All posts by sandrahu

Treehouse: A Found E-Mail Love Affair

“I’ll be sure to write to only you, my dear Jackson. To save my pennies for a midnight thought.” – Treehouse (Pennies for midnight)


Sifting through the myriad selections of works that the Electronic Knowledge Database has to offer, I stumbled upon this rather unconventional love story compiled by Joseph Alan Wachs. The romance is told through an interactive storytelling iPhone application, based on a series of real-life email exchanges between a man named Jackson and his lover nicknamed Treehouse. In the foreword of the application, Wachs explains how he uncovered this online love affair: “In early 2008, while restoring the corrupted computer files of an old hard drive, I discovered a lengthy back-and-forth e-mail correspondence between two people…As I sifted through the countless megabytes of fragmented data, I realized there was a love story buried within the files.” These exchanges take place over the course of six months, between February 6th and August 5th, 1996. There is a total of four appisodes, and the first one hundred exchanges are featured in the first appisode that I downloaded onto my phone and read (the other three appisodes require payment).

When you first open the application, it provides you with a tutorial of how to read through the exchanges in a chronological order. The screen is divided into two columns: the left hand side features the titles of the emails that you can easily scroll through, while the right informs you of which email number you are currently looking at. This function allows you to scroll through all the emails picking out the one that interests you, almost like chapters to a novel. This however is not advisable, as the story really only makes sense if you read from beginning to end. The length and format of the exchanges vary, as most emails do. Within each email/chapter, you can tap the screen to scroll down to read what is below. One tap on the paper clip featured in the top right corner of your screen would bring you to the next email. Jackson’s emails have blue headings, while Treehouse’s are yellow. All emails feature date and time stamps. The design of the application is fairly logical; the only one flaw I can think of is that while it is easy to access the email that comes next, there isn’t a function to easily return to the one before.

Click here to look at a screenshot of the menu

The story begins with an email written by Jackson to Treehouse, and we learn very quickly that the two lovers have been communicating for a very long time, even when Treehouse lived in Japan and was in a relationship with another man named Adrien. Jackson tells her he loves her and that he’s proud of her decision to return to school in Arizona. Treehouse proves herself to be rather witty in her response: “Man, I wish I could get in your Levi’s 2night (ad campaign!). But for now, I will resolve myself to lay between the keys on my keyboard, instead of between the sheets. Then, perhaps I could shift/command you to cap-lock my space bar. Is that an option (alt)? Too much Ctrl? Should I delete my request?” In response to her provocative words, Jackson composed her a digital collage that featured a denim printed background that repeated the Levi’s ad campaign in her previous email, and he accompanied the collage with the words: “You inspire me, you know.”

Click here to see Jackson’s digital collage for Treehouse

One of the most interesting aspects of this tale is how the lovers’ story is set against the backdrop of the Internet revolution. Reading through their exchanges, you are brought back to the days before most of the amenities we have grown so accustomed to became readily available. For example, the couple discusses the possibility of having a “real time conversation” (a.k.a. instant messaging), and Jackson writes: “Real time conversation is how I first got turned on to the ’Net in the first place in ’93…and I have wanted to figure out how to do it outside of AOL.” As the story progresses, we are made increasingly aware of Jackson’s familiarity with the Internet, and how he correctly anticipates our inevitable transition from AOL to World Wide Web: “But, now that you’ve gotten online and you have a taste (mmmm…) for it, and you see how lame AOL is and you’re STILL not seeing the World Wide Web and you’re missing out on all the action.”

What is impressive about this application is how Wachs was able to repair and decipher the corrupted data, translate them back to their original content, and then reformat them into a presentable, cohesive, and interactive story. As you flip from one email to the next, you become more and more immersed in the lives of the lovers, it is almost as if you are injecting yourself in their love story because you are tapping your finger to move from one day of their lives to the next. The cliffhanger that concludes this appisode, featuring the return of Adrien, is prompting me to purchase the entire app series. I really enjoyed this story and I am planning on downloading the next three appisodes.

Flarf: Your head is literally the one who told me

Your head is literally the one who told me.


I like…love this.


We’re in a car –

You can’t play with a mythical dragon in a car.


After that came vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists.


Lord of War.

Holy shit (during) the Cold War, the AK47

Became Russia’s biggest export.


90% confusion,

Covered in the abuse.


You can’t play with us,

I’d do anything to go back.


The McQueen exhibit,

=.= Get on it.


This is a re-write, as my first flarf was slightly too over-the-top with emotions and lacking in humor, this one is definitely more humorous and intwined with self-mockery. Instead of Googling, I used the Facebook status generator “what-would-I-say” in production of this flarf, and in seeing what I have previously written on Facebook, I cringed, a lot.

