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June 21, 2007

Surfacing in NYC


Not to be all mysterious about it, but the reason I was traveling is in picture above: I went to NYC, to the Tor offices, to take part in a autograph session involving the LongPen -- a remote controlled signing apparatus in which I (or any other author) scribble my autograph onto a computer screen, and then, on the other end, a pen replicates the signature precisely. So I was signing autographs in NYC, and the books (and the people who were getting their books signed) were in Anaheim. It's like living in the future, it is. The LongPen is being touted as a "green" way to do book signings, although I would hesitate to say it was so in this particular case, since they flew me in from Ohio for this. Even so, it was definitely an interesting experience.

One of the reasons I was mum about where I was going was because here in New York there's a monthly speculative fiction reading series at the KGB Bar, and I thought it would be fun to pop in and give a bunch of people cognitive dissonance when they saw me being someplace I couldn't possibly be. Because I'm a twit that way, that's why. Well, it worked, and also it was a lovely series of readings, by Tempest Bradford, Matthew Cheney, Rachel Pollack, Veronica Schanoes and Catherynne M. Valente. Now I'm off to lunch at Google's NY offices, after which I plan on going on a multi-borough crime spree. Because that's what New York City is for!

I have some further thoughts on the LongPen over on the Ficlets Blog.

Posted by john at June 21, 2007 10:54 AM

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Steve Buchheit | June 21, 2007 11:07 AM

Yeah crime spree.

I mean, yeah KGB Readings! Yeah, that's what I mean.

gedalia | June 21, 2007 11:13 AM

you look so much geekier (is it a word? well yes according to Googel spell checker) in your glasses
why don't you ware them in your official photo?

Nathan | June 21, 2007 11:14 AM

I demand you show up at the Union Square Barnes & Noble and read to me. I demand it.

2:30's good for me.

Corby Kennard | June 21, 2007 11:18 AM

That signing device is so freaking cool. There was a commercial a number of years ago, where a doctor did surgery from a different country, and in the end of the commercial, a guy tucked his kid in with robot arms - I think it was IBM.

This seems like one of the points on that compass.

And, oh yeah, NYC rocks!

Janiece | June 21, 2007 11:19 AM

Multi-burrough crime spree? Right on.

The next philanthropic endeavor at the Whatever will be the collection for John's bail. Because, you know, New York is tough on crime. Just ask Rudy.

Kate | June 21, 2007 11:23 AM

While the LongPen is a great idea for people who can't get out to book signings to meet authors, I think I'm going to remain old school and take the opportunity to meet the man/woman responsible for my favorites literary works.

Just like if I ever get a chance to see you in person, I'm going to bring my Sagan Diary just so I can get a personal 'FU' written in it. :)

Jeff Hentosz | June 21, 2007 11:23 AM

Dude, on your crime spree you should totally check out that Star Trek: TNG island, north of Queens, I think. Something about Riker there, anyway.

nisleib | June 21, 2007 12:10 PM

If you do any looting grab me a sofa. Red leather if possible.

Oh, and a new stereo.

And a Red Rider BB gun with a compass in the stock. I won't shoot my eye out, I promise.

Eugene | June 21, 2007 12:15 PM

Thanks for the warning--I work on the second floor of the building Google's in. If I had run into you *again* when I wasn't expecting to, there might have been permanent damage.

Emily | June 21, 2007 12:15 PM

Yeah, part of the allure for going to see authors is to, you know, SEE the author and hear him or her read and stuff.

The signing is awesome, but not really the point of it for me.

Paul D | June 21, 2007 12:16 PM

Interesting to see Margaret Atwood's long pen is finding acceptance. It almost sounds like something from one of her science fict... er, speculative fic... er, mainstream fiction novels!

Adam Lipkin | June 21, 2007 12:30 PM

Now I'm off to lunch at Google's NY offices, after which I plan on going on a multi-borough crime spree. Because that's what New York City is for!

You know, the last time I remember you making a flip comment about what you were planning on doing, Ghlaghghee ended up wearing bacon.

John W. | June 21, 2007 12:32 PM

I believe when the LongPen debuted, Neil Gaiman compared using it to "kissing your sister."

Laurie Mann | June 21, 2007 12:33 PM

KGB is such a way cool thing. The ambiance is...truly unique. I'd love to go back sometime!

Have a cautious crime spree.

hugh57 | June 21, 2007 12:36 PM

This may sound illogical, but I don't consider getting a book signed to be the primary reason for for going to a book signing. A secondary reason, yes, but not the primary one. The primary reason I go to such signings is to meet the author in the flesh. Chatting with an author via a web interface just isn't the same. It's little different than talking with him/her over the phone. In fact, it really is the same, just with lo-res video added.

