Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives

March 2007 Archives


Well, I took the plunge. I'm now an official member of the IGDA.


Rest in Peace, Grandpa Caleb.

I just found out that John Styn's beloved Grandpa Caleb passed away yesterday. I'm so sorry, Halcyon.

Links list: 03-30-07.

I'm on Spring Break this week, so forgive the erratic posting. I'm currently sitting in Seattle's in Wooster, Ohio, posting links and closing tabs while someone that sounds an awful lot like Joss Whedon (in his Firefly guitar mode) is strumming away on the stereo. God, it's good to be home.


Links list: 03-21-07.
Must-See TV: Apple TV or Three-Tier TV?

As I've been working on my THESIS, I've come to appreciate the iTunes video store in an all-new way. The Apple TV device is finally shipping to stores this week, but as my recent behavior has shown, I'm not entirely sure I'm the right market for it. (Me? Not lusting after an Apple product? Horrors!) Some analysts are calling the Apple TV a 'DVD killer', or a 'cable killer', and so on, but what I've found, however, is that I've developed three tiers of TV watching – and there may not be room in this model for Jobs' new baby.

Tier One: Must-See Event TV

Tier One is my 'must-see event TV', where watching the show the night it's on is an event in and of itself. This can either be done alone or with friends, but these shows are my A-1 prime choices, the shows that I look forward to eagerly every week and have to see either in real-time or at a slight delay, thanks to TiVo. The shows I watch this way are 24, House, Stargate, Stargate: Atlantis, and the late, lamented Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. These are the shows that, if they were movies in theaters, I'd be there opening night with popcorn in my hands and an idiotic grin on my face. Fanboy TV? Perhaps.

Tier Two: Reliable Time-Shifted TV

Tier Two is 'reliable time-shifted TV', which is akin to a magazine subscription in my media consumption patterns. I always TiVo all the shows on the first tier, even as I'm watching them, because the desire is there to be absolutely certain I'll catch those episodes, and then to keep them around for a while afterwards in case I want to rewatch them. There are other shows, though, that I'll TiVo for eventual watching, but aren't quite worth planting my butt on the couch in near-real time. This is either due to time commitment, a conflict of other shows, or just a completely untenable time slot. My shows on Tier Two are the new animated The Batman, Mythbusters, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and anything with Jamie "Naked Chef" Oliver in it. These are the shows that, if they were magazines, I'd still dutifully subscribe to them and happily flip through them if I got the chance, but still often pile up in a corner somewhere without being consumed.

Tier Three: Impulse TV?

Tier Three, the newest tier, consists of all the shows I buy off the iTunes store. Now, this last cluster is messy because my iTunes library has shows from both Tier One and Tier Two for various reasons. There are eps of Stargate and 24 that I missed for whatever reason (usually a TiVo sneeze of some sort). The real collection, though, is of a different type of TV – the sort of 'impulse watch' television that's usually associated with channel surfing.

Maybe that's the kicker – that I never, ever channel surf anymore. instead, I iTunes surf.

Many of the shows I've bought off iTunes are ironically shows that I didn't bother TiVoing. This is because I somehow view the space on my house's TiVo as being worth more than space on my hard drive. There are one-offs of shows that I just wanted to try out, like Psych or Raines. But what I'm discovering is that there are also shows that I try on iTunes and then start to buy religiously to play in the background while I'm doing other things. This is a luxury of having multiple machines, I know, so it makes me an outlier of sorts in the market, but it's still a notable phenomenon – while I wouldn't bother TiVoing The Dresden Files, I now have every episode on my Mac. The same with Ghost Hunters, and I have a sneaking suspicion I'm going to wind up doing the same thing with Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

Are these shows I expect to watch over and over again? Not really. Is this an example of backward thinking? Perhaps. But it's worth something – $1.99 – to have exactly the right engagement-level of content in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

In a way, it's 'Impulse TV' – similar to the impulse buy of just the right magazine or candy bar in the checkout aisle of a grocery store. It's notable that Target has begun to place DVDs at the end of their checkout aisles as well – movies as just another impulse buy, usually for under ten bucks, a cheap hit of content. Usually these films aren't the Oscar-winners, either – they're romantic comedies or stuff-blowing-up guy movies, cheap thrill horror flicks or frat humor films. This is not that dissimilar to the stuff in my third tier – is The Dresden Files the next Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? Hell no. But it's also just clever enough and funny enough to make me want to put it on in the background while I'm doing something else. And when I finish one episode, its easy enough to click the mouse again for another cheap hit – $1.99? It's only slightly more expensive than a Coke! – and get another one. At four bucks for 90 minutes of content, and six bucks for 135 minutes, it's cheaper and more convenient than going to Blockbuster.

