Plotto is a book originally published in 1928 by William Wallace Cook that was recently (2011) republished by Tin House Books with an introduction by Paul Collins.
The point of the book is to provide
A classic how-to manual [...] Plotto is one writer's personal method, painstakingly diagrammed for the benefit of others [...] Cook takes his "Plottoist" through hundreds of situations and scenarios, guiding the reader's hand as a dizzying array of "purposes" and "obstacles" come to a head.
After familiarizing myself with its fascinating late-binding, finite automaton-like organization, I tried my hand this afternoon at creating the beginnings of a novel outline using Plotto.
If you've read this far, you might as well take a peek at it.
In July 2007 my son Owen (then age 9) attended a one week "Basketball School" at Palo Alto High School. He was assigned to a team coached by Jeremy Lin, who had returned from Harvard (and its basketball team) for that summer.
At the end of Owen camp received a photo of all the campers, and a five-paragraph evaluation of his skills written by Jeremy, in part:
OVERALL: Owen I have truly enjoyed being your coach this past week and I hope that you come back next summer. Keep working on your skills because you have a lot of talent and the ability to take over games. Just don't get discouraged when other people foul you! Keep up the good work! Coach Jeremy
Today I found it in a box and scanned it in (PDF, two pages).
Each of these sentences below was generated at random by a computer algorithm. (For the moment, this algorithm is named "Let Sparky Write It," but that will probably change...)
Sparky uses a Markov model derived from books in the Google nGram "English One-Million" dataset, together with other hacks. From http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/info:
The "Google Million". All [these books were written] in English with dates ranging from 1500 to 2008. No more than about 6000 books were chosen from any one year, which means that all of the scanned books from early years are present, and books from later years are randomly sampled. The random samplings reflect the subject distributions for the year (so there are more computer books in 2000 than 1980). Books with low OCR quality were removed, and serials were removed.
Enough boring intro!
LET SPARKY WRITE IT
I am creating a flurry of wild seed.
His stories had been icy. Should be vitally important, the effect.
His prose style: a sulfurous odor of cedar and pine plantations on the palm opened.
There is little solidarity among the networks.
And he poured on the colonies the only mills in Shanghai could not thaw.
His work reminds us of thirty barrels of beer per head!
I truly belonged to small committees.
We had appeared frequently in economic speculation and gossip.
He married Eve Clotterboke.
He was outrageous with the phrasing of the HEAVENS.
In 1902, a small laser.
He resigned from his virtues.
He was Nicholas.
They were edited by Monica Wilson and Audubon; the walking was easy.
Saved: largely by technological advances in divine righteousness.
Now, then, whenever: The first credits.
Drive them precipitately to the experimental fields of inquiry.
The expedition from Mexico to east of Lake Saint-Lager.
The legislature itself looked gratified.
She was standing at the Concertgebouw Orchestra in a Stile.
The French---or those who transacted a great Elizabethan age.
The new shade of weakness. He was dour and sullen murmurs.
It died--like so many--in its natural secretions.
A German staff of officers were Lieutenants.
Some Thoughts about the Anti-Jacobinism.
I was steaming like a ruffled shirt bosom.
The Democrats appeared to all the diocesans.
The Nazis---he was shaken with equal pain.
The low and projecting ledges and shoals.
Invigorated by an extrusion die.
He was pleasant and fitting (see Museum of Copenhagen and St. Chrysostom).
The national congresses of Soviets.
A new aerodrome.
There were 746.
Is Death miles away from this house,Billy Collins
reaching for a widow in Cincinnati
or breathing down the neck of a lost hiker
in British Columbia?
Is he too busy making arrangements,
tampering with air brakes,
scattering cancer cells like seeds,
loosening the wooden beams of roller coasters
to bother with my hidden cottage
that visitors find so hard to find?
Or is he stepping from a black car
parked at the dark end of the lane,
shaking open the familiar cloak,
its hood raised like the head of a crow
and removing the scythe from the trunk?
Did you have any trouble with the directions?
I will ask, as I start talking my way out of this.
