Jacket 2 Interview

Wednesday 31 August 2011, 9:42 pm   /////  

Steve McLaughlin interviewed me using the medium of audio recording and has posted the result, along with a photo of me in my office, at Jacket2. In this interview for “Into the Field,” I read from and discuss my book of poems Riddle & Bind and some other curious work.

Nick in his office by the Asteroids machine

Another Note from Passo Fundo

Wednesday 24 August 2011, 10:56 pm   ///////  

Here’s another article about my talk today in Passo Fundo. It’s in Brazilian Portuguese, and has a less maniacal photo accompanying it than did the last article I mentioned. The Babelfish provides this translation into English.

Nick Montfort answering questions in Passo Fundo

Winter in Brazil, Southern Edition

Wednesday 24 August 2011, 3:26 pm   ///////  

Like my collaborator Noah Wardrip-Fruin, I have come to Brazil for the winter. But not to a nice warm part of Brazil — I’m in Passo Fundo, in the far South, at the 14th Jornada Nacional de Literatura. Here, it has been cold outside, but there has been great excitement about writing and literary art.

Nick Montfort speaking in Passo Fundo

I have been correctly identified as a space man as I’ve shown and discussed interactive fiction, poetry generation, and other forms of electronic literature.

I gave a longer talk this morning about these topics, which was translated into Brazilian Portuguese as I spoke. Tomorrow, I will speak on a panel in the main tent to about 5000 people about certain types of “convergence” in writing and literature. The type I will address is a convergence between authors – collaboration.

MIT Seeks Asst Prof in Science Writing

Friday 19 August 2011, 9:50 pm   ///  

MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, is seeking a tenure-track assistant professor in science writing to start in the Fall of 2012. The Program offers undergraduate courses in science writing and a one-year Master’s degree program in Science Writing. Candidates for the new tenure-track position should have significant publications, productions, or research; and/or advanced degrees combined with demonstrated accomplishment in the public communication of science. The field of specialization may be in science writing for the public, science writing/production in audio, video and or new/digital media, long-form science writing, and/or journalism about science, technology/engineering, environment, health and medicine. Teaching experience is valuable, but not required. Applicants should apply via AcademicJobsOnline, by November 1, 2011. The selection committee will begin reviewing applications in November and schedule interviews in December 2011. MIT is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer.

Why Emily Dickinson Would Use GNU/Linux

Thursday 11 August 2011, 4:29 pm   ////  

With Blue — uncertain — stumbling Buzz —
Between the light — and me —
And then the Windows failed — and then
I could not see to see —

— J465/F591

Electrifying Literature: The ELO 2012 Conference at WVU

Call for Proposals…

ELO 2012

Electrifying Literature
Affordances and Constraints

June 20-23, 2012 Morgantown, WV

Conference Planning Committee

  • Sandy Baldwin, West Virginia University (Chair)
  • Philippe Bootz, University of Paris 8
  • Dene Grigar, Washington State University Vancouver
  • Margie Luesebrink, Irvine Valley College
  • Mark Marino, University of Southern California
  • Stuart Moulthrop, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
  • Joseph Tabbi, University of Illinois, Chicago

We invite titles and proposals of no more than 500 words, including a brief description of the content and format of the presentation, and contact information for the presenter(s). Send proposals to elit2012 [at] gmail.com, using plain text format in the email, or attached as Word or PDF. All proposals will receive peer-to-peer review by the ELO and will be considered on their own terms. Non-traditional and traditional formats will be subject to the same peer-to-peer review process.

Submission deadline for proposals: November 30, 2011

Notification of acceptance: December 30, 2011

Electronic Literature: Where is It?*

The 2012 Electronic Literature Organization Conference will be held June 20-23, 2012 in Morgantown, WV, the site of West Virginia University. In conjunction with the three-day conference, there will be a juried Media Arts Show open to the public at the Monongalia Arts Center in Morgantown and running from June 18-30, 2012. An accompanying online exhibit will bring works from the ELO Conference to a wider audience.

Even if nobody could define print literature, everyone knew where to look for it – in libraries and bookshops, at readings, in class, or on the Masterpiece channel. We have not yet created, however, a consensus about where to find electronic literature, or (for that matter) the location of the literary in an emerging digital aesthetic.

Though we do have, in digital media, works that identify themselves as “locative,” we don’t really know where to look for e-lit, how it should be tagged and distributed, and whether or how it should be taught. Is born digital writing likely to reside, for example, in conventional literature programs? in Rhetoric? Comp? Creative Writing? Can new media literature be remediated? How should its conditions of creation be described? Do those descriptions become our primary texts when the works themselves become unavailable through technological obsolescence?

