Happy New Year 2017

Sunday 1 January 2017, 6:03 pm   ////  

My New Year’s poem for 2017 is Colors, a 1KB Web page, online at http://nickm.com/poems/colors.html and here it is, too:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html style="overflow:hidden">
<head><meta charset=utf-8>
<!-- Copyright (c) 2016 Nick Montfort <nickm@nickm.com>   2016-12-31, 1KB

Copying and distribution of this file, with or without modification,
are permitted in any medium without royalty provided the copyright
notice and this notice are preserved. This file is offered as-is,
without any warranty.

Click pauses, Add ?00f000 or similar to URL for the specified color.-->
<script type=text/javascript>
var c = 0, i;
function up() {
 if (c > 16581375) { c = 0; }
 document.body.style.background = "#"+("00000"+c.toString(16)).slice(-6);
 c += 1;
function pause(e) {
 if (i) { clearInterval(i); i = 0; } else { go(); }
function init() {
 var s = window.location.search;
 if (s.slice(0, 1) === '?') { c = parseInt(unescape(s.slice(1)), 16); }
function go() { i = window.setInterval(up, 5); };
<body onload=init() onmousedown=pause(event)>
<div style="width:100vw; height:100vh"></div>

As the code says, you can add an argument in the URL to start with a particular color, such as medium gray:


Click to stop on a particular color that you especially like. Click again to continue moving through the colors. If you let it run, you’ll see all 16581375 colors in just over 23 hours.

Happy new year.

Language Hacking at SXSW Interactive

We had a great panel at SXSW Interactive on March 11, exploring several radical ways in which langauge and computing are intersecting. It was “Hacking Language: Bots, IF and Esolangs.” I moderated; the main speakers were Allison Parrish a.k.a. @aparrish; Daniel Temkin DBA @rottytooth; and Emily Short, alias @emshort.

I kicked things off by showing some simple combinatorial text generators, including the modifiable “Stochastic Texts” from my Memory Slam reimplementation and my super-simple startup name generator, Upstart. No slides from me, just links and a bit of quick modification to show how easily one can work with literary langauge and a Web generator.

Allison Parrish, top bot maker, spoke about how the most interesting Twitter bots, rather than beign spammy and harmful or full of delightful utility, are enacing a critique of the banal corporate system that Twitter has carefully been shaped into by its makers (and compliant users). Allison showed her and other’s work; The theoretical basis for her discussion was Iain Borden’s “Another Pavement, Another Beach: Skateboarding and the Performative Critique of Architecture.” Read over Allison’s slides (with notes) to see the argument as she makes it:

Twitter Bots and the Performative Critique of Procedural Writing

Daniel Temkin introduced the group to esoteric programming languages, including several that he created and a few classics. He brought copies of a chapbook for people in the audience, too. We got a view of this programming-language creation activity generally – why people devise these projects, what they tell us about computing, and what they tell us about language – and learned some about Temkin’s own practice as an esolang developer. Take a look at Daniel’s slides and notes for the devious details:

Esolangs: A Guide to "Useless" Programming Languages

Finally, interactive fiction author Emily Short reviewed some of the classic problems of interactive fiction and how consideration has moved from the level of naïve physics to models of the social worlds – again, with reference to her own IF development and that of others. One example she presented early on was the challenge of responding to the IF command “look at my feet.” Although my first interactive fiction, Winchester’s Nightmare (1999) was not very remarkable generally, I’m pleased to note that it does at least offer a reasonable reply to this command:

Winchester's Nightmare excerpt

That was done by creating numerous objects of class “BodyPart” (or some similar name) which just generate error messages. Not sure if it was a tremendous breakthrough. But I think there is something to the idea of gently encouraging the interactor to o play within particular boundaries.

Emily’s slides (offering many other insights) may be posted in a bit – she is still traveling. I’ll link them here, if so.

Update! Emily’s slides are now online — please take a look.

I had a trio of questions for each pair of presenters, and we had time for questions from the audience, too. The three main presenters each had really great, compact presentations that gave a critical survey of these insurgent areas, and we managed to see a bit of how they speak to each other, too. This session, and getting to talk with these three during and outside of it, certainly made SXSW Interactive worth the trip for me.

There’s an audio recording of the event that’s available, too.

NaNoGenMo 2014: A Look Back & Back

Friday 19 December 2014, 11:26 pm   //////  

There were so many excellent novel generators, and generated novels, last month for NaNaGenMo (National Novel Generation Month).

