The Wunderkammer

A Digital Alchemy Lab

Alchemical Musings

So, we’ve been asked to write about our interpretation of the term “digital alchemy.”  My first experience with the word “alchemy” probably came in a sophomore science class in highschool.  I don’t remember much except that it was a medieval precursor to science that involved trying to turn lead to gold, which seemed totally plausible back then considering they thought flies generated spontaneously from rotting meat.  I think the idea of alchemy continued for a while, at least into the Renaissance when actual science starting popping up.  Don’t quote me on that, though.

Anyway, continuing with my vocabulary narrative.  My next encounter with the word “alchemy” came only a few months later when the brilliant anime “Fullmetal Alchemist” began to air Saturday nights on Cartoon Network.  It is from this anime that most of my ideas about alchemy come, including equivalent exchange, transmutation circles, homunculi, and chimeras.  The anime follows two brothers whose lives are changed forever when they try to bring their mother back from the dead by transmuting all the chemical compounds in a human body, not taking into account the need for a soul.  It leaves one of them without a body (their soul gets attached to an empty suit of armor), and the other loses an arm and a leg trying to save his brother.  They get embroiled in all sorts of adventures that always tend to invoke some kind of philosophical thought in viewers; it was like catnip for my teenage self.

My more modern interpretation of alchemy involves the idea of genre and media blending.  I’m a huge fan of “chimera genres” like magical realism (which combines literary fiction with fantasy), and most of my creative work takes place within that realm.  My favorite authors include Gabriel García Márquez and Karen Russell, both of whom are huge inspirations of mine for a number of reasons.  Last semester I took Dr. Zamora’s Intro to E-Lit class, and that showed me just how fertile the ground for media blending is in the digital age.  Getting back on point, I think digital alchemy is a way to blend literary and technological elements that otherwise would not come together in order to tell new stories in new ways.  Yeah, sorry you had to sit through a load of rambling just to get to that one main point…

As for the title of my blog, it also comes from the Renaissance era, when noblemen would collect curiosities in a “wonder room,” or “wunderkammer” in German-speaking regions.  Wunderkammern are a fascination for me, and I even call my personal collection of antiques, taxidermy, fossils, insects, and travel mementos by that name.  I figured that a perfect place to conduct digital alchemy would be a digital wunderkammer, hence my blog’s title!

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Final Reflection

Well, I made it to the end of the semester…  Overall, I think I fell short of my goal for this class, as I missed several assignments and blog posts, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t gained something valuable from the Spring 2018 Networked Narratives experience.  If I had to condense it into one statement, I’d say that I gained a deeper understanding of the Twitter platform. Hosting a Twitter chat about empathy games and learning to create simple Twitter bots allowed me to experiment with different types of expression and participation. I am particularly proud of my bots.  This is reflected in my blog, where one of my personal favorite posts discusses the first bot I made for class, and all I associated with its creation. My bot pride is also reflected in my choice of final project, where I created an entirely new generative literature bot using the set-up tool we were given in class.

I also gained a lot from taking part in the virtual studio visit with Emilio Vavarella.  Though I had some technical difficulties, I learned a great deal about digital art and I was able to ask a couple really good questions, which prompted rich responses from Mr. Vavarella.  My preparation for the studio visit brought me to Vavarella’s work, and I was amazed at the way he interpreted the concept of digital art. It definitely broadened my own personal definitions.  

I wasn’t as diligent with my DDAs as I could have been, but I still had a great time creating them this go around.  My favorite DDA was DDA #174 “Conjure Up a Rainbow.” I was able to play with the theme of conjuration and share a piece of art from my weird, morbid etsy surfing.  That’s a win-win!

Despite not doing as well as I’d hoped, I feel pretty satisfied with my NetNarr experience.  I learned, and I had fun, and really that’s all one could ask of a class. Plus, now there’s a bot of my creation wreaking automated nounjective havoc on the Internet.  NounjectiveBot shall be my NetNarr legacy!



Last week in class we ventured into the world of bots.  We started by looking at some exemplary bots, from the famous experiment ELIZA to the works of poetry-generating bots.  We concluded with an exercise where we created our own Twitter bots to tweet about a given topic.  I found the topic of bots both fascinating and challenging, even a little nostalgia-inducing.

