Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Steal This Mission Statement



Okay, so this is Clay Shirky doing a classic poke-the-blogosphere braindump at Web 2.0, but--in a fashion I reckon Shirky himself would appreciate--I'm hijacking it for my own nefarious purposes. See, folks keep asking what I'm doing at VuPal, the startup I joined shortly after I walked the CNet plank. Well, it's a little early to be showing all my cards as concerns VuPal, but I can appropriate some of what Shirky says here to my own ends, and basically hold up his speech as a mission statement for the venture. Hopefully, this will get some folks off my back.

Quote: "Here's what a four-year-old knows: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken."

Put another way, there's an entire generation growing up with the notion that passive media is outdated, and that interactive media is the standard. Shirky touts the mission statement of Web 2.0 (and beyond) as a drive to make interactive what once was passive, to involve the audience and the consumer in every possible product--media particularly--that until now has been a broadcast-only proposition.

VuPal, to no one's surprise, is about video. Under Shirky's paradigm, video that you "just" watch is inadequate. So, that's what I'm trying to do at, for, and with VuPal: Convert video that was passive into video that is interactive. Moreover, we want to make the conversion easy, so that anyone can do it, and valuable, so that when you're done the end-product is worth the time it took to create and is worth more than the original video was by itself.

Now, where I'll mildly quibble with Shirky--and throw a splash of reality onto VuPal's world domination plans--is in his notion that we can convert all those passive TV-watchers into interactive post-sitcom era consumers. The average person is inclined against interaction (though there's probably an age skew there). In my old job, running an online community of computer professionals,--exactly the kind of people who are comfortable with technology and interactivity--only about one in 400 consumers ever explicitly interacted. One quarter of one percent.

That's a very slight level. Really successful interactive sites might get that up as high as one percent for actual text-based posting. For less overt acts--like simple voting--you might go as high as a third. NetFlix purports to have that percent of people rating movies on their site, which is nice, since people ostensibly come there to discover and consume movies, and the rating act is about as lightweight as interaction gets. So I'd say Netflix is the high end of the scale. And it's possible my community experience is too aggressive still, so let's slash that, too. Let's say a really demanding video-interaction system can at best hope to get one percent of one percent, or one in 10,000.

By Shirky's reckoning, Americans watch 200 billion hours of television a year. That's 2,000 times the amount of hours it took to write the entire Wikipedia in every language version it supports. Let's say we get one out of every 10,000 of those hours converted to watching Web video--plain, non-interactive Web video--simply as a shift in form factor and portability. That's 20 million hours. Now, of those passive lurkers, let's say we get the same conservative percentage of interactive participation. That's 2,000 hours of participation-enhanced video per year. That's a thousand completely remixed movies every year. That's 2,850 complete hour-long dramas remixed every year if you scrape out the commercials. About 130 complete seasons of those hour-long dramas made interactive.

Now, that's crude math, as most Web video is only about 3 minutes long, and the same video can be remixed an untold number of times. I also think those are aggressive goals for interaction, at least in the short term. But it is a model of the possible. There's a whole generation of people wanting to do more with video, and having the time to do it.

Our job is to make it easy--easier than the homemade music videos that people throw up on Youtube all day every day--and valuable. We've got a pretty good idea on how to do that. I'm excited about chasing down that possibility. When we're ready, I hope you will be, too.
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Short Story: The Revelation of Guido

Yet another of the many short stories I wrote a while back and have decided to trunk, since it's not really worth shopping anymore. My writer's group really dug this one, despite the rather obvious (and profane) tropes and language tricks I pulled out. Enjoy.

---

The dumpster just sat there, as it had for the last several minutes. Guido ‘The Wrench’ Morelli stared at it intently, brow furrowed in concentration. After a long moment, he let out a frustrated grunt.


“It’s not moving,” Tommy ‘The Gun’ Galvino said behind him, conspicuously picking nonexistent lint from his thousand-dollar silk tie.

“No kidding.”

“You gotta do the finger thing,” Tommy insisted, rolling his shoulders to straighten the jacket on his pinstriped suit.

“I’m not doing the finger thing.”

