Charlie's Diary

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Wed, 30 Apr 2003

Why the unrest in Iraq?

The Times has an interesting story:

THE revolt of Basra began when a printed notice was pinned to the front gate of the former presidential palace, now the headquarters of the Desert Rats.

The British Army was slashing its rates of pay for locally hired staff "due to circumstances beyond our control", it announced.

The wages of skilled workers were to be cut to $22 (£13.80) a month, those of the unskilled to $10. Graduates and trained professionals, who had been working as translators and drivers for about £1.30 a day, found themselves being paid 50p or less. The effect was immediate: less than three weeks after liberating Iraq's second-largest city, the British forces had a strike on their hands.

The pay was being cut to conform with standards imposed across Iraq by the United States. "This is cruelty," Vahan Gregor, a civil engineer who used to have his own company, said. "The rate is not even enough to pay for the lift into work. A packet of decent cigarettes costs more than a day's pay. A packet of nappies is one month! Is this fair? Even under Saddam, it was better than this."

"I am so disappointed with the British," Ahmed Ali, a former geography teacher who has been working for the UK force, said. "If you make an agreement, you should keep to it -- not reduce pay after one week. Mr Bush talked so much about freedom and how we would live in great conditions after the war. Well, that was all bullshit."

So we should be surprised they're out on the streets demonstrating?

[ Link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 17:27 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Bush to bin Laden: "You Win"

Y'know, I swore off anything remotely approximating warblogging a while ago, because it wasn't doing my digestion or my sanity any good. But I just can't ignore the latest pieces of news -- the third Bloody Sunday like incident in Iraq in three days (US army troops fire on and kill demonstrators -- they say they were being shot at, demonstrators deny it), and Rumsfeld announcing that US troops are to be withdrawn from Saudi Arabia.

Why can't I ignore it? Well, here's a recap on the situation:

Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.
USA funds mujaheddin fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan, providing money and weapons. Osama bin Laden receives CIA funds. ObL views Soviet occupation as offense against Islam.
CIA drops funding for ObL.
Iraq invades Kuwait. US troops move into Saudi Arabia.
Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida group entrench in Afghanistan, campaign to get US troops out of the Islamic holy sites -- notably Saudi Arabia. ObL promises to turn America into a living nightmare by terrorism.
'Nuff said.
USA PATRIOT Act passed.
USA kicks Taliban out of Kabul, occupies city, declares regime change in Afghanistan.
USA gets increasingly heavy with Iraq, culminating in invasion and regime change.
US government announces surrender to Osama bin Laden.

Yes, I said "surrender". Rumsfeld has just announced that he's basically giving Osama bin Laden what he said all along that he wanted -- a US withdrawl from Saudi Arabia.

(Meanwhile, the USA PATRIOT act has ushered in a reign of domestic paranoia and police statedom unprecedented in the US since the 1950's, or even the 1917-19 red scare.)

And as for the situation in Iraq (and especially Falujah) ...

All I can say is, troops with automatic weapons and crowd control do not mix. It doesn't matter whether Iraqis with guns started shooting, or whether it was a massacre of unarmed civilians. What matters is that a ton of bystanders were shot and killed or injured.

There's a very precise analogy here, in case you're wondering what those troops from the 82nd Airborn did: Bloody Sunday, January 30th, 1972. And it's enough to send shudders down the spine of anyone who remembers the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The situation in NI leading up to Bloody Sunday has eerie resonances with Iraq in the wake of the Ba'athist regime. In both cases, central rule by an authoritarian party representing a minority of the population has just been replaced by direct rule from over the water. The two ethnic groups are divided along religious sectarian lines, and the larger group is poorer and has been effectively sidelined politically for 30 years. They want their say, and they get out on the street and demonstrate because the local Hard Men aren't in charge any more.

