All posts by robertshimshock

The Gray Planet: Forecasting Failure to Promote Awareness – Blog Essay #2

Think about it: so many of our perceptions of the world are framed by the corporations that fill it. This idea is represented literally in Jason Nelson’s project “With love…from a failed planet,” as accessed from the Electronic Literature Directory. The work superimposes the logos of 45 of the world’s most famous businesses on a globe, allowing users to read Nelson’s forecasted demise for each and every one of them. Ironically, however ludicrous these predictions seem, they are often also very appropriate, a dichotomy that, given the rapid change in expectations that the digital era has ushered in with the latest i*insert noun* or new smallest computer, challenges our initial impressions as to what is and is not plausible.

For example, Nelson forecasts Sony’s demise as stemming from the creation of the “ALLMAN,” a gadget that, like contemporary devices, attempts to pack as many sources of pleasure as possible into one thing. While Sony could only make 12 of these before collapsing (presumably from bankruptcy), the purchasers of those 12 gadgets each lived for a thousand years. Unrealistic as it may seem, this scenario captures a significant maxim of the digital era: the gains are bigger than ever, but so are the risks. By making such a ridiculous gadget – I mean come on, even the name is awful – Sony has, in one fell swoop, hit both ends of this spectrum by defying life for 12 humans while killing itself.

According to Nelson, similarly “outrageous” (as they initially seem) ends are in store for McDonalds and YouTube. While a tiny defective fryer part coupled with ensuing public paranoia and legal outrage precipitates the fall of the fast-food titan, manipulation of copyright laws strips the video site of any uploads that include consumer goods/services. These two scenarios and many others also address the risk side of the earlier paradox. With how powerful and pervasive McDonalds, YouTube, and other companies are, it would be only natural to think that their downfall would be equally as great and take the form of some unprecedented catastrophe. Instead, many of these giants are taken down by small, subtle errors that have colossal consequences. The downfalls seem more plausible because many of these blips in the otherwise perfect corporate environment resemble troubles that the digital era has introduced to society.

For instance, the widespread panic with which McDonalds’s mistake is met can be attributed largely to communication, that which, with cell phones, laptops, etc. is now faster and more far-reaching than ever before. While this communication can quickly bring flocks of eager customers to an innovative company, it can also destroy entire enterprises almost overnight. Similarly, the nuances in the copyright laws that lawyers manipulate to lay waste to YouTube can be likened to the opportunities presented by coding. Much progress in the 21st century has stemmed from this digital code of law. However, today, if a computer or website is incorrectly programmed, it can be vulnerable to DDoS attacks, viruses, and remote control that can either destroy users’ information or use it for malicious purposes.

But perhaps the most cryptic component of Nelson’s work is its nonstop navigation. At first, I was merely annoyed with the discovery that the globe on which the logos of the 45 corporations, countries, etc. lie wouldn’t…stop…moving. Since one has to hold their mouse over icons to read about the failures, this means that, unless he/she constantly follows the icon with his/her mouse, he/she will not be able to continue reading about his/her selected failure. Hellish? Yes. Meaningless? Perhaps not.

Nelson’s deviation from the intuitive exhibit design of allowing the reader to stick with their choice, when coupled with his digital age subject matter, communicates a lack of constancy in the digital era. However famous and relevant Google, McDonalds, and Wikipedia might be, they – and, indeed, most of the other organizations on the globe – have only existed for perhaps a few decades. This is especially apparent upon examining the context Nelson displays them in, i.e. the Earth, which has existed for these decades plus, oh, quite a few zeroes. Therefore, while Nelson’s imagined deaths of such mainstays in our everyday lives may initially seem childish and insane, when considering the fleeting nature of life (albeit human or corporate) compared with that of Earth, they accrue an eerie aura of realism. Does the world care? Nope – just like in Nelson’s project, it keeps on spinning.

