The Amiga Book: Maher’s The Future Was Here

Tuesday 24 April 2012, 11:34 pm   ///////  

Congratulations to Jimmy Maher on his just-published book, The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga. As you might expect, Amazon has a page on it; so does Powell’s Books, for instance.

This MIT Press title is the third book in the Platform Studies series. Jimmy Maher has done an excellent job of detailing the nuts and bolts of the first multimedia computer that was available to consumers, and connecting the lowest levels of this platform’s function to cultural questions, types of software produced, and the place of this system in history. The book considers gaming uses (which many used to brand the Amiga as nothing but a toy) but also media production applications and even, in one chapter, the famous Boing Ball demo.

The Platform Studies series (which also has a page at The MIT Press) is edited by Ian Bogost and yours truly, Nick Montfort, and now has three titles, one about an early videogame console, one about a console still in the current generation and on the market, and this latest title about an influential home computer, the Amiga. We have a collaboration between two digital media scholars and practitioners of computational media; a collaboration between an English professor and a computer science professor; and this latest very well-researched and well-written contribution from an independent scholar who has, for a while, been avidly blogging about many aspects of the history of gaming and creative computing.

Jimmy Maher, not content with his book-writing and voracious, loquacious blogging, has created a website for The Future is Here which is worth checking out. If you were an Amiga owner or are otherwise an Amiga fan, there’s no need to say that you should run, not walk, to obtain and read this book. But it will be of broader interest to all of those concerned with the multimedia capabilities of the computer. Really, even if you had an Atari ST – do give it a read, as it explains a great deal about the relationship between computer technology and creativity, exploring issues relevant to the mid-to-late 1980s and also on up through today.

Borsuk, Bök, Montfort – May 5, 7pm, Lorem Ipsum

Saturday 21 April 2012, 10:05 pm   ////////  

I’m reading soon with our Canadian guest Christian Bök and with my MIT colleague Amaranth Borsuk, who will present Between Page and Screen (published by Siglio Press this year). The gig is at:

Lorem Ipsum Books
1299 Cambridge Street
Inman Square
Cambridge, MA
Ph: 617-497-7669

May 7, 2012 at 7pm

Amaranth Borsuk is the author of Handiwork (2012), the chapbook Tonal Saw (2010), and a collaborative work Excess Exhibit to be released as both a limited-edition book and iPad application in 2012. Her poems, essays, and translations have been published widely in journals such as the New American Writing, Los Angeles Review, Denver Quarterly, FIELD, and Columbia Poetry Review. She has a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from USC and is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Comparative Media Studies, Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT where she works on and teaches digital poetry, visual poetry, and creative writing workshops.

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (2003), a pataphysical encyclopedia, and of Eunoia (2009), a bestselling work of experimental literature. Bök has created artificial languages for two television shows: Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon. Bök has also earned accolades for his virtuoso performances of sound poetry (particularly Die Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters). Currently, he is conducting a conceptual experiment called The Xenotext (which involves genetically engineering a bacterium so that it might become not only an archive for storing a poem in its genome for eternity, but also a machine for writing a poem as a protein in response). He teaches English at the University of Calgary.

Nick Montfort writes computational and constrained poetry, develops computer games, and is a critic, theorist, and scholar of computational art and media. He teaches at MIT and is currently serving as president of the Electronic Literature Organization. His digital media writing projects include the interactive fiction system Curveship; the group blog Grand Text Auto; Ream, a 500-page poem written on one day; 2002: A Palindrome Story, the longest literary palindrome (according the Oulipo), written with William Gillespie; Implementation, a novel on stickers written with Scott Rettberg; and several works of interactive fiction: Winchester’s Nightmare, Ad Verbum, and Book and Volume. His latest book, Riddle & Bind (2010), contains literary riddles and constrained poems.

Steve McCaffery Reading Carnival at Purple Blurb

Saturday 21 April 2012, 1:32 pm   ///////  

Steve McCaffery read at MIT in the Purple Blurb series on March 19, 2012. A recording of part of that reading (his reading of Carnival) is embedded above; the text of my introduction follows.

Thank you all for braving the cold to come out today. Did you know that today is officially the last day of Winter? Ever! Winter is officially over forever!

But I come not to bury Winter, but to praise Steve McCaffery, and to introduce him. Steve McCaffery is professor and Gray Chair at the University of Buffalo in the Poetics Program. He comes to us from there, and before, from Canada, where he did much of his pioneering work in sound and concrete poetry. He is one of those people who is know for his non-digital work but without whom the current situation of electronic literature, of digital writing, could not exist. He is in that category, for instance, with Jorge Luis Borges.

