Before & After Media (DAC at UCI)

Ian Bogost and I just gave a talk on platform studies at UC Irvine’s Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds. We talked about our book on the Atari VCS, Racing the Beam, and about the platform studies concept more generally. A nice crowd came out on the rainy Friday afternoon and engaged us in some good discussion afterwards. Although we’ve both talked about the book and platform studies in several different places, this was the first talk we’ve given together. I think it worked well, but I guess writing a book together is good preparation.

We’re giving another join talk at Digital Arts and Culture (“After Media”), which starts this evening and then runs for three days of panels (which include scholarly and artists’ talks) and more unlikely presentations in the evenings. Besides my paper with Ian on platform studies misconceptions, I have another co-authored paper with Alex Mitchell on interactive fiction development systems, a “solo” paper on minimal poetry generators (the ppg256 series), and a reading at the DAC Literary Arts Extravaganza. I’m looking forward to seeing a slew of digital media folks and to enjoying the program, the company, and the Southern California environment – even if it keeps raining.

E-lit “Network” Podcasts

Saturday 12 December 2009, 2:59 am   //////  

Scott Rettberg’s very verbosely named workshop The Network as a Space and Medium for Collaborative Interdisciplinary Art Practice Conference, which took place in Bergen, Norway this November 8-10, was recorded, and the recordings of the panels are now up as a series of podcasts. It was a great gathering, and I’m glad this documentation of the event is available.

Digital Labor, NYC, Nov 12-14

Thursday 26 November 2009, 8:41 pm   /////  

Belatedly, I want to mention a least a bit about the great conference that I participated in two weekends ago in New York: The Internet as Playground and Factory: A Conference on Digital Labor. The gathering was organized by Trebor Scholz and took place at the Eugene Lang College for Liberal Arts at the New School.

At conferences on digital media, there are too few critical perspectives about large-scale hegemonic systems that are increasingly coming to define the computer and Internet experience. At some events, people exhibit general awareness of the complexities and problems that such systems pose, but they still turn and say oooh, shiny! when presented with Google Wave. At other events, people are glad to plow down open systems that would broadly enable communication and discourse, just for the sake of setting up the latest MyFace workalike. Many academics never even notice the irony of doing something like trying to remedy the digital divide within for-profit, rent-based Second Life. Generally, attitudes about the 2.0 range from blissful ignorance to a bit of skepticism – but not enough skepticism to temper the way we welcome our corporate shackles.

The Internet as Playground and Factory offered a beginning to the important conversation that we (in digital media) have been avoiding. Speakers addressed the lack of explicit political engagement among open source software developers, the different types of labor/work/action seen online, the complexities of labor (why are these Chinese gold farmers spending some of their free time playing the game that they toil at all day?), and other important and often-overlooked issues. While the conference was well-documented in video and the site features connections to Twitter and Flickr, the main online conversation behind the gathering has taken place on a mailing list, and social media technologies were generally used to extend communications rather than to exclude.

The award for best stunt goes to Hector Postigo, who began his talk on AOL volunteers by explaining that Facebook wasn’t paying him enough to keep updating his status and friending people: He then permanently deleted his Facebook account as happy photos of his friends and his children stared out at him and the crowd.

There were many good talks, but one standout that I’ll mention was McKenzie Wark‘s, in which he related the gamer and the hacker via a semiotic square to two other digital culture figures: the worker and the hustler. This allows various sites to be situated in relation to these four: eBay nearest the hustler, LinkedIn nearest the worker, and so on.

I was certainly an outlier in the main cluster of this conference; although I was there at the New School, the only reference to Marx in my talk was to Groucho Marx. But I was very pleased to read from various laborious productions, many of which dealt with issues of information technology work, in a session with poet, editor, and typewriter scholar Darren Wershler that was chaired by Kare Eichhorn. I read from Implementation (with Scott Rettberg, 2004),Mystery House Taken Over (with Dan Shiovitz, Emily Short, and the Mystery House Occupation Team, 2005), Book and Volume (2005) and ppg256 (2007-). Darren gave an actual paper, but also read some of the output of two systems developed with Bill Kennedy: The Apostrophe Engine and Status Update.

