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Writer Response Theory
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email: markcmarino [at] gmail [dot] com


a show of hands: (work-in-progress) An adaptive hypertext novella.
Current Research and projects
a show of hands represents the latest development in hypertext narrative: an adaptive hypertext. Using the Literatronic system designed by Juan B. Guiterrez, this novella weaves interlocking storylines together, conforming to the reading path of each interactor. The tale of a Mexican American family interrogates borders and trespasses in the lives and deaths of the characters. Read a show of hands.
My Current Research
Presently I am researching the development of a semiotics for interpreting computer code. The approach, called Critical Code Studies, has been published in the electronic book review and presented in the 2006 MLA convention at the Reading Code panel.

The Technology behind a show of hands.

A show of hands is an original adaptive hypertext novella written on the Literatronic (Literatronica) system developed by Juan B. Gutierrez.

Rather than organization the texts passages (lexias) using just links, Literatronic structures literature on distances set by the author. Each text passage is, therefore, fixed in a topology in relation to every other text object. As the reader moves through the story, the system recommends the shortest possible path. Distance is here a representation of narrative continuity or coherence.

However, Gutierrez has noted that as the reader progresses, it is not the person who moves through the system but the map that changes to conform to the movement of the reader. The reader is, thus, the pre-Gallilean center of the storyworld, and the tale, like an impatient, insistant, and jealous lover so wants to be read.

So indeed, this system and its desk present a renaissance of literary hypertext. Literatronic improves on the conventional hypertext with several crucial advances:

Percentage Read: A common problem of literary hypertext is the sense of being lost in a bottomless, topless set of texts. Literatronic addresses this aporia, as Espen Aarseth has called it, by presenting the percentage of total lexias each reader has encountered. As a result, the reader can always judge how far they are from the ending, which greately reduces readerly anxiety and contributes to their ability to make sense of the story.

Saved State: Not only will the text remember your place, but by remembering what you have already seen, it keeps you from encountering the same lexias over and over again, unless the author has purposefully required such repetition.

How the reader encounters it:

The reader is presented with an opening lexia. At the bottom of the screen are titles and short teasers for possible subsequent lexias. Percentages beside the titles of these lexias indicate “narrative continuity,” as the higher percentages indicate greater linkage. When there is only one subsequent page, the system merely offers a “next” button.”

Readers can choose any of the recommended lexias; however, once a page has been read it is removed from the bullpen of choices. If readers want to go back, they can access the “map” and reset pages to “unread.” This feature allows the system to show its true dynamic powers, as a system can rearrange sequence in a way that static links cannot.

Of course, the system can be used by each author in any number of ways. For example, an author can assign two lexias the same distance, leaving it up to the reader to choose. Or the author can rate as highly continuous two lexias that have nothing to do with each other, if they want their work to present a more difficult path.? Writers might also offer their links in the hopes that readers will take the path less chosen. The author does not, however, have to maintain each distance between each lexia. If one distance is set, the system can take care of the rest.

New addition: the relative distance (Attractors)
In any case, hypertext writing here has a new semiotic element, the relative distance. Rather than thinking in hypertext terms, which elements should be linked, the author considers levels of kinship, affinity, connection.

But the reader carves their own paths as well!
The system reports reader activity so that authors can get a sense of what paths people are taking.  In response, authors can change the distances.

Gradually the readers will cut through the grass, wear it down to just dirt, and authors can lay the concrete on top in response — assuming the author has an interest in what the reader’s like to do.

Juan Gutierrez’s hypertext optimization system Literatronica radically revises the 1990s notions of literary hypertext as Modernist collage to the “original” notions of Arpanet as document sharing, where speed of access was put before what Aarseth calls the aporia of links. In short, he asks, is nonlinearity and disruption inherent to the medium.