You would have me institutionalized for loggorrhea if I attempted to read Steve McCaffery’s entire bibliography and discography to you.

Know, however, that McCaffery was one of the Four Horsemen, along with bpNichol, Rafael Barreto-Rivera, and Paul Dutton. This groundbreaking group of sound poets, numbering almost as many mouths as there are vowels, released several albumbs: “Live in the West,” and “Bootleg,” and “caNADAda.”

McCaffery’s critical writing can found in “North of Intention: Critical Writings 1973-1986″ and “Prior to Meaning: The Protosemantic and Poetics” His two-volume selected poems, “Seven Pages Missing,” was published in Coach House in 2000. It earned him his second Governor General’s Awards nomination; his first was for his 1991 book “Theory of Sediment.” More recently, there’s his “Verse and Worse: Selected Poems 1989-2009,” which he and Darren Wershler edited.

And, I’ll mention two other books, his “The Basho Variations,” published in 2007, which consists of different translations and version of Matsuo Basho’s famous haiku, which could be rendered clunkily as “old pond / frog jump in / water sound.” A digital version of this haiku can be seen in Neil Hennesy’s “Basho’s Frogger,” a modified version of the game Frogger in which the first row of floating items is missing so that one can only … you know … jump in. McCaffery is pond and frog and sound, placid and salient and resonant, and we are very lucky to have him here with us tonight.

Finally, I want to mention his extraordinary poem “Carnival.” I’ve taught the first panel to dozens of students here at MIT, so it’s black and red and read all over. The two panels of “Carnival” are incredible documents. If only fragments of them survive in three thousand years, that will be adequate for archaeologists to reconstruct the functioning and history of the typewriter completely. Of course, there’s more to “Carnival” than that material writing technology. But instead of saying more, I should simply let our guest give voice to “Carnival” and other works of his. Please join me in welcoming Steve McCaffery…

An Image Is Worth a Thousand Midi-Chlorians

Tuesday 20 March 2012, 5:06 pm   ////  

This was good for 45 minutes of narratology discussion in the ol’ graduate seminar today.

Purple Blurb is Shaped Like Canada

We have an amazing Spring 2012 Purple Blurb lineup, thanks to this academic year’s organizer, Amaranth Borsuk, and featuring two special events and readings by two leading Canadian poets who work in sound, concrete, and conceptual poetry. The Purple Blurb series is supported by the Angus N. MacDonald fund and MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. All events are at MIT and are free and open to the public.

Monday, March 19
5:30 PM
6-120

Steve McCaffery

Author of Carnival, The Black Debt, Seven Pages Missing
Professor and David Gray Chair of Poetry and Letters, SUNY Buffalo

A central figure in Canadian avant-garde writing, Steve McCaffery’s work spans sound poetry, generative and iterative text, experimental prose, performance art, literary criticism, and visual poetics. A member of the Four Horsemen sound poetry ensemble and a professor of English at SUNY Buffalo, he is the author of over a dozen influential books of poetry, twenty chapbooks and four volumes of critical writing. His works include CARNIVAL panels 1 and 2, Panopticon, The Black Debt, North of Intention and Rational Geomancy: Kids of the Book-Machine (with bpNichol). With Jed Rasula, McCaffery edited Imagining Language, an anthology for MIT Press.

Monday, April 9
5:30 PM
6-120

Open Mouse / Open Mic

Featuring Alexandra Chasin, Ari Kalinowski, and YOU

Please join us for an open mic featuring  D1G1T4L WR1T1NG for a variety of platforms, from immersive projections by Ari Kalinowski to generative fiction for the iPad by Alexandra Chasin.

Bring video art, interactive fiction, SMS poems, hypertext fiction and poetry, text generators, and any form of electronic literature you’ve got up your sleeve! This event is co-sponsored by the Electronic Literature Organization.

Alexandra Chasin is the author of Kissed By (FC2), and Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market (St. Martin’s). She teaches Writing at Lang College, The New School. Ari Kalinowski runs the Intermedia Poetry Project.

Thursday, May 3
6:00 PM
6-120

Christian Bök

Professor of English, University of Calgary
Co-sponsored by the Visiting Artist Series and WHS
Author of Crystallography, Eunoia and The Xenotext.