Squeezing the Apple TV into the Tiers

This is where the iTunes store starts to creak under its own weight, however. This same pricing structure should also apply to films. Movies are still just too damned expensive for what you get from Apple. Impulse buying takes a hit when it takes so long for the files to download. We're in dire need of a new compression technology that speeds this business up. Once the show starts to play the second my finger clicks that mouse, Apple will see its impulse buys skyrocket. Jobs is no idiot – he's probably howling for the QuickTime team to get that tech on his desk, like, yesterday. But until they get a better system in place, either through some holy grail codec or via some kind of P2P system (or, most likely, a combination of both), serial impulse buying on the iTunes Store is probably going to be relegated to outliers like me.

The second challenge facing the iTunes store is the cost-quality ratio. I want to buy The Prestige, but $15 is too much for a DRM'ed file that is still relatively low-quality. Would I pay $10 for it, or $15 for the HD version of the same film? Probably, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that was precisely the direction Apple was headed, given the Apple TV's emphasis on HDTV connectivity. Well, all right – this is Apple we're talking about, so it's more likely to be $15 for low-res and $20 for HD – but is $20 worth it for an HD film? Quite probably, yes – especially considering that Casino Royale, the first high-def disc to crack Amazon's top 25 sales chart, is still selling for $27 at the House of Bezos, with a whopping MSRP of $38.96.

This is where the Apple TV might fit in my consumption pattern – for movies. I'm unlikely to spend the extra moolah on TV shows on the iTunes store to stream to the exact same TV that's hooked up to my TiVo, when my Tier One and Tier Two shows are already on that TiVo. If there's a notable difference in quality that's a possibility, but for the most part... Unh-uh. Nor, for that matter, do I want to stream my Tier Three shows to my living room – if I was going to watch those shows in my living room, then I would have just TiVoed them in the first place.

But movies, though, those are a different story. Movies I do want to move from viewing area to viewing area. If I downloaded The Prestige, I would want to watch it both in the living room with friends or on my computer, because that's a media form that crosses tiers. Some shows are also like that, but for the most part these are my Tier Ones and Twos – which means that I'm more likely to pony up the $99 for a copy of Toast 8, which is currently the only place to get TiVoToGo for the Mac, instead of the $299 for an Apple TV.

What would it take for me to make the switch? The firts hurdle is the price – TiVoing all the episodes of Studio 60 would have meant that each episode showed up on my TV every week for free (well, after the price of my cable bill). Obtaining that content through the iTunes store (and, thus, through the Apple TV device) would have cost me $35.00, and would have required me to log into the iTunes store, then "make sure you are signed in to iTunes and then click here to download any episode currently waiting in your queue". I'm astonished Apple, the kings of usability, still require Season Pass subscribers to fire up iTunes every week and then manually click a button to download the content they've pre-ordered, then wait around for the content to be downloaded until they can watch it. This is a gap I hope they'll close with the Apple TV – people like me who are used to their chosen content already being there when they fire up their TiVos aren't going to happily adopt a multi-step acquisition process when they want to see their shows, not to mention the time gap between when the show airs on TV and when it goes up on the iTunes store.

This is not to say the device doesn't have promise – far from it. In fact, just typing this is making me want to rush out and buy one just to try it out, cost and use patterns be damned. That we've come this far already suggests to me that these last couple of gaps will be closed soon enough, which is good for everyone involved. Still, I think I'll hold on to my money just a little bit longer – after all, the next iteration of the Mac OS is supposed to show up this Spring, and who knows what that will hold in store?

Besides, my episode of No Reservations just finished downloading. Gotta go -- my show is (finally!) on.


Links list special: Apollo launch edition.

One of the things that I've been really excited about for a while is Adobe's new Apollo runtime environment, which enables web developers to build standalone apps using HTML, JavaScript, Flash and/or Flex. Yesterday Adobe launched the first public alpha version of Apollo, and what follows are a bunch of reactions.

Links list: 03-20-07.
Blue Compass.

Another small project went live today – Blue Compass Executive Recruiting is a new company by an old friend/client. There's not much to the site yet – it's only one page and is almost purely utilitarian in nature – but I liked the way the blue compass logo medallion came out. Like the site, it's extremely straightforward, but there's just something about the feel of it that pleases me. Plus, it looks dang sharp on the letterhead and business cards. Another entry for that 'identity' tab I keep meaning to add to my portfolio...


