All posts by Joanzhao

Long Blog Post #2: Deep Surface

The electronic literature project that I chose to explore is Deep Surface. The project promptly caught my eye while I was skimming through the online Electronic Literature Collection, as it has a delicate and evoking cover picture— a young woman and a young man standing naked in deep water, both staring thoughtfully into the distance. We only get to see their backs and thus cannot tell the expression on their faces, the mysterious sense of which further rouses my curiosity for discovering the story.

After conducting some research using Google, I found that the project was written by a professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Stuart Moulthrop, who is specifically interested in the way hypertext works. Consequently, Deep Surface manages to exploit the functions of hypertext as well as exploring the differences between hypertext and traditional plain text. As Moulthrop claims in the “About the Work” section related to the project, the story is supposed to be about “a strange romance between a reading machine and a free-diving simulator”, where “literature at crush depth” and “hypertext gets wet”. While the introduction might sound weird and confusing, the project itself turns out to be fun and easy to manipulate after a careful read-through of instructions and several tryouts.

From a technical perspective, the project is designed as an interactive game that reproduces the process of diving. When you first get on the project page, you will see a square of greenish blue hear the sound of sea, indicating it being a simulation of water. On the right side top of the square is your “life indicator”, a blue circle that will change color if you drag it to the lower level for a period time. The level of the indicator decides the text that is displayed in the square, so the deeper you “dive” into, the more things you get to read. Nevertheless, if you spend too much time at the lower level and “run out of air”, the indicator will gradually turn into red, suggesting that you need to stop reading and go back up to the “surface”. The project/game will automatically pull you “up to the surface” the first few times you try, but after a while you will have to keep an eye on your indicator yourself—you will “die” if you stay too long in the bottom part and will have to start all over again. Meanwhile, a female robot voice will serve as your guide, where it will constantly warn you at the beginning stage that you are running out of air, as well as declare your “death” after failing an attempt. The project/game also calculates score for your each “dive”, where the score will go up as you “dive” deeper and read more different texts. You also get a picture after each “death”, which is also the cover picture that caught my eye, but the picture can be somehow different depending on your score. Below are four different illustrations I got after trying a couple of times, where it is clear that a higher score gives you more details in the picture:

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(Scored around 30, only blurred shadows of the two figures)

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(Scored around 80, a little below the shoulder)

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(Scored around 120, entire upper body in a dark hue)

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(Scored around 400, entire upper body with bright color)

Regarding the content of the texts, it was somehow hard for me to figure out the relationship between the texts from different levels. The contents at the first level, namely, the shallowest part of “water”, seem to consist of random excerpts from the news. For instance, there is news on announcements from NASA scientists, some kidney transplantation surgery, and discovery of a newly found creature. Those in the lower levels, namely, “deeper water”, look more like fragments from some mystery and love fictions. Unfortunately, because of the limited time you get to stay in the lower level, I hardly got to finish any complete paragraphs or even sentences, and thus could not tell what those stories are about or whether their contents are important. The lowest level, also the “deepest of water”, contains a creepy picture of a man wearing glasses, with a male robot voice talking about topics related to American politics. In general, the “deeper” you “dive” into, the more confusing and disturbing the texts get to be.

Multhrop claimed that the project was inspired by a 2004 report called “Reading at Risk”, where he intended to use it as a way to test whether people really understand the risks of reading. As far as my experience went, I think Multhrop did a decent job, as the possibility of “drowning” really urges you to keep keen caution on the time while reading through the texts, where the sense of intensity would otherwise be impossible to achieve during traditional print reading. Nevertheless, the ideas that the project is trying to convey appear somehow as contradictory to me. On one hand, the texts are fluid like water, which makes it tough for readers to grasp their meanings. Such effect seems to suggest that more information does not necessarily empower the readers with more knowledge; yet on the other hand, the picture in the end (which will display more details as you read more text) seems to be implying that further exploration will allow you access to a “final truth”. Regardless of the ambiguity, I believe the project/game is worth readers’ time and still has a lot for readers to explore.


Blog Post #3: Winter Planet Alone

Leaving clocks alone,

as winter approaches—

allow an extra hour of daylight

in the afternoon.


Astronomers have found a planet,

a mere 80 light years from Earth,

that is wandering the heavens alone.


Hundreds of colonized planets

scattered across the galaxy.

The Earth stands alone,

with no planet coming close.


Earth is alone in this solar system

in having life.

Can man live

on this planet alone?



While the artist of the poem remains unknown till today, most people believe that this masterpiece was written by a mysterious intelligent saint Mr. Google, who have most likely sustained thousands of years’ solitude and was finally able to see through the life cycle and the extensive universe.

