Judy Malloy:
February, 2018- Writer's Notebook



A writer's notebook is not a final paper but rather reflects the development of a work or series of works. In the informal, recursive, yet productive practice of creating notebooks online, ideas and sources are developed and slowly emerge.

Primarily, this 2018 notebook is about the creation of Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems, Part II: the surface of the system.


April 9, 2018

I n a work of electronic literature, how much to tell the reader in the documentation is often an issue. If, as they are in Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems, unexpected surprises and the act of exploring the work are a part of a reading process in which eventually the reader becomes immersed, then -- just as print literature relies on the progression of the narrative and generally does not summarize the story at the onset -- disclosing too much at the onset can detract from immersion in the narrative. Nevertheless, when I saw The Infocom Dept. of Touristry Lost Despondent Adventurer's Map of The Great Underground Empire, a "feelie" which accompanied Zork in some packaging, it was evident that I had missed some of the most enchanting details in the story. So, I went back and found them.

To look at it in another way, the pleasure of assembling a puzzle would be lost if the puzzle arrived assembled. But at the same time, without the picture of the whole on the cover that usually accompanies puzzles, assembling the puzzle would be more difficult.

With this in mind, a preliminary map for Arriving Simultaneously (so far) was created last week. It is not the final design, but it gives the reader, who has already begun to explore the work, a deeper understanding of the function of each icon and a clearer idea of the relationship of the changing time frames to each other.

The map is currently only accessible from the "about" file. My inclination is to leave it in the "about" file, rather than making it a primary click on the top pages, but the final decision on this will not be made until the work is completed.

And I look forward to making a large foldout artists book "feelie" in conjunction with Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems.


March 26-27, 2018

I am happy to report that Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems will premiere this August at ELO2018 hosted by Université du Québec à Montréal.

Meanwhile, in the surface of the system, although no one generated page divulges the story, much has been written in the last two weeks.

From her point of view, Diana's experiences at Ball Aerospace, Delos Software, and Sound of the Modem are at the core of this story of one woman's coming of age as a programmer in the Colorado aerospace industry in the 1960's; as a programmer in Silicon Valley in the 1970's and 1980's; and as a programmer in the altruistic 1990's era of community networking.

Many extraordinary things happen in Silicon Valley; too many of these stories are told by men. That this is a story about a woman told by a woman is a distinguishing factor. However, in some cases, the reader may need to stand back and look at the situation to understand what is happening. For instance, Diana's acceptance at Delos Software is partly because she comes with a NASA recommendation. In such situations, a NASA subcontractor will not haze a woman, even if Monty was inclined to do this, which clearly he is not. This does not mean that in her home life, she is not subject to the gender expectations of her era. The text is aleatorically generated; some details will be seen immediately; others will not appear for many readings. Such is life.

And, as we look at gender relationships in Silicon Valley, we should be aware that if this is a relatively positive story for a woman, that is important. But every story is not the same.



According to my schedule, the work on file three of Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems, will begin at the end of April. As is my custom, file three will have the same name as the title of the work as a whole, i.e. file three will be called Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems. It will unfold as follows:

In circa 2011, a few weeks before Diana's 65th birthday, in response to a leaked guest list created by Dez (Toby and Miranda's son) and Phoebe (Diana and Roland's daughter) Diana's husband, Toby, invites some of Diana's old friends to her party -- without telling either Diana or Dez and Phoebe. The flaw with this plan is that too many people will be invading their peaceful home in the mountains. The party will have to be somewhere else.

With this in mind, Toby hacks his son's guest list and sends everyone an email redirecting the party to a lodge in the Gold Country, where he has rented an entire room and ordered some suitably grand food and drink (paid for in advance in cash). He waits until she begins considering what to cook for the party to tell Diana -- at which time she says, "great idea".

There now being no need to open their home to overnight guests, Toby and Diana settle in for a quiet evening before the party. The following day, they drive down the mountain to the lodge, that is the site of Diana's birthday party. As file three begins, guests are arriving.

Although the interface for file three is influenced by the interface of A Party at Silver Beach, it is planned to be more dynamic -- with people crowding simultaneously into the lodge, and many things happening at once. In contrast to A Party at Silver Beach, there will not be an exploration of several rooms. Instead, file three will be a rapidly unfurling finale, set in an interface that might owe something to DH graphic representation.

The different industry, academic and research connections of Diana's extended family, that will be highlighted at her birthday celebration in Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems, will bring this media-archeology-based work into the present. And, as Diana and Toby ride off into the sunset to found a new non-profit social media platform, Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems will highlight gender, education, and corporate vs non-profit culture clashes -- providing (at one lodge in the California Gold Country) different lenses to observe the current techno-climate in Northern California.



March 10, 2018

Arriving T he power is back on! It went out in the wind storm last week and came back a day later. This week, during a heavy snowstorm, the power went out on Wednesday. Thankfully, it came on again around 5:00 yesterday. Ahh..heat, the blinking of the lights on the router, hot water, a working stove, and light. This pleasantly warm morning, River, my 20-year old born-feral cat sat beside me and purred for almost an hour.

