Symmys: Ymmy, Ymmy Symmys

I send you, dear readers, the press release from Mark Saltveit
(palindromist, editor of The Palindromist, and stand-up comic) about yesterday’s award ceremonies, complete with amusing references to me – and I send my congratulations to Aric Maddux and the other winners!

Palindromes Win at SymmyS Awards

Shock as First-time Writer Takes Grand Prize With Serious Message On Pill Addiction; Discovered Via Tweet

PORTLAND, OR – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, March 11, 2013.

Aric Maddux of Indianapolis, Indiana won the Grand Prize for Best Palindrome at
the 2012 SymmyS Awards Sunday night with the first palindrome he ever wrote.
His winning entry, a rare “word-unit palindrome,” was a dark warning about the
dangers of prescription pill addiction:

“You swallow pills for anxious days and nights, and days, anxious for pills, swallow you.”

Maddux, a computer technician and poet, tweeted his debut effort to Professor Nick Montfort of M.I.T.,
who took fourth place in Will Shortz’ World Palindrome Championship last year. Montfort, recognizing
Maddux’ talent, nominated the beginner for the SymmyS – and then lost to him in the finals.
Any Ymmy Award (the singular of SymmyS) was awarded in four categories — Short, Long, Poetic, and
Word-Unit Palindromes – in addition to the Grand Prize for Best Overall Palindrome.

Maddux spoiled an otherwise dominating night for Australian Martin Clear, who won the Long
Palindrome YmmY outright, tied for first in Poetry, and placed second in both Short and Long
Palindromes. He wrote fully 10 of the 40 total finalist entries, spread among all four categories. Clear’s
short palindrome, which came within half a point of winning that division, dipped into pop culture:

“I made Rihanna hirsute, familiar, frail: I’m a fetus Rihanna hired, am I?”

Popular author Jon Agee (“Go Hang A Salami, I’m a Lasagna Hog”) won first and third place in Short
Palindromes, scoring with both “A Slightly Violent To-Do List” and this “Igloo Dialogue:”

“’An igloo costs a lot, Ed!’
‘Amen. One made to last! So cool, Gina!’”

Statistics professor John Connett, of the University of Minnesota, took both 3rd and 2nd place in the
Word-Unit category with an unprintable entry and with this epigram:

Fishing for excuses? No need. You need no excuses for fishing.

A word-unit palindrome is one where entire words reverse, instead of individual letters. The motto of
the Three Musketeers — “One for all, and all for one!” – is a famous example. “Surprisingly,” Saltveit
noted, “the fiercest competition was among the word-unit palindromes. Before this competition, they
did not get a lot of attention. Nick Montfort has worked hard to popularize them, and it ended up
costing him an Ymmy.”

The Symmys are produced by The Palindromist Magazine, the world’s leading palindrome periodical.
Hundreds of entries were assembled from direct submissions to the magazine as well as a worldwide
search for new talent. Competitors hailed from Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
“We created these awards to showcase the great new palindromes being written every year,” explained
to Palindromist Editor Mark Saltveit. “Many people think all the good palindromes were written years
ago. These great new works show how wrong that is. And word-unit palindromes are a good way for a
beginner to get involved, as Aric showed tonight.“

The night’s biggest controversy involved the disqualification of an entry. A little-known article in a 1984
issue of Word Ways magazine was found to have a palindrome very similar to a Short Palindrome
contender by the little-known Anne Tenna.
“Ottoman Empire: We Rip Men!” (a motto)
Tenna’s entry was leading the category and in second place for the grand prize at the time of its
disqualification. “No one is suggesting plagiarism,” noted Palindromist Editor Mark Saltveit. “The
earlier palindrome was very obscure, and parallel invention is not uncommon. But we hold the highest
standards for originality, and this entry had to be withdrawn.” Tenna nonetheless tied for first place in
the Poetry category, and had four nominations total.