I’ve had a soft spot for robots and artificial intelligence ever since I saw a documentary about real-life robots as a child.  The documentary showed robots completing puzzles, toddling down hallways, and using early digital cameras to “see.”  As a teenager I read all of Isaac Asimov’s robot-related short stories, and I became enamored with the Sony AIBO (which was discontinued for a while, but is apparently back!).  My first published story was a piece of flash fiction about a robot.  So, yeah, I’ve got some history with bots.

When we tried out ELIZA in class, I was reminded of an old DOS computer program I played as a kid.  Luckily for me, my dad was a huge nerd with an MS in Computer Science, so we always had personal computers in the house.  I must have been about 3 or 4 years old when my dad let me play with a program called Doctor Spatzo.  From what I remember, it was an ELIZA clone with early voice simulation so it could talk to its user in text as well as audibly.  Like ELIZA, Doctor Spatzo was meant to be an automated therapist to whom users could tell their problems.  I remember asking it questions and saying stuff to it, but my most vivid memory of the program comes from a time that I antagonized it.  I forget exactly what I said, but it was continuous strings of little kid nonsense, probably about poop and farts.  I remember Doctor Spatzo’s response perfectly, however.  It told me to “Shut up and go fly a kite.”  I was awe struck, and a little scared.  I thought that Doctor Spatzo was actually angry at me.

Using the Bot or Not Poetry Turing Test reminded me of the fascination I had, perhaps about 5 years ago, with historic automatons.  The images on the Bot or Not site are, I believe, of the Mechanical Turk.  The Mechanical Turk was an 18th century illusion masquerading as an automaton.  It was a box with a mannequin of a Turkish man connected to it that could play chess.  Eventually, the Turk was revealed to be an elaborate trick instead of a brilliant automaton.  There was actually a live human squished inside the box playing chess for the mannequin!  Even though the Turk was a fake, the 18th century was the golden age of automatons.  Many times, clock makers would create automatons as a way to show off their skills or gain favor from royalty.  Some of them were downright amazing, even by today’s mechanical standards.  There was a duck that actually pooped, dolls that were able to write, and countless singing birds.  If anyone is looking to read about these 18th century automatons, I recommend the book Androids in the Enlightenment by Adelheid Voskuhl.

Lastly, the bot creation exercise was difficult, frustrating, and incredibly rewarding upon completion.  It brought me back to the Quick BASIC and Visual BASIC programming classes I took in high school, though it was obviously not as in-depth thanks to the setup tool (Thank goodness!  I don’t think that part of my brain works anymore!)  Once I got things working right on my Twitter bot, I really enjoyed inputing word combinations and seeing them randomized and broadcast out to the world.  I actually have ideas for two more bots that would utilize the same setup, and I’m hoping I can make one of them for our electronic literature project.



In class last week we learned about the concept of digital redlining (see Dr. Chris Gilliard’s work on the topic), and we were asked to create an interactive map of Newark that compared its historical redlining zones and something tech-related.  I chose to compare the redlining zones with free Wi-fi points, and my interactive map can be found here.

It was hard to draw any meaningful conclusions from my map comparison because it seems there aren’t many free Wi-Fi points in the Newark area, at least according to the source I used.  I find that hard to believe, since many hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops boast free Wi-Fi, not to mention libraries and schools. In the interest of getting the map done within class time, I chose to continue working with the source, but if I were to do this project again, I would definitely use something else.

Although I wasn’t able to draw conclusions from my project, I still found it very valuable.  I was naive to the whole idea of digital redlining, so I felt privileged to learn about it.  The topic is relevant to both my thesis work, and to another class I’m taking this semester, Race and Ethnicity in Writing.  In that class, we talk a lot about ways that language conventions, and the use thereof, reflect institutionalized racism.  With digital redlining, it’s clear that new media literacies are subject to that same kind of subtle racism.  As far as my thesis is concerned, I’m looking at online participatory cultures, and one of the biggest criticisms people tend to have about them is the inequality in access.  Although participatory cultures allow great opportunity for expression and informal learning, it’s not fair if some parts of the population aren’t able to participate in them.  Learning about digital redlining really hammered that point home for me.  I also found it valuable to learn the basics of the h5p platform.  There’s so many different things it allows one to make, and I can see possibilities for creating tutoring and teaching materials with it.


