Charlie's Diary

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Sat, 28 Jun 2003

Blogging hiatus ...

charlie and karen signing the wedding registry Spot the wedding photograph.

I hereby give notice that blogging is suspended for the next week because both Feorag and I are going to be in Amsterdam behaving pretty much like any other couple whose ten-year try-before-you-buy shareware licence just expired. I won't be reading email, either, except on the special super-secret palmtop account that doesn't get published because it currently receives at 9600 baud via an international mobile phone call forwarded via my secret super-villain headquarters in the Bahamas. This means, funnily enough, that I won't be working myself up into fits of righteous indignnation over anything I read on the web, so even if I had a moblogging system I wouldn't have much to say. Besides, something tells me we're going to be otherwise preoccupied for a while.

Thanks to everyone who came to the wedding, and I hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as we did.

[ Discuss wedding ]

posted at: 17:40 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 26 Jun 2003

Ten reasons why I do not read HTML email

  1. When you sent me email, you are requesting access to my eyeballs. Access is granted only on my terms. I choose to read my mail in monospaced 10-point text in a terminal window. I don't care if you want to use blinking underlined boldface or WingDings, it will be read in monospaced 10-point text in a terminal window or not at all.
  2. HTML is not an RFC standard for email text. (Go here if you don't know what an RFC is.)
  3. HTML allows you to embed links, and inline images stored on a web server. I often receive and process my email offline. I do not want to open your missive on my Palm Pilot and have to wait ten years while it goes online via my cellular phone and downloads your precious letterhead or stupid snapshot at 9600 baud.
  4. Images can be sized to one pixel by one pixel, and made transparent. IMG SRC tags can point to server-side programs that log the client that sent a request for the one-by-one invisible image. The IMG SRC request can carry data such as the email address to which the mail was sent. This confirms that the email has been received. This is known as a web-bug, and it is a favourite technique of spammers for verifying that an email account is valid and there's someone there to receive their spam. I don't like spam, thank you very much.
  5. Javascript (or rather, ECMAScript) is untrusted third-party code that can be executed on my computer if I read your HTML email. Sorry, but I don't run untrusted code -- and that includes scripts of unknown origin arriving in my mailbox.
  6. HTML email is bloated -- typically to at least double the size of the plain text. (And that's without images or script content.) Repeat after me: "consuming someone else's bandwidth without their prior content is wrong." Especially if you don't know whether I'm going to read your missive using a cable modem or a cellphone making an international dialup call at 9600 baud.
  7. Through force of habit I use an email client called Mutt. Mutt is an extremely powerful non-graphical UNIX-based tool that runs in a terminal window. Mutt is small and fast, in large part because Mutt is not a web browser. I am not going to switch to reading my email in a web browser just to stroke your ego.
  8. SpamAssassin, the discerning netizen's spam trapping tool of choice, thinks that HTML email with no plain text accompaniment is spam. That's a good heuristic -- almost all spam email is HTML-only. I do not read spam.
  9. Long experience shows that those mail clients most vulnerable to worms, viruses, and other stupid infections invariably default to using HTML instead of plain text. There's a reason for this (see #5 above). By using an email client that doesn't process HTML, you can drastically cut the risk of picking up a nasty infection.
  10. Long experience shows that people who persistently send HTML email are often not aware that they are doing so. This is symptomatic of a marked lack of situational awareness -- they haven't bothered to find out just what the internet is, what the conventions surrounding its use are, and how to configure the tools they are using. Merely pleading ignorance is no defense -- did you expect to get behind the wheel of a car and drive it without learning what the controls do and what the rules of the road are? In general, I have found that people who persistently send HTML email rarely have anything of interest to say. It indicates a preoccupation with style over substance, ignorance over experience -- which is why it goes straight in the trash.

