Video of Nanowatt Online

A single-loading VIC-20 demo (3583 bytes) presented on November 30, 2013 at Récursion in Montréal. By Nick Montfort, Michael C. Martin, and Patsy Baudoin (nom de nom, mcmartin, baud 1). This video is of the demo running in the Trope Tank at MIT on December 3, 2013.

Tagged on YouTube as Commodore VIC-20, Samuel Beckett, Electronic Literature, Computer (Musical Instrument), and Demoscene. See also the fuller story about Nanowatt with links to executable code.


At Récursion (the Montréal demoparty), we (Nick Montfort, Michael C. Martin, and Patsy Baudoin) released Nanowatt, a single-loading VIC-20 demo.

You can download it and run it using a VIC-20 emulator (or, of course, an actual VIC-20). I run it in VICE on my Ubuntu system by typing “xvic nw” from the directory that contains the “nw” file. If it’s more convenient, you can also download a d64 disk image with Nanowatt on it and load “nw” from there.

It produces 8 KB of English text quoted exactly from Samuel Beckett’s second novel, Watt.

And it produces 8 KB of French text quoted exactly from the French translation of Samuel Beckett’s second novel, Watt.

And the entire demo (including two songs, sound system, code for decompression and display of text, and explanations and greetings at the end) is 3.5 KB: 3583 bytes.

When possible, I will upload a video of the demo running.

This rather esoteric demo was awarded 2nd place (out of 3 entries).

I also got 4th place (out of 5) for my one-line BASIC program that was done as a fast demo, based on today’s theme: “weaving.”


UPDATE: You can run Nanowatt without leaving the comfort of your browser. First, copy this URL into your copy-and-paste buffer: << >>. Then, go to the page for JS VIC-20. Select the “Storage” menu from the top and choose the option at the bottom of the list, “Carts/Programs,” and choose the top option, “Load Cart from URL.” Finally, paste in the URL that you copied and watch the demo run.

‘NOTHER UPDATE: Video of the demo running on a VIC-20 has been posted.


A remarkable hypertextual video essay, Parallelograms, has been posted by Jeffrey Scudder. It is composed of an intriguing collections of clips, and includes some fascinating video quotation of (e.g.) Marshall McLuhan, Douglas Rushkoff, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, and Chris Crawford. Not to mention my colleague Hal Albelson in a wizard hat. Also, I couldn’t help but notice that it shows the 10 PRINT program executing and features a shot of the book A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates.

If these matters at all interest you, do read/watch this video meditation on digital media, society, materiality, matter, the body, and (as I read/watch it) how the computer, whatever its limits, may have still-untapped potential for empowerment and change.

Nonstop Interactive Fiction in Boston

Hello from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I’m currently dressed as a grue. The streets are unnervingly lit up tonight for some reason and many people are about. Perhaps my quest to find a dark, quiet place will lead me to Fenway Park.

There is a lot of news about upcoming interactive fiction events, and the first part of a two-part article by Illya Szilak, “A Book Itself Is a Little Machine: Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction,” is just out in The Huffington Post.

If you weren’t there, you missed Arden Kehoe presenting on her visual novel Kindness Coins at Women in Games Boston on October 29, but you can read a bit about her work at the page for the event.

There will be another reading of Lost Pig (the award-winning game by Admiral Jota) on Sunday, November 3, at 6pm, at Pandemonium Books in Central Square.

There will be a reading of Adam Cadre’s award-winning Photopia on Tuesday, November 5, at 5pm in University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Olsen Hall, room 311. Adam won’t be at this reading, and I don’t believe Admiral Jota will be at Pandemonium Books event. Adam did read from Photopia himself at this event in Boston way back in 2001.

The “People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction” (PR-IF) meetup for November will be on Saturday, November 9, 4:00 pm, in my lab, The Trope Tank, MIT room 14N-233. (We usually meet Monday or Tuesday at 6:30pm; this is an exception.) Special guest Emily Short will be demonstrating the authoring tools behind Versu. Emily will also be speaking on Versu in New York City on Wednesday November 13.