“It works when you do the finger thing.”

“One time," Guido snapped. "One time it worked when I did the finger thing.”

“You got a better idea?”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The best news I'm likely to hear all week

Courtesy of i09:
Actress Amy Acker, who appeared as the nerdy Fred in Joss Whedon's vampire-detective show Angel, will join Whedon again in his latest TV show, the futuristic Dollhouse. Acker will play Dr. Claire Saunders, who takes care of the amnesiac "dolls" who can be programmed for any mission or assignment by clients who hire them in the new series which launches this fall.
For the record, that's Acker and Eliza "Faith" Dushku in a Joss-produced show, with Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft on as staff writers. We get some Marti Noxon/Jane Espenson producer infusions down the line, throw in Allison Hannigan and Charisma Carpenter guest spots, and you've got the best-of-the-best collaboration from Whedon's private club of uber-awesome female talent.

If FOX screws this up, you can pencil in the first geek-girl jihad for about five seconds after the cancellation press release. And I'll donate money to the cause.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Getting to know Walter Koenig

Jay Garmon and Walter Koenig
Photo Credit to Michael Eckhardt.
Walter Koenig is not Pavel Chekov. Walter Koenig is not Alfred Bester. Walter Koenig is a lot more than that.

I just spent the weekend as Mr. Koenig's (pronounced kay-nigg, for those that haven't heard it properly) guest liaison for the local science fiction convention. I ran his autograph sessions, during which we chatted, and he was gracious enough to buy me dinner Saturday night as a very generous gesture of thanks for the minor service I rendered over a couple of days.

During our various conversations, I got to know someone far more interesting than just an actor who played two iconic science fiction television characters.

(For my foodie friends, we went to Martini. I had the rigatoni bolognese, he had the eggplant parmesan. Walter doesn't eat red meat, for various health and philosophical reasons.)

Walter, as he insisted I call him, isn't just an actor, though he is still acting in many things -- Star Trek and otherwise -- at 71. He is a writer, having penned everything from movies scripts to television episodes to his autobiographies to comic books. He is also an activist, working with his son on the U.S. campaign for Burma. Still, these are all things you could learn from his Wikipedia entry.

What I learned is that Walter is very patient, fiercely intelligent, and one hell of a sports fan. I'm sure he wearies of constantly recounting tales Trek and B5, so during dinner the two of us talked family and sports. Walter is a Brooklyn kid, having spent much of his youth there, and is passionate about the Knicks and the Yankees. He was ecstatic that Isaiah Thomas was fired as Knicks coach, and is a little frustrated that Brian Cashman is relying so heavily on two second-year pitchers for the heart of the Yanks' rotation. (FYI, he can't stand the Angels.) He also recounted the entire starting lineup of the 1950 Knicks from memory, and spoke admiringly of Willis Reed and Earl Munroe.

Where we really hit it off, however, was college hoops. Walter is a UCLA alumnus, with a breadth of passionate memories that begin in the Wooden glory years and end with a visible anxiety that the top six players from this year's Bruins squad may be gone next year, five of them to some form of pro ball. (He also isn't too optimistic about the Bruins' football team for 2008, either, citing a very suspect offensive line.) We talked Denny Crum, a UCLA alum who became a Hall of Fame coach at Louisville, my hometown team. We recalled the 1975 Final Four (him from memory, me from family stories and books), where Wooden announced his retirement and promptly defeated Louisville in the national semis before trouncing Kentucky in the final. This led to our discussion of the rematch in the 1980 final, where Crum's Cards defeated a Larry Brown-coached Bruins squad.

Walter also grew up a boxing fan, with a devotion to Joe Louis. We touched on Muhammad Ali -- another Louisville kid -- and the decline of the sport. Walter has a fascinating theory about the rise of immigrant classes in America, and how that upscaling can be traced through boxing. Whichever is the dominant ethnicity of the working class in America is the dominant ethnicity of boxing. Jewish boxing stars gave way to the Irish gave way to African Americans, who are now giving way to Latino boxing stars. As each group moves up the class scale, they leave the ranks of boxing behind.