Another apparent aspect of Nelson’s portrayal is the representation of such powerful and revered companies with mere logos. The globe is tightly crowded with these 45 symbols, some of which are wordless (ex. Apple, Mercedes Benz, etc.). Covering such an emblem of nature with which people have identified for generations with designs that would appear foreign to anyone before just half a century ago is unsettling and enhances Nelson’s seemingly negative view of the digital age. Also, instead of placing the logos atop the standard land/water diagram of Earth, Nelson’s globe is a barren ball of gray. This color illustrates the grayness of the paradox that the companies’ successes and downfalls reflected: the digital era is neither black nor white, but is a mixture of massive risks and rewards.

While the inclusion of “failed planet” in the project’s name lends Nelson’s view of the digital era negativity, the gray maxim presented as well as the sheer predictive quality of the diagram gives the project more of a warning nature. Much like the dystopian literature we have read during the semester, Nelson’s work is futuristic, even providing dates in the 2010s (after the project’s date of 2011) and 2020s to chronicle some downfalls. By creating an interval between these dates and the present, Nelson, like Forster, Anderson, and others, hatches hope that humanity can counteract the risks wrought by the digital era.

“Fluffy Sheep Soup” Flarf – Short Blog Post #3

Fluffy Sheep Soup

 

Visualize white, fluffy, plump sheep.

 

The fluffy sheep is as gentle as it is soft.

Crispy crust with fluffy middle.

The skull leaving the brains (fluffy clouds) and eyeballs floating on the top.

Shrek the fluffy sheep….Dirty sheep, no soup for you.

 

#smelly #sheep #cute #fluffy

Make a super cute fluffy lamb cake.

They get super fluffy and you know they’re ready to eat once it floats.

Rainbow Fluffy Sheep.

 

Cutting a sheep’s head in half and

Oh fluffy sheep are wonderful.

Nuclear Sheep and The adoorible kitten fluffy: BAAAAAA!!!!

You will be eaten by the Soup dragon!

 

Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and

Soft and fluffy lamb testes arrived at the table.

All that is missing is a few fluffy sheep.

Falling-off-the-bone lamb shanks for 4 in only 30 minutes!

 

Sit back in the sunshine and take your time over a bowl of hot butternut soup

For Arthur the Fluffy Sheep was a very happy little lamb.

 

To find the words/phrases used in this flarf, I entered “fluffy sheep soup” into Google.  The intent was to dichotomize human uses of sheep.  For children, these creatures are cute, cuddly, and comforting whereas for adults, they are ingredients in an elegant meal or things to be shorn for profit.

Access to Excess: Mere Bliss or Something Amiss? – Blog Essay #1

“ ‘You’re feed!’ ” cries Violet to a cut-covered Quendy and some other kids, the equation capturing the one around which M.T. Anderson has built the title of his book.  In Anderson’s digital dystopia, feed is not only the technology that enables people to easily access excess, but also the excess’s human vessels, the people that act and talk upon the gadget’s advice.  While the feed provides people with excess, has it, in its control of many mental faculties, morphed this ideal into that which is disgusting and degenerate instead of merely satisfying?

When Titus takes Violet to the party at Quendy’s house, he witnesses his friends “going mal.”  After declining to do so himself, Titus watches as “they spread out their arms and closed their eyes…doing the quiver.” (88)  This two-sentence description uses the plural proper noun of “they” or its variants eight times.  Jamming all of Titus’s entranced friends into this one noun synchronizes their mal-induced movements.  The continual reference to “they” strips the kids of their individual identities, this and the coordination of their actions robotizing their movements.  The rendering of such digital, collective action to humans, whose individual attributes usually make them the epitome of uniqueness and distinction, comes across as disgusting and unnatural.