The ceremony, held at Portland, Oregon’s Funhouse Art and Beer Cabaret, featured Los Angeles
comedian Dax Jordan, star of the upcoming show DaxTV on the MavTV network, and tap dancing
saxophonist Michael “Shoehorn” Conley. Both added original palindromes, written for the occasion, to
their performances.

The panel of judges was a murderer’s row of wordplay and geek celebrities, including puzzle master Will
Shortz, “Weird Al” Yankovic, comedian/author Demetri Martin, comedian Jackie Kashian, musician John
Flansburgh, journalists Jack Rosenthal and Ben Zimmer, and palindromists Tim Van Ert and Jeff Grant.

——————————————————————

Full details are available on the website of The Palindromist Magazine, including:
Biographies and photos of the contestants; Biographies and photos of the judges; A full list of winners;
and A full list of the nominated palindromes (10 in each of four categories).

The Winter Anthology is Out

This winter’s Winter Anthology, a collection of contemporary literature informed by history and older art, 21st century science and philosophy, and the ending of print culture, is now out.

This is volume three, and contains work by Joanna Howard, Andrew Zawacki, Andrew Grace, Ryan Flaherty, Srikanth Reddy, Ponç Pons, Lee Posna
Louis Armand, Dan Beachy-Quick, Steven Toussaint, and Nick Montfort & Stephanie Strickland.

I’m delighted to have our poetry generator “Sea and Spar Between” published in this context.

How to Buy Some of My Most Obscure Books

2002: A Palindrome Story

By Nick Montfort and William Gillespie. Illustrated by Shelley Jackson. Designed by Ingrid Ankerson. (24 pp., acknowledged by the Oulipo as the longest literary palindrome.) Spineless Books, 2002. $16.

The First M Numbers.

By Nick Montfort. Edition of 80. 4 pp. No Press, Calgary, Canada, 2013. $2.50.

In New York, Saint Mark’s Bookshop has copies of these two books for sale; in Cambridge, MA, they are available from the MIT Press Bookstore. 2002 is also available from the publisher, Spineless Books, and other online and local bookstores. I believe that No Press is out of copies of The First M Numbers.

Implementation: A Novel

By Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. (270 pp., a 4-color book documenting the 2004 project Implementation.) 2012. $77.95.

This book is only available for purchase directly from the printer, Blurb.

An Auto-Interview about All the Way for the Win

Poet Michael Leong “tagged” me, not by spray-painting me or by assigning me a folksonomical string, but by sending me the following template of interview questions. This process is part of the project “The Next Big Thing,” in which people answer robotic, monomaniacal questions about recent or forthcoming books. I was supposed to post this on Wednesday, apparently, so it’s a good thing that I can set the date arbitrarily on my blog posts.

What is the working title of the book?
All the Way for the Win.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Decades of intense poetic engagement with the English language.

What genre does your book fall under?
In terms of literary tradition, it’s an example of the sort of constrained writing that was pioneered by the Oulipo; in terms of the retail channel, it will end up in the poetry section if anywhere.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Mos Def, Zhu Zhu, Rex Lee, Won Bin, and (although I don’t think he’s a member of the SAG) Tan Lin.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A book written using only three-letter words.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I haven’t written anything close to a complete draft. I’ve only been working on the project seriously for about four years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
All the Way for the Win is 0% inspiration.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The English langauge bursts with words brought to us by commerce and colonialism, is scarred by decades of wars and invasions, and both traces and propels our thinking as a culture. It is an urgent and important project to find principled, unusual subsets of this language and to make new works out of these, revealing qualities of our language through poetic practice. Readers of this book may also considerably improve their Scrabble play.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
No.

