Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives

March 2006 Archives

Announcing 30.

As many of you know, April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate, I have a brand new project coming down the pike: 30. The concept is simple: podcast 30 short original poems in 30 days. Some of them will, of course, be better than others, but my general hope is to use this as a project to generate new content and get back in the writing habit again. Things should get rolling tomorrow, on April 1st, so check back again then! With luck I'll have the podcast subscribable then as well.


Stranger in a Strange Land.

I'm wrting this while sitting on a futon in the middle of my girlfriend Laura's apartment. This sentence is not in and of itself worthy of a Joey Lawrence-style "Whoa!" until I tack on the detail that said apartment is in Ise, Japan.

Say it with me: "Whoa!"

I'm having a wonderful time, and recording the occasional videoblog post using my Treo 650. I brought my Sony DCR-PC10 with me for this purpose, but it wasn't until I was sitting in the airport in Detroit and about to make my first entry that I found that the bloody thing is no longer keeping a battery charge. Rats! So the videoblog posts will be choppy and odd when I get them up here. However, I also upgraded my Canon Digital Rebel with a new battery and a 4GB CompactFlash card that is the bee's knees. The sucker now holds well over 1000 photos – when I boot it up the "exposures left" field reads 999, woo! – and so my Flickr account is going to explode when I start uploading this stuff. :)

I flew out of Boston on an 8:30 AM flight from Boston to Detroit, where I puttered around for a 2-hour layover, and then hit the tarmac again for a nonstop flight from Detroit to Osaka. Laura picked me up there on Saturday afternoon (and bless her for not completely mocking my jetlagged ass), we dumped our luggage in a hotel in Osaka and then went poking around. Osaka was incredible. It's kind of amazing how much your existing frames of reference color your perceptions – I was walking around Osaka goggling at how much the place resembled a real-life episode of Ranma 1/2. Seriously. We stopped at a restaurant where Laura introduced me to takoyaki, these doughy little balls with chunks of squid in the middle. Do not eat these suckers hot off the grill. You think the mouth-burn from a frozen pizza is bad? You ain't seen nothin' yet...

The next morning we packed up our stuff and went to catch the train to Ise, which is where Laura's been cramming English into the heads of Japanese kids as a teacher in the JET program. On the way there we stopped for coffee at a – get this – Starbucks. Yes, they're everywhere. I had to stop and try it out. Depressingly, their chais and mochas are smoother than the ones in the States. Maybe it's the full-fat milk they use. I dunno. I refuse to concede that Brandon was right in his assessment that "Everything's better in Japan", but they sure do seem to nail some stuff. :)

Yesterday Laura and I went down to a Japanese grocery store, which was an experience. Laura laughed at me as I snapped a bunch of photos in the grocery, but how often do you see curry donuts!? We loaded up on sushi, baked goods, snacks and sodas and then headed back to Laura's place. After gorging ourselves on some truly excellent sushi, I got to meet her friends Emily and Miri, who are both extremely nice and fun people. The four of us hit a puri kura ("print club") parlor, which was a blast. (Things to get Laura for her birthday: Starbucks mug with the customizable inserts!) We then went and poked around Ise a little, stopping by a shrine where we got to see the keeper of the shrine come out in full garb as part of a local festival parade. I'll upload pics of those later so you guys can see this – the girls tell me this is an extremely rare event. After that, Em and Miri had to hop a train to Tokyo, so Laura and I went back to her place to watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on DVD, but I passed out within the first 15 minutes of the movie.

Today Laura and I are going to check out the Ise shrine and poke around town some more, and then we're off to Kyoto! More updates when I can; email access here is a little random. But, yes – having a wonderful tme, wish you were here, yadda yadda yadda.

Man, I needed this. :-)


Story excerpt.

In response to the writer's block post from yesterday, here's a couple chunks of raw content hammered out this morning. Be warned, it's pretty rough.

It began the year Jeremiah got shot.

The caravan had ventured a little too close to the edge of the void that year, and Jeremiah had paid the tax. The story of how he fell was legendary -- his bike skidding just an inch over the pale chalk line at the edge of the Old Road, but the rules had no room for argument. He'd been showboating for one of the young Esmereldas, trying to catch her eye, and maybe a little something more later besides, and so he'd pushed the bke to its limits. Bikes don't appreciate being mistreated -- the growl in the lowest registers, the deep-throated roar of protest when a throttle's opened up just wrong... All of these are warnings, the kind that Jeremiah always ignored, and this time the bike had had enough. Jeremiah made the bike whine, made it scream, and when he threw it around and so it would drop and spin and skid to a curving stop in a shower of sparks and fireworks, the bike put its own foot down. The bikes know the Roads -- that's why we pass them down from generation to generation with fear and reverence and honor and respect. We don't bequeath our bikes to our sons, we entrust our sons to the bikes. If we have enough of a good thing going, the bike will take the boy under its wing, so to speak, and whisper to him the rules, teach him how to move through the world with grace and glory. break that bond, and you yourself get broken. The bike knew exactly where the chalk line was drawn, and it subtle engineering planted the edge of its tire just an inch, a single solitary fatal inch, over the line at the end of Jeremiah's performance.