PR-IF now is on teh Twitter, as @IFinBoston, which is a good thing since there’s so much going on. Our Twitter presence is backed by the amazing technology known as Jason McIntosh.

An introduction to writing interactive fiction will be offered one week after the Photopia reading, on Tuesday, November 12, same time, same place: 5pm in University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Olsen Hall, room 311. These two events at UMass Lowell are sponsored by that school’s Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

Finally, the 2013 IF Comp is currently going on. There are 35 entries. You can download, play, and vote on the games, with votes due November 15.

Fox Harrell’s Talk and New Book

Fox Harrell’s talk on evaluation at the Media Systems workshop, in August 2012, was great, and I remember many things from it vividly. Fox really helped us see some of the absurdities of trying to apply the evaluation techniques from one domain (such as engineering) to another (such as the arts) — but also the potential of cross-cutting work for new insights. See “Matching Methods: Guiding and Evaluating Interdisciplinary Projects” on YouTube.

This is one of many Media Systems talks that have been uploaded so far.

Fox, who is my colleague at MIT, has also just had MIT Press publish his book, Phantasmal Media: An Approach to Imagination, Computation, and Expression. I have been following the book from early stages. Reading it has been provoking and informative. It presents a new, powerful concept of digital media that deeply engages with our concepts of identity and our cultural imagination. I highly recommend it.

Videogame Editions for Play and Study

Now available: TROPE-13-02 – Videogame Editions for Play and Study by Clara Fernández-Vara and Nick Montfort.

>We discuss four types of access to videogames that are analogous to the use of different sorts of editions in literary scholarship: (1) the use of hardware to play games on platforms compatible with the original ones, (2) emulation as a means of playing games on contemporary computers, (3) ports, which translate games across platforms, and (4) documentation, which can describe some aspects of games when they cannot be accessed and can supplement play. These different editions provide different information and perspectives and can be used in teaching and research in several ways.

Enjoy, and please let us know here or elsewhere if you have discussion about this.

Michael’s Narrative Candy Store

Michael Mateas gave the keynote today at Intelligent Narrative Technologies 6. With reference (early on) to the Hero’s Journey, he presented a sort of “developer’s journey,” noting that indie developers (as seen at Indiecade) have been turning away from concern with structure and mechanics and toward narrative. He similarly encouraged those working in AI and narrative to turn from structuralist narratology and look at concrete traditions of narrative based in communities of practice.

I thought his repudiation of structuralist narratology was in some ways similar to someone in computer graphics objecting to the pixel or the polygon becuase pixels and polygons do not provide any guidance as to how to create beautiful images. He’s right, and if people are missing this, it’s worth pointing out. But the core problem is with one’s expectation for structural understanding. If people are interested (as Michael is) in modeling “internal processes and conflicts” mapping to “external conflicts” … what are these external conflicts made of? Aren’t they made of events? And wouldn’t it be great to have a solid model of events so more complex narrative phenomena can be built up out of them?

Michael gave us an array of options for work motivated by specific poetic ideas, and these (in keeping with his practice) were extremely grand plans, with a panpoly of dissertations needed to make real progress. His suggestions were that we build huge AI systems, implementing Beckett, Boal, detective novels, flash fiction, and the levels of intentionality in Virgina Woolf. I don’t object to attempting to deal with goals of this sort, but this tour of the interactive narrative candy store seemed to be proposing 23 different manned space missions.

My idea: Why not create & compose simple models of narrative aspects that are indeed culturally grounded and for which there is a poetics, but which seem lower-level (or easier to start on) than the ideas Michael has – aspects such as repetition (seen in Beckett, of course), ellipsis (and its relationship to suspense, as treated in Michael Young’s research), and the like?

These sorts of questions seem to have easier starting points and offer the potential to generalize to some extent across genres, while yielding specific insights as well.

A repetition or ellipsis system would be as culturally grounded as any one that Michael suggested, and it too could be “fully realized” and produce outputs.

