Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives

August 2008 Archives

Take good care of my baby...

For months – actually, since almost when I first got it – I've had issues with Remiel, my MacBook Pro. It's emitted a high-pitched whine whenever the brightness has been turned up past the halfway point, but that I could at least deal with. Earlier this summer, though, its mouse key started to stick, which quickly sent the machine sliding down a slippery slope from kludgey to unusable.

So, today, I finally took it into the shop. As it turns out, the extended AppleCare I bought for it covers all the repairs (YAY!) but it'll take about five days for it to get turned around and get Remiel back into my eagerly-waiting hands (BOO!). As Laura so helpfully pointed out, I still have Magellan (my three-headed dual G5 tower) at home and Yujinaka (my Cintiq-headed Intel Mac Pro) at work, so this shouldn't be that big a deal. Still, it feels weird to not be able to tinker with something on the laptop while watching TV. Shoot, I blew most of Saturday catching up on work and personal projects while watching the entire second season of Heroes on Blu-Ray. Tomorrow I'll be in my home office for most of the day, I suspect, continuing to chew away at the backlog of emails, putting the "labor" in Labor Day. I have got to get an air conditioner back into that room.

Friday. I'll have my baby back by Friday. I can make it that long, sure I can...

In other news, many of the reports flitting about the web following the film's release were absolutely right: 21 wasn't bad, but it didn't include nearly enough Asians in the MIT scenes.


Greece 2008 Part III: Athens.

I carry a small black Moleskine with me at all times with five colored pens clipped to its outside: black, red, green, blue and purple. Every week I recopy my to-do list from an old page to a new page, gritting my teeth and grumbling as I transcribe all the stuff that I'm meaning to do but haven't done yet. On the one hand, this is a great motivator for actually getting stuff done, but on the other, it breeds resentment after a while. Take this blog post for example: I've been meaning to post about the third part of our trip to Greece for a month, but haven't been able to find the time to do it. I don't have the time even now -- I only have a few scant minutes before I need to dash off and get ready for work -- but this must be done, in no small part because, one, I have a memory like a wind tunnel (things leave faster than they come in) and two, I don't want to have my memories of a wonderful trip sullied by this miasma of obligation.

So, Athens.

Athens was wonderful.

Laura and I left Nafplio about halfway through the final day of the conference in order to spend the entirety of the next day in Athens, which meant catching a bus. The bus ride from one city to the other was long and beautiful, running through the Greek countryside and giving us a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Greek people, which, aside from a much greater number of solar collectors (go Greece!), run-down buildings and wildly different flora, didn't seem that different. Beautiful, but much the same. I noticed an odd tension between rich and poor there – a luxury car dealership beside an abandoned collapsing outbuilding of a winery, for instance – but that has always struck me as endemic to Europe. Faded glory, sparks of hope and prosperousness: these are the earmarks of an outdated empire, and I found myself wondering if that's what America would look like to my children, or my grandchildren.

Once we arrived in Athens, there was some brief confusion about where exactly the bus station was in relation to our hotel – one of the few times the complete lack of any Greek in either Laura's or my vocabularies left us utterly screwed – but we soon figured it out and returned to the hotel where we'd stayed our first night in the country. Our new hotel room was nowhere near as nice as our first one, leaving us to regret not having used the jacuzzi tub when we'd had the chance, but it was enough. We went out and wandered the placa for a while, foraging for food and poking through some shops (some extremely impressive), but it wasn't long before we returned to the hotel and crashed.

The next morning, Laura and I got up early and headed out to the National Archaeological Museum, which was smaller than I'd feared but no less impressive. We saw the mask of Agamemnon, of course, and a whole host of other statues, figurines and other beautiful pieces. I took copious photographic notes of all the mythological figures and half-men that could find for future projects, and poked around a bit in the gift shop and the museum courtyard (where one man was intensely engaged in staring down a turtle) before we headed back to the hotel to meet Philip and Jen.

Once they arrived and dropped their bags off in our room, we headed out to the placa again for lunch and then took the subway to the Acropolis, which lived up to the hype. We hiked up to the top with hordes of other tourists, gawked at the city, gawked at the ruins, took some pretty pictures (and some pretty silly ones for good measure), fought off a water fountain attack and then returned to the city to relax.

