Some Houses of Dust

Monday 1 December 2014, 9:37 pm   /////  

Zach Whalen pointed out that it would probably be interesting to compare the reimplementations of A House of Dust that he did early this year and that I did more recently. Whalen’s work to reimplement historical systems is really excellent, by the way, and I in fact showed his animated GIF of “Kick that Habit Man” when I premiered Memory Slam, including a workalike of Gysin and Sommerville’s program and my version of the Knowles and Tenney poem, at NYU ITP’s Code Poetry Slam.

While I’m not going to go deep into code-level analysis of these – that’s a better task for some other code scholar and code warrior – I will make a few high-level points about the two versions, to at least cover some of the obvious differences.

My implementation is much more flat, for better or worse.

Flat in terms of files; all the CSS and JavaScript used by my implementation is packed into the one HTML page, so it’s easy to save it to your desktop, change the file around quickly, and see the result. However, that’s not a very Enterprise way to go about it; Whalen’s version reflects more typical programming practices in that regard, linking to a standard CSS file used throughout the site and using JavaScript stashed in .js files.

My version is also flat also in terms of appearance. While I present the plain monochrome all-caps stanzas scrolling up, Whalen gives a Janus-like look backwards to the pinfeed fanfold paper on which the original poem was published and forwards to the world of social media, via the “Share” button. This is a visual reminder of how the original prinout looked (although it did have four spaces of indentation rather than one!) and an indication of how its output can be part of today’s systems of sharing. I chose to use a proportional font because the monospace font seems too austere and too severe of a historical reminder to me, but I’m glad there is Whalen’s monospace alternative as well. That the lines in Whalen’s version appear a bit at a time is also a nice printerly touch.

It’s an empirical question as to whose version is the most easily modifiable and remixable. One can change the strings around quite easily in both versions to attain new versions of the classic program, after all the files are obtained. I would guess (and hope) that my version might have the edge in providing this sort of flexibility to those exploring the poem through programming, whether new or experienced. If so, that might make it useful in this particular regard and make up for the less historicized appearance and less sharable output.

There was another point to my implementation, which was that it was done more or less uniformly with the other three pieces included in my Memory Slam. So, a new programmer working with any one of those would be more easily able to continue to work with other programs in the set.

That’s something of a start to the discussion of these. I certainly welcome further comments and comparisons.

Z-Machine Implemented in Hardware

Sunday 30 November 2014, 11:25 pm   ////  

It happened to some extent with LISP, which certainly started out as a software programming language, and the LISP machines, which supported the language with hardware features.

Now, the Z-Machine, which was probably the first commercial virtual machine, developed in 1979 by Joel Berez and Marc Blank for Infocom, has been implemented in hardware using an FPGA. The Verilog code is available, so you can make your own if you like.

It all goes to show you … there is no software.

A Great Platform Studies Answer

Sunday 30 November 2014, 3:27 pm   ///////  

To how software keeps getting better and graphics get better-looking on the same old consoles.

Note that for the Atari VCS / Atari 2600, only answers #3 and #4 apply, since developers didn’t use “engines” or even compilers, instead writing their code in assembly langauge. (Presumably the assemblers didn’t improve much over the years.) Also, the VCS had no firmware, flashable or otherwise; although refined versions of the hardware were produced over the years, such as the Atari 2600 Jr., such systems were optimized for cheaper manufacturing and didn’t improve performance.

Still, there are important continuities between the answer to this question for the VCS and for modern-day consoles. And the answer is not obvious, since companies and the press usually emphasize the improvements in hardware that are made between generations of a console.

News Flash: Flash News!

Saturday 29 November 2014, 3:27 pm   /////  

There’s a nice article up at The Atlantic about Flash, written by the two authors of the new Platform Studies book, Anastasia Salter and John Murray. Their new book, I’ll remind you, is Flash: Building the Interactive Web.

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.

A System 5 Unix Experience for the Z80

Wednesday 5 November 2014, 12:42 pm   //////  

Alan Cox has just released Fuzix, a Unix-like OS for the Z80. The kernel runs in 40kb. Designed for portability, it’s been compiled on the 6502 and 6509, but further work will be needed to fully support those processors.

Apple II: Save 2 Chips, Get 2 Grays

Saturday 1 November 2014, 5:10 pm   ////  
I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it’s 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.

That’s Woz, in 2014.

A Platform Studies Book: Flash

Tuesday 16 September 2014, 10:03 pm   ///////  

I’m delighted that Flash: Building the Interactive Web by Anastasia Salter and John Murray has just been published by the MIT Press.

Flash: Building the Interactive Web

This is an excellent study of an influential software platform – our first such study in the Platform Studies series – and it both traces the history of the platform, its development and the contexts in which it arose, as it also covers many famous and representative Flash productions.

