Google Books Ngram Viewer

  Books Ngram Viewer is addictive. I can’t stop looking up words and phrases.

This new tool allows users to trace the usage of a word or phrase for printed works over the past five centuries. It searches (frighteningly fast) through five million books, or around four percent of all books ever published. That apparently equates to some 500 billion or so unique words. 

I looked up ‘cyberspace’ on a whim. As expected, usage climbed following the release of William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ in 1984 (although Wikipedia notes that the first reference came from a Gibson short story in 1982). Curiously, however, the graph showed a little bump around 1900. A short bit of Googling later, and I found a reference to the word in the ‘Memoirs and proceedings of the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society‘ from 1888. Hmm.

I’m sure we’ll be seeing many such interesting finds in the coming weeks and months, but I suspect most will be due to OCR errors or misinterprations (akin to ‘discoveries’ of the lost city of Atlantis in Google Earth).

For more on the Ngram Viewer, check out this new study from Science (free access!) or this New York Times article.

Dropbox 1.0

The best online file synching service is now out of Beta. Dropbox 1.0 offers selective folder synchronization (hooray!), an easier installation process, improved performance, and a slew of bug fixes.  If you’re not on Dropbox, why not? The first 250MB of storage space is free. And if you get new people to sign up to the service, you get an additional 250MB of free space per person. Speaking of which, if you’re new to Dropbox … why not use this referral link to sign up. He he.


in tip | 87 Words


Huffduffer. It’s a creation of web developer Jeremy Keith, who says he originally invented this tool for himself to fill a simple need.

Like many online tools with staying power, ‘filling a simple need’ is often the first litmus test for success. The second is filling a simple need well. And this site does the job very well. Huffduffer is an easy-to-use, elegant, friendly way to create your own personal podcast stream from found audio on the web. The part that makes Huffduffer so useful is RSS feed creation. It’s easy to bookmark audio, but not so easy to create an iTunes-compatible RSS feed. I think of it this way: Huffduffer is to audio what Instapaper is to text.

I must admit, though, that I have only just started using this tool as intended. So far, I’ve primarily been using it as a discovery tool to find audio content I otherwise would not have known existed by subscribing to Huffduffer’s ‘Popular’ feed. As you may surmise, this feed delivers a steady stream of what other people are ‘Huffduffing.’ The downside to this stream is that there are often many duplicate posts, so you’ll find yourself often deleting entries that you’ve seen before. The upside is that the content is usually interesting and there’s plenty of new content every day. For my long daily train commute, this feed is most welcome.

You’ll find that much of the ‘popular content’ tends to be in the vein of tech, design, web design/development, science fiction, speculative science, and hard science. This surely says a lot about the core users of the site. And this makes sense given who created it: I surmise that site usage has spread mainly by word-of-mouth and via conferences. I, for instance, discovered it a web design conference where Jeremy Keith was speaking. So if you are particularly interested in this type of content, you’ll get a lot out of this feed. As a secondary benefit, the popular feed has helped me find many a new podcast to subscribe to via iTunes. Now I need to start huffduffing some of my own ‘found audio.’ 

Here are a few recent items from the ‘popular’ feed that I really enjoyed:

Conversation with William Gibson — A discussion with William Gibson about where we are headed in the post-internet age.

Arthur C. Clarke, Alvin Toffler, Margaret Mead —  A talk recorded in 1970 about the future. From the show notes on Huffduffer: “At the time of this recording Arthur C. Clarke had recently collaborated on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick. Alvin Toffler’s mega-influential book, Future Shock, is about to be published. And Margaret Mead is the world’s foremost cultural anthropologist.”

Kevin Kelly interview — An interview with Kelly about his new book, “What Technology Wants.” Fascinating stuff.

The Value of Ruins — James Bridle from dConstruct 2010 (a design & creativity conference) asks “as we design our future, should we be concerned with the value of our ruins?” 

If you’d like some more background, check out this interview with Jeremy Keith on Huffduffer. And if you’re curious about the meaning behind the word ‘Huffduffer,’ here’s an explanation.