18 Mar

Re: Re-networking House of Leaves, AMillionBluePages.net and Finding an Audience

in code, DSI, house of leaves, pedagogy
Your phrases and their respondent images still keep within me. The cold water lapping at your ankles, threatening to pull you down into “Freezing meadows stretched to the horizon like a million blue pages”

by Anthony Seippel

This epigraph is a quote from House of Leaves, a book in which a complex and maze-like self-referentiality unpacks the indexicality of the sign and the reliabality of signification. It is a book where authenticity, voice, and context matter, so some context for this epigraph may help at least orient the types of inquiry that a reading into this book proposes. Page 608 resides in Appendix II, section E, a crucial paratext which readers may arrive at through one of at least two routes: either by following the Editor's advice of footnote 78 (on page 72), or by arriving simply (though not so simply) as a subsequent to Appendix II-D. This is not an insignificant choice -- the route a reader chooses stands to significantly alter her interpretation of the intervening 514 pages -- but as summaries of the novel's fictive conceit and ontological implications are readily available, I'll simply point out that the quote above comes in a letter from Pelafina Lievré, the barely-mentioned but always-present mother of Johnny Truant, whose editing, compilation, and Kinbotean commentary frame one narrative level of the novel, an academic criticim on a documentary film about a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside. Johnny's Appendix includes his father's obituary (Appendix II-D) and his mother's letters, in which she is responding to and occasionally quoting from letters she has supposedly received from her son. Whether she has actually received these letters is unclear because Johnny does not provide them as such and because Pelafina, writing from a mental institution, is a tragically unreliable narrator.

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21 Jan

Lexia to Perplexia (2000 - 2013)

in elit, javascript, jquery, lexia to perplexia, mla14

In January 2014, I traveled to Chicago to participate in the annual Convention of the Modern Language Association. There, I participated in a roundtable, Session 583: Electronic Literature After Flash, where I delivered a brief presentation on Talan Memmott's Lexia to Perplexia. I wanted to talk about how this work has stopped functioning in some ways, but rather than focusing on and lamenting its obsolescence, I try to think about it as evolving in meaning as the technologically it relies on has changed. The text of my remarks is below, slightly edited and enhanced for the web.

October 17, 2013. Microsoft publishes version 11 of its Internet Explorer web browser, including in its release notes a statement that the document.all mode will no longer be supported and that websites relying on this feature should update their code. As a consequence, unless its code is modified, Lexia to Perplexia -- Talan Memmott's canonical work of second generation electronic literature will no longer function in current browsers as it once did.

Lexia to Perplexia, demonstrating functionality circa 2000 with Netscape 4.06[animated GIF; click to view] Lexia to Perplexia, approximating full functionality (with Netscape 4.06)
Lexia to Perplexia's functionality in a contemporary browser (Chrome 32.0.1700.76)[animated GIF; click to view] Lexia to Perplexia's functionality in a contemporary browser (Chrome 32.0.1700.76)

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11 Nov

Using Google Spreadsheets for a generated text Twitter bot

in bot, tool, twitter

I have been interested in Twitter bots for some time now, but when I’ve talked about bots publicly, I’ve always had to hem and haw when students or other motivated parties ask how they can make bots of their own. It is unfortunately the case that even simple bots pose a significant barrier of access for many would-be botmakers whereby, for many, the basic requirements of some programming skill and a server on which to run bot code stops them right out of the gate.

So I’m trying to do something about that. I’ve put together a way to get a simple random text-generating bot running without the need to write any code or have access to a web server. It’s based on some code from Amit Agarwal’s DearAssistant bot, but instead of a responsive bot that queries Wolfram-Alpha, mine uses a controlled vocabulary that its owner builds in the spreadsheet. Here, it randomly combines text chunks in a manner similar to Darius Kazemi’s GenGen, so producing interesting and legible output requires some careful planning.

Now, this bot does have some limitations.

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16 Jul

Twitter bots, Markov chains and "large slices of clarity"

in bot, code, house of leaves, mame, markov, pelafina, twitter

If you’ve read Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, then you are no doubt familiar with the madwoman in its attic, Pelafina Lièvre. Her letters to her son Johnny add one more voice to this already polyvocal text, and though her words reside in Appendix IIE, her melancholy and madness encompass a space much broader than the backmatter to which it is relegated. The echoes and redirections of her voice wind through every other page — so much so that even after reading and re-reading, I still find Pelafina’s letters opening new doors between passages once familiar in isolation, now made strange through the lurking affinity of a phrase or two.

Twitter is also a domain rich in polyphonal textuality, and if you’ve spent much time there at all, you may have encountered an account or two that you knew or suspected to be fake. Some of these are parodies, some are created in order to boost a paying client’s follower count.

