Heart to Heart

In early February 2000 I was dating a really cool lady, who also programs in Java. To express our affection, we sometimes wrote each other "Applets of endearment", little interactive computer programs that expressed our feelings for one another. Doesn't everyone?

As it neared Valentine's Day that year, she wrote me this adorable little Java Applet of an animated heart. By the way, here's the source code.

I responded by taking the same shape and giving it more different behaviors, which you can see in this Java Applet. My basic goal was to make the heart a responsive character. In this version, the heart follows your mouse around to show that it's interested in you, and does cool tricks when you click on it. If you don't play with it for a while, it falls asleep and starts to snore (as neglected hearts are wont to do). The source code for that version is here.

Around Feb 2, 2000, I happened to be visiting Google to give a talk. Sergei Brin asked whether I had any little 2D interactive animated characters. So I showed him the heart. He got all excited and said that they had to put that up on the Google site for Valentine's day. The people who worked for him were very nervous about that idea. They had never used Java in a Google page before; what would happen if it crashed everybody's machine?

But he was insistent, and fortunately I only used really safe early features of Java that run everywhere. So I reworked to visual design to fit in with Google's general aesthetic, and added some features. Notably, I added the feature that when the heart falls asleep it starts to dream "I love you" in twenty different languages.

This also made some people at Google nervous; what if the phrase in, say, Urdu accidentally had a more carnal and inappropriate meaning? So they vetted all the phrases, and the Google heart went up on Valentine's day. They still have it up here.

I think I got more email from that than from anything else I've done. I even got an email from an Aunt I hadn't heard from in thirty years.

She and I are still friends. Now we're both into robots.

- Ken Perlin