To forward our thinking about the institutional and technological location of current literary writing, The Electronic Literature Organization and West Virginia University’s Center for Literary Computing invite submissions to the ELO 2012 Conference to be held from June 20-23, 2012, in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Bearing in mind the changing locations of new media literature and literary cultures, the conference organizers welcome unconventional presentations, whether in print or digital media. The point is not to reject the conventional conference ‘paper’ or bullet point presentation but to encourage thoughtful exploration and justification of any format employed. All elements of literary description and presentation are up for reconsideration. The modest mechanisms of course descriptions, syllabus construction, genre identification, and the composition of author bios, could well offer maps toward the location of the literary in digital media. So can an annotated bibliography of works falling under a given genre or within a certain technological context. We welcome surveys of the use of tags and keywords, and how these can be recognized (or not) by readers, libraries, or other necessary nodes in an emerging literary network Also of interest is the current proliferation of directories of electronic literature in multiple media, languages, and geographical locations.

The cost of the conference is $150; graduate students and non-affiliated artists pay only $100. The cost covers receptions, meals, and other conference events. All participants must be members of the Electronic Literature Organization. All events are within walking distance of the conference hotels. Morgantown is a classic college town, located in the scenic hills of north central West Virginia, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA. Local hotel and travel information will be available on the conference website starting October 1, 2011.

Check http://el.eliterature.org and http://conference.eliterature.org for updates. For more information, email elit2012 [at] gmail.com.

*Note: this title derives from an essay by ELO Board Member Dene Grigar in electronic book review, where selected conference presentations will be published within a few months of the conference.

ELO on the Move to MIT

Wednesday 10 August 2011, 9:22 pm   ///  
ELO logo

The Electronic Literature Organization is moving its headquarters to MIT this summer. The organization is an international nonprofit with many partner institutions, but the main office is a particularly important site for the ELO – hence, I want to thank the ELO’s former hosts MITH (at the University of Maryland) and UCLA, which have generously sustained the organization for most of its existence since its founding in 1999. As the current president, I’m very glad that MIT will be the ELO’s host. I’ll be working with others to form a lasting relationship. As we continue to serve our international membership and pursue our mission, we’re going to have many fun events and collaborations based at MIT.

MIT seal

Here’s today’s press release, from MIT, about the ELO’s move.

Yo Conceptualists

Saturday 30 July 2011, 12:39 pm   /////  

Christian Bök is nearing completion of his 9-year Xenotext project.

Craig Dworkin edited Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing with Kenneth Goldsmith; it came out early this year.

Kenneth Goldsmith has a new interview up at the Academy of American Poets site.

Vanessa Place has now published two books of her trilogy Tragodía: Statement of Facts and Statement of the Case.

Who Grabbed My Gorge

Tuesday 26 July 2011, 2:37 pm   ///////  

In January 2009, I wrote a very short (one page) Python poetry generator that creates a limitless nature poem each time it is run. I wrote this generator, “Taroko Gorge,” mostly at Taroko Gorge National Park in Taiwan, finishing it on the plane afterwards. I later ported it to JavaScript so that it could be easily run in a Web browser.

It seems the gorge goes ever ever on. The code from “Taroko Gorge” and the form it defines have been appropriated a few times. Here are five poetry generators that use the code from that project and replace my text with different, and often much more extensive, language:

“Tokyo Garage” by Scott Rettberg, 2009. [Output from “Tokyo Garage” read aloud by a pedantic machinima clown.]

“Gorge” by J. R. Carpenter, 2010. [Announcement of “Gorge.”] [Output appears in J. R. Carpenter’s GENERATION[S], Traumawien: 2010.]

“Along the Briny Beach” by J. R. Carpenter, 2011. [Announcement of “Along the Briny Beach.”]

“Toy Garbage” by Talan Memmott, 2011.

“Yoko Engorged” by Eric Snodgrass. 2011. [Announcement of “Yoko Engorged.”]

nickm.com Undergoes Reskinning

Sunday 24 July 2011, 7:06 pm   ///  

I’ve made some hopefully superficial changes to the non-blog part of my website, nickm.com. Please let me know if you notice that I broke anything.

Neural on Sea and Spar

Monday 18 July 2011, 3:00 pm   ////  

Thanks to Neural.it, the very long-running, vigorously-firing Italian site and magazine on digital media art and related topics. This publication did a writeup of my and Stephanie Strickland’s poetic system Sea and Spar Between. It’s available in English and in Italian.

Conferencing on Code and Games

First, as of this writing: I’m at the GAMBIT Summer Summit here at MIT, which runs today and is being streamed live. Do check it out if video game research interests you.

