Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives

March 2003 Archives

Fixing AOL.

For a long time now, I've been pounding the podium about how AOL sucks. While they've been pushing themselves as an easy way onto the Internet, what they actually delivered was an abysmal experience. This boiled down to four main points:

  1. Their "content" was usually just dumbed-down content from other sites.

  2. They always provided second-rate ISP service (the number of times I've been denied access at a critical moment due to insufficient infrastructure is absurd).

  3. The experience they offered with most of the web outside of their own gold-plated walls was horrible because their packaged browser needlessly sucked.

  4. Being an AOL user was justifiably associated with being a newbie or a moron, because most of their "community" wasn't web-savvy.

Today I'm going to address some of these issues. Why? Because this morning, AOL demonstrated to me that at least on the business model side, they're seeing the light. Not in a way that most web users will like, mind you, but in a way that those of us with any business sense will appreciate. And that gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, AOL might become one of the driving forces that resuscitate the tech economy. Therefore, I'm going to outline the ways that I think AOL can not just survive but gain an all new foothold on the world's web users.

What I saw this morning was this. While reading the weblog of the good Anil Dash, I found this on CNET: "AOL Time Warner Pulls Free Net Magazines".

For those of you who just want the gist:

Beginning Sunday, the popular magazines People and Entertainment Weekly will no longer offer content on their Web sites for free. Content will be accessible only to magazine subscribers and AOL members. Newsstand buyers are granted access to content on the publication's Web site, but only for the duration of the magazine edition they purchase.

In the month or so following the initial launches, other titles will make the same move, including Teen People, Sports Illustrated Kids, Real Simple, InStyle, Sunset, Southern Accents, Time for Kids, Costal Living, Cooking Light, Southern Living and Parenting.

AOL is finally beginning to understand that in order to remain commercially viable in an increasingly web-savvy America, it must evolve into the online equivalent of HBO -- which means offering premium content. HBO only works because many of the shows they're playing these days (Six Feet Under, the Sopranos) are just plain better than most of what's on the networks and basic cable. It's time for AOL to realize that they need to be offering their own premium content, and this is the one area where the AOL-Time Warner merger made sense.

I predict that this won't stop here, either. If AOL were truly intelligent, they'd start buying reputable web sites with severe cash flow problems and pick up all their bills, allow them to keep running just as they had before, but make them accessible only to AOL subscribers or owners of an as-of-yet-uninvented "AOL premium pass" which would allow those of us who want to keep our own ISPs access into the AOL content network. Sites like Suck and Feed might still be around today if they'd bought into such a package. Dollars to donuts that Salon might even be interested in such a deal. And right now, the time is right: many top-rate independent content sites may be available for pennies on the dollar.

So that takes care of point one. So what about the other three?

Fixing the service: becoming a first-rate ISP with premium offerings

AOL's service sucks partly because their infrastructure is good, but still insufficient. AOL is trying to fix this problem, but they have a lot of competition. Their broadband initiative is a step in the right direction, but in order to really become the top ISP in the country (if not the world), they need to start offering services that the others can't. One possibility: find a way to partner with a company like T-Mobile to offer Wi-Fi or mobile Internet access as a part of AOL's basic package. Mobile, always-on Internet access is the way it's going, but I don't want to have to pay one bill to my ISP and another to my phone company for related services. Save me money, offer me free wireless access at any Starbucks in America and I'll think about it.

Another possibility, largely related: continue the push to make AOL talk to everything. Clients such as Trillium or Fire exist to talk to both the AOL IM network and Yahoo, ICQ, and MSN. At SXSW this year, one of the main talking points was how corporate integration of instant messaging is the Next Big Thing. I agree. Apple's Rendezvous integration with iChat is huge. Being able to send screen captures back and forth over an IM connection is a huge boost to client support. Further, I vastly prefer handling tech support over AIM because it gives me an easy paper trail to record and refer to later. As AOL branches out into this market, it will only trounce Yahoo, ICQ and MSN by first allowing its clients to talk to those users and then start offering -- there's that buzzword again -- premium service. Give me a little button in the corner I can hit to switch to transcripted videoconferencing or voice-over-IP via the IM system. Give me easier file transfers and monitor mirroring. Hell, even start giving me some of the same system-level fun integration that Microsoft's Three Degrees initiative is playing with. All of these things will make your users brag about being AOL members, and they'll give personal recommendations to their friends on MSN or Yahoo every time they express disappointment that their friends' systems won't play along. You have to open those channels first, though, to let your users talk to their users. The result is a form of grassroots word-of-mouth sabotage.

Fixing the experience outside the castle walls: fixing the browser

This one's simple. Why the company that owns Netscape couldn't just bundle Navigator as their fast, sleek, standards-compliant browser instead of a half-cocked homebrew still boggles my mind. That web developers should even have to worry about how their sites appear in AOL's browser is ridiculous.