The conference concluded with a large group discussion. Scholz was asked why Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others weren’t represented as speakers at the conference. He said that they were invited and declined to give presentations – but that representatives from all of these companies did end up registering and picking up badges, so they attended.

There was no manifesto or major, striking conclusion that resulted from this final discussion. This is just the beginning, though: Scholz will run two more conferences on related topics. This conference on digital labor was a great start, advancing the discussion of how we work and play online and of how we can thoughtfully approach technologies that have been made to generate profits in a certain way, even if we want to use these technologies for political, aesthetic, or other purposes. I hope that this conference’s critical approach to digital systems and online communication will be carried over into other digital media contexts, which desperately need this perspective.

Piksel09 Kicks Off in Bergen

Thursday 19 November 2009, 11:28 pm   ///////  

Piksel, a festival for free-software-creating and -using artists and developers, has begun in Bergen, Norway. If you can’t drop by, at least visit the festival on the Web and check out the brilliant hackery on display at the main exhibition.

Bergen Apothegma, Part 2

Tuesday 10 November 2009, 8:06 pm   ///////////  

Actually I haven’t had the energy to keep mining each of the presentations at The Network as a Space and Medium for Collaborative Interdisciplinary Art Practice, but they were rich in provocation and new ideas, and now I have to post something to follow “part 1.” The workshop went very well; particularly good were two long evenings of electronic literature, digital poetry, and readable digital art that were done by individuals but showcased collaboration. These two readings stood out because so much of the workshop time (which usually would have gone to very full days of panels) was dedicated to the presentation of creative work, and because the variety and quality of work was stellar.

You can check the twitsphere to see what was twot about the workshop.

A big thanks to Scott Rettberg for putting on this event and for inviting us Americans to join this international discussion.

Bergen Apothegma, Part 1

Monday 9 November 2009, 9:14 am   //////////  

I’m at a fine gathering, The Network as a Space and Medium for Collaborative Interdisciplinary Art Practice. This is a workshop Scott Rettberg organized here in Bergen, Norway. Here’s a tiny glimpse of it.

First, Daniel Apollon has very deftly provided us with a video of last night’s electronic literature readings / presentations by nine readers: Jörg Piringer. Roderick Coover, J. R. Carpenter, John Cayley, Renée Turner, Serge Bouchardon, Chris Funkhouser, Talan Memmott, and Michelle Teran. It was remarkable for being an extremely long e-lit reading that was also very compelling throughout and offered a wide range of work, never lagging at any point during the three hours. The video is just over 11 minutes.

Regarding the panel presentations today so far, I have no summary – see the abstracts for that. Instead, a handful of analects, transcribed ineptly:

“If there were going to be a great novel or a great poem in new media by now, we’d have it. There are major works in digital media, but they aren’t continuations of the novel or the poem.” -Joseph Tabbi

“That’s the real promise of peer-to-peer review – you can follow the debates that make claims and that become knowledge.” -Eric Dean Rasmussen

“… calculation being a material process … authors, who work on the technical dimension and on the medium, may allow a new aesthetic to emerge.” -Serge Bouchardon

“For a long time I advocated that we have two classes of electronic literature – Class A which represents that work which is truly programmatic, and the other which is traditional writing. Increasingly, I don’t see this distinction as important.” -Raine Koskimaa

“I don’t actually mind cookie cutters – I make a lot of cookies, and I use proprietary cookie cutters.” -Jill Walker Rettberg [Jill’s slides and a preprint of her related paper are online.]

“Already the manifesto is the exquisite corpse.” -Renée Turner (regarding discussion on the NetBehavior list)

[Please let me know if I’ve seriously misquoted you, fellow workshop attendees.]