Amodern, a New Open Access Peer-Reviewed Journal

Amodern has just launched, and it’s not asexy…

Announcing the launch of AMODERN:

A new peer-reviewed, open access scholarly journal devoted to the
study of media, culture, and poetics.

http://amodern.net

Issue 1: The Future of the Scholarly Journal

Editorial
Scott Pound

“We Have Never Done It That Way Before”
an interview with Kathleen Fitzpatrick by Michael Nardone

“Towards Philology in a a New Key”
an interview with Jerome J. McGann by Scott Pound

“Scholarly Publishing: Micro Units and the Macro Scale”
Johanna Drucker

“The Grammatization of Scholarship”
Benjamin J. Robertson

“The ‘Unknown’ Explorations”
Gary Genosko

“Beyond the Journal and the Blog: The Technical Report for
Communication in the Humanities”
Nick Montfort

AMODERN is a peer-reviewed, open access scholarly journal devoted to
the study of media, culture, and poetics. Its purpose is to provide a
forum for interdisciplinary conversations about the role of media and
technology in contemporary cultural practices. We are particularly
interested in those topics that normally escape scrutiny, or are
ignored or excluded for whatever reason.

The journal is distinguished by its focus on poetics as a scholarly
practice, with particular emphasis on the unruly ways that people
deploy media and technology behind, beneath, and despite their
instrumental functions. Against the grain of determinism, we hope to
attract work that bears witness to media as complex assemblages of
institutions, subjects, bodies, objects, and discourses.

Please send all submissions and queries to: submissions@amodern.net

Founding Editors: Scott Pound and Darren Wershler
Managing Editor: Michael Nardone

Advisory Board

Johanna Drucker
Gary Genosko
Lisa Gitelman
Jerome McGann
Marjorie Perloff
Brian Rotman
Kim Sawchuk
Will Straw

Editorial Board

Jason Camlot
Jeff Derksen
Craig Dworkin
Lori Emerson
Jonathan Finn
John Maxwell
Nick Montfort
Sianne Ngai
Bart Simon
Matt Soar

In Soviet Russia…

Adventure chooses you. Here are two recently declassified Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style stories from the Eastern Bloc, part of the “You Will Select A Decision” series which was written in 1987 in Russian, translated to English, but intercepted by the CIA before its influence could reach our shores. Thanks to Brendan Patrick Hennessy and the magic of Twine, both 1 – Small Child In Woods and the romp through American history 2 – Cow Farming Activities on the Former West are now available at the “You Will Select A Decision” site. Thanks to Stuart Moulthrop for the tip.

Who’s Famous and Does E-Lit?

A journalist just asked me if there were any famous authors involved with electronic literature.

I could have dropped a few names, but instead I wrote:

There are, but revolutions in literature do not happen because famous people start using new technologies. They happen because of innovation that comes from young people, new authors, and new readers. Think about important literary movements – how many of them were started when already-famous authors changed their behavior?

Maybe some of you can think of counterexamples in which literary movements were started by already-established literary figures. If so, I’ll stand corrected.

A Commodore 64 at Airport Security

Boston: No reaction.

Seattle: “No, for real?” “Yes, for real.” “That was my first computer!” “How old is that thing?” “It’s from 1982.” “Hey, that used to be state of the art! But now -” [TSA agent takes phone out of pocket, points to it.] “This has got more processing power!”

Los Angeles: “Sir, please come with me.” [TSA agent swabs power supply for explosives.] “Can you tell me what this is for?” “It’s a computer.” [Older TSA agent arrives.] “Hey! A Commodore 64! That’s a classic!”

Just Posted, Computational, Conceptual

Now online: “The First M Numbers Classified in Alphabetical Order.”

This was my New Year’s poem for 2013. It is based on Claude Closky’s 1989 “Les 1000 premiers nombres classés par ordre alphabétique” [The First 1000 Numbers Classified in Alphabetical Order], which he laser printed and which begins this way:

From Closky's The First 1000 Numbers Classified in Alphabetical Order

A full image of the first page spread (which is the source for the image above), and more context for this work, is available on this page.

The printed copies of my “The First M…” were dot-matrix printed on two connected sheets of fanfold paper. In the printout, as online, I included the program as well as the output.

Chercher le Text Call for Artistic Works

Here is the call for artistic proposals for the ELO 2013 “Chercher le Text” in Paris!