So AOL's system automatically compresses and decompresses images on the fly. OK, great. So do the browsers you see on mobile phones. That's no excuse for such a crappy HTML renderer. C'mon, AOL -- ditch the homebrew and just bundle Navigator. Jeez.

Fixing the community: accomodating people that want to use AOL services without being "AOL users"

AOL has inflicted a significant amount of damage to itself via the success of its own marketing machine. By constantly presenting itself as family-friendly and an "easy access point" to the Net, AOL has also become known as a cesspool of newbies, l33t kiddies and other annoying Internet citizens. Don't get me wrong -- I started out as an AOL user, and my parents are both AOL users. But those of us who have spent any major time on the Net view AOL as something to be graduated from in order to join those who "get it". It's like an Internet nursery school, someplace where people hold your hand and make sure you only see the nice shows and give you cookies and put you down for your mid-afternoon nap when you get all sweepy pies.


If AOL is going to shift into the online HBO, they need to offer tiers of service for "Newbie" and "Pro" users. Hell, change the name of their pro service to some ridiculous mid-90s nonsense name -- we'll call it "Cyntrellia" for the sake of argument -- and add a small tagline that reads "An AOL company" to offer longtime net users a way to use their services without being associated with the stigma. Maybe the Cyntrellia users are the ones who get the hardcore geek services, like an AOL homepage that's actually a glorified RSS syndicator. Keep the AIM services available to everyone, because it's the grandmas who will really enjoy videoconferencing with their grandkids. But give the Cyntrellia users (Cyntrellians?) more oomph. Regular AOL users get Blogger. Cyntrellians get Movable Type. That kind of thing. Allow users like me who want the pro AIM service and access to the content network to subscribe to Cyntrellia (an AOL company without being AOL!) and not play in the same playground as the nursery school kids unless I want to.

Why not just make all of AOL as feature-ridden as this hypothetical Cyntrellia? Simple. AOL must not abandon their existing position as an easy way onto the Net. There are still plenty of grandparents and new users out there who do need a way into the system. Many of them will become thriving, intelligent members of the online community. AOL is filling that need admirably, and abandoning that position altogether is akin to Sears forsaking their tools section in favor of the housewares and "the softer side of Sears". While they're focusing on this new expansion, the ISP equivalent of Lowe's or Home Depot will come in and steal their core business. No, AOL needs to do both -- hence, the spin-off idea.

Will spinning off Cyntrellia fragment the community? Yes. Will this encourage the best members of the AOL community to leave, thus creating an even worse brain drain on the entry-level AOL experience? Probably. But here's the kicker: it's happening anyway. Come up with a system by which the Cyntrellia users can easily access the AOL network and contribute to the newbies' experiences (chat with them, sell stuff to them, whatever), fine. But you have to give the pro AOL users a place to go when they're ready to graduate, or else it's sorry, Charlie, they're headed to an independent ISP, and you're out their money.

A third option: way back at the beginning, I mentioned an "AOL premium pass". This would be for those of us who really just want access to the content. Sorry, AOL, but even with Cyntrellia in place you're still going to have people that just don't want to leave their existing ISPs. Fine. Give them something like a Microsoft Passport which allows them, for $4.95 a month, to access all the sites in the AOL content network. They don't get cool videoconferencing features and they still have to pay one bill to their ISP and another to the cellular providers. Too bad, they have their own systems in place. But they get the content, and you get another five bucks a month you wouldn't have gotten anyway.

In closing

You know, I didn't mean to write this much on the subject, but there's so much that can be done. At SXSW this year I was ranting and railing at great length about how down everyone felt, about how there was this "been-there, done-that" mentality associated with the Internet. The truth is, we really are still getting started. XML, RSS, even CSS still have a long way to go before they're fully implemented, and bringing these cutting-edge technologies to the grandmas and schoolkids of America is where the Net still has a lot of room to grow, both intellectually and commercially.

AOL is one of those companies that can offer developers a way back to the warm sunshine of the 90s. If companies like AOL and Microsoft and Apple can help bring new opportunities like the ones I've outlined above to the masses, I think we'll start to see the tech economy rebound. People will always be willing to pay for exponential increases in useful capabilities. All we need are the vision, the resources and the drive to build them.


Links for the Weekend.

It's Friday. It's almost the weekend (and for those of us who are self-employed, it's difficult to shake off the inclination to slack off, because we know we're going to be working on the weekend anyway). Therefore, for your pleasure, I'm going to post here some links to things that I enjoy, and therefore I hope you will too.