Mark Sample writes of it, “Combining historical research, software studies, and a deep appreciate for digital creativity, Salter and Murray dramatically explore Flash—whose very ubiquity has heretofore made it transparent to media scholars—as the defining technology for a generation of artists, storytellers, game designers, and Web 2.0 companies.”

Dene Grigar calls it “a must-read for all scholars and artists of digital media,” while Aaron Delwiche names it “the best and most provocative work I’ve encountered about emerging technologies since the publication of The Cyborg Handbook.

Flash is still with us, but Salter and Murray nevertheless take up the difficult task of providing the historical context for this platform’s creation, from the days before it supported general-purpose programming through its dominance on the Web. The relevance of this book is not limited to a particular product (now, but not always, an Adobe product). It extends to the Web to interactive computing overall.

Trope Tank Annual Report 2013-2014

I direct a lab at MIT called The Trope Tank. This is a lab for research, teaching, and creative production, located in building 14 (where the Hayden Library is also housed), in room 14N-233. Its mission is to develop new poetic practices and new understandings of digital media by focusing on the material, formal, and historical aspects of computation and language.

Trope Tank computers at work

The lab’s website has just been updated with some new information about our two major creative/research projects, Slant and Renderings. Earlier this academic year, a hardware and software catalog of Trope Tank resources was developed by Erik Stayton with contributions from Sylvia Tomayko-Peters.

As usual, the Trope Tanks hosts the monthly meetings of the local interactive fiction club, the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction. Also, the Trope Tank’s series of digital writing presentations, Purple Blurb, continued this year; I was on leave in Fall 2013, but the series was back and hosted four excellent presentations in Spring 2014. See those sites for more information about PR-IF and Purple Blurb.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since our last annual report in May 2013:

New Works: Creative projects released.

  • Nanowatt, single-loading (3.5 KB) demoscene production for the VIC-20. By Nick Montfort, Michael C. Martin, and Patsy Baudoin as Nom de Nom, McMartin, and Baud 1. Shown and awarded 2nd place on 30 November 2013 at Récursion, Montréal.
  • World Clock, computer generated novel with source code by Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 30 November 2013, in print at the Harvard Book Store.
  • Round, digital poem by Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 14 August 2013 by New Binary Press.
  • Duels — Duets, digital poem. By Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 14 August 2013 by New Binary Press.
  • The Deletionist, digital poetry system. By Nick Montfort, Amaranth Borsuk, and Jesper Juul. 2011–2013. Premiered at E-Poetry 2013 in London and published on the Web.
  • Three Rails Live, an interactive video installation. By Rod Coover, Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. 2011–2013. Documentation published on the web in bleuOrange 7, 2013.

Trope Reports: We have issued two technical reports.

Exhibit & Museum Event:

  • Second Fridays: How People Connect, Presentation of Commodore 64 BASIC programming, Piotr Marecki and Erik Stayton, and event at the MIT Museum, February 14, 2014
  • Programs at an Exhibition, Nick Montfort & Páll Thayer, an exhibit at the Boston Cyberats Gallery, March 6-16, 2014

Presentations:

  • Marecki, Piotr, “Sticker literature or augmented reality literature,” David Foster Wallace Conference, Department of English, Illinois State University, May 23, 2014 
  • Marecki, Piotr, “The Road to Assland and early Polish Text Adventure Games,” People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, The Trope Tank, MIT, May 13, 2014
  • Montfort, Nick, “Combinatory Media and Possibilities for Documentary,” OpenDoc Lab, MIT, May 8, 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Polish Literature in the Digital Age,” MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing, May 7, 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Textual Caves: Expanding the Literary Writing Space,” Shapeshifters: Recycling and Literature, Department of Comparative Literature, Yale University, April 25-26 2014
  • Montfort, Nick “Exploratory Programming,” first of four major topics for the online Critical Code Studies Working Group 2014, 23 February-23 March, 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Aesthetic Obfuscated Code,” Symposium on Obfusctation, New York University, 15 February 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Ten Cases of Computational Poetics,” UCLA, M/ELT, 17 January 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Computational Poetic Models,” University of Southern California, SCA Complex, 16 January 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Polish Literature in the Digital Age,” IAP talk, MIT, January 21, 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Computational Literary Models for Fun and Poetics,” Concordia University, Montréal, 10 January 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Scaling Up Literary Models with Curveship and Slant,” 8th Mexican International Colloquium on Computational Creativity, UNAM, Mexico City, 15 November 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Literary Models,” 8th Mexican International Colloquium on Computational Creativity, UAM Cuajimalpa, Mexico City, 14 November 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Electronic Literature and Other Forms of Popular Creative Computing.” Keynote address at Writing Literature, Reading Society, Municipal Public Library, Kraków, 29 October 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “10 PRINT,” MIT CSAIL Programming Language & Software Engineering retreat, MIT Endicott House, 21 May 2013
  • Montfort, Nick, “Hardware and Emulation to Access Creative Computing,” Preserving.exe Summit, Library of Congress, 20 May 2013
  • Baudoin, Patsy and Nick Montfort, “10 PRINT,” Writing Across the Curriculum, MIT, 17 May 2013