ELO_AI: Archive & Innovate

Sunday 1 November 2009, 12:55 pm   /////////  

The Electronic Literature Organization‘s Fourth International Conference & Program of Digitally Mediated Literary Art

June 3-6, 2010 Brown University Providence, Rhode Island, USA Organized by the ELO and Writing Digital Media  at the Brown University Literary Arts Program dedicated to Robert Coover

The Electronic Literature Organization and Brown University’s Literary Arts Program invite submissions to the Electronic Literature Organization 2010 Conference to be held from June 3-6, 2008 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

  • electronic literature
  • writing digital media
  • language-driven digital poesis
  • literal art

We welcome papers and presentations on a broad range of topics. The conference will focus on the theory, criticism, close-reading, practice and archiving of language-driven digital art and poetics. Our gathering will also embrace all the related cultural practices that continue to be addressed by scholars and artists in our growing field:

  • expressive processing
  • computational art
  • artificial cognition and intelligence
  • aesthetic gaming
  • information art
  • codework
  • digitally mediated performance
  • network & media art & activism

In addition we will give a special welcome to papers that engage with the contribution that Robert Coover has made to our field. A festschrift comprised of papers from the conference is proposed and Professor Coover will be our chief featured eWriter. (Other featured speakers to be announced shortly.)

In conjunction with the three-day conference, there will be a juried Program of Language-Driven Digital Art, concentrating on but not confined to installation works. We plan to show the selected work in gallery spaces close to the conference venue in downtown Providence over a two week period. Subject to funding restrictions, selected artists will be awarded bursaries to assist with attending the conference. Submission guidelines will be posted on the conference website by mid November.

Deadline for Submissions: December 15, 2009 Notification of Acceptance: January 25, 2010

PLEASE NOTE: Deadline for full papers will be May 1, 2010 to allow for reflection and exchange on the papers prior to the conference and to get head-start in the publication process.

The basic cost of the conference is $150; graduate students and non-affiliated artists pay only $100.

Conference registration covers access to all events, the reception, some meals, and shuttle transportation.

All conference attendees are also expected to join the ELO before the conference and this can be done at registration.

We are planning to implement online submission and registration. Before submitting, please consult the conference website at …

http://ai.eliterature.org

… where these facilities will be available and where you will find much more information about both the content and the form of the conference and arts program.

After consulting the website, for further queries and all email correspondence contact:

elo dot ai at eliterature dot org

The above address should be used for all conference business. It will checked by myself and also those colleagues and students who will be assisting me with the conference organization. But I appreciate that you may sometimes also want to get in touch with the conference organizer:

John Cayley, Literary Arts Program Box 1923, Brown University 68 1/2 Brown Street Providence, RI 02912, USA office: +1 401 863 3966, John underscore Cayley at brown dot edu

The Conference is currently sponsored and supported by The Electronic Literature Organization, Brown University Literary Arts Program, Brown University Creative Arts Council, Brown University Library, and the RISD D+M Program.

Any organization or individual in receipt of this call who would like to sponsor and support this major international conference, please get in touch. External sponsors are being sought and will be appropriately acknowledged.

Mary Flanagan Speaks in Purple Blurb, Monday 11/2 6pm

Thursday 29 October 2009, 11:42 pm   ///////  

On Monday (November 2) at 6pm in MIT’s room 14E-310,

The Purple Blurb series of readings and presentations on digital writing will present a talk by

Mary Flanagan.

Mary Flanagan

author of Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press, 2009)

Mary Flanagan is the creator of [giantJoystick], and author of [theHouse] among other digital writing works. She is Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth, where she directs Tiltfactor, a lab focused on the design of activists and socially-conscious software.