  • Sinfest by Tatsuya Ishida. This comic strip is by turns sexy, insightful, gangsta, poetic, and downright hysterical. Today's post features the female lead doing a poetry slam about the war, a perfect example of why I love this comic.

  • Scary-Go-Round by John Allison. Another comic, this one hailing from Jolly Old England and featuring some of the hippest, near-absurdist dialogue I've ever seen. I love this strip, and its only drawback is that it only posts four days a week (Tuesdays through Fridays). Be sure to check out his most recently-completed storylines, "Meddling" and "Inevitable," which are almost Buffyesque in their handling of love, necromancy and what being a 21st-century zombie is really all about.

  • The Weblog of Tina Bell Vance, Artist. Inkblots readers will already be familiar with the artwork of my friend Tina Bell Vance. She has recently opened up a weblog over on her personal site, and has already demonstrated the possession of mad ranting skizzills. Go to, go to -- and when you're finished there, don't forget to swing by her portfolio.

  • The Weblog of Talon Beeson, Player. One of my oldest, best friends now has a weblog, The Player's Journal. Like so many of us, he has largely been ranting about the war lately, but doing so with vim and vigor and wisdom. Go to, go to, and then harass him to keep going.

  • The Weblog of Caterina Fake, lovely lady of letters. Brilliant artist-writer-woman Caterina Fake, married to the lucky Stewart Butterfield, keeps a weblog filled with insights and recommendations. One of my favorite daily clicks.

  • The Weblog of Todd Dominey, Designer. One of my favorite panels at SXSW this year was put on by Jeffrey Zeldman, Adam Greenfield and this man, one of my longtime favorite online writers (and Inkblots alum), Todd Dominey. Hailing from Georgia, Todd's posts are always interesting and well-written. Highly recommended, although one wonders where the hell he's been this week.

  • The Weblog of Kevin Smokler, Writer. One of my other favorite panels at SXSW included the illustrious Ben Brown, the beautiful, brilliant and bookish Carrie Bickner (Zeldman, you lucky bastard) and my good friend Kevin Smokler. Kevin is one of my friends that I really respect and admire, and consider myself honored to know. He's just landed a deal with a fancypants New York agent, further proof that he is officially Going Places. His weblog is the place to follow his progress.

  • Finally, to come full circle to the comics thing, is this old favorite: was cofounded by Peter Siegel and Warren Ellis to serve as an online review of graphic novels. According to their about section, "rtbomb's mission is to promote diverse and sophisticated graphic novels. A more impressive array of graphic novels has never before been available for English reading audiences. We want to get them into your hands." Perfect for those of us looking for some fun reading for overcast Friday afternoons (which is what seems to be descending upon D.C. right about now).

Right, so there's just a handful to keep you all busy and entertained while I start the housecleaning -- I have friends coming in for the weekend, and the house is a disaster. Have fun with the links, and I'll catch up with all y'all tomorrow.



quickbooks.gifI have never been more frustrated by an application than I am by QuickBooks 5.0 for the Mac. This lumbering dinosaur of a program refuses to talk to any of my other applications, which is ridiculous. It's like they bent over backwards to make absolutely sure that everything you do in this app is as arcane and indirect as possible. Jesus Christ.

Among the things that should obviously be in this app are:

  • Drag-and-drop support for client addition. I have entries in Entourage or the Address Book for all of my clients. Why the hell should I have to manually retype all their information to add them to QuickBooks? Sure, adding QuickBooks-only data is necessary, but come on.

  • E-mail. To give you an idea as to how out-of-date this app is, there's no top-level field for 'e-mail' in the customer list. All my e-mail addresses are being added under "alternate contact". Arg. Nevermind anything remotely like AIM, which is emerging as the A-1 client relations tool in the 21st century.

  • Quicken integration. Come on, you Intuit morons. You make the same programs. Make them talk to each other -- let me tie my Quicken data into QuickBooks in a quick, easy step. If I have something on a Quicken register that's a business expense, let me select it as such and have it zip over and show up in QuickBooks without having to make a double entry.

  • Export to Extranet. I have yet to see a good way to export client billing information and history to an extranet site. This is nuts.

I could go on, and I will when I'm done with the manual. Right now I'm seriously considering taking back this $300 paperweight. This sucker's winning my personal award for Worst Waste of Potential Ever.

Update. After wrestling with it for a couple of hours, QuickBooks is starting to grow on me. I'm getting the hang of the lists of clients and vendors, and the way the bills and invoices all tie together and feed back into the reporting features is quite nice. This still doesn't atone for its many shortcomings, but I'm beginning to feel not quite so ripped off.


Friedman's Scorecard for the War.

Thomas L. Friedman Submitted for your lunchtime reading pleasure, Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times has an excellent editorial today on how we should be "keeping score" on Operation Whack Saddam Iraqi Freedom. His main criteria:

  1. Have we occupied Baghdad without leveling it?
  2. Have we killed, captured or expelled Saddam?
  3. Have we been able to explain why some Iraqi forces are putting up such a fight?
  4. Have we won this war and preserved the territorial integrity of Iraq?
  5. Has an authentic Iraqi liberal nationalist emerged from the U.S. occupation to lead the country?
  6. Is the Iraqi state that emerges from this war accepted as legitimate by Iraq's Arab and Muslim neighbors?
I think this is a pretty excellent set of criteria by which to evaluate not only our success on this project, but also the validity of doing it at all. If all that we've accomplished when the sand clears is establishing a thriving new Iraqi branch office of Halliburton (and maybe Saddam's head stuffed and mounted in the Bush mansion), then we good Americans should either call for a vote of no confidence in George W. Bush or all pack up and move to Canada.

Time to start practicing those accents now, eh?

Michael Stipe on war.

The Final StrawSo the guys from R.E.M. have just posted a new protest song to their website. "The Final Straw" is a surprisingly laid-back acoustic number for what it is, and the lyrics, while typically Stipean, get really pretty pointed at the end:

Now I don't believe and I never did
That two wrongs make a right.
If the world were filled with the likes of you
Then I'm putting up a fight. Putting up a fight.
Putting up a fight. Make it right. Make it right.

Now love cannot be called into question.
Forgiveness is the only hope I hold.
And love-- love will be my strongest weapon.
I do believe that I am not alone.

For this fear will not destroy me.
And the tears that have been shed
It's knowing now where I am weakest
And the voice in my head. In my head.

Then I raise my voice up higher
And I look you in the eye
And I offer love with one condition.
With conviction, tell me why.
Tell me why.
Tell me why.
Look me in the eye.
Tell me why.

The song is available in both Real and QuickTime format for download.


On journals.

I'm not sure why, but I'm having difficulty importing my old entries from Blogger. Maybe the Movable Type importing system wasn't designed to import three years' worth of old entries, which total somewhere around 750+ K. That's a lot of journal.

MoleskineOn the physical side of journal keeping, yesterday I closed out another one of my little black books. I have a stash of these things, these little unlined notebooks that I always carry in the inside breast pocket of my jacket. They're great for sketching, note taking, writing, whatever. This time, though, since it's beginning to be springtime and my trusty giant overcoat is going to have to get retired to the closet, I think I'm going to trade in my usual model for a Moleskine. I've seen these around and always coveted one, and yesterday I realized that I had finished off the small stack of blank Watson-Guptills that I had stowed away last year. Well, that and I'm a paper snob, and their marketing stories about Moleskines being carried around by Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso and Hemingway just gives me that little cultural buzz. Yeah, I'm a lit geek. Sue me.

He's not kidding.

Dark Cloud 2Yeah, when Nick mentioned my new addiction, he wasn't kidding. I've long been a sucker for a particular type of RPG, the vaguely-cartoony, kinda-funny-but-also-tragic, epic, innovative sort. Think Dragon Warrior. Think The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Think Final Fantasy I-IV and IX. And now, Dark Cloud 2 for the PlayStation. This is far and away the best game I've played in years.

Its graphics are breathtakingly beautiful, the music is lovely and only minimally annoying, and its gameplay is innovative and a hell of a lot of fun. When was the last time you saw an RPG so seamlessly blend the best city-building parts of SimCity or ActRaiser, a story akin to The Secret of Mana or Final Fantasy, a combat system even better than Zelda, and throw in some all-new innovations like using a camera and an invention system to concoct your own weapons?

I've been waiting for an RPG just like this. I know The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is slated to arrive tomorrow. I feel sort of guilty suspecting that even the new Zelda won't dislodge Dark Cloud 2 from its slot in my games-of-the-year list. I mean, it's Zelda. But Dark Cloud 2 is the game that the Zelda directly after Link to the Past should have been. I'm with Nick when he says that The Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask sucked. Here's hoping The Wind Waker gets back to those glory days. I'm in no rush to find out, though. Me, I've got some inventing to do.


Welcome to Movable Type.

Well, this is my first entry using Movable Type. I'm trying it out first with my weblog, and then I hope to do everything in the magazine using it. I'm not sure how well this is going to work, however. If anybody out there has experience with this and would like to volunteer to help, I'm all ears.

Incidentally, I know that the search results and the archives and the comments and, well, every page other than this one, really, are all hosed. This is because I haven't built the templates for them yet. I'm working on it. With a little luck I'll have the time to actually finish those sometime this week.


Work on love.

It's funny how the work you do for you is so different from the work you do for work. I've been working on my personal portfolio site, and I realized that putting together my illustration and photography sections have been fun, while assembling the print, video and online sections just have me groaning every time I start. Huh.

One thing I took away from SXSW is the fierce desire to get back to doing stuff for me again. Personal work. Personal projects. Art for art's sake. Writing for me, and not necessarily anyone else. I'm looking at Josh Davis and saying, damn. I want to work out of my basement, just playing, and then having people pay me to publish it or have me come talk about it. Of course, to do that I've got to get back in touch with doing stuff I love. Workin' on it.



I'm sitting here at my desk, sorting out piles of papers that have been growing for the last six months. That means that I'm just now putting away the last artifacts of my relationship with Jenny. This afternoon I took the battered old dog-eared picture of her out of my wallet. It's a pretty picture, her senior picture from high school, and the only wallet-sized one she'd given me since 1996. I'd been carrying it around in my wallet for the last couple of years. Today I tucked it into an envelope, along with the last of our love letters and some wrapping paper left over from her Christmas present to me, and filed it away in the big walnut filing cabinet I keep in my room. On my computer, I have enough storage space to keep entire libraries of information, but that cabinet houses the irreplaceable stuff.

As I do this, and as I paste the ticket stubs from the last things we did together into my journal (because like a lot of webloggers, I keep a dead-tree journal as well for all the stuff that's really too hairy to go into here), I realize what I'm doing. I'm putting away the detritus of the past and moving on. Meanwhile, six thousand miles away, American forces are turning the lives of Iraqi citizens into dust. I'm starting to rebuild. I wonder when they'll be able to do the same.

Shock and awe.

Oh, hell. Looks like the shock and awe campaign begins today... I wonder if that means they've managed to find definitive proof that they missed Saddam on Wednesday night?


A quiet addition.

You might not have noticed, which is totally understandable, but a couple of days ago was assimilated by yours truly. One of those SXSW things, when I had to keep correcting people on our URL, and for $15, what the hey.

Guest entry of sorts over at girlwonder.

The beautiful, talented, brilliant and inimitable girl wonder Molly Wright Steenson has seen fit to post some of my comments on one of her earlier posts, dealing with the similarities and differences between MUDs and weblogs. Molly disabled comments on her blog some time ago, so if you'd like to make any noises about either of our thoughts on the matter, please feel free to do so here.

Lots of questions, so few answers.

So what I want to know is, where do we go from here? We've attacked Iraq, and presumably next we're going to be raining hellfire and brimstone down upon them. The United Nations has just found itself with a rogue nation leading a military insurrection, going directly against the wishes of the majority and loudly proclaiming that might makes right. Whether or not our actions are justified is a different question -- even if we do discover that Iraq is using chemical weapons or illegal long-range missles, or if we discover that Iraq is indeed financing or sheltering terrorists, we've still done substantial damage to the closest thing to a global peace-keeping organization in existence. Is it the moral duty of the United Nations to lead a global retaliation against the United States? Should China, Russia, Germany and France all mobilize their armed forces and attack Washington, D.C. to show the American government that might does not make right, we are not in fact untouchable, and that any actions taken directly against the will of the global community will in fact have severe negative repurcussions?

Further, if AbuBakar Ahmed Syed of the United Arab Emirates is correct in his assertion that "It's not a war -- it's a unilateral show of muscle power to the whole world", what does that mean? Yes, America has been frustrated in our efforts to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Yes, Al Qaeda and terrorism as a whole is still very much at large, of which we will probably see definitive proof in the upcoming weeks. And yes, America's untouchable image has been marred since September 11. America right now is a bruised warrior, who feels it needs to demonstrate to the world that its authority is unquestionable, and anyone attempting to strike at us will regret it on an unimaginable scale. We've failed in our attempts to find Osama bin Laden, so we'll go against the other icon of resistance against American authority, one who actually leads a chunk of land we can target. A glance at CNN or the BBC will show you the results.

So when do we stop? When Osama's been found and Saddam's been ousted? Will that be enough to assure America that our dicks are indeed bigger than everyone else's? Or will the resistance at the U.N. by the French, the Germans and the Russians make our cowboy president feel justified in laying siege to Paris, Berlin and Moscow?

The actions of George W. Bush may be proven correct if Saddam does indeed have chemical weapons or has been financing global terrorism. But do the ends justify the means? And is toppling a melodrama villain really worth the price of toppling the closest thing to a global court that we have?

At the moment, we are a rogue nation. We are going directly against the will of the United Nations. There will be repurcussions. Our President has delivered us into one of the darkest periods of American history in the last quarter-century, and for what?



It's scary as shit to hear sirens in D.C. right now.


Here we go again. I wonder when the car bombings are going to start here in DC. :(

And just because I'm a blazing moderate...

Courtesy of the ever-brilliant lawyer man Mr. Wasylik, we bring you the hysterical liberal 8-ball. It wouldn't be funny if it weren't so true.