My New Little Alchemy Habit

Hello everyone!  I hope your “Spring” break was restful and pleasant, or at the very least productive.

In the last class we had before break, we started our discussion on games, particularly digital or video games.  The discussion was fruitful, with everyone sharing at least a couple games they enjoyed.  The most interesting thing I noticed during the in-class conversation was a widespread feeling of conflict between enjoying games and guilt about wasting time.  I guarantee this conflict is the result of our culture, where being overworked is not just expected, but praised.  Play is severely undervalued, and stress is a badge of honor.  I feel like we shouldn’t have to be apologetic about having and enjoying time for play. Without time for play, people become bitter and burnt out. The idea that games are only for children is no longer true.

Another thing we did in class two weeks ago was try out a game called Little Alchemy.  I wound up getting hooked on it, and I have unlocked over three hundred elements.  I’ve been playing it on my phone at home and in waiting rooms.


It’s hard to pinpoint just what it is about Little Alchemy that makes it so addictive and fun.  I think for me it’s the small-scale reenactment of the scientific process.  The player comes up with a hypothesis for which elements can be combined to produce something new; they test the hypothesis; and they are either correct, or they’re not.  Sometimes the new element produced isn’t what the player expected, which adds an element of surprise.  Sometimes the product is exactly what the player expected, which proves their hypothesis and creates a feeling of satisfaction and intelligence.  Besides the mini-scientific-process method, one can also just go down the line combining random things and seeing what pops up.  Little Alchemy is a perfect example of a game that stimulates the mind while keeping stakes low enough that the player doesn’t feel pressured.

I’m looking forward to learning about more games in the coming weeks, and sharing information about some of my favorites.  In the meantime, I’ll keep combining elements…

The Internet and Games

Well, hello! Sorry for the radio silence on here. We’ve reached the beginning of March, and that means it’s the beginning of our section on Games, which Justin and I will be moderating. It’s tempting to think only of video games when we discuss games in relation to networked narratives and online culture, but for my post today I’m going to discuss two other ways that the Internet facilitates gaming: Art Roleplaying Games and Fan-made augments to traditional table top games.

To borrow the definition listed on the reference site of the Griffia ARPG, “ARPG is a term that is short [for] Art Role Play Game and is used to describe a game in which you have to draw or write in order to complete written prompts that are referred to as Trials, Training, and Quests. By completing these Activities and receiving an approval from a mod, your [character] will gain rewards that will further their progress in the ARPG.” ARPGs share similarities with both video games and tabletop games, but are considered neither. Like video games, a computer or smartphone, as well as an Internet connection, is needed to access and participate in an ARPG; however, unlike video games the engine is not computerized. The “engine” running an ARPG is completely human, much like a tabletop game. Participants and moderators log points, progress, and items, not a computer system. Sometimes ARPGs make use of random number generators, but that’s as far as it goes. In general, the computer just allows access to and transfer of game-related information. Another way that ARPGs differ from both video games and tabletop games is in their method of play. Rather than fighting monsters by pressing buttons on a controller or rolling dice, in an ARPG one fights monsters by drawing their character and the monster, or writing about them. The artwork or writing is then made available to the entire network of players for that ARPG, turning individuals’ game progress into a community art gallery/library. To learn more about ARPGs, I would suggest clicking around Griffia’s reference site. Reading some of the resources there will give you a better idea of how ARPGs operate.

Tabletop games, like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), have been around for decades. There is a unique feel that sitting around a table with one’s friends provides that not even massively multiplayer video games can compete with. That’s why tabletop games still thrive in the age of next-gen consoles. That, and the endless creative possibilities that tabletop roleplaying games allow. Ask any D&D player, and they will no doubt tell you stories about some outlandish situations they’ve found their party in, situations that not even the best video games could have rendered. In the eighties, what you, your friends, and your Dungeon Master (DM) created stayed on your table and in your notebooks, but today the Internet allows players to share their creations with the world. There are communities online where tabletop RPG players can share their adventures and even unique game mechanics. These fan-made races, classes, items, etc. are referred to as “homebrews.” If someone can imagine it, work it into the rules and context of the game, and share it in a way that’s easily understood, someone else miles away can play it. To learn more about this concept of making small-group tabletop games infinitely networked, check out this homebrew wiki.

