A New Dave Lebling Interview

Friday 22 August 2014, 12:47 am   ///  

USgamer features a new interview with Zork co-author and all-around Infocom implementor Dave Lebling. Very nice!

The opening flourish of the article, though, implies that in the days of Adventure, people used either green-on-black or amber-on-black video terminals to access computers, and players would see glowing letters and the “darkness of an empty command line.”

This is actually fantasy, not history. As I’ve written about in “Continuous Paper: Print interfaces and early computer writing,” as others have experienced and noted, and an amazing binder of print terminal output from an MIT student testified to me, a great deal of very early interactive fiction interaction was done on print terminals, including but not limited to the famous name-brand “Teletype.” A few people (including Lebling!) had access to top-notch video terminals, but lots of interaction was done on paper.

Will Crowther even wrote the original version of Adventure in Fortran on an ASR-33 Teletype.

So, when writing and first playing Adventure, perhaps the space that you would see on the paper is intentionally left blank – but you aren’t likely to be eaten by a grue.

Another Thought for the Day

Thursday 21 August 2014, 1:20 pm   ///  

If I used my Twitter account the way I’m supposed to, instead of as a conceptual writing project, I would have put that last post on Twitter.

Thought for the Day

Thursday 21 August 2014, 1:18 pm   ///  

If I had a Facebook account, it would be tagged as satire.

The Mutable Stanzas

Wednesday 20 August 2014, 11:20 pm   /////  

Yesterday first-person-shooter Borges, intimate, infinite, and based on prose; today cut-up Spenser, mutable and poetic.

The Mutable Stanzas

This dynamic digital poetry piece, by Stephen Pentecost, is quite compelling. The author writes:

The Mutable Stanzas is a digital poetry installation and deformance experiment inspired by Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, by the work by Jerome McGann et al on “Deformance and Interpretation,” and by the work of my collegues in the Humanities Digital Workshop.

The Mutable Stanzas disassembles Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene into its constituent lines, groups lines according to terminal rhyme, then randomly reassembles lines into new stanzas.

While the stanzas are structured by end rhyme, and each line is not independent of others, I wonder, as a reader, whether it’s best to avail myself of the pause button or whether I should simply continue reading down the page.

Senderos que se … Intimate, Infinite

Tuesday 19 August 2014, 10:33 pm   /////  

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

Robert Yang’s latest is a first-person-shooter version of Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths.” With a lovingly off-kilter translation (befitting its “original”) and with visuals and (quite minimal) interaction that suits the experience, this is an extraordinary set of linked mini-games, well worth the short amount of time it takes to get through them, and worth offering at least a bit for this pay-what-you-will game.

Check out Intimate, Infinite.

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

Intro to Game Analysis

Monday 11 August 2014, 9:29 pm   //////  

Intro to Game Analysis, Clara Fernández-VaraJust out: Introduction to Game Analysis, a book that covers many different approaches to understanding games, and particularly (although not exclusively) videogames. (Check the availability of the book online.) It’s by Clara Fernández-Vara, now on the faculty at the Game Center at NYU, who did one of the first digital media PhDs at Georgia Tech and was for many years my colleague here at MIT – I’m glad she was also part my of lab, The Trope Tank, for some of that time. Fernández-Vara is a scholar of games and an award-winning maker of games as well, and in both cases her emphasis has been on adventure games.

It’s been valuable to learn, over the years, how to view games as we would literature or film, and how to bring specific individual approaches to bear in understanding them. Now, Introduction to Game Analysis offers numerous methods of analysis that each treat games as games. These approaches are systematically organized and well thought out, too. Anyone in game studies or digital media should find this book compelling; A person who is coming to video games from another field, or who has been in the field and is looking to teach an introduction to video games, will find it essential.

#! Makes July’s SPD Bestseller List

Thursday 7 August 2014, 3:16 pm   /////  

#! ('Shebang')I was delighted to see that my latest book, #!, a book of programs & poems, made the July Poetry bestseller list for Small Press Distribution. SPD is the distributor for my press, Counterpath, along with many other fine presses that publish poetry. #! (which is pronounced “Shebang”) came in at lucky number 13 last month.

It’s particularly nice to see since the book was just becoming available online and in bookstores around the middle of the month, and given that if you search for the book by title on Amazon.com you get 47,921,926 results, presumably due to the title having no letters or numbers. (You can search for it using my name.) There’s also the issue that the book consists entirely of short computer programs and their outputs, which I think is very neat, but which some believe to be a bit esoteric. Actually, I hope the book is rather intelligible and fun, by connecting some of the popular programming of the 1970s and 1980s to contemporary conceptual writing and poetry.

By the way, if you are having trouble getting the book from a local store or online, you can order it directly from SPD.