A few days ago, I was at the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Bordeaux. On July 1 I presented the first conference paper on Curveship since the system has been released as free software. The paper is “Curveship’s Automatic Narrative Style,” which sums up or at least mentions many of the research results while documenting the practicalities of the system and using the current terminology of the release version.

four FDG attendees

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Malcolm Ryan, Michael Young (next year’s FDG local organizer) and Michael Mateas in between sessions at FDG 2011.

At FDG, there was a very intriguing interest in focalization, seen in Jichen Zhu’s presentation of the paper by Jichen Zhu, Santiago Ontañón and Brad Lewter, “Representing Game Characters’ Inner Worlds through Narrative Perspectives” and in the poster “Toward a Computational Model of Focalization” by Byung-Chull Bae, Yun-Gyung Cheong, and R. Michael Young. (Zhu’s work continues aspects of her dissertation project, of which I was a supervisor, so I was particularly interested to see how her work has been progressing.) Curveship has the ability to change focalization and to narrate (textually) from the perspective of different characters, based on their knowledge and perceptions; this is one of several ways in which it can vary the narrating. I’ll be interested to see how others continue to explore this aspect of narrative.

Before FDG was Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford, where I was very pleased, on June 22, to join a panel assembled by Rita Raley. I briefly discussed data-driven poetic practices of different sorts (N+7, diastic writing, and many other forms) and presented ppg256 and Concrete Perl, which are not data-driven. I argued that as humanists we should be “digging into code” as well as data, understanding process in the new ways that we can. It was great to join Sandy Baldwin, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, and John Cayley on this panel, to discuss code and poetry with them, and to hear their presentations.

Concrete Perl

Sunday 26 June 2011, 7:23 pm   /////  

 h            d d     k x  v  d r k y  p  s b a  b  a  n  i  k  d   u  u  v   r  c q  i  e  z   j s s  v h   t l  i  r k k n  k       n n     m              z b    q   b   k x  m  d u  z f  s  g p u z v y       v m  f   s   i  u  p  p z   r n t  k f   b h v  q l  x w h x  f  x    c i w     v f  k h   l  a i      o q  s z n z  u n c l    w      d     a  d a  m j  b e   m  n b q o u o e  n   s    r b o j     b  q q t q s   f n i  f     u  l 

Concrete Perl

a set of four concrete poems realized as 32-character Perl programs

by Nick Montfort

You can download the linked Perl files and/or simply copy and paste the following four lines, which correspond to the four titles above:

  • perl -e '{print"a"x++$...$"x$.,$,=_;redo}'
  • perl -e '{print$,=$"x($.+=.01),a..z;redo}'
  • perl -e '{print" ".chr for 32..126;redo}'
  • perl -e '{print$",$_=(a..z)[rand$=];redo}'

For purposes of determining the platform precisely and counting characters, the rules of Perl Golf are used. These rules, for instance, do not count the (optional) newline at the end of a one-line program. The Concrete Perl programs work on all standard versions of Perl 5.8.0 and have been verified as 32 characters long using a count program.

These programs are also written to work and to be visually pleasing on terminal windows (or terminals) of any geometry.

To present them all at once, you can tile four windows and run one program in each window. For instance, running Linux with Compiz as the window manager and the Grid plugin installed and active, create four windows and assign them to the four corners of the screen using Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 7, Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 9, Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 1, and Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 3. In this mode if the resolution of the display is not particularly high, you may wish to decrease the font size a notch in each window.

Concrete Perl was released onto the demoscene and discussed by me for the first time in my talk “Beyond Data-Driven Poetry: ppg256 and Concrete Perl,” on the panel “Literary Practice and the Digital Humanities, Redux: Data as/and Poetry,” Digital Humanities 2011, Stanford, June 22, 2011.

I have printed the four programs/poems on a dot matrix printer on business cards and am handing them out and, in some cases, adding them to the “Interactive Poetry Wall” at Stanford University’s “Coho” coffeehouse.

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XO and GUI Found in Curveship’s Alphabet Soup

Saturday 18 June 2011, 2:15 pm   ////  

I went by to OLPC (One Laptop Per Child, the nonprofit that has created and deployed worldwide the green laptop for kids) yesterday for some discussion of narrative interfaces. I explained the basics of Curveship and what was interesting about it from my perspective, mentioning that one could hook the narrating engine up to something other than an interactive fiction world. I also found out that others had some of their own, very interesting, ideas.