The second art that I acquired in Pentonville [prison] was so-called "Marseilles chess." It was invented by an elderly Frenchman, with a red scarf around his neck, who taught it to me during exercise hours. In this game, each player in turn makes two moves instead of one—the only restriction being that the first of the two moves should not be a check to the King. To the chess-addict is this a nerve-racking experience which shatters his outlook and upsets all his values. Hitler and the Gestapo have faded into the past, but the memory of Marseilles chess in Pentonville still makes me shudder.Arthur Koestler
[John Horton] Conway paused for a moment, and his bushy eyebrows furrowed. "Yes, I must really have a tremendous memory. As you know, I crossed the Atlantic in, 1985 or 1986, and became a [Mathematics] professor at Princeton. Several years later, when what's-his-name ... Harold Shapiro became President of the university, he invited some of the faculty to a dinner party each week. There were about eight or ten guests, and Shapiro asked each of us to say a few words about ourselves. I didn't like that one bit. It reminded me of the recitations of poetry we had to do in elementary school. So I recited a little poem about elves and goblins that I learned when I was, oh, about six years old. I hadn't thought about since then, and I was able to recall it at an instant. Well, I wasn't invited to a dinner party again. But I don't worry about that; I guess it looks as if I have an irresponsible attitude. However, to do good work in math, you have to be somewhat irresponsible. I only started doing real mathematics after I found the Conway group. I got a much-needed ego boost - obviously I don't need one anymore. Anyhow, after I made my name, I could do what I like, even if it was totally trivial. When I want to play backgammon instead of doing math, I play backgammon. If the people at Princeton don't feel that they're getting their money's worth out of me, that's their problem. They bought me.From Charles Seife, Mathemagician, (Impressions of Conway), The Sciences (May/June 1994), 12-15.
MOURNING THE DYING AMERICAN FEMALE NAMESHunt Hawkins, The Domestic Life
In the Altha Diner on the Florida Panhandle
a stocky white-haired woman
with a plastic nameplate "Mildred"
gently turns my burger, and I fall into grief.
I remember the long, hot drives to North Carolina
to visit Aunt Alma, who put up quarts of peaches,
and my grandmother Gladys with her pieced quilts.
Many names are almost gone: Gerturde, Myrtle,
Agnes, Bernice, Hortense, Edna, Doris, and Hilda.
They were wide women, cotton-clothed, early rising.
You had to move your mouth to say their names,
and they meant strength, speak, battle, and victory.
When did women stop being Saxons and Goths?
What frog Fate turned them in to Alison, Melissa,
Valerie, Natalie, Adienne, and Lucinda,
diminished them to Wendy, Cindy, Suzy, and Vicky?
I look at these young women
and hope they are headed for the presidency,
but I fear America has other plans in mind,
that they be no longer at war
but subdued instead in amorphous corporate work,
somebody's assistant, something in a bank,
single parent with word-processing skills.
They must have been made French
so they could be cheap foreign labor.
Well, all I can say is,
Good luck to you
Kimberly, Darlene, Cheryl, Heather and May.
Good luck April, Melane, Becky, and Kelly.
I hope it goes well for you.
But for a moment let us mourn.
Now is the time to say good-bye
to Florence, Muriel, Ethel, and Thelma.
Good-bye Minnie, Ada, Bertha, and Edith.
O.K., you are sitting in an airplane and
the person in the seat next to you is a sweaty, swarthy gentleman of Middle Eastern origin
whose carry-on luggage consists of a bulky black briefcase he stashes,
in compliance with airline regulations,
underneath the seat ahead.
He keeps looking at his watch and closing his eyes in prayer,
resting his profusely dank forehead against the seatback ahead of him,
just above the black briefcase,
which if you listen through the droning of the engines seems to be ticking, ticking
softly, softer than your heartbeat in your ears.
Who wants to have all their careful packing—the travellers� checks, the folded underwear—
end as floating sea-wrack five miles below,
drifting in a rainbow scum of jet fuel,
and their docile hopes of a plastic-wrapped meal
dashed in a concussion whiter than the sun?
I say to my companion, "Smooth flight so far."
"That's quite a briefcase you've got there."
He shrugs and says, "It contains my life's work."
"And what is it, exactly, that you do?"
"You could say I am a lobbyist."
He does not want to talk.
He wants to keep praying.
His hands, with their silky beige backs and their nails cut close like a technician's,
tremble and jump in handling the plastic glass of Sprite when it comes with its exploding bubbles.
Ah, but one gets swept up
in the airport throng, all those workaday faces,
faintly pampered and spoiled in the boomer style,
and those elders dressed like children for flying
in hi-tech sneakers and polychrome catsuits,
and those gum-chewing attendants taking tickets
while keeping up a running flirtation with a uniformed bystander, a stoic blond pilot --
all so normal, who could resist
this vault into the impossible?