(And no, I'm not going to tell you who just rattled my cage. Let's just say I'm scratchy right now and leave it at that, okay?)

posted at: 22:29 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 25 Jun 2003

Woolgathering day

amputee wedding fashion shot I was up until 3:30am last night, being interviewed by Gardner Dozois and cracking bad puns, so I'm slightly incoherent today. At left is something I stumbled across on Warren Ellis's blog, which in turn he scraped off Reverse Cowgirl. As amputee wedding fashion shots are thin on the ground and I get mean when I'm the only person in the house who's feeling disturbed I figured I'd share it with you.

Meanwhile, I've been grovelling around on the floor, disturbing five-year-old dustbunnies and unwiring my study. The score so far: three repo'd mains extension blocks with a total of 14 sockets, about ten metres of obsolete thin ethernet cable, various strange odds and ends, and an insanely rare soap-on-a-rope connection cable with Macintosh serial plug for the no-longer-made Psion Series 3a palmtop.

In between fretting I've been reading "Tank", by Patrick Wright -- a social history of the main battle tank -- and was somewhat perturbed to discover that Major General J. F. C. Fuller (tactical genius of the Tank Corps during the First World War, inventor of blitzkrieg, and sometime member of the British Union of Fascists) was also an acolyte of Aleister Crowley before the war, an initiate of the Argentum Astrum, and left behind in his papers the incomplete manuscript of a novel titled "The Hidden Wisdom of the Illuminati".

If you put this sort of thing in a novel nobody would believe you ...

posted at: 16:18 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 24 Jun 2003

Meet the author

Just a quick reminder that Asimov's SF magazine, in conjunction with are hosting an online chat session with me tonight at 9pm EST (that's two in the bleeding morning here in Scotland, and 5pm in California). Follow the white rabbit ...

[ Link ]

posted at: 23:03 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 23 Jun 2003

Blogging hiatus

We interrupt this silence to notify you that blogging will be intermittent to patchy (at best) for the next two to three weeks. Reason: I'm getting married, then going on vacation for a while, and when I get home I'll probably have a work backlog to catch up with.

[ Discuss ]

posted at: 13:27 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 20 Jun 2003


Looks like Ken MacLeod, general secretary of the Scottish Socialist Science Fiction Vanguard Party, has just been slashdotted. Way to go, Ken!

(Oh yeah: the suspected splittists at the Cell meeting last week are in fact doctrinaire party members, suspicious hirsute tendencies or no.)

posted at: 18:57 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry


Labour MP George Galloway was a ferocious opponent of the invasion of Iraq. Then the Christian Science Monitor's journalist in Baghdad turned up papers that appeared to show he'd been receiving big cheques from the Ba'ath party. (Original report here.) "Inconceivable," I said, mostly because of the figures involved, and the way the documents were uncovered -- and it turns out that I'm right. According to today's Guardian:

The Monitor said an initial investigation of the documents it received from a man who identified himself as General Salah Abdel Rasool seemed to confirm their authenticity.

But subsequent ink tests showed that the two documents carrying the oldest dates - 1992 and 1993 - "were actually written within the past few months".

The Monitor said the "newest document - dated 2003 - appears to have been written at approximately the same time."

(Note: the Telegraph had a different bunch of documents linking Galloway to the Ba'ath party -- but I am inclined to question the veracity of any documents alleging an illegal financial arrangement between Galloway and the Ba'ath regime at this point. We've got clear evidence that one of the two sets of documents was forged -- and the other seems to relate to funding of the Mariam Appeal (according to The Telegraph, although they go out of their way to obfuscate the issue) rather than Galloway himself.)

Now. One wonders who might have planted forged documents incriminating a western critic of the invasion? (Who, it should be noted, has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party and is facing an investigation because of these allegations.) My money is on the CIA or another US intelligence agency -- staffed by people who wouldn't be close enough to UK politics to realise that MPs are on a salary of around US $70,000 a year, that members external interests are subject to public scrutiny, and that accepting even an envelope stuffed with twenty pound notes, much less cheques for $3 million, is ever so slightly difficult.