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award for Best Poetic Debut, and Eunoia, a lipogram that uses only one vowel in each chapter, which won the 2002 Griffin Poetry Prize and is the best-selling Canadian poetry book of all time. He is also author of Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (2001). His latest project, The Xenotext, encodes a poetic text into bacterial DNA that will produce proteins in response—yielding another poetic text. Bök has created artificial languages for Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon.

1:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Bartos Theater
Friday, May 4

Unbound: Speculations on the Future of the Book

Co-sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, SHASS, WHS, the Arts at MIT Visiting Artist Program, and the MIT Communications Forum

An afternoon of discussion with theorists and practitioners from MIT and beyond who are concerned with the shape of books to come.

Participants include:

Christian Bök (University of Calgary)
Katherine Hayles (Duke University)
Bonnie Mak (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Rita Raley (UC Santa Barbara)
James Reid-Cunningham (Boston Athenaeum)
Bob Stein (Institute for the Future of the Book)

A Panel on Digital Sound, Poems, and Art

Thursday 23 February 2012, 10:47 am   //////  

We talked about digital sound as well as some poetic and visual art matters on a panel on Feb 15 here at MIT with David Cossin, Ben Hogue, yours truly (Nick Montfort), Evan Ziporyn, and Joe Paradiso … backed for a while by ppg256-3:

Samantha Gorman at MIT in Purple Blurb

Monday 5 December 2011, 10:09 am   /////  

In the Boston area? Please join us today for the last Purple Blurb event of the semester:

Penumbra: Rich Media & Gestural Text

Samantha Gorman

Creator of Penumbra, Books of Kells, Canticle

Instructor in Performance Studies & Digital Literature, RISD M.F.A. Brown University

Monday, December 5, 5:30 pm

MIT’s 6-120

Samantha Gorman is a writer and media artist who composes for the intersection of text, dance, performance, and digital culture. She holds an MFA and BA in Literary Arts from Brown University, where she studied poetry and writing for digital media. Penumbra, a hybrid art/literature app for the iPad created with Danny Cannizzaro, challenges the notion of a static “ebook” by carefully integrating short film, rich animation, illustration and fiction.

Sponsored by the Angus N. MacDonald Fund

As always, this Purple Blurb event is free and open to the public.

Brian Moriarty to Speak at MIT

Sunday 27 November 2011, 11:07 pm   ////////  

In the Boston area? Please join us for a talk by

 

Brian Moriarty

Creator of Wishbringer, Trinity, Loom, and other interactive fiction and graphic adventure titles

and professor of practice, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

“Beyond Zork: Games & Interactive Fiction”

Monday, November 28, 5:30 pm

MIT’s room 6-120

 

Brian Moriarty built his first computer in the fifth grade. He began publishing games in the early 1980s and in 1984 joined legendary text adventure company Infocom, where he authored three award-winning interactive fiction titles, Wishbringer (1985), Trinity (1986) and Beyond Zork (1987). His first graphic adventure game, Loom, was published in 1990 by Lucasfilm Games to wide critical acclaim.

Sponsored by the Angus N. MacDonald Fund

As always, this Purple Blurb event is free and open to the public.

EVERYTHING AKIMBO

Tuesday 6 September 2011, 7:19 pm   ////  

an event to welcome the Electronic Literature Organization to MIT
and to introduce the ELO to the MIT community
an open house / open mic / open mouse
featuring 5-7 minute presentations and readings
by a host of electronic literature authors (perhaps including you)

[LOCATION] The 6th floor of Fumihiko Maki’s new Media Lab building
in the large multipurpose room (E14-674)

[DATE & TIME] Monday September 19
5:30pm Kickoff, signup for open mic/open mouse begins
6:30pm Open mic/open mouse readings & presentations

an event in the Purple Blurb series
sponsored by Angus N. MacDonald Fund
and the Council for the Arts at MIT

Snacks provided [] Free and open to the public [] Free, open, and AKIMBO

Videos about MIT’s Montfort and Harrell

Saturday 3 September 2011, 12:25 am   ///////  

At MIT TechTV, there’s a new 5-minute video about me and my work, featuring Ad Verbum, Curveship, Taroko Gorge, the ppg256 series and (as examples of really cool things that have been done with computers and that are worth our attention) some productions by others from the demoscene.

Also see the excellent video covering the work of my colleague Fox Harrell and his Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab. Harrell describes his projects, reads from one of them, and discusses his concept of “phantasmal media.” That term provides the title for a book he’s completing for the MIT Press.

