ITP Spring Show 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2-6pm & Monday, May 11, 5-9 pm

Alex Kauffmann


Experience language as a computer does.

Programming from A to Z

AL-gorithm is an interactive version of a passage from All the King’s Men created by cutting out all but a single character from laser prints of the quote. After spending a semester using Java to "munge" texts, I wanted to understand language from a computer's point of view.

Anyone who can read.

User Scenario
A rich, young, and attractive New York socialite finds herself at the Spring Show. She's never cared much for technology, and all the beeping robots and interactivity is driving her nuts. Still, she promised her friend, one of my classmates, that she'd put in an appearance, so she might as well walk around. Most of the projects make no sense to her. They make her feel dumb. One project catches her eye. It's paper hanging from the wall. There are no blinking lights or computers in sight, and the student explaining it to a woman and her two children has eyes that flash as he gestures at his project. She listens to the end of his spiel, something about levels of abstraction and is about to turn away when he catches her eye and grins. "Ever wondered what it would feel like to be a computer?" he asks her. "No, I don't do computers" she says feeling heat rush to her cheeks. "Ever read something?" he says. "Yes," she replies. Fifteen minutes later, she's signing a check for twenty-five hundred dollars, feeling like for the first time she understands something about technology, and hoping that he will notice her phone number on the check and call her soon.

Paper, hanging file folder metal skeletons, a steel freezer door, metal dowels.

Though my initial scenario was giving text a third dimension, what I ended up with was a really easy way of explaining levels of abstraction in computer languages and experiencing text as a computer program does. Man, computers are dumb!