Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Bits and pieces.

This morning's brief note aside, it's been awhile since I've done any serious, in-depth blogging around here. Again, this is in part because I've started mentally shifting all my weblogging energy over to the new weblog, which isn't yet available for public consumption. This is not to say that when I do whip the sheet off of the new site, it will be overflowing with new and insightful content; in fact, almost the opposite is true. All I'm saying is that every time something worthwhile pops up, and I think, "Wow, I should make a note of that," I almost immediately think, "Yes, but if TOTQ is going away, I should blog about it over at instead," which is then followed by "But isn't yet operational," which is followed by a mental sigh and a throwing-up of hands.

This is not a good state of affairs. October is almost halfway over, and, as always, I'm feeling horribly behind. There are simply never enough hours in the day.

So, given that, I'm going to post some of those notes right here, right now.

And the proto-Zeldmen shall inherit the earth

First up, a massive 'congratulations!' to the good Jeffrey Zeldman and his wife Carrie on the birth of their daughter. Kids rock, and this kid in particular will be one to watch. Mazeltov, guys.

Welcome back, Jay

Second, another massive 'congratulations!' to the good Jay Allen on his joining Six Apart, the company behind Movable Type. Wow. What with all the amazing people going to work there, SA could be the next Apple. Good on ya, Ben and Mena! Quick trivia tidbit: did you know that Six Apart was named that because its founders, Ben and Mena Trott, were born only six days apart? I didn't until this morning, when I read this article on the happy couple in the Wall Street Journal. Hot damn, between this, their being named to the MIT Technology Review Innovation 100, and the piles of venture capital pouring in, 2004 is the Year of the Trott.

Plazes: like a wi-fi scavenger hunt... sorta

No, not like Geocaching, but more like a scavenger hunt for wi-fi hotspots. I mentioned Plazes before, and the more I use it the more I like it. I keep hoping that Plazes reaches critical mass relatively soon, as so far I still haven't bumped into one single person ever on the same hotspot where I am, which is part of the draw for me. Also, the only other person on the system that I know at this point is the illustrious Tom Bridge. C'mon, all of you who are in the laptop brigade: sign on and join in the fun! At this point, I'm about this close to hopping in the car and going wardriving to try and gain more discoverer points (which are awarded when you sign on at a hotspot that no one's 'claimed' yet). I'm at a measly five at the moment, and one of those is my own apartment. I'm a trifle annoyed that someone already grabbed the Panera Bread in Evanston – and that someone is in Germany. How the heck he pulled that off is beyond me. My guess is he has a lot of frequent flier miles.

It's worth mentioning that Plazes also has an open API, which I suspect will lead to the devlopment of a Movable Type plug-in sooner or later, so that it would automagically populate the "Written at" field with my location pulled from Plazes. Can't wait for that – that's going to be snazzy.

Growing annoyed at the slowdown of Internet Time

Speaking of high-tech tomfoolery, I'm almost finished with the aforementioned Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold. I'm sort of torn on my opinion here. For starters, I'm a little dismayed that so much of the book isn't new to me – past the initial discussion of the mobile tech set, Rheingold delves into reputation systems (a la eBay), wireless networks (a la Airport) and while-you-were-sleeping use of your machine as a node in a supercomputer network (a la SETI@home and folding@home). I haven't gotten to the final chapter yet, which I'm hoping he will use in grand Snoopy fashion to pull it all together, but at the moment I'm feeling half duped and half cocky. One of three things is happening: first, that Howard could have been so bang-on in his observations when he finished the book back in 2001/2002 that all of his predictions have come true; second, that this book really isn't half as revolutionary as I was hoping it would be; or third, that I actually am way better suited to join the folks tinkering away in the shadowy halls of MIT than I thought, because very little of this stuff is really revolutionary to me. I'm leaning towards #1 – and if I'd actually managed to find the time to read it all the way through when it first came out, it would've blown my socks off. Maybe.

But what really gets my goat here is that I still can't actually do half the stuff that he's talking about. I know it's possible, and I can see how it would be insanely cool, but the slow-ass hardware vendors are dragging their feet. It makes me wish I'd paid more attention in shop class, so I'd know now how to solder a Bluetooth chip onto an existing Treo 300 instead of waiting for the frelling Treo 650, which has been popping up everywhere except on the actual store shelves. I don't know what the holdup is, Pa1mOne (and what's with the stupid new name?) but I'm right there with the ranks of Gizmodo and Engadget readers that are howling for its release. I'm also wondering how to justify the purchase of multiple 1GB SD cards for the Treo 650 and a little wallet to carry them around in, so I can quit carrying my iPod around. Convergence can't come fast enough for me – especially since there's almost zero reason why this stuff shouldn't be commercially available already. I swear, I'm going to find some good innovators to gang up with and knock some big fat white corporate heads together in order to get America innovating again. Jeez! Did you know that Bluetooth chips only cost $15 three years ago? This is ridiculous.

