There’s a nice Slate article on the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series, quoting not only both of the main COYA authors but also Zork creator and Infocom implementor David Lebling.
It’s tough to write about the ideas that didn’t work out. Sometimes the negative results actually aren’t very interesting, and it’s better not to discuss them. In other cases, it’s impolite to point out other people’s roles – to blame them – and impossible to discuss the failure otherwise. But when a failure is not too big of a deal, possibly instructive to bring up, and as least as much my fault as anyone else’s, that rare opportunity to post about it presents itself.
In 2005, those of us blogging at Grand Text Auto had the idea of starting a “label.” We wanted something that would riff on our blog’s name and serve to showcase larger-scale projects that we did. The idea was that our creative projects would benefit from being associated with each other, just as our blog writing was more lively and had wider reach thanks to the shared context of Grand Text Auto.
After going through our usual best practices process of name development – perhaps, based on experiences like these, I’ll one day start a naming firm – we chose to call the label [auto mata]. With the square brackets and everything, if you want to really give a shout-out, although “Auto Mata” could work if that’s what fits your house style.
I offered to design the logotype. Now, I’m much less likely to start a career in graphic design, and certainly couldn’t drive that auto very far if I did, but I do like to indulge my dilettantish design interests when the opportunity presents itself. This is what I came up with:
Admittedly, it doesn’t exactly slap one in the face.
I don’t think my understated logo was the real problem with [auto mata], though. First Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern’s Façade (July 2005) and then my own Book and Volume (November 2005) were released “under” (perhaps “with” is a better preposition) this label. And that was it. No other “extraordinary e-lit, digital art, and computer games” appeared as [auto mata] releases, which was one big problem. A list of two things isn’t doing that much helpful association or offering people very much to browse. I think if we had kept adding a piece to the [auto mata] catalog every few months, we’d have accumulated a very interesting collection that people would be looking at. We might even encourage the crossing of boundaries between (the stereotypes of) literary work, visual art, and computer games that Grand Text Auto was all about. But we weren’t all regularly doing larger-scale projects that were downloadable. [auto mata] couldn’t really, in any straightforward way, “release” an immense, functional Atari VCS joystick.
Another problem, though, is that [auto mata] was just a list on a Web page. We didn’t build much buzz around [auto mata] itself, or work to promote the label per se as opposed to the two pieces that were released under it. Perhaps this work would have done itself to some extent as our list of publications grew and our offerings drew in people from different communities. But, unfortunately, the work wasn’t done.
Michael, Andrew, and I often mentioned [auto mata] in promoting our pieces. The site is still up. But now it’s 2011, and it’s worth noting that both Façade and Book and Volume have been published again in the fine context of the Electronic Literature Collection, volume 2. Although some “previous publication” information is included for each piece in the Collection, Michael, Andrew, and I all neglected to tell the editors that these two pieces are [auto mata] releases, so that information (provided within the pieces) doesn’t appear on the introduction pages where other bibliographic information is available.
Ah, well. I don’t regret the discussion that led to our developing [auto mata]; nor do I regret the not particularly onerous efforts that we took to get this label launched. In a different situation, such a label might have served not just to catalog work, but as an incentive or rallying point for the Grand Text Auto bloggers in creating work that could be proudly presented alongside other pieces. Perhaps a similar label could still do that for a different group of people.
“D.P.O.” is a pretty amazing X-Files episode, featuring not only an arcade, which is central to the episode, but also a Lenscrafters cameo, glimpses of a Jerry-Springer-like show and a music video, a reference to the land art piece Lightning Field, a rural boy pranking cows, Jack Black, and a Playboy centerfold with at least a passing resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar.
I particularly like how Mulder picks out the suspect by locating his initials on the high score screen of a Virtua Fighter machine. One thing I’m wondering about the arcade in this episode, though: It has a jukebox, which is rather instrumental (no pun intended) to the way the episode … plays out.
Was it really common for arcades to have jukeboxes? In my recollection, which may be rusty, arcades were noisy enough thanks to the games themselves. I suppose one could have turned the games’ volumes down to let other music be heard, but there weren’t jukeboxes in the arcades I remember, from, say, The Gold Mine up through Le Fun. Did your arcades have other soundtracks, beyond those coming from the cabinets?