If ESPN had half a brain, they would have Walter doing guest color commentary on welter-weight boxing matches, Yankees/Angels match-ups, or any UCLA hoops game. Even if it's just on ESPNU, he'd make for fascinating listening.

Walter is also extremely proud of his children, and spoke glowingly of his son's involvement in the Campaign for Burma. He also recounted the tale of his kids' 70th birthday present -- a faux-documentary that "revealed" Walter's real career as a sleeper agent for the Soviet Union. Apparently, Walter has never actually been to any Star Trek conventions; that's when he's actually meeting with his KGB handlers. I'd pay money to see that film.

What I did catch glimpse of were some of Walter's current projects, including InAlienable, an indie sci-fi film that he wrote, produced, and starred in. You can download it here. Walter's eyes lit up when he talked about it, his passion (and occasional frustration) with the project shining through. As to why he didn't direct the film himself, Walter modestly believes he has no eye for film direction, claiming to shoot everything in proscenium. There are worse sins.

Finally, he did briefly touch on J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek film. Walter had a guest day on the set, and watched Chris Pine film a scene as a young Captain Kirk. Yes, I was privy to one very infinitesimally minor spoiler -- the kind of thing that may never appear in the actual film -- but I'm not about to reveal it here. In the unlikely event that somebody at Paramount reads this blog (Odds: 1 in 60 kajillion), gets mad, and it gets back to Walter -- well, I'd simply never allow that.

So far as inside knowledge I will reveal, Anton Yelchin (the new Chekov) has decided to go with the classic Chekov accent, despite the fact that Yelchin was born in Russia and -- in Walter's estimation -- the classic "noo-klee-arr wessels" accent is rather decidedly inauthentic. Karl Urban, the new Dr. McCoy, apparently sounds "just like DeForest" to Walter's ears. Abrams has made little effort to cast actors that look much like the original Trek cast, but apparently he wants at least two of them to sound familiar.

And one last note, Walter is the only member of the original main Trek cast not to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I don't know what the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce's problem is, but I suspect a simple phone call from Paramount -- explaining that Walter getting his due would be very helpful publicity-wise to the premiere of Abrams' Star Trek movie -- would solve the issue forthwith. Trekkies, I'll be very disappointed if an online petition doesn't appear to address this issue in the near future. Make it so.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Don't judge a book by its movie

Once upon a time, Steven Spielberg + Live-action Ghost in the Shell = Teh Awesome. These days, ol' Stevie has undermined much of his geek cred with crap like War of the Worlds.

This is why notions of a live-action Ender's Game or Rendezvous with Rama don't get me revved like they would, say, fifteen years ago. Despite the fact that the technology finally exists to do these books visual justice, I'm still chafing from the brain-rape that I, Robot and I Am Legend foisted upon me. (Seriously, Will Smith, WTF?)

That said, if Watchmen breaks my heart, I'm going Rorschach on somebody's ass.

Also, really nice to see that My Elves are Different is doing comics again. It's been too long. I may just have to join in their zombie shenanigans next month.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I was on the radio again

I was a return guest on TechTalk last Saturday (WRLR 98.3 FM, Chicago), this time resorting to blatant self-promotion--of myself, my new job, and the local science fiction convention I'm helping run this weekend. I also found the time to proffer some tech-and-taxes trivia, which will be revisited in a couple of weeks (the show is on hiatus for a bit, and I'll be at the con this weekend). Folks who have read my past columns on TechRepublic will already know the answers.

You can listen to the show via your browser here (click the April 12 entry), or download it to iTunes. For the iTuners who just can't wait to hear my nerdlinger voice, you can fast-forward to about 10:15 and catch my segment, which runs until about 25:45. The rest of the show is almost certainly much better.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Short story: Victory or Death

Here's a story I'm going to "trunk" as Tobias Buckell would say. I've shopped it to a few magazines and gotten the kiss-off, and while it's got some good ideas that I'll probably recycle, I don't think the next version is going to look much like this one. It's time to move on. Enjoy it--and viciously critique it--with my compliments.