What happened in Northern Ireland on September 30th left a dark stain on British history -- the public enquiries are still going on today, trying to establish the truth about just why 2 Para were sent in with live ammunition. Some of the soldiers say they were fired on by an IRA member. Witnesses on the demonstration deny this, and say the troops just opened fire on the crowd. Whatever, 14 civilians died and many were injured -- and it was the single event that generated the wave of enlistment in the Provisional IRA and started the radicalization of the republican movement in Northern Ireland.

I watch the current US leadership and I'm simply aghast at their handling of the situation in Iraq, post-invasion. It should have been glaringly obvious that there'd be looting, a breakdown of civil order, and unrest. It should have been equally bloody clear that there'd be a lot of political upheaval. So where were the military police? Where were the water canon and baton rounds and riot gear that could have dispersed the crowd without killing?

But that's not all. By withdrawing troops from Saudi Arabia, Rumsfeld has just given bin Laden what he wanted. Leaving aside the pros and cons of the US basing troops there (which, as it happens, I'm opposed to), the timing could barely be worse. It's a bizarre mess. I can just see the scene in Rumsfeld's office: "I've got a plan, boss. How about we give the terrorists who attacked us exactly what they want, while shitting on the Iraqi civilian majority in a way guaranteed to generate a new terrorist insurgency?" "I like it, Joe-Bob, let's do it!"

The mind, she boggles.

[ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 16:51 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

They don't make 'em like this any more (luckily)

Over on rec.arts.sf.written they're discussing cover blurbs of yore. A cover blurb is what happens after you slave your guts out for, oh, half an hour at least, extruding deathless prose by the kilogram. If you're lucky, what goes on the cover is tasteful, a minor work of art in its own right, and doesn't give away the plot. If you're unlucky a bored (or maybe malicious) marketing hack glances at the first page, then comes up with something like this:

Women are writing SCIENCE-FICTION!


Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel.

Such a women is Margarget St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is this, SIGN OF THE LABRYS, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites...


I cringe in sympathy for Margaret St.Clair, whose novel Sign of the Labrys got saddled with this back cover blurb by someone at Bantam in 1963. (Thanks to Per C. Jorgensen for unearthing this brilliantly polished coprolite.)

Anyone got anything comparable to draw to my attention?

[ Discuss blurbs ]

posted at: 16:19 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 29 Apr 2003

It's done.

Length: 90,500 words. Time: 21 days. It'll probably put on some weight in the redraft, but it'll still be on the low side of 100,000 words, which makes it the shortest novel I've written in a couple of years. (Time was when 80,000 words was a respectable length and 90,000 was bloatware, but times change.)

I am exhausted. But at least I'll be able to work on unwirer without distractions now.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 14:07 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 27 Apr 2003

Status ...

19 days, 83,000 words in. Blogging prognosis for next week: light at first, due to exigencies of writing the climax to the novel, picking up as the week goes on -- this one ain't scheduled to run over 100,000 words on the first draft, and at the current rate it should be nailed down on Wednesday.

Must resist the entirely stupid psychological pressure to break down and try to prove that I can write a 100,000 word novel in three weeks. That would be silly (and besides, it ain't true -- I might be able to grind out a first draft, but the quality would suffer and it would need more polishing later on). Still, it's been a gas and it's confirmed for me that hitting the ground hard and ploughing through the first draft fast helps maintain consistency of vision (at the cost of polish). Plus, it's a good warm-up exercise for the much bigger novel I'm due to hand in this December and haven't really begun yet.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 20:01 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 25 Apr 2003

Glasshouse update

I'm about to take a break halfway through today's session. Seventeen days, seventy-one thousand words. If I stick to schedule I think I'm going to be celebrating a complete first draft by next Friday -- twenty-four days after I began it. Then I think I shall sleep for a week.

(In case you were wondering, the routine is: 9am, in front of laptop to tackle email and read the web. Start writing around 11am. Stop writing whenever I hit 4000 words, or 8pm, whichever is later. Rinse, cycle, repeat, seven days a week, until it's done. That's why I'm not blogging much at present ...)