The rather shady General Salah Abdel Rasool seems to have made some money by passing over the documents, but not very much (an $800 payment for "translation services" to a neighbour). Especially when the overheads of preparing at least three boxes of forged files are taken into account. If I was of a paranoid disposition I'd say someone in military intelligence cut a deal with the General -- to inject these documents into circulation in the west via the press, in return for payment.

It will be interesting to see which of the warbloggers who gloated over these allegations eat their words. Or even mention the CSM's retraction.

[ Link (Guardian) ][ Link (Christian Science Monitor) ]

posted at: 13:09 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 19 Jun 2003

Things to do on a rainy Thursday

I've been feeling more than a little run down, of late, so I spent a chunk of this morning taking stock. (This included taking my sorry excuse for a body to the doctor, whereupon I find myself scheduled for a battery of invasive and somewhat annoying tests which will, I hope, determine whether or not I am suffering from diverticulosis.) More seriously, I did a sanity check on my workload. I was planning on finishing the first draft of the next novel before Torcon, at the end of August. Think again: if I was to do that, my sustained productive word rate would add up to two novels every five months (with a side order of a mere 20,000 words of journalism and the same again of short fiction on top).

This is not smart. This is not clever.

Especially not smart and not clever is the fact that despite this work-yourself-into-an-early-grave schedule I can make myself feel guilty about not working hard enough. I can work up a head of angsty steam by taking a day off that leaves me feeling more tired than I was before the break. I end up sitting in front of the computer feeling exhausted and despondent and uncreative and trying to write anyway, but only dribs and drabs flow because I'm spending most of my time checking to see if any email has come in or pootling around various websites. In fact, when I'm tired and should really be taking time off, I actually find myself spending more hours infront of the computer than when I'm feeling productive.

So. After I finish this blog entry I am going to load a bunch of stuff onto my palm pilot -- in case inspiration strikes (because I'm almost certain that it won't, ergo, if unprepared, it will) -- and then kick back for a few days. Or weeks. Work, writing, will happen when it's good and ready. I don't need to write another novel right now just to prove to myself that I can do it. I am not guilty of slacking. I don't have to pace my work like I'm back in a dot-com seething with growth running at thirty percent per month. Life's too fucking short (as a friend of mine demonstrated by dying last night) and I really ought to focus on enjoying it a bit more while I've still got it.

Anyone want to buy one overachieving guilt complex, slightly used?

[ Discuss working too hard ]

posted at: 15:05 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 18 Jun 2003

Empire coming down

Some other snippets from The Guardian today. First, a background piece by Luke Harding in Khost, Afghanistan. It turns out that the Taliban are still around, and US heavy-handedness is a helping rebuild their support:

UN officials have watched the behaviour of the US forces in Afghanistan with increasing dismay, and say that it is frequently reckless. "This doesn't help us at all," one said. "The people are basically pro-America. They want US forces to be here. But American soldiers are not very culturally sensitive. It's hardly surprising that Afghans get angry when the Americans turn up and kick their doors in."

Bacha Khan said: "The Taliban are getting stronger and stronger. This is because US troops are misbehaving. I want my bodyguard's killer brought to justice. I'd also like my son back."

Meanwhile the same heavy handedness is winning friends and influencing people in Baghdad. US Administrator Paul Bremer dissolved the Iraqi military, security forces, and information ministry last month. Which is all very well, but in a country of 24 million people it rendered 400,000 men -- most of them heavily armed -- unemployed and without a source of income. Some of them began demonstrating yesterday because they'd lost their jobs, and things got very heated. They heated up some more when US soldiers shot and killed two Iraqis (according to AP -- a US army spokesman told CNN that two Iraqis were slightly injured but nobody was killed). Whatever the truth, making people unemployed then shooting at them when they demonstrate is really going to send the right message: "we're your friends, we're here to help you, now GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES AND SPREAD 'EM ..."