While I read some from #! in Michigan recently at the Postscript symposium and exhibit, I’ll be beginning to do readings in earnest next month. The first one is planned for September 18, 7pm, at the Harvard Book Store. More on that soon…

Wikimedia: Monkey Selfie Copyright Would Be Monkey’s

Wednesday 6 August 2014, 2:51 pm   ////  

A self-portrait taken by a monkey is at issue in a copyright dispute. Wikimedia claims that it would belong to the monkey, if non-human animals could hold copyrights, and because they can’t, it’s in the public domain. The owner of the camera has another idea. Here’s The Telegraph on the subject. Also, the Wikipedia page where the photo appears, and the full-size photo with Wikimedia’s copyright position available via the media viewer.

Public domain (although this status is contested). Photo taken by the pictured monkey.

Listed by the hosting site as public domain (although this status is contested). Photo taken by the pictured monkey.

Now, I know this isn’t an urban selfie, but I would love to see it and many other non-human selfies incorporated into the Selficity project. We might find interesting correlations regarding the angle and variation in head tilt, for instance. And of course it would be provocative to just know which of the five cities shoots selfies in a way that is most similar to monkeys.

The Call is Out for Electronic Literature Collection 3

Tuesday 5 August 2014, 4:03 pm   /////  

The call for submission for the Electronic Literature Collection volume 3 has been posted. If you do digital work that has one or more literary aspects (even if it’s more often called art or a game), in any language, please check it out. The collective is an excellent group and the direction for this collection is an exciting one.

Rage of Poseidon

Saturday 2 August 2014, 6:44 pm   ////  

Anders Nilsen’s latest Drawn & Quarterly publication is a formidable follow-up to Big Questions. The accordion book holds the human stories of forgotten (and current) gods, told in text and striking silhouettes.

Rage of Poseidon

Half of My Two Cents on E-Lit

Friday 1 August 2014, 3:52 pm   ////  

Long ago (well, at the end of 2012) I was asked by .Cent magazine, a free-to-read, nicely designed online multimedia publication out of London, for a few comments about my work and my approach to electronic literature. Amazingly, having recently unearthed my responses, I find that they are still relevant! You can read my answers and the rest of the issue in its full splendor, but, very belatedly, I’ll offer my response here as well:

I see electronic literature as a something beyond a genre or a literary movement: It’s an argument that literary art and literary experience have a place in our digital environment alongside the many other ways that networked computing is used. Those of us working in electronic literature are demonstrating that we can have poetic, imaginative, narrative, conceptual, and other sorts of work and experiences online, in addition to commercial, communication, and gaming experiences. We don’t have to share an aesthetic or hold similar political ideas in order to make this argument together, because we’re arguing for something fundamental to future work: The chance to develop literature (of any sort) using the capabilities of the computer and the network.

My own focus is on projects that engage collaboration and computation to bring us into a new, disoriented, and potentially productive relationship to the computer and the world. A recent project that is both highly collaborative and highly computational is Sea and Spar Between, a poetry generator Stephanie Strickland and I developed. In it, we bring together words from the vocabulary of Melville and Dickinson, present a sea of textual data that is far beyond the human ability to read but which can be understood in some ways, and suggest a collaborative, computational, and literary-historical perspective on the natural world. In my “solo career” I have written very short programs such as those in the ppg256 series and those in the set Concrete Perl, to investigate, poetically, how computation and a particular programming language hook into the English language. Some of my other collaborative e-lit projects are Implementation with Scott Rettberg and Three Rails Live with Scott and Roderick Coover, both of these dealing with urban and global experiences buy cutting up narrative forms in new ways.

New Report on Nanowatt & World Clock

Thursday 31 July 2014, 9:45 pm   /////  

The latest technical report (or “Trope Report”) to issue from the Trope Tank is TROPE-14-01, “New Novel Machines: Nanowatt and World Clock by Nick Montfort:

My Winchester’s Nightmare: A Novel Machine (1999) was developed to bring the interactor’s input and the system’s output together into a texture like that of novelistic prose. Almost fifteen years later, after an electronic literature practice mainly related to poetry, I have developed two new “novel machines.” Rather than being works of interactive fiction, one (Nanowatt, 2013) is a collaborative demoscene production (specifically, a single-loading VIC-20 demo) and the other (World Clock, 2013) is a novel generator with accompanying printed book. These two productions offer an opportunity to discuss how my own and other highly computational electronic literature relates to the novel. Nanowatt and World Clock are non-interactive but use computation to manipulate language at low levels. I discuss these aspects and other recent electronic literature that engages the novel, considering to what extent novel-like computational literature in general is becoming less interactive and more fine-grained in its involvement with language.

This was the topic of my talk at the recent ELO conference. Share and enjoy!

Do Bots Need to Sit Down?