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 13:43 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 24 Apr 2003

This is how I expect to die, one day ...

Professor trapped for Easter under a pile of books

A Croatian professor has spent three days trapped under a pile of books in his apartment in Zagreb before being saved by a neighbour who heard his cries for help.

The Jutarnji List daily reports the unfortunate 60-year-old mathematics professor, identified only by his initials DK, spent the Easter weekend lying helplessly on the floor, trapped between a bed and a book-case under a pile of books which fell on him.

The neighbour who called the police and paramedics told the daily that the professor's apartment was very untidy, "filled up with books, tapes, furniture and food."

"It looked like a real rubbish dump," he said, adding it was hard to imagine how the rather corpulent professor, weighing some 120 kilograms, could freely move around in it.

He was treated for exhaustion and dehydration in his apartment by paramedics, and recovered enough to refuse hospital treatment.

[ Link ] [ Discuss dumb ]

posted at: 19:22 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Banging out the hits

Y'know the RIAA insist that MP3s are a tool of terrorists?

Here's the evidence.

Now if only they did an 88mm armour-piercing MP3 player to go with this ...

[ Link ] [ Discuss toys ]

posted at: 16:05 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Duck Sausage Clock

I didn't make it to the Hinckley Eastercon. Probably a good thing, because if this photograph by Major Clanger is anything to go by, I'd have come back with my sanity in tatters:

Duck Sausage Clock

Some things are sane, some things are crazy, but it takes a very special kind of mind to create a level of kitsch that qualifies as unsane.

[ Link ] [ Discuss dumb ]

posted at: 16:05 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 22 Apr 2003

The pain, the pain ...

Day fourteen. Passed 60,000 words. Smoke rising from keyboard. Stereo playing "Drowning in Berlin" by The Mobiles, 80's earworm resurrected thanks to Warren Ellis (whose Transmetropolitan turned me back onto comics/graphic novels after lo these many years). Current writing tastes of "Stepford Wives" meet "The Sims", with added lynch mobs and the ghost of Paul Linebarger. If I ever sell the film rights to this one I want to make damn sure it ends up with a machinima house and Rachel Huntington gets hired to design the visuals.

I have now been sober for more than 20,000 words. It's time to go out and get pissed.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 20:22 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 21 Apr 2003

State of the onion

Didn't win a Nebula. And nobody's phoned to tell me I've won the BSFA award, so I assume I haven't won one of them, either.

Don't care, though. I just passed 50,000 words -- the halfway point -- on "Glasshouse". That's in 13 days of frantic typing. Only another 13 days to go ...

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 00:40 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 20 Apr 2003

Writing in a goldfish bowl

Back in the 1960's and early 1970's, Harlan Ellison used to sit in a bookshop window with a typewriter, writing science fiction stories. Call it a kind of performance art.

Well, the web offers a whole new venue for performance art, and Cory Doctorow and I are pleased to announce our latest collaboration. In the wake of Jury Service and Flowers for Alice, we're working on another collaboration, this time for a forthcoming anthology, ReVisions, a collection of alternate science-history stories, that DAW books will publish at some unspecified date TBD. And the collaboration has a blog: Unwirer.

Yes, you read that right. We're collaborating on a story in public, via a weblog. What you'll see is what we write, as we do it. The last draft posted to the blog will be the draft that we send to Isaac Szpindel and Julie Czerneda, the editors, and it's likely that we'll do some rewriting after that, so there's a near-certainty that the published version will differ from the text we come up with on line. But what's going on in the blog is the real thing -- it's how we're collaborating on this story. As Cory is mostly in San Francisco and I'm in Edinburgh, we can update it from our respective home towns and use the various topic areas to disucss where things go next; stuff we used to have to do in email. And because it's in a blog, you get to say what you think of it. Unwirer is our very own shop window or goldfish bowl. Come watch the authors at work! And tell us if you like it -- or not.