---

Esma awoke to a med-bot injecting her with a max-level stimulant. Before she could respond, her stomach twisted into an agonizing cramp, and Esma found herself vomiting up the last remnants of a meal she finished some 50 light-years ago.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tomorrow I'll be employed

For those keeping score at home, I'm rolling the dice on the really risky startup. It's totally an instinct thing, but we've got an outside shot of making something really kickass. I've had four meetings with the two head guys, and each one has gone better than the last, and they're listening to me.

They're listening. To me.

After years--years--of tilting at windmills trying to get people to take my ideas seriously, these two guys who've known me all of two weeks, who've spent maybe four hours in my presence, aren't just giving me the time of day, but backing my play. It could all blow up in face, but the sheer thrill of accomplishment, of not fighting the corporate inertia, is making me giddy. I've got a product--an idea--I'm passionate about, and I've got smart and capable people around me willing to try to make it happen. Hell frakkin' yeah.

Oh, and I'm getting to do the fun part of my old job on the side, too.

My wife, gods bless her, is backing me up on this--despite the fact that it will likely put off our buying a new house for a year, maybe longer. This is a sacrifice, and a risk, on her part too. Today is our eighth anniversary, and I've got the whole evening to make her feel as great as I do now. That's going to be a challenge, but I'm in a meet all challenges place right now.

Rock on.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The slang of 2009...today!


Because I haven't stolen from Diesel Sweeties recently enough, and because you never need an excuse to pimp hipster robot webcomics and pixel t-shirts. Man, I'm going to be making up manifest vocabulary all day now.
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Monday, April 07, 2008

I was on the radio...here's proof

Back on April 5, I was on the TechTalk radio show out of WRLR 98.3 FM in Chicago as a guest Trivia Geek. I acquitted myself geekishly, I suppose. Judge for yourself by listening to the show. If you check it in the browser, you'll need some patience, as I don't show up until about halfway into the 1-hour show. If you're of an iTunes bent, click that link and fast forward to about the 26:15 mark and jump in on my...er...appearance. I meander around verbally for about 15 minutes, and finally sign off with a recycled trivia question. They might have me on again next week, so you'll get the answer then.

Don't be confused, Mike Kastler refers to me as "Jay Gorman," briefly, before correcting himself. I'm not THAT famous yet.

I'm not looking for kudos, as I can't stand reading myself, let alone hearing myself. The old inferiority complex/perfectionist streak just won't let go. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

You know, sometimes the TV networks get it right


Science fiction fans often have legitimate grievances against television networks (Fox, mostly) for smothering many potentially great series in their cribs. But sometimes, just sometimes, these speculative fiction infanticides are really better for everyone involved. Like with these sci-fi/fantasy shows, which deserved their quick deaths.

(Found via SFSignal.)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Career decisions

After roughly one week of hitting the jobhunt scene, I've got a few offers to consider, which is more than I expected this early. There's a mix of startup and agency work in there, with some intriguing combinations of risks and opportunities. In fact, the higher the risk, the greater the opportunity. The usual inversely proportional relationships, thrown at me at about Warp 8.5.

So here I am with a 15 month old daughter and wife who has taken the vow of poverty to be a social worker, wondering if I'm allowed or entitled to roll the dice on the really exciting job that could implode in 90 days. I'm also wondering how many of these opportunities will still be there if the high-risk option does implode. And I basically have the weekend to make these decisions.

One the one hand, I'm damn lucky to have so many options so fast. On the other, I'm a little freaked at having to make a call of this magnitude so fast.

Heh, and you people thought I'd be posting geek stuff today.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Predicting Battlestar Galactica, season 4



For those that need to catch up, here's Battlestar Galactica seasons 1-3 in 8 minutes. Now that we're all on the same page, here's my completely unfounded theory as to the outcome of BSG season 4.

Nobody's a Cylon, not even the Cylons.

That is to say, the division between "humans" and "Cylons" is a false one, because neither is any more or less human than the other.

Now, the whole "All Along the Watchtower" deal pretty much ended any speculation about who was a colony of who. Unless Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix was a Cylon--and possibly a time traveler--Earth preceded the Twelve Colonies. Whether Earth preceded Kobol is a matter of mild debate, but I don't think so.

