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Xangles.  -poep


   E a r t h




Z e r o a

Fractal Nonlinear Structure Software (WTF?)

           We first started to realize that Xangles sagas like Frangles would involve a lot more than just writing prose when we realized it wasn't even *possible* to continue writing the skit-prose of Blorkk without editing software geered to the task.  (Or at least without ridiculous manual labor that would defeat the purpose of editing on a computer.)  Blorkk's "skit-prose" medium involves re-arranging intertwining dialogue lines in various ways as Frangles re-arranges interconnected pages.  With skit-prose, changing the color of one dialogue depth would require manually changing the cover of *every single line* where that depth occurs throughout all its relevant html.  Just changing its color a half dozen times over the course of experimenting with it would require hundreds or thousands of manual edits.  Hence we've started to write basic software/scripts to do these tasks that will need further work before we can really continue writing Blorkk material.
           While Frangles--being page-structured rather than line-structured--doesn't have as desperate a need for editing software as Blorkk, we've been on a path for awhile now of it becoming more and more necessary.
           The first key thing we need is absolute some basic site management software.  In particular, to be able to edit a template in which many pages of reading material will fit in to.  (Right now if we wanted to change a link in the menu bar of a Writer's Bricks page or change the general background we'd have to edit every html page manually.)  We'll also need some sort of database to help organize the pages as they increase.  While there's certainly tons of software out there for these basic tasks, there's are none that are designed to handle the more complex types of tasks that Frangles' fractal nonlinear prose will require.  Existing software might have its uses, but we would always be trying to work *around* the software rather than with it, like using a hammer for a task that really requires a screwdriver.  So, it's basically a no brainer to start writing our own software which will hopefully grow and expand into something very usable for you as well.
           Currently our plans are to "design with you in mind", and post free shareware as we progress that could be of use to you in some way or another.  And while our shareware might be useful for a few things you do in a certain manner already, it will be vastly more useful in presenting new ways and methods of doing those things that you may never have thought about.  E.g. if no one had ever programmed a spreadsheet editor or a 3D art program, you might find these surprisingly useful if they were to come out today.  Since the foundational concepts of Frangles stretch infinitely wider than the only sub-niche example currently implemented here (fractal nonlinear *prose*), we may come up with invaluable ideas, methods, and solutions that you'd never thought you might need, including software.  (Or, help to inspire your own stuff.  That's the most preferable as it requires less work on our part.)