I don’t remember all the contexts in which I wrote these statuses, because I have pretty much stopped updating my status in the past two years, but I was an avid Facebooker during my teens and the majority of these statuses were composed back then. The Lord of War reference is definitely the product of one of the many times I have watched the film, and decided to rant on Facebook about how good it is. My memory escapes me on what episode I was referring to during the “vodka, caviar” post, but I’m almost certain it sounds like one of my escapades fueled with, you guessed it…vodka and caviar.

Overall, this assignment took me on a trip down memory lane, and while it was cringeworthy, I did enjoy seeing how a program interpreted my statuses and re-worded/rephrased them.

Our (Possible) March Toward Becoming an Eloi

“We enter a time of calamity. Blood on the tarmac. Fingers in the juicer. Towers of air frozen in the lunar wastes. Models dead on the runways, with their legs facing backward. Children with smiles that can’t be undone. Chicken shall rot in the aisles. See the pillars fall.” (39)

When hacked, these words are the words uttered by Titus and his friends – “a time of calamity” is the world in which M.T. Anderson’s story, Feed, unfolds. And it is in the world that Titus falls in love with unusual Violet, whose questioning and understanding of the state of affairs in this consumer-orientated society leads to her untimely death. It is perhaps rather easy for the reader of this novel to come to the conclusion that technology, at least in the state as depicted in this novel, is inherently destructive to the progress of society given its tendencies to erase almost all traces of individuality against the unremitting noise of the feednet. As readers living in the 21st century however, we cannot help but acknowledge the bettering of society new technologies have enabled.

In what ways is the state of humanity really that different in Feed’s world than our own? “When I looked around, I wanted so much,” (34) said Titus just prior to being hacked. This human desire for excess is something we have experienced in the past, are experiencing now and will always experience in generations to come. It is also this very desire that drives progress because only in dreaming for things do we set the necessary goals to achieve them. The problem with the state of humanity in Anderson’s novel is that technologies have become so entwined with humanity that almost 73% of Americans are now technically cyborgs. But dumb ones: “Because of the feed, we’re raising a nation of idiots. Ignorant, self-centered idiots.” (113) These people are not dumb in the sense that they don’t know things, but “dumb” because they have become so complacent with their feeds that they are now too lazy to think while thinking they are perfect the way they are.

“I don’t know when they first had feeds. Like maybe, fifty or a hundred years ago. Before that, they had to use their hands and their eyes. Computers were all outside the body. They carried them around outside them, in their hands, like if you carried your lungs in a briefcase and opened it to breathe. (47)

 It would certainly have been quite difficult for someone as complacent as Titus to comprehend a life devoid of his feed. But one thing that is certain in this novel is that remnants of individuality still exists, and is worth fighting for. Just before Titus and Violet kiss for the first time, she says to him: “You’re the only one of them that uses metaphor.” (63) It becomes very clear at this point that her attraction to him is his distinction from all of his friends – his ability to employ metaphor sets him apart – within him, she saw an ability to think outside of the norms as taught by one’s feed, therein lies a potential that Violet desires to cultivate. He hasn’t been fully corrupted by his feed, at least not yet.

When Violet tells Titus of her new project in the mall, and describes her task as follows:

“What I’m doing, what I’ve been doing over the feed for the last two days, is trying to create a customer profile that’s so screwed, no one can market to it. I’m not going to let them catalog me, I’m going to become invisible.” (98)

Have you ever looked at something online, say on Amazon or eBay or on one of the many websites available to shop, and find yourself gazing upon the very object you had considered buying the next time you clicked on your browser? This sort of target advertising has become such an integral part of our lives that Anderson’s rendering of this situation is completely familiar to us as readers. We might not have our own feeds, but we are certainly the victim of our own Google searches or web-browsing history. Little by little, corporations, like those depicted in Feed, have amassed detailed information on our personal preferences and are selling things to us online that are eerily similar to the ways in which Titus and his friends do their online shopping.

The loss of the English language is perhaps the less addressed, but equally pivotal problem examined in the novel. Anderson’s employs a Clueless-meets-A Clockwork Orange kind of language where his characters’ most common reaction to bad situations is “Oh shit!” And where they speak in sometimes confusing ways when referring to information related to, or in relation to their feeds. The simplicity of their language echo the simplicity of their minds, and it is with this in mind should we come to understand the statement made by Violet’s father in reference to H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. The Eloi race is a race so intelligent and so successful at ruling the world that they have degenerated from their prior human state, and have evolved to a state that can only be considered sub-human. Only in understanding this parallel do we truly understand Anderson’s message that while technologies possess all these undeniable benefits, if we are not too careful in maintaining our humanity, we will fall despite progress, further than anyone can ever imagine.



The Collective Biographies of Women – An Annotated Bibliography

Having been a student of Alison Booth‘s three times during my time at UVa, I thought it would only be fitting to offer a brief analysis of the database/project she has been working on.