In this passage, the sentence structure of “they…first,” “and then,” etc. fits an order to the synchronized motion, as though it were a dance.  At first glance, this element lends the excess present in going mal a pleasurable connotation, but upon examining the steps to the mal-dance, the degenerate quality of the excess can be observed.  Titus describes his friends “getting the shudder first,” “big stumbling,” and “doing the quiver.”  The first movement, shuddering, is the body’s natural reaction to something fearful, disgusting, or otherwise antagonistic whereas the second motion links coolness or hipness with clumsiness.  But the third dance step is the worst, as it likens, through use of “doing the,” a phrase typically attached to popular dances, a motion reminiscent of epileptic seizure to a famous dance technique.  The oxymoronic linking of a fear-induced response, clumsiness, and a debilitating sickness to a jovial pastime is simply sickening and emphasizes the debilitating nature of the feed.

The atrocity underlying going mal is also magnified when Anderson finally notes one of its individual victims.  This is none other than Link, a teenager, “whose tongue came out.” (88)  While this passage describes an individual, the trend of no individuals taking action continues, as Link’s tongue performs the action of exiting the mouth.  Anderson’s continued separation of individual from action subordinates humanity to the mechanisms on which it relies (i.e. the tongue and the feed).  The tongue is a mechanism of the body; the performance of an action, of its own accord, by such a mechanism represents, in Feed, the subtle dominance of tools over the humans that once controlled them, this inversion being made easier when the descendants of the feed’s creators are drugged into a blissful ignorance.

But empathy is evoked when the victims are identified as the youth, something which is done when Link’s tongue is described to be “purple from candy.” (88)  While candy is a food almost exclusively associated with children, purple, being the hue of a bruise, connotes an injury received from this pleasurable treat.  Created here is a metaphor that likens Link’s bruise from a treat to the Feed society’s injury from excessive gratification via the feed.  While candy and the feed may be scrumptious to the senses, the excessive consumption of each is unhealthy.

Such excess has crippled conceptions of significance, leading Titus to say “ ‘I’d like to have this…sense overload’ ” (145) when asked, by Violet, how he would like to die.  In his response, Titus’s verbal superfluity juxtaposes the excessive physical nature of his preferred means of dying with its actual “shallow”ness, as Violet later describes it.  While the typical conversational filler of “like” is used thrice, “just” is employed equally as often, these words filling the void of expressionlessness with that which lends no meaning or further substance to what is being said.  Anderson’s verbal interplay here ironizes Titus’s desired death; just like “just” and “like” strive to replace a lack of intelligence and imagination in a culture saturated with digital resources that can be called upon instantly, the intensity of Titus’s death seeks to compensate for a lackluster life in which “going mal” is one of the only forms of actual pleasure.

This desperation for intensity is perhaps best reflected with the exaggerated use of maximal diction, words that connote extremity.  Almost every line of Titus’s description has words/phrases such as “every one,” “mile a second,” and “just jammed.”  Particularly striking is the line of “every one of my senses all of them so full up.”  Here, redundancy is utilized in Titus’s reference to his senses as both “every one” and “all,” as well as in the phrase of “so full up.”  In this latter piece, all three individual words connote excess, the use of all of them implying that no single one of them, alone, can communicate the intensity for which Titus yearns.  When whimsically wielded by Titus to describe his preferred death, these words of excess and greatness become weak and superfluous.  The necessity for both death and words to be excessive represents a watering down of these concepts, the instant gratification that the feed gives requiring each to be exacerbated to achieve any real significance.

While the feed is represented as that which dehumanizes and debilitates when Titus’s friends go mal, it is also, when Titus describes his desired death, portrayed as that which undermines the significance of pleasure and language.  Although the feed is able to provide short-term gratification, it ultimately undermines this concept, desensitizing its human vessels to pleasure.  This is captured not only in the first sentence of the book, in which the moon, travel to which and experience of which would usually be the epitome of adventure, is said to “completely suck,” (3) but also through the boredom and dejection with which Titus and his friends associate many things.  In short, Anderson’s feed feeds off of the human capacity to have fun and find resonance in the world outside of the appalling apparatus.