Tuesday 29 July 2014, 10:49 pm   /////  

(My Philosoraptor question for the day…)

Check out Tully Hansen’s riff on one of the poems from bpNichpol’s First Screening – authentic or not …

This New Book by Sawako Nakayasu Is Formidable

Tuesday 29 July 2014, 8:06 pm   ////  

The Ants

Stalking the Wily #!

Tuesday 15 July 2014, 12:05 am   //////  

If you’ve been looking for my latest book, #!, and are looking to buy it online, check isbn.nu. At the moment of posting, it’s available from three sellers, one on pre-order. Barnes & Noble is the bookseller with the lowest price and fastest delivery; Amazon.com offers to get it to you 3-4 weeks later.

In Cambridge, I have yet to see the book on shelves, but I know copies are at least on order (if not readied for purchase) at the MIT Press Bookstore and the Harvard Bookstore. And, Grolier Poetry Book Shop also had a few copies.

Update, July 17, 5pm: The local place to get a copy of #!, at the moment, is the MIT Press Bookstore. That’s at 292 Main Street, right outside the Kendall T stop. This is the MIT Press Bookstore, not the MIT Coop, and in the “Faculty Authors” section they do currently stock copies of my latest book.

Update, July 18, 1pm: B&N no longer has the book listed for whatever reason. It can be obtained online, right now, from Small Press Distribution, though.

10 PRINT in Clock 52

Sunday 13 July 2014, 7:29 pm   /////  

Clocks are great machines to design, at least from my perspective as a designer of software machines. My classes have had unusual clock design as an exercise; time-telling systems are not interactive, provide a lot of freedom to the designer, and yet require programmers to develop general functions that work for any time of the day. I know that Michael Mateas and Paolo Pedercini have students program clocks, too. I’ve appreciated software clocks by John Maeda and others, and it’s nice to have a clock as a standard example in Processing.

So, I was delighted to see that 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 inspired Vincent Toups to create a another of his many aesthetic software clocks, Clock 52.

Clock 52 by J. Vincent Toups

The Facepalm at the End of the Mind

Sunday 13 July 2014, 4:30 pm   ////  

I can no longer keep myself from commenting on the Facebook “emotional manipulation” study. Alas. Here are several points.

  • Do you want your money back?
  • Don’t we only know about this study done on 689,003 people because it was written up and reported on in a prestigious journal?
  • Could it be that other studies might have been done, or might be going on right now, or might happen in the future, and we might know nothing about them because their results will be kept as proprietary information?
  • Why didn’t something this massive and egregious ever happen on the Web – you know, the open Web that isn’t run by a single corporation?
  • Don’t we have, or didn’t we used to have, news feeds on the Web, like the Facebook news feed that the company manipulated?
  • Such as RSS feeds?
  • Using a free standard, which anyone in world can set up in their own way without adhering to a single company’s policy?
  • Don’t we, or didn’t we, subscribe to these RSS feeds with feed readers, such as Liferea?
  • Wouldn’t it be harder for a person or company to manipulate a news reader that subscribes to feeds on the open Web and is running on a person’s own computer?
  • Particularly if this news reader is free software and you can build it from source that you and everyone else in the world can inspect?
  • Could it be that the “users,” as we like to call them, are the ones who really made a fundamental mistake here, rather than Facebook?
  • You know how Facebook is, well, a company, a for-profit corporation?
  • So, it’s actually supposed to harvest data from users as efficiently as possible and exploit that data to make more money, up to the limit of what the law allows?
  • Can’t companies be sued by their shareholders if they don’t act to maximize profits?
  • Could it be that Facebook is, in everything it does, trying to harvest information from, exploit the data of, and learn how to profit from the behavior of those people called “users,” whom Facebook legally and officially owes absolutely nothing?
  • Remember the World Wide Web?
  • Remember blogs?
  • What happened to these blogs, including the one that I was part of that helped to shape the emerging field of digital media?
  • Was the recent zombie craze formulated to help metaphorically describe what has happened to blogs?
  • Why do I still blog?
  • Have you noticed that I get a comment on my blog about every other month?
  • What does it mean that I can announce the publication of a book that I worked on for years, and after more than two weeks, this post hasn’t garnered a single comment?
  • Remember how, after overcoming a few (diminishing) technical barriers, anyone could write about whatever topics – personal, political, academic, technical, aesthetic – and could host a forum, a blog, in which anyone else in the world, as long as they were online, could respond?
  • Remember how attitudes toward technology, changing methods of media consumption and transformation, and other important discourses were shaped by people having public conversations on the Web in blogs?
  • Why do I get thousands of spam comments on my blog each month, sent in complete disregard for the things that are posted here?
  • These spam comments might be sent by organized crime botnets, in part, but since some of them are commercial, might they be sent by or on behalf of companies?
  • Companies trying to maximize their profit, indifferent to anything except what they can get away with?
  • Why do we think that we can fix Facebook?
  • Why did people who communicate and learn together, people who had the world, leave it, en masse, for a shopping mall?
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