While the power was off, I wrote these words:

"The heat is electric, and so is the stove; there is no hot water. A cold wind is blowing outside while -- encased in various layers of mountain camping gear -- I write these words. I have not been camping in the mountains since I moved East, but I still have the North Face sleeping bag. Once after an accident, when my femur broke where it was pinned and fell into my kneecap, I decided to go to the Sierras in June. Even though I still had a large cast, it seemed important to go to the mountains. At about 7000 feet I slept in the back of my truck in my North Face sleeping bag. Out the window, there were pine trees against the night sky, and the sound of the creek. But in the morning when I woke up, it was snowing hard. I would have liked to stay, but due to the cast, I retreated down the mountain, and by the time I saw the 5000 ft altitude sign, I had left the storm behind me."


In very cold environments, it is hard to concentrate on writing and coding electronic literature -- particularly when the keyboard is cold, and a constant watch on the remaining battery percentage is necessary. Furthermore, if you crawl into a North Face sleeping bag and turn on a flashlight -- even though you are writing someone else's life, your own life plays in the deep background.

And sometimes, at such times, even though I'm writing a work of fiction with fictional characters, I see my life in a different way, not necessarily for better or worse, just differently. My own story is more complicated than the story I tell in Arriving Simultaneously on Multiple Far-Flung Systems, but this week it was the radical change that occurs when Diana moves from Colorado to Silicon Valley that was on my mind. And I was surprised by the intrusion of my own memories.

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 are composed with a combination of interactive choices and aleatoric arrays.


E lectronic literature is many things; one is an exploration of how a writer can create narrative in previously unimagined ways. With repeated "readings", Arriving Simultaneously does what I set out to do: create a portrait of a complex life in a time of rapid technological change.

Watching a film is different from reading a book. If filmmaking or television had never been explored because we already had books and theatre, an important part of contemporary culture would be missing. And, it should be remembered that in the electronic literature process of exploring new creative systems, we have not lost print literature.



February 21-22, 2018

I n his Scientific American paper, "The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper Versus Screens", Ferris Jabr presents evidence that in areas such as engagement, memory/retention, comprehension, recognizable and effective interface, navigability, and tactile experience, more readers prefer print reading to on-screen reading.

"But why", Jabr asks "are we working so hard to make reading with new technologies like tablets and e-readers so similar to the experience of reading on the very ancient technology that is paper? Why not keep paper and evolve screen-based reading into something else entirely? Screens obviously offer readers experiences that paper cannot." [1]

Contingently, in his introduction to "Instruments and Playable Text", a 2008 issue of the Iowa Web Review, Stuart Moulthrop observes:

"...Massively multiplayer online games and social networking sites create new channels for contact and community. No doubt these are all brave new worlds -- as Prospero snaps, brave to thee -- and thus about as perfect as no utopia can ever be. Yet for old men like me, who stand skeptically on the margins, secretly mourning our drownéd book, it is impossible to deny, if we owe anything to truth, that these unlikely systems work far better than we guessed.

So the times change, and text becomes playable, or is placed in play, just as our Oulipist masters intended; or even as not. Sometimes, perhaps, play evolves in directions we do not anticipate. Foreknowledge is necessarily imperfect: if we could predict the future, who would ever go there?" [2]

It is likely, long time Stuart-colleagues might suggest, that in this introduction and this issue of TIRW as a whole, Moulthrop is playing off Noah Wardrip-Fruin's 2005 Dichtung Digital paper, "Playable Media and Textual Instruments", in which Wardrip-Fruin writes:

"And a focus on the playable also attracts me for another reason—because we play more than games and 'not a' games. We also play instruments, and compositions. And it is at the juncture of these senses of play -- that for games, and that for music -- that a thought-provoking discussion about playable texts has been taking place in the electronic literature community." [3]

We are in an era, like the era of theory composers in early music (Guido d'Arezzo, Franco of Cologne, Paolo da Firenze) -- that will probably not shake out, so to speak, for a while but will remain influential in shaping the field. Meanwhile, we continue to explore the fertile challenge of exploring the potential for computer-mediated words and computer-mediated words and images.


B eginning in 1991 with Wasting Time, some of my words are informally or formally scored. What I mean by polyphonic text (in paths of painting and memories and in From Ireland with Letters) is that parallel texts are scored, the way a piece of polyphonic music is scored. The user, however, can disrupt these carefully composed works and play them however he or she wants.

Either way, you can call it playable if you want to.

Arriving simultaneously, however, is composed with multiple texts in a Cagean manner, i.e., it is not classically scored. Rather -- with its arrays of randomly produced words and unreliable punchcard and floppy disk icons, it is a responsive, playable work, composed with both dissonance and harmony. The "playing" of the text is pleasurable, but as the punch cards signify, this App reflects the growing complexity of a technology-centered life in an info-environment of continuous change.