Your sweat has slowly dried. Your praying neighbor
has fallen asleep, emitting an odor of cardamom.
His briefcase seems to have deflated.
Perhaps not this time, then.
But the possibility of impossibility will keep drawing us back
to this scrape against the numbed sky,
to this sleek sheathed tangle of color-coded wires, these million rivets, the wing
like a frozen lake at your elbow.
But after Q? What comes next? After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only to be reached once by one man in a generation. Still, if he could reach R it would be something. Here at least was Q. He dug his heels in at Q, Q he was sure of. Q he could demonstrate. If Q then is Q—R— Here he knocked his pipe out, with two or three resonant taps on the rams horn which made the handle of the urn, and proceeded. Then R... He braced himself. He clenched himself.
Qualities that would have saved a ship's company exposed on a broiling sea with six biscuits and a flask of water—endurance and justice, foresight, devotion, skill, came to his help. R is then—what is R? A shutter, like the leathern eyelid of a lizard, flickered over the intensity of his gaze and obscured the letter R. In that flash of darkness he heard people saying—he was a failure—that R was beyond him. He would never reach R. On to R, once more, R—
Qualities that in a desolate expedition across the icy solitudes of the Polar region would have made him the leader, the guide, the counsellor, whose temper neither sanguine nor despondent, surveys with equanimity what is to be and faces it, came to his help again. R—
The lizard's eye flickered once more. The veins on his forehead bulged. The geranium in the urn became startlingly visible and, displayed amongst its leaves, he could see, without wishing it, that old, that obvious distinction between the two classes of men; on the one hand the steady goers of superhuman strength who, plodding and perserving, repeat the whole alphabet in order, twenty-six in all, from start to finish; on the other hand the gifted, the inspired who, miraculously, lump all the letters together in one flash—the way of genius. He had not genius; he laid no claim to that: but he had, or might have had, the power to repeat every letter of the alphabet from A to Z accurately in order. Meanwhile, he stuck at Q. On, then, on to R. Feelings that would not have disgraced a leader who, now that the snow has begun to fall and the mountain-top is covered in mist, knows that he must lay himself down and die before the morning comes, stole upon him, paling the colour of his eyes, giving him, even in the two minutes of his turn on the terrace, the bleached look of whithered old age. Yet he would not die lying down; he would find some crag of rock, and there, his eyes fixed on the storm, trying to pierce the darkness, he would die standing. He would never reach R.
He stood stock still, by the urn with the geranium flowing over it. How many men in a thousand million, he asked himself, reach Z after all? Surely the leader of a forlorn hope may ask himself that, and answer, without treachery to the expedition behind him, `One perhaps.' One in a generation. Is he to be blamed if he is not that one? provided he has toiled honestly, given to the best of his power, till he has no more left to give?
From To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!Edward Lear
Who has written such volumes of stuff!
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few think him pleasant enough.
His mind is concrete and fastidious,
His nose is remarkably big;
His visage is more or less hideous,
His beard? It resembles a wig.
He has ears, two eyes, and ten fingers,
Leastways if you reckon two thumbs;
Long ago he was one of the singers,
But now he is one of the dumbs.
He sits in a beautiful parlour,
With hundreds of books on the wall;
He drinks a great deal of Marsala,
But never gets tipsy at all.
He has many friends, laymen and clerical;
Old Foss is the name of his cat;
His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat.
He weeps by the side of the ocean,
He weeps on the top of the hill;
He purchases pancakes and lotions,
And chocolate shrimps from the mill.
He reads but cannot speak Spanish,
He cannot abide ginger-beer:
Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish,
How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!
Grammarian, painter, augur, rhetoricianJuvenal, Satires, iii, 76-77, in D. Junius Juvenalis
Geometer, quack, conjurer, magician,
All arts his own the hungry Greekling counts.
