Congratulations, CMS Grads

Monday 7 June 2010, 8:32 am   ///  

Now that I’m out of my academic robe and back into my more comfortable usual attire, I wanted to send a blog-based shout-out to those in Comparative Media Studies who finished their work in the past year and were awarded masters degrees on Friday:

  • Jason Begy
  • Audubon Dougherty
  • Madeline Clare Elish
  • Colleen Kaman
  • Flourish Klink
  • Hillary Kolos
  • Michelle Moon Lee
  • Xiaochang Li
  • Jason Rockwood
  • Nick Seaver
  • Sheila Murphy Seles
  • Lauren Silberman

Hurrah for Technology, ‘ology ‘ology oh – and for these recent MIT graduates.

Once More into the Gorge

Tuesday 25 May 2010, 9:19 pm   /////  

J.R. Carpenter has taken apart and reassembled my poetry generator Taroko Gorge. (The first to appropriate and rework that piece, as far as I know, was Scott Rettberg, who created Tokyo Garage.) J.R.’s piece – one might call it a tract of sorts – is simply called Gorge. (Update: J.R. has a post discussing Gorge, too.) See if you can stomach it, and for how long.

Also, check out J.R.’s project Story Generation(s), which involved reworking two of my 1k Python programs and which launched May 8 at PW10 Performance Writing Weekend. The project includes a JavaScript port of “Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR.” This is generally not a bad idea; I wrote Taroko Gorge originally in Python (a programming language I prefer for when I’m thinking) and converted it to JavaScript for easy web viewing.

Critical Code Studies Conference at USC

Tuesday 25 May 2010, 8:12 pm   /////  

My collaborator Mark Marino is putting on a conference at USC which looks to be a great event. (I don’t pimp conferences on the blog here unless I’m involved in organizing them or planning to attend; I’m certainly submitting to this one.) Note that abstracts are due very soon – June 1.

Announcing a 1-Day conference on Critical Code Studies at the University of Southern California

Critical Code Studies @ USC

July 23, 2010 Hosted by The Center for Transformative Scholarship & The Institute for Multimedia Literacy Keynote: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Brown University As digital humanitarians continue to turn their attention to the software and hardware that shape culture, the interpretation of source code offers a rich set of symbols and processes for exploration. Critical Code Studies names the practice of explicating the extra-functional significance of source code. Rather than one specific approach or theories, CCS names a growing set of methodologies that help unpack the symbols that make up software. While still in its initial state, this nascent area of study has been growing rapidly over the course of 2010. Following the massively successful Critical Code Study Working Group, we will be gathering at USC for a one-day conference to present readings of code. We are currently exploring the innovative publication of conference proceedings through Vectors and others partnerships. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics, will present a keynote address. During the Working Group, she presented a powerful chapter from her monograph, Programmed Visions: Software, DNA, Race (forthcoming MIT, 2010). Please submit a 250-word abstract to markcmarino at gmail dot com by June 1, 2010 (Subject: “CCS @ USC 2010”). Presenters will be notified by June 15.

IF in College Education?

Tuesday 18 May 2010, 9:52 pm   ////  

Mary Dooms, a middle school teacher in Illinois who has used interactive fiction in her teaching, recently asked me if I knew about any uses of IF in teaching in higher education. That’s a good question.

She had found Utah State’s Voices of Spoon River and Myth Mechanic. I know right off that Jeff Howard has taught The Crying of Lot 49 using IF, and that students read IF and create it as a digital literary practice in two of my classes, Interactive Narrative and The Word Made Digital.

I’ve certainly heard of many other uses of IF in education, and when I can, I’ll begin to collect and list those. Rather than wait, I thought I’d call for links from Post Position/Grand Text Auto readers, since I know there are many classroom deployments of IF that I’m not aware of. If they have well-packaged downloads like the Utah State projects, that’s particularly nice, but I imagine that other information about the classroom use of IF would also be helpful. Any ideas?