My very simple system “Through the Park,” described in “Small-Scale Systems and Computational Creativity,” is an attempt to show how low the stairs are for those interested in investigating ellipsis. Although extremely simple, it is a real model of an aspect of narrative and has been useful to me in thinking about it.

Ian Horswill pointed out in the discussion after the talk that understanding repetition may not be easier than generating romance novels, flash fiction, or work like that of specific authors. This is true, but with repetition there are more concrete starting points. One can certainly start with a lightweight simulation of the world, and of narration, and then elaborate.

Richard Evans mentioned that the repetition in _The Odyssey_ and in Beckett’s plays doesn’t have much in common. I would say that this is true, but that they have _something_ in common – creating a coherent and distinctive texture of language. On the other hand, even within the _same work,_ or work by the same author, there will be different types of repetition that do different things. That’s what makes this aspect of narrative (or, really, textuality) a rich one. It seems to me that these different uses, within a single work or across different works, could be understood analytically and modeled computationally in useful ways. The focus on a single aspect, rather than a genre or community of practice, would make this more tractable and offer a foothold.


A new short, snappy, and expanding poem by Nick Montfort, Jerome Fletcher, Talan Memmott, Serge Bouchardon, Samantha Gorman, Leonardo Flores, Scott Rettberg, Jason Nelson, and Flourish Klink is now online.

It’s pop, an ELO 2013 anthology. It requires the use of arrow keys. And it was written at the Electronic Literature Organization’s 2013 conference, Chercher le texte, in Paris.

pop, an ELO 2013 anthology

Puzzle out the constraint that was used, and feel free to continue the project…

(I have the feeling that I’ve omitted the name of at least one contributor … please let me know if I left you off the list; I will gladly remedy that on this post and on the pop page itself.)

Funk’s SoundBox 2012

Chris Funkhouser’s SoundBox 2012 has been posted in the online gallery space of DDDL, which I believe stands for Digital, Digital, Digital, digitaL. Or maybe Digital Digital Digital Littérature? There is a rich array of work up there; Chris’s contribution blends sounds with the carefully-recorded speech that he has recorded across many conferences and beyond, providing a rich audio record of activity in electronic literature and E-Poetry. As the description of the work says,

> Combining music, demented artistic performances, lectures, and studio experiments, Funk’s SoundBox 2012 draws from hundreds of digital recordings produced by poet-critic Chris Funkhouser, who condenses them into a single interactive space. Users of this personal archive – a balance of words and sounds Funkhouser wishes to remember and share – will find ambient and raw materials amidst discussions led by some of the most influential figures in the field of digital writing, grand improvisations featuring a range of instrumentation, software play, and more weaved into a unique sonic projection.

Except — wait. Those are documented artistic performances, lectures, and studio experiments. Sheesh.

New bleuOrange Revue with Three Rails Live / Trois rails sous tension

Except for its celebratory nature, it may ultimately have little to do with the New Zoo Revue, but the latest issue (number 7) of the French-language bleuOrange revue, from Figura and Laboratoire NT2, has now arrived. The issue publishes the results of a competition to translate electronic literature into French.

In this issue there is a rich selection of new translations, including translations of work by by J. R. Carpenter and Mark Marino, who are here with me now at the 2013 ELO conference Chercher le texte. One of these, too, is the translation of Three Rails Live by Roderick Coover, Nick Montfort, and Scott Rettberg. The translation is entitled Trois rails sous tension and is by Carolyne Ouellette and Jordan Tudisco, with the voices of Serge Bouchardon and Laetitia LeChatton. For now, there is video documentation of our piece and its translation, as the piece was developed as an installation. Next year a Web version of the video generator, the combinatory database narrative film, will be published on bleuOrange in English and French.

Talks from Media Systems

Noah Wardrip-Fruin was an organizer the Media Systems workshop at UCSC just over a year ago, August 26-29, 2012. It was an extraordinary gathering about computational media and its potential, with famous participants from a variety of disciplines and practices. The workshop’s sponsors were also remarkable: the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Microsoft Research, and Microsoft Studios. Now, Noah is working to put high-quality videos of talks from this event online, and to offer some very useful framing discussion of those talks.