Earth begat Kobol. Kobol begat the Colonies. The Colonies begat the Cylons. "All of this has happened before. All of it will happen again."

Now, this is pretty much consensus amongst BSG fandom. Where I fall into the wacko minority is in suggesting that nobody from Kobol, the Colonies, or the Cylon homeworld is human. Not in the descending-from-Earthlings sense. My theory:

Earth begat a race of artificial lifeforms, which warred against they're creators and set out for their own world, which they called Kobol. The so-called Lords of Kobol, inspired by Earth's Greek gods, thus made their own creations, who worshiped and served the Lords. These creations eventually despoiled paradise, setting off for their own worlds--the Twelve Colonies. Some, however, left for Earth, choosing to seek out their points of origin, and leaving signposts along the way (like the Eye of Jupiter and the plague probe).

The Colonists, of course created the Cylons, who rebelled, evolved, and found a plan. Along the way, they scoped out the repeating cycle of this generational drama, and are trying to "win" by exterminating their forebearers, either because that's how the script of past destiny says things must end--show me some living Lords of Kobol--or because that's the only way they can break the cycle and prevent their own successors from exterminating them.

Who succeeds the Cylons? Probably Hera, the hybrid child of Helo and Athena, though if Chief Tyrol is a Cylon and Callie isn't, that means their son is also of the Next Race.

Thus, nobody is a Cylon, because everybody is a Cylon. They're all post- and sub-human. If I'm right, when they reach Earth, they'll find a broken, abandoned place, filled at best with the Kobol refugees and pitiful survivors of the first exodus. It's not salvation, it's not paradise, it's a harsh dose of reality that both races are on their own.

Moreover, somewhere in the genetic imperative of all the children of Earth is this inherent need to return home. It's not just passed on from generation to generation, but from species to species. That's what "watchtower" represents, the (surprisingly catchy) siren call of Earth.

Oh, and since this is the last season, Roslin, Adama, and the Galactica all get 'sploded at some point, just to forbid any chance at a sequel (that's close to how show co-creator Ron Moore ended Deep Space Nine, with the band irrevocably broken up). And, so long as I'm making wild guesses, I'd say Lee becomes President, Kara becomes head of the military, and they still can never be together--by virtue of their duties.

Starting tonight, we'll begin to see if I'm right.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

So I'm going to be on the radio

Turns out one of my Geek Trivia readers is Michael Kastler, host of the TechTalk radio show on WRLR 98.3 FM in Chicago (Round Lake Heights, technically). Upon hearing of my recent unemployment, he offered to let me become a semi-regular guest on his program. The trial balloon of this little audio collaboration goes up on Saturday, April 5, around 10:30 Central time. They do the full live video streaming of the show (so you can watch me not be in the studio), as well as archives of the streams, so you don't have to be listening live and/or in Chicago to hear it.

I've actually wanted to do something like this for quite a while. It's somewhat ironic that it wasn't until Geek Trivia was canceled that it happened. I guess Zorg was right.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Irony, meet career

Well, now it gets interesting. That house I used to paint? They just offered me a side gig as an outsourced writer. Pay is decent for a part-time job, but I have to wonder how much bandwidth I want to devote to somebody else's writing franchise. I know the audience wants me back. I know the editorial staff I'd be working with, since a week ago we were co-employees. I have a lot of contacts through that old brand, and that brand has some decent reach--provided I can leverage that to help my own, personal brand--but I don't want to spend my life painting someone else's house. Something to think about.

On the bright side, I've got a lot of potential non-writing work prospects shaping up, mostly on the strength of my work developing online communities. That actually was my day job at the old employer, though I didn't get to do much of it because of resource constraints. I did the writing to fill the time and help the employer's brand. If I get a day job working with online communities, that means I'm using my spare time to write for this side gig, doing sci-fi blogs and trivia questions. That's a lot of fun, but makes me wonder when I'll have time to write fiction--or play with my daughter, watch any movies, attend to my marriage, or have a non-work life of any kind.

Decisions, decision. I told the guy we'd talk tomorrow. Let's see how I feel after my writer's group tonight.