Facebook’s smiley sprite is a comic!

Facebook’s smiley sprite is a comic!

I added my interpretation – the left column is the original file, 35 pixels wide and 2164 pixels high. It’s a “css sprite”, a caching/bandwidth-saving technique. The file can be found here, as of now: The URL looks very temporary, it might be gone. You can find it by web-inspecting/debugging a smiley in your Facebook messages/chat and checking the smiley’s element’s background-image CSS property.

The Last Will and Testament of Google

So i let Google (auto-)complete Dinosaur Comicshandy template.

The algorithm I used to determine what to type in the search bar is super complicated but totally legit. Here’s the rules I remember:

  • Try the largest context next to / around the blank = the full clause
  • Use only clauses, that is “stuff between punctuation”
  • Use only matches that fit the blank’s expected word type (e.g. verbs where a verb is expected)
  • Trim context words from the boundaries (alternating) until there’s matches
  • Trim words from matches to make them fit
  • Break rules until a match is found
  • Fun is welcome

En detail, where it’s worth it (context I used is emphasized, blank text strong, omitted parts of suggestions in (brackets)):

  • the last will and testament of rosalind leigh: a 2012 movie. Unfortunately, Google Instant/Autocomplete stopped working after a while, probably due to the loads of queries flooding from my IP, so I’ve lost the context to the first four blanks. I’ll try to recall it. And correct it as soon as they unban me. They just did after 20 minutes.)
  • i am of sound mind and body: niiice.
  • (shipping) possessions to australia: The alternative was “to kill a mockinbird”.
  • with the exception of meaning: What sounds like a profound indie album title is actually a popular yodaspoken question.
  • go to church because: Because why wouldn’t you. picked over “must go to restaurants in nyc” for (algorithmic) balance.
  • they might be giants: second suggestion was “they live”, which would have gone nicely with
  • over my dead body: picked over “all over my body”, forgot why.
  • an inspector must spend three (years here (for karate)): Of course I wondered what or who might be a “karate inspector” (and how I could become one) and where she or he must spend three years, but apparently this is some urban myth (or misconception) spurred by an obscure crossword clue.
  • spend three months in a (buddhist temple): Which is not a buddhist standard time frame, but the most common one for tourists, apparently.
  • in a haunted house: duh.
  • where is: short for Isabell, of course.
  • tie them over: something about snacks?
  • if they come for your guns: ah, them.
  • to have my haircut
  • i want my funeral to be a party
  • extremely loud and incredibly close
  • that’s so raven: first I learned that raven is an adjective, then that this is the title of “an American Supernatural teen sitcom television series starring somebody (I never watched the Cosby Show) named Raven-Symoné (the accent is silent, though). The more you know!
  • i suspect nargles: something something Harry Potter. I thought it was some bum dude named Nargles. I had to break the clauses-only rule here.
  • they be like: Oh T-Rex, speak properly! Other scary, unexplicably not blacklisted suggestions not further investigated.
  • into a book
  • blasted into oblivion: Booom!
  • and tell cosette i love her: Les Mis. Booom!
  • way to sms: meh, but the best i could find.
  • their satanic majesties request: less meta than the first suggestion “their there”. Actually Autocomplete stopped working right here, I wondered if it wasn’t that ”Daaamn” that got me temporarily banned. That T-Rex!

data-visualizing American Elf

Big Thank You & Apologies to James Kochalka!

As James Kochalka’s daily diary comic American Elf ended on 2012/12/31 after 14 years and at least 5106 strips. I wondered about its visual evolution.

First, let’s look at its shape’s consistency. The comic/page comes in a near square format and usually consists of a heading, 4 square panels, and the date. Sometimes it’s just 3 or 2 panels, one big panel, a list or… something. The early strips were black and white. This is what an average (literally) strip looks like:

I used a fairly simple technique which I once thought I had invented, while it’s pretty much as old as photography – it’s basically a multiple exposure (of stuff that looks alike). Here’s a nice example (hover over the names on the bottom right).

The 4-panels-structure dominates, then there’s the headline at the top, the date at the bottom (where you can even see the space between month/day and year). While the colors cancel each other out (it’s not the early strips that cause the grayness), you can see a light skew: the left border isn’t really straight.

Let’s look at this through time:

Here, each image contains one fourth of the strips, i.e. the first 1200+ strips or 3 years in the top left corner, and so on, left-to-right, top-to-bottom.

It’s apparent now that the first years were black and white, and had no heading. The early color strips tended to pink/red/purple tones, and headlines seem to be yellow predominantly.

Again, but with more granularity/temporal resolution:

Here, each sample contains roughly 80 images – so it’s like favorite color of the season, i guess.

Now let’s look at all strips individually:

The strips are laid out  following a hilbert curve. Other than a left-to-right-top-to-bottom text-like layout (with line-breaks), it preserves locality: a month is not a line, but a block. That’s why all the early strips sit in the upper left corner, and are followed by the bright colored in the upper right corner. The curve then turns to the bottom, to the left, and down again, before it ends in the bottom left corner (hilbert curves only come in specific “capacities”, and the 5106 strips fit uncomfortably between 4096 and 16384).


When I look at this data visualization I feel a little, well, uneasy. It’s a cold analysis of a work of art full of heart and warmth. It compresses over 5000 days of work into on neat graphic. Plus, I made a machine crawl your website and download all those handcrafted images…

But that’s just one way to look at it – I hope it rather is an awe-inspiring celebration of a masterpiece (these are heavy words), made with handcrafted scripts. And (image)magic(k).

So, again: Thank You & Sincere Apologies, James Kochalka!