The coming tide of micromedia...

I probably have enough material mentally percolating for another concept essay here, but I wanted to make quick note of this before I forget it. Have all of you heard of podcasting yet? Basically it's the creation of a small MP3 file which can be uploaded to your iPod (or Treo or whatever). This is really nothing too revolutionary; webloggers like my dear Min Jung Kim have been doing audioblog entries for a long time now, as my brother-in-arms Kevin Smokler points out. However, what I do suspect is coming down the pike is a similar approach using small movie files, downloaded to your phone or the inevitable iPod with color screen and multimedia capabilities. It won't be long before people are watching downloaded – or live – clips from CNN on their iPods on the subway every morning.

Further, I also fiercely believe that the future of television isn't necessarily in the video-on-demand services through the cable companies, but through similar media delivered via the regular Internet. As broadband connections become ever more popular, and the convergence expands with things like the already-available networkable TiVo and the Windows Media Center PCs, there will be more and more shows like What the Muffins created by independent companies and delivered over this here Interweb. If the cable companies are smart, they'll realize that these indie studios (*cough*Tohubohu*cough*) will be producing pieces of comparable quality to the big guys at a fraction of the cost, and they'll start signing up the best of the best for delivery on regular cable channels, and then subsidize the creation of season-length DVDs for sale online. All the pieces are already in place; a half hour of Homestar Runner would fit perfectly into Adult Swim (which is already some of the best programming on television), and as we've seen with the big-screen resuscitation of Firefly from Joss Whedon, fans will happily pony up for cult-hit entertainment in DVD box sets.

To recap, here's my formula: small indie firms create content and release it on the Internet; big media companies invest in promising new content; big companies and small companies profit from the release of said content in old-media formats (TV and DVD). Some of you will be scoffing and saying, "Why should the small companies share their winnings with the big companies at all?" Because 99% of the viewing public aren't "in the know" like you are, O cultural maven. They rely on the big, existing media companies to act as culturefinders. Also, said 99% is lazy.

All of this stuff is hot to converge, and it's really only steps away. If I had any idea how to actually do this stuff, I'd be right there in it, making it happen. Anybody out there want to teach me how to actually market myself as a coolfinder?

...And improved video on the web...

One more component that you hear clicking into place there is the way video is gaining in popularity on the web thanks to Macromedia's Flash MX. Jason Zada points out a couple excellent new examples.

There is one thing, though, which I've found myself doing when it comes to online video: drumming my fingers. Not waiting for it to download, waiting for it to finish playing. With the exception of some kickass movie trailers, a good deal of online video content is just boring, especially when it comes to streaming newscasts.

What I think we need is a better chaptering system in online video, kind of like the way they do now on DVDs. Tired of the current segment? Chapter skip to the next one. Run a little 'highlights' thing on the side of it to show what in the last chapter you might really need to know in order to understand this one. It's sick, but since we can read a lot faster than people can talk, there are times when I just want whatever's on to get to the point so I can gulp the data I need and get on with whatever I'm doing. This is huge when it comes to the news, but lately I've even found myself doing it with – heresy! – reruns of Farscape and The West Wing, heading into the new season. Can't you guys deliver something better?

...Also leads to new developments in traditional text narratives

Said chaptering with notations, incidentally, is something I'm planning to experiment with in an upcoming personal project, but I'm not 100% certain just how yet. What I'm thinking of here is a system by which I publish my novel online in chapters with a sort of "character's journal" as an extra, so if a reader gets bored with some of the more artistic or philosophical stuff that's going on, they can jump to the next chapter and simply skim the character's journal to see what else happened in the rest of that chapter that they need to know in order to understand the new one. It's sort of like a built-in Cliff's Notes, and since what I want to do is create a story with both action and philosophical elements in it, I might have two journals: one for a more action-oriented type, and one for the more reflective. There's a question of "shouldn't the story be condensed into one or the other, so it plays best to one particular market?" to which I reply, "Malarkey," and point those naysayers to movies like Hero, which mix chop-sockey kung fu with art house cinematography. Now, whether or not that type of fusion can exist in literature is a good question; books that have attempted to do so, like Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose tend to read a little awkwardly, but my own writing style is nowhere near as ornamented as his, so mine might play a little easier. We'll see. Regardless, this is one area where I do believe that an 'e-Book' could be useful.

In conclusion

Wow. There's a lot more there than I'd expected, and a great deal of this needs even more unpacking before I'm really satisfied with the output. Like I mentioned earlier, there's definitely material here for a few concept essays. Stay tuned, as always – with luck, the new stuff will turn up on the new site soon.

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