Flanagan investigates everyday technologies through critical writing, artwork, and activist design projects. Flanagan’s work has been exhibited internationally at museums, festivals, and galleries, including: the Guggenheim, The Whitney Museum of American Art, SIGGRAPH, and The Banff Centre. Her projects have been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Pacific Cultural Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Flanagan writes about popular culture and digital media such as computer games, virtual agents, and online spaces in order to understand their affect on culture. Her co-edited collection reload: rethinking women + cyberculture with Austin Booth was published by MIT Press in 2002. She is also co-author with Matteo Bittanti of Similitudini. Simboli. Simulacri ( SIMilarities, Symbols, Simulacra ) on The Sims game (in Italian, Unicopli 2003), and the co-editor of the collection re:skin (2007).

Flanagan is also the creator of The Adventures of Josie True, the first web-based adventure game for girls, and is implementing innovations in pedagogical and values-based game design.

Using the formal language of the computer program or game to create systems which interrogate seemingly mundane experiences such as writing email, using search engines, playing video games, or saving data to the hard drive, Flanagan reworks these activities to blur the line between the social uses of technology, and what these activities tell us about the technology user themselves.

A representative from the MIT Press bookstore will be at the talk offering copies of Flanagan’s books for sale.

&Now in Buffalo

Wednesday 21 October 2009, 1:40 pm   //////  

I’m not up to a writeup of the recent &Now: A Conference of Innovative Writing and the Literary Arts, a festival/conference (“festerence,” as someone noted) which just shuffled through Buffalo. But while you are waiting for the deadpan article in Harper’s about the event, these should be worth about 3000 words.

Morpheus Biblionaut

Thursday 15 October 2009, 10:51 am   /////  

Writer, publisher, and collaborator of mine William Gillespie just read (yesterday afternoon) an extraordinary piece here at the &Now festival in Buffalo. The multimedia piece is Morpheus Biblionaut, which he created with Travis Alber of Bookglutton.com. Gillespie pulls out the stops for this tale of an American astronaut and poet who returns to earth to find almost no radio activity, except, perhaps, for one signal. Plug in, isolate yourself for a space of time, and read this one!

I presented right after on ppg256, my series of poetry generators.

Computational Creativity at ICCC-X

Thursday 2 July 2009, 4:28 pm   ////////  

The First International Conference on Computational Creativity will be taking place in Portugal on January 7-9 2010. ICCC-X will follow on a decade of smaller-scale workshops and symposia. The call for papers lists the deadline of September 26 (extended 5 days) for papers, and promises:

The conference will include traditional paper presentations, will showcase the application of computational creativity to the sciences, creative industries and arts, and will incorporate a “show and tell” session, which will be devoted to demonstrations of computational systems exhibiting behaviour which would be deemed creative in humans.

Note also that contributions are solicited in several areas, including “specific applications to music, language and the arts, to architecture and design, to scientific discovery, to education and to entertainment.”

CALC-09, Afternoon

Thursday 4 June 2009, 7:19 pm   /////  

The Workshop on Computational Approaches to Linguistic Creativity has just concluded. I posted about the morning; here are my notes on the afternoon talks.

The first item for the afternoon was my invited talk, “Curveship: An Interactive Fiction System for Interactive Narrating” I worked a while to provide the paper to accompany my talk, trying to introduce IF, explain the basics of narrative variation, and get into at least some of the technical details of my system, including the string-with-slots representation, which I’ve been working on a great deal recently. I also tried to include handy references and pointers. Incidentally, I’ve been meaning to post more about Curveship, and I’d love to hear any questions you have about it at this point, even before I’ve properly introduced the system on this blog.

After my talk, we had more time for poster presentation; one poster was on author and character goals for story generation.

The “From Morphology to Pragmatics to Text” session concluded the day:

Andrew Goldberg presented work by three others on a ML algorithm to assess the creativity of sentences: outliers that are still meaningful. The Winconsin Creative Writing dataset was assembled and used. Using language modeling, word norms, and WordNet, the did partially predicted creativity scores. (Pointed out in the Q&A: All the non-creative sentences were much shorter, so you could just use one feature – length!)