[ Link ] [ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 15:48 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 18 Apr 2003


Okay, so the news is now official; I've made the Hugo shortlist this year, too, with my novelette "Halo". (Meanwhile, the Nebulas will be announced this weekend, and I'm on the shortlist with "Lobsters", and the BSFA -- British Science Fiction Association -- are voting on their awards, and I'm on the shortlist with "Router". Whee!)

[ Link ] [ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 23:44 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

US military blocking medical aid for children in Iraq

Save the Children yesterday accused the US military of allowing children to die after it refused to grant permission for a plane loaded with medical supplies to land in northern Iraq.

As a team of Oxfam engineers took off from Manston airport in Kent with tonnes of water sanitation equipment bound for southern Iraq, Save the Children said it had been trying for more than a week to fly in enough medical supplies to treat 40,000 people and emergency feeding kits for malnourished children.

The US military has said the charity cannot fly aid supplies into the cities of Arbil and Mosul until the area is safe. But Rob MacGillivray, Save the Children's emergency programme manager, said the UN had already declared it safe.

Note for US readers: Save the Children is one of the largest British disaster relief charities. They're really angry, accusing the US military of violations of the Geneva conventions over their refusal to allow aid supplies into Arbil and Mosul. These guys do not throw that kind of accusation around lightly -- they have a major public reputation to preserve and the blowback if they made baseless allegations would be very damaging. Nor do they have a partisan axe to grind over aid to Iraq in particular -- they're active just about everywhere.

Feorag's comment -- "what's the matter, are the military afraid it'll dent sales by US pharmaceutical companies?"

[ Link ][ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 10:53 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 17 Apr 2003

Back from the future

One of the disadvantages of living on the ground floor of a tenement flat in Edinburgh is that the radio reception, to be blunt, sucks. I used to listen to a fair bit of radio, but for the past eight or nine years it hasn't really been practical -- short of running a cable up the outside of a four story building and paying someone who (unlike me) isn't afraid of heights to install an aerial, any attempt to listen to the radio tended to induce a wince.

However, one nice thing about living in the UK is that the BBC is really keen on new technology, and in particular on DAB -- digital audio broadcasting. DAB is a new standard for radio developed by the Eureka 147 committee and now being rolled out in a number of countries -- the UK is one of the leaders, with about 80% coverage and ten commercial networks, as well as the full range of BBC channels. It seems like only about three or four years ago the BBC were announcing their first trials of DAB, but now there's at least as much available via DAB as via FM, and the reception and sound quality is much better. Of course, until recently a DAB receiver would set you back the thick end of six or seven hundred pounds -- but in about the past six months that's changed, thanks to a small UK-based computer and wireless networking company called Imagination Technologies, who set up a subsidiary (Pure Digital) to build cheap DAB receivers.

(If you live in the USA, you'll have to hold your breath until you turn blue in the face -- existing US FM broadcasters have put the boot in because they don't want any competition, and the nearest thing to DAB you're going to get is a poor quality in-band digital signal to carry channel information. It's a bit like GSM mobile phones, all over again -- the rest of the world goes one way, while the US gets a technically inferior, expensive, locally developed substitute that's incompatible with everyone else.)

I've just acquired a Pure Digital Evoke-1 Elgar radio, and it's really cool. CD quality sound, without even extending the aerial, indoors (and that's indoors with foot-thick stone walls, not wood or brick). And best of all: I can get BBC World Service without hogging the bandwidth on the cable modem.

[ Link ] [ Discuss toys ]

posted at: 15:42 | path: /toys | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 16 Apr 2003

Status report

Nine days, and I'm 34,000 words into "Glasshouse". Woooo! I'm having to limit myself to 4000 words a day (experience says that I tend to lose control over the quality if I go much over that), but if I slow up any I'll lose control over the pacing and plot tension. At this rate, around Sunday I can switch to a countdown because I'll be halfway through the first draft ...

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 17:20 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 15 Apr 2003

Living in the age of acceleration

There are times when I suddenly realise that we are living in the 21st century, and although large chunks of it are not what we were hoping for, some bits are good.