Chris Ball, for instance, showed a proof-of-concept where he hooked up the simulated world of Curveship’s Cloak of Darkness, the classic simulated example world, to a graphical display and a graphical system for inputting commands:

Screen from the Curveship GUI Cloak of Darkness

Source is available on github. While it doesn’t generalize to every Curveship game, what it presents on the screen here is done without any additional game data: Chris’s system determine that the south room is dark and obscures it, determines where the exits are, places objects in rooms, and generates rooms of random size since there is no way to determine how big or small a room is. The only thing the systems knows about the underlying simulated world is what’s in fiction/cloak.py, the file I put together to demonstrate Cloak of Darkness in the usual textual interface.

On the one hand, it more or less discards all of the work that fascinates me the most, the text generation and narrative variation part of the system (*). But on the other, it’s the most radical narrative variation yet – replacing the textual interface with a graphical one. A pretty neat twist on the system, and one which is very interesting from a research standpoint if one’s interested in comparing image and text in narratives.

I hope work on this will continue and that we’ll find other mutually beneficial ways to connect Curveship with the OLPC project.

(*) It doesn’t really discard these or truly “replace” the text channel. You also get to read the textual description of rooms and the textual representation of actions in windows as you play the game. But it makes the main interface a GUI rather than a textual exchange.

World’s Hottest Platforms 2011

Thursday 9 June 2011, 7:49 pm   ////  

Ian Bogost and I were thinking about the Platform Studies series today, as we are wont to do. There are two books in the series that are nearing completion now, which we are delighted about, but there are many more to be written. We were talking about some platforms that we thought were large and low-hanging fruit for any interested authors – ones that would be great to write about. These are a few platforms or families of platforms that seem to us to have interesting technical aspects, diverse and important historical connections, a good amount of worthwhile cultural production, and a number of adherents:

  • Apple II
  • BASIC
  • Commodore 64
  • Flash
  • Game Boy and/or Game Boy Advance
  • iPhone and iPad
  • Java
  • Macintosh
  • MSX
  • NES
  • PC
  • System/360
  • Unix and Linux
  • Windows (“Wintel”)

In case there’s anything that seems puzzling about this list: A platform, as far as the Platform Studies series is concerned, is something that supports programming and programs, the creation and execution of computational media. (This is pretty much what Wikipedia defines as a computing platform, too.) So BASIC, Java, and Flash are as much platforms as the mainly-hardware consoles and computers that are listed, as are the operating systems on the list.

If any of these interest you enough that you’d consider writing a book about them, please contact me and/or Ian. If you have a favorite platform that we haven’t mentioned and want to suggest that someone write about it, please leave us (and any potential authors who are reading) a comment.

A New Game Studies Brings Racing Reviews

Wednesday 8 June 2011, 11:09 pm   /////  

A new issue of Game Studies, the pioneering open-access journal that deals with computer and video games, is out. Of particular note – to me, at least – is that among this issues eight book reviews are two reviews of the book I wrote with Ian Bogost, Racing the Beam.

The two reviews are “Hackers, History, and Game Design: What Racing the Beam Is Not” by José P. Zagal and “The fun is back!” by Lars Konzack.

Zagal, who has a very interesting take on our project, calls the book “an accessible nostalgia-free in-depth examination of a broadly recognized and fondly remembered icon of the videogame revolution” and notes that it is “a book that both retro-videogame enthusiasts and scholars should have on their bookshelves.”

It’s important to note that Konzack developed a layered model for how games (and other digital media artifacts) can be abstracted and situated within culture in his article “Computer game criticism: A method for computer game analysis.” With only a few alterations (merging the “software” and “hardware” layer together into a “platform” layer, for instance, and considering the cultural context as influencing all layers), this model is used in Racing the Beam and in the Platform Studies book series. Konzack finds the book “a worthwhile read if the reader wants to know how early videogame development took place and thereby get an understanding of how videogame development came into being what it is today.”

I’m very pleased, as Ian is, to read these critics’ resposes to our book.

Generador de la Historia “The Two” en Español

Wednesday 8 June 2011, 3:43 pm   //////  

Thanks to Carlos León, there is now a Spanish version, “Los Dos,” of my simple but (I think) provocative story generator “The Two.” The system was previously translated into French as “Les Deux” by Serge Bouchardon.

Stop by and check them out; all three are available in JavaScript versions that run right away in a browser. For those who are interested, the original Klingon, er, Python, is also available for each of the three languages.

The reader who takes the time to try to actually understand the output and resolve the pronouns in it will see that often this task is complicated by ambiguity in gender, although syntax and power relations also work to suggest certain ways that pronouns can be resolved. The need to leave the gender of the characters indeterminate in the first line posed particular problems, and slightly different problems, for the French and Spanish translators, who each found a solution.

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