Meanwhile a sniper shot and killed a US soldier on patrol in Baghdad. And there are reports of car bombs and land mines going off overnight. I don't have a precise figure in front of me but that's -- what? -- forty US troops killed in Iraq since Dubya declared the war was over? And what looks like a large-scale resistance movement getting off the ground, fuelled by the resentment of ordinary men who've been shat on by the heavy-handed occupation?

Oh, and Salam Pax has some interesting news from the university, about how Hawza, the shi'ite religious party, is working on building support down at ground level. Watch this stuff -- what happens on campuses today determines the shape of society a generation down the line.

I wonder if the US administration realises just how familiar this behaviour all looks to anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the history of anti-Nazi resistance movements in occupied Europe sixty years ago. (But I forgot: they can't lose because they're the good guys. And they know they're the good guys because the President told them so.)

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

Dust settling, museums

Today's Guardian contains a summary of what happened to Baghdad's museums by Eleanor Robson, council member of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. It makes for grim reading. Far from a mere 33 pieces being destroyed, very serious damage has been inflicted that will take years to even begin to repair.

The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs lost 600-700 manuscripts in a malicious fire and more than 1,000 were stolen. The House of Wisdom and the Iraqi Academy of Sciences were also looted. The National Library was burned to the ground and most of its 12 million books are assumed to have been incinerated. In the galleries of Mosul Museum, cuneiform tablets were stolen and smashed. The ancient cities of Nineveh, Nimrud, and Hatra lost major sculpture to looting. The situation is far worse in the south. Some 15-20 large archaeological sites, mostly ancient Sumerian cities, were comprehensively pillaged by armed gangs.

The destruction isn't as complete as originally reported, but it's worth considering what a disaster of this magnitude in, say, the UK would entail. Imagine London bombed. The V&A trashed, the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels looted, the British Library complex on Euston Road burned (along with all those annoying old bits of paper like the original draft of Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, and so on), the Natural History Museum used as a defensive fortification and shelled. (Goodbye, Apollo 10.) Discovering afterwards that, say, only 33 of the primary exhibits on one floor of one of the museums were lost because the rest had been moved to secure storage wouldn't exactly be anything to crow about ... and triumphalist assertions that this indicated there was nothing to worry about would be treated with the contempt they'd deserve, because the Brits are honourable westerners and not Persons of Heads of Rag.

(Yes, I'm angry about the endemic anti-Arab racism that this whole sorry business has dragged front-and-centre in the west's media. This region was the cradle of human civilization and dismissing it simply because of the behaviour of the most recent government on the scene deserves the odium due to the wilfully ignorant, for whom we usually reserve the appellation "barbarians".)

[ Link ]

posted at: 12:06 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 15 Jun 2003

A brief explanation of tomorrow's news

The Whiskey Bar brings you this week a fun analysis of next year's makes-1929-look-like-a-storm-in-a-teacup economic collapse. Indispensible reading, and a lot less tinfoil-hat oriented than some of the other accounts of what the United States' collapsing current account balance means.

And no, there's no schadenfreude here. As I earn more than half my income in US dollars I would really, really hate to see the dollar devalued, or runaway stagflation, or any of the other likely consequences when the shit hits the fan.

Incidentally, Billmon didn't mention the other fiscal stimulus that great powers have traditionally used to dig their way out of this kind of hole: starting a world war.

[ Link ]

posted at: 18:17 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 14 Jun 2003

Take this century back; it's broken

I have a recurrent feeling these days, that I'm living in the wrong trouser-leg of time. Somehow history has taken a wrong turning, and instead of cruising along the infosuperhighway of the future, in radiant sunlight with the roof down and music blaring, we're rolling out of control, bumping down a rutted dirt track towards a dead end, clouds gathering overhead and a demented neoconservative Tourette's case yammering on the radio.

('Scuse me while I untangle the metaphor.)