MIT Seeks Asst Prof in Science Writing

Friday 19 August 2011, 9:50 pm   ///  

MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, is seeking a tenure-track assistant professor in science writing to start in the Fall of 2012. The Program offers undergraduate courses in science writing and a one-year Master’s degree program in Science Writing. Candidates for the new tenure-track position should have significant publications, productions, or research; and/or advanced degrees combined with demonstrated accomplishment in the public communication of science. The field of specialization may be in science writing for the public, science writing/production in audio, video and or new/digital media, long-form science writing, and/or journalism about science, technology/engineering, environment, health and medicine. Teaching experience is valuable, but not required. Applicants should apply via AcademicJobsOnline, by November 1, 2011. The selection committee will begin reviewing applications in November and schedule interviews in December 2011. MIT is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer.

ELO on the Move to MIT

Wednesday 10 August 2011, 9:22 pm   ///  
ELO logo

The Electronic Literature Organization is moving its headquarters to MIT this summer. The organization is an international nonprofit with many partner institutions, but the main office is a particularly important site for the ELO – hence, I want to thank the ELO’s former hosts MITH (at the University of Maryland) and UCLA, which have generously sustained the organization for most of its existence since its founding in 1999. As the current president, I’m very glad that MIT will be the ELO’s host. I’ll be working with others to form a lasting relationship. As we continue to serve our international membership and pursue our mission, we’re going to have many fun events and collaborations based at MIT.

MIT seal

Here’s today’s press release, from MIT, about the ELO’s move.

“Indy” Text Adventures in the Eastern Bloc

Saturday 14 May 2011, 4:43 pm   ////////  

Interactive fiction aficianados who aren’t at MiT7 (Media in Transition 7) and who thus missed Jaroslav Svelch’s excellent presentation – please check out the corresponding paper which he’s helpfully placed online: “Indiana Jones Fights the Communist Police: Text Adventures as a Transitional Media Form in the 1980s Czechoslovakia.”

Emulation as Game Facsimile (or Computer Edition?)

Saturday 14 May 2011, 4:24 pm   ///////  

I’ve noted here at MiT7 (Media in Transition 7) that we’re now achieved some very reasoned discussion and understanding of the virtues of different approaches to preserving and accessing computer programs. Not that we’ve solved the underlying problem, of course, but I’ve been pleased to see how our overall approach has evolved.

Instead of simply dismissing emulation, migration, or the preservation of old hardware, we’ve had some good comments about the ways in which these different techniques have proven to work well and about what their limitations are. We saw this in the plenary discussion on archives and cultural memory late this morning – audio of that conversation will be coming online. Update: Here it is.

Clara Fernandez-Vara’s presentation “Emulation as a Tool to Study Videogame History” [Abstract] developed this discussion extremely well with regard to one important tool, the emulator. She presented the idea of a game in emulation as facsimile – not the original edition, but also not the Cliff Notes that we’d have to consult otherwise. She showed us a range of work with emulators that gives reserach, teaching, and casual access to older games, which would otherwise be neglected. Saving state, speeding games up, and even playing several of them at once with the same inputs are all facilitated by emulators.

Fernandez-Vara went on to note some limitations of emulation, such as that the physical controller, often significant to play, cannot be replicated in hardware; nor can particular hardware features such as those of the Dreamcast’s VMU or of a C64 floppy drive, which would whirr when something interesting was about to happen in a text adventure. Boxes and manuals are often very important and can’t always be effectively digitized; with online games and worlds, keeping the context is even harder. Finally, emulators have to be updated for new contemporary platforms every few years.

Much of the work of building emulators, Fernandez-Vara also noted, is done by fans who work as volunteers – institutional support can help them and can allow libraries to accumulate holdings. It would be nice if current platforms (the PS3!) were more backwards-compatible, too. “Abandonware” could be officially made available for use, to clear up legal questions.

The only thing I’d add to Fernandez-Vara’s excellent discussion is a slightly different framing perspective on the emulator. The emulated game may be usefully understood as a facsimile, but I see a different way to understand the emulator itself.

My suggestion is that an emulator can be conceptualized as an edition of a computer.