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09 Mar

STS13: Videogame Typography and its Antecedents

in a is for atari, conference, history, typography

This past week, I traveled to and presented a paper at the Society for Textual Scholarship. Although I’ve been interested in and working with Textual Studies for some time, this was my first time at the STS conference, and more than anything else, I found it an extraordinary learning experience.

Ironically, STS13 was just a few blocks away from SCMS 2013 — my normal Spring conference — but I think I made the right choice. Judging from the tweets coming out of SCMS, there were a lot of great panels showcasing some excellent game scholarship, but lately I’ve been feeling a need to contextualize my work a bit differently, especially since I’m in the beginning phases of a larger research project (more on that later). So STS was a good place to start building that foundation.

As is my custom, I’ll post the text of my paper below after just a few more words of explanation.

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06 Jan

A Reflection on Teaching with UMWDomains

in domains, pedagogy, umw

Over the past fall and the summer semesters, I’ve been participating in an exciting pilot program at my university called UMW Domains (or sometimes, “A Domain of One’s Own”). The basic idea is to give students their own domain names and some webhosting, which they can then use to construct their digital identity during their time at UMW. It’s an alternative to off-the-shelf eportfolio solutions, and it’s a powerful way to approach digital competency, with the full rhetorical stakes of identity formation. What follows isn’t intended to be a complete run down of this project. For that, read Tim Owen’s blog entry from earlier last year, or some of the coverage or mentions in Wired, Inside Higher Ed, etc. Instead, what follows is a specific reflection on my own experiences.

For several years now in my Writing through Media class, I’ve been requiring students to purchase their own domain registration, and among its pros and cons, setting up a website on a personal domain is a process that has the power to be transformative for many people. I really believe this.

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03 Jan

OCR and the Vestigial Aesthetics of Machine Vision

in conference, mla, mla13, ocra

Today, I presented a paper at the 2013 MLA Convention as part of a special session on Reading the Invisible and Unwanted in Old and New Media along with Lori Emerson, Paul Benzon and Mark Sample.

My talk was about the font OCR-A, and it’s part of some research I’m doing as a bridge between my dissertation and a current fellowship project that should turn into a book.

My slides are a PDF, which I’ll embed first below. Again, this is ongoing research and thinking, so I certainly appreciate comments, questions, suggestions.

My paper today is about a typeface and font, OCR-A, [slide - block] and the link that exists between its contemporary uses in design back to the context from which it originated in the 1960s.

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27 Nov

Using "Passage" to Think about Cultural Privilege

in critical code studies, gender, passage, pedagogy, privilege, race

In many of my classes, I’ve have an opportunity to discuss the poetic, sublime, cliche and now inevitable Passage, a game well-known for being well-known as an art game (or artgame). As a game or game-like thing about life and death, its approachable style and memento mori theme are sufficiently affecting that I find most students tend to at least take it seriously. Whether they find it depressing, pretentious, provocative or cliche, most students tend to have something to say about Passage the next day in class.

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11 Nov

ENGL 386 The Graphic Novel

in engl386, graphic novel, teaching, textbooks

My last entry was about a new class; this one is about an older class, but since the material is continually evolving, I thought it made sense to write briefly about it here as well. ENGL 386: The Graphic Novel has undergone a few iterations, but in its current form, it’s an upper-level literature class, intended for English Majors and meeting one of their requirements for 5 literatures on any topic. As I think the title suggest, “The Graphic Novel” is somewhat formal in focus, considering the elements of the comic medium as they are developed through the graphic novel genre.

The assignments routinely involve close analysis of comic pages, one large-scale collaborative research project, and one collaborative creative project in the form of a web-based graphic text — often, students do this last one as a “webcomic,” which we can host at UMWBlogs.org using ComicPress.

Choosing novels for this class is always difficult. You can see the full list of every text I’ve used for this class here in my Zotero library.

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08 Nov

A New Course: ENGL 251AA: Games and Culture

in gamecult, games and culture, spring 2013, teaching

Since I seem to have re-awoken my blog, I thought I’d take some time to use it to publicize my Spring 2013 courses. One is brand new and the other is (like most course, truthfully) in a continual state of reinvention, so it might be interesting to look at what my plans are for now. I’m teaching two courses, with two sections of each, and this blog entry is about the new one: ENGL 251AA: Games and Culture.

In our department, 251 is a “special topics” designation, so we add suffixes for each new topic being taught. It’s a “general elective”, meeting an “Arts, Literature and Performance: Appreciation” (ALPA) credit, but offering no specific benefit for an English Major. My experience with 251s has been that the enrollment demographic typically includes a pretty good balance among majors and classes represented, though perhaps with some skew toward English and Computer Science students, owing to my tendency to the specific of my topics.

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