Truth is often stranger than fiction. Sometimes fiction just exaggerates for effect, of course. In the world of this commercial,
– Early Macintoshes have a green-on-black, all-caps display.
– Interactive fiction text goes only 3/5 of the way across the screen.
– Macs use 5.25″ floppy discs.
These changes were no doubt thoughtfully made to construct the “retro” in a more intense way, allowing for a readable and seemingly old-school display and collaging different aspects of 1980s home computers. This way the green-on-black display and 5.25″ disks can live alongside the iconic presence of the early Mac. Plus, GLaDOS gets to say the multisyllabic word “Macintosh” at the end of the video. The creators of the video surely knew they were doing it wrong but decided to try to construct something more 80s than 80s.
I wonder if they knew they were making a tribute video for Rob Swigart, whose game/novel Portal was released by Activision in 1986 on 5.25″ and 3.25″ disk for Amiga, Macintosh, Commodore 64, Apple II, and PC.
Swigart also contributed to another early entry in the “pseudohacking” genre, the Activision game Hacker, which sported an all-text beginning that looked very much like the on-screen display in the video.
The commercial testifies to our memories of the 1980s by making things up. But there was Portal on 5.25″ disk in 1986. This video documents the Amiga version. Interesting to see that the first commenter on there can’t believe that something like this could crawl out of our memory hole, through the portal from the past.
Google’s spam cop, Matt Cutts
the head of the Webspam team
in the sprawling, subterranean world
found 2,015 pages with phrases like “casual dresses,”
snoring, diamond drills, bathroom tiles,
a Google no-no.
Liquid nitrogen and “fairy tale pumpkin”
will flag a Web site that goes from zero
zero influence on the latter, he said.
Chinese cooking can bolster your profile if
organic search results
warn against using tricks
to snooker his employer.
You could imagine a dozen contenders
“Samsonite carry on luggage,” for instance,
And bedding? And area rugs?
Who is that someone?
The next it was essentially buried.
Thanks to the hard work of the editorial collective, Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley, and Brian Kim Stefans, and to contributions of more than 70 (often collaborating) authors, we now have an incredible new anthology: volume 2 of the Electronic Literature Collection, which offers 60 new reading experiences for the networked computer.
To make the first volume of the Collection possible, my fellow editors and I limited ourselves to the sort of e-lit projects we could easily publish on CD-ROM and on the Web. The formal range of the ELC has expanded in the new collection, which documents several projects that wouldn’t, themselves, fit on disc. The range of languages represented has also widened, and the collective has brought it own perspectives and concepts to offer a different sort of selection than is seen in the first volume.
I’m certainly pleased to have some of my work included: Book and Volume and the first program in the ppg256 series. And I’m glad that Laura, Talan, Rita, and Brian worked so carefully and at such length to gather and edit this diversity of material. They’ve made this project a success for the ELO and for e-lit readers. And finally, as a reader, I’m also really looking forward to diving into the pages and windows of this collection.
Happy Groundhog Day. Today, I’m releasing Curveship, my interactive fiction system that models not only the fictional world, but also the narrative discourse. A development version (0.5) of this Python framework is now available for download. You can find the links, along with some description and documentation of the system, at curveship.com.
(Original photos by April King and Postdlf, Wikimedia Commons; they & these modified versions are CC by-sa 3.0.)
“Code of Best Practices In Fair Use For Poetry” has just been released by the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute. “Poetry” as a cultural force, in the popular consciousness, is very traditional, but poets of course also have undertaken some of the our most unusual, avant-garde writing. The document gives a hint of the wide sweep of poetic practice while showing that poetry has long played host to quotation, parody, and other remixological practices. And the “Code” achieves its main purpose of outlining common sorts of writing and use that fair use seems to cover, as poets see it. I’m glad to have been involved in some of the meetings that led to this document. I hope it will helpful us continue the discussion about alternatives to cultural lockdown, bringing in the perspectives, not of industries, but of the creators of different sorts of culturally significant work.