Take SARS. (Not literally, you understand.) Horrible plague, bioweapon, or plain mutant cold virus? It only escaped from China a month ago, and wasn't known before the beginning of the year, but just 31 days into the investigation they've sequenced the viral genome responsible.

Henry Niman of Harvard Medical School said the new data shows that part of the SARS genome is similar to certain avian viruses. That jibes with earlier reports that SARS may have jumped from bird to human.

"I was playing around with the sequence, and at the far right-hand end is a sequence that's also found in two avian coronaviruses," Niman said. "Thirty-two nucleotides are exact matches between the SARS coronavirus, avian bronchitis virus and turkey coronavirus."

That's potentially significant, he said, because the sequence had only been found in these two avian coronaviruses up until now. It has never before appeared in a mammalian coronavirus.

Wow. We're not out of the woods yet -- they're at least a year away from a vaccune -- but it's astonishing how fast they've homed in on the cause. Some things really are better, this decade, and our ability to respond to a wholly new hybrid virus seems to be among them.

[ Link ] [ Discuss longevity ]

posted at: 19:33 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 14 Apr 2003

The pain, the pain ...

The running total on "Glasshouse" is: seven days, 26,000 words. Owww.

NB: If you're wondering why I'm not blogging much at present, do the math; if I sustain my current rate, "Glasshouse" should be finished, at around 105,000 words, in less than one calendar month.

(I have some other good news, which I haven't officially heard yet, but which might just be connected to one of the award shortlists -- not the Nebula, which should be announced next weekend. But that'll have to wait until it's public. Watch this space.)

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 19:48 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 12 Apr 2003

Another update

Holy shit: "Glasshouse" has gone from zero to 17,000 words in just 5 days.

What's more, it seems to make sense. (Onward ...)

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 19:05 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 11 Apr 2003

I really hope this guy is wrong ...

Russian Information Agency Novosti reports that Sergei Kolesnikov, an Academician in the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, believes the virus responsible for SARS was been created deliberately, possibly as a bacteriological weapon.

According to him, the virus of atypical pneumonia is a synthesis of two viruses (of measles and infectious parotiditis or mumps), the natural compound of which is impossible. This can be done only in a laboratory, the academician is convinced. He also said that in creating bacteriological weapons a protective anti-viral vaccine is, as a rule, worked out at the same time. Therefore, the scientist believes, a medicine for atypical pneumonia may soon appear. He does not exclude that the spread of the virus could have begun accidentally, as a result of "an unsanctioned leakage" from a laboratory.

Here's a random thought: SARS showed up first in China and Hong Kong, but spread fairly rapidly in the direction of the US via air transport routes. What country in the region (a) doesn't get on very well with the Chinese government these days, (b) isn't likely to be very worried about a contagious disease like SARS because its own citizens aren't very mobile, (c) is known to be dicking around with other weapons of mass destruction, and (d) is also pissed off with the Russians right now?

Clue: it was the last link in the article below this one, and one might well wonder why Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Losyukov, might have felt it necessary to publicly say "We are forced to think about preventive measures to defend our national interests and - why hide it - to defend our population on territories bordering on Korea in case of a serious conflict in the region," according to Interfax.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. I know I'm prone to being alarmed by diplomatic mutterings that come to nought in the end, but there is a good chance that the djinn is already out of the bottle this time. The US pursuit of Saddam is sending a very explicit message to Kim Jong-Il, and that message is "use it or lose it". If SARS is a North Korean strategic bioweapon, it almost certainly isn't the only one. In fact, the nightmare scenario is that it may be the attenuated form of something like the ebola-equivalent mousepox strain that Australian scientists unwittingly stumbled across last year, and this release is a test run in case they feel the need to bring the house down by releasing the real thing. Dr Strangelove, eat your heart out ...

