when the punch cards were placed in the hopper

About this work

Beginning with punch cards, a punchcard reader, an IBM 1130 computer, Fortran, and space exploration in the late 1960's, Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems is a virtual reading machine, created/recreated with JavaScript in a HTML/CSS structure and read "on-the-fly". The narrative unfolds along paths that each reader chooses, but because the paths themselves are aleatory, the way that computer mediation controls the random production of texts echoes the uncontrollable situations and technological shifts that shape the life of a woman programmer.

The gap between the acceptance of women programmers who worked during World War II and in the decades after World War II, and the much larger acceptance of men in the field in the 21st century is intrinsic to this narrative of one woman's journey from late 1960's information systems programmer in the aerospace industry in Colorado; to aerospace coder in Silicon Valley; to community network conferencing system programmer.

In "When the Punch Cards Were Placed in the Punch Card Hopper", file one of Arriving Simultaneously, a seemingly fractured life -- of living in the mountains and at the same time working for an aerospace company -- is played and replayed with icons and generative arrays on one electronic manuscript page (and one accompanying "kaleidoscope" page). When Diana goes with Roland to Silicon Valley in "the surface of the system", generative arrays divulge a more complicated life in a radically different environment. And yet, Diana's life in Silicon Valley is also accessible by exploring only one page. To create these surprising electronic manuscripts, both Diana's Colorado life and environment and her Silicon Valley life and environment mirror the life of an early aerospace information retrieval programmer, who later in life sets out on a journey to bring community networking to poverty-line rural and urban communities

Fine-tune-mirroring the "clickbait" Internet environment in which it resides, a visual icon interface gives Arriving Simultaneously a playable virtual machine look and feel. The disordered, non-sequential way that we remember is expressed with fluctuating generative text; IBM punch card and floppy disk icons transport the reader in unpredictable ways. Since the output for each array is randomly composed from phrases and sentences, every time an icon is clicked on or pressed, different and unpredictable aspects of the narrator's life appear on the screen. No reader will see the same patterns that other readers see. We don't remember sequentially. Writers of electronic literature use the affordances of electronic literature to tell stories differently. And, in my work, the goal of computer-mediated literature is not to eliminate all traces of the process. For instance, although, it can be programmed out, I retain repetition to emphasize the presence of aleatory composition.

In reading the histories of woman programmers in the days before University computer science departments were prevalent, I have been deeply impressed by their dedication, by their immersion in their work, and by their role in the development of the field. Arriving Simultaneously is fiction, but the details are informed by my own experience as an early information programmer for Ball Aerospace in the late 1960's; core community networking staff for Arts Wire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a consultant and artist-in-residence in the legendary Computer Science Lab at Xerox PARC, as well as by my experiences living at various times in Silicon Valley.

To read Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems, click on the icons. The icons do not always produce text in a consistent way, but, in the same way that a reader discovers the underlying world model by exploring paths in a work of interactive fiction, in the continual use of this work, a portrait of a woman programmer emerges. The work is most effective on a tablet screen, but it also works on most laptop screens and has been tested with Firefox, Explorer, Chrome, and Safari. It can also be displayed on some mobile devices, but this will require vertical scrolling and a changed output pattern.

A map that gives an overview of how the icons are used in this work is available here.


Arriving My work began long ago with the desire to create works where neither were the images illustrations of the text nor was the text a description of the images. You can see this in the documentation of the card catalogs. The relationship between the surface and the system is not workable in print, yet, when I used icons in the dividers in the card catalogs, that was what I was trying to do. However, the artists books were not as responsive or playable as are the files of Arriving simultaneously, when the punch cards were placed in the punch card reader and the surface of the system.

Perhaps it will not immerse the viewer in who Diana is and how the changes in tech environments impacted her life, nevertheless, I can also envision a print scroll or accordion-folded artist book of generated pages from Arriving simultaneously -- hung on a gallery wall from ceiling to floor or unfolded on a table. I would like to do this. One art form does not supersede or negate another.

Arriving Simultaneously is designed for tablets but is also playable on most larger platforms. Each file is composed with six-eight aleatoric arrays and associated unconventionally-nested lexias.