As for obtaining a "signed" book in this fashion, I have to say that part of the appeal of a signed book (to collectors, anyway) is the notion that the author actually handled this copy of the book. With the Long Pen, you're not doing this, a machine is. And for all you know, your signature could be going onto someone else's book, or even a document signing over your entire bank balance to the bookstore manager while you're chatting up the customer.

Sam Taylor | June 21, 2007 12:38 PM

We need authors doing speculative fiction readings here in Dallas. Because I'm too lazy to /look/ at the words ;)

John H | June 21, 2007 12:58 PM

I just remember Donald Rumsfeld using the autopen to sign letters to the families of soldiers killed in action -- he couldn't be bothered to sign each of them personally.

Corby Kennard | June 21, 2007 01:01 PM

I think the autopen is different than the long pen. The autopen is a guy tracing the signature while one or more pens signs documents secured to the table. This is a bit different.

John H | June 21, 2007 01:02 PM

They may be different technically, but it boils down to the same thing -- signing once and having a machine duplicate it multiple times...

Ian Randal Strock | June 21, 2007 01:03 PM

You are a twit. As much as I list the upcoming readings, I seem to always manage to miss them when they're in New York (like, I live in Brooklyn, but it's too much of a pain to drag my ass into Manhattan to socialize with other sf-nal people). Had you mentioned you were going to be there, I'd have remembered it was happening, and made an effort to actually go. Instead, I missed seeing everyone (and you). Grumble grumble.

John H | June 21, 2007 01:07 PM

I was mistaken -- I just read Scalzi's Ficlet post and this actually allows him to personalize each book. He's still interacting with the reader, just from a distance.

So my analogy to Rumsfeld was wrong...

Josh Jasper | June 21, 2007 01:10 PM

So, why are you visiting Google's offices?

theWallflower | June 21, 2007 01:12 PM

Looks neat.

I, for one, welcome our new robotic book-signing overlords.

Jim Wright | June 21, 2007 01:14 PM

If you really wanted to use technology to give people cognitive dissonance, you should have reversed the above photo, so that it appears you are signing left-handed. (yep, you'd have to photoshop in the wedding ring, and do a flip on that water bottle, but those are minor fixes for a PS wizard like yourself).

Left-handed people rock.

Pablo Defendini | June 21, 2007 01:53 PM

I for one was surprised. Great to meet you in person, John! On another note, I wasn't aware that KGB held SF readings. Must check that out. . .

Sara | June 21, 2007 02:39 PM

I gotta weigh in with the crowd that doesn't like this LongPen device for book signings. A signed book is special because the author handled it. Getting a book signed is special because I get to interact face to face with the author -- the author and I both made an effort to be in the same place at the same time. Signed books are also special because they're relatively rare. This device makes applying signature to title page more efficient and thus potentially less rare.

However! this device could be really useful for signing legal docs long distance. A common example would be signing papers to sell your house long distance rather than having to fly back or sign over power of attorney.

Mark Terry | June 21, 2007 02:57 PM

I would very much like to hack into the line and have you sign checks on my end.

Mike Cane | June 21, 2007 03:00 PM

You're a hard man, Scalzi.

Came to my patch without telling me.

And after all I did for you to get you into that Creation Museum...


Sam | June 21, 2007 03:14 PM

Just out of curiosity (for those book collectors out there) if your book is signed by the author using this new fangled technology, and the author dies tragically and all of a sudden copies of books that have, said authors, signature become valuable. Would that copy be worth just as much as if the author had handled it and signed it personally or no?

I mean people who forge materials for a living, with near identical signature styles as the orgininals are worth less than nothing, seems like this machine is just a high tech forger (despite the fact on the other end is the author who wrote the book). Or maybe thats a horrible comparison but its the best I've got.

John H | June 21, 2007 03:56 PM

Sam: This isn't a forgery since it was done as an act of the signer.

If you think about it, a 'normal' signature is being delivered through a machine as well -- the pen. This just puts a bit more distance between the hand and the paper.

That's it -- from now on when I want all my books signed in blood!

Adam Lipkin | June 21, 2007 04:15 PM

Sam (and John H): The answer to that question is something that only the market can decide. LongPen could be the next big thing, or it could be the autographing equivalent of pogs.

That said, I've got this bad habit of actually wanting authors to personalize copies, which lowers the value drastically. Unless I try to sell them to other people named Adam.