[ Link ] [ Discuss ww3 ]

posted at: 13:11 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Manufacturing Consent (in Iraq)

Remember that memorable news TV footage of dancing Iraqs celebrating the fall of the Ba'athist regime, and pulling down a big statue of Saddam?

Looks like it was a US tank that did the pulling. In front of a rather small crowd who, under the guns of the US military, did what any prudent native of an occupied country would do and danced like monkeys.

So much for whooping it up like the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The stench of propaganda lies heavily upon the mainstream "embedded" media these days ... meanwhile, in other news, prominent US-backed Shi'ite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei was stabbed to death on the steps on a mosque in Najaf, the situation on the streets of Baghdad is beginning to resemble Belfast in 1969 (can you spell s-e-c-t-a-r-i-a-n d-i-v-i-d-e?), the Pentagon says Saddam is either dead or on the run and therefore out of the picture (just like that pesky Osama bin Laden), and Our Boys have got everything under control, including all those weapons of mass destruction. Let me repeat that; everything is under control, and there is no cause for alarm.

[ Link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 12:53 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 09 Apr 2003


I just finished chapter #1 of "Glasshouse" today. 6500 words in 48 hours. I have a good feeling about this -- must press on.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 18:12 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 08 Apr 2003

I hate it when this happens

I sat down this morning to make a few notes towards the proposal for my next-but-one novel. Then I thought, "funny, my wrists are aching" around 6pm. Did a quick word-count on the paragraph or two of character fodder I'd started preparing. Realised there was close to 3,500 words -- almost the entire first chapter -- sitting there on the screen. And it's not going to let go until I've written enough to throw at my agent along with a detailed outline.

Novels are like trains. They shouldn't be able to sneak up on you silently and rapidly and take you by surprise.

(For the curious: just try to imagine John Varley writing an SF novel about the Zimbardo prison study. Yes, it makes my head hurt, too.)

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 19:07 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 07 Apr 2003

A possible explanation for the current unpleasantness ...

Is George W. Bush a psychopath?

It would explain a lot. More to the point, the hat fits. Short of getting the US President into a psychiatrist's office for a day, we're not going to get any closer than comparing the listed characteristics against his very public behaviour. And it's true: he does exhibit most of the behavioural traits that go with the package.

Which provokes me to ask: if Bush is a psychopath (not the same, please note, as a psychotic), what does this suggest about his future behaviour? An election is coming up next year, but it occurs to me that a psychopathic incumbent may very well not behave in the same way as a normal presidential incumbent in the run-up to an election which is likely to be dominated by greivous economic fallout and bad news from the occupation of Iraq.

What do psychopaths do when faced with the urgent need to manufacture personal support in the run-up to an election? Does the phrase, "a short victorious war" ring any bells?

[ Link ] [ Discuss politics ]

posted at: 17:30 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 06 Apr 2003

The hallucinations are cutting in ...

I'm quiet right now because I'm afraid I've accidentally fallen victim to The Sims. I normally keep all games way the hell away from my computer, but right now I've just edited my way through a bundle of novels -- the thought of reading someone else's, or writing another, simply doesn't appeal. So instead I'm engaging in a supremely pointless activity that has become eerily obsessive. Going out and walking around town, I couldn't help hearing snatches of sim-speech; the characters in the game talk in random phonemes strung together using a Markov chain generator or something similar, and the effect is eerily lifelike. Have you ever had periods when you felt like you were a character inside a computer game?

(At least I'm going to get a novel out of it, by hook or by crook. A billion games of Dungeons and Dragons spawned interminable shelves full of regurgitated campaign write-ups disguised as extruded fantasy product: why can't I be the first guy to get something useful out of The Sims?)

[ Discuss toys ]

posted at: 16:45 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 03 Apr 2003

A digression into statistical lies

I ran across this story in The Register earlier today, while whomping up my Linux column for the month.