I hope this has given you all some new ideas about digital gaming!  Although video games are wonderful and artistic, they’re not the only game in town when it comes to networked narratives!

Eponymous Topic and the Internet

So, as you can see, this NetNarr blog is called The Wunderkammer.  You can also see that some of my work for the NetNarr class (like my DDAs and one of my entries into the Digital Art Referencium) has involved the same term and concept.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”><a href=””>@netnarr</a&gt; <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#dda150</a&gt; <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#netnarr</a&gt; A raccoon skull (and other goodies) from my wunderkammer. <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Katherine Marzinsky (@KMarzinsky) <a href=””>February 13, 2018</a></blockquote>

The wunderkammer (wonder room), or cabinet of curiosities, is a very important concept to me, and one that the Internet seems to be helping to come back from the dead.  The concept has its roots in the Age of Discovery (the beginning of the 15th century through the end of the 18th century), when noblemen often took up the mantle of amateur gentleman scholar to impress other noblemen.  They collected and curated objects from the “new” and remote places in the world, and they displayed them in “wonder rooms” or ornate cabinets.  These wunderkammern are seen as a unique kind of artistic curation because of the way completely different objects were displayed together without any context.  This stands in stark contrast to modern museums (many of which originated from notable wunderkammern) and collections of the Enlightenment Era, which concern themselves with categories and contexts.  Wunderkammern were not about dividing the world into logical collections; they were about presenting everything with a sense of universal wonder.  Yes, there were problems with this, particularly with the exoticized views of other cultures that wunderkammern perpetuated and the sideshow attitudes they took toward some diseases and deformities; however, the idea of slapping interesting things together in a room or cabinet to remind oneself of the wonder in the world is, I feel, a necessary thing in today’s world, where we often feel like there’s nothing new to discover.

One of the articles I contributed to The Referencium this week discusses the ways that the Internet has enabled a new, digital kind of wunderkammer to emerge in the post-modern world in which we live.  I looked into this idea further, and I also discovered ways in which the Internet has helped to revive traditional wunderkammern.  On YouTube, owners of wunderkammern can show off their odd and wondrous collections and communicate with other curators; no longer is one required to find other gentlemen scholars to invite into the home.  Online shops like The Evolution Store provide places for people to purchase unique items for their wunderkammern; one can place an order and have the weird and extraordinary delivered to their door instead of waiting for the next ship from the New World.  In the spirit of the 21st century, one can even purchase a sleek, handheld wunderkammer online.

I know I talked about the wunderkammer in the previous iteration of the NetNarr class, but there’s a lot of new people this time around, so I figured I’d talk about it again (I can never get enough of talking about wunderkammern).  The idea of the wunderkammer is also a theme that wove its way into a lot of the work I did this week, so why not?

One of my Favorite Things!

Hello all!  The previous week was a good one for digital alchemy, what with all our Twitter adventures and in-class research.

During our Twitter Chat, I got the chance to talk, or tweet…, about one of my favorite things: digital art!  I was tickled to see other users talking about DeviantArt (for those that don’t know, my thesis is focused on DeviantArt communities), and I loved that I could share a bit about my activities there and some of my favorite digital art.  I wanted to talk about the ways that Twitter has become an extended part of certain online art communities, particularly (you guessed it!) my beloved closed species (CS) communities, but I figured it might go off topic, so I’ll just settle for sharing a few examples here.  I’ll save the rest for my thesis blog.  As a bit of context, those two examples are Twitter profiles members of the Griffia closed species community have made for their characters.  It allows them to explore social media through their characters’ eyes, thus bridging fantasy and reality.  At times these Twitter accounts are also used as places of practice for civic imagination.  As an endcap to this little digital-art-themed ramble, I’ll share a piece of digital art I made, of which I am particularly proud.  Yes, this was for a CS community thing on DeviantArt:

