Acme::EyeDrops by Andrew J. Savige
Several software projects exist to convert various media to ASCII art: images, television, even video games. But what about software itself? A parody on Visual Programming, Acme::EyeDrops removes all the normal text from a Perl script and converts the script to an ASCII art image - yet the ASCII-ized version of the software actually runs and maintains the same functionality as the [...]
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Acme::EyeDrops

Featured by Amy Alexander.

There have been numerous examples in media art and online culture of visual media (images, movies, video games) converted to ASCII art. There's something satisfying about seeing glossy, high resolution imagery from Quake to Deep Throat displayed as blocky text - it reassures us in an amusing way that despite the high visibility of mainstream media, their beauty is only skin deep. (Deep Throat pun intended...)

But while most ASCII art focuses on the surface of media, Acme::EyeDrops performs "ASCIIfication" not on the externals of a medium, but on its internals - software code. It converts virtually any program written in the Perl language into an ASCII art image of the user's choosing. The resulting ASCII image, however, is actually an executable Perl program, which maintains the same functionality as the original code. First of all, it's just an amazing and thoroughly enjoyable hack; it's wonderfully astonishing to see an ASCII picture run as a normal software program. And the documentation is impressive in itself - Andrew J. Savige has come up with an eccentric slew of demo programs featuring animations and pictographs ranging from Perl programmers' inside jokes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer references. But Acme::EyeDrops is also a reflection on the act of programming - from a programmer's point of view. Savige claims the purpose of the project is to help Perl programmers make their code more "sightly." That's a dig largely at criticisms that Perl code is difficult to read and unsightly, but it also reminds us how much of current programming criticism is tied up with a superficial hyperfocus on tidy code. So Acme::EyeDrops opens our eyes to a few points: software code could look much different than it usually does; programming could be performed much differently than it usually is. Programming can be fun, and programming can be funny.* But, mostly, by making software more "sightly," Acme::EyeDrops reminds us that while software and programming might often seem invisible, invisibility is only skin deep.

* Another notable project in a similar vein but with a much different approach is Paul Camacho's "Pixel Computer"- in which programming is done by clicking colored boxes, and the colorfully animated programming language is its own output.

by Amy Alexander, posted 14 Nov 2004


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