The reason why I’m writing about [Six Memos for the Next Millennium] is that while I think that they are great memos about writing, the more I think about them, the more they apply to programming. Which is a weird coincidence, because they were supposed to be memos for writers in the next millennium, and programming is kind of a new form of writing that’s becoming more important in this millennium. Being a game developer, I also can’t help but apply these to game design. So I will occasionally talk about games in here, but I’ll try to keep it mostly about programming.
Posts tagged writing
The loss of Mark Fisher, aged just 48, has not just left family, friends and colleagues shocked and devastated; it leaves a gaping crater in modern intellectual life. The poet and writer Alex Niven, with whom he worked at Repeater books, described him as “by some distance the best writer in Britain” and, as a flood of tributes on social media have come appended with links to his work, whether on k-punk, his much-read blog, interviews he conducted for The Wire or extracts from his very latest book The Weird And The Eerie, that is a judgment with which it is hard to disagree.
The evolution of emoji is impressive and fascinating, but it makes for an uncomfortable contrast when other pictorial writing systems – the most commonly-used writing systems on the planet – are on the chopping block. We have an unambiguous, cross-platform way to represent “PILE OF POO” (💩), while we’re still debating which of the 1.2 billion native Chinese speakers deserve to spell their own names correctly.
Twine is a tool that lets you make point-and-click games that run in a web browser—what a lot of people refer to as “choose your own adventure” or CYOA games. It’s pretty easy to make a game, which means that the Twine community is fairly big and diverse.There are a lot of tools that you can use to do information architecture and to sketch out processes. Visio, PowerPoint, Keynote, or Omnigraffle, for example. In the programming world, some people use UML tools to draw pictures of how a program should operate, and then turn that into code, and a new breed of product prototyping apps are blurring the line between design and code, too. But it has always bummed me out that when you draw a picture on a computer it is, for the most part, just a picture. Why doesn’t the computer make sense of those boxes and arrows for you? Why is it so hard to turn a picture of a web product into a little, functional website?This is a huge topic — why are most digital documents not presented as dynamic programs? (One good recent exploration of the subject is Bret Victor’s “Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction.”) And in some ways the Twine interface is a very honest testing and prototyping environment, because it is so good at modeling choices (as in, choose your own adventure).
Purposefully illegible text from 12th & 21st centuries: A is unreadable by humans; B unreadable by digital scanners
Weirdly enough, science fiction is not the best lens through which to examine science fiction. In the 80s, critic Tom LeClair came up with an alternative category for all the weird literary novels that veered into speculative territory: the systems novel. These books pick apart how the systems that keep society chugging along work: politics, economics, sex and gender dynamics, science, ideologies – all can be explored through fiction, especially experimental fiction. LeClair applied this tag specifically to Don DeLillo, but it can be expanded more widely: think Thomas Pynchon, Margaret Atwood, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan and Umberto Eco, among others. That may seem like an eclectic bunch to unite under one banner, but the systems novel is ultimately a space for ambitious thinkers, the ones who want to weave complex thoughts into a tastier parcel than some impenetrable academic tome.
Five years ago, Matthew Kirschenbaum, an English professor at the University of Maryland, realized that no one seemed to know who wrote the first novel with the help of a word processor. He’s just published the fruit of his efforts: Track Changes, the first book-length story of word processing. It is more than a history of high art. Kirschenbaum follows how writers of popular and genre fiction adopted the technology long before vaunted novelists did. He determines how their writing habits and financial powers changed once they moved from typewriter to computing. And he details the unsettled ways that the computer first entered the home. (When he first bought a computer, for example, the science-fiction legend Isaac Asimov wasn’t sure whether it should go in the living room or the study.)
The typewritersof famous authors.
Editing Finnegans Wake
This fracturing of context is, I suspect, peculiar to these early decades of online writing. It’s possible that, in the future, webmentions and the like may heal that up to some extent. But everything from the 90s to today is going to remain mostly broken in that respect. Most of what we said and did had ephemerality long before apps started selling us ephemeral nature as a positive advertising point. Possibly no other generation threw so many words at such velocity into a deep dark well of ghosts.
Writing from photographs seems as though it should produce the same effect, sharpening the way we convert experiences and events into prose. I suspect that it also changes not only what we write but how we write it. It’s no coincidence that the rise of the selfie coincides with the age of autobiography.
I hate Microsoft Word. I want Microsoft Word to die. I hate Microsoft Word with a burning, fiery passion. I hate Microsoft Word the way Winston Smith hated Big Brother. Our reasons are, alarmingly, not dissimilar.… Microsoft Word is a tyrant of the imagination, a petty, unimaginative, inconsistent dictator that is ill-suited to any creative writer’s use. Worse: it is a near-monopolist, having nearly 80 percent of the word processing field to itself. Such dominance has brutalized the minds of software developers to such an extent that few can imagine a word processing tool other than as a shallow imitation of the Redmond Behemoth. So what’s wrong with it?
Since the first stirrings of the Nieman Foundation’s narrative writing program nearly 20 years ago, the staff has tended a treasure trove of resource material devoted to excellence in journalistic storytelling. Much of that material went online first via the Nieman Narrative Digest and, in 2009, here at Nieman Storyboard. Storyboard 75 represents some of the most popular posts* from our archive so far.
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The 320-page novel, called “True Love,” is a variation on Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 classic “Anna Karenina” but written in the style of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. It is based on 17 famous literary works that were uploaded onto the program. Within 72 hours, the computer generated its novel about true love.
RICH AND SEEMINGLY BOUNDLESS as the creative arts seem to be, each is filtered through the narrow biological channels of human cognition. Our sensory world, what we can learn unaided about reality external to our bodies, is pitifully small. Our vision is limited to a tiny segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, where wave frequencies in their fullness range from gamma radiation at the upper end, downward to the ultralow frequency used in some specialized forms of communication. We see only a tiny bit in the middle of the whole, which we refer to as the “visual spectrum.” Our optical apparatus divides this accessible piece into the fuzzy divisions we call colors. Just beyond blue in frequency is ultraviolet, which insects can see but we cannot. Of the sound frequencies all around us we hear only a few. Bats orient with the echoes of ultrasound, at a frequency too high for our ears, and elephants communicate with grumbling at frequencies too low.
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