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Wikis – idea dump

Our upcoming group project (with Garry, Daniel and Ashley) is about public data, and we talked a lot about wikis and using Processing to engage with the content of Wikipedia, as an example of public data.

Anyway, this post is a list of bits and bobs and ideas that came from the class and our group chats so far. No idea if any of this will go anywhere, but I might come back to it even if it doesn’t feature in our project.

-Page views – which pages are the most visited, and how does/has this changed over time?
-Content authors. How much can we find out about the authors/editors/moderators of wikipedia? To what extent do specific people/groups of people have influence over its content?
-Edits. What are the most edited pages, and edited by who? Is it a matter of updating them, improving accuracy, or  is there contention over bias/political content? Edit wars? Could be interesting to look at the edit history of specific pages.
-Comparing different wikis: Wikipedia, Simple English Wikipedia, RationalWiki, World of Warcraft Wiki (and fandom wikis in general), Wikimedia Commons, Conservapedia, Liberapedia, Uncyclopedia and so on. How many authors/editors are there relative the amount of content? Is there discernable bias? How big are there, what are there most popular pages relative to each other? Etc.
-The status of wikis and related digital resources as a part of our knowledge/extensions of ourselves, in a comparable manner to a prosthetic limb or a physical piece of technology.
-Can we retrieve live data from these sites, i.e. their current popularity, and somehow convert that data into sound? If we were comparing wikis, we could use each as an ‘instrument’, maybe.
-We could focus on particular pages, and project things from their popularity or content. The more people are visiting (or google) ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, say, the closer we are to *midnight* (thinking Doomsday Clock currently).
-Dashboards and GUIs: sci-fi GUIs, video game GUIs and their real-life equivalent. A sliding scale of importance from ‘looks cool’ to ‘is functional’?

Being subject to computers is faintly terrifying

Everyone knows that humans and computers are good at different things. We’re probably all fairly used to that by now. Most of us have lived through that glorious “wow, computers can do anything, they’re so smart!” phase (some of us less recently than others), and the subsequent frustrating “wait no, why would you think that, computer I didn’t tell you to do that!” phase.

Its a generalization, but I feel like we know their quirks, and are kind of used to whatever level of machine ‘intelligence’ we’re living with at the minute. It’s not that weird anymore. It’s like living with a dog – if you train it, it can do a lot of things, but you still have to do things in specific ways to get it to ‘understand’. The AI/dog comparison is one I quite like actually, which I got to see explored a big more in the short film See a Dog, Hear a Dog at Transmediale.

Just like the film, however, I’m not sure I’m ready to take comfort in that comparison just yet. Why? Short answer: face-swapping.

I mean, holy shit. Is that not terrifying?
Wait! I’ve got more.

I’m being melodramatic, obviously. These are more funny and than really horrifying. But I do have a point with all this, one which is better summed up here, on PBS Idea Channel in their video The Vague Horror of Face Swap.

Long story short – to us, faces are important. The face is a metonym for the person. Figuratively speaking the face is the person, in the sense that we use the faces of other people as a short-hand way of understanding all sorts of things about them. And these pictures prove to us that computer barely understand that short-hand at all, but go ahead and do what it is they think we asked them to do anyway. Which is kind of unsettling.

The video tries to explain why this is so unsettling by relating it to the expression ‘hell is other people’ (Satre, explored here by PBS again). Long story short, again – the existence or presence of other people can make us uncomfortable because we can no longer just passively ‘be’ like we were before, we have to actively ‘act’. On some level we start agonising over how we come across in a way we didn’t have to before they arrived and we became subject to their perception.

I don’t think its too much of a leap to say that that uncomfortableness steps up a notch when we become subject to the perceptions of machines. Suddenly there is an other with a huge amount of influence in our lives – much more power than we would ever entrust to a pet – an other which is far less us, and far more impoverished in terms of how we’ve taught it to understand us.

The less like us they are, and the more importance they have in our daily lives, the more pressure there is to ‘act’ correctly in order to make sure we get the right results. The consequences of failure won’t always be as low as the comic screw-ups of face-swapping algorithms. When you phrase it like that, the consequences of how we handle the evolution of technology and artificial intelligence suddenly feel every bit as ominous as they did back a computer first beat a grandmaster at chess.