The first edition would be the original piece of hardware – for the Commodore 64, the August 1982 beige keyboard-with-CPU. Actually, in the case of the Commodore 64, even keeping to the United States there are at least three different “hardware” editions, since there are three ROM revisions, one used in very early machines, one in 1982 and 1983 computers, and one that was used in Commodore 64s and in the C64 mode of the Commodore 128. The three ROM revisions are not the only things that changed during the time the Commodore 64 was manufactured and sold, but they do change the behavior of the system. I suppose these better understood as being different “printings,” since the changes are limited to the ROM. That would be an interesting discussion to pursue. Either way, though, printing or edition, there are three different sets of hardware, three hardware Commodore 64s.

When the creators of VICE (the emulator I use) produce a program that operates like a Commodore 64, I understand this as being an edition of the Commodore 64. Yes, it’s a software edition. It isn’t an official or authorized edition – only being a product of Commodore would allow for that. (There are official, authorized emulators, but this is not one.) It’s not, of course, the original and canonical edition. But it’s nevertheless an attempt to produce a system that functions like a Commodore 64, one which took a great deal of effort and is effective in many ways. Thinking of this an edition of the system seems to be a useful way to frame emulation, as it allows me to compare editions and usefully understand differences and similarities.

Computer Histories at MiT7

Saturday 14 May 2011, 2:09 pm   //////  

At Media in Transition 7 here at MIT, after a good start in the opening plenary and first break-out session, we had a fascinating session yesterday on “Computer Histories.” The papers presented were:

  • Sandra Braman presented “Designing for Instability: Internet Architecture and Constant Change.” [Abstract.]
  • Kevin Driscoll spoke on “Revisiting Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists.” [Abstract.]
  • Colleen Kaman’s talk was “‘Interop,’ Internet Commercialization, and the Early Politics of Global Computer Networks.” [Abstract.] [Full paper.]

The individual presentations were very interesting, and it was a fascinating set to hear together. Two were on the development of the Internet: Braman delved deeply into the more than 6000 Requests for Comments (RFCs) used to develop Internet protocols, doing a line-by-line discourse analysis. In these documents, which people might guess would be dry and purely technical, she found a great deal of embedded political and social thought. The complete manuscript on this topic should be done and available in a few weeks. Kaman looked a different forum for communication that was important to the dramatic expansion in Internet connectivity from 1991-1997: a trade show. Following on discussions in 1996, to deal with the Internet’s rapid growth and the competing European standard for networking, the Interop conference was formulated. It included a demo network, Shownet, where vendors could come to test products and academic and research work could connect to practical experience in a “negotiation space.”

And, there was one presentation on early microcomputing. Discoll began with the image of a book cover featuring a two-tier desk typical of HAM radio operation, declaring: “Hobby Computers Are Here!” He showed a response to Bill Gates’ famous “Open Letter to Hobbyists” and a clip from Revolution OS with an increasingly hysterical reading of the original letter – the dominant understanding of the letter today, as if it were the beginning of opposition to free software. Hobbyists learned to program on calculators and didn’t have contact with, for instance, the Internet protocol developers. In Interface, Art Childs (the editor) questions what software is and deals with many important issues in free software in replying to Gates’s letter. He concludes that a service model is best – just as GNU did later. This antecedent to free software has been overlooked, just as computer culture in much of the country (beyond Boston and Silicon Valley) have been overlooked.

I was fascinated at these two different perspectives on the formation of the Internet (finding surprising non-technical discussion in RFC and surprising technical implications of a trade show) and on the difference between the culture of hobbyist computer builders, programmers, and users and that of those involved with the development and growth of the Internet. Driscoll’s more sensitive reading of Bill Gates’s “open letter,” Braman’s deep analysis of RFCs, and Kaman’s exploration and discussion of Interop provide great models for the understanding of computer histories.

An Enigmatic Business Card

Monday 9 May 2011, 3:53 pm   /////  

TEch WArp: MIT is out of joint. Find an entry point, a placard, and play Tech Warp on your phone or on the Web. Check: A bookstore in Kendall, A mid-infinite location, A former arcade site, MIT’s main entrance, A corner lot dorm, A student street. Align MIT in time & unlock space for imagining the future.

These cards have been seen at MIT. Some say they point the way to an interactive fiction that you can play, if you search the campus and find a way in.

Congratulations, Codex Alimentarius

Tuesday 18 January 2011, 9:22 am   //  

This year’s MIT Mystery Hunt was won by my intrepid friends on team Codex Alimentarius early Sunday morning. I’m glad I had the drive (the 5.25″ drive, to be exact) to help them as they solved one of their puzzles.

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