Geoffrey Long
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Convergence by Design.

So next weekend is the Convergence Culture Consortium's fall shindig, the Futures of Entertainment Conference. I've just finished putting together the program for the event, which looks sort of like this:


The aesthetic is an attempt to capitalize on what is actually a drawback: the art that C3 manager Joshua Green found for the event (which can be seen on the Futures of Entertainment site, which I also designed) doesn't exist in anything higher than ~72 dpi at a small size, which renders it pretty much unprintable. There are plugins available that upsample art like that, but they cost too much for our present needs. Therefore, I decided to drop the photo into Adobe Illustrator CS2 (which the department is running in its lab) and use the software's auto-trace function to produce a vectorized version, which I then blew up to a near-ridiculous size. It's still pixelated, but the idea is to make it look pixelated on purpose.

There's more new design work that I've been doing for the department which I desperately need to add to my portfolio (such as a redesigned In Medias Res, a promotional poster for the department and other such projects) but they'll have to wait. There's also a question in my mind as to how much I actually want to keep updating my portfolio moving forward, but that will, I suppose, hinge on how difficult it is for me to find a decently-paying gig that doesn't require Photoshop when June rolls around. We'll see.


Clifford Geertz, 1926-2006.

One of the theorists who we've been studying here at CMS, Clifford Geertz, recently passed away. The cause of death is given as complications following heart surgery. Rest in peace, professor.


Bones of the Angel II: maybe not Wolfmother.

I have a porous mind, and a nearly insatiable hunger for pop culture. Thus, it's embarassing (but not wholly surprising) when a phrase pops into my head that I think is catchy and highly useful for a new project, and then later I find out it's totally in use. So yeah. The new project? Not called Wolfmother. Not sure what it'll be called yet. Rats.

However, I am now convinced that The Project Formerly Known as Wolfmother actually is a logical followup to Bones of the Angel. Last week's assignment for Frank was to sketch up the opening scenes of our story. No sooner did I finish that up then I knew that these drawings were going to be immediately followed by the opening animation, which would be followed by a train pulling into the station in a tiny village in Romania. The whistle blows, the door opens up, and out onto the platform steps none other than Michael Coldman.

(WARNING! Spoilers for Bones of the Angel ahead. You may want to stop reading now if you aren't one of my test readers – but email me if you'd like to be!)

"So, tell me one more time. Why are we in Romania?"

Michael Coldman grinned as he set his luggage down on the platform. "Lately there's been a whole rash of strange reports about a monster sneaking into town late at night and stealing children right out of their cribs. No one hears anything, no one ever wakes up, and no one knows what's happened until it's way too late. The sun rises, the village wakes up, and some poor mother discovers her baby's gone."

Pi St. John clapped his hands together for warmth and frowned at his best friend. "Right. And what does that have to do with us, exactly?"

"With us, honey? Nothing." Victoria Ravenswood smiled mockingly up at her boyfriend and patted him on the shoulder. "Michael, however, thinks he can learn something. We're just along for the ride."

Michael frowned. "Thanks again for footing the bill for this, Vicky."

She shook her head. "Don't mention it, Michael. My father would have done the same thing – and now that he's gone and I'm the sole executor of the Ravenswood estate, I can fund any kind of expedition I want." She smiled. "As long as Pi and I get to go along, of course."

"Still, babe, we do need to keep a couple things straight," Pi said gently. "Michael and I have been on these research trips before, and sometimes the locals can be a little leery of strangers. Since this is your first time out in the field with us, you might want to take your cues from..."

"Pi," VIcky said warningly, cutting him off with a glare. "I spent the better part of the last decade studying in Europe while you mostly sat on a couch in Ohio playing WarCraft. Not only do I have way more experience than you, but I'm the one who happens to know – Ilya!"

Vicky suddenly rushed across the platform to throw her arms around a huge mountain of a man, who laughed heartily as he scooped her up in a giant bear hug.

"I take it that's our host for the evening," Michael said.

"Good old Ilya," Pi remarked drily. "C'mon. Help me pry his big paws off my girlfriend."

What's kind of cool about this entire state of affairs is that with Bones of the Angel I potentially set the stage for a whole series of books that follow the same winning two-guys-and-a-girl formula that I used to use way back in my Young Authors' Contest days. Michael, Pi and Vicky aren't exactly Mastermind, Jammer and Jinx (hey, I was in fifth grade when I made up those names) but I can already feel a little bit of their interactions echoing through. It's funny, though – way back in the day my three stars were very distinctly based on myself and two of my best friends, and now although it may seem that I'm basing these guys off people I know, they're much more composite figures, smooshed together with archetypes and bits and pieces of other figures from literature. Michael, for instance, is one part me, one part Nick, one part Andy, one part Sherlock Holmes, one part Hellboy, one part Beast (from X-Men), and hundreds of other parts of other stuff. Pi and Vicky are the same way. Hopefully these amalgamations will still come across as complete, 3-D characters, but we'll see. I still have a long way to go with this stuff.