           Tabling a slew of graspable examples of what we're talking about for another time (as doing so opens pandora's box for us to go nuts brainstorming ideas), we'll cover briefly the generals of what type of thing this software will do.  As we go, keep in mind that we've settled on the phrse "fractal nonlinear prose" as the best single phrase summation of what Frangles is all about after a year of fleshing the concepts out, so you may consider this as a core title to what we're talking about; that is, that we'll be writing "fractal nonlinear software" for purposes beyond Frangles, but which has its roots in Frangles.
           Now even if you're a mathematics major, you probably only have some vague idea of what we might mean by "fractal nonlinear", because it could mean just about anything that has something to do with fractals and nonlinearity.  (For instance, a garden of ferns playing Fable).  Even if you're familiar with Frangles, you probably have a good idea of why it's nonlinear, but might not so much understand how it's fractal, a more subtle concept to apply to fictional writing.  But, since we don't really know what the hell we're talking about either, we'll regress back a bit and sum up "fractal nonlinear software" as any type of software that has to do with fractals and nonlinearity! =P
           No really, think of any type of information that's nonlinear (that is, something that doesn't just progress in a single line but rather deals with two or more dimensions).  A spreadsheet, a calendar, an x-y graph, a map of a city, a Time Lord's todo list, and a list of quests in a video game that need not be completed in any particular order, are all nonlinear sets of information.  In computer science, these are most easily handled by arrays (such as a 7x4 table of days for a four week period), and pointers (a set of all the rooms in a video game level where doors all point to other rooms).  Frangles' fresh take, however, is to apply those data structures for uses we'd never thought to apply nonlinearity to, the obvious example being the concept of Frangles itself: nonlinear prose, in which sets of pages can be ordered into many different reading permutations.  [Frangles' *precise* structure is a strict 7^6 array of pages (7x7x7x7x7x7 pages), but of course infinite other structures are possible (such as a map of pages that's readable like a children's wooden playground-maze).]  But this principle could be applied elsewhere.
           A school might want to structure offered classes in such a way.  Instead of offering a whole slew of haphazard classes and listing them individually in a schedule with whether or not they're offered that year and what levels of difficulty it might have if any (an intermediate and an honors class), a subject might use a 3x3x3 multi-dimensional array: [Creative Writing I through III] X [Beginning, Intermediate, or Honors] X [conservative, independent, or radical political overtones], yielding 72 writing classes in the English department to choose from.  The staff need not behave like robots and offer precisely 72 courses every semester; there could be a simple 4x3x3 one-page chart each semester of which are offered and which aren't, whether two or three, or fifty or sixty.  A linear list of class courses hence might gain organization by organizing into a nonlinear structure.
           These are the types of uses nonlinear software might have that's specifically designed to handle these types of structures, given that all ideas such as this branching from Frangles root nonlinear *prose* idea might all have some common ground, so that software for reading and editing Frangles might easily be adapted to other uses.  Uses that would suggest bold new ways that life be organized in addition to the software that would actually manage them.
           As for the whole "fractal" part (in brief), just tack on any of the above ideas with any imaginable integration with mathematical structures you see in a fractal picture.  In the most basic example, the 3x3x3 array above could be mapped into a fractal diagram (as could any array).  For instance, a triangle of trianges of triangles.  Take that basic idea and build on it with the structure of more complex fractals, apply it to any data or information that needs to be organize in some way, and the sky's the limit for "fractal nonlinear structure software".
           We even have a raw vifa idea for a whole template *language* for organizing data into fractal nonlinear structures of this sort that one could learn, for which a compiler would have be developed, or which a certain program would have to integrate into its interface so that a template program written in this "nonlinear structure" language could be used in different programs for different purposes.
           Clearly, having nearly no software written or avaiilable here just yet, all these are just bullshit plans for the moment.  But, we can honestly tell you (will friter bullshit never cease?) that in terms of implementing all this, we've progressed at least infinitesimally further than theorizing, and have a very strong and steady drive to perhaps-sorta actually write any of this stuff any time soon.  (In particular, Chip bought a couple C# books that are fast accelerating out of footstool mode into the realm of being read.)

       Here are some neat examples of the basic interfaces and functionality of our intended initial software (once Chip gets off his ass and starts writing it).  These are simply screen shots of ways we organize our editing and reading windows in XP when writing and reading Frangles.  Out of necessity we've put a bit of work and thought into how to best utilize editing and reading windows (just for ourselves), but some of our habits are excelent examples of what we'd eventually write software to do.  This is a perfect example of having to work half-with, and half-*around* available software.  Windows and its built-in editing programs (notepad, wordpad, etc) are already on most PCS, so they're a hell of a lot better than banging our heads against a wall in nonlinear binary, but as you can see, its still like using a hammer (windows) where a screwdriver (fractal nonlinear editing software) is needed.  If you have any inclination to write your own nonlinear fiction or experiment with any of the other ideas just covered, these are some suggestions in how to do so in Windows.


          This is a 7x7 square of notepad windows in XP, which in Frangles is one "nova" if each notepad window is one frangles page (7 chapters of 7 pages each).  You can arrange windows this way easily by simply box-selecting 49 text files, right clicking open (which will open all of them), then right clicking the taskbar tab that XP groups the files into and clicking "cascade horizontally" or "cascade vertically".  (If you have a lot of space on your taskbar they might all be opened separately.  To fix this, making the taskbar smaller or try moving it left or right or down.  Or open a whole bunch of windows so there's less open space).  Note you'll have to select files that are alphabatized in the order you want them to open them if you want the square to be structured well.  For instance, Chap1Page1.txt, Chap1Page2.txt, Chap1Page3.txt...Chap7Page7.txt.  Also note this shot is a little messy because the windows were all slightly re-positioned to hide the scroll bars for more room (as a file only needs a scroll bar when it's selected).
          Now you can see and edit your entire 7x7 structure at once, whether a novella of nonlinear prose, a description of rooms in a 7x7 death trap maze, or your bizarre mathematical matrix dissertation.  As friters we find this sort of interface invaluable when writing Frangles.  One skim down or across and you can get a basic idea of how that line of 7 pages flows, especially if you're familiar with the material.  Even just glancing at the starting sentence of each page can bring to mind the the whole of it, like a light switch to a room you forgot the contents of.