A better meme.

Courtesy of the lovely SarahScott:

"To announce that there be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but morally treasonable to the American people."
– Theodore Roosevelt

At the same time, I've resigned myself to this war, and am grateful that at least we're doing something instead of keeping the world and the economy in a petrified uncertain quagmire. I do not support our President's actions that have brought us to this stage, but if we are here, and it must be done, let us do it quickly, as humanely as possible, and let us get the hell out as soon as possible. And dear sweet Jesus, let us not forget about Afghanistan, or do with Iraq what we seem to be doing in Afghanistan right now. We're like a toddler, chasing a different shiny thing every thirty seconds. If we're going to do some nation building, then we'd better do it right.

One final bit of food for thought: Where is Raed? is a weblog being kept by an Iraqi inside of Baghdad. His posts should serve as a reminder that we're not going to be destroying empty buildings or a bunch of dark, sinister demons skulking around in black cloaks and cackling to themselves about annihilating the Forces of Good. We're going to be killing people. Normal people. Everyday people. People who listen to rock music and wear tennis shoes and like fast food. People who like movies. People who we could probably have a nice time dating. We're going to kill people, all in the name of stopping one man from theoretically killing a lot more. The news reports yesterday of the Iraqi soldiers armed with chemical weapons are extremely unnerving, and drive home the point that maybe this does indeed need to be done. But we need to find a better way to do this, and then take a good hard look at what has brought the Iraqi people to this. Kill Saddam, install democracy, lift the sanctions, send in the Western benefits, and for Christ's sake don't abandon them.

We have seen the enemy, and they are us.


Trying to get a good meme going.

Courtesy of Min Jung: the mental image of the Lucci sisters as "acting in a movie as a pair of vinyl figurine vendors who try to pass themselves off as male transvestite hookers." Please do pass it on, if only for the mental sound of the lovely Karen squealing in horrified indignation. :)


Public service announcement.

Kelley Kiefer, where's your weblog!?

Also of note: check out the site of the good Mr. Jeremy Dunck, one of my other new friends from SXSW. A bit programming-heavy for my tastes, but hey, it takes all kinds, and he's good people.

The sound of hammering from

Hear that? That distant banging noise is the sound of a friend in Arizona working furiously on her new website. Watching this unfold more or less in real time is really cool... It sort of reminds me of SimCity, when you could watch your buildings growing up out of the dirt. Bang bang hammer hammer.

Movable Type is kicking my ass.

OK, so I successfully configured (mostly) Nick's weblog using Movable Type, which was awesome because it gave me the chance to sort out some of the basics before I migrate Inkblots over to MT. Right now MT is kicking my ass, in no small part because I'm not entirely sure how I want to redesign the contents pages to reflect the new backend, nor am I sure how to handle the authoring issue. I'm not sold on the idea of creating a new user for every contributor to the site, but that would add some nifty functionality (I think). This would be harrowing if it weren't so darn exciting.


Nick Bastin has a blog.

Well, after a day's worth of work installing Movable Type (Nick's part) and designing and implementing the actual pages themselves (my part), is ready for prime time. Now, there aren't any actual posts from Nick yet -- look for that in the next couple of days -- but the infrastructure is in place. :)


OOOOOO! Beware the ides of

OOOOOO! Beware the ides of March! (Thanks to the illustrious Mr. Bastin for just reminding me of that.)


Movable Type is seriously impressive. Wow.

Cool things afoot.

Yesterday I spent some time building a weblog for my old friend Talon, which is up at until we get the rest of his personal site together. Today I spent a couple hours designing a weblog for my other old friend Nick, whose blog will be found at sometime in the very near future. To round out this hat trick, another old friend, Carrie Spritzer, will have her new site,, on momentarily. I love helping friends pitch their tents online. Making the neighborhood a little brighter, one site at a time.


Would the site stay up this time, please? Thanks.

Our hosting partner is starting to get on my nerves... This is the second big outage in two weeks. Our server had been up for close to a year without going down before this, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, but still... Arg.


So on Wednesday night, my friend Evangeline and I went to go see Adaptation, the new-ish film by Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, the oddballs behind Being John Malkovich. I am not allowed to watch those kinds of movies. See, Adaptation stars Nic Cage as an overweight, neurotic screenwriter caught in a self-destructive downward spiral. "OK, here we go, ready to write. How to start, how to start? I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. No, I need to write, then I can reward myself with coffee..." I found myself slouching in my theater chair and thinking furiously, Damn, these people have me sussed.

Oh, well. All in all, a pretty decent movie. Odd, but decent. And now I can read Kottke's Regarding: Adaptation blog without fear of spoilers


Some of the peaks in my week: the Fray Cafe and the Walkingbirds.