Long Blog Post #1: Excessive information does not necessarily make our lives better

While Anderson claims that his intention of writing Feed “wasn’t really to predict future tech” in the Epilogue of the book, it is hard to deny that the novel indeed presents us a highly potential situation of our future life—a life swamped with boundless information provided by new technologies like the feed.  On one hand, the unlimited input benefits its users.  As the novel suggests, the feed is a high-end apparatus that only people with a certain level of economic power could afford, since it equips you to a full extent that you can easily get all different kinds of information without taking efforts to look for them.  Yet, the feed has disadvantages as well.  Through Titus’ perspective of his and his friends’ lives, we get to see that the feed, as a representative of the new technologies that enable people to access immense information, actually prevents people from learning, from sensing the real world going on around them, and from thinking on their own.

The novel indicates the feed’s negative impact on education in an implicit way.  Rather than directly criticizing SchoolTM, it shows that people, especially teenagers, are becoming lame in taking in new knowledge, as they can easily look everything up using their feeds.  Violet’s description of her parents, who did not have feeds during college, pointedly shows the fundamental changes that the feed has brought to the traditional way of learning:“ I guess it was really hard.  They couldn’t remember things the way everyone else could, or see the models that were in the air, you know, of chromosomes or stamens”(p225).  Consequently, Titus and his friends no longer need to worry about memorizing things, where they even start to lose the ability of precisely expressing their thoughts, as they usually cannot find an appropriate word.  For instance, when the group try to break into the minibar, Marty could only say “You broke off a…a thing. You broke off a fuckin’ thing” while he actually means “a caster”(p32).  Similarly, Titus is unable to recall the word “bowtie” but has to depict it as “the neck bat”(p35).  Violet also confesses to Titus that he is “the only one of them that uses metaphor”(p63).  In other words, the literary accomplishment of Titus’ generation is indeed becoming alarming because of the ultimate convenience the feed provides.

Besides, the overwhelming information from the feed also bewilders its users, leading them to blindly pursue the trend created by the corporations and stop thinking about what they really want independently.  For instance, Calista gets an “insane macro-lesion” on her neck since “now that lesions are ‘brag’. Now that they are the spit”(183).  Likewise later in the novel, Quendy even gets her entire body covered in these fake lesions.  While lesions were considered as flaws and disgusting, they suddenly become symbols for coolness and impressiveness once the feed starts to promote them in the way.  In this sense, users of the feed like Titus and his friends are not necessarily thinking about the contents that the feed advocates, where their value system could substantially change under the feed’s manipulation.

Last but not least, the feed has gradually changed people’s way of living, leading them to even ignore the real physical world around them.  When Titus and his friends walk around the moon trying to do some shopping, they cannot find the incentive to buy anything from the “stupid physical moon stores” because whatever they need, they can “get better ones off the feed, and have them sent to [their] house”(p31).  The adjective “stupid” likewise suggests Titus’ generation’s scorn for the physical stores.  Therefore, the feed is no longer a medium for its users to explore the real world, but almost becomes a barrier.  Another example is when Titus gets into the bar.  Instead of enjoying the heated atmosphere, his attention is quickly caught by the tachyon shorts that some of the guys are wearing, where “all of the prices were coming into my brain, and it was bam bam bam”(p35).  In other words, the limitless information from the feed is indeed preventing users from wholly sensing the real world around them.

In general, despite of the feed’s benefits, the negative impact from its excessive information on people’s lives should not be ignored, as the meaningless information makes people shallower rather than more intelligent.  Titus claims that “our heads felt real empty” after waking up in the hospital with his feed stopped, which clearly implies how people have lost their own agency to the machine (p46).  Meanwhile, Violet’s remark further specifies the point: “I think death is shallower now. It used to be a hole you fell into and kept falling. Now it’s just a blank”(p145).  In other words, the feed is depriving people of their motivation to explore the world and to live a real life.  Is that an implicit accusation from Anderson on the new technologies?  Whatever the answer is, readers of the book should likely be alerted about the excessive information that we are getting in nowadays.

Blog Post #3: Group 2 – Frankenstein

Our group chose Frankenstein, the classic Gothic novel written by Mary Shelley, as the book for our final project. Below are the five print versions and electronic versions we found about the book.

Print Version 1: Signet Classics, ISBN: 978-0-451-52771-4

This print version of Frankenstein was published in 2000. It is a quite simple version with no illustrations but just the text. Even the cover page has no hint at the monster, which is different from some other versions. Compared with an electronic version, this one might be slightly confusing during the transition between the letters and the journal entries at the beginning of the story. The ending, consisting of another series of journal entries, looks a little bit intense too, where all of them are squeezed together on several pages. The layout might be improved by separating the letters and journal entries or change the fonts or sizes.