The “chercher le texte” event deals with literary issues and text-oriented multimedia practices on digital devices: digital books, texts generated or animated through programming, fiction hypertexts, “manipulable”, playable works, or on the contrary works whose very program embraces literariness. The considered devices range from computers to mobile devices, including social networks. They can be used in various contexts: installations, performances, personal devices designed for digital reading. These contexts range from solo reading to collaborative or participative reading.

This event will represent an opportunity to showcase young artists and bring together two worlds, which otherwise barely come into contact with one another: that of the experimental digital literature forms deriving from the second half of the 20th century avant-garde movements and that of the digital writings, as used by authors coming from the book world and who have taken over the digital technologies, namely blogs and e-books.
In this context, the Musique et Informatique de Marseille (MIM) laboratory associates with team Écritures Numériques from Paris 8 Paragraphe laboratory, the digital literature European network Digital Digital Digital Littérature (DDDL), the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), the Bibliothèque Publique d’Information (BPI), the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), the Cube, the Labex Art-H2H coordinated by Paris 8 and the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (EnsAD) to organize the following events:

  • An online virtual gallery on the DDDL network website.
  • Four events consisting of performances and projections of works, from September 23 to 26, 2013, in the small room of the Centre Pompidou, the big auditorium of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Cube amphitheater.
  • A six-week exhibition on “digital literatures from the past and future” in the BNF lab room of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which will be launched on September 24, 2013. This exhibition will feature the virtual gallery and a selection of digital literary works with emphasis on the works designed for touch-pads and e-readers.

Artists, especially young ones, are invited to propose one or several work(s). Please send your proposals to work@chercherletexte.org before February 18.

This is a summary of the call – see www.chercherletexte.org for full details.

Canonical Hypertext, IF, and Digital Narrative

What is it that those who have it hate it and oppose it, but those who lack it desperately want it and imagine it?

A canon.

Deb Chachra called my attention to Infovore’s new canonical list of “hypertext literature / interactive fiction / digital narrative.”

I certainly don’t object to the exercise of blog-based canon development. Back in 2004 I presented a canon-like list of Atari VCS games. Thinking up the list and discussing it online were very useful to me as I started formulating the book I’d later write with Ian Bogost, Racing the Beam. Some of the discussion was “what about this game, why not that game?,” as one commenter noted, but really not much of it – more often we ended up discussing why the focus on the Atari VCS, or what qualities make a game worth studying, or how gameplay and graphics/sound interact, etc.

So, instead of offering any substitute items for the list provided, I’ll just try to mention an aspect of “canon” that Infovore has already picked up on. The best idea in developing such lists seems to be not to pick the greatest hits or the first at doing something or the most widely cited, but rather to choose those productions that are interesting to compare to others.

A canon is a standard, as the OED offers: “c. A standard of judgement or authority; a test, criterion, means of discrimination.” So, it would make sense to me to select works that are, for example, the best at political discourse, or engagement with language, or formal innovation, or critique and transformation of existing work – or whatever aspects of interactive literature one values. What would you hold up as an example of avant-garde writing practices meeting interactivity, for instance, after 1961? What’s the standard for work that engages with contemporary political issues?

Challenge: 10 PRINT Screensavers

All right, anyone who is listening.

Someone has written requesting a 10 PRINT screensaver.

I can’t find one lying around the Web – is anyone up for creating one for Windows, Mac, and/or GNU/Linux (xscreensaver)?

It’s be great to make the code available so that people could modify it as they could modify the original 10 PRINT program.

The person seeking this screensaver has suggested, cleverly, that upon exiting the screensaver, the message “BREAK IN 10 / READY.” be shown.

10 PRINT Marches on

The news service of my school at MIT, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, has an article about 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10.