There were so many highlights from my trip to Texas, it's hard to know where to start. I'm going to be throwing them up here in fits and bursts for the rest of the week. The perk I'd like to mention this morning: meeting Scott Andrew LaPera, who records this amazing music as The Walkingbirds. Scott Andrew played at the Fray Cafe this year, at which I was the last speaker, telling a story about falling out of a pickup truck in high school – and although I don't think Derek realized it, this was my first experience getting on stage at a Fray event. I was petrified, and even more so when I found out I was the last speaker of the night. I was also flattered as all get out, since Derek trusted me to round out the set, but I was still jittery. I hope nobody noticed. Anyway, after I got off the stage, Scott Andrew came up to me right afterwards to say hi, and I was still so shaken about having just finally joined the real-time Fray I didn't even know what to say. Jeez. Luckily I got to talk to him later, and just as suspected he's really cool. I'm hoping I'll be able to have something from him grace our pages sometime soon.

Closer, closer.

Frogdesign and Motorola are getting closer to this wearable computing package I've been harping about for months. Check out the story right over here.


Proof I was there.

First shot, courtesy of the good Matthew "photomatt" Mullenweg, is here (I'm in the red shirt between Jeff and Min Jung). Second is a team shot of our winning kickball team, Break Balls with Brad, courtesy of the one and only Brad Graham. I'm the one standing beside Cam and behind the Asian girl whose name I cannot recall. Third is a nice shot of me and Min Jung Kim, courtesy of MJ herself. I love that woman. Literary and sassy. Mrowr.

As for my own, yes, I have pictures. Boy, do I have pictures. Wait for it.

Back in Bethesda.

Well, another SXSW has come and gone. I will be posting some stuff imminently, but I seem to be having yet more issues with our server. This is getting ridiculous.

Oh, and I'm more or less sold on the idea of migrating this whole party over to Movable Type. Things are going to break. Stay tuned.


Quick flash of blue.

Sudden burst of melancholy at the thought that in a handful of minutes, I've got to leave my tribe. Bummer.

Aaaaaand live from the She-Trott/Dash/Bausch/He-Trott/Hall Show.

Posting from a really really awesome panel on "Beyond the Blog" at SXSW. This is, sadly, my last panel to attend at SXSW 2003, 'cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane in about three hours. And these Texans might be a little wacky on their airport security. They might not be, but I'm just sayin'.

To my right is the Queen of the Bloggies, the one and only Ernie Hsiung. For some real-time amusement, check out the play-by-play comments on this post.

Heh heh heh. Snark by Southwest in real-time.


Live from the Smokler/Bickner/Brown/Powazek/Champ/Schmidt Show.

Jeez. In a big schedule mess, the Book Culture panel led by the good Mr. Smokler is at the same time as the Surviving Your Collaborative Project panel led by the good Mr. Powazek. The good Mr. Long has never wished so much for a split-consciousness doppelganger.


Good times, old friends.

Having myself a time with Kevin, Leonard, Min Jung, Ernie and everybody else. I was on the winning time in a kickball game. I got to hang out with my old friend Jennifer Shorb last night.

This post will be rife with links when it is no longer rude to be spending time posting instead of listening to a Creative Commons panel.


Live from SXSW!

Posting live from a panel at SXSW. If you only hear from me intermittently this weekend, that's why. :)


Feeling antsy.

So I read a weblog post this afternoon about SXSW jumping the shark this year. I think that might have some truth to it, but only as a reflection of the general malaise that has seized the whole country lately. This whole will-we-or-won't-we dance with Iraq, the crappy economy, the bitterly cold winter... It just feels like we're all just exhausted. I know I feel that way a lot of the time, but I'm sick of it. There must be greater enterprises out there to which we can set our minds and our labor, in order to rejuvenate our souls. Let's do something instead of just plodding along.

A tip for an enterprising barista.

So, the good Doc Searls recently observed the following:

I'm back at the same Starbucks, getting my hour's worth of wi-fi for ten minutes actual use. I can blog and get email, for some reason; but I can't browse, because I get redirected every time to an F-Mobile sign-up page.

Earth to Starbucks: Get another provider and give away the wi-fi for free, like milk and sugar. You're gonna be doing it eventually anyway.

Wi-fi is just another utility provided by businesses and municipalities as a civic grace, like toilets and light. Customers and citizens are already on the case. Follow the market. Take the loss and lead with it.

So there's this kick-ass coffeehouse here in the DC area, which offers free wi-fi access. I love this place. I love their people. I love everything about this place, except for one thing. See, guys like me are constantly coming into this place and setting up our little mobile offices to hang out and work using their wireless connection. This is great, except that one latte only goes so far. After about half an hour, you're left with an empty glass, a guilty feeling, a fear of leaving your seat in case somebody decided to steal it (or worse, your laptop) and a jonesing for another latte.