Of specific interest to Gutierrez, was the issue of “conditional links,” which he saw as limited in terms of difficulty of maintenance. His adaptive hypertext system, Literatronic, addresses the problem by having writers enter text into a database, and then assign “distances” between various lexias. Literatronic, while keeping track of which lexias you’ve read will present you with the 3 best or closest options. By letting you know what percentage of the lexias you have read, the system answers one of the criticism against literary hypertext, which is that helpless feeling of not knowing when a piece will end.

His project is thus an aesthetic reconsideration of hypertext and a practical application, soon to be available to users. Through his system, one can “optimize the narrative space.” Not all readers want it optimized, and I would expect the expert-readers of literary hypertext would be included.

Stemming from work Gutierrez originally undertook for the Colombian government, Literatronic offers the ability to present texts in parallel versions in English and in Spanish.

Some sample tales are currently available on the website. (Note: Some use the adaptive hypertext system, while others are “classic,” presented sequentially as if in print):

What a show of hands adds:
a show of hands attempts to use the system to present a novella with multiple points of view in which time is not the main navigation metaphor. Spread across Los Angeles, the tale interweaves the storylines of the family de la Palma. The challenge has been to develop lexias and multiple paths through the story that maintain coherence. Unlike weaving a traditiona hypertext, these paths will not be stable, as the system forms around the reader's choices. As a result, I have attempted to create narrative neighborhoods with access roads and exits that lead again to junctures.

The hand mosaic. Using a program called AndreaMosaic, I have created two photomosaics out of images of hands. The first photomosaic (above) begins the novella. By selecting one of the hands, the reader chooses which of the first pages of the story they will read. Each photo corresponds to a different first page. The second photomosaic is made from photographs of the hands of those marching in the May 1st immigration reform rally in downtown Los Angeles.

The photomosaics allow me to avoid a major problem: If readers started on the same narrative first page, their experience of the variability would seem much more constrained. Though this page presents set links to the rest of the story, the images offer a greater sense of variability and a choice that is not based on specific textual information from the story.

Classroom Technologies

22 Short Films about Grammar

Machinima for the Classroom, these Films use Activision's The Movies to present a series of short scenes that focus on common grammaticla errors.


Excerpts from
a show of hands
[These are just short samples of various threads that start the story]


father and son
[Eduard, Tom]

All their life was about shaking hands. Congrats on the game, bucko. Thanks for helping me fix the car. Way to go on getting that degree. Brisk hands, shaken sharply. And so they continued until today. At the hospital the news: only twelve months, and the son before the father. Now the hands that had been stiff as starched shirts at the handshake when the son signed onto the family biz, are flat and wobbily like fallen sails, like surrender flags in the hands of the lost.

It is the end of talking. Though they will frequently open their mouths, nothing will come out. The hands extended clench into fists.

peeling skin
[Sta. Paula]

When you work with the chemicals that make the floor reflect the laces of boots of la senora, your skin peels off in strips. And if la senora is also su profesora, peeling the strips is like tossing all your books into the air.

When Santa Paula is particularly tired, sitting on the Metro 20 Rapid next to some freak on the bus, who no matter how gross he is must leer in her general direction, she goes for a peel from tip to knuckle and deposits it on the worn knee of her jeans as if tanning strips of hide. Usually that's all it takes. She has become so good at this that she can strip a side down to the thinnest flesh without breaking the skin. It is the middle finger that accomplishes this task this evening. She rangles her thick black hair back in a loose pony tail, smiling full of pride.

 

 

 

the cartography of hands
[Tess, Eduard]

Every time he sees the blue-green trails of her hands, Eduard thinks of maps. Tess, Teresa de la Palma, has been sitting there for hours. It is time for him to be quiet and listen to tales of age, but instead she just sits there quietly, listening to him. Her eyes are wide and dewy. Her hearing aids are off. All he can do is hold her hand, whose powerful clamp has closed on his like pincers. This is how they pass the time remaining.


See more here:
a show of hands

[Make sure you register for the site to access the full benefits of the Literatronic system]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You can e-mail me at: mcmarino@usc.edu