Another Soviet technique was to use hidden cameras to film espionage targets making love, and to use the film for blackmail...President Sukarno of Indonesia had an affair with a KGB plant, but when Soviet agents came and showed him incriminating photographs Sukarno did not give a damn. He is said to have nonchalantly pointed at the snapshots, saying, "I would like six of this picture and a dozen of that one..."From Every Spy a Prince by Raviv and Melman
"One senior Saudi Arabian official was photographed in bed with a hooker who had been given instructions to situate herself and her bedmate in such a way that the camera recorded both his face and the actual penetration. Later, the Mossad confronted him with the evidence of his sexual escapades, spreading the photos on a table and saying, "You might want to cooperate with us." But instead of recoiling in shock and horror, the Saudi was thrilled with the photos. "This is wonderful," he said. I'll take two of those, three of that," adding he wanted to show them to all his friends.From By Way of Deception by Victor Ostrovosky.
Instead of being physically transported
by a spaceship in the 'normal' way, the would-be traveller is
scanned from head to toe, the accurate location and complete specification
of every atom and every electron in his body being recorded in
full detail. All this information is then beamed (at the speed
of light), by an electromagnetic signal, to the distant planet
of intended destination. There, the information is collected
and used as the instructions to assemble a precise duplicate of
the traveller, together with all his memories, his intentions,
his hopes, and his deepest feelings. At least that is what is
expected; for every detail of the state of his brain has been
faithfully recorded, transmitted, and reconstructed. Assuming
that the mechanism has worked, the original copy of the traveller
can be 'safely' destroyed. Of course the question is: is this
really a method of travelling from one place to another
or is it merely the construction of a duplicate, together with
the murder of the original? Would you be prepared to use
this method of 'travel'—assuming that the method had been shown
to be completely reliable, within its terms of reference? If teleportation
is not travelling, then what is the difference in principle between
it and just walking from one room into another? In the latter
case, are not one's atoms of one moment simply providing the information
for the locations of the atoms of the next moment? We have seen,
after all, that there is no significance in preserving the identity
of any particular atom. The question of the identity of any particular
atom is not even meaningful. Does not any moving pattern of atoms
simply constitute a kind of wave of information propagating from
one place to another? Where is the essential difference between
the propagation of waves which describes our traveller ambling
in a commonplace way from one room to the other and that which
takes place in the teleportation device?
Suppose it is true that teleportation does actually
'work', in the sense that the traveller's own 'awareness' is actually
reawakened in the copy of himself on the distant planet (assuming
that this question has genuine meaning). What would happen if
the original copy of the traveller were not destroyed, as the
rules of this game demand? Would his 'awareness' be in two places
at once? Try to imagine your response to being told the following:
'Oh dear, so the drug we gave you before placing you in the Teleporter
has worn off prematurely has it? That is a little unfortunate,
but no matter. Anyway you will be pleased to hear that the other
you—er, I mean the actual you, that is—has now arrived safely
on Venus, so we can, er, dispose of you here—er, I mean of the
redundant copy here. It will, of course, be quite painless....
From The Emperor's New Mind, by Roger Penrose
"This is the place," said one of the Arabs to Belzoni, who could not understand how a large sarcophagus could possibly have been taken out through such a small aperture. That he was in a burial chamber he was quite certain, for they were continually walking over skulls and scattered bones. But that the sarcophagus could have entered so narrow a recess seemed quite impossible, for Belzoni himself could not get through. One of the Arabs and the interpreter, however, managed to squeeze through and it was agreed that Belzoni and the other Arab should wait until they returned.
They had gone a good way, for all trace of their light had disappeared, when Belzoni suddenly heard a loud noise and the distant voice of the interpreter crying out in fright: "O mon Dieu! mon Dieu! je suis perdu!" Then complete and utter silence. Not knowing what had happened Belzoni decided to return to seek help from the other Arabs.
Turning to the man with him, he told him to lead the way back, but the Arab, staring at him idiotically, said he did not remember the road to take. Belzoni called repeatedly to the interpreter, but got no answer. The situation was not a pleasant one.
He made his way back to the open space where several passages branched off, but all were so alike that he could not decide which was the right one. He decided upon one, and along this they crawled, their guttering candles burning lower and lower, yet he felt it would be dangerous to put one out to save the other in case the remaining one were, by accident, extinguished. Just when they thought they were nearing the outside they found themselves nearing the outside they found themselves up against a blank wall; they had taken the wrong passage!
There was nothing left for it but to return to the centre of the
labyrinth and try again, after having made a mark on the passage
from which they had just emerged. Every moment of delay was
dangerous, for their swiftly diminishing candles would soon leave them in the dark...
Colin Clair, Giovanni Belzoni: Strong Man Egyptologist. (Belzoni was one of the worst of the antiquities plunderers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries).