Charlie's Diary

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Tue, 29 Jul 2003

News from the publishing trenches

While visiting London at the weekend, I spotted feral copies of Singularity Sky frolicking in their native habitat (the shelves of Forbidden Planet on Tottenham Court Road). Anyone planning on hunting this particular game will need to be fast and skillful; between successive encounters on Saturday and Monday one of the three shelf-squatters had vanished, presumably captured. 'E's a wily one is this critter, hard-backed and with an evil grip if you let 'im get 'is teeth in, but 'e's no match for an experienced crocodile hunter or critic, as indicated by Greg Feely's review in the Washington Post.

[ Link ] [ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 13:50 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

I already knew this ...

[Neck-]ties are a health hazard.

Quoth the Guardian:

Tests by eye specialists in New York suggest those who think a tighter tie might make them look smarter could be increasing their risk of glaucoma, a condition which, untreated, can lead to loss of sight.

Men with thick necks and white-collar professionals might also be in greater danger of damaging their vision, according to a study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.


The study's authors, led by Robert Ritch, of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, speculate that a tight tie constricts the jugular vein and raises blood pressure both in the vein and inside the eye.

Me, I don't wear a tie voluntarily. This extends to weddings, funerals, and other formal occasions. I'm one of the aforementioned males with thick necks, not to mention retinal trouble (currently quiescent), and I hate the things with a passion. I've always suspected they were bad for you, and I'm grateful for this confirmation.

[ Link ][ Original paper ] [ Discuss fashion victims ]

posted at: 13:30 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 24 Jul 2003

Thought for today

I won't be shedding any tears for Uday or Qusay -- a more unpleasant pair of mass-murdering scum would be hard to find. But I think it's time to ask one question: after the US occupation forces in Iraq find or kill Saddam, what will they do when the resistance continues?

(Clue: reading the press transcripts of interviews with ordinary Iraqis, a lot of people there have been afraid that if the US withdrew, the old regime would reappear. Without that fear, I predict that resistance will continue -- less ba'athist, more nationalist. And there won't be a head to lop off this particular hydra.)

I'm now going to make an effort to try to talk about happy fun things instead of things that make me want to chew the door frame and bay at the moon. Like, being on Scottish TV last week, or measuring how much weight the cats have lost lately (they're on a diet). I'm going to be spending a long weekend in London, starting tomorrow. And I think I'm going to take most of August off work, because I'm still feeling a bit burned out and after the past two years I figure I deserve it. (That's the problem with being self-employed and working from home -- you end up working seven days a week and never taking any vacations, because there's no boss around to keep reminding you that you ought to work harder.)

[ Discuss working too hard ]

posted at: 10:37 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 22 Jul 2003

Update: the T-word

I thought I was risking hyperbole in the blog entry below in alleging that the evidence against the Camp X-Ray detainees was either hearsay or extracted under duress. Turns out that an MI5 agent has confirmed my worst fears in front of a panel of judges sitting on a special immigration hearing: MI5 considers statements extracted under torture to be useful as evidence.

This isn't directly speaking about the Camp X-Ray cases, but it says something about how far the standards of evidence have slipped within the security services. (Hint: if you're wondering why I'm so worked up, try to imagine how long you would hold out under torture before saying anything at all to make your captors stop.) Can we trust anything these people say any more?

[ Link ][ Discuss Camp X-Ray trials ]

posted at: 12:32 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 21 Jul 2003

A national disgrace

Moazzem Begg and Feroz Abbasi are two British citizens. They're being held in Camp X-Ray at Guantanemo Bay. They were listed as being among the inmates to be tried before a military tribunal (without benefit of an independent defense lawyer, under extreme pressure to enter a 'guilty' plea or face an unfairly-imposed death penalty with no appeal possible).

Within the UK this treatment is seen as grossly unfair; it prompted newspaper editorials, and more than 200 MPs -- of all parties -- signed a motion calling on the government to do something about what was widely seen as an appalling miscarriage of justice waiting to happen.

Now we're getting to see exactly what "do something" means, when Tony Blair is nudged unwillingly into asking his pal George for a favour. And for once it reflects much worse on Blair than on Bush, who after all is only doing what he's always done:

Speaking to Sky television during his trip to the far east, Mr Blair hinted that President Bush had handed him intelligence warning of the dangers of returning the men to Britain, where they would almost certainly be set free.

"We have got to look at a whole range of considerations, not least our own national security," he said.