The Fans Are Us.

I have just had my socks knocked off by a video testament to multifandom set to Regina Spektor's Us, crafted by a fan named Lim. Doublepluscool points: Henry's in it!


Belkin Concealed Surge Protector: Don't Buy.

I wanted to like this product. I really did. Back in August I made a quick lust-post about the Belkin Concealed Surge Protectors, and today I found them on price markdown at Target, from $49.99 to $39.99. One of my bad habits is cleaning like crazy as a distraction when I'm stressed over a deadline (*cough*THESIS*cough*) so I couldn't resist. I snapped it up, brought it home and then spent a happy hour rewiring the rat's nest under my desk.

I should have known that I was in trouble when I got it out of the package and the bloody thing wouldn't close properly. The Concealed Surge Protector's simple concept is also its undoing: somehow the engineers at Belkin failed to take into consideration the sheer girth and resistance of a bundle of wires when stuffing them into their svelte beast, so the simple plastic clasps that are meant to hold the thing shut utterly fail when actually in use. Instead of an industrial-strength clasp akin to those found on Timbuk2 bags, for instance, this thing simply uses two tiny tongues meant to clip onto the underside of the door. They're weaker than soaked newspaper. I finally wound up using four rubber bands around the middle of the thing to keep it shut.

My floor is now clearer of clutter, if not cleared completely. One nice thing about the product is that it offers a generous eleven outlets, so that went a long way towards reducing my power headaches, but I'm still annoyed that the simplicity that was supposed to be the product's biggest selling point also killed its functionality, and was then completely undermined by the necessity of rubber bands to make it work. Rubber. Freaking. Bands. C'mon, Belkin – great idea, jaw-droppingly crappy execution.

My verdict: not worth returning if you've already bought it, but try not to buy it in the first place.

Redesigning TIME.

I have to say, Pentagram's redesign of TIME Magazine is doubleplusgood. And that's coming from a guy who's been largely nonplussed by the design scene in recent months. Kudos!


Links list: 03-15-07.


Thirty-odd slides later...

The crazy thing isn't that I'm presenting on "Transmedia Storytelling, Niche Media, and the Jim Henson Company" at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference on Sunday. The crazy thing is that I have so bloody much to say about it.

Negative capability is often a key tactic when it comes to transmedia storytelling, which is why I found it so interesting to see the Jim Henson Company returning to The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth as narrative worlds when revitalizing their company in the early 2000s. The two properties stand in stark contrast to one another in how they utilize negative capability – or, more effectively, how one property very definitely uses negative capability and the other almost willfully doesn't. By examining each of these properties in turn, first through the 'core' narrative and then through their transmedial extensions (the 1983 book The World of the Dark Crystal by Brian Froud, the 1986 book The Goblins of Labyrinth by Froud and Monty Python's Terry Jones, and the 2006 manga Return to Labyrinth by Jake T. Forbes) we can see how the skillful use of negative capability proves critical when nurturing a transmedial franchise.

To think I was worried about filling 20 minutes. Yeesh. On the upside, this is a great dry run for the thesis research presentation I have to give back at MIT in a few weeks. I'm feeling pretty decent about this whole state of affairs, knock on wood. Oh, and hey – I found out the original source of the phrase 'negative capability' today, and believe it or not, it was Keats! Score one for the poets!



Yesterday Warren Ellis made a cool blog post consisting of an image by Dennis Culver: a zombie astronaut, stranded on an asteroid in space, its helmet shattered and its air cord severed, with a bewildered look on its decaying face and uttering a plaintive "Brains?" It's a great story-image for all kinds of reasons. Zombies in space! A zombie antihero trying desperately to get off that rock! A zombie retelling of The Little Prince!

Of course, my warped brain went somewhere else completely first, which was something I'd been grappling with for a while – why do zombies want to eat brains?

(Okay, 'grappling with' is a bit of a stretch. Wondering, then.)

I think zombies are the cultural result of people wondering what happens to their bodies after they die. Scientists will explain in gorey, gooey detail how the body breaks down and decomposes, but for those that believe in a soul that takes the elevator up or down following the big ta-da, there's a kind of worry there. When my spirit leaves my body, what happens? Is that corpse still me? Is my body me, or a vehicle that the real me just uses to get around?