Look, my personal life is fine. I've always wanted to be a full-time SF writer (don't ask why, if I wanted to know I'd pay a shrink), and I live in a mostly-beautiful city (if you can ignore the neds and the eldritch wee bampots in black anoraks with rolling hairy eyeballs who slobber at you on street corners), with a soul-mate who's only slightly less sane than I am, and we're doing okay. But the rest of the world, from what I read about it in the papers, seems to be on a protracted bad trip. And it's getting me down, in the way that only close proximity to the truly bummed-out can achieve.

Reasons this century is broken:

  • A smirking chimp sticks one finger up at the public and says "you don't count", as he walks away with a constitutional coup and the keys to the last remaining superpower in his pocket.
  • A camera looking up at bright sky and tall buildings, as an airliner streaks in from one corner of the frame.
  • Cops clubbing journalists trying to monitor demonstrations against the Owners. We've been bought and sold like cattle and most people don't even realise there's a price tag stapled to their ear.
  • Oligopolists make a power grab while the watch geese sleep uneasily, their gizzards stuffed with stolen corn.
  • Space shuttle breaking up, magnesium-bright shards peeling away from the re-entry trail.

Can I have the real twenty-first century back now, please? I don't want this one; it stinks and bits keep falling off it.

posted at: 21:58 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fred not Ted

That's Fred Brooks, not Ted Brooks. (Hangs head in shame.)

posted at: 21:35 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 13 Jun 2003

Scribble, scribble ...

I am informed, via my agent, that my editor at Ace likes "The Iron Sunrise" enough that the cheque is in the post. And if all goes well, it should emerge in hardcover from Ace in July or August 2004, around the time that "Singularity Sky" (to which it is the sequel) hits the shelves in paperback.

It's the first sequel I've sold, the first time I've completed on a multi-book contract, and the first time I've sold more than one book to the same editor. If this goes on I could even get to make a habit of it ...

I'd like to add, lest this sound overly self-congratulatory, that I was extremely worried about this book to the point where, at one stage, I asked if I could have a couple of months extension on the deadline -- I didn't need it, as things turned out, and handed it in two weeks ahead of the due date, but it's a sign of how uncertain I was that I'd gotten it right. Part of my problem was that I wrote the first half of it in 1998 ... and when I picked it up again in 2002, that material was simply not up to scratch. Another part was that I had to lever open the world I'd invented for the first novel and make it bigger and more interestingly intricate, without contradicting myself. And the third part? I've discovered a horrible truth: writing novels is so similar (as a subjective experience, for me) to writing software that I tend to suffer from Second System Effect.

Second System Effect is a term coined by Ted Brooks of IBM back in the 1960's to explain why even-numbered versions of software universally suck. Ted was project lead on OS/360, IBM's first interactive timesharing mainframe operating system. The first release worked, did the job, and was generally cool (for its day). But the second release went off the rails. It came out overdue, bloated, bug-ridden, slow, and prone to all sorts of disastrous hiccups. Brooks analysed the failures of the project in his book, "The Mythical Man-Month", which I would quote at length here except that some kind soul has borrowed my copy and not returned it. His point isn't that hard to summarize, though. Bluntly: if you succeed at a large project, and undertake a sequel, the temptation is to load it with all the bells, whistles and curlicues that you didn't dare integrate into the first implementation because you weren't sure you could make it work. Second systems are typified by huge lists of new features, vague requirements for extra functionality that have complex implications that nobody understands until it's too late, and are often approached with a dangerous degree of complacency ("we've done this before so it much be easy").