That said, I think I may have struck on a vein of stories that I could definitely chase for a while. I was talking with my friends Sam and Alec in class with Henry the other day about a definite lack that I'm perceiving in the narrative stream right now. There are a ton of fantasy/supernatural stories told about The Chosen One on a faraway planet, or the young boy adventurer who discovers he's destined for so much more (*cough*harrypotter*cough*) but what you don't get a lot of these days are the stories that start out in the real world and feature the adventures of adults that find themselves roped into strange circumstances. I've always been a sucker for Indiana Jones because Indy still goes back to the University at the end of his adventures. He's a (relatively) real, mortal guy – unlike, say, Superman. Even Batman's more interesting than Superman because he's a self-made man. A regular guy could become Indy or Batman if he had enough determination and money; a regular guy could never become the last son of Krypton.

While Michael does have some magic in him, it's his quest to find out what exactly he is that's the main motivation in these stories. Vicky is the financier and global girl, Pi is the small-town artist type who finds himself evolving into a leader, Michael is the bookish type but is also the strongest, and connected into everything is Caliban Davies from back home, who's sort of the Oracle to Michael's Batman. I'm not sure what role Jack plays in these story arcs when they're out bouncing around the world, which is ironic since Jack was my original main action hero. At some point I'll reveal Jack's bizarro history to the others, since I still haven't ruled out the idea that all of that ties in here somewhere as well, but we'll see.

Big stories. Big, big stories to tell.


Rats! Missed another one!

Dammit! I don't know how I missed this, but UbiComp 2006 was last week in California. Luckily, Molly "Girlwonder" Steenson was there and she's posted a solid recap.


Kill me now.

Summer's supposed to be a vacation? Hah. This evening I found myself running the numbers: a regular work week is 40 hours; if you work 12-hour days instead that goes up to 60 hours; if you work all seven days for 12 hours you get 84 hours; if you work 12 hours a day for an entire month you get 360 hours, 372 hours, or 336 hours (if it's February).

And that isn't even enough. Fark.


Now playing at the Media Lab: Alex McDowell.

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple really terrific hours geeking out over the work of Alex McDowell, the production designer for Minority Report, The Corpse Bride, The Terminal, Fight Club, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and a number of others. McDowell is the new artist-in-residence for the Media Lab, working with Tod Machover on this crazy new robot opera project, and yesterday he gave his "this is who I am" presentation with a Keynote presentation of concept art and commentary from his films.

One of the major highlights was hearing McDowell describe how his sets are often characters in their own right – a cliche that gets bandied about quite often by pretentious set designers, but then he demonstrated how in his case this makes total sense. For instance, he showed us a top-down view of the Precrime Unit in Minority Report, which is laid out like the ripples emanating out from a pebble thrown into a pond, which is pretty much the effect the precogs were having on their society. He also told us about how the crumbling old house in Fight Club is barely in the script at all, but the design team created this amazing backstory for this industrial baron who had bought this Victorian mansion but abandoned it when the factories and other industrial fallout engulfed the green space around his home. In the 70s it had been converted into a duplex, but was then abandoned again for the squatters to move into – which parallels the life of Edward Norton's character, living an increasingly IKEA-ized lifestyle until it all becomes too much for him, which opens up his brain for Brad Pitt's character to move into. Wicked cool in and of itself, but then he also told us a story about how they used chemicals to artificially age the building and make the paint peel, but big chunks of the paint kept falling off the walls because the chemicals worked too well.

I think my favorite story, though, was how his teams are using Maya to do things that I would have never expected. Previz, sure. Special effects, sure. But these guys used Maya to create a massive matte painting for the backdrop to the terminal in, well, The Terminal. First they modeled this virtual terminal at JFK and then plunked it into a model of the real JFK, then forced the perspective on it so it would be semicircular, then sent it to a matte painting shop to create this ginormous piece of art to stick outside the set's windows. McDowell chuckled as he noted that they did this instead of bluescreening so that Spielberg wouldn't shy away from having the windows in the shots – since anything done with bluescreen was going to be somewhere around $75,000 to composite. Wow.