We chose to unwind in the gardens near the placa, wandering through its scenic paths for a while and finally discovering a coffeeshop in the middle of its maze. (God bless the Greeks.) After that, we wandered around the city for a while longer and finally grabbed dinner at a restaurant high up on one of the hills. We toasted a great trip with wine and ouzo and a wonderful meal, and then returned to the hotel so Philip and Jen could grab their stuff and head out to the airport. Laura and I would follow suit relatively soon afterward, as we were lucky enough to find a plane the next morning that sent us through Germany on the way home. I didn't get to go poke around Munich as I'd wanted (pesky short layovers) but hey – you have to leave something for the next trip, right?

All in all, our Greek vacation was a completely wonderful experience. We made new friends, saw some beautiful new places, learned a ton and recharged our batteries. That's what such trips are for, right? I now carry with me a new happy place – when things are stressful, I close my eyes and remember sitting on the balcony of our hotel in Santorini, watching the boats chug through the beautiful waters of the volcano, or sitting with Laura and devouring grilled tomatoes and feta cheese, or wandering through the twisty little back alleys of Athens. If you've never been to Greece, you should make the effort to go – for me it was a pilgrimage to the heart of philosophy and civilization, but it was also just an amazing, thrilling, relaxing experience all around.

In the words of the Great Gonzo, "I'm going to go back there... Someday."


Links list: 08-17-08.


If I were doing Inkblots again...

If I were doing Inkblots again, the community aspects of Movable Type 4.2 and the publishing aspects of MagCloud would make it an entirely different animal. The industry has caught up with a bunch of the stuff I was struggling to do, what? Five years ago now?

I'm just sayin'. I don't know if I'll ever revisit Inkblots again because I desperately need to work on publishing my work elsewhere, as opposed to simply self-publishing everything, but... Well, I'm just sayin'.

Links list: 08-15-08.


Possible business models for Twitter?

This afternoon a very cool thing happened – my Twitter account was friended by the Twitter account for the University of Minnesota Press. Now, to a forward-thinking academic like me, this is not only very cool, it's incredibly cool – and for multiple reasons.

First, the fact that they friended me leaves me with a sense of "They like me! They really like me!" Brands, bands and individuals that people already adore could foster in their fans a sense of validation by reaching out to their profiles first, before the fans themselves can find them.

Second, by following their Twitter account I can be delivered short, concise ads that I'd actually want – companies like the Criterion Collection could easily provide new announcement tweets to cinephiles like me, or – better yet – sub-brands like Vertigo Comics or creators. We've already seen Warren Ellis set himself up with a Twitter feed and he's got over six thousand followers on Twitter already. Call them ads for the Brand Called You, call them fan service, or just call them connecting with six thousand likeminded souls, the impact is the same.

Third, by showing me who else follows this Twitter account (and who else it's following), I can find other interesting connections. This same thinking holds true for other social networks as well, of course, but Twitter strikes me as particularly interesting for this sort of behavior in part because of the decision one can make to switch notifications on and off.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Twitter launch grouping tools for its users shortly, so that I could divide the folks I follow into friends and corporate entities, or levels to which I tweet in a model similar to LiveJournal's friendslocking mode. For such a simple idea, Twitter has certainly proven itself to be fertile ground for emergent complexity – and I suspect that's where the business models lie. Twitter Pro for users who want to add friendslocking-style functionality, or a Twitter Corporate for businesses like the Minnesota Press who want to use Twitter as an ad delivery system.

Granted, one of the charming elements of businesses like The Minnesota Press on Twitter is the idea that there's an actual warm body writing those tweets out there somewhere; Twitter is such a still-indie enterprise that it still conveys, to me at least, a sense of personal connection with those whom I'm following. However, given the number of spam follow notifications I receive, I'm not sure that will stay that way much longer. It's this hat trick of corporate tweeting, a primed space for a tiered Pro package and the emergence of Twitter as a spam delivery system that makes me suspect that Twitter is right at the tipping point of some form of major reinvention.

We'll see what happens. Follow me at and, for a low, low price, you'll know when I do...!

