Monthly Archives: July 2013

Traversing McDaid’s Funhouse


The “READ ME FIRST” page from John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse

Created in 1993, John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse may be considered one of the first multimedia/mixed media hypertext novels, as well as one of the first electronic literary artists’ “books.”   Readers opening the black box that holds the remains of Uncle Buddy’s estate found––along with five floppy disks––tapes of music, tarot cards, and other items of the titular Uncle Buddy (who may or may not be dead).  The story unfolds through these various objects, with the information provided on the floppies as hypercard stacks providing the narrative structure of the work.  The novel is inspired by many sources, but those familiar with John Barthes’ “Lost in the Funhouse” will see connections to Uncle Buddy’s house described in the Home card.

One only needs to think back to the technological realities of 1993 when the work was published to understand that makes Uncle Buddy such a compelling work to study as multimedia.  Predating the introduction of browsers by several years and the ability to deliver media-rich content by several more, McDaid’s novel pushes against these constraints by including sound as an external media source.   The inclusion of tarot cards and other objects found in the box mixes analogue with the digital giving rise to a mixed media environment, heightened by the sense of touch.  Anyone who has ever gone through the personal effects of a late relative recognizes the power that interacting with such objects holds.

John McDaid will come to WSUV to participate in the second Pathfinder’s traversal on Thursday, August 8 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  That evening he will be giving a public lecture at the Vancouver Community Library at 7:00 p.m. For more information, contact Dene Grigar at



First Traversals Complete


Stuart Moulthrop traversing Victory Garden for the Pathfinders project

Pathfinders broke new ground this week with Stuart Moulthrop’s  “traversal” of Victory Garden.  The project, at its core, centers on digital preservation, specifically preservation of early digital works of the late 20th century.  This first round of works we are preserving includes four electronic literature novels––two of which were authored in Storyspace (Mouthrop’s Victory Garden, Jackson’s Patchwork Girl), one in Hypercard (McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse), and one with command line programming (Malloy’s Uncle Roger:  The Blue Notebook).   These works, for the most part, demand reader interaction in order for them to be fully realized, so preserving them does not simply mean we capture the nodes and lexias of Victory Garden, for example, but rather that we document the experience that readers have with the work.  To that end we have videotaped Moulthrop traversing his work on an mac-classicApple computer (as seen in the photo to the left) that readers in 1991 would have used when they themselves read the work.  This is what is meant by “breaking new ground”––the documentation of the experience of traversing his hypertext novel in the native environment––for even in  the interview with Lev Manovich published today in Rhizome Manovich expresses shock in “how little visual documentation of the key systems and software (Sketchpad, Xerox Parc’s Alto, first paint programs from late 1960s and 1970s) exists.” Obviously, we are on the right track with the project.


E-Lit artist David Kolb

By “traversal” we mean one passage through a work that is comprised of multiple layers and heaps (e.g. stacks, mounds, mass) of potentially contradictory narrative elements in which the reader is taken back to the beginning.  Using talk aloud protocol, Moulthrop traversed his work for 20 minutes for the camera––and for an audience of six people (David Kolb, author of Socrates in the Labyrinth, drove up from Eugene, OR to join faculty and students of the CMDC Program). The following day we invited two people unfamiliar with the work to traverse it: Pat Kutkey a computer science teacher from Frontier Middle School in the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, WA, and Sean Philbrook, a sophomore at WSU Vancouver.  We captured both reader’s traversal (also using talk aloud protocol) on video and, then, interviewed each (also videotaped).  Not surprising was that both men had little difficulty understanding how to move through the work. Kutkey’s experience with computing environments and Philbook’s with games and gaming systems led to the comfort and relative ease with which they worked through Victory Garden.

the team

Aaron and Dene preparing Stuart for his traversal

Our videographer Aaron Wintersong (a CMDC student who graduated this year) will collaborate with us on the video editing,  eventually combining it with the footage from the next three traversals.  Ultimately, all of this information will be made available as an AppBook that we are producing with  our Scalar consultant Will Luers.

We were fortunate that the Marketing and Communication department on our campus sent photographers to take photos during the two days of traversals.  Here is the archive of all of the photos.  We were also fortunate to have Morgan Hutchinson, a graduating senior from the CMDC program, liveblogging that day.

Here is a short video of Moulthrop talking about what it is like to go back to Victory Garden after two decades of its creation.  This clip comes from the interview that followed his traversal.  Grigar is conducting the interview videotaped by Hutchinson for our YouTube channel.

People Power

With Stuart Moulthrop, arriving on  campus next week and Pathfinders revving up into high gear, we have brought in some people to give us some high octane power.

amaliaFirst, we are excited to announce that we have hired Amalia Vacca as our undergraduate research assistant.  Amalia is a senior in the CMDC Program and has been studying electronic literature for over a year, serving last April as docent at the Library of Congress exhibit, “Electronic Literature and Its Emerging Forms”.  Currently a Fellow in the iPublishing Summer Initiative where she is learning how to build (code, design, conceptualize) new models for online publishing, she brings to her position experience that has prepared her for organizing the traversals and the events surrounding them and the development of the AppBook in which the videos of the authors and readers will be featured.

morgan-p-hutchinsonLending a hand with the liveblogging for the authors’ traversals and interviews is Morgan Hutchinson.  Morgan is graduating from the CMDC program this August.  Like Amalia, Morgan has served as docent at the Library of Congress exhibit; she also joined us as docent at the electronic literature exhibit we curated at the MLA 2013 in Boston.  Morgan is specializing in project management and, to that end, led the team of six students who produced the augmented reality environment for the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington.

aaronHandling the video work for the project is Aaron Wintersong.  Aaron graduated in May 2013 and is also producing videos and animations for the iSci project that Grigar is collaborating on with Mathematics professor Alex Dimitrov.  Aaron will serve as both videography and video editor as well as helping to prepare the material for the AppBook.

We are also fortunate to have two excellent folks joining us on Wednesday, July 10 to read Moulthrop’s Victory Garden for our project.  Pat Kutkey, who teaches computers at Pacific Middle School in the Evergreen School District, will read from 11 a.m. to noon, and Sean Philbrook, a sophomore Computer Science major at WSUV, will read from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.