The result was instantaneous. Jeremiah didn't even realize what had happened -- he'd locked green eyes with the prettiest of the Esmereldas -- Tom Snyder's daughter, I think it was -- and he was grinning that big dumb grin that the girls never seemed to grow tired of, when the bolt came. He never saw it coming -- it came crackling out of the void like a lightening bolt from a cloud, a burst of that horrible pale balefire erupting from the darkness, illuminating the old runes on the side of the Road for a split second before pouring itself into the small of Jeremiah's back. There was a flash, and a crack as all of Jeremiah's joints suddenly lock straight still, and the choked gurgle as all the breath in his chest turned into something else. Some say the smell was sulfur, others say it was ozone, and still others say it was nothing that complex, just the smell of the boy cooking. His hair caught fire and his skin blackened, just as usual, but it was what came next that was odd. As the boy collapsed onto the Road and Snyder's girl began to scream, as the old hands moved forward to collect the bike and the corpse, in that order, all these rituals were thrown off by the sudden clear, crisp peal of a bell.

It was a perfect chime, ringing as if a giant godlike finger had just tapped some cosmic wine glass. There was the single note, and then nothing for a long minute. We all stood stock still, not daring to move, or even breathe. In all our years of dealing with the void, this was something new. New was bad.

At last we dared to move again, and of course the first things to move were our eyes. As slowly and quietly as we could, the entire tribe turned to look at the void. It hung there the same as it had a minute ago, a velvety black curtain of nothingness tracing the edge of the Old Road, dangling a few feet beyond the chalk line. Many children had died trying to reach out and touch the curtain, wondering what its strangeness would feel like against their fingertips; the instant their hands crossed over the chalk line there would be a flash, a crack, a smell and a tiny body. Never before, though, had there been the peal of a bell.

Also, never before had the curtain shimmered.

Even back then my eyesight had already begun to fade, so I had to squint and peer to see it, but I could hear the others drawing sharp breaths as they saw it. The void was usually as still and unmoving as a wall of obsidian, starting in a perfect line in the dirt and stretching all the way up into the sky and out of sight. This time, though, it shimmered and shook as if it were made of water, and a cool breeze was blowing across its face. Only there was no breeze, no wind at all, and the void was made of nothing so humble as water. Still, though, there it was – shimmering, rippling, almost undulating in midair. It reminded me of a dance I’d seen a young Esmerelda do when I was a boy, still too young for a bike of my own, and the effect then was just as hypnotic as it was now. I could not tear my eyes away from it.

I wish now that I had, for then I would not have seen what came next. The old hand nearest to Jeremiah’s fallen body, a brave old lunatic named Ruskin Hearne, dared to move more than just his eyes. He took a step forward, edging a little closer to the void but still staying well back of the chalk line. His face was pale, his hands were shaking, but he was still the bravest among us – and so did not deserve what the gods had waiting for him.

Ruskin broke no law. He crossed no line. But still the bolt came for him.

Just as with Jeremiah, there was a bright flash as the jagged bolt exploded from the void, arcing through the air and straight into Ruskin’s chest. His body immediately snapped backward, his spine jerking ramrod-straight and then nearly doubling back on itself as the bolt coursed through his body. There was the gurgle, and the choke, and smell, and finally the bell again – only this time, the entire caravan began to scream.

When the rules are broken, when all bets are off, what else can you do?

The next heartbeat was chaos. All of us turned and fled, either on foot, on bike or on wagon. The bike and the corpses were left on the road, forgotten in our need to get away. It’s a damn good thing we did, too – whatever malignant force had decided it was tired of obeying the rules was still thirsty for our blood. A third bolt erupted from the void, this time narrowly missing the shoulder of little Richie Grey, being hauled off in his mother’s arms as quickly as she could run. The bolt cut close enough that it singed his hair, and the wee boy began to howl. I could not blame him. A fourth bolt followed, as did a fifth – both of these were impotent and flashed out without striking a target, but the sixth struck Stephen Marshall full in the back of his head as he ran, and the bright flash of the bolt was prolonged by the sudden firelight from the man’s ignited hair.