Deep Blue beats Garry Kasparov in 1997

I’m not trying to scaremonger. I just think its interesting. It related to my old favourite, cosmic horror, and these kinds of anxieties have always been fertile ground for sci-fi, see Isaac Asimov and that whole subsequent outpouring of I, Robot and A Space Odyssey type fiction. I’m not going to directly compare my daft little game project to anything so well-thought-out as that, but video games do have their own fine tradition of menacing AIs, and I was definitely trying to channel a little of that into humour when I wrote the dialogue for Computer is Bored.

I do feel like some recent sci-fi kind of misses the nuance of why villains like HAL 9000,  VIKI and GLaDOS are interesting villains though. I mean, they’re good villains because they’re threatening and characterful and have some awesome moments, but for me the kicker comes in the moments when they are less malevolent and evil, and more just fulfilling a function their creators gave them. In these moments heroes are essentially fighting off a dog that doesn’t realise its retrieving a stick that will kill its owner.

Be warned, at this point I start relating everything to video games and Doctor Who, so if that doesn’t appeal you’d be well within your rights to lose interest at this point.

Either way, I think the Process from Transistor are a great example of this kind of sci-fi threat. Since the game is set in a virtual city, they are essentially half grey-goo and half computer program, reshaping the city to the whims of its inhabitants until something goes wrong and they start resetting everything to zero. Fighting them it ultimately futile, because it cannot be stopped by force, only told to stop, and the one person who had the permissions to do that is dead.

Any persons the Process encounters are absorbed and rendered into ‘Functions’, pieces of software or code that perform whatever task that person was ‘for’. For example, a renowned historian and archivist subject to the Process becomes ‘get()’, a Function that locates entities and brings them closer. This reduction of people into Functions is not malicious, or even callous, it is simply the only way the goal-oriented Process knows how to deal with entities that are not itself.

Long-story short, for me, playing Transistor gave me an inkling of what it might be like to exist within a computer program which had been told that all variables should be reset to zero. It creates a scenario in which a humans have entrusted a lot more than just face-swapping to the subjectivity of computers, and it doesn’t work out too well for anyone. The human villains are deliberately set up to be massive disappointments, explaining their intentions and putting up no resistance, asking only that you forgive them for the inhuman disaster they inadvertently caused.

Doctor Who has some great villains like this too. The nanites, from episode The Empty Child and the clockwork droids from The Woman in the Fireplace are both brilliant. The former are ‘healing robots’ that horrifically misinterpret what a healthy human is meant to look like, while the latter were accidentally made to prioritise repairing their ship over looking after their crew, and so used their crew for spare parts. As gruesome as these episodes end up, the villains were only ever simple machines faithfully trying to do exactly what their benign creates told them to.

Anyway, I digress. Long story short (third time’s the charm) – machine subjectivity is terrifying, or for people who don’t relate to everything through horror and video games, maybe just plain old interesting. If I can make something of this in my future work, that will be no bad thing.

HSS8120 – Last minute prep

Outcomes of the project in collaboration with Jade (Pellucid Publishing Presents) and final prep for presentation (A Story by You)







HSS8120 – Narrative Agency

tabletop games

I think tabletop roleplaying games are awesome. I’m not personally a Dungeons and Dragons fan, but that is the kind of nerdery I’m talking about. Someday, I’m going to launch into a big long pretentious rant about the wonderful collaborative, creative venture that is tabletop roleplaying games, but today is not that day.

For now, here’s a good quote about them:
We no longer tell stories – we listen to them. We sit passively and wait to be picked up and carried to the world they describe, to the unique perception of reality they embrace. We have become slave to our TVs, permitting an oligarchy of artists to describe to us our lives, our culture and our reality. […] However, there is another way. (Vampire: the Masquerade, 1992, p. 21-22)

I found that quote in this paper, which acknowledges the hyperbole in it. People who print roleplaying games are every bit as invested in the cultural significance of their medium as TV pundits and film critics, goes the reasoning. But I think this quote does a good job of capturing the part of the appeal of interactive mediums like roleplaying games and video games. You get to tell a story, or even better, you get to be in a story.

‘most players experience roleplaying sessions quite vividly. They have not just listened to a story, they have actually played a part in it, without them it might have finished differently.’ (On the Roll of a Die: a brief ludologic study of pen-and-paper roleplaying games and their rules)

It’s like experiencing a narrative from a film or a TV show or a novel, except the audience (if you can still call them that) has agency, and that can make it all the more engaging. Maybe it’s a kind of engagement that appeals mainly to people in which the ‘I-wonder-if-I-can-make-something-like-that?’ impulse is especially strong. I know that impulse is pretty much the whole reason I started writing and became interested in game development, so I’m definitely biased.

