“Driverless” or “Self-Driving” Cars

Thursday 28 August 2014, 11:04 am   /////  

So, I’m not saying they’re a bad idea, but why do these things get called “driverless” or “self-driving”? They are being driven by an immense corporation with the most massive store of data on Earth. They can’t function without this corporation or this store of data. They can’t drive themselves.

I dunno, maybe we should at least notice this sort of — hey! These cars are programmed to go up to 10 mph above the speed limit! Shiny!

(Prompted by Erik Stayton‘s great presentation of his thesis work on this topic yesterday. Erik works as my research assisstant in the Trope Tank.)

Forking Paths and Forest Platformer of Depression

Thursday 28 August 2014, 10:56 am   ////  

I’ve revisited two games about depression which seem interesting to compare. One has been discussed more recently, particularly thanks to its recent release on Steam: the Twine game Depression Quest. (It’s also available on the Web.) The other, which is in Flash and on the Web, is the platformer Elude. The latter was developed at MIT, in the GAMBIT Game Lab.

Both of these games have seen plenty of discussion, but I wanted to mention an aspect that make them interesting to compare. Of course, Elude is graphical and played in real time, while Depression Quest is text-based and allows the user to select CYOA-style options. But that’s quite obvious.

More interesting to me is that “Elude‘s metaphorical model for depression serves to bring awareness to the realities of depression by creating empathy with those who live with depression every day,” while “Depression Quest is a game that deals with living with depression in a very literal way.” Of course, being literal or metaphorical goes beyond having a single axis or slider, and it isn’t tied to whether one has a graphical or textual game. It’s interesting to see two games about the same subject matter that declare their intent to be different in this way. I wonder if there is a pair of games on similar topics where the text game is very metaphorical and the graphical game literal?

The Mutable Stanzas

Wednesday 20 August 2014, 11:20 pm   /////  

Yesterday first-person-shooter Borges, intimate, infinite, and based on prose; today cut-up Spenser, mutable and poetic.

The Mutable Stanzas

This dynamic digital poetry piece, by Stephen Pentecost, is quite compelling. The author writes:

The Mutable Stanzas is a digital poetry installation and deformance experiment inspired by Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, by the work by Jerome McGann et al on “Deformance and Interpretation,” and by the work of my collegues in the Humanities Digital Workshop.

The Mutable Stanzas disassembles Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene into its constituent lines, groups lines according to terminal rhyme, then randomly reassembles lines into new stanzas.

While the stanzas are structured by end rhyme, and each line is not independent of others, I wonder, as a reader, whether it’s best to avail myself of the pause button or whether I should simply continue reading down the page.

Intro to Game Analysis

Monday 11 August 2014, 9:29 pm   //////  

Intro to Game Analysis, Clara Fernández-VaraJust out: Introduction to Game Analysis, a book that covers many different approaches to understanding games, and particularly (although not exclusively) videogames. (Check the availability of the book online.) It’s by Clara Fernández-Vara, now on the faculty at the Game Center at NYU, who did one of the first digital media PhDs at Georgia Tech and was for many years my colleague here at MIT – I’m glad she was also part my of lab, The Trope Tank, for some of that time. Fernández-Vara is a scholar of games and an award-winning maker of games as well, and in both cases her emphasis has been on adventure games.

It’s been valuable to learn, over the years, how to view games as we would literature or film, and how to bring specific individual approaches to bear in understanding them. Now, Introduction to Game Analysis offers numerous methods of analysis that each treat games as games. These approaches are systematically organized and well thought out, too. Anyone in game studies or digital media should find this book compelling; A person who is coming to video games from another field, or who has been in the field and is looking to teach an introduction to video games, will find it essential.

Wikimedia: Monkey Selfie Copyright Would Be Monkey’s

Wednesday 6 August 2014, 2:51 pm   ////  

A self-portrait taken by a monkey is at issue in a copyright dispute. Wikimedia claims that it would belong to the monkey, if non-human animals could hold copyrights, and because they can’t, it’s in the public domain. The owner of the camera has another idea. Here’s The Telegraph on the subject. Also, the Wikipedia page where the photo appears, and the full-size photo with Wikimedia’s copyright position available via the media viewer.

