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About Times Haiku
By Jacob Harris

Whimsy is not a quality we usually associate with computer programs. We tend to think of software in terms of the function it fulfills. For example, a spreadsheet helps us do our work. A game of Tetris provides a means of procrastination. Social media reconnects us with our high school nemeses. But what about computer code that serves no inherent purpose in itself?

There is pleasure to

be had here, in flares of spice

that revive and warm.

This is a Tumblr blog of haikus found within The New York Times. Most of us first encountered haikus in a grade school, when we were taught that they are three-line poems with five syllables on the first line, seven on the second and five on the third. According to the Haiku Society of America, that is not an ironclad rule. A proper haiku should also contain a word that indicates the season, or ?kigo,? as well as a juxtaposition of verbal imagery, known as ?kireji.? That's a lot harder to teach an algorithm, though, so we just count syllables like most amateur haiku aficionados do.

As dawn broke we warmed

strawberry Pop Tarts over

the dying embers.

How does our algorithm work? It periodically checks the New York Times home page for newly published articles. Then it scans each sentence looking for potential haikus by using an electronic dictionary containing syllable counts. We started with a basic rhyming lexicon, but over time we've added syllable counts for words like ?Rihanna? or ?terroir? to keep pace with the broad vocabulary of The Times.

Not every haiku our computer finds is a good one. The algorithm discards some potential poems if they are awkwardly constructed and it does not scan articles covering sensitive topics. Furthermore, the machine has no aesthetic sense. It can't distinguish between an elegant verse and a plodding one. But, when it does stumble across something beautiful or funny or just a gem of a haiku, human journalists select it and post it on this blog.

Stop the machine and

scrape down the sides of the bowl

with a spatula.

Finding the haikus is only the beginning. Because we want the poems to retain their visual integrity, even when people share them across social networks, we post them as images instead of text. On every image, you?ll notice a seemingly random background pattern of colored lines. The different orientations of those lines are computer-generated according to the meter of the first line of the poem.


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Our local non-profit station is WFUV, broadcast from Fordham, and their fund drives make me crazy, although the CD's they give as premiums for donations are great--they usually have one of live performances done at their station, and another of the best new music of the year, and compilation CD's are always my favorite. One host is Dennis Elsas (he's on other shows as well), and it turns out we graduated in the same class from college. Small world.....


Nothing personal - I just failed to mention that he is a dj . . this station has fun people working there . . especially when compared to other public stations. The fund drives are actually FUNd drives.


I must have missed something since my last comment--who is Nick?! Sorry if its a personal name with you and Trish--I'm just curious! Or maybe it's the guy on the jazz station? I'm a little dense this morning.... :-)))


Here you go


first i gotta figure out how to hum "moonlight in Vermont" ;)))


My jazz station is having a fund drive so there is a lot of banter. Nick must have read the same article cause he quoted a bit of original haiku and then said "Any correctly written haiku can be sung to the song "Moonlight in Vermont". Are you going to try it?


Good goin' Trish. I have never tried to write Haiku, but I might now.
I love any new and/or unusual thing that comes my way and happy that there are other folks that do to.


Fascinating--and one more reason I love my NY Times!!! Thanks so much, lajuin. :-)))


thanks lajuin, does this work?

i missed that haiku
craze completely in college,
thanks for your help now. ;)))