Translations: Andrew Campana translated “The Two” by Nick Montfort into Japanese. Piotr Marecki translated Montfort’s “Lede,” “The Two,” and World Clock (via translation of the novel-generating program) into Polish, and, with Aleksandra Małecka, translated “Between Page and Screen” by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse into Polish. These will be placed online when revisions are complete.

Teaching:

  • The Trope Tank hosted a visit by The Word Made Digital, 21W.764, during Spring 2014.
  • “Exploratory Programming Workshop” by Nick Montfort, New York University, 14 February 2014.
  • Commodore 64 BASIC Workshop by Nick Montfort, offered for MIT’s Independent Activities Period, 29 January 2014.
  • “Workshop in Exploratory Programming” by Nick Montfort, UAM Cuajimalpa, Mexico City, two meetings on 11-12 November 2013.

Upcoming: In Milwaukee this month Trope Tank researchers will present at (int)7 (Intelligent Narrative Technologies 7) and the Electronic Literature Organization Conference. The presentation will be “Expressing the Narrator’s Expectations” by Montfort and Stayton at (int)7, and at ELO in the conference paper sessions “The Formation of the Field of Electronic Literature in Poland” by Marecki, “Computational Editions, Ports, and Remakes of ‘First Screening’ and ‘Karateka'” by Stayton and Montfort, and “New Novel Machines: Nanowatt and World Clock” by Montfort. The ELO Media Arts show will include “The Postulate to Hyperdescribe the World” by Marecki and Aleksandra Małecka and “Round” by Montfort. Andrew Campana’s work will be part of the Gallery of E-Lit 1st Encounters.

Many papers and even some books developed with Trope Tank support are forthcoming, but instead of trying to enumerate those, I’ll list them next year, when they have appeared.

Bitcoin for your Warhol!

Thursday 24 April 2014, 12:59 pm   ////////  

Thanks to Golan Levin’s “atypical, anti-disciplinary and inter-institutional” FRSCI lab, the CMU Computer Club, and ROM hacking bit-boy Cory Archangel, several instances of previously unknown visual artwork, done by Andy Warhol on the Amiga 1000 in 1985, have been recovered.

CA$H for your WARHOL sign

Warhol’s use of this classic multimedia system is but one of the many surprising, rich aspects of Amiga history that are carefully detailed by Jimmy Maher in The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga. An early topic is the launch of the first Amiga computer at the Lincoln Center, with Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry in attendance and with Warhol producing a portrait of her on the machine during the festivities. Maher also writes about how Warhol’s attitude toward the computer was actually a bit retrograde in some ways: Rather than thinking of the screen as a first-class medium for visual art, he wanted better printers that could produce work in a more conventional medium. The discussion of Warhol’s involvement is but one chapter (actually, less than one chapter) in a book that covers the Amiga’s hardware development, technical advances, relationship to image editing and video processing work, and lively demos — from the early, famous “Boing Ball” demo to the productions of the demoscene. The Future Was Here is the latest book in the Platform Studies series, which I edit with Ian Bogost.

The Future Was Here cover

With these images surfacing now, after almost 30 years, the age-old question “soup or art?” is awakened in us once again. Do we need to print these out to enjoy them? To sell them for cash? Did Warhol invent what is now thought of as the “MS Paint” style, back on the Amiga 1000 in 1985?

Amiga soup can

Note, finally, that there is a detailed report on the recovery project provided in PDF form.

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.

Those Persistent Mainframes

Monday 7 April 2014, 12:11 pm   ///////  

Mickey Rooney is no longer with us, but the mainframe computer is. The Register writes up the 50th anniversary of IBM’s System 360, finishing by describing the current zEnterprise line of IBM mainframes. The line was updated just last year.

If this anniversary encourages you to hit the books about the System 360, I suggest IBM’s 360 and Early 370 Systems by Emerson W. Pugh, Lyle R. Johnson and John H. Palmer.

The C64 in the NYT

Saturday 22 February 2014, 10:46 pm   /////  

My colleague Myke pointed out this New York Times column about the Commodore 64, which waxes nostalgic and also points out how the computer opened up possibilities for new programmers to explore and learn. Myke also pointed out, quite aptly, that the photo, which is supposed to be of a Commodore 64, is actually of a 1541 disk drive. Alas, the Grey Lady, in reference to the rainbow-logoed computer, nods…

It’s a Good Word. Maine.