The “Code” was compiled in collaboration with American University’s Center for Social Media and its Washington College of Law. Those who attend AWP can pick up free printed copies of the document; The PDF is online now.
Two of my talks on this program:
10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10
have recently come online. I’m currently studying this program deeply and writing a single-voice book about it with many other authors.
My earlier talk, given jointly with coauthors Jeremy Douglass and Casey Reas on July 23 of last year, was “Studying Software by Porting and Reimplementation: A BASIC Case” at USC. As of yesterday, video of it is online with the rest of the conference proceedings from Critical Code Studies at USC.
More recently, on January 10, I spoke about the program at UC Santa Cruz. My talk “Line of Inquiry: Many Authors Explore Creative Computing through a Short Program” is available on video in six parts. Part 1 will let you link on to the rest.
Last night I projected words to accompany music at a local lounge. This practice does not seem have an established name – does it? Please let me know if you’re aware of the conventional term. I have heard the phrase “text jockey” used. I’ve also come up with some other terms that don’t seem to fit perfectly. In a sense, this is VJing, but it’s also a practice that is compatible with VJing, since words can be projected in a subtitle-like fashion on moving images.
Using a small bit of Python code and pyglet, I put a number of texts up a word at a time in very plain and uniform typography. Each successive word appeared centered on the same point as the last in a rapid, serial, and visual manner. Sometimes I showed several texts in juxtaposition, sometimes just one. I thought the combination of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual and the text of Beckett’s Rockaby was particularly nice. The Unabomber manifesto and the Timecube website were utilized, as were Moby Dick, a Roberto Bolaño story, some altered versions of Little Red Riding Hood, a poem by Harry Mathews, and a few pieces I put together that drew randomly from word sets to confuse gender stereotypes and our notions of otherness. One of the people who came thanked me and said that he wasn’t expecting to spend the evening reading from great books, but that it was pretty cool.
My thanks to DJ Flack & Wayne and Wax, who very kindly invited me to join them.
This year’s MIT Mystery Hunt was won by my intrepid friends on team Codex Alimentarius early Sunday morning. I’m glad I had the drive (the 5.25″ drive, to be exact) to help them as they solved one of their puzzles.
You put yourself on something unseen.
Then, you are unable to take a look at something because you are not in the world.
While attempting to upgrade to a new Ubuntu distribution Sunday late night, I managed to slag nickm.com. I don’t mean that I insulted my server; rather, I irrevocably converted it into a molten heap, or at least the software equivalent.
The bright side of such failures (perhaps the light is provided by the glowing and otherwise useless material that used to be serving my website) is that one learns how good one’s been at backing up. In my case, I actually had recent copies of almost all of my data stashed away: not only important files, but also the mysql database. That means that after about 12 hours of reinstalling and once more setting up my server, most of it was up and running.
The one thing I didn’t have, due to a permissions/backup quirk, was the image directory for this blog. I had a very old copy of the directory, but had stopped storing local copies of blog images a while back, trusting in my backups that didn’t work. Obviously, I’m to blame; of more general interest than my culpability is what I tried in an attempt to find the missing images, and what did and didn’t work:
FAIL: The Internet Archive Wayback Machine. As best as I can tell, the Wayback Machine’s acquisition apparatus has been switched off since mid-2008. Nothing of Post Position is available at the Internet Archive – no trace of it. There’s no record of Grand Text Auto since mid-2008, either. I found only the tiniest hint of activity in recent months. The major, bustling site Reddit has exactly one image available for all of 2010. The IA Wayback Machine was better than nothing, but was never searchable; now it seems to be over.
SEMI-FAIL: Google. Google’s cache had/has a very small number of my images – only the ones I have recently posted. Perhaps Google cached my images from three months ago and longer in the past, too, but has removed them? The cache is nowhere near a snapshot of the Web, in any case. Google also keeps smaller copies of my images within its image search. All images there are degraded by being reduced in size and converted to jpg, even the smallest of images. This at least allows people in my situation to see what they’ve lost, though. Of course, Google’s cache is not meant as a serious archival tool, so recovering at least few recent files from there was nice.
FAIL: Bing. Yes, I checked the Bing cache (used by Yahoo) also. It doesn’t seem to cache images at all.