I thought a lot of them related to and carried on the work of wonderful existing literary projects — usually in the form of existing books. And this is in no way a backhanded complement. My own NaNoGenMo entry was the most rooted in an existing novel; I simply computationally re-implemented Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt (or at least the parts of it that were most illegible and computational), in my novel generator Megawatt (its PDF output is also available). For good measure, Megawatt is completely deterministic; although someone might choose to modify it and generate different things, as it stands it generates exactly one novel. So, for me to say that I was reminded of a great book when I saw a particular generator is pure praise.

Early in month, Liza Daly’s Seraphs set a high standard and must have discouraged many offhand generators! Liza’s generator seeks images and randomizes text to produce a lengthy book that is like the Voynich Manuscript, and certainly also like the Codex Seraphinianus.

Allison Parrish’s I Waded in Clear Water is a novel based on dream interpretations. Of course, it reminds me of 10,000 Dreams Interpreted (and I am pleased, thanks to my students from long ago, to have the leading site on the Web for that famous book) but it also reminds me of footnote-heavy novels such as Infinite Jest. Let me note that a Twine game has already been written based on this work: Fowl are Foul, by Jacqueline Lott.

I found Zarkonnen’s Moebius Tentacle; Or the Space-Octopus oddly compelling. It was created by simple substitution of strings from Moby-Dick (one novel it clearly reminded me of), freeing the story to be about the pursuit of an octopus by space amazons. It wasn’t as polished as I would have liked (just a text file for output), and didn’t render text flawlessly, but still, the result was amazing. Consider how the near-final text presents the (transformed) Tashtego in his final tumult:

A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its unnatural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Lazerbot-9 there; this spacebat now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the plasteel; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged robot beneath, in her death-gasp, kept her hammer frozen there; and so the spacebat of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and her imperial beak thrust upwards, and her whole captive form folded in the flag of Vixena, went away with her spaceship, which, like Satan, would not sink to transwarp till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Sean Barrett wrote two beautiful generators (at least) – the first of which was How Hannah Solved The Twelve-Disk Tower of Hanoi. Deliberate, progressing, intelligent, and keeping the reader on the edge of her seat – this one is great. But, that generator (drafted by November 9) wasn’t enough, and Barrett also contributed (only a day late) The Basketball Game, an opera generator that provides a score (with lyrics) and MIDI files. It’s as if “I got Philip Glass!” indicates that one is rebounding.

Eric Stayton’s I Sing Of takes the beginning of the Aeneid as grist, moving through alternate invocations using WordNet. I like the way different epics are invoked by the slight changes, and was reminded of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

Sam Coppini’s D’ksuban Dictionary, although also just a text file, is a simple but effective generator of a fictional language’s dictionary. Less like the Devil’s Dictionary, more like the (apparently unpublished) lexicon of Earth: Final Conflict. I’m sure literary works in D’ksuban will be forthcoming soon.

Ben Kybartas’s Something, Somewhere is wonderfully spare and evocative – more Madsen than Hemingway.

Finally, Thricedotted’s The Seeker is an extraordinary concrete novel in the tradition of Raymond Federman’s Double or Nothing. The text, based on wikiHow, is good and serves well to define a protagonist who always wishes to do right, but the typographical framework is really excellent.

These are just a few comments before NaNoGenMo goes as stale as a late-December pumpkin. I hope you enjoy tis work and other work that was done last month, and that you keep an eye peeled for further novel generators – next November and throughout the year.

Renderings (phase 1) Published

Wednesday 10 December 2014, 10:31 pm   //////  

For the past six months I’ve been working with six collaborators,

  • Patsy Baudoin
  • Andrew Campana
  • Qianxun (Sally) Chen
  • Aleksandra Małecka
  • Piotr Marecki
  • Erik Stayton

To translate e-lit, and for the most part computational literature works such as poetry generators, into English from other languages.

Cura: The Renderings project, phase 1

After a great deal of work that extends from searching for other-langauge pieces, through technical and computing development that includes porting, and also extends into the more usual issues assocaited with literary translation, the first phase of the Renderings project (13 works translated from 6 languages) has just been published in Fordham University’s literary journal, Cura.

Please take a look and spread the word. Those of us rooted in English do not have much opportunity to experience the world-wide computational work with langague that is happening. Our project is an attempt to rectify that.