The BSA (Business Software Alliance) paid IDC (a polling company) to do a worldwide survey of software piracy. The results unsurprisingly showed that 40% of all software installed worldwide wasn't paid for. More to the point, IDC obligingly bolted a stalking-horse onto their conclusions; cutting software piracy, they'd have us believe, will boost economic growth. To quote The Reg:

The UK has the lowest software piracy rate in Western Europe. At the same time it has enjoyed the region's fastest software sector growth rate - growing 55 per cent over the last six years.

Says the report: "Strong software growth, in turn, helped the UK achieve the fastest IT growth in the region over the same period. The UK's IT sector is a proven engine for economic growth, adding half a million IT jobs to the economy over six years between 1995 and 2001.

"Proven engine for economic growth?"

I would argue that adding IT jobs to the economy is not the same as stimulating economic growth. Consider user support ratios as an example. IT is a service that is intended to allow businesses to function more efficiently. Typical Windows support ratios are that one IT support body is required per 40-160 users. In the UNIX world, UNIX servers don't require additional support personnel anything like as rapidly -- ratios in the range one techie per 200-2000 users are not unheard-of.

We can pay the unemployed to dig holes and fill them in again, but it doesn't qualify as productive work that has net economic gains attached to it. (It may circulate money faster, but that's not the same thing at all.) Likewise, paying more people to go around reinstalling Windows and cleaning up after Outlook email viruses is not a sensible way to grow the economy. If we were to follow the BSA's recipe we'd chuck all those UNIX servers and switch to the oldest, buggiest version of Windows we could lay our hands on -- after all, it would create more jobs! (Needless to say they'd be shit jobs for shit pay doing work that's the functional equivalent of filling in the holes that had been dug by the purchasing policy -- while the real revenue would be going to the hand behind the BSA sock-puppet, in a foreign software multinational that already has more money than they know what to do with -- but hey, creating huge numbers of jobs is more important than creating jobs that actually do something useful.)

This is yet another bloody nonsense dressed up in the sheep's clothing of a common-sense nostrum and trotted out by the weasels of mendacity. Sorry if I sound bitter, but I've just been writing up the MPAA's current scheme to get firewalls criminalized in the individual United States, and my tolerance for living on the same planet as these goat-blowing extortion monkeys is currently very limited.

[ Link ] [ Discuss microsoft ]

posted at: 17:07 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 01 Apr 2003

News Flash: Big Engine in insolvency

Big Engine, who were due to publish my novel Festival of Fools in April (also due to be published as "Singularity Sky" by Ace in the United States in August) are going into insolvency.

Publisher Ben Jeapes says, "looking at the projected figures of income vs outgoings, there's no other choice. There's nothing wrong with it that couldn't be solved with reinvestment ..." and he's not the only one; the climate for small businesses in the UK today is grim.

Two years ago this would have been a bitter blow to me. I'm still saddened by the loss of a small but important publisher who has been doing significant and important work within the genre (republishing unduly neglected works like the collected Sladek and Brian Stableford's early novels). I owe Ben a huge debt; he was the first editor to offer me a novel contract, and it was this that secured the interest of my agent.

However, since then, I sold a total of five novels in the US. This setback isn't going to prevent my books coming out from Ace, Tor, and Golden Gryphon, and they'll still be available in the UK as imports. (In fact, as far as silver linings go, it may even make it easier for my agent to sell my books in the UK; with no pre-existing arrangement with a publisher, she'll have a clean sheet to work with.)

Time to breath a sigh of regret and move on.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 12:23 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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The Jennifer Morgue
Via Golden Gryphon (US HC -- due Nov, 2006)

Via (US HC -- due June 30, 2006)

The Clan Corporate
Via (US HC -- out now)

Via (US HC)
Via (US PB -- due June 27, 2006)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)
Free download

The Hidden Family
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)

The Family Trade
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)

Iron Sunrise
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)

The Atrocity Archives
Via (Trade PB)
Via (Trade PB)
Via Golden Gryphon (HC)
Via (HC)
Via (HC)

Singularity Sky
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (US ebook)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)


Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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