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 two files (so far) of Arriving simultaneously, when the punch cards were placed in the punch card reader and the surface of the system.

Perhaps it will not immmerse 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.

There is much more writing to do. But at night when -- in order to see where next to insert words -- I "play" the virtual machine that is Arriving Simultaneously -- Diana's life emerges. These past two weeks I have been composing the words for file 2, the surface of the system.

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1. Ferris Jabr, "The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper Versus Screens, E-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such technologies improve, but research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages", Scientific American, April 11, 2013

2. Stuart Moulthrop, Guest Editor, "Some Joyces, Not an Eco", Instruments and Playable Text, The Iowa Review Web, TIR-W 9:2, July, 2008

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, "Playable Media and Textual Instruments", Dichtung Digital, 2005



February 8, 2018

T he initial work on the interface, coding, and writing of the surface of the system was developed in the one-month interval between the conclusion of the 2016-2017 writer's notebook and the beginning of this 2018 writer's notebook.

There is no beginning in a work that is composed with eight aleatorically generated arrays, but if you follow the text generated by certain icons, it will appear that the surface of the system begins with Diana's arrival in Silicon Valley, following her marriage to Roland. In the 21st century, Diana might have remained at her high-level job in Boulder, but in the early 1970's, she moved to California to join her husband, who, when the narrative begins, is a postdoc in Stanford's fledgling Computer Science Department.

If you follow the bicycle that Diana rode to her job at Delos Software, memories of her 1970's sojourn at an Apollo-era software subcontractor in Sunnyvale begin the narrative. However, despite past memories, surface primarily documents the changes in her life and work more than a decade later, when the Internet biz alters the focus of Silicon Valley.

The complexity of Diana's life in Silicon Valley is conveyed in eight randomly generated arrays that are displayed in lexia spaces and accessed by an interface of icons and words. The punch card icon and the floppy disk icon activate additional lexia spaces and produce unpredictable content.

Icons are used as text generating interface devices in much the same way that they are used in Part I of Arriving Simultaneously. But, whereas the opening page of part I presents only the icons -- leaving the reader to decide where to begin revealing words -- the surface of the system opens with text attached to most of icons.

"The art historian will have to check what he thinks is the intrinsic meaning of the work, or group of works to which he devotes his attention, against what he thinks is the intrinsic meaning of as many other documents of civilization historically related to that work or group of works which he can master: of documents bearing witness to the political, poetical, religious, philosophical, and social tendencies of the personality, period or country under investigation." - - Erwin Panofsky [1]

OK. But what if your work exists in the same environment as "clickbait"? The fact -- that we cannot control the wide-web environment in which our work as writers of electronic literature exists -- suggests that there is a continuing place for tablet-based Aps that focus more directly on the work itself.

Or to look at this in a different way, when the punch cards were placed in the punch card reader, part 1 of Arriving Simultaneously is set in Colorado in a late 1960's distant past, which many contemporary readers approach with little knowledge. Isolation is heightened by the need to reveal the story -- with no idea of where to begin.

surface, however, is set in busy, complex Silicon Valley. Here, words attached to the opening icons create a dense interface, where each icon serves as writerly clickbait.

W hen I revisited Panofsky, it was not my intention to look at his work through his own text as it appears almost 80 years later. However, it became immediately apparent that his iconic example of the male friend raising his hat in greeting is not so likely to occur in the 21st century.

"To understand this significance of the gentleman's action I must not only be familiar with the practical world of objects and events, but also with the more-than-practical world of customs and cultural traditions peculiar to a certain civilization." - Erwin Panofsky

(The worst example of reading Panofsky in 2018 was when I read to myself his "And lo!" as "And lol".

Recently in CCSWG2018, (Critical Code Studies 2018), we have been looking at the meaning of the comments in the 1969 Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) code. As this thread progressed, it became apparent how redolent of the era these comments are. The importance of 1960's culture in interpreting these comments was also apparent. For instance, a reference to Rosenkranz and Guildenstern in a code comment might send some generations directly to Shakespeare. But it it is important to also know that Tom Stoppard's play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was staged on Broadway in 1967 and 1968 -- at the time when the AGC code was being/reworked written and reworked.

One point of these writer's notebook digressions is that some of the icons in the surface of the system have allusive meaning that may not be immediately apparent.

Additionally, it is possible that the meaning of interface-based icons is altered as the web itself changes. For example, my initial use of icons in the web version of The Blue Notebook (1995) and my use of icons in A Party at Silver Beach(2003) reflect different environments.

The issue of how the presence of visual icons in a word-based work changes the reading experience will be explored in future entries in this notebook.

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1. The quotes are from Panofsky, Erwin, "Introductory 1", Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance. Westview, 1972. pp. 3-17 (originally published by Oxford University Press in 1939.) Available online at http://tems.umn.edu/pdf/Panofsky_iconology2.pdf



My 2016-2017 writers notebook can be found at
https://people.well.com/user/jmalloy/notebooks2016/malloy_notebook2016.html