  • What is the primary purpose of this project?

Reconstructing a Genre of Publication. Rediscovering Histories of Women. Transforming Digital Studies of Biography.”

  • What does this project hope to do that a print resource (a book/books, a journal articles reference work, etc.) couldn’t?

By digitizing biographical works already in print, this project aims to provide a comprehensive collection of women’s biographies that is well categorized into/under their respective fields (e.g. Joan of Art – Paragon; Florence Nightingale – Nursing Reform; Anne Boleyn – Queens/Rank) and the numbers of biographies published between 20-year intervals between 1850-1930. (See Pop Chart)

  • What is distinctive/notable about this project’s approach to its subject matter?

The website specifically states that it is “not a digital literary project on women writers or on fiction poetry.” In other words, it only focuses on the biographies of real-life women.

  • How would this site/project be useful to scholars doing research?

As the database is an on-going process, a lot more biographies/data will be added in the future thereby continuously improving on the numbers of biographies featured on the website. Nevertheless, it already contains a large number of biographies that would no doubt act as great references to scholars. The set up of the website however, could be more intuitive, thereby making the whole research process a lot easier.

  • ·Are there any aspects of this project’s approach that might be useful to the project groups in our class as they conceive of, design, and implement a significantly smaller-scale digital project?

I think this project does a great job with hyperlinks to existing databases, and this is something that is extremely important when it comes to blogging/making references in digital projects.



The Quest for the Most “Popular” Fruit

The top search result on Google for the “world’s most popular fruit” leaves one rather baffled – it directs you to the website for the Detox Lounge , a San Diego-based wellness center for detoxification juices. Here, an anonymous author daringly declares that mango is the most desired fruit around the globe – could this be true?

Subsequent research on Google revealed that my suspicions were correct – under the assumption that books cataloged in Google’s NGram reflect upon the behavior of our general consumption – this this titian-shaded, succulent fruit has never been, nor will it ever be, the most popular fruit in the world. In order to illustrate my point, I thought of 4 other fruits that I deemed “popular” and entered them, along with mango, on this tool:

  1. Apple
  2. Banana
  3. Tomato
  4. Mango
  5. Orange

And the result is as follows:





Now, it is fairly obvious from the above what is happening: orange apparently has been, as Charlie Sheen would say, #winning, since the turn of the 19th century. According to Wikipedia, orange “probably” originated from Southeast Asia, and has been “cultivated in China as far back as 2500 BCE.” Could the rich history of orange be at the cause of its popularity? This could certainly be true, but we must take into account of the fact that it is a homonym, for it also depicts a color (or it could also be referring to the House of Orange – a royal line of the Netherlands). Apple, the runner-up fruit, was apparently first cultivated in eastern Turkey, and Alexander the Great “is credited with finding dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BCE.” The third-place is given to the fruit that is often confused as a vegetable – tomato – it seems that while the people who inhabited in Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs, have domesticated this red fruit since 500 BCE, but it wasn’t until the 16th century was it made popular by the Spaniards after their colonization of the Americas. The fourth-place goes to the fruit with the most interesting history: banana. It seems that the Southeastern Asian and Papua New Guinean farmers have domesticated the banana since sometime between 5000-8000 BCE. And if this weren’t enough, other specifies of this yellow, almost-crescent shaped fruit, was also found on the African continent, dating back to 1000 BCE. It remained on the continent of Africa, and the neighboring Middle East and Southeastern Asian locations until it was “introduced to the Americas by Portuguese sailors” in the 16th century. And now we turn our attention to mango, something that has apparently been cultivated “in South Asia for thousands of years,” and sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries, it was transmitted to East Asia and reached East Africa by the 10th century. It was subsequently brought to the Caribbean and South America in the 14th century. The biographies of the banana and mango certainly shatters my initial assessment on the positive correlation between a fruit’s apparent popularity and the amount of time it has been cultivated.

A quick search on the OED reveals the initial appearances of these fruits on the dictionary are as follow: apple (1225), orange (1400), banana (1563), mango (1582), tomato (1604). But in evaluating the popularity of these words, we must take into account how the word “orange” garners multiple associations. Therefore, it would logical to assume that part of its popularity must have been due to this very fact. Similarly, the word “apple,” given its traditional associations with the Garden of Eden and other cultural implications stemming from this tradition (or even Apple/Mac products), is also affected by the complex meanings attached to it. There is, nevertheless, a huge gap between these two words and the rest of the fruits – but does it necessarily represent their popularity as fruits? This remains uncertain, but certainly plausible. However, in reading this graph, one thing is certain: Detox Lounge is incorrect in claiming mango to be the most popular fruit in the world.

*all historical facts on fruits are quoted from their respective Wikipedia pages