This month, three have been posted. The first of these is a talk by Ian Horswill: “Interdisciplinarity is Hard.” I’m collaborating with Ian now to edit a special issue on computational narrative and am looking forward to seeing him at AIIDE. In addition to his talk, I recommend (and assign) his short but rich article “What is Computation?,” which discusses some of the fundamentals of computation as a science along with its intellectual and cultural importance. Those with access to ACM content can also get the later version of the article that was published in Crossroads.

The second talk posted is from the inestimable production designer Alex McDowell: “World Building.” McDowell (The Crow, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fight Club, Minority Report, Watchmen, etc., etc. ) describes how the development of movies is no longer a storytelling process driven by a single person or idea, but is becoming a process of world building in which a variety of concepts, including design and in some cases engagement with urban planning and spaces, influence each other. McDowell made his points with some of the most beautiful and byzantine diagrammatic slides since David Byrne was doing work in PowerPoint.

The most recent talk is mine – Nick Montfort: “The Art of Operationalization.” I spoke about my experience implementing humanistic ideas (in my case, about narrative) in computational systems, ones that not only can produce narrative results, but which can advance our understanding of the humanities and arts. Prof. Janet Kolodner (now serving the National Science Foundation) seemed to be uncertain about the value of this work, and questioned me about that during my talk – in a way that surprised me a bit! But looking back, I see that our discussion was one of the benefits of having a diverse yet fairly small in-person gathering. I seldom have these discussions either on this blog or in larger, multi-track conferences.

I think of Curveship and even the development of small-scale programs such as Through the Park as research activities (in the humanities, but potentially also in computation) that as connected to narrative and poetic practice. While some people (such as Ken Perlin, who was also at workshop and whose video will be up next week) work in this sort of mode and see the value in it, the benefits are not obvious. The result may not a direct educational outcome, an incremental advance that can be directly measured and evaluated, or a work of art or literature that is recognizable in a traditional way. So, whether I was able to answer well at the time or not, I appreciate the questions, and hope to get more of those sort in other workshops such as these.

Software Freedom Day

Next Saturday (September 21, 2013) is Boston Software Freedom Day. This event, like the Boston Festival of Independent Games yesterday, is also taking place in Cambridge rather than Boston – at Cambridge College, 1000 Mass Ave, between Central and Harvard Squares.

Come by to hear about and discuss freedoms on the computer and online, privacy, and government transparency. I’ll offer one of the very quick lightning talks at the end of the day, discussing some of the history of creative computing and its relationship to software freedom.

The event is not only libre, but also no-cost. And the cake to celebrate the 30th anniversary of GNU is not a lie.

Zombies, Run! Enhancement Instructions

Beginner: Run up behind the participant unseen, assume the attitude of a zombie, and say “ggrgrghrhrhHHH BRAINS!” and the like.

Intermediate: Run up alongside the participant, assume the attitude of Michael Jackson in Thriller, and say “It’s only a movie!,” “What’s the problem? Come on, I’ll take you home,” and the like.

Remix Redux

Of my “Taroko Gorge”:

“Take Ogre” by John Pat McNamara, remixed Febuary 16, 2013 on Achill Sound, Ireland. The piece trades off the images of the natural world for language of the mind, and sports a nice recursive background. (View source for some further information in a comment up top.) Thanks to publisher Michael J. Maguire for noting this remix in a comment here.

“TransmoGrify” by Leonardo Flores of I ♥ E-Poetry, published in Springgun Press Journal, issue number 8. (There’s a note on the piece in the journal.) This one is also about contemplation and mental work, endlessly describing the process of remixing “Taroko Gorge.”

In a different way, “TransmoGrify” is as meta as the remix “Argot Ogre, OK!” by Andrew Plotkin, whose titular monster also returns in John Pat McNamara’s work. Take my ogre — please! Take my gorge…