Mercifully, Stephen was the last of us to fall. More bolts came from the darkness, but the caravan had retreated out of range. The void now shimmered with greater urgency, throbbing and pulsing and waving like the body of some great endless adder. Stephen’s wife was wailing and howling, making to run to her fallen husband but being held back by three young men fighting the fight of their lives. The warriors among us had their weapons unsheathed and unholstered, snarling impotently at the void. What could they do? You cannot shoot the void, cannot kill it any more than one could shoot and kill the night. They ached to try, but the wisdom of the tribe held.

Of course, the tribe knew so many things – or at least thought it did. We’d already seen two of our wise old rules broken in a handful of heartbeats, and it was little Sally Gray that spotted the third. She stood beside her mother, peeking out from behind the woman’s dress, staring wide eyed at the void and chattering in her high-pitched, terrified voice. The child pointed and tugged at her mother’s skirts. The woman reached down to shush her, but then heard what her baby was saying. The woman’s head snapped up, her eyes widened and she began to wail and point herself.

The void was moving.

The curtain of darkness was starting to sweep forward. Its black lip had already moved across the ground and was sweeping over the chalk stripe. A moment later the chalk stripe was gone, disappeared beneath the black cloak, and then it was inching toward the bodies of Jeremiah and Ruskin… Then it was on them, and then the horror was renewed – when the darkness touched the bodies, already blackened and charred from the bolts, they burst into flame. The light was reflected in the void as it engulfed them, making it look like nothing so much as a moving wall of thick black oil, but the flames disappeared into it with no resistance. Another moment and the flaming corpses were gone, completely engulfed – but by that point the caravan was no longer watching. By then we were moving again, screaming and fleeing as quickly as we could move, but to where we could not say.

Where do you go when darkness begins to move?


Damn writer's block.

Today was one of those days that frightens me down to the tips of my toes. Ever since I came back from SXSW Ivan and I have been working like mad to get the new CMS site up and running, and now a v1.0 version is up at I'm heading down to campus tomorrow morning to triple-check that the bloody thing works the way I think it does on other browsers, lacking a PC here in the apartment. The website is part of a pitch for a $14 million dollar funding proposal, where if it goes through we might – might! – have enough cash to hire more profs and start that Ph.D program that we've all been nattering on about all year. Woo!

However, after one last heavy round of edits this morning, I turned my back on that project and returned to the other projects in the queue. Tomorrow's going to be bad news – I have to meet with the literature department and discuss how to get their site up off the tarmac before too much longer, a problem because I've been backburnering their project pretty much all year and it's starting to rise up and bite me in the ass. This isn't surprising because I don't have any classes in the literature department, versus my heavy involvement with C3 and CMS, but I'm still going to face the music tomorrow. Hopefully I'll face the music and dance, but we'll see what happens. I dashed out a comp for a client who's been more than patient lately, and I'm waiting to hear back from him on that, I turned down another client who poked me to see if I could help with another project (yay newfound "Just Say No" skills!) and plowed through a whole ton of emails.

The trouble came next, when I tried to start work on a project for my Interactive and Non-Linear Narrative class.

I'm here to get back to my storytelling roots. My classmates are growing annoyed with how much I gripe about working on websites when that's what I'm here to stop doing. Yet when I'm torched from coding and all this other stress, when i sit down to start work on a narrative project sometimes I choke. And that's what happened today. It's a terrifying feeling. I was sitting at my keyboard, flipping through magazines, doing research, and nothing I came up with worked. The two pages of text I dashed off as an intro to a story fell flat, the idea I had for a text message-generated narrative proved too complex and expensive, and a few tentative other experiments all proved dead ends. It was seriously humbling.

Now I'm going to crash and get up early tomorrow to try and shake this problem. Wish me luck. I can't afford another day like today.


The wisdom of Peter Morville.

"In a world where the haystacks get bigger and bigger, how do we create bigger needles?"


Where did all these people come from?

If there's one recurrent theme to SXSW 2006, it would be who the hell are all these people? The last time I was here, in 2003, there was a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not SXSW would survive. Now the halls are clogged with people, many of the panels are standing-room-only, and there are a ton of interesting new faces here. Apparently this wasn't a slow growth over the two years I missed; most of my friends are looking around wide-eyed and exclaiming at the crowd.

There's also a ton of new sponsors bouncing around with a bunch of freebies and swag, from the giant Adobe logo on the side of the SXSW goodie bag to the free Clif bars making the rounds (which, actually, are really pretty good – try the chocolate brownie ones).

One downside, though, is a shortage of really cool panels. I know it's the direct result of the constant bombardment of cool ideas that MIT levels at your head, but most of the panels I've attended so far are pretty dull. There was a keynote earlier today by Jason Kottke and Heather Armstrong that boiled down to the old, old litany of "people are saying mean things about my dog!" nonsense.