Stefano Vegnaduzzo presented state-of-the-art work on complex adjectives – ones that are made of at least two words separated by a hyphen. These are frequent, as corpus analysis of Wikipedia and the Web shows. Two-word complex adjectives, identified with a part-of-speech tagger, were the focus. Morphological productive processes allow the unintentional, unlimited, regular creation of words; building complex adjectives is one. Checking for hapax legomena gives a measure of productivity within morphological categories: “non-X” was tops in both corpora. Realized and potential productivity were found, and found to be similar across corpora.

Allan Ramsay presented work on how the same words can have different meanings in different contexts. The sentence “I’m sorry I missed your talk” was one fixed text, along with “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.” It’s not because “sorry” is ambiguous. “Sorry” expresses a relationship between an individual and a state of affairs (which the individual wishes were not the case). There’s no first-order representation. The representation is extremely elaborate, but not too complex. Appropriate background knowledge is essential. One conclusion: A system that takes part in conversations will have to build meaning representations and carry out inference. (In Q&A, I learned that there’s more in the paper about being mistaken, lying, and using irony and sarcasm.)

One way to get at the papers from this workshop is by seeing the title and author information on the CALC-09 site and then using your favorite search engine to locate them online – I assume all, or at least almost all, have been placed online by authors. ACL also offers past workshop proceedings for purchase. Maybe the CALC-09 proceedings will be available that way, too?

CALC-09, Morning

Thursday 4 June 2009, 5:55 pm   ////  

The Workshop on Computational Approaches to Linguistic Creativity (CALC-09) is taking place now at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In the first session on metaphors and eggcorns, researchers reported on using natural language understanding techniques in innovative ways:

Beata Beigman Klebanov presented on the use of a topic model (LDA, latent Dirichlet allocation) to detect the most obvious or deliberate types of metaphor, which are discussions of one domain the terms of another and which were annotated by people in this experiment. For different k, metaphorical uses were found to be less frequent in the k most topical words in the discourse overall.

Steven Bethard presented work dealing with sentence-level conceptual metaphors from a psycholinguistic standpoint. In earlier work, metaphors were used as stimuli and subjects’ N400 brain waves, associated with anomaly, were recorded. This suggests that it’s important to know about metaphorical frequency, how often words are used in a metaphorical way. A support vector machine classifier was trained on an annotated corpus. LDA, with and without categories, was used to disambiguate metaphors, and to determine whether they are abstract or concrete.

Sravana Reddy presented “Understanding Eggcorns,” about linguistic errors caused by semantic reanalysis: entrée -> ontray, as first named on Language Log in 2003. Eggcorns are more related to folk etymology and puns than malapropism; there has been little study. Can the path of transformation be discerned? Error-detection is an application; also, humor generation. Using the Eggcorn Database and WordNet, a semantic network was built; context information was then added and other augmentations were made. A typology with five categories was developed based on the results.

Session 2 was on generating creative texts:

Ethel Ong presented work on pun generation using a pronouncing dictionary, WordNet, and (more effectively) ConceptNet. A system called TPEG extracted word relaltionships to build templates for pun generation, keeping the syntactical relationship but modeling semantic and phonetic word relationships as described in Kim Binstead’s work. Variables in the template model parts of speech, sound, and compound words.

Yael Netzer presented the Gaiku system for haiku generation. Constructed a haiku corpus, system to build templates. First try generated grammatical output, but didn’t have a good “story.” Story is a sequence of concepts: Butterfly, spring, flower. Word association information, not found in WordNet, was added. An analysis of haiku was done to see if it appears more associate than news text. The final generated haiku were evaluated in a “Turing test.”

Lyric generation in Tamil and syntactic constructions were discussed in the poster session presentations.

Note that paper titles and the full list of author names can be found on the CALC page.

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