have an iPhone then you should know that the absolute killer app has arrived. And get this: it's free. As in no cost from the gearheads at Google. It allows you to perform a Google search by voice from your phone. I tried the voice recognition on a number of phrases: "Mediterranean food in Mountain View", "Starbucks in Willow Glen", and "She turned me into a newt". Amazingly, every single one of these phrases was turned from the croaking voice of Mr Spanky into flawless text for Googley consumption. More esoteric phrases like "My hovercraft is clogged with eels" caused it consternation, however. The big question, kidz, is how in the name of Gibil's flaming nethers does this work?

As you speak into your phone, your voice is transmitted to a hundred thousand monkeys on a secret Google monkey farm in some desolate spot in the world like Meat Cove, NS. Each of them wears a headset that shouts your voice into their pea size brains. They are trained to punch a phonetic keyboard with all the basic English sound clusters in response to bananas that hang temptingly from the ceiling. The results are averaged and sent back to Google in order to perform the search. Or something like that.

In reality your voice is transmitted to the Google servers and they use some Text-To-Speech software to break it down and guess what you said. The technology has been around for quite some time and has improved steadily over the years. Google has no doubt scaled it to handle the volume of translations needed. I suspect that they've also allowed the software to learn from mistakes as well. If the speech is not translated exactly the way you want then there is a little drop down with other possible variations that you can select. I bet that once you select a variation then the software "learns" where it made a mistake. See neural nets for what I mean by "learning".

Conceivably, this technology could go both ways. You might eventually be able to utter into your iPhone in English and have your speech broken down to text and then translated to Hindi and spoken using Text-To-Speech software. Just like the Pomegranate. I took the liberty of running the English phrase "Mr. Spanky couldn't see more than that because of the fog and rain." through Google translation services into Hindi and then back to English: "Mr than that Spanky because of fog and rain could not see more." Clearly we still have some way to go.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Who is Mr. Spanky?

Alert reader SO phoned me within minutes of my last post about the Pomegranate to let me know that that said phone is, get this, a FAKE. It's a teaser that the province of Nova Scotia has put on to let people know that a phone that has everything doesn't exist but there is a place that does. I've been to Nova Scotia. There's lots of trees. And a lighthouse and a ferry. Mr. Spanky couldn't see more than that because of the fog and rain. According to maps of Canada, it has interesting places like "Meat Cove", "Dingwall", and "Tatamagouche". Those places alone are worth a trip. A free limited edition Mr. Spanky Phunkidz T-shirt goes to the first reader that takes a picture of themselves in any of these fine places.

As a result of SO's quick thinking the highly coveted Mr. Spanky sticker sheet is on its way to blustery Canada (not in Nova Scotia) where her two sons can plaster them on foreheads, inside cupboards, and under the toilet seat in order to greet visitors with the handsome metallic visage of Mr. Spanky himself.

I have also taken the narcissistic liberty of creating MOO cards for Phunkidz, featuring my visage, to hand out, for free, to those last few children who may not have heard of me. This no more or less than a charitable attempt to spread the joy of Phunkidz. This has prompted concerns about exactly who Mr. Spanky is given his unusual name. Suffice it to say that there are some people with very sad and twisted minds, kidz, and it makes me feel depressed about the state of our society just thinking about it.

Speaking of your parents, here's the real deal on Mr. Spanky. Mr. is a reference to the fact that I'm am older than you. Spanky is one of the best characters in the The Little Rascals, a black-and-white children's show put on during the mid-1950s. He was the brains and enterprising leader of a down-and-out group of children that ran around causing mischief. In this photo, Spanky is shown on the right. His mother is credited with giving him his memorable nickname which originated from her repeated warnings of what he would get should he venture into trouble.

You might now be thinking, "I get the Mr. and I get the Spanky but why the wind-up robot picture?" Robots are generally cool--especially if they are hurling fire balls and slashing at each other with spinning blades of death. 'nuff said.

You might also be thinking, "Is Mr. Spanky really that old that he was alive during the 1950s? Shouldn't he be dead or at least in a wheelchair with a catheter bag? He probably smells like the monkey on the left-hand-side of the above photo." Simple answer here: no. I'm now thinking that you ask too many questions and probably have homework that you are neglecting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pomegranate: the phone of phones

There are many people that own what they consider to be the phone of phones, the iPhone. Mr. Spanky has succumbed to the marketing spin and carefully polishes the shiny black carapace and wipes the smudges off the glass of his iPhone on an hourly basis. It's sad--there's no doubt about it.

Until now. The Pomegranate offers an eclipse-like leap in technology, usefulness, and coolness that leaves the iPhone looking like a doughy backwoods hillbilly who's had one too many sips of moonshine. There is one problem, however, as it only brews drip and not espresso. I'm sure the 2.0 model will fix this oversight.

I will be busily saving my shekels for this one, Kidz. Once acquired, I will be handing down my iPhone to my children who, although thrilled to have an iPhone, will have a deep yearning that is unfulfilled as they see me "pom"-around. It's just the way that I go about teaching the kids about the value of money and hard work. I'm sure that Dr. Spock will write a thesis one day on this brilliant parenting technique.


N.B. Alert Kidz will note something odd about the Pomegranate. First one to email Mr. Spanky with the correct answer will get a sheet of Mr. Spanky stickers suitable for sticking on your favorite people, pets, and possessions.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ba Ba Ba Ba Bup

Mr Spanky is always looking for the next BIG thing. The thing that will turn media on its head and create a new genre, the next invention that will change the way humanity lives and brushes its teeth, the idea that causes small minds to explode just thinking about it.

This is not one of those things. Ba Ba Ba Ba Bup is an M & G production. I can only hope that it becomes a mind worm and causes massive downloads to occur from YouTube paralyzing the internet. Bwa ha ha ha ha!