That said, there have been a few really kick-ass panels, like the Interactive/Film keynote today with Henry Rollins. That was amazing, and I grabbed some fantastic photos I'll post to my Flickr account later. This was followed by Adam Greenfield's Everyware talk which was the kind of intellectual a-ha crackle that I remembered from SXSWes years ago (I did grab a copy of his book a few minutes ago at the bookstore and had him sign it) and now I'm sitting in a panel with Jason Santa Maria, Shaun Inman and others as a "Design Eye for the List Guy" kind of thing, wherein their team redesigned Plazes, a location-based site that I enjoyed tinkering with last year, but I haven't touched in a long time. This is very, very cool.

More notes as the days go on...

They're Everyware!

I'm currently sitting in a truly inspriring lecture by Adam Greenfield on his concept of everyware, from his new book of the same name. The big dea is ubiquitous computing, and this is both thrilling and intellectually sparkling. I have every intention of grabbing a copy of the book after the lecture, and I can't wait to read it. Maybe on the way to Japan?

The quotable Brad.

"Obscurity is the new fame." – Brad Graham


I am the very model of a cartoon individual.

Guess where I spent my Friday?

Cartoon Network

More details to follow – right now I have to pack my bags to fly to Austin! I live a magic life.


3D projections in midair.

This is the kind of wicked-cool thing that you get exposed to here at MIT: Japanese Device Uses Laser Plasma to Display 3D Images in the Air.

How cool is that?!


O. M. G.

See, this – this right here – this is the kind of stuff that drives me insane.

Last weekend I did all my school reading first, and didn't get to almost any of the big projects currently hanging over my head. This weekend I decided to reverse the process, spending all my time instead on the big projects and playing catch-as-catch-can with my reading. The only real break I took was to watch the Oscars with a bunch of my classmates and that was great fun – I love Jon Stewart and George Clooney – but after this huge marathon there's still nothing finished, and nary a lick of reading done to boot. I've made a cubic ton of progress, but nothing that I can wave around and say, "Look! It's done!" Argh. As a result I am now more than a little stressed out.

Luckily, one small thing that I did accomplish this weekend was finalizing my travel plans for SXSW next week. Woo-hoo! Texas, baby, here I come! And this is a break that doesn't come a moment too soon.

Right. Back to work. For a short week, this is going to be a looooooong week.


The return of Geoffrey Long, storyteller.

Oh my word, it feels so good to be telling stories again instead of just building websites. Remember last weekend when I posted about the interactive narrative and the video game pitch that were due this week? Well, thirty-odd drawings, at least one 4-hours-of-sleep night and a new URL later, I've got both little projects more or less out the door. Well, at least for now.

Goldworld is the video game project. I've made a short trailer of sketches associated with it which I need to recut and upload this weekend – I'll make another post when that goes up. I'm not 100% certain where it should go on Probably 'miscellaneous', until I get enough other game projects to warrant their own silo.

Goldworld begins when seven of the largest cities on the planet suddenly vanish, leaving nothing but giant smooth-sided shafts leading down into the earth. Three types of people go to investigate – the military, fortune-seekers and vigilantes bent on finding out what happened to their loved ones and beating the snot of out those responsible... But none of them expect what they find down there.

There's an old crypto-history/folklore/whatever concept that there are giant electromagnetic currents crisscrossing the world called ley lines, and where they intersect people are naturally drawn – and that's where humans build their cities. I took that idea and grafted it onto the old Cortez-era legend of the Seven Cities of Gold and wondered, what if the seven cities of gold were underground? What if they were beneath our major cities? What if they decided to come back?

The result is an idea for a limited online-enabled RPG with touches of Mayan and Aztec flavor smooshed onto something like World of Warcraft. We'll see what happens with this – the class is voting on game ideas next week. It's funny. If nothing else, this has proven to me that I'm an artist and a storyteller first and foremost. To me, I just want the ability to go running around in these worlds kind of like Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft. My favorite moments in WoW are when you stop running around killing things and just look up at the majesty of the stars, or when your breath is taken away by the beauty of the landscape. I want to build a world with that kind of beauty but with, you know, a plot. So yes. Maybe there's a place for me in the game world, but I'm still fantasizing about being paid by people to sit in my barn studio back in Ohio and leave the programming to the programmers and game mechanics to the game, um, mechanics.

Ghost Train

One type of interactive narrative I can build with my current skillset, though, is something akin to Ghost Train. I've only posted the first "chapter" of the story (which is, alas, all there is at the moment) but this is the story that these two come from. Please do swing by and let me know what you think – the story's up at When you get to the interactive bits, click on the adjacent squares on the map to get around.

Right. Now, for the rest of the weekend, there's all the bits I didn't get to last weekend, plus all the new stuff. Wish me luck!