World Clock Punches in on The Verge

Wednesday 26 November 2014, 4:45 pm   //////  

Some kind comments about World Clock and NaNoGenMo in the article “The Strange World of Computer-Generated Novels” by Josh Dzieza.

Nick Montfort’s World Clock was the breakout hit of last year. A poet and professor of digital media at MIT, Montfort used 165 lines of Python code to arrange a new sequence of characters, locations, and actions for each minute in a day. He gave readings, and the book was later printed by the Harvard Book Store’s press. Still, Kazemi says reading an entire generated novel is more a feat of endurance than a testament to the quality of the story, which tends to be choppy, flat, or incoherent by the standards of human writing.

“Even Nick expects you to maybe read a chapter of it or flip to a random page,” Kazemi says.

There were many great generated novels last year, and are already many great ones this year. I don’t think among this abundance that World Clock is a very good poster boy for NaNoGenMo. Still, my experience with the book does make a strong case for having your generated novel translated in (or originally written in) Polish.

#! in San Antonio Fri 11/21 – #! in Austin Sat 11/22

Wednesday 19 November 2014, 2:58 pm   ///////  

I’m doing two Central Texas readings from my book of programs and poems #! this weekend:

San Antonio: The Twig Book Shop

Friday, Nov 21 at 5pm
The Twig Book Shop
in The Pearl (306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 106)

Austin: Monkeywrench Books

Saturday, Nov 22 at 4pm
Monkeywrench Books
(110 N Loop Blvd E)

#! (pronounced “shebang”) consists of poetic texts that are presented alongside the short computer programs that generated them. The poems, in new and existing forms, are inquiries into the features that make poetry recognizable as such, into code and computation, into ellipsis, and into the alphabet. Computer-generated poems have been composed by Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville, Alison Knowles and James Tenney, Hugh Kenner and Joseph P. O’Rourke, Charles O. Hartman, and others. The works in #! engage with this tradition of more than 50 years and with constrained and conceptual writing. The book’s source code is also offered as free software. All of the text-generating code is presented so that it, too, can be read; it is all also made freely available for use in anyone’s future poetic projects.

Nick Montfort’s digital writing projects include Sea and Spar Between (with Stephanie Strickland) and The Deletionist (with Amaranth Borsuk and Jesper Juul). He developed the interactive fiction system Curveship and (with international collaborators) the large-scale story generation system Slant; was part of the group blog Grand Text Auto; wrote Ream, a 500-page poem, on a single day; organized Mystery House Taken Over, a collaborative “occupation” of a classic game; wrote Implementation, a novel on stickers, with Scott Rettberg; and wrote and programmed the interactive fictions Winchester’s Nightmare, Ad Verbum, and Book and Volume.

Montfort wrote the book of poems Riddle & Bind and co-wrote 2002: A Palindrome Story with Willliam Gillespie. The MIT Press has published four of Montfort’s collaborative and individually-authored books: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam, and most recently 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, a collaboration with nine other authors that Montfort organized. He is faculty advisor for the Electronic Literature Organization, whose Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 he co-edited, and is associate professor of digital media at MIT.


ATNE Salon Today in Boston: Reditions of Artworks

Wednesday 19 November 2014, 2:47 pm   ////////  

Today I’ll offer a discussion of porting and translation in computational art and literature at the ATNE Salon, Boston Cyberarts Gallery. The event’s at 7:30pm; the gallery is in the Green Street T Station, on the Orange Line in Jamaica Plain.


Sunday 16 November 2014, 1:19 am   /////  


Memory Slam and Code Poetry at ITP

Saturday 15 November 2014, 3:12 am   /////  

I was delighted to be at the first NYU ITP Code Poetry Slam a few hours ago, on the evening of November 14, 2014. The work presented was quite various and also very compelling. Although I had an idea of what was to come (as a judge who had seen many of the entires) the performances and readings exceeded my high expectations.