Huckleberry Finn Group Blog Post: Print & Digital Versions

Print Version #1: Great Illustrated Classics (2008)

Despite being 240 pages, this edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is abridged. The large print and the full-page illustrations make it seem a more child-friendly version of the text.  While it is important for children and teenagers to be able to access classic literature, much of the gravity of this text is lost in this edition. For instance, the images of Huck and Jim’s smiling faces on the front cover instantly set a cheerful and comedic tone for this text, not alluding in any way to the novel’s struggle with issues of slavery and a gray morality.  Furthermore, the old textbook-like illustrations coupled with the brief descriptions (ex. “Lessons make Huck tired”) somewhat oversimplify the novel.

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Digital Version #1: CC Prose and Librivox (2011)

On the other hand, CC Prose and Librivox’s audiobook version on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFZYP1fDtpo) enhances the text.  It includes synchronized text and an interactive transcript that allows the reader to skip around to different parts of the book.  The Librivox audio read by Mark F. Smith is also quite pleasant to hear. Aesthetically, this version is simple: it is laid out like a scroll with a faint image in the background; the text is large and easy to follow as the speaker reads.  Like the Great Illustrated Classics edition, this version is also probably marketed toward young students, but unlike the 2008 novel, it is not abridged or depicted in any certain way.

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Print Version #2: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. (1981)

The Annotated Huckleberry Finn is reproduced from the first edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was issued by Chatto & Windus from London in 1884.  The Introduction, Notes, and Bibliography were written and compiled by Michael Patrick Hearn.  The introduction provides extensive history on the writing of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  It explains how the work came to be written as an autobiography of Huck, how Kemble became the illustrator, and the reactions the book received – to name a few examples.  Throughout the book, there are many illustrations and photos included.  These photos can range from Kemble’s drawings for the original text to an image of a location about which Twain writes.  These photos can also accompany an annotation.  The annotations would be helpful for younger readers as they explain the scenes of the book in a deeper context.  They often clarify slang that a character uses or make sense of references that would be unfamiliar to a modern reader.  The book even provides an index for words and phrases frequently mentioned.  This version is incredibly helpful to readers who want to understand The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a deeper context.

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Digital Version #2: Gutenberg (2004)

On gutenberg.org, readers have multiple options in choosing how to view the text of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Project Gutenberg is a producer of free eBooks and accepts donations in order to add more books to grow their collection.  The reader can chose to receive the text of Huckleberry Finn in HTML form, or chose to download it to Dropbox, Google Drive, Kindle, or OneDrive.  Texts with and without pictures are also offered.  Readers who do not want a hard copy of the text will find the various formats that Gutenberg offers to be very valuable.  The lack of annotations in this edition, however, may not make it as child-friendly as the Clarkson & Potter edition, perhaps leading it to not be used as much in grade school English classes that wish to tackle the classic.

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Print Version #3: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. (1985)

The title page of this version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes a short passage from the part of the story during which Tom Sawyer creates a gang with the other boys. Next, a few pages are devoted to a summary of Mark Twain’s life and career, written by Keith Nelson. Before the notice and explanatory (included in the UVa eText), there is one more addition to this print version: a preface.

This eight-page passage includes themes, analysis of Huck and Jim, and a view on the significance of the book’s placement in Mark Twain’s career. Both this and an afterward, also focused on character development, are by Keith Nelson.

Perhaps because of the date of printing and perhaps because of the book having been used before, the pages have a dry, soft feel and are of a slightly faded hue, unlike the white, crisp papers of modern books.  This could aid readers in getting in touch with the time-period of the book.

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Digital Version #3: UVa Library (1993-1995)

The UVa Library’s eText of Huckleberry Finn is derived from the 1912 Harper & Brothers edition of the book. The text is available in a single webpage layout, or a chapter-by-chapter format, as accessed by the Table of Contents link.  Unlike in the Tom Doherty Associates version, each chapter has several words or phrases hyperlinked; upon clicking the links, readers can view pictures, needing only to press the “Back” button to return to the text.  So, in this format, viewing pictures is entirely optional, thus suiting both children and a more mature audience.  The Notice and Explanatory from the original text are also included, but the UVa Library’s version lacks an explanation of cultural relevance, which is found in the preface of the Tom Doherty Associates edition.