I do think agency is a huge part of the appeal in any kind of game, though.  You don’t just let games wash over you like a song or a film. Maybe you do still ‘consume’ interactive media, but surely its a much less passive kind of consumption. You’re more engaged. Assuming you’re not a grizzled white man with military training, your options for the ‘surrogate you’ to help you engage with the game can sometimes be quite limited in games. Or even if you were, you may well want to experiment with being someone else. Well, tabletop games, or video games where you can customise your character, are a little better in this regard.

This is all very well and good. Games are awesome, tabletop roleplaying games are awesome, and they are an underrated medium for creativity and problem solving. It’s a good spiel, and I buy into it. Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk ‘Gaming can make a better world‘ (which Ashley put me onto) is probably the most articulate expression of this view that I’ve seen.

Most importantly I think she handles the criticisms leveled at games and gamers well and fairly even-handedly. According to her stats, more collective hours have been spent in the fictional universe of World of Warcraft than the sum length of human history, and by the age of 21 the average American will have spent approximately the same amount of time playing video games as they have in education. I’m sure to some people that sounds like a terrible thing – what a waste of life! But she makes a good case for it.

Urgent Optimism+ Social Fabric + Blissful Productivity + Epic Meaning = Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals

That’s her formula for how online games galvanise and train the people who play them in a positive way. They’re solving problems and saving the world, just not the real one, and the appeal of that is understandable. “We are witnessing what amounts to a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online game environments.” is a quote she uses, from Edward Castronova, and she does a good job of spinning that as a positive thing, or at the very least, a rational thing that is not inherently bad.

She tells Herodotus’ story about the kingdom of Lydia, in which the people were starving and alternated between days on which they would eat, and days on which they would play dice games. According to the story, they would be engaged enough in playing games that they were able to endure the hunger. The kingdom survived eighteen years this way, but the famine wasn’t ending, so the people gathered together to play one last game, and the winners left to find a brand new place to live, leaving enough food for the rest of the people to survive where they were. Thus, the games weren’t just an epic distraction or a surrogate life when times were miserable: they actually saved the kingdom (in the story).

But as much as I want my favourite mediums to be able to save the world, or at least be more significant than a compelling distraction, I’m skeptical. Because ‘a mass exodus to virtual worlds’ sounds an awful lot like some of the scary trends of the past year.

You know the ones. The ones where social media echo-chambers were super comforting but then turned out to not be remotely representative of how the rest of the world thinks. Or the ones where it felt like, at least from some people’s perspectives, that huge numbers of perfectly sane individuals were taking leave of reality in favour of narratives that told them solving their problems was a simple as playing a game, or voting a particular way.

So I’m curious about how the act of adding agency to storytelling really works. Its engaging, yes. But can it actually be empowering? I don’t believe games, even the roleplaying games, are really free from that so-call ‘oligarchy of artists’. There are still games developers and dungeon masters, and even when there aren’t, someone still made the rules that give that narrative meaning, and those rules still privilege certain experiences in ways that the player doesn’t have control over.

Long story short, for my presentation I want to host a short roleplaying game, and with any luck I’ll be able to use that to experiment a little bit with ideas of control, agency and who’s really telling the story.


Image credit: the first picture was nicked from Wyntercon’s website here, the second from the World of Warcraft wiki, and the third from Jane McGonigcal’s talk.

HSS8120 – Presentation Crowdsourcing

Multiple Minds screenshot 1

HSS8120 – Project (a step-by-step guide)


Still not 100% sure who  documentation is ‘for’ exactly, but I have a sneaking suspicion that its for the same person as a manifesto, just after or during the creative process, rather than before. Which is to say its for some combination of: me (to help me keep track, reflect, etc), the same audience as my work (should anyone unfortunate enough to be exposed to it want to find out more) and any other creators who take an interest (should they want to know more for the purposes of their own work).

In the interest of all that, here is a step-by-step guide for how to duplicate my project.

Step 1. Overhear Jade and Megan brainstorming ideas for a collaborative manifesto on a Wednesday (?) afternoon not long after the assignment is set. Don’t really pay that much attention to conversation, just enough to overhear something about the idea of redaction, i.e. blacking out, putting lines through or otherwise censoring words.

Step 2. Later that week, ask Jade for advice about how to bind your illustrated poetry pamphlet. She will tell you about Japanese book binding, the kind that makes interesting patterns across the cover of the book in string.