A reading I did from historical computational poetry kicked off the event. I read from a new set of reimplementations, in JavaScript and Python, that I developed for the occasion. The set of four pages/Python programs is called Memory Slam. It contains:

Love Letters
Christopher Strachey, 1952

Stochastic Texts
Theo Lutz, 1959

Permutation Poems
Brion Gysin & Ian Somerville, 1960

A House of Dust
Alison Knowles & James Tenney, 1967

These are well-known pieces, at least among the few of us who are into early computational poetry. (Chris Funkhouser and his Prehistorical Digital Poetry is one reason we know these and their importance; Noah Wardrip-Fruin has also offered a great discussion of Love Letters, and Stephanie Strickland, who was in attendance at the slam, has done two collaborative poems based on A House of Dust, one with me and one with Ian Hatcher.) Some implementations exist already of many, perhaps all of them – although I did not find one for A House of Dust. My point in putting these together was not to do something unprecedented, but to provide reasonably clean, easily modifiable versions in two of today’s well-known languages. This will hopefully allow people, even without programming background, to learn about these programs through playing with them.

If I didn’t implement everything perfectly, these are explicitly free software and you should feel free to not only play with them but to improve them as well.

NaNoGenMo 3000!!!!

Sunday 2 November 2014, 8:26 pm   /////  

Er, sorry. I exaggerated a bit. It’s actually just NaNoGenMo 2014. But that’s still really cool.

“Spend the month of November writing code that generates a novel of 50k+ words.” As is traditional, the event occurs on GitHub.

Polish Reviews of World Clock

Wednesday 29 October 2014, 1:47 pm   //////  

I mentioned a few of these earlier, but there are more. I’ll try to keep an updated list of reviews here for any curious Polish-reading visitors:

Update Jan 31, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in PROwincja.

Update Jan 31, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in Lubimyczytać.pl.

Update Jan 19, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in Kulturnatywnie.pl.

Update Jan 8, 2015: Review of Zegar światowy in kanapa.it.

Update Dec 15, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in sztukater.pl.

Update Dec 15, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in sZAFa – kwartalnik literacko-artystyczny.

Update Dec 10, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Szuflada.net

Update Dec 10, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Popmoderna.

Update Nov 13, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Stacja Książka.

Update Nov 4, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Altmundi.

Update Oct 31, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Gazeta Wyborcza.

Update Oct 30, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in kulturalnie.waw.pl.

Review of Zegar światowy in Portal (nie całkiem) Kulturalny.

Review of Zegar światowy in SZORTAL.

Review of Zegar światowy by Katarzyna Krzan.

Review of Zegar światowy in Pad Portal.

Review of Zegar światowy by Julia Poczynok.

There was also a review of Zegar światowy in the major Polish weekly magazine Przegląd (the review is not online).

The book was also discussed in an interview I did on Radio Kraków.

The First Review of #!

Tuesday 21 October 2014, 10:46 pm   ////////  

Finally, the first review of my book #! is in. It’s from Zach Whalen. this is it, and to make it easier for you to copy, paste, and run it, here is the review that he banged out:

perl -e '{print$,=$"x($.+=.05),map{$_ x($.*.1)}qw(# !);redo}'

By the way, please come to my reading tomorrow at MIT (E15 atrium) at 6:30pm if you’re in the area. It will be fun!

More Human at Cyberarts

Thursday 25 September 2014, 10:29 am   //////  

Here are some photos from the opening of the show More Human at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery on September 12.

The site for the show also features a PDF of the catalog [2.5 MB].

My piece in the show is From the Tables of My Memorie. I read a bit from the piece last night, when I spoke at Boston Cyberarts with several other artists about our work and the theme of the show.

I’ll be speaking at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery again on November 19, this time about ports and translations in computational art – the topic of my Renderings project. That event is at 7:30pm. The gallery is in the Green St T Station on the Orange Line.

Code Poetry Slam in NYC Seeks Entries

Monday 22 September 2014, 7:10 pm   ///////  

ITP (the Interactive Telecommunications Program) at NYU is having a Code Poetry Slam on November 14. And they are seeking entries now! Send them along no later than November 7.

Shakepeare, coding away

10 PRINT in Clock 52

Sunday 13 July 2014, 7:29 pm   /////  

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

Microcodes and more Non-Object Art

Wednesday 9 April 2014, 8:40 am   //////  

In NOO ART, The Journal of Objectless Art, there’s a conversation between Páll Thayer and Daniel Temkin that was just posted. (Thayer recently collaborated with me to put up “Programs at an Exhibition,” the first software art show at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery.) The conversation covers Thayer’s code art, including his Perl Microcodes and antecedents, but also touches on free software, Windows, various esoteric languages by Temkin and others, painting and drawing, Christiane Paul’s CodeDOC project at the Whitney, “expert cultures,” and the future of code-based art.

It’s great reading, and objectless art might be just the thing to go with your object-oriented ontology.

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