Print Version 2: Chicago Press, ISBN:978-1566-6355-30

This version is a play for performance, an adaptation of the original Frankenstein story by Dorothy Louise to give a contemporary feel for the story. The play is more so a revival so that the characters could be emulated by contemporary persons. It brings them to life, and the subtext of the play’s characters gives a reader a more vivid and personal look into the conscience and convictions of Mary Shelley’s characters. This script version cleverly dramatizes Victor’s action and reactions to the events of the plot (the creator of the monster), and allows for his judgments to be evaluated by the reader.

Frankenstein play series

Print Version 3: University of California Press, ISBN: CX-000-821-273 

This 1984 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus caught my eye because it is an extremely large and heavy volume, the hardcover measuring about 12” x 10”.  Barry Moser illustrates throughout the edition.  These pictures appear in every chapter or letter in the text.  Most of them are dark, creepy images of what Moser imagines the monster to look like.  Other pictures illustrate the setting and some of the characters. Most of the illustrations are in black and white, but there are a few in color. There is a table of contents for these illustrations at the beginning of the book.  Because the volume has such large pages, the font is very large.  Also, there are no paragraph breaks throughout the entire text.  Instead, a symbol resembling a cross is inserted where there should be a paragraph break.  This formatting might be confusing to the average reader.  The titles on the cover pages as well as the chapter headings are written in a spooky, Gothic font. The title on the cover as well as the edges of the pages are blood red, contrasting with the cover’s black background.

print ver 3

(Illustration of the monster’s face by Barry Moser)

print ver 32

(Another creepy monster face by Barry Moser)

Print Version 4: Making Humans: Shelley and Wells, Judith Wilt, ISBN: 0-618-08489-4

The book compares Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, including full texts of both, critical essays, historical context, and an introduction to presents the two texts together. The similarities between the two texts are not the main focus, but rather, the reasons behind the similarities. Wilt attempts to understand the similarities between the two by putting them into context and connecting them to modern society. For example, she discusses the fascination with the manipulation of the human body within these two novels, as well as themes of loneliness and human desires. It is truly an interesting analysis and could possibly be a model for our own literature projects as we compare and contextualize Frankenstein.

print ver 4

Print version 5: Norton Critical Edition, ISBN: 0-393-96458-2

This book has a lot of resources packed into it. The preface gives lots of interesting insights into Mary Shelley’s life, as well as the circumstances under which Frankenstein was originally written. Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Shelley, and three other friends including Lord Byron, agreed to participate in a ghost story contest between the three of them, but Mary was the only one to follow through and produce a significant work of literature. But due to the fact that she was a woman, no one initially believed that it was authored by her. Her husband did make contributions by editing the original story, but people largely overestimated the amount that he contributed. These details could be interesting to explore in our project, as perhaps we could find some sort of correlation between how Mary Shelley began to be recognized for her work and how the image of Frankenstein evolved. This edition does not have any pictures except for a map of Geneva towards the beginning, which could be helpful. It has extensive footnotes and resources in the back of the book, which could also be interesting to explore.

print ver 5

Electronic version 1: Electronic text

This electronic text version has a clear layout, which helps readers to understand the story easier and faster. It marks the speaker of each chapter by the chapter title. Since both Frankenstein and the monster spoke in a first-person perspective during the story, mentioning the speaker at the beginning of each chapter enables readers to follow the storyline more smoothly. Meanwhile, this electronic version separates the letters and journal entries in the story from the first-person narration and titles each of them as well. Such layout not only makes the story feel more real, which Mary Shelley was trying to do by adding all these “documents”, but also improves the readability. Besides, this electronic version also attains all the page numbers from the print version.

Frankenstein website

Electronic version 2: Audio book

This eight-hour recording can be easily experienced as a complete bore for its monotonous quality if a reader has no prior knowledge of the story. It was a word for word recitation of the book that serves to make life easier for anyone interested in Frankenstein, but it will not be a recommended resource for academic purposes. The recording gives a reader that intimacy with the story’s characters as a printed version would. Furthermore, it is hard to bookmark, so if a reader wanted a break they must guess where they last ended; nevertheless,  the comments section indicates that many readers were successful with electronic bookmarking.

e ver 2

Electronic version 3: Kindle Book Edition

This edition of Frankenstein is typical of any Kindle book.  It consists of plain text all the way through the novel, and all of the Kindle’s interactive functions are permitted.  The reader can turn the pages by swiping right to left or left to right.  There are tools that allow you to highlight, add notes, search for keywords, and jump to specific places in the novel using the Location numbers. The Kindle also has a dictionary function that, if you hover over a word, will give you its definition. There are tools that allow you to change the font size, and there’s even a tool that lets you post quotes or your reading progress on social media sites.  While there aren’t aesthetically pleasing fonts or illustrations, this version is great for anyone who wants an interactive digital reading experience. And the best part: It’s free!