Also, there has been some furious and pretty amazing program creation and compaction going on in DOS/x86 land. It all seems to have started when demoscener Trixter (a.k.a. Jim Leonard) decided to port 10 PRINT to x86 assembly. His first, straightforward version was 42 bytes long, but he was quickly able to chop it down by replacing the random number generator with a single instruction: 25 bytes. Getting ready of some of the nice and tidy but strictly unnecessary startup and shutdown code brought the program down to 15 bytes. Then, thanks to the clever use of an opcode that I’d never heard of before which is meant for string comparison and is called SCAS, he was able to trim the code to 13 bytes — the shortest he thought it could ever be.

Of course, someone (Peter Ferrie) found a way to get rid of another byte, so the program sat at 12 bytes long.

herm1t came along to provide an optimization that assumed DOS was loaded, reducing the program to 11 bytes.

And, most recently, Peter Ferrie returned to lop off another byte, showing that the program (on Intel CPUs, at least) need only be 10 bytes long.

Trixter provides the full story (so far!) on his blog, Oldskooler Ramblings.

My joke about this is that the shortest possible 10-PRINT-like program will be a single jmp instruction to a run of 8 or 9 bytes that happen to already be in memory. However, this is probably only a joke: the number of possible 8-byte combinations of bits are 256^8 = 18446744073709551616, so it really isn’t very likely, even for an extremely short program of this sort, that it will just happen to be lying around somewhere in memory initially.

Speaking of the demoscene, I mentioned in my last post that viznut has checked out the book. He’s also written a very nice VIC-20 version of the program that uses two of the tiles from the Black Path Game instead of the original diagonal lines:

0 FORI=7168TO7183:READA:POKEI,A:NEXT:POKE36869,255
1 PRINTCHR$(64.5+RND(.));:GOTO1
2 DATA16,16,32,192,3,4,8,8,8,8,4,3,192,32,16,16

The result:

VIC-20 Black Path Game version of 10 PRINT

Finally, we had a great time exhibiting the 10 PRINT program and the 10 PRINT book at the 2013 MLA’s electronic literature exhibit and presenting the program and modifications of it at the MLA offsite electronic literature reading. Thanks to Dene Grigar and Kathi Inman Berens for curating the exhibit and the reading. And, thanks to Patsy Baudoin, Mark C. Marino, and Mark Sample for joining me for that presentation and for offering commentary (play-by-play and color) as I coded on the Commodore 64.

Code, Poetry Intersect in a Corner

In this episode of Poetry Corner with Guido, Guido the python shares a Gertrude Stein poem titled Sacred Emily.

Poetry Corner with Guido

Jared Nielsen, thanks to his schooling in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, his ability as a programmer, and his recent creation of a puppet, has developed an amazing conflation of Gertrude Stein, the Python programming language, and the Wonder Showzen episode “Patience.”

Nielsen has been recreating famous American poems in Python or so that they are about Python, as in “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “Song of Myself.”

His project parallels that of Páll Thayer along two dimensions: Thayer, in his series Microcodes, presents short programs in Perl (not Python) that often recreate famous artworks (not poems), for instance Vito Acconci’s Seedbed and Jasper Johns’s Flag.

We must admit, however, that Thayer does not employ a puppet named after Larry Wall.

Radical Books of 2012 (7/7)

Book from the Ground

Keyhole Factory
William Gillespie

Soft Skull Press · 368 pages

William, congratulations to you – and Soft Skull Press – on the new, big publication of Keyhole Factory, which some might think is your first novel. Actually, your intensity of writing would humiliate Roberto Bolaño. You have at least eight books (some pseudonymous, some collaborative) available via your press Spineless Books, which publishes other people’s work as well. You share a quality with George Perec in that you are a graphophile, and you share another quality with him in that you are an incredible writer, imaginative on all levels, as you demonstrate in Keyhole Factory. It’s great that Jeff Clark designed the cover. I think I see why he used the picture of the monkeys. They’re voyeuristic subjects; we’re watching them as if through a keyhole. That one in the middle looks back, making us nervous. If they were people they’d be eating lunch or making love or watching TV or something, and we’d fixate on that. But they’re monkeys, so we just notice that one of them is watching us. You think?