Shebang Bash at Babycastles, July 2

Shebang Bash is a two-part event at Babycastles (137 West 14th Street, Floor 2, New York City) on Thursday, July 2.

It'll be sort of like this reading in Saint Petersburg, but with projectors.
It’ll be sort of like this reading in Saint Petersburg, but with projectors and a workshop beforehand.

The workshop (beginning at 6pm) provides an opportunity for anyone to begin developing computational poetry by modifying existing programs. Those without programming experience are particularly encouraged to attend. Workshop participants will develop, share, and discuss their work. Participants must register in advance and bring their own notebook computer running Linux, Mac OS, or Windows. (A tablet or phone will not suffice; computers are not available at the gallery.) Those who wish to can show and/or read from their work during the second part of Shebang Bash, although presenting during the reading isn’t a requirement.

The reading (beginning at 8pm) will feature work from Nick Montfort’s #! (Counterpath, 2014), modified versions of Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge,” and poems developed just previously at the workshop. Montfort will read from several pieces in #!, will screen concrete poems from the book, will discuss the project of this book and his computational poetry practice, and will answer questions.

#! (pronounced “shebang”) is a book of programs and poems, consisting of short programs in Python, Perl, and Ruby followed by examples of their output. While the book is published by a small press that specializes in poetry, part of its heritage can be traced to BASIC programming books and magazines from the 1970s and 1980s. Copies will be available for sale at Shebang Bash.

Tickets to the reading will also be available at the door on the day of the event. For workshop tickets or to get reading tickets in advance, see the Eventbrite page.

Some Houses of Dust

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.


Megawatt coverThe fruits of my National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo) labors are now online; the Megawatt generator is available as a single 350-line Python file, while the novel it deterministically generates can be obtained as a PDF, megawatt.pdf or in epub format, megawatt.epub. From the program’s docstring and from the preface to the book:

Megawatt is the title of both a computer program, the source code
to which you may be reading, and the output of this program, which in
many ways is like a standard novel and which you may instead be reading.
This note appears at the beginning of both.

The program Megawatt is based on passages from Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt, first published in 1953 but written much earlier, when Beckett was aiding the French Resistance during World War II.

The novel Megawatt leaves aside all of the more intelligible language of Beckett’s novel and is based, instead, on that which is most systematic and inscrutable. It does not just recreate these passages, although with minor changes the Megawatt code can be used to do so. In the new novel, rather, they are intensified by generating, using the same methods that Beckett used, significantly more text than is found in the already excessive Watt.

(Please note: The following information is handy if you want to, for instance, modify the program and generate a PDF or epub yourself. You don’t need to do this to read the novel. You can download it in PDF: megawatt.pdf or in epub format: megawatt.epub.)

To produce the novel in markdown format, run (a Python 2
program) with TextBlob (a text processing library) installed.

% python > megawatt.text

To produce PDF and epub documents, use pandoc:

% pandoc -V geometry:paperwidth=5.5in \
-V geometry:paperheight=8.25in \
-V geometry:margin=.7in -o megawatt.pdf \
% echo ‘% Megawatt’ > info.txt
% echo ‘% Nick Montfort’ >> info.txt
% pandoc -o megawatt.epub info.txt megawatt.text

Megawatt was written/generated for the second NaNoGenMo (National
Novel Generation Month) in November 2014, and is free software.

A Gysin & Sommerville Question

I recently released Memory Slam, a set of four reimplementation of classic text generators. I did them over in JavaScript and in Python in the hopes that people would easily be able to play around with them, modify them, and understand them better through this sort of use. I’ve seen a few cases in which this has been done already, but first off, please let me know if you’ve posted modified versions of these, as I would love to see more. The license terms do not oblige you to do so, of course, they are licensed as free software. I’m just asking.

One question that remains is exactly when the program that automatically permuted phrases was written by Ian Sommerville in collaboration with Brion Gysin. I’m very interested in finding this out, but I do have other projects that are keeping me from doing archival or even deep library research into this. After discussion on the original announcement post, I’ve made a few corrections to this sort of metadata, but I still can’t figure out when this permutation code was first written. And since I don’t know which texts are the first examples of output from these programs, I also can’t tell how the permutations were ordered by the program.

