Cloudy Forecast

Cloud computing is a concept that—if you haven’t already been hearing about—you’re certain to be inundated with in the coming months. Even the U.S. government has dubbed 2011 the “Year of the Cloud.” But there’s another type of computing cloud that’s also been looming on the horizon, building momentum, and is becoming popular even among non-techies: word clouds.

A word cloud (sometimes also referred to as a “text cloud” or “tag cloud”) is a visualization of word frequency in a given text (news articles, blog posts, love letters, whatever) as a weighted list. These graphical representations of words are usually constructed out of individual words (although short phrases can also be incorporated) and often use varying colors, font size or letter weight to emphasize more frequently-used words. A cloud can be free-form, but often the text is used to “draw” relevant shapes, so it’s sort of a hybrid of an informational chart and an eye-catching graphic.

(You can see my first foray into word clouds in my Word Up! post from a couple of years back.)

A couple of months ago, I discovered Hardy Leung’s fantastic new word cloud tool called Tagxedo via one of my favorite blogs, Gerard Vlemming’s The Presurfer.

Tagxedo is a web-based app that turns words—famous speeches, news articles, love letters, your website, whatever—into a visually stunning tag cloud, words individually sized appropriately to highlight the frequencies of occurrence within the body of text. It offers nearly-infinite customization of over a dozen different variables allowing you to create some truly unique & artistic word clouds.

For the best results with this, you’ll most likely need to tinker with the contrast and brightness of your source image. To achieve the desired effect, I punched up the contrast, converted Liam’s photo to greyscale, and applied some filters to make the shading even more sharply-defined. Once in Tagxedo, I found that I got better results with a larger pool of text that I had manually removed some of the really common words from (like “the,” “and,” “or,” and such) but I believe there’s even now a way to configure the app settings to do this for you. So the progression went something like this:

Word cloud image prep progression

So, armed with the cropped and heavily-tweaked version of a recent studio portrait of Liam, the text contents from our Russian Adoption Journal, and Tagxedo, I went to work. Once it had generated a cloud that I was especially pleased with, I saved it and printed the image on a very high-resolution laser printer loaded with high-grade linen paper. I used paper with a very pronounced texture to give the text a bit more character & interest. We mounted the print in a floating frame and hung it in our Den. The end result is, I think, really impressive!

Up close, the grouping of the word cloud text is interesting but it’s a bit tough to visualize the shading and form being suggested by the placement, size, and weight of the text:

Tagxedo word cloud image detailTagxedo word cloud

I urge you to visit Hardy’s Tagxedo blog for some usage tips, the Tagxedo Gallery for some stunning examples of what can be done, and finally, the 101 Ways to Use Tagxedo document for an in-depth tutorial.

I’ve discovered that, in the few weeks since I did our word cloud art project and started drafting this article (a few blog posts got pushed to the backburner in the hustle & bustle of the holidays), Hardy has made loads of additions and refinements to Tagxedo. But be forewarned: Although these updates do simplify and speed up the process, you can still easily fiddle away a few hours playing, tweaking & adjusting. But chances are, your cloudy results will blow you away!

A Texan in the Making

Texas ProudAs you may recall back in November of last year, Liam was working on his Texas Pride.

I’m happy to report that yesterday he officially used the word y’all in a sentence. It went something like this; “Mom, are y’all both going in the store?” This of course made me beam with my own Texas Pride.

Now, if we could just get him to like hot sauce, his Texan transformation would be complete!

Terrorists, No More

In response to the recent shooting of Congresswoman Giffords in Tucson, Hillary Clinton empathized that America has loony, sometimes dangerous extremists just like nearly every other nation. While I don’t especially care for or agree with her uneven comparison of this lone gunman’s actions with that of militant groups like al-Qaeda, I did like Clinton use of the word “extremists” rather than “terrorists.”

I wonder if, by calling nutjobs (here or abroad) “terrorists,” we’re giving them a certain amount of power? Perhaps we’re tacitly admitting that they’ve accomplished their goal—they’ve instilled terror and disrupted our lives. Are we in some way giving these loonies exactly what they desperately crave?

Biff Tannen photoSo maybe former-President George W. Bush had it right when he called them “evil-doers.” Sure, at the time, I thought it sounded juvenile and had some odd evangelical connotations, but maybe I just failed to understand his rationale. Was Bush just trying to avoid giving terrorists the satisfaction of living up to their label?

Therefore, I’ve decided we should mandate that anytime they’re mentioned in the media—be it print or broadcast—terrorists must be referred to as “buttheads.”
Just imagine the headlines:

     “Buttheads Delay Flights in NYC”

     “Domestic Buttheads On The Rise”

     “Citizens Foil Libyan Butthead Plot”

What better way to trivialize and emasculate these buttheads?

Biff Tannen would approve.


Some time back I posted about a comic strip I had found online and thoroughly enjoy called Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis. Recently I stumbled across another strip that I really like and would like to share.

The webcomic Sheldon by San Diegan Dave Kellett is just terrific! “Sheldon” is filled with pop-culture references and fun, random storylines surrounding an offbeat family consisting of a ten-year-old billionaire boy, his duck Arthur (who learned to talk when Sheldon downloaded some speech-recognition software into his head) and his coffee-loving grandfather who raises them both.

Kellett’s sarcastic sense of humor draws from some of the same pool of genius as does Pastis: Bloom County, The Far Side, and Calvin & Hobbes. I especially like how the Granddad deals with aging, technology, and society on the whole. Take a peek at a few favorites and then go subscribe so you can receive “Sheldon” in your email inbox daily:

Sheldon webcomic - 12/15/01
Sheldon webcomic - 09/27/10
Sheldon webcomic - 11/26/09
Sheldon webcomic - 02/04/10