Chang, for rizzle. | June 21, 2007 04:43 PM

Well, better a long pen than long pig my dad always says.

Corby Kennard | June 21, 2007 05:09 PM

Sara - that was exactly the example I gave to someone about the Long Pen.

Or, how about a book signing from space? Or when we colonize other planets, from Earth 2?

Or having the President sign official documents from anywhere?

Cool stuff.

Jenny Rae Rappaport | June 21, 2007 05:16 PM

Gah, I totally didn't see you at KGB last night, even though I was there to get books from Delia Sherman.

I got annoyed that it was hot and I was late and there was absolutely no room to even stand in the room (plus, all my regular crowd of friends bailed on me), so I left after about fifteen minutes...

And to think, I could have said hello...

On the other hand, I went shopping at The Strand to make myself feel better, and emerged many books happier. =)

Which raises the real question: Scalzi or books? Which is better?

Rajan | June 21, 2007 05:43 PM

I was one of those people who did a double-take. Not that we've met, but I know you're not local. And I was listening to a podcast with you just before the reading, which made it doubly weird.

Matt | June 21, 2007 06:20 PM


"Or having the President sign official documents from anywhere?"

That would be a disaster like having your arrest warrant as a person of interest signed while he is sitting on the throne, er, crapper.

mike | June 21, 2007 06:28 PM

Catherynne M. Valente is one of my new favorite authors. I just felt that needed saying.

Omaha Lisa | June 21, 2007 08:07 PM

I'm with you Sara. I like to meet the author in person. It's so much more personal.

the professor | June 21, 2007 09:21 PM

is that anything like the device on Futurama, the FINGLONGER ?

Susan | June 21, 2007 10:30 PM

Shame on you for not telling me that you were not in NYC- I would have taken you to a better lunch than Google. It could have been Le Bernadin or the burger joint in the Park Meridian (which you seem more suitably dressed for). And then, I could have introduced you to some of my more interesting relatives in the Bronx to further your crime spree. These are true quotes from around the dinner table. "I hate Spitzer - he is trying to get me for murder when all I did was a little horse thievery." or "We told him to stay away from the garbage hauling - it only leads to RICO charges".

Nikitta | June 22, 2007 06:48 AM

This discussion about LongPen gets me thinking about The Girl Who Was Plugged in where the author does a great job of explaining how controlling another body via your brain while sitting miles from it is not that different from controlling your own body via your brain while still in your body; it's the same process, only with a longer distance between the hands getting stimuli and the brain receiving it.

Branko Collin | June 22, 2007 10:47 AM

"It's like living in the future, it is."

Except that the remote pen (telautograph being its real and sufficiently archaic looking name) is from 1862.

Mary Dell | June 22, 2007 01:22 PM

hmm...so, all of the hand cramping, none of the "he touched this" relic-making. Eh.

Christopher Hawley | June 22, 2007 03:30 PM

If we ignore the posibility that John's schedule might not permit him to travel in corpus to Anaheim, I must ask: How many who would vastly prefer seeing Mr. Scalzi in person thought to pass the digital hat and pay to fly him out, put him up, recompense him for his time, and fly him home? * 

Look at the bright side: the shorter excursion means that John will sooner return to his abode and be able to resume his diligent, eighteen-hours-per-day labor on The High Castle. And is that not what we all really want most of all?

- Chris

* We were all eager enough to chip in to send him off to a place (CM) which John stated up front he would not wish to visit.

Sunny Lyn | June 22, 2007 04:33 PM

what an awesome device!!!!!!!!!

Nick Stump | June 22, 2007 06:54 PM

As someone who collects signed first editions, (found a signed first For Whom the Bell tolls in 1972 in a Methodist Opportunity Shop) I would not think a long pen autograph would have the same value as a book the author actually touched. It's a nice idea and certainly not as bad as the auto pen which is worthless to me. But part of the value to a collector is the added value of the author touching the book. I'll be curious what some real "bookmen" will think about it. This is the first I've heard of such a thing and it's really cool, but I don't think it will carry the same value.

I'm not a bookseller. My firsts will be a good part of my daughter's inheritance. I only collect books I like to read, so this is not just a mercenary deal for me, but I do hope to leave my daughter enough good signed first to provide her with a a little financial cushion if she needs it. So far, it's proved to be better than the stock market.

Ellen Kushner | June 25, 2007 10:32 PM

I can't believe you were at freakin' KGB and I never saw you! Delia told me you were there but I thought she was hallucinating. But there are Ellen Datlow's photos
and there you freakin' are. The camera never lies. Sorry I didn't get to say Hi!

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