Yes, "The Iron Sunrise" is a more complex and ambitious novel than "Singularity Sky". But it's still less complex than the gnarly nightmare I blithely set out to write! And I was halfway through writing it before the sirens and alarm bells began going off around me. It's a lesson I'm going to take a long time to forget -- less is more. (Especially as I'm back writing a sequel to yet another novel, for the rest of the year.)

posted at: 23:13 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 12 Jun 2003

Good news for the Empire

... But not so good for the rest of us. For starters, David Teather, writing in The Guardian, provides more details of the plans for an execution chamber at Guantanamo Bay. (This is an original report, not a reprint, and tends to undermine some protestations from elsewhere in the blogosphere that it's alarmist rumour.) Meanwhile, in Zagreb the US government is threatening to withhold aid from countries that don't exempt US troops from the International Criminal Court. (Why? Are they planning to commit war crimes?) There's been an almost complete media black-out of the police human rights abuses in Lausanne at the recent G8 summit, sugggesting the censorship machine is getting more sophisticated:

we were teargassed about 20 times in 2 hours. They started directing the canisters straight at people, firstly at their legs, then their stomachs, and then at people's heads. I saw several people directly hit in the stomach. As medics, we had only quite basic kit, but I saw a woman with a serious burn on her leg from a canister, so I went to sort out her injury. Four police came and baton charged me, and started beating me. She and a friend escaped in one direction, I, in another, with the police giving chase. I was clearly marked as a medic. We saw several medics, and two of the legal support lawyers being specifically targeted. A little later, I came across a man lying unconscious on the street. It was unclear whether he was even breathing. I tried to go to at least assess his condition, but the police wouldn't let me near him, or find out his name.

Meanwhile, a friend from New Zealand informs me:

The New Statesman (9 June 2003, p. 12) has a piece by Joel Bennathan talking about the new extradition treaty between the US and Britain. There is no longer a requirement for the government seeking extradition to produce evidence for scrutiny in the host country's courts.
As far as I can tell, this means UK residents can be arrested and shipped off based on *US* standards of evidence - which have been laughable in some cases recently.

(I need to find some substantiation for this last one.)

Sounds like the Empire is coming together nicely. And lest you think I'm ranting and raving a bit, you might want to bear in mind that it has only been 21 months since September 11th, 2001. In that time we've seen two goddamn wars, a global wave of authoritarian repression, blatant attempts to gerrymander the electoral system in the USA by means of electronic voting machines, and the installation of what is beginning to look to me like the infrastructure for a planetary-level police state.

Yes, it bloody could happen here. And while I sincerely hope I'm jumping at shadows, there seem to be an awful lot of them closing in these days.

posted at: 14:37 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Do not ...

... Look at this while you are drunk, sober, or otherwise alive and liable to suffer from a post-traumatic stress disorder afterwards. Vodka recommended -- strongly. (Warning: Flash required. So all you Linux purists are safe.)

[ Link ] [ Discuss ]

posted at: 00:23 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 10 Jun 2003

Workplace safety

really stupid fork lift truck trick

The US Navy doesn't just stage PR opportunities for Dubya and bomb the crap out of third world civilians; they also have time to do some socially useful stuff like run this jaw-dropping website devoted to workplace safety ...

Question of the day around the plant ... What do you do when your forklift won't go high enough? Well, the answer is simple enough ... you get another forklift, that's what.

Unfortunately, I don't think these guys quite understood the answer. Perhaps someone should have explained that "get another forklift" means find a forklift that will go high enough, not get two forklifts.

The mind, she boggles.

[ Link ][ Discuss dumb ]

posted at: 20:05 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 09 Jun 2003

I'm glad I don't live in this guy's universe

Worldwide, as a Frankenstein slave, usually at night, you go to nearby hospital or camouflaged miniature hospital van trucks, you strip naked, lay on the operating table, which slides into the sealed Computer God robot operating cabinet. Intravenous tubes are connected. The slimy vicious Jew doctor simply pushes the starting button, based upon your Computer God brain on the moon which records progress of your systematic butchery. Your butchery is continued exactly, systematically. The Computer God operating cabinet has many robot arms with electrical and laser beam knife robot arms with fly eye TV cameras watching your whole body. Every part of you is monitored, even from your Frankenstein controls. Synthetic blood, synthetic instant-sealing flesh and skin, even synthetic electrical heartbeat to keep you alive are some of the unbelievable Computer God instant plastic surgery secrets. You are the highest, most intelligent electrical machine in the Universe.

