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If You've Got a Name - Check out this Applet

Posted by hansmuller on June 17, 2005 at 1:27 PM PDT

I was in a technical meeting recently, with about a dozen developers,
and the discussion topic turned to AJAX. We were seated at tables in
the usual presenter-in-the-center horsehoe configuration. Each
participant was ensconced in a defensive posture, behind a big laptop.
The tenor of technical meetings has changed over the years, thanks to
technology. Complex adjustable office chairs facilitate slouching
behind a laptop screen's protective wall, so that it's only necessary
to expose one's eyes and forehead to the rest of the room. When
someone ventured a point about AJAX, it was like ringing Pavlov's
bell. A dozen foreheads tilted upwards, eyes wide open and shining
from the reflected glint of email messages and web pages.

AJAX is the hot technology du jour, the saving grace for developers
who've toiled for years, trying to make browser applications
palatable. This was a sophisticated crowd, so the usual boosterism
and swooning was quickly put aside in favor of some sober discussion
about AJAX's shortcomings.

Meeting participants often use laptops and wireless internet
connections as a way to multitask, snapping from one context to
another just like music videos have trained them to. This can be a
very disturbing experience for a presenter, since it's very easy to
judge how well your material is getting across in real time. If
you're not more interesting than email, IM, and the web, your message
will reach little more than the gray plastic backs of laptops. Your words
will just bounce off the lowered foreheads, while the keyboards quietly
crackle. Ringing the AJAX bell roused the entire group for a
moment. If we'd all been wearing miner's helmets, the dramatic shift
in attention would have lit up the speaker's face like a spotlight.

Sometimes, web surfing in the middle of a discussion can have a very
positive effect. When the web content you're scanning is related to
the topic, a quick dose of the details can lead to a more informed
discussion. Many people are much more effective at this than I am, so
I've taken to watching what's appearing on the screens that flank
mine. So, while the AJAX discussion lumbered along (apparently the
developer documentation is inadequate) I kept an eye on my neighbors'
screens. On my left, an interesting looking animated application
appeared. The user typed names at what appeared to be a graph of the
geological record and then a new version of the graph swooped into
place. A closer look revealed that the graphs showed the relative
popularity of people's names over the last 120 years. Given the
discussion, I assumed that the application was some AJAXian miracle,
like Google maps.

I didn't get around to trying the app until the next day. That's when
I discovered (insert trumpet fanfare here) that what I'd been watching
was an applet called

Name Voyager.

This applet is very cool and it's appealing to anyone who has a name.
You will not be able to resist typing your appellation at the top to see
how its popularity as fared since 1900. Although I was born and
raised in the (great state) of New Jersey I have a pretty ethnic
German name. The results from the Name Voyager for "Hans" are
interesting. There's a big dip in the name's popularity in the 1940s.
I wonder why.


If the beginning of this blog lead you to believe that I was building
up to some revelation about AJAX or meeting dynamics or something
other than a plug for a (really neat!) applet, you have my apologies.
If you've observed that I have trouble with brevity, you have my
complete agreement. If you've persevered and tried the applet and enjoyed
the experience, you have my congratulations. If you're reading this
on a laptop, instead of paying attention to the meeting you're
supposed to be participating in; why not look up, smile knowingly at
the presenter, and then return to playing with the Name Voyager.
The guy sitting next to you is watching.


Name Voyager Applet Screenshot: Hans's Popularity since 1880

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