e ver 3

Electronic Version 4: Interactive App

This version of Frankenstein is an interactive, visual version that is powered through an app called “inkel”, which costs $4.99 to purchase. It works in similar ways as some other interactive literature we have explored in class. At the end of the page, the reader chooses the next line of the next page, ultimately determining the path of the story.  The text includes text from Mary Shelley’s original published book. In this way, the reader has control of weather or not certain events even occur during the storyline -the reader completely controls the plot. While this is hard to compare to the original published text, it continues to receive excellent reviews as a digital literary tool. One aspect of the program that we do find impressive is the visual experience when reading the novel. While these images were not all part of the original text, they allow the reader to visualize the “monster” and science journal entries. The style of the images, as well as how they are presented to the reader, bring the story into a smooth and modern light -ultimately bringing a new life to “the modern prometheus.”

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Electronic Version 5: Archive containing original manuscript

This archive has original manuscripts of Shelley’s novel. The website is easy to navigate, and it is interesting to see the edits made by her husband on the pages. There are options you can select to either show all annotations, only those by Mary, or only those by Percy. The manuscripts each have a clearly typed up version beside them, so the sometimes illegible handwriting is not an issue. There is also always a box underneath that says how to cite the manuscript. It would be really interesting if we could somehow work with this website, although we are not particularly sure how to use it yet. Perhaps if we were interested in a particular passage, it would be interesting to turn to this archive to see what the original version was, and what edits were made to it.

e ver 5

Blog Post #2: Drupal

The official definition of Drupal is “a free software package that allows you to easily organize, manage and publish your content, with an endless variety of customization”, which can be found on its website.  While part of Drupal’s functions are similar to WordPress’, where they both allow you to set up your personal blog/website, the tool itself turned out to be far more “technical”.  In other words, users of Drupal are probably more tech-savvy than common blog writers; and, as far as my exploration went, some basic knowledge in computer programming would likely be helpful for further and deeper understanding in this software.

Drupal works like a database management system, as it enables its administrators and other users to share, retrieve and update data in a database.  One major thing that distinguishes it from other similar tools is that it is highly flexible. Drupal allows administrators to choose different distributions, modules and themes (distributions are like bundles of modules and themes, while modules and themes are similar in function, where users can apply them to modify the layout, fonts and images on their website) to customize their websites for different purposes, such as commerce, news, or entertainment.  Meanwhile, you can find all these on Drupal’s official website (since the software is open source), where members publish and share their self-developed distributions, modules and themes.

(You can use the “search” function to find the resource you find.)3

Statistics showed that about 7% of all websites in the world were managed under Drupal by September 2012, including the White House, Sony Music, the Economist and Harvard.  I also found a website powered by Drupal called “DH Commons”, where it helps match on-going digital humanities projects with contributors looking for projects to work on.

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To get started with Drupal, its official website could be great resource.  On the website they have detailed guidelines and tutorial videos to help newcomers learn how to use the tool, which are contained in “Documentation”.  They also have forum and online chat for members to ask questions and share experiences.  In general, I think Drupal is a cool and powerful software, where it helps you achieve a high level of customization in your website; nevertheless, it is also complex to use.  Therefore, if you simply want to build a blog to share your research and have some basic interactions with readers, WordPress or other blog-building tools may be better choices than Drupal.

Blog Post #1: “Global” vs “Regional”

I chose to compare the terms “global” and “regional”, which are somewhat related to my personal experience.  As an international student in the Commerce School, I found it nearly impossible to ignore words like “diversity” and “globalization”, especially with the development in technology and means of communication in the past few decades.  Below is the graph I got from Ngram Viewer by comparing these two terms.

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The result is similar to what I have expected, as the usage of “global” overcame “regional” in the recent years.  When taking a closer look, I found that “global” started to improve its appearance frequency since 1940.  This might be seen as a consequence of the breakout of the Second World War, since the war not only tied the participating countries more closely, but also raised their senses of each other’s existence and potential collaboration opportunities regardless of their different geographic locations. Another interesting fact is that the top search results for periods “1998-2002” and “2003-2008” under “regional” both included several books on the integration of the European Union, despite the term itself went on a decline since 1997.  This might be under the influence of euro’s birth, as euro was introduced into the world financial market on January 1st of 1999, which could have pushed the European countries to take a more aggressive measure on the commonwealth of their region.

However, one thing that did surprise me greatly was when I changed corpus to Simplified Chinese, where “regional” surpassed “global” all the way throughout 1900-2008.  Regarding the popularity of the concept of globalization in China, the result seemed quite perplexing.  Meanwhile, the top search results I got from clicking on the different time periods were also rather limited.  In other words, the program does not seem to have sufficient books in other languages in its database.

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In this sense, while I do agree that the Ngram Viewer could be a powerful tool for data searching in the English language, its efficiency in other foreign languages like Chinese might need further observation.