Public domain (although this status is contested). Photo taken by the pictured monkey.

Listed by the hosting site as public domain (although this status is contested). Photo taken by the pictured monkey.

Now, I know this isn’t an urban selfie, but I would love to see it and many other non-human selfies incorporated into the Selficity project. We might find interesting correlations regarding the angle and variation in head tilt, for instance. And of course it would be provocative to just know which of the five cities shoots selfies in a way that is most similar to monkeys.

The Call is Out for Electronic Literature Collection 3

Tuesday 5 August 2014, 4:03 pm   /////  

The call for submission for the Electronic Literature Collection volume 3 has been posted. If you do digital work that has one or more literary aspects (even if it’s more often called art or a game), in any language, please check it out. The collective is an excellent group and the direction for this collection is an exciting one.

New Report on Nanowatt & World Clock

Thursday 31 July 2014, 9:45 pm   /////  

The latest technical report (or “Trope Report”) to issue from the Trope Tank is TROPE-14-01, “New Novel Machines: Nanowatt and World Clock by Nick Montfort:

My Winchester’s Nightmare: A Novel Machine (1999) was developed to bring the interactor’s input and the system’s output together into a texture like that of novelistic prose. Almost fifteen years later, after an electronic literature practice mainly related to poetry, I have developed two new “novel machines.” Rather than being works of interactive fiction, one (Nanowatt, 2013) is a collaborative demoscene production (specifically, a single-loading VIC-20 demo) and the other (World Clock, 2013) is a novel generator with accompanying printed book. These two productions offer an opportunity to discuss how my own and other highly computational electronic literature relates to the novel. Nanowatt and World Clock are non-interactive but use computation to manipulate language at low levels. I discuss these aspects and other recent electronic literature that engages the novel, considering to what extent novel-like computational literature in general is becoming less interactive and more fine-grained in its involvement with language.

This was the topic of my talk at the recent ELO conference. Share and enjoy!

Do Bots Need to Sit Down?

Tuesday 29 July 2014, 10:49 pm   /////  

(My Philosoraptor question for the day…)

Check out Tully Hansen’s riff on one of the poems from bpNichpol’s First Screening – authentic or not …

Stalking the Wily #!

Tuesday 15 July 2014, 12:05 am   //////  

If you’ve been looking for my latest book, #!, and are looking to buy it online, check isbn.nu. 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; Amazon.com 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

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

The Times Has a Moment with IF

Sunday 6 July 2014, 11:12 pm   //////  

The New York Times has an article (online today, in print tomorrow) entitled “Text Games in a New Era of Stories,” about ye olde interactive fiction and new-fangled manifestations of it, including Ms. Porpentine’s Howling Dogs and Ms. Short’s Blood & Laurels.

(Okay, it must be admitted that even The New York Times didn’t refer to the author of Howling Dogs as “Ms. Porpentine.”)

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.

“Left Cartridge,” a Zine

Wednesday 2 July 2014, 11:23 pm   ////  

Everything you need to know to print out and bind a copy of Left Cartridge, a zine documenting the Learning Games Initiative, is online.

Digital Media Studies via GIF

Tuesday 1 July 2014, 10:24 pm   ////  

Crazy idea? Of course. And yet Zach Whalen has been doing it, quite successfully, on Tumblr. For instance, here’s his brand-aware version of Brion Gysin’s permutation poem:

And his speedrun of Lexia to Perplexia:

Not to mention the excellent staticy CRTs, captured from films and TV, not to mention the exquisite and worth-the-trip Zen for GIF.

Computational Narrative and Games (Special Issue)

Monday 23 June 2014, 11:39 pm   ///////  

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

Thoughts from INT7, Day One

Tuesday 17 June 2014, 5:22 pm   ///////  

(These pertain to Intelligent Narrative Technologies 7, and specifically today’s presentations. Perhaps, if you’re here, you will laugh. If you aren’t here, my regrets.)

Why do I get a dialog wheel ... but not a combat wheel?

Can a computer program ... get people running?

When is a dragon ... not a dragon?

Why can one be selfish ... but not otherish?

Isn't Blender dangerous enough ... without Curveship attached to it?

Waves 3 Ways at @Party

Sunday 15 June 2014, 2:23 am   /////////  

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.

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