Step 3. Get inspired by the idea of redaction, the fake books on the studio bookshelf, and articles and conversations with Tom about the way that news outlets/government/scientific authorities rely on trust in different ways, come up with an idea for a collaborative project with Jade (hereafter referred to as partner).

Step 4. Allow ideas to solidify over a period of 2-3 weeks, adding more chats with partner and further research when necessary (and when that doesn’t help, try a healthy dose of imminent deadlines)

Step 5. Meet with partner again, and come up with a concrete plan for the project: to create books that somehow proclaim to be very important but are bound in such a way as they can barely be read. Partner will suggest using a calculation based on the content and frequency of words in the text to determine the binding pattern.

Step 6. Write a piece on a tenuously post-truth inspired topic, approx four pages long, and give it a title (try to think about the shape of the text and the placement of key words in the line as much as the content itself).

Step 7. Show piece to partner (while keeping the title a secret), who will come up with another title.

Step 8. Post both titles (your own and partner’s)

Step 9. Write a new piece inspired by partner’s title, and repeat until you have 7 or so pieces. Around the 5th time you will most likely start to feel the grin of writing so much despite (or perhaps because of) the focus on quantity over quality. Varying the formula a bit is likely to help with this.

Photo taken by Jade

Step 10. Having produced the content for the books, hand the project over to partner for the process of creating and binding the books themselves (using the calculation process), although remain interested in the process and continue thinking about their final presentation.

Step 11. tba

HSS8120 – Manifesto Changelogs & Metadata

Pre-Build: 5,962 characters, 1,145 words, 1 passages, 0 links, 0 broken links
Version 0.1: January 1st 2017 – figuring out Twine 2.0.
-Added Parts 1 & 7
-Learned to use <tags| and (click-replace:)
-Learned to use (text-style:)

Version 0.2: January 1st 2017 – beta testing with parents
-Experimented with the text-styles: *italics*, //bold//, ~~redacted~~ and “Shudder”
-Learned to use {(live:)[]} and (click:)

Version 1: ??? characters, ??? words, 17 passages,  11 links, 1 broken links
Version 1.0: January 2nd 2017 – brackets within brackets
-Settled on *italics* and “Shudder”
-Learned how to use multiple macros simultaneously
-Built Parts 1-3
-Added html hyperlinks
-Noticed adding (click:) and (click-replace:) macros inside {(live:)[]} macros caused both to print conflicting things, attempted fix

Version 1.0.1: January 2nd 2017 – re-reading the manual
-Okay that didn’t work why the hell didn’t that work ohgodohgod I can’t fix it and I broke something else by trying

Version 1.2: January 2nd 2017 – frantic googling pays off
-Added (stop:) macros to fix the issue with {(live:)[]}
-Started redundant passages so as to have backups of everything
-Added another 30 names to the attribution list in Part 4
-Added and built Parts 4-6
-Built Part 7
-Added and build Part 8

Version 2: 28,465 characters, 2,802 words, 26 passages, 16 links, 1 broken links
Version 2.0
: January 3rd 2017 – beta testing with friends
-Figured out how to export, save and send the Twine to other people to run in their browsers
-Changed font to “Calibri” in meta Parts 1-6 and 8, to help Part 7 stand out
-Added (stop:) macros to the majority of {(live:)[]} macros in order to reduce the number of macros running simultaneously (especially in Part 7)

Version 3: 13,794 characters, 1,244 words, 8 passages, 7 links, 0 broken links
Version 3.0
: January 4th 2017 – finished version?
-Added (css: “text-decoration: line-through”) to crossed-out title in Part 8
-Removed redundant backup passages
-Re-organised passage layout (now linear)

Version 3.1: January 15th 2017 – upcoming tweaks
-In progress


HSS8120 – Hrrm

Project Folders Screenshot 1

Writing: You will draw on the many traditions of the artists’ manifesto to produce a manifesto for post-truth art.
That doesn’t sound so bad.

Presentation: You will produce a 20 minute (+10 for questions / discussion) performative lecture.
20 minutes. That’s a long time. But I’m used to standing up and talking in front of people (kind of), and it’s a very broad remit. I should be able to come up with something.

Project: You will produce an artefact(s), prototype(s) or well developed plan(s) for a work which treats with the subject of ‘post-truth’’.
Oh, right. A physical thing? Or at least a thing that you can put in a gallery/exhibition-type space? Or at least a thing that you can put in front of a person for to examine and prod and poke at and say things like ‘I like it’ or ‘It’s very loud’ or ‘I don’t understand why it has to be sideways’? Right. Okay. Got it. Hrrm. Well. Okay.