Update: I should add that the University of Minnesota Press isn't alone in this practice. Other wonderfully-geeky lit-tweeters include Penguin Books, The New York Times Arts, The New York Times Books, The Wall Street Journal, the awesome Publishing Talk, Yale Press (which desperately needs to learn the fine art of the tinyURL), Harper's, The New Yorker, Norton Fiction, Little, Brown, and Grand Central Publishing. Brilliant stuff!


Greetings from sunny L.A.

This weekend I'm in bright, sunny Los Angeles, staying with my friends Talon and Sara and presenting at the SIGGRAPH Sandbox Conference, where I'll be conducting a transmedia storytelling workshop first thing tomorrow morning. I'm having a great time so far – I slept a ton last night between the six hours on the plane and another four or more this morning at Talon and Sara's while I waited for the clock to catch up, then wrote a short piece on their porch while I waited for them to catch up, and then all three of us went out to breakfast at a little coffeeshop on the pier near their apartment in Redondo Beach. We're about to head down to the convention center so I can get myself all registered and everything, but the majority of the conference is going down tomorrow.

I've never been a big fan of L.A., but it sure is beautiful here, especially compared to the monsoon season that Boston has dared to call a summer this year. I'm starting to see the appeal.


Redesigning MIT. Again.

Today I'm responsible for the design of the MIT homepage again. The MIT homepage changes design every day, so if you want to see it, go now!

The design is an evolution of what I posted earlier this summer, with a couple of changes – or, if you will, Easter eggs. First, note the MIT letterforms in the buildings on the upper right corner of the globe. Second, you'll see that the MIT homepage folks wanted something a little 'gamier' than my original design, so I made the aircraft circling the globe into Player One and Player Two. This led me to replace the airliner in the lower left of the original with a second airship in order to avoid 9/11 imagery. Finally, if you look carefully at the scores of Player One and Player Two, you'll see they're actually dates – the start date and the finish date of this summer's program. This was Philip's idea, so my hat's off to him yet again.

I'll add a version of this to my portfolio here sooner or later – I need to dedicate a good, solid weekend to updating this sucker across the board. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to rework this site's architecture to accommodate a new section for 'Academics', and what all that section should entail. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Stay tuned!


The death of the niche market?

I don't have time to respond to the piece in-depth at the moment, but a very intriguing piece has appeared on the blogosphere that argues the "Death of the Niche Market" is upon us. Besides a couple of small annoyances with the author in general (an infestation of "it's / its" mistakes and his billing himself as only 'Whiskey, A Politically Incorrect Blogger looking at Politics and Culture" from "Somewhere, California") I obviously disagree with his verdict but have to give him props for some very insightful observations.

The piece is extremely long, so I've cherry-picked the key points below. Basically, Whiskey is arguing that a niche market for entertainment (like ours) is doomed in a recessionary economy (again, like ours) because:

  • The niche market exists partly because "consumers, with rising wages, and lowered costs for food and energy (in real, inflation adjusted terms) were willing to pay extra to possess goods that differentiated them from everyone else."
  • "Advertisers would pay money to reach selected demographics, mostly young people, and consumers were eager and able to pay money to listen to niche music, watch niche television, and buy niche products."
  • "...Niche plays for audience or shoppers don't work in economic downturns."
  • "Retailers and manufacturers are weeding out niche products that don't have mass appeal. Some retailers are already dropping suppliers and products that don't generate big sales."
  • "Broadcast radio, free and over the airwaves, may well attract more advertisers looking to reach the masses [than satellite radio], since the niche market simply won't exist in many cases."
  • "Musically, popular bands are going to get older. Audience wise at least. There simply won't be enough disposable income to be spread over untried, unknown bands."
  • "Film makers like Judd Apatow are likely to be successful, with more culturally conservative messages (carefully hidden behind profanity), while edgy/hip film makers like Steve Soderburgh will find that audiences are not in a mood to be shocked with edgy material, but will demand entertainment satisfaction. With discretionary income limited, a few movies will be mega-hits, the rest will have to eke out small box office receipts and DVD rentals."
  • "In television, the CW is doomed unless it can broaden it's [sic] appeal beyond teen age girls. ...NBC's "Heroes" is likely to show continued declines, with a convoluted storyline, and lack of central and compelling characters who provide an enjoyable escape from ordinary life. Even worse is Fox's mid-season "Dollhouse," a new offering by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Joss Whedon. It would have been a tough sell in 1997, and this is not 1997. Niche, trendy-hip posturing just won't sell in a recession. Not with profound consumer shifts in spending and corresponding changes in advertiser spending.
  • "Likely to improve in ratings are sports, including the NFL, College Sports, and Baseball, as people seek cheap and relaxing entertainment. ...Men are likely to spend more time watching TV, and shows that can capture the male audience are likely to do well. NBC's "Chuck" is likely to do quite well in this regard, as are any other show featuring an idealized "average guy" as the hero."
  • "It's quite likely that most other networks will avoid these niche shows as their fall lineup inevitably fails and pursue the "CBS formula" as epitomized by "NCIS" and the various "CSI," "NUMB3RS," and so on. A strong, forty year old plus male character leads a team that includes a strong, capable female character or characters. Fighting crime, restoring order, or something of that nature. The goal being to attract men plus women with elements that appeal to both and don't repel either."