“Experimental Writing”

Wednesday 12 May 2010, 11:08 pm   /////  

We concluded the Spring 2010 21W.750 (Experimental Writing) today by composing a definition of the class’s title phrase, based on what we learned during our studies this semester.

EXPERIMENTAL WRITING (vbl. n., c. 1872) 1. The elephant is tiring. X-raying with yttrium, the pact seems tame, empty. Of yore, a raisin says “nope” to an igloo. 2. The octopus, magnificent, eats a tiger and an elephant. (a) Turn no oblog torpor. Revel! (b) An acrobatic cat, loyal, limp, is politicized. 3. What Twitter rhetoric: lame, incredible, empty. Tomatoes, made sarcastic, ignite both earrings. 4. A notorious sarcophogus, glorious static.

(This is an analytic definition using content words beginning with particular letters, including the letters in “experimental writing,” that were provided by students in the class.)

Now that the Living Outnumber the Dead

Monday 10 May 2010, 10:43 pm   /////  

Dance lessons not enough? Missing that special something? You lack soul? Feel, at times, like something that happened might remind you of a past life … if you only had one?

There’s a remedy: Hop on over to the Chicago Soul Exchange.

IF Contests Everywhere

Monday 3 May 2010, 7:51 pm   ///////  

Hello from the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction.

The TWIF Comp, a contest for interactive fiction with code of 140 characters or less, recently wrapped up. (We’re playing some of the games at the PR-IF meeting today.) Although it certainly had its in-joke aspects, the competition did bear amusing fruit, and it’s only one example of several recent competitions beyond the traditional big annual IF Comp. Given my interest in tiny literary systems, I certainly gave some thought to entering this one. However, I’ve pledged to spend all of my IF-writing time working on or in Curveship, and 140-character programs in the system weren’t at the top of my to-do list.

Before the TWIF Comp, there was the Jay Is Games interactive fiction competition, and after it there is the Second Annual MetaFilter Interactive Fiction Contest, which just started on Saturday. Those who read German will be delighted to know, if they don’t already, that the Grand Prix 2010 has just concluded. There’s also going to be an interactive fiction competition (for 30-minute-playtime games) at the Massachusetts demoparty @party. (Information will be posted on the site soon.) And Introcomp is gearing up: Interested parties should indicate their intention to enter by the end of the month. In case you’re new to online competitions, comps, or “compos” as they are sometimes called, these are not furious masculinist agons; they are mainly excuses for people to complete games and have them played by a bunch of people.

At the very least, you IF-interested parties should take a look at the games being proffered in recent contests – or, see if you want your IF to be part of one of these occasions.

Putting the WTF Back into YouTube

Sunday 25 April 2010, 8:18 pm   ///  

What … exactly … is … the … deal?

Another attack — NOT

Friday 23 April 2010, 2:40 pm   /////  
An analyst assesses Alphabetical Africa and another authorial account about antithesis and absence.
Luis Bury does not pull punches in reviewing Doug Nufer’s Negativeland and Walter Abish’s Alphabetical Africa in ebr.

Bill Gates at MIT

Wednesday 21 April 2010, 12:57 pm   /////  

Bill Gates spoke at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium today as the chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, advocating for the brightest minds to work on the most important problems of the world – such as reducing childhood deaths through health, sanitation, and development programs. The talk was part of a tour that also includes Stanford, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Harvard. There were only a few seats free in Kresge. Among other things, Gates suggested separating the accreditation function of higher education to allow for non-place-based learning. He softened the blow by praising MIT’s Open Courseware and listing several of the OCW courses that he himself had taken.

Since I didn’t see Richard Stallman in line, I didn’t stay for all of the Q&A.

There wasn’t a torrent of new information in Gates’s talk, but it was fascinating to hear in relation to Gates’s 1976 “An Open Letter to Hobbyists.” There are actually some similarities in tone: In both the letter and the talk, Gates expressed dismay at the current system not working very well. But in the letter, he declares that computer hobbyists should stop stealing software, says that people who have been re-selling his product without authorization should be kicked out of the club, and invites members to write him and pay up. This, he hopes, will advance him toward his dream, in which he can “hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.” Today, he’s the world’s wealthiest man, actively seeking more effective ways to benefit society by giving his money away.