This is how text boxes could be enlarged or shrunk to edit or read in something bigger than the tiny square window.  In this screen the larger boxes take up an exact square of the smaller ones.  (The left takes up 2x4 windows and the right is 2x3).  This would maximize the amount of open, unblocked material you could see on the screen, but would place some limitations on your options to place the open windows where you want them.

Now here we have a whole axis of pages removed (window 1.7 to 7.1).  As you'll figure out when our brains are scrambled enough to properly organize Frangles, many axes of pages like this will be full, coherent material (for instance, reading the middle page of 343 separate books).  This is juxtaposed a Xangles/Frangles fractal wallpaper just to give a visual hint that there's structure giong on connecting  the pages of Frangles (and all such fractal nonlinear structures).  When Frangles and Frangles software is sufficiently mind-mangling, we could actually use such images to map the structure of the pages somehow.  That's like, a loooong way off (if ever).

More of the same, except here we've extended the XP taxbar to almost half of the screen.  This is so we can double click any open box and enlarge it to a readable size (half the window) rather than the entire thing, which is very awkward to read.  The space is barely wasted because we have a whole clickable list of pages on the other side.  Obviously since there's less room on the right, having fewer windows open would be more prudent than more.  Here we chose the standard Frangles 7, which is an odd number so this leaves one open box.  Since this format leaves a little to be desired in and of itself, we could have something else in the extra box.  Yet it still is extremely usable in comparing multiple dimensions of prose.  For instance, if these 7 pages are one chapter, then we need only take a second and click the seven taskbar tabs of the next chapter to see the same pages in the same relative space, except one chapter up (like 3D Tic Tac Toe, where one square is a 9-page chapter, and we go up one level to get to the 9 relative pages of the next chapter, etc.)
          [*The image in this shot is from fractopolis.com]

And the same here with one of the windows maximized.  Obviously fonts could be larger or smaller for easier reading, etc.  [The screen and text are blue because we're finding that rotating color schemes in certain patterns is healthier for the eyes than staring at the exact same colors 24/7.  This is a minor concern when skimming Frangles or reading a page or two, but becomes nontrivial for the friter when they edit for hours at a time, and of course for the freer when they read for longer periods.  Our long-term goal is to publish Frangles on a hand-held reader that's extremely easy on the eyes like the Nook)
          On a tangent, note the little icons on the taskbar Squish had lined up here (Squish likes tiny itty bitty things, as the tinier text and images are the more you can see an over all greater picture).  Icons could have a huge role in fractal/nonlinear editing and reading software.  For instance, if a page in a nonlinear structure is known extremely well (almost able to be recited by heart), then one little icon could suffice to remind a friter of the contents of the page (like a mountain icon for a scene where Skip walks up to a mountain).  That's a way an entire page could be condensed into an infinitesimal square.  Then you could have a rough map of literally thousands of pages.  You could click any one to enlarge it, or click a group to fill the screen with 7, etc etc. (Obviously icons could play a zillion other roles depending on how many things a program using them can do)

Here's a shot with some septagons thrown on the screen to suggest some type of interface in mapping the pages, or whatever one might use a fractal septagon for.  The large one to the upper right continas a sketch for a 343-character map (7x7x7) arranged in a simplefractal circle.

And this is just a random bunch of Frangles shit thrown together to present the idea of a more complex and involved program.  You could even imagine Frangles' fractal nonlinear structure concepts could extend into an entire computer operating system.  (Imagine the "frangles." logo near the lower right is like a 'Start' button in Windows, and let your imagination frangle.)