His remarks show he has been persuaded by US concern that Mr Begg and Mr Abbasi would be free to return to Pakistan if they were repatriated because legal experts do not believe they could be charged with any offence in Britain.

In his first public comment about the men since a White House dinner with Mr Bush on Thursday, Mr Blair indicated that he now supported a military trial as he called on people to give the US credit for the tribunal. "Any military commission that [the Americans] have is subject to rules that I think would be regarded as reasonably strict by anyone."

But he said the Americans would have to go some way to observing legal norms. "Obviously if we have our own nationals tried in that way we would want to make sure that every single aspect of this was consistent with the proper rules."

Britain has expressed "strong reservations" about the trial, which would be conducted by a military judge and prosecution. The men would be entitled to appoint their own defence team but the lawyers would have to pass a strict vetting procedure, for which the lawyers themselves would have to pay.

The prosecution would be able to present as evidence testimony gained under duress and unsworn statements, and the tribunal has the power to impose the death penalty.

Mr Blair's remarks indicate that President Bush has agreed to loosen the rules, but a normal criminal trial on the mainland, along the lines of the trial of the Californian supporter of the Taliban, John Walker Lindh, has been ruled out.

Okay, let's get this straight.

  • There is not enough evidence to convict these men of anything in a British court.
  • Evidence against them is of the level of hearsay, confessions given under duress (read: torture), unsworn statements, and assertions made by intelligence agencies (see also "Uranium, Nigeria").
  • In the case of one of the accused, he's a thirty-something teacher with four children who claims he was in rural Afghanistan helping set up a school; there's evidence that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

Yet despite all these non-trivial objections, Blair's main response after raising the matter with the Bush administration is to run up the white flag, roll over, and say "okay, military tribunals good, lock 'em up and throw away the keys." He seems to be making the calculation that the main energizing force behind UK objections to the tribunal hearings is the application of the death penalty, and that if he can get the US military to apply an alternative the objections will go away -- even if it means sentencing men to life in a hell-hole prison without benefit of a fair trial, appeals process, and without sufficient evidence to secure a conviction in court.

Something stinks.

And the source of the smell is the fact that Blair's cited reasons for not demanding a civil trial for them don't hold water.

According to the Guardian (and supported by this report in the Daily Telegraph), Blair cited two reasons. Firstly, that if they were returned to the UK for trial there would be a risk to national security, and secondly that there wouldn't be enough evidence to convict them and, if found not guilty, they might return to Afghanistan.

This beggars the imagination. To deal with the objections in reverse order: their return to Afghanistan is not a threat. There's a new government there. Assuming they are members of Al-Qaida, they're basically low-level grunts. Al-Qaida have low-level grunts coming out of their ears already, all over the Pakistani western provinces: two more aren't going to win the war on terrorism for the bad guys. If they return to Afghanistan they probably aren't going to do anything except get themselves shot by the US military or the Afghan army being bolted together by the Karzai government. Unless they're officers, or specialists in areas such as bomb-making or assassination, their release won't make any significant difference.

But there's another, far more important issue at stake here. Why does Blair insist that British national security is at stake? That's a fascinatingly ambiguous statement to make ...

The UK has just survived a thirty-year long terrorist insurgency. We have far more experience of running a court system under seige, with guerillas blowing things up and threatening to shoot witnesses and members of the jury, than the US authorities can probably imagine. There can't be any reason to believe that these terrible, terrible men (including a hardened schoolteacher) are going to acquire guns and bombs as if by magic and fight their way out of the courtroom. So what's the story? Is Blair afraid of attracting reprisals from Al Qaida? If so, he seems to have forgotten that, as he was telling us repeatedly last summer, the UK is already near the top of the target list. That doesn't hold water.

About the only way I can read this bizarre statement from the prime minister is that in a trial, evidence submitted by the security services would be exposed to public scrutiny and found to be deficient. In other words: the evidence against them was gathered from the same sort of intelligence sources that gave us uraniumgate and the death of Doctor Kelly by way of fallout, the government is afraid that this would come out in court, and consequently the accused will not be allowed their day in court because the proceedings might embarrass Tony Blair.

The scandal over Iraqi weapons intelligence is already threatening to destabilize the British government. A single tragic death emerging from the mess was enough to monopolize the press over the weekend and visibly rattle the Prime Minister. I suspect that the Guantanemo prisoners may be the key to an even bigger scandal with the potential to bring down the current leadership.

[ Link (Guardian) ] [ Another Link (Telegraph) ] [ Discuss Camp X-ray trials ]

posted at: 10:35 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 18 Jul 2003

Written out

I guess I should have seen this coming.