Mr Francis E. Dec, Equire, we salute you. Now get the hell away from me, you freak ...

[ Link ][ Discuss kooks ]

posted at: 21:08 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry


Cory Doctorow and I just finished the first draft of Unwirer, our latest collaborative story (for an upcoming alternate history anthology). It's going to have to be cut a bit (it's 11,000 words; our target length is 7000 words) to fit in the space we've got, but if you go have a look here you can find the whole first draft.

(PS: I've been unwell for the past few days, hence lack of posting.)

[ Link ][ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 18:20 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 04 Jun 2003

No comment

From The Guardian:

The US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz - who has already undermined Tony Blair's position over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by describing them as a "bureaucratic" excuse for war - has now gone further by claiming the real motive was that Iraq is "swimming" in oil.

The latest comments were made by Mr Wolfowitz in an address to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore at the weekend, and reported today by German newspapers Der Tagesspiegel and Die Welt.

Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

I wonder if Wolfowitz realises that he's quite possibly screwed Tony Blair -- the Bush junta's only real overseas ally -- by saying this. (Not to mention finally delivering confirmation of what most of us who supported the anti-war movement believed all along, and proof that the US administration was lying through its' teeth right from the start.) It continues:

Amid growing calls from all parties for a public inquiry, the foreign affairs select committee announced last night it would investigate claims that the UK government misled the country over its evidence of Iraq's WMD.

The move is a major setback for Tony Blair, who had hoped to contain any inquiry within the intelligence and security committee, which meets in secret and reports to the prime minister.

Let's not forget: Blair -- unlike Bush -- doesn't have tenure. If he loses the support of his own party, he could be forced out of office. And as he's staked his personal credibility on the WMD story ...

Link ][ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 19:49 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

We interrupt this shaggy-author story ...

To bring you a link to Mother Earth, Mother Board, possibly the best piece of journalism Wired ever published, and almost certainly the longest. As Neal Stephenson summarizes it:

In which the hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, acquainting himself with the customs and dialects of the exotic Manhole Villagers of Thailand, the U-Turn Tunnelers of the Nile Delta, the Cable Nomads of Lan tao Island, the Slack Control Wizards of Chelmsford, the Subterranean Ex-Telegraphers of Cornwall, and other previously unknown and unchronicled folk; also, biographical sketches of the two long-dead Supreme Ninja Hacker Mage Lords of global telecommunications, and other material pertaining to the business and technology of Undersea Fiber-Optic Cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest wire on Earth, which should not be without interest to the readers of Wired.

Indispensible reading, and fairly clearly an account of how the background research for Cryptonomicon got done.

[ Link ] [Discuss bandwidth ]

posted at: 11:00 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 03 Jun 2003

Road Trip (part one)

I promised I'd talk about what I did at the weekend, didn't I?

Kinlochbervie is the kind of place where there are more turds on the pavement than any big city you've ever visited -- but they're sheep droppings, not dog turds. It's a hamlet in the far north-west of Scotland, about as far north as you can get without falling into the Atlantic. The landscape looks as if someone dropped about a trillion tons of granite into the sea, then fertilized it with sheep droppings for a century or two. The roads are about six centimetres wide apart from the infrequent passing places, intended to allow you to pull over while the confused Belgian RV's thunder round you in a storm of gravel. The main industries seem to be doing incomprehensible things to oil rigs, and poaching. And, god help us, it's where Stef had booked Writer's Bloc to do a weekend of fiction readings.