So, riddle me this: why don't the baristas come around every so often and offer you another drink?

I understand that most guys like me would rather be left alone than bugged by some hipster equivalent of a Denny's waitress. So, I propose the following: a tiny kiosk, no bigger than an iPod, on each table. I sit down, cruise to what I want on the menu on said kiosk, and place my order. The doohickey has a credit-card swiper built into it for either my VISA or my frequent-customer card (which is, dangerously enough, tied to my checking account). The doohickey sends my order to the kitchen, a couple minutes later a cute waitress brings my drink around, I tip her generously (or have already done so via the kiosk), and wham! I am happily strung along onto my next caffeine high, and the coffeehouse just made another four bucks.

If you assume there are twenty hard-core guys like me in there on a Sunday afternoon, and each guy spends an average of three hours at a table and orders another $4 coffee beverage every forty-five minutes, that's twenty people spending sixteen dollars apiece, or $320 in the till. If you assume those same people only order two $4 coffee beverages because they're dragging their feet or don't want to move, the coffeehouse just lost $160. Worse, if each of those twenty guys only orders one drink and nurses it for three hours (which happens a lot, mind you), the coffeehouse only makes $80 in an afternoon. That's a difference of $240. Oh, sure, the free wi-fi would cost you, what, $60, $150 a month? Chump change. You're milking these twenty caffeine-riddled Internet junkies for $1280 a month, for one weekly three-hour period alone.

Imagine the Starbucks of 2005, where every one offers free high-speed Internet access and a kiosk like this at every table. I'd leave twenty bucks poorer every time, but I'd be more than happy to come back tomorrow.

Anybody want to join a young entrepreneur on a little project?


Hey, what?

Whoa! When I wasn't looking, Central Booking closed its doors. Kevin, buddy, man, what happened?

(Actually, I know exactly what happened. He went on to Bigger and Better Things. As someone who's been running a magazine in fits and bursts since 1994, I know what he's feeling. Maybe next year, when Inkblots hits its erratic-10, I might move on too. Or maybe I'll stage a coup, acquire all of Salon's assets and take over the online publishing world. Mwa ha ha. Um, right. As we were saying...)


Somebody set us up the bomb!

So I did in fact turn to the heavy artillery, resorting to a Jamba Juice Coldbuster smoothie. You guys thought I was kidding about this being the H-bomb of cold defense, but what else would you call a beverage that has 2170% of your daily vitamin C recommendation? That's right, kids, say it with me – two thousand, one hundred and seventy percent. That's not warfare, that's overkill. If I still have this damn cold tomorrow, I'm going to the ER and demanding antibiotics for the bubonic plague.

Sick as a whole pack of dogs.

I can usually shrug off a cold in 24, maybe 48 hours. This one, however, is being pretty tenacious. It started to rear its ugly head on Friday, danced around the outskirts of my perceptions on Saturday, barged through the front door with a full-bodied roar on Sunday, lazed about telling tired offensive jokes in its yellowed underwear all day Monday and is apparently happily demanding coffee on Tuesday. This houseguest has outstayed its welcome. While I usually just check myself into bed for a full day to kick one of these things, I can't afford to do that this time so I'm throwing down an all-out offensive: chicken soup with crackers, Tylenol cold medicine, multiple pints of orange juice, and even some yogurt raisins for that extra Vitamin C kick. If this bugger hasn't been driven off with its tail between its legs by this evening, I'm driving down to Jamba Juice for one of their Coldbuster smoothies: the H-bomb of virus defense. I refuse to be sick for SXSW.

And with that, I'm going to go take this lying down. Time for a power nap. Out, out, damned virus!


I want to do this.

The best one-man-with-computers band on the Internet, Scott Andrew's The Walkingbirds, has posted a new song. Go get it. This stuff is better than 90% of the stuff on the radio – kind of a Five for Fighting vibe. (Kind of an awkward ending, though.)

Tina Bell Vance at Siggraph.

One other thing way worthy of mention: our own Tina Bell Vance has a few of her pieces showing at Siggraph this year. Go Tina!


So I was going to go. Then I wasn't going to go. Then I was going to go. Then I wasn't going to go. Then I found a damn good deal on plane tickets and a hotel room, and so I'll be returning to SXSW this Friday. Woo-hoo! If you can get away from Friday through Monday or Tuesday, and have some spare cash lying around, I highly recommend checking out, in their "Last-Minute Trips" section. Way cool.


Your editor friend is sick. Had a lovely whirlwind weekend, saw a bunch of friends, and probably infected them all. Darn. If I saw you this weekend, please go chug a glass of OJ for me.