WIN: The Electronic Literature Organization and Archive-It.org. After I had more or less given up, and after I had started to recreate images to fill the gaps in blog posts, I remembered that Archive-It, thanks to the work of the Electronic Literature Organization, has archived not only works of electronic literature but also contextual information, such as e-lit authors’ websites. Their archives are searchable, too. Archive-It and the ELO did keep copies of material from nickm.com, and succeeded in preserving the images that I’d lost, outdoing the Internet Archive as well as Google, and Microsoft. (Again, I did get some copies of recent images from Google, and neither that cache nor Bing’s is intended as an archive.) Scott Rettberg did a great deal of work on the ELO Archive-It project, I know, which was undertaken by the ELO when Joe Tabbi was president. Matt Kirschenbaum worked to connect the ELO with Archive-IT, and Patricia Tomaszek did much of the implementation work. A particular thanks to those ELO folks along with the others who worked on this project.
Online archives don’t exist as backup services, of course, but it’s not absurd to see if they can help individuals and organizations in times of crisis – in addition to performing their main function of serving scholars and helping preserve our cultural memory. Given the intricacies of backing up, data storage and formats, and technological change to new systems and platforms, this is sure to be an important secondary function for the digital archive.
Please let me know if you find anything missing or broken here at nickm.com.
Just published in Dear Navigator 1:2/3 is a new poetry generator, Sea and Spar Between, by Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland.
This has been a major project of mine and Stephanie’s over the past year. We started seriously working on this project on December 15, 2009, when we met for the first of a few days in New York to discuss and start developing it. I thought it might take only a few days to complete – not a completely outrageous idea, since I have been working on tiny poetry generators such as “The Two” those in the ppg256 series, which were not time-consuming to produce. As you might guess, since it was just published today (on December 16, 2010), I was wrong about the time it would take. But, I am delighted that the project is appearing now in wonderful company in Dear Navigator, a beautiful and appropriately-named journal.
If memory serves, Stephanie and I met at Digital Arts and Culture ’99 in Atlanta. I remember the conversation we had about innovative literature soon afterwards at Limbo, a long-gone coffeehouse on Avenue A in New York. Stephanie offered her advice as I was putting together my application to the Boston University poetry program – one way in which she’s long been a mentor as well as a friend. We’ve served the Electronic Literature Organization together; I had the chance to collaborate with her in editing the Electronic Literature Collection, volume 1; and I’ve gotten to read with her and present in the same session at conferences many times over the years. Sea and Spar Between, though, is our first collaboration as poets.
We have a short statement about the project on the “How to Read Sea and Spar Between“ page; the text also appears on the page of Dear Navigator that introduces and links to the piece. I won’t quote from that page here, but I’ll mention that the generator produces a navigable space of stanzas and draws on the vocabulary of and our readings of Dickinson and Melville.
Speaking of that code, as you can see for yourself in the file seaspar.js, Sea and Spar Between is licensed under a free software license. As the license says, anyone may copy it, modify it, or make use of it in some other way in creating another project. I hope the project proves pleasing to interact with and read from on the Web and pleasing for those who wish to turn to the code.
MIT’s Building 14 has a great new display thanks to poet Amaranth Borsuk, who is a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Writing & Humanistic Studies program, where I also work. There are some wonderful pieces from many of my colleagues and their students, all of them displayed brilliantly. I’ll mention the digital tie-ins: The broadside “Love Letters,” done in one of my graduate CMS.950 Workshop classes, consists of computer-generated poems produced by a Manchester Mark I emulator. These were set on a letterpress by the class thanks to the Bow & Arrow Press’s John Pyper. And Peer Hofstra, who took my 21W.750 Experimental Writing class last semester, did an extraordinary untitled book for his final project. It’s made of punched cards, with the words are formed by alphabetically-arranged letters punched out from those pages. Each word is some are subsequence of the alphabet, so “APT” can occur, while “APE” cannot. Alex Corella’s Experimental Writing final project, which cuts up and rearranges the text on Cambridge historical plaques, is also on display. If you’re on campus, do stop by to see the case, which is by the elevator on the first floor of Building 14. It will be up for at least this month, December 2010.