On the one hand, one wonders if we might have done just as well if we had kept our money in the first place.

On the other hand, Gates becoming a full-time philanthropist and speaking to our technical institute here from that perspective makes for quite a development. It reminds me that his rival and fellow college drop-out, Steve Jobs, got his start selling blue boxes with Steve Wozniak to allow his customers in the Berkeley dorms to resist the man and make free long-distance calls. Now, Jobs, the man, has a worldwide telephony empire of his own via the iPhone and its thought-crushing App Store.

It’s too bad you can’t tell who the good guys are going to be – say, by looking for a “don’t be evil” button.

Two Profs on Boing Boing

Tuesday 20 April 2010, 10:09 pm   /////  

Two of my friends and fellow investigators of digital media have recently been featured on Boing Boing:

The article on Fox Harrell was reblogged on Kotaku, too: “Making Avatars That Aren’t White Dudes Is Hard.” While the title is catchy, I have to point out that Fox’s work is about richer and more multidimensional ways of representing oneself digitally, beyond the one idea of skin color or race. So, we should anticipate that this work is likely to benefit “whitey” as well – and anyone who wants more than a Monopoly token as an in-game or online representation.

Video of the Get Lamp PAX Panel

Sunday 4 April 2010, 7:18 pm   //////  

Jason Scott, the filmmaker behind the soon-to-be-released interactive fiction documentary, has posted video of the Get Lamp panel at PAX-East. He’s also put up an MP3 with just the audio. The panelists are Dave Lebling, Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, your very own Nick Montfort, Steve Meretzky, and Jason Scott.

H. Edward Roberts, Inventor of the Personal Computer

Saturday 3 April 2010, 7:53 pm   ////  
The inventor of the MITS Altair 8800, the inexpensive kit computer that is widely considered to be the first personal computer, has died at age 68.

Rilke and Prejudice and Robots

Saturday 3 April 2010, 7:30 pm   //////  

In Robot Rilke, you can find the selected poems of Rainer Maria Rilke translated by robots. “With a special biographical introduction cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia.”

If you love it, you may want to sing Robot Love, I Love You. (Video by Ignatz Topolino, audio by Echelon and Jane Dowe, a.k.a. Oh Astro.)

Today’s CMS Masters Presentations

Friday 2 April 2010, 5:36 pm   /////  

Today we heard final thesis presentations from the 2010 masters students in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program.

I’ve taught in CMS, which has an undergraduate and masters program, since I came to MIT three years ago. It’s a diverse program that has included digital media research and has brought contemporary computational work, among other types of media production and reception, into juxtaposition and under consideration. Here are the titles of this semester’s masters presentations:

  • M. Flourish Klink: “Laugh Out Loud in Real Life: Twilight, Women’s Humor, and Fan Identity”
  • Sheila Seles: “Audience Research for Fun and Profit: Rediscovering the value of television audiences”
  • Florence Gallez: “Open Park Online News Production: A Proposal for a Code of Ethics for Collaborative Journalism in the Digital Age”
  • Audubon Dougherty: “New Medium, New Practice: Civic production in live-streaming mobile video”
  • Nick Seaver: “A Brief History of Re-performance”
  • Madeleine Elish: “The Evolution of the Companion Species: Creating Realms of Possibility for the Personal Computer”
  • Jason Begy “Interpreting Abstract Games: The Metaphorical Potential of Formal Game Elements”
  • Elliot Pinkus: “The Physicality of Floating Numbers”
  • Hillary Kolos: “Not in it just to win it: Inclusive gaming in an MIT dorm”
  • Michelle Moon Lee: “Designing Game Ethics: A Pervasive Game Adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo”

I’m not advising any CMS masters students this year, but this program does allow for research into my area of interest (computational art and media) and should accommodate more research in these areas in the future. (The program has had some great thesis on computational media in the past, too: Brett Camper’s work on the Game Boy Advance homebrew programming community is an example.) In 2010-2011, because the program is in transition to new co-directors, we won’t have any graduate students around, but we will be running admissions for a class of masters students that will join us in 2011. If you’re interested in working with me or my colleagues here at MIT on a masters degree, let me know.