What if zombies seek out brains because of a kind of Phantom Limb Syndrome, because the body somehow remains living but still seeks the part that's been removed – the soul, or mind? Which is, of course, the brain?

Worse, what if spirits suffer from Phantom Everything Syndrome? Can a ghost itch a noncorporeal leg? What if hell is being eternally hungry but unable to eat? What if a medium can't go grocery shopping because every time she walks into the supermarket she's haunted by thousands of hungry spirits, pawing uselessly at the food on the shelves?


Links list: 03-06-07.


Links list: 03-05-07. (All-video edition!)

The above are all proof of my theory that nearly every site on the web will have some type of video component by the end of the 2008. Hey, I've already got mine.


Links list: 03-04-07.



So much is going on around these parts that it's going to take a couple of posts to catch up. Some highlights:

  • Visiting the world HQ of toy company Hasbro
  • Designing the CMS Research Fair
  • Pushing the redesign of PhillyENT live
  • Writing a 10-page comic that shows real professional promise
  • Various and sundry other mini-events

The biggest thing that's happened recently, though, came in a casual conversation yesterday with one of my profs here at MIT. Junot Diaz has been on my radar for years, ever since he popped up as one of the 'hot young writers' in Granta way back in the day. Now he's agreed to look over my novel, Bones of the Angel, and we spent a little while yesterday talking about writing in general before I hand over the printout for him to read. During the course of the conversation, he let a small bomb drop that's been having positive psychological ramifications on my head ever since.

All of my creative writing professors so far – all of them, from Triway to the College of Wooster to Kenyon – have prescribed the same path to publication: you write some short stories, you submit them to literary magazines, and then once you have a publishing history built up, you find a publisher or an agent. Publishers or agents won't look at your stuff until you have a strong, established publishing history. My problem was that, aside from Inkblots (obviously) there weren't that many places out there publishing the kind of thing that I like to read and/or write. I chew through novels by the bushelful, but there aren't that many literary journals that publish the Gaiman/Carroll/Marquez combination of literary and genre fiction that I enjoy. This has been the bane of my existence for years.

Yesterday I brought this up to Junot and he says something along the lines of, "Well, yeah – for literary fiction. Genre publishers and agents don't give a rat's ass as long as it's halfway marketable."

Well, shit.

This gave me a renewed sense of hope, as well as a joyous cry of long-pent-up frustration. "Why didn't anybody TELL me that!?" I bellowed happily in our kitchen last night. Of course, I probably should have figured thatout on my own (or listened to Laura when she tried to tell me as much before), but I have a thick skull, and have a hard time listening to advice when it doesn't come from people with professional experience. My bad, and apologies all around.

As a result, I dove back into Bones of the Angel this morning and spent five hours today revising it. (This was a move of some questionable wisdom, since I also have some errands to run this weekend and I have to prep my slides for my presentation at the SCMS conference in Chicago this week, and, oh, yeah, THESIS.) But there is unquestionable value to 'striking while the iron is hot,' so to speak, and so strike I did – and I discovered a miraculous thing.

Despite my dread in the core of my soul that Bones sucks, it's not so bad.

Is it high literature? Hell no – but neither is it meant to be. Rereading it I see my influences on my sleeve – there's Gaiman in there, as well as X-Files and Carnivale and Doctor Who and Hellboy and The Da Vinci Code and a ton of other things I love. I changed the ending to open it back up for future episodes if this one proves successful, added another couple of scenes and tied up some loose ends that had been flopping around, and – perhaps most importantly #&150; I had a great time while rereading it. I love my book. I really do. I want to read more by the same author, which is both amusing and the source of much hope. I pray that others will feel the same way when reading it.

I'm going to print it off tomorrow or Monday and give it to some folks to read while I'm in Chicago, or perhaps I'll hand it off to them once I get back so we can meet as soon as they finish it, as opposed to waiting until I get back. One way or the other, I can't wait to hear what people have to say about it.

I have written a book that I would love to read. This in itself is an accomplishment.

The hate speech of Ann Coulter.
“I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I — so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards.”

Can we please all recognize Ms. Coulter for the hatemonger that she is now? Imagine if the quote had been, “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘nigger,’ so I — so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Obama.”

I'm seriously hoping that this spells the end of Coulter's career, but I have no such illusions. She rose to power as a hatemonger and she'll probably only gain in popularity using the same tactics. Disgusting.


Eurydice and the Snake.
Eurydice and the Snake


Channeling Saul Bass.

Another piece for my World-Building class.