Particularly interesting are the chapters’ headers.  UVa’s eText does not include the chapter titles that are present in print editions; chapters are denoted with a “Chapter” followed by a roman numeral.  However, the decorations of some of these headers lend insight into the respective chapters’ contents.  For example, Chapter VI (called “Pap Struggles with the Death Angel” in the print edition), has what looks like blood dripping down from each character.  This seems pertinent, as Huck is beaten by his father in the chapter.  Other headers have elements of nature, appropriate when considering Huck and Jim’s outdoors adventure.

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Print Version #4: Prospectus (1st Edition – 1884)

This prospectus, donated by C.W. Barrett to UVa’s Special Collections advertises the First Edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Unlike other print and digital forms of the text, this version is very fragile, needing to always be kept in a plastic sleeve.  This edition includes a humorous advertisement: “See the book. It speaks for itself.”  This perhaps shines light on the fact that the first Huckleberry Finn novels were sold by subscription.

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Digital Version #4: Disney (1993)

This adoption of The Adventures of Huck Finn is the most recent of movie adaptations.  Huck Finn, played by a young Elijah Wood, dominates the film as he does in the novel.  However, Tom Sawyer is not represented in the film, an interesting decision by director Stephen Sommers. The novel itself is derived from Tom Sawyer (1876), and thus the modernity of the movie suggests a severance between them.  Smaller details in the movie have been altered from all versions of the text.  For example, instead of befriending Buck Grangerford, as is written in the text, Huck befriends a “Billy” Grangerford, to relate more to the prevalence of 20th century viewers.  As seen in different novel editions, the n-word is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not used in the movie.  This adaptation purposefully omitted offensive language to remain true to an era of racial sensitivity, signaling a “corrected” Huckleberry Finn.  The choice also seems apt when considering Disney’s youthful audience.

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Print Version #5: Charles L. Webster (1891)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade) contains newspaper clippings and postcards related to Mark Twain and the novel.  From the pictures below, it can be seen that the owner of this book was a true follower of the novel and its author.  The illustrations were replicas of the first edition.  It is extremely obvious that Herbert Reibach, the man who donated this book to the University, loved this book and intended for it to be studied as a historical document.

Unlike more recent versions (print or digital), this one had to be examined on a bookstand and could not be taken out of the library.  The UVa Special Collections, like other institutions, does sometimes digitize books; however, these often come at a price, for a lot of books are destroyed during scanning when their binding has to be removed.

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Digital Version #5: American Playhouse (1985)

This adaptation, perhaps one of the darkest versions of Huckleberry Finn, includes a lynching scene only alluded to in Twain’s narrative.  The film seems to focus on capturing the dark and dangerous antebellum atmosphere.  Having made an agreement with the National Endowment for the Humanities to maintain fidelity with Twain’s text, American Playhouse decided to retain racist epithets.  The director, Peter Hunt, attempted to go beyond the confines of the pages in order to unveil the truth of the times, declaring that fidelity and authenticity are synonymous, and that the gauges we use to determine authenticity extend beyond the text itself.

Being a movie, this version of Huckleberry Finn has a much a greater ease of access than the Charles L. Webster edition.

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Simile Timeline’s Linkage Capabilities

Synchronicity seems to be Simile’s strength.  The tool plots one or multiple sets of data against one or multiple timeframes, enhancing its users’ contextual awareness.  The timeline and timeplot are Simile’s basic mechanisms, the former being pretty self-explanatory with the latter being essentially a line graph.  However, Simile enables users to utilize these tools with a little more originality than you learned to use them with in elementary school.