Two to Read on ebr

Friday 2 April 2010, 8:18 am   /////  

That’s electronic book review, which does indeed host electronic reviews of good old books, but also offers up scholarly articles on digital literature, as it has been doing for a while. Two recent articles, in particular, are not to be missed by those interested e-lit.

First, Daniel Punday’s piece on how computer games could break the homogeneity of e-books, in which he describes the uniformity implicit in the e-book concept, in the idea of a modular library, and the disappointing implications of such restricted formats for digital, bookish innovation. Punday is more optimistic than I am about the possibility that gaming might lead us out of e-book thralldom, but whether or not he’s right about this potential solution, he points out an important and overlooked aspect of the e-book situation that we need to attend to – at least, for instance, by being willing to build e-books as individual iPhone apps when we want to do more than the standard formats can accomodate.

And, Maire-Laure Ryan’s discussion of how digital art engages with dysfunctionality extends the conversation beyond the playful forms of programming that Michael Mateas and I have discussed to broadly consider political, ludic, programmatic, and even inadvertent types of digital malfunctioning, or breakdown – or should we call it “dysfunctionality”? (Thank goodness that my creative work wasn’t cited in the section about that last category of brokenness, although I’ll admit that it could have been…) Ryan argues that the digital medium has proven better at producing anti-books than books (or, I suppose, e-books) and that creative dysfunction helps to make us “aware of the codes and processes (technological, linguistic, cultural and cognitive) that regulate our social and mental life.”

PAX Blurb

Thursday 1 April 2010, 9:55 pm   ////////  

This weekend was a great time, both at the official PAX-East, where we saw the premiere of Get Lamp, and in the alternate but connected universe of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction Hospitality Suite, where Andrew Plotkin’s organizational acumen and contributions allowed us to hear panels, write and play Speed IF games, and snack and converse. The 2010 IF Summit at PAX-East was a great success. There and at the main expo, I got to speak with people from the contemporary IF community and many old-school IF luminaries from Infocom and before – and even got to be on a panel with several of them.

Dave Lebling, Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, Nick Montfort, Steve Meretzky, Jason Scott (standing, in absurd outfit). It is April Fool’s Day. Am I Photoshopped into this panel? Photo CC by Eric Havir.

And, I got to play on the proto-Ms. Pac Man board – the one Crazy Otto board that is known to still exist.

After PAX, I hosted a great reading of interactive fiction by Emily Short (who read from Alabaster) and Jeremy Freese (Violet), with interacting done by Kevin Jackson-Mead and Jenni Poladni. The event was at MIT (as with all Purple Blurb presentations), had standing room only, and prompted a great deal of good conversation afterwards.

There is much more that could be said, and many more PAX-East IF people that I could mention – a few of those, beyond the PR-IF regulars, are: Sam Kabo Ashwell, Liza Daly, Brendan Desilets, Stephen Granade, Juhana Leinonen, Jacqueline Lott, Jesse McGrew, Carl Muckenhoupt, Aaron Reed, Dan Schmidt, Robb Sherwin, Dan Shiovitz, Emily Short, and Rob Wheeler. (My apologies to those whose names I’m overlooking or don’t have on hand.) Some of these are locals I rarely see; others are people I have known for years, had numerous extensive discussions with, and in one case, collaborated with, and yet PAX-East was my first chance to meet them in person.

Based on last weekend and last Monday, the outlook for IF is extremely bright: We can share games and discuss important questions about IF in person as well as online, we have plenty of ideas that we’re making progress on but can certainly discuss further, and we have a documentary film coming on DVD that will please IF diehards and help to introduce students and other sympathetic viewers to the pleasures of the text adventure.

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