This is going to be a new experience.

The Blog: You should use the blog to record your making process throughout. Don’t leave this to the end but


Hopefully that should help.

Portfolio Poems & Spoken Word Adventures

Team Edinburgh 2

So my portfolio for Introduction to the Craft of Writing is handed in, and now that’s out the way it’s time to catch on the blogging and documentation.

The portfolio required 10-12 pieces of poetry, which is a lot more than I would normally come up with in a short space of time. The pressure was useful – I produced more pieces than I would have done otherwise, which I’ll mark down as a good thing, although the one’s I’m happiest with are still the ones that were produced at the start, while the pressure was still off. They’ve been up on my poetry blog since the start of the new year:
My Nan’s Book Group Could Beat Up Your Nan’s Book Group
Celebrant – featuring the whale picture, courtesy of Elena.

That’s not all I’ve been up to though, poetry-wise, there have been some cool gigs too – an awesome variety night hosted at Ashley’s by Lauren Stone, a Real Sesh session with Alexei and Ben, and Culture Lab Radio transmission 2.0 with a whole host of weird and wonderful people. Best of all, I went down to London to compete in the group portion of the Hammer and Tongue national poetry slam final, and we won! It was incredible. Check out this post for more info on that.


HSS8120 – Thinking about manifestos


When we were given our four assignments, and one of them was to produce ‘a manifesto for post-truth art’, I didn’t really even know what a manifesto was, so I was grateful that we were given some examples. I also did some googling, and mostly what I found could be divided into two kinds. There were the ones that seemed like motivational posters in disguise, and the ones that seemed more like messages pinned to the doors of government buildings by optimistic revolutionaries or written on the wall of the screen of a crime.

That aside, I had a suspicion that the second kind was the kind that our tutours were secretly hoping we would produce – they seemed to be much more interesting, and were also closer to the definition given by good old Wikipedia. They also struck me as really quite presumptive – big bold statements about the nature of art that set out goals the not even the authors could ever fulfill, let alone anyone else. That also made me wonder whether they were ever actually meant to be followed by anyone apart from the people who wrote them, and whether they were really instructional at all. Were they more like an explanation, an attempt by the authors to account for themselves by saying ‘this is what I’m doing/trying to do’?

Whatever the point of a manifesto, and whoever the actual audience (the audience, other artists, or the author themselves) it seemed to me that writing a manifesto must require a great deal of self-assurance – in your statements and in your own ability to live up to them. Not only do you have to make bold sweeping statements like ‘nothing in art is new or old fashioned only good or bad’, but then you have to put your money where your mouth is.

I think I can get behind the idea of a manifesto as a kind of abstract to-do list. I am, after all, all about to-do lists – nothing bad ever came from setting yourself goals or holding yourself to a high standard, providing you can handle the possibility of failure.

As a public statement, I’m not so sure. I don’t think I would ever presume to go about telling another artist how to do their work. I’m sure a lot of the people who have produced this kind of manifesto are consciously engaged with the presumptions inherent in them, but still. It would bother me. Likewise, if I felt the need to explain my work, to say ‘look this is what I was trying to do when I made that piece you just looked at’, I would probably consider that I hadn’t done a good enough job of making my work self-explanatory and accessible.

This manifesto is one I like. I think it’s self-explanatory, gives context, helps to put Stuckist art in context, and if I wanted to go about trying to be a Stuckist it would give me a lot to go on. But I’m not really in the business of starting my own movement, and I hope that each of my works stands on its own and provides at least enough context for people to engage with it. I grappled with that issue a little bit towards the end of my outcomes video, and I think I’ve decided that I like my art self-explanatory. The extent to which this means it has to show its working I think should equal to extent to which the finished product draws meaning from the working. Not that that’s a simple question to answer.

So anyway, what does all this mean for the manifesto I’m going to attempt to produce? Is it going to be for me, for aspiring ‘post-truth artists’, or for the poor people who have to be the targets of ‘post-truth art’? I think it’s going to have to be all three, to some extent. I might not be keen on bold statements of intent, but I think part of my reason for being skeptical of them is because I generally don’t have the confidence in my work to do so myself. But because I still stand by everything else I’ve said so far, I’m also going to do my best to make sure my manifesto goes some way putting my money where my mouth is, rather relying on the other parts of the project to somehow prove its not all just hot air.

That’s the idea anyway.