(And then there was Brian May, of Queen, and the annular eclipse, and the mob with pitchforks. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Writer's Bloc is an irregular happening that sort of grew like a curious tumour off the otherwise-healthy body of a long-time writer's workshop in Edinburgh. A writer's workshop is a place where men and women who are insane enough to want to actually write fiction in public go to viciously criticize each other's shortcomings and expose their sins in public, sort of like an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter for the terminally word-drunk. Merely torturing and killing trees in order to torment the public's groaning bookshelves isn't enough, and periodically we grow hairs on the palms of our hands and are tormented by the urge to rant in public. Hence Writer's Bloc, which is what happens when about six to eight of us take over a smoky pub basement for an evening of readings -- usually humorous, often with a heavy admixture of horror, and sometimes science fiction.

Stef is a short, dark-haired guy who has something of the ferret nature about him. He grew up in the highlands and worked on a fishing boat for a while before suddenly turning into a webmaster for a major financial institution in the capital, in one of those curious right-angle career turns that authors are prone to (some would say, by way of researching their novels; as others would say, because all they really want to do is write, and paying attention to something as unimportant as sailing a fishing trawler through a north Atlantic gale with a crew of drunken psychopaths is fundamentally not very interesting).

Anyway; we were sitting around in the Holyrood Tavern one Saturday afternoon, after having finished ripping each other's work to shreds and ritually pissing on it, when Steff piped up: "hey, guys, why don't we do a reading up in Kinlochbervie?"

"Isn't that, like, where they burn outsiders in a huge wicker man ever summer solstice?"

"Naah, it's grossly overstated. Mostly they burn sheep instead these days, and that's only when they get bored working on the rigs. My dad runs an art gallery up there, and he says we can get plenty of folk in for a reading. 'Sides, there's an annular solar eclipse due, isn't there? We could go up and get stoned watching the eclipse and then read the stories."

Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. Which is why we shoe-horned ourselves into two cars last Friday morning and set out for the highlands, in an optimistic little literary convoy.

Kinlochbervie is about three hundred miles from Edinburgh, nestling up in the north-west corner of the isles. It's notoriously wet and windy, so we all packed waterproofs and boots, thus provoking the weather into throwing the kind of once-a-decade heat wave in which the entire Scottish highlands turn brown and curl up like a dehydrated slug or a marketing suit in the depths of the dot-com hangover. Three hundred miles might not sound too bad, but you have to remember that you run out of motorway at Aberdeen; from then on, it's cross-country across the highlands, where a major A-road has two lanes and a normal highway is about ten feet wide, plus passing places every quarter mile. And the poles. Poles every hundred yards or so, alongside the road, so the snow ploughs know where to point each December. When you're hurtling along single-track roads across precarious granite hillsides, at the mercy of oncoming German tourists in camper vans the size of Munich who don't know how to use the passing places, you don't make good time. It's about an eight hour journey, and that's pushing it.

The Scottish highlands don't belong in the UK -- they look like they ought to be part of Scandinavia. They're mostly made of granite, but the effects of the last ice age (when they were covered by an ice sheet a kilometre deep) are still evident; the terrain looks like a crumbly Lancashire cheese that's been scraped raw by God's own cheese grater, leaving crumbs of rock tens of metres in diameter littering the landscape ...

(to be continued)

posted at: 16:56 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry


I've been away in the Highlands for a long weekend, reading fiction to bemused villagers, twisting my ankle on beaches and being eaten alive by midges. I'll have a writeup shortly.

While I was gone, I took my Palm Pilot, loaded with wordsmith, a most excellent word processor hampered only by the pathetic state of the MacOS conversion conduit. In fact, the conduit's so crap that I wrote a front-end to their Linux command-line file converter; if you use wordsmith, you can find it here, and download the source. Like I said, it's just a quick hack that relies on a closed source (ack, spit) command line filter.

The good news: the fact that I felt the need to hack out a conversion tool should tell you something about how useful a Palm Tungsten C plus Wordsmith and a folding keyboard can be on the move.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 13:57 | 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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Fistful of Euros ]
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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) ]

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