I love the idea of digital generators of stuff especially with a whiff of randomness and whimsy.

Previously on this blog…

This was a time when I recrafted a thing Martin Weller had found for a randomizing tech generator that spit out funny, but maybe idea prompting edtech metaphors. You can’t be more proud when someone takes your bit of code and runs with it, on their own domain, e.g. http://metaphor.edtechie.net/

The random text "Use Homers The Iliad as a metaphor for blogging." sits atop a photo of an adorable black lab puppy with a big stick in his mouth, and a blue button that reads "Gimme Another"
How can you go wrong with a random text generator offered by a cute dog with a bit stick? Hi Teilo!

The usual approach for generators like this is coming up with a word pattern, like noun-verb-adjective- noun and then having an array of possible words/phrases that would go in for each. You then pull one at random and spit them out. It works, but a viewer may easily see the same pattern.

The thing I liked about the code that Martin found in Glitch, and I modified for generic HTML/Javascript, is that it has a random bit of how it presents the random stuff. So you randomize the randomized.

In the code I prototyped for Martin’s generator, there are two sets of words to choose from, one is the metaphor list:

and the other is the list of technologies

Now a brute force generator might build sentences by just picking a random technology and [pairing it with a metaphor so you might just get

Instead, this generator has another option of different ways the two words can be thrown together, so you get one of three random phrasings like:

This is much more rich. And you can expand the bank of metaphors as well as making new phrases up that puts the words together.

I thought of this a few brain cycles ago with a really silly generator I made for my own amusement years ago, Make a MOOC. It generates ridiculously randomized names for MOOCs:

Over an image of cows staring at you the Make a MOOC reads "why not? everyone else is! here is shiny new course calf" with the name of a random generated MOOC "Curative Powers of Utopian Briefs: The Science and Beyond #cpoub21"
Birth a new MOOC!

This one is done in PHP, but the method somewhat similar- there are banks of four kinds of words:

  • Subject and pronoun: in this case “Curative Powers of” but might also be “An inquiry into”, “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About”, or “Deconstructing The Spaces Between”, etc.
  • Adjective: in this case “Utopian” but could also be “Postmodern”, “Newtonian”, or “Opportunistic”
  • Topic: in this case “Briefs” but could also be “Mathematical Thinking”, “Pencil Shaving”, or “Design Thinking”
  • After the Colon: a ridiculous tagline, in this case “The Science and Beyond” but could also be “An Odyssey Of Discovery”, “It Takes a Village”, or “Liberated Polytheistic Mythology”. (Some of these are from actual courses).

So my generator is the simple type- it just strings them all together. It does have a clever bit that it takes the first letter of all words before the title, mashes them together with a 2 digit version of the year, for a hashtag (#cpoub21″) above.

Because it’s PHP and it can write data, I have a link that records an entry for each one created (each page load/reload). It gets ridiculous, and I have reset the file a few times, but I see now there are 6000+ ones since June 2019. I may have done a lot of them, but not all of them.

I challenged myself to recraft the generator part in the HTML/Javascript approach for Martin’s Generator, and it is now playable at https://cogdog.github.io/moocmaker/

This one has even more layers of randomness rolled in. I am just going to leave it for the curious to explore.

Also, you can get in on adding more words and phrases to the machine. All of the arrays it draws from are in a single javascript library in github. Maybe it’s time to learn how to submit a change to a file in github (hint, it’s the pencil icon).

Does the world need this? I don’t care, this was yet another chance to play out an idea, and create something that someone else might be able to do something with.

Or just have some fun generating silliness.


Feature image:

Let's Generate!
Let’s Generate! flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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