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.

A Companion Disk for 10 PRINT

A C64 Running the 10 PRINT DiskMartin Schemitsch (a.k.a. Martinland) has compiled and released a disk to accompany our book 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, one that’s full of BASIC and assembly programs. These include the programs in the book and the later, more compact versions of our demo thread. The disk was just released at Commodore-Treffen Graz $14, and of course the disk image is available for download. It’s a nice companion to the 10 PRINT book and a Commodore 64 emulator, although, as you can see, it also works perfectly well on a vintage Commodore 64.

Computational Narrative and Games (Special Issue)

A special issue of IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games (TCIAIG) is now out — I mention it because I was one of the editors, and the issue deals with computational narrative and games.

Here’s the link to the computational narrative and games issue. It was edited by Ian Horswill, Nick Montfort and Michael Young. And here’s what is in it:

Guest Editorial
Horswill, I.D; Montfort, N; Young, R.M
p 92-96

Social Story Worlds With Comme il Faut
McCoy, J. ; Treanor, M. ; Samuel, B. ; Reed, A.A. ; Mateas, M. ; Wardrip-Fruin, N.

p 97-112

Versu—A Simulationist Storytelling System
Evans, R. ; Short, E.
p 113-130

A Computational Model of Narrative Generation for Surprise Arousal
Bae, B.-C. ; Young, R.M.
p 131-143

Automated Story Selection for Color Commentary in Sports
Lee, G. ; Bulitko, V. ; Ludvig, E.A.
p 144-155

Skald: Minstrel Reconstructed
Tearse, B. ; Mawhorter, P. ; Mateas, M. ; Wardrip-Fruin, N.
p 156-165

Designing User-Character Dialog in Interactive Narratives: An Exploratory Experiment
Endrass, B. ; Klimmt, C. ; Mehlmann, G. ; Andre, E. ; Roth, C.
p 166-173

Personalized Interactive Narratives via Sequential Recommendation of Plot Points
Yu, H. ; Riedl, M.O.
p 174-187

Lessons on Using Computationally Generated Influence for Shaping Narrative Experiences
Roberts, D.L. ; Isbell, C.L.
p 188-202

A Supervised Learning Framework for Modeling Director Agent Strategies in Educational Interactive Narrative
Lee, S.Y. ; Rowe, J.P. ; Mott, B.W. ; Lester, J.C.
p 203-214

Shall I Compare Thee to Another Story?—An Empirical Study of Analogy-Based Story Generation
Zhu, J. ; Ontanon, S.
p 216-227

Analysis of ReGEN as a Graph-Rewriting System for Quest Generation
Kybartas, B. ; Verbrugge, C.
p 228 – 241

Waves 3 Ways at @Party

codewiz and I (nom de nom) showed a wild demo at @party yesterday (June 14) at MIT.

It was “Waves 3 Ways (Topsy’s Revenge).” Indeed, there’s video.

Tesla coilThe concept is based on one-line C programs to generate music, the earliest of which were by viznut. I (nom de nom) wrote a C expression in this style to generate a waveform that could be output as sound but
also consisted of all printable ASCII characters. The source is about 1kb, without much effort at compression. And the sound, in addition to driving speakers, can be (and was) connected to a Tesla coil.

To connect the oneTesla coil he built, codewiz modified the firmware and the control box to allow the audio output to be read by the potentiometer input. He also wrote dsptee.c to improve the way the text scrolls.

Topsy was the elephant electrocuted by Thomas Edison in 1903 to help prove that AC electricity (advocated by Tesla) was unsafe.

My main disappointment was that the projector, which I thought would be HD and thus the same as my display, showed only the left-hand side of the video. I should have checked it more thoroughly before we got started.

We were very pleased to get second place behind a nice oscilloscope demo.

Title sequence from 'Waves 3 Ways'

We signed the production, too, although it's not very visible when it's running.

The final section of the demo is based on the bpNichol poem “Island,” part of his Apple IIe collection First Screening. This poem, in turn, refers to a concrete poem by Ian Hamilton Finlay. I’ve put a video/screencast of the end of the production online.

Trope Tank Annual Report 2013-2014

I direct a lab at MIT called The Trope Tank. This is a lab for research, teaching, and creative production, located in building 14 (where the Hayden Library is also housed), in room 14N-233. Its mission is to develop new poetic practices and new understandings of digital media by focusing on the material, formal, and historical aspects of computation and language.

Trope Tank computers at work

The lab’s website has just been updated with some new information about our two major creative/research projects, Slant and Renderings. Earlier this academic year, a hardware and software catalog of Trope Tank resources was developed by Erik Stayton with contributions from Sylvia Tomayko-Peters.

As usual, the Trope Tanks hosts the monthly meetings of the local interactive fiction club, the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction. Also, the Trope Tank’s series of digital writing presentations, Purple Blurb, continued this year; I was on leave in Fall 2013, but the series was back and hosted four excellent presentations in Spring 2014. See those sites for more information about PR-IF and Purple Blurb.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since our last annual report in May 2013:

New Works: Creative projects released.

  • Nanowatt, single-loading (3.5 KB) demoscene production for the VIC-20. By Nick Montfort, Michael C. Martin, and Patsy Baudoin as Nom de Nom, McMartin, and Baud 1. Shown and awarded 2nd place on 30 November 2013 at Récursion, Montréal.
  • World Clock, computer generated novel with source code by Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 30 November 2013, in print at the Harvard Book Store.
  • Round, digital poem by Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 14 August 2013 by New Binary Press.

