New Report on Nanowatt & World Clock

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!

Stalking the Wily #!

If you’ve been looking for my latest book, #!, and are looking to buy it online, check 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; 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

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

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?

Techsty #9, with Sea and Spar Between in Polish

techstyExciting news for Polish-readers (and, I think, others): The new issue of Techsty, number 9, is out. You might think that a “Techsty” is just a place where infopigs like me live, but it’s actually a long-running site (since 2001) on digital literature, with an esteemed journal that has been published since 2003.

The current issue includes translations of articles by Robert Coover and Brain McHale, an article by Seweryna Wysłouch, and a special section on an audacious project. This is the translation of Sea and Spar Between, by Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland, which is a fairly extensive special-purpose poetry generator that is fair entwined with the English language (as well the specific authors from whom it draws: Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville). Not only did the two translators tackle the difficult and in fact unprecedented task of translating the underlying system to Polish, so that the program generates stanzas in that language; they also translated our comments from the “cut to fit the toolspun course” edition of the work. I hope this will invite remixing and code re-use in Polish as well as helping to improve the understanding of our project and our collaboration. Monika Górska-Olesińska also has an article on Stephanie Strickland’s work, with a photo of Stephanie reading just a few days ago at the ELO conference.

Piotr Marecki also translated my short generator Lede for the issue. (Amusingly enough, the translated title is the more conventional and seemingly more properly-spelled English word “Lead.”) It has some aspects of cultural translation – absurd figures from Polish culture are substituted for some of the ones I included from my American perspective.

The only mistake I see in the Sea and Spar Between items is that it’s hard (for me, at least, not being a reader of the language) to determine who did the translation of both the poem generator and the comments: Monika Górska-Olesińska and Mariusz Pisarski, who are attributed atop the commented code but not, for instance, here on the Polish “How to Read” page. In digital literature, there generally is no system for buying rights and recruiting and paying translators for their work – just as there is no system for doing this for authors. So the least we can do is to properly credit those who work to develop new programs and cybertexts, whether they are based on earlier ones in other languages or not.

The final article I’ll note is an interview, I think one that’s very kind to me and my lab, The Trope Tank, by Piotr Marecki, who was a postdoc here this past year. Here’s what the Googly Intelligence translates this interview as.

There’s a great deal more in the issue, and I suggest those interested in digital literature, even if not literate in Polish, take at least a quick look using your favorite “translation goggles.” There are some good English-language journals on electronic literature, but I think English-speakers could learn a good deal from this effort, which publishes critical writing (including some in translation) and creative work and also undertakes extensive translation projects.