Terradragon fly 4

Artwork by me, Terradragon species and design by griffsnuff@DeviantArt

Now let’s get to the next (related, but different) topic: the Twitter Safari!  I really had a great time with this activity, and it had some extra, behind-the-scenes meaning for me as well.  As can be seen in my Safari entries, each one includes a little snippet of lyrical prose.  That sort of writing was on the tip of my brain last Tuesday because I had just been struck by a bolt of writing inspiration on the way to school.  Well yeah, you might say, you’re in an English Master’s program; that’s no big deal.  Big news: IT IS.  I had some major health issues last semester, and those issues had been bubbling for a while.  My mind was in an awful place, and it had been at least a year since I had experienced genuine inspiration to write.  I’m not talking about “Oh, okay, I’ll write about this for this assignment; I’ve got ideas about how to do that”; I’m talking about true creative writing inspiration, the type where the words just smack you out of nowhere, pre-packaged in tasteful statements, and demand to be written.  It’s like artistic diarrhea.  A few years ago, that sort of inspiration was commonplace for me.  I wrote like I breathed.  I had artistic diarrhea enough that I had to carry a fucking pen-and-paper diaper to catch all my words and ideas.  I thought I had lost that ability; I thought life had beaten it out of me.  But I was wonderfully wrong!  Before class last week, I was feverishly writing a short creative nonfiction piece on a yellow legal pad with an unsharpened pencil.  The residual creative thought was used to make the comments on my Twitter Safari photos, and now they’re markers of the moment when inspiration finally came back to me, when I really started feeling like myself again for the first time in a while.

The Twitter Safari itself was a fun activity, and I can see it being a useful teaching tool (for those of us that intend to teach).  I liked the urgency of it, and I definitely would not change it to a longer assignment.  I think that would allow students to ignore it.  There’s something special about being told “Here’s 15 minutes; go find art in your boring-ass surroundings.”  It’s like a warm-up jog for the brain, or at least that’s how I’d use the Safari activity if I were to use it in my future teaching career.  One day the students could do a Safari instead of free-writing; I think they serve similar purposes, but in totally different ways.

New Beginning


This week has been a busy one!  Along with the new semester beginning, I also had a root canal, visited some friends, and started lessons with a new student in my private tutoring “business.”  Because I knew I’d have so much going on, I made sure to get my set-up and DDAs done during our previous class.

I went back into some of the older DDAs (at the time of class) and completed them, and then I did the in-class DDA as well.

Here are the links to my DDA tweets:




Of these, I feel like 129 inspired the most reflection.  Despite how often I use the Internet, I’ve never thought of making a map of it before.  In fact, despite the prepositions and terms we generally use with the Internet (“citizen of the Internet,” “on the Internet,” “in the Internet,” “visit a website,” etc.), I’ve never really thought of it as a place, but rather a thing or vehicle.  The Internet is such a large, nebulous thing, so I decided to make my map more personal, only the places that I commonly visit, or that play integral roles in my daily life.  In my map, I made my PC a spaceship, as upon further reflection, one’s computer is more of a vehicle than the Internet itself.  Each category of website took the form of a planet.  There was a home planet, a shopping planet, a finances planet, and a research planet.  The home planet included websites I visit every day, such as my email, DeviantArt, and Wyzant.  The shopping planet included websites I often buy things from, or that facilitate the acts of buying or selling, such as Amazon, Etsy, and PayPal.  The finances planet included the websites that allow me to pay bills and check balances.  Finally, the research planet included websites and platforms I use to complete assignments or conduct research.  In between the home planet and the other planets is an asteroid belt of random Google searches.  I decided to represent these random searches as asteroids because they could hit, or be related to, things from any of the other planets, or they could be ephemeral streaks of information that illuminate once, but are never seen again.

It was also really great to be back in the classroom.  I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing it until I was there.  The familiar faces filled me with a sense of homecoming, and the unfamiliar faces filled me with excitement: I can’t wait to share the unique NetNarr experience with them!  It’s like waiting for a kid to open their Christmas presents.






A New Adventure

Hello everyone and welcome to my blog for the Spring 2018 Networked Narratives class.  It’s also the same blog I used for the previous iteration of the course, but no one needs to know about that…

I had some health trouble last semester and had to take a medical leave of absence, but now I’m back and stronger than ever!  I’m looking forward to learning and writing with everyone, and I’m psyched to see this class getting underway for more Arganee adventures.

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