Monday 18 November 2013, 11:03 pm   ///////  

Just back from several travels, I’ve found that there’s a video record online of me, Patsy Baudoin, and John Bell presenting 10 PRINT at the University of Maine way back in April of this year. In our presentation, we answer questions and discuss the origin of the 10 PRINT project and the nature of our collaboration. And I do some livecoding. Pretty often, actually.

Please note that 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 is available as a beautiful MIT Press book, designed by our co-author Casey Reas, ans also as a free PDF.

Here’s the video of our University of Maine presentation on the “10 PRINT” program and book.

Media Archaeology Lab’s New Media

Tuesday 16 July 2013, 4:53 pm   /////  

Lori Emerson has been running an excellent facility at the University of Colorado at Boulder that is a kindred lab, and an inspiration, to my Trope Tank here at MIT.

This is the Media Archaeology Lab, which has recently launched a new site (with blog) and has also begun (as a lab) to tweet.

The Colorado lab, like the Trope Tank, offers working systems from decades past to support research, teaching, and artistic/literary work. The MAL is ahead of us in several ways, for instance by providing extensive information about its holdings in the form of an inventory. They even have a NeXT cube, like we do – although I think the retail price estimate on that page is missing a digit. The Trope Tank only has such information on placards placed on the hardware itself, as discussed in our technical report on the setup of the lab, but perhaps we’ll look to better publish what we’ve gathered here in months to come. I hope the MAL’s progress continues and that I’ll get to visit before too long.

Is that a Computer in Your Browser?

Wednesday 5 June 2013, 9:56 am   //////  

Two online emulator initiatives I found out about at the Library of Congress recently, at the Preserving.exe Summit:

The Olive Executable Archive, which originated at CMU and which is not open to the public yet, provides Linux VMs running emulators via one’s browser. When I saw it demonstrated, I was told it worked only on Linux, but that the team planned to have it working on other platforms soon.

JavaScript MESS, a port of the famous multi-emulator to allow it to run in a browser window. It’s not complete, but some of it is working and the code’s on GitHub. This one is an initiative of Jason Scott’s, with a great deal of work contributed by others.

Trope Tank Annual Report 2012-2013

Trope Tank home computers

I direct a lab at MIT called The Trope Tank. This is a lab for research, teaching, and creative production, located in building 14 (where the Hayden Library is also housed), in room 14N-233. Its mission is to develop new poetic practices and new understandings of digital media by focusing on the material, formal, and historical aspects of computation and language.

Trope Tank Atari VCS

The Trope Tank is a physical facility with unusual material computing resources from the past few decades – as well as places for researchers to sit and work with their more modern computers. The facility and materials provide for visits from classes, discussions with visiting researchers, and support for creative and research projects. The lab space continues to house the monthly meetings of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, the Boston Area’s local IF group. Trope Tank equipment has supported talks this year at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery, Microsoft Research in Redmond, UCLA, the University of Maine, and other venues.

This academic year, two Trope Tank affiliates are becoming faculty members:

  • Clara Fernández-Vara, who took part in the Tools for the Telling project back in 2007-2008 and has been a visiting scholar at the Trope Tank this year, is joining the faculty of NYU’s Game Center at the end of summer as an associate arts professor.

  • Amaranth Borsuk, who was guest organizer of the Purple Blurb series in 2011-2012 and is a current collaborator on The Deletionist, is joining the faculty of The University of Washington, Bothell as an assistant professor. She has been a senior lecturer there.

The Trope Tank’s series of technical reports, called the “Trope Report” series, now features five items and is archived in MIT’s DSpace.

There have been two major research projects (both with artistic aspects) and one creative, poetic project this past year:

  • The book 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 was published last year by the MIT Press (and is also available for free download as a PDF). Various subsets of the ten authors have been doing presentations related to the book in many different contents.

  • The story generation project Slant was initiated and the first paper was accepted at ICCC 2013. It will be presented there, in Sydney, next month. The project involves integrating or developing new work based on decades of research by Nick Montfort, Rafael Pérez y Pérez, and Fox Harrell; those three and Andrew Campana have collaborated to initiate the project.

  • The Deletionist is a current poetic project by Amaranth Borsuk, Jesper Juul, and Nick Montfort which will premiere at E-Poetry next month at Kingston University, London.

The Trope Tank will continue to support research, creative work, and teaching this summer and beyond. This is a laboratory to allow people to work with material computing systems; while it is not an archive, museum, or library, and does not offer all that such institutions do, it does provide for hands-on access to the history of creative computing. If you are interested in using the systems and materials in the Trope Tank, please contact Nick.

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