  • Duels — Duets, digital poem. By Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 14 August 2013 by New Binary Press.
  • The Deletionist, digital poetry system. By Nick Montfort, Amaranth Borsuk, and Jesper Juul. 2011–2013. Premiered at E-Poetry 2013 in London and published on the Web.
  • Three Rails Live, an interactive video installation. By Rod Coover, Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. 2011–2013. Documentation published on the web in bleuOrange 7, 2013.

Trope Reports: We have issued two technical reports.

Exhibit & Museum Event:

  • Second Fridays: How People Connect, Presentation of Commodore 64 BASIC programming, Piotr Marecki and Erik Stayton, and event at the MIT Museum, February 14, 2014
  • Programs at an Exhibition, Nick Montfort & Páll Thayer, an exhibit at the Boston Cyberats Gallery, March 6-16, 2014


  • Marecki, Piotr, “Sticker literature or augmented reality literature,” David Foster Wallace Conference, Department of English, Illinois State University, May 23, 2014 
  • Marecki, Piotr, “The Road to Assland and early Polish Text Adventure Games,” People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, The Trope Tank, MIT, May 13, 2014
  • Montfort, Nick, “Combinatory Media and Possibilities for Documentary,” OpenDoc Lab, MIT, May 8, 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Polish Literature in the Digital Age,” MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing, May 7, 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Textual Caves: Expanding the Literary Writing Space,” Shapeshifters: Recycling and Literature, Department of Comparative Literature, Yale University, April 25-26 2014
  • Montfort, Nick “Exploratory Programming,” first of four major topics for the online Critical Code Studies Working Group 2014, 23 February-23 March, 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Aesthetic Obfuscated Code,” Symposium on Obfusctation, New York University, 15 February 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Ten Cases of Computational Poetics,” UCLA, M/ELT, 17 January 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Computational Poetic Models,” University of Southern California, SCA Complex, 16 January 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Polish Literature in the Digital Age,” IAP talk, MIT, January 21, 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Computational Literary Models for Fun and Poetics,” Concordia University, Montréal, 10 January 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Scaling Up Literary Models with Curveship and Slant,” 8th Mexican International Colloquium on Computational Creativity, UNAM, Mexico City, 15 November 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Literary Models,” 8th Mexican International Colloquium on Computational Creativity, UAM Cuajimalpa, Mexico City, 14 November 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Electronic Literature and Other Forms of Popular Creative Computing.” Keynote address at Writing Literature, Reading Society, Municipal Public Library, Kraków, 29 October 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “10 PRINT,” MIT CSAIL Programming Language & Software Engineering retreat, MIT Endicott House, 21 May 2013
  • Montfort, Nick, “Hardware and Emulation to Access Creative Computing,” Preserving.exe Summit, Library of Congress, 20 May 2013
  • Baudoin, Patsy and Nick Montfort, “10 PRINT,” Writing Across the Curriculum, MIT, 17 May 2013

Translations: Andrew Campana translated “The Two” by Nick Montfort into Japanese. Piotr Marecki translated Montfort’s “Lede,” “The Two,” and World Clock (via translation of the novel-generating program) into Polish, and, with Aleksandra Małecka, translated “Between Page and Screen” by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse into Polish. These will be placed online when revisions are complete.


  • The Trope Tank hosted a visit by The Word Made Digital, 21W.764, during Spring 2014.
  • “Exploratory Programming Workshop” by Nick Montfort, New York University, 14 February 2014.
  • Commodore 64 BASIC Workshop by Nick Montfort, offered for MIT’s Independent Activities Period, 29 January 2014.
  • “Workshop in Exploratory Programming” by Nick Montfort, UAM Cuajimalpa, Mexico City, two meetings on 11-12 November 2013.

Upcoming: In Milwaukee this month Trope Tank researchers will present at (int)7 (Intelligent Narrative Technologies 7) and the Electronic Literature Organization Conference. The presentation will be “Expressing the Narrator’s Expectations” by Montfort and Stayton at (int)7, and at ELO in the conference paper sessions “The Formation of the Field of Electronic Literature in Poland” by Marecki, “Computational Editions, Ports, and Remakes of ‘First Screening’ and ‘Karateka'” by Stayton and Montfort, and “New Novel Machines: Nanowatt and World Clock” by Montfort. The ELO Media Arts show will include “The Postulate to Hyperdescribe the World” by Marecki and Aleksandra Małecka and “Round” by Montfort. Andrew Campana’s work will be part of the Gallery of E-Lit 1st Encounters.

Many papers and even some books developed with Trope Tank support are forthcoming, but instead of trying to enumerate those, I’ll list them next year, when they have appeared.

There’s a party — Perverbs.

I persist in my quest to develop extremely simple, easily modifiable programs that produce compelling textual output.

My latest project is Modern Perverbs. In a world where nothing is as it seems … two phrases … combine … to make a perverb. That’s about all there is to it. If phrase N is picked from the first list, some phrase that isn’t number N will be picked from the second, to ensure maximum perverbiality. The first phrase also carries the punctuation mark that will be used at the very end. This one is a good bit simpler than even my very simple “exploded sentence” project, Lede.

(I learned of perverbs and their power, I should note, thanks to Selected Declarations of Dependence by Harry Mathews.)

In case, for some reason, you fear the legal repercussions of ripping off my HTML and JavaScript and editing it, Modern Perverbs is explicitly licensed as free software. Save the page on your desktop as plain HTML (not “complete”), open it in an editor, and have a field day.