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Saturday, July 20

The History of The Haikulator

A recent tweet after someone discovered The Haikulator has rekindled my love of the old thing.

There were 7 versions made. I suspect they varied mainly in the number of phrases they contained and I think one of the early increments added a counter so that the haiku generated was given a permutation number out of the maximum number of possible haikus. It started out as 100,000 or so and rose to 350,000.

To call it a haiku generator is a little bit of a misnomer. It's really a haiku fruit machine. It comes with a bunch of first, second and third lines, each of which was written in isolation, with the idea of evoking abstract ambiguous feelings. The real generation of a haiku happens in the reader's head, where the three lines are put together and you can't help but try to make sense of them.

I followed up the haiku generator with some other sentence generators; I've written loads of them over the years, but the Haikulator is still a favourite.

I'm trying to find some research on Haikus that I helped with. The paper, written by David Platt, is cited in this article on Haiku analysis. I provided two bits of help to David. One thing I did was provide him a tool to turn his Haiku analysis numbers into fake 1D Gel Electrophoresis images so he could abuse an analysis package of such images to create Dendrograms showing the relationships of his Haikus.

The other bit of help I provided was giving him the Haikulator. He used the machine-generated haikus as a control group with his analysis. If I track down the exact article, I'll be able to clarify my original memory that the machine-generated poetry came up as an outlier in the analysis... perfect!

I have some plans for the Haikulator in the next few months - why not rekindle an old friendship for today's generation!?

While I have the facts in my head, it's probably worth recapping the history of the thing.

If David Platt wrote his article for June 2000's issue of Blithe Spirit, which I believe he did - reference "Fingerprinting Haikus: Help, Hindrance or Heresy?" - then this means I wrote the Haikulator in 2000. Early 2000, perhaps. My own records suggest that it first appeared on this site - which was both a blog and a set of static web pages - in around January 2001. However, it's quite clear that the January 2001 version - still available here - was an update. It was version 3.

Earlier versions are lost in the mists of time, I suspect.

The Haikulator got me through some tough times. In May 2002 my life was turned around by a long-term relationship ending and a new life starting as a consequence. As part of rebooting myself, I threw myself more and more into the things which entertained me.

I now can't remember which year it was that I had three polo shirts made with Haikulator'ed haikus on them. It may have been 2002 it may have been 2003. I remember rattling round the Edinburgh Fringe with my haiku shirts and attracting some attention as a result. The girl in Starbucks who leaned over the counter to read my breast made my day. Let's just say the feeling was somewhat mutual.

Forgive the younger me!

I remain fascinated by the way that meaningless words, interpreted by a human, create such glee.

My most recent foray into computer-generated text is the slightly flawed Excuse Generator.

I think the Haikulator is due a renaissance. Watch this space!

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