The poem “KICK THAT HABIT MAN” was written manually in 1959 and other permutation poems were broadcast by the BBC in 1960. “Around 1960” is sometimes given as a date for the program or programs. However the Honeywell Series 200 Model 120, indicated in several places as the computer used, was not released until 1965. Please let me know if you know that a different computer was used or if you know the exact year in which the permutation poem programs were written.

And I can’t post something about these friends of William S. Burroughs, on Thanksgiving, without including this little prayer:

The First Review of #!

Finally, the first review of my book #! is in. It’s from Zach Whalen. this is it, and to make it easier for you to copy, paste, and run it, here is the review that he banged out:

perl -e '{print$,=$"x($.+=.05),map{$_ x($.*.1)}qw(# !);redo}'

By the way, please come to my reading tomorrow at MIT (E15 atrium) at 6:30pm if you’re in the area. It will be fun!

World Clock in Polish Reviewed (in Polish)

I announced the Polish translation of World Clock recently; here is, as far as I know, the first review of it – which is also the first review of World Clock in any language. It will appear in the magazine Fragile.


Nick Montfort, Zegar światowy, tłum. Z jęz. ang. przełożył Piotr Marecki, Kraków, Korporacja Ha!art, 2014.

Ciekawie przedstawiono w książce autentyczne przemówienie, w którym narrator mówi głosami innych osób. Autor nie tylko opowiada zdarzenie, ale pisząc, że tak było zwraca też uwagę na to, jak do tego doszło: „Ashgabat. Jest prawie 05:04. W pewnym przytulnym schronieniu sporej postury mężczyzna, o imieniu Jakub, czyta kanarkową umowę. Siada prosto”. Kategorii narratora szybko zmienia „punkt widzenia”.

Forma książki to proza ​​poetycka z elementami pamiętnika, po prostu chronologia uczucia. Za to motyw napisania tekstu przypomina „travelogue”, ponieważ zawiera krótkie notatki z podróży. W składni poetyckiej odgrywa ważną rolę elipsa (opuszczanie słów, a nawet całych zdań) : „Samara. Jest około 12:39. W pewnym miłym miejscu zamieszkania średniej postury mężczyzna, nazywany Liang, czyta nieskazitelnie czystą kartkę. Całkowicie się wyłącza”. Ograniczenia krótkimi wyrażeniami wymuszają na czytelniku wymyślanie sytuacji, to jest oryginalną interakcję między autorem a czytelnikiem. W ten sposób autor zaprasza do dialogu.

Struktura tekstu to mozaika, czytanie jest „rozdrobnione”. Możesz czytać książkę zarówno klasycznie, od początku do końca, jak też chaotycznie, otwierając ją na dowolnej stronie, co jednak nie powoduje uszkodzenia jej koncepcji. Styl pisania jest podobny do „nowego dziennikarstwa” (Tom Wulf, USA). Zmiana perspektywy (tzw. „kameleon”) to jedna z najbardziej interesujących i sprytnych technik. W ten sposób za pośrednictwem narratora autor gra z czytelnikiem. W związku z tym ważne jest również, aby pamiętać o zmienianiu „punktu widzenia”, o patrzeniu z cudzej perspektywy i opisywaniu wydarzeń postrzeganych przez różne osoby. Postaci to w Asmari, to w Tunisi. Postaciami są raz kobiety, raz mężczyźni. Zmiana płci i zmiana miejsca to ciekawe elementy gry autora. Ważne jest, aby zrozumieć, że podstawową zasadą dziennikarstwa jest prawdą, a Nick Montfort ignoruje wszelkie zasady i dlatego jest inny.

Jego tekst – ciągły wiersz wolny, który ma różne ciągi długości, bez rymów, ale z rytmem:

Port-au-Prince. Jest dokładnie 00:15. W pewnej schludnej, choć
niczym się niewyróżniającej, sadybie wyższa niż większość
staruszka, mająca na imię Fatma, czyta nieskazitelnie czystą
umowę. Drapie się w ucho.



Will compounding words lead to compounding interest? Check out my word/name generator, Upstart, and see what you think.

Upstart, a company name generator

As always, you should feel free to develop a modified generator or name your company one of these terms.