The weather's broken but I'm still feeling totally unlike working. Got a novella to re-write but trying to get to grips with it is like re-heating last night's left over takeaway: unappetizing and greasy. Also got a different novella to collaborate on, but it's really hard to generate enthusiasm. As for the original story I'm trying to write, don't get me started. For about the first time in two years I am feeling written out -- spectacularly so. The only thing holding me at the keyboard is residual guilt in the face of the load of work that is ever so slowly piling up as a backlog.

Luckily, nothing (except the collaboration, and I've got someone else to keep prodding me over that) is urgent. I should be able to take a week -- even a month -- off without problems, as long as I get down to work again afterwards. But the fear, what if I can't re-start when I come back to it, keeps nagging at me, keeping me sitting in front of the keyboard for an unproductive day of worrying when I ought to be relaxing, taking some time off to get my shit together. I have a secret curse: the ancient Jewish work ethic rides me like a goddamn vampire, sucking the pleasure out of lazing around.

Be it resolved: tomorrow I am going to go out and enjoy myself and go to a party in the evening and not write a word. Life's too short for self-inflicted guilt trips, and worrying that I won't be able to edit my way through the second draft of a novella if I take a week off once in a blue moon is, let's face it, bloody stupid.

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 21:57 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 16 Jul 2003

The heat, the heat

Gosh, it must be almost 25 degrees outside. Far too hot to write! Or do much of anything except lie in the shade, panting. I moved to Scotland because the English summers were too hot for me -- maybe I'm going to have to try Antarctica next.

(Meanwhile the work is mounting up, with edits to a big fat novella and a novel, translator's questions on another novel, two collaborations to write and a story that wants out, if only the weather would bloody cool down enough that I could think. Which brings me to that quintessentially British discussion forum ...)

[ Discuss The Weather ]

posted at: 19:11 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 13 Jul 2003

Some Words from our Sponsors

"But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship ... That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

-- Nazi Reichsmarshall Herman Goering

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself"

-- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Seems to me that it's way past time we tried to identify who is trying to make us afraid -- and how they stand to benefit.

[ Discuss Fear ]

posted at: 13:14 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 11 Jul 2003

In print

Got home half an hour ago to be welcomed by a fat envelope containing three hardcover copies of Singularity Sky. This is the culmination of endless hours (days, weeks, months ...) of work, a project I started in 1996 and which at times looked as if it would never get anywhere. My first novel, in hardcover, from a major publisher. Never mind the serialisation of another novel in a relatively obscure magazine, or the poorly produced short story collection from a small publishing house: this is the real thing. Wow.

I suppose at this point I ought to come out with some kind of platitude about it making the effort seem worthwhile, but I can't do that. The appearance of a book is mundane in the extreme ... what makes it feel so odd is the memories attached to the process of writing it and the work that came after along the weary road to getting it into print.

(As an aside for those of you who've ordered copies: they've been printed -- these aren't proofs, they're final copies -- and they were posted to me about two weeks ago, which means your own orders are almost certainly already in the pipeline.)

[ Discuss writing ]

posted at: 21:07 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 09 Jul 2003

Peripatetic blogger

Off for a couple of days (going to a meeting related to my other occupational hat, as a freelance computer journalist). Won't be blogging on the move -- I really need to install Movable Type and a moblogging system, but this server's a bit overloaded already and first I need to get a more powerful system, which costs money, and therefore isn't a spur-of-the-moment event.

posted at: 11:20 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 07 Jul 2003

It's that time of year again ...

When I wake up and say, "if this is Tuesday, I've got to install and review the latest release of Red Hat". Happy Joy.

I write a monthly magazine column about Linux and free software in general. I can't get away without doing these reviews at least once every eighteen months. And it's fascinating to see just how the field has evolved. I currently use Mac OS/X as my desktop environment on this here TiBook, but my CoLo server is on Linux, my text processing tool of choice is Vim, and there's a lot of commonality under the hood.

Quick impressions: very slick. The latest SuSE and Red Hat distros are easier to install than any Windows version I've seen, and no harder than Mac OS/X 10.2 (Jaguar). When you get to the turn-it-on experience you're confronted -- assuming you have reasonably standard hardware -- with something that looks not unlike Windows XP, albeit with a shitload of applications that don't all work quite the same cluttering up the iconic button that both KDE and GNOME seem to think we need in order to better ape the Windows "Start" experience. And the stuff just works. I could quite happily install SuSE 8.2 or Red Hat 9.0 on a laptop and, modulo full hardware support (don't get me started on IrDA or Bluetooth!) I'd never need to install anything more -- beyond a couple of Perl modules I need for my eccentric writing toolchain.