Have I mentioned lately that I love it here?


Goldworld pitch animatic posted.

For the interested, I've just posted the Goldworld pitch animatic that I created for my video game design class a few weeks ago. The idea here was to craft a thirty-second elevator pitch for a game idea, so I put together a 30-second rough animatic. (An animatic, for any of you who might not be a big movie dork like me, is essentially an animated storyboard used to pitch the general feel of a film.)

It's rough as hell, but not bad for being thrown together in less than 24 hours!


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.


Reading days.

Like Alec, today was a massive reading day for me. When I woke up today, I pledged to work on my many various web design projects (I swear, I think I have eight right now that are all snapping at my heels for attention, down you little buggers, down, dammit) but then decided that it would be more responsible of me if I did my homework first.


'Homework' in high school and even college was one thing. 'Homework' in grad school at MIT is a beast of a different color. So far this weekend I've read finished:

  • The Wizard of Oz
  • 125 pages of Chris Crawford on Game Design
  • Tom Wolfe, "These Radical Chic Evenings" (18 pages)
  • Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing at the Superbowl" (32 pages)
  • James Gee, "Cultural Models: Do You Want to be the Blue Sonic or the Dark Sonic?" (28 pages)
  • David Buckingham, "Will Media Education Ever Escape the Effects Debate?" (5 pages)
  • Ian Shahanan, "Bow, Nigger" (8 pages)
  • 72 pages of Bob Bates, "Game Design"
  • Ellen Kushner, Thomas the Rhymer (258 pages; excellent book)
  • Renee Hobbs, "The Seven Great Debates in Media Literacy" (5 pages)
  • online COUHES training

Still to go:

  • Bill Cope, "A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies" (30 pages)
  • A video game proposal
  • A work of interactive fiction

...And also on the docket...

  • website for CMS
  • finish up a website for C3
  • website for the MIT literature department
  • edits for online otolaryngology encyclopedia in DC
  • edits for a healthcare practice in Boston
  • website for another healthcare practice in Philadelphia
  • website for a venture capital fund in DC
  • website for Ken
  • miscellaneous consulting-related overhead stuff
  • TA stuff for Henry
  • taxes

Insert quote from Wash here: "Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die." Jesus. Help.

Update. I'm updating this page as the weekend goes on and I manage to knock things off the list. If nothing else, this entry should stand the test of time as a testament to my being anything but lazy!


Every setback is an opportunity disguised.

Illness is God's way of handing you a speeding ticket. Every time I've tried to do too much too fast, wham! Instant virus. Never fails. Thus, I shouldn't be surprised that I'm now sick for what I think is the third time this school year. I don't believe I got this sick before; I imagine it's the one-two punch of the MIT student pool cocktail of viruses and the demands of MIT that are doing it. Of course, I have no one to blame but myself. Check this out.

At MIT, most classes are worth 12 credits. On the big sign-up web page at the beginning of the term, such classes are listed as 12 credits: 3-0-9 or 12 credits: 3-3-6. The digits are a breakdown of class time, lab time and reading time – so 3-3-6 means three hours in class, three hours of lab, and six hours spent on your ass at home with your nose shoved in a book. In actuality, this is a farce; MIT students chuckle knowingly at how silly this little estimate can be (some classes go way way over, and others come in a little under), but it helps in a general estimate of how to budget your time.

In the fall semester, I took four classes plus the CMS Colloquium, which is technically an overload. Colloquium (a weekly gathering of CMS people to listen to some visiting lecturer; this week's is Cory Doctorow, for instance) is only three credits since it only runs about 3 hours on one night a week. However, the remaining four classes were each 12-unit classes – so that's 4x12=48+3=51 hours expected to spend on classes per week. Add onto that another 15-20 expected for my RAships with the literature department and C3, and you're looking at between 66 and 71 hours of dedicated school time every week. Divide that by 7 (because once you're in grad school you can kiss your weekends good-bye, boyo) and you get 10.14 hours a day. That's not great, but it's doable.


The trouble with a 2-year Master's degree is that it's only two years – and that actually translates into only three semesters' worth of available classes. Given that you're going to be spending your second semester your second year completely on your thesis, that means you only have one spring semester ever to take classes. So, what does a bright young idiot like me do? Yeeeees. You guys know me too well.

Let's just say that when you're looking at between eighty-seven and ninety-two dedicated school hours every week, it's no wonder I've been kneecapped by the plague. But I won't let that stop me. I've been spending most of my time recuperating in bed with my laptop doing schoolwork.

You hear that, God? I am an unrepetant speeder. :-)