ENMC 3600 Short Blog Post #2, Picture 1

As seen above, the timeline of “The Life of Monet” displays some of Simile’s basic capabilities.  Events are labelled with circles, the color of which signifies certain types of events.  Here, blue dots denote life events while green ones signify significant Monet paintings.  Short descriptions can be accessed by clicking on the circles.  Bars indicate ongoing events and two axes are utilized, one labelling years with the other giving Monet’s age.  Chronicling a person’s life is nothing new, but Simile’s ability to synthesize information is really showcased in its homepage “JFK Assassination timeline”.

ENMC 3600 Short Blog Post #2, Picture 2

Here, Simile overlaps chaotic events surrounding the murder, plotting them down to the minute, and even second of their occurrence.

The timeplot tool plots numerical information, relying on relative fluctuations instead of an axis with precise values.  Finally, the exhibit tool allows users to see applications of Simile, such as plotting the birthplaces of US presidents on a map of the US, or plotting the births of breakfast cereal characters on a timeline.

Simile would provide an interesting way to display information in literature, especially for books such as those in A Song of Ice and Fire (“Game of Thrones”), in which multiple points of view can disrupt time and event linkage.  Simile’s ability to render relative significances could be of value to the Huck Finn group, perhaps enabling us to graph different-sized dots – denoting things such as the amount of plot dedicated to a specific location – against the Mississippi River.  Plotting the publishing history of authors would also be useful.  The preface, by Keith Nelson, of my version of Huckleberry Finn mentions the novel’s location as being a turning point in Mark Twain’s career, with more pessimistic works being published afterwards.

Blog Post #1: Social Identification and Its Bearing

When examining societies, noting how their people identify can lend insight on values.  A particularly significant form of identification is that of group vs. individual.  A main difference between these two categories lies in their spreads of ideals.  If everyone identifies themselves as individuals, a greater variety of values is implied, but also a greater potential for conflict when the society is ruled by weaker majorities.  However, while group identification leads to higher levels of agreement, it can also magnify conflicts when different groups interact.

Since research on the OED yielded noun and verb variants of “group” and noun and adjective variants of “individual”, the Ngram study was conducted using part-of-speech tags to ensure that only the usages related to personal identification were included.  The period of 1800 – 2000 was examined.

ENMC 3600 Short Blog Post #1, Picture 1

Before the 20th century, the two terms were used roughly equally, the usage of “individual” surpassing that of “group” at the beginning of the period.  However, the 1900s saw the mass increase in the relative use of “group”.  This could perhaps be linked to the acceleration of industry and the formation of businesses, groups in which various individual talents condensed under common ideals to reap profits.  A wildcard search of “group” yields “group of” as the context in which the word is, by far, most frequently used.

ENMC 3600 Short Blog Post #1, Picture 2

The word that generally comes after this phrase would probably be an occupation or some other class with which all members of the group associate, such as “group of bankers” or “group of scientists”. The rise in this phrase’s usage during the 1900s supports the idea that it is connected to the industrial era.

But has this heightened identification with groups led, on the broad scale, to greater compatibility, or greater dissent?  To try and find out, I plotted “cooperation” against “competition”.

ENMC 3600 Short Blog Post #1, Picture 3

Both words saw a marked increase in usage during the industrial 1900s, with a slight divergence after 1980, when “cooperation” began to dip but “competition” continued to rise.  This indicates that while the predominating group identification converges values, making goals perhaps more obtainable, it also creates a greater divide between values of entities than did individual identification.

Being able to separate usages of words with the part-of-speech and wildcard tools increases the value of Ngram as a device with which we can measure social changes.  However, Ngram measures just that: changes.  Conclusions are not made as to why these changes have occurred, leaving human speculation to accomplish what is perhaps too massive a part of the task.  Also, while Google Books is useful in seeing particular instances in which words/phrases were used, it is not adequately filtered, minimizing any aid in making claims based on Ngram.