The photo above depicts my portable generative poetry device in its current form. The LCD screen is attached to a small perfboard Arduino (click after the jump for photos), which is in turn attached to a Bodhilabs 2AA to 5v step-up circuit. So now I have bona fide standalone generative poetry device! The most difficult remaining task is figuring out what kind of box to put it in.
Right now, the device has a vocabulary of around 35 words; these words can be combined in a number of different patterns, as defined by a simple context-free grammar. I have about 10k of flash left on the chip, so there's plenty of room for adding new words and patterns. I want to make some adjustments to the random selection so that only small subsets of words are used to generate text at any one time.
More photos after the jump.
Above is a portion of a screenshot from one of my thesis devices. I'm calling it the Entropic Text Editor.
How it works: an analog value is read from a repurposed expression pedal. (This one, specifically.) The position of the pedal is fed into a text editing application, which is programmed to intercept the user's keystrokes. A randomization algorithm is applied to the user's input, on a character by character basis, as the keystrokes occur; the further the pedal is pressed down, the more random the text gets.
The Entropic Text Editor is the simplest implementation of what I see as a class of devices: prepared (augmented and/or constrained) computer keyboards. The hands are free to engage in the familiar act of typing, but another channel of information is added that modifies how the typing works. The artifacts that result from the Entropic Text Editor incorporate not just the literal content of the text, but also a history of the user's gestures.
Here's a PDF exported from a session with the Entropic Text Editor, during which I transcribed Jabberwocky. I coaxed the pedal to the maximum value up until the end of the second stanza, then gradually eased off until the end of the fourth; the fifth stanza is full out, pedal-to-the-metal randomness, and the last stanza has no randomness at all.
See below the cut for images from prototype versions of the software.
Click on any of the images below for larger versions.
An early version, with randomness mapped not to the letter value, but to the size and baseline of the text.
Kind of a crazy transcription of the Gettysburg Address, this time with the value of the letter (somewhat hamfistedly) mutated along with the size and baseline of the text.
A later session with the Entropic Text Editor. It's fun to type the same line over and over with the pedal at different levels.
This is the Analog Text Display, an experiment in alternate text display and encoding technologies. It makes text visible not as digital characters, but as voltages, which are displayed by an analog voltmeter. The letter 'a' corresponds to a voltage a little over 0v, while the letter 'z' corresponds to 5v; the other letters are arranged alphabetically between the two. Any punctuation (including whitespace) causes the meter to go to 0v.
The Display reads data from an external source (via serial). Each of the six meters represents a distinct letter. As the display fills up, letters "scroll" off the display to the left.
In making the Analog Text Display, I was trying to imagine different ways to mediate the interfaces between text, display, and user. The ASCII and Unicode encodings that computers use to represent text internally are by no means inherent (see Tom Jennings' annotated history of character codes); the two-dimensional written page—and its electronic analog, the screen—is only one possible way of visually communicating text. (See, among others, fingerspelling and semaphores.) The Analog Text Display gives one possible answer to the question: How might computer displays have developed differently?
More photos and video after the jump.
Close-up of one meter in motion, displaying the text "abcdefg hello world." (QuickTime, 640x480, 0'20)
Full display in action, displaying the first few verses of the KJV Bible. (QuickTime, 640x480, 0'58)
The Analog Text Display was created as a midterm project for Todd Holoubek's Living Art class at ITP.
My critical responses to Cave of Time (an early Choose Your Own Adventure book by Edward Packard) are now available. Every Path Through the Cave of Time is a collection of 54 text files, each of which provides the full text of a traversal through the book. (Every possible traversal is included.) Cave of Time: The Computer Game is an alternative version of the book that emphasizes gameplay: you're rewarded for finding every path through the book, and given bonus points for finding the shortest and longest paths.
I'm building a handheld generative poetry device.
My interest in this area lies in the observation that portable electronic devices have an interesting way of intervening in space: listening to an iPod, for example, can drastically transform the experience of walking down a city street. My question is: can text do the same thing?
In a sense, text already does this: you can read a book anywhere. I'm hoping that the generative nature of the text that my device creates will lead to a greater sense of serendipity and specificity to the particular moment: this juxtaposition of words and place is unique, and will never happen in quite the same way again.
"I was in the woods in St. Moritz, in the mountains," he recalled. "The snow was falling down. I pressed the button, and suddenly we were floating. It was an incredible feeling, to realize that I now had the means to multiply the aesthetic potential of any situation."