Bluntly, it's just not exciting any more. The revolution's over, Linux is the fastest growing OS environment, and barring any truly spectacular cock-ups -- which at this stage would have to be inflicted via corrupt legislative back-channels involving the WTO or WIPO treaty frameworks -- there is now a de facto free alternative to the Beast of Redmond.

It's good enough that if I didn't already have this really cute six month old Mac kit sitting to hand I'd be thinking about buying a PC laptop (say, one of the graded refurbished Toshibas that Morgan Computers are selling -- probably a Portege 4000) and wiping Win2K in order to install SuSE 8.2, on grounds of ease of use and general flexibility.

So why am I bored?

A big chunk of the reason I got into computer journalism in the first place was because I'm hooked on the shock of the new. That -- and the money, of course -- sucked me in. Computing was the fast, cheap, and out of control field of the 1980's and 1990's. Now it's gone corporate and stable, double percentile compound growth replaced by linear projections. The end is in sight for Moore's Law, and even if quantum processors show up it's hard to see how they can possibly have the revolutionary impact that the first PCs had.

Then there's the question of what have we done with these engines? It looked for an exciting couple of years as if the internet was going to eat the political infrastructure of the west. Instead it's been coopted into the new television, policed by net nannies and propagated by media corporations. Far from raising the consciousness of the masses, the masses dumbed down the consciousness of the net. The big dumb, that's what we've created. An industry that trucks out bits of plastic and metal with built-in obsolescence raised to a level far beyond anything the 50's auto industry could imagine. Software produced by corporations to line their pockets at the expense of consumers, promising that each upgrade will bring relief from the copious bugs inflicted by the last. Spam, spam, more spam, and viruses.

Feh. I need a new hobby.

(On Wednesday I have to head off to Shopperlabs for an annual get-together. Guess I'll see if there's anything new to whet my appetite with there. But I'm not optimistic. The barriers to entry in the field have risen high enough that they're nearly insurmountable to the fascinating eccentrics who made the industry what it is -- and by the same token, an industry dominated by suits with powerpoint presentations is unlikely to produce anything interesting.)

[ Discuss Free Software ]

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

Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Transmitting from over the edge ...

I'm back from Amsterdam, and somewhat refreshed. So what do I do next but check out the truth about Black Helicopters website?

weird shit "Black Helicopters (BH) are not just helicopters with a black paint-job as you may have been told. They are, in fact, autonomous agents -- lifeforms -- created by New World Order agencies via nanobiotechnology. Their purpose is to spy on the activities of Americans in order to gather tactical information and discover "subversives" who are not bowing to the will of the Liberati's UN-backed Federal Government. Furthermore, when the NWO Invasion takes place in the not-to-distant future, they will round-up citizens for internment in concentration camps or carry out the elimination of the more vocally anti-Liberati ..."

(I'd be more inclined to believe this if it was a bit less lucid.)

Meanwhile, if you were wondering where the woman with the glass legs (down the page) came in, it turns out to be a still from part 3 of the Cremaster Cycle of short, very very weird art films by Matthew Barney, which seem (I haven't seen them yet) to be like unto the weirder works of Peter Greenaway (fan site -- PG has no web site of his own). Her name's Aimee Mullins, she's a model and paralympics record holder, and she doesn't seem to have a web site either. (Thanks to Allan H. for the tip-off.)

Finally, for a while now I've been drooling after various Tumi bags, but been put off by the price (best described as Extreme Luggage for the fiscally over-endowed). It turns out that, while the luggage shop in Schiphol Airport's shopping mall charges the usual insane prices (EUR 850 for a roller-equipped mobile office isn't their most expensive model), the luggage shop in the departure area -- once you clear immigration and baggage check -- sells the same stuff at close to a 50% discount. Which is how I ended up with a 20'' wheeled backback without selling my left kidney to pay the deposit on the mortgage on my soul.

[ Link ] [ Another link ] [ A Link to unfeasibly expensive luggage ]

posted at: 00:41 | path: /weird | 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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Buy my books: (FAQ)

Missile Gap
Via Subterranean Press (US HC -- due Jan, 2007)

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)

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

The Hidden Family
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The Family Trade
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Iron Sunrise
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The Atrocity Archives
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Singularity Sky
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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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