His final, summary paragraph sums up his take on all this quite nicely:

That is, quite likely, a good thing. Lack of unified and unifying culture makes bonds across divisions, racial, sexual, class, regional, and income much more difficult. A common culture, valued and defended, protects against both usurpation of power at home by unchecked elites, be they political, cultural, judicial, or corporate, as well as a stout defense of the nation and it's people abroad. When everyone has seen the game last night, or understands the catch phrases of the latest sitcom, or watches the same hour long drama on television, social bonds increase, as do the ability for ordinary people to band together to demand or force action on issues where they hold common ground.

I've heard similar arguments here at MIT before from Professor David Thorburn, who laments the loss of common cultural reference points like I Love Lucy and Friends. I'm still not sure I buy this argument, and I'd actually argue the inverse – the days when such popular entertainment was widespread led to even starker cultural divides within the mainstream. While the Democrats and Republicans might be extremely upset with each other right now, I think our current everything-goes culture of niche entertainment fosters a greater degree of acceptance across the board, and thus defuses things like racial riots, social boundaries, and the kind of "hippies versus conservatives" culture that ran rampant in the 1960s and 1970s. When everyone is accepted into some niche or another, you don't get dominant culture versus counterculture – and you don't get Nazis versus Jews. If that's true, then keeping the niche market alive and well is a very important thing.

Of course, in the words of Dennis Miller, "that's just my opinion – I could be wrong."


Music, cultural theorists and the late work of Groucho Marx.

Ken, this one's for you, coming courtesy of a link in Journalista! and WFMU's Beware of the Blog. In 1969, ABC had a musical variety TV show called Music Scene. When the show ended, they got a very special co-host: the 79-year-old Groucho Marx. Sporting an absolutely amazing hat straight from an MIT graduation, he reminisces about his life and career in a uniquely Groucho fashion, replete with one-liners often delivered with wanton, joyful disregard for the show's other co-host, David Steinberg. Man, I hope I'm having that much fun when I'm 79.

The other thing that I found amazing about the video clips on this page, aside from Steinberg's tie, is the collage of text on set behind Steinberg during the opening. Among other buzzwords of the age like "Pollution" and "Ghetto" and musical terms like "Music Scene" and "Billboard" were "Fellini" and – get this – "McLuhan". Good luck finding "Jenkins" or "Bordwell" on the backdrop of American Idol or Saturday Night Live now!

Wait for the moment about 14 minutes in when Groucho starts riffing on Bo Diddley. Man, they don't make 'em like this anymore.


Links list: 08-01-08.

I have so many different tabs open at the moment that I have to shut some down before I go insane. So...

My new career in voice acting.

Someday, when I have an entry in the IMDB, it will include something like:

Oozerts (2008) (VG) (voice: English version) .... Scoop McGoop

Yes, it's true. I have made my voice acting debut as an irascible Irish monster with a jetpack. And it was awesome.

David Hayter, I'm coming for you.