Charlie's Diary

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Thu, 29 Sep 2005


I have just vetted the copy edits for "The Clan Corporate", the next book in the Merchant Princes series. Why is it that, given a 95 page batch of pages to scan, my HP flatbed scanner will work perfectly until page 92, then gulp down the last three pages and jam, losing all memory of the preceding pages in the process?

No, don't answer that.

I'm also on the final read-through of "The Jennifer Morgue", before I had the manuscript in. That'll leave next week clear for getting my accounts filed and writing the afterword to TJM, at which point I'll have a clear desk, right before I head off to Octocon in Maynooth.

A clear desk -- there's something unnatural about it. I'll have finished everything I've currently got on my to-do list, and be into a brief period of aimless indirection, before I have to start the next book. It feels weird. Usually there's one overlapping job or another. (Probably there'll be an overlapping job: I've got a feeling Ace are likely to drop the hammer on me in the form of the copy edits to "Glasshouse" the day before I head off to Ireland. But it hasn't happened ... yet.)

Anyway, that's why I've been quiet lately: I'm busy trying to nail down a bunch of loose work-related ends in time to take some time off before I dive back into the job.

[Discuss Writing (2)]

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

Thu, 22 Sep 2005

Whoops ...

(Been quiet recently due to finishing a novel about six weeks late and having to start work on another right away ...)

So, Hurricane Rita looks likely to be a full category 5 storm by the time it makes landfall. And even if it misses Galveston (which was last hit by a hurricane in 1900 -- a disaster that was at least as bad, and quite possibly worse, than last month's horrors in New Orleans), it's heading for the thickest mass of oil refineries on the Gulf coast. Three of the five largest refineries in the US are square in the path of the hurricane, and the area accounts for 26% of US oil processing capability.

To make matters worse, this is happening relatively late in the season -- late September -- as demand for winter heating oil is about to surge. (Living here in the UK, I used to find it hard to appreciate just how cold it gets in winter in most of the United States. Fact is, the environs of Boston invariably get much colder, and for longer, than the Scottish highlands -- the coldest part of the UK -- despite being more than a thousand nautical miles south. That's the effect of the North Atlantic circulation on the UK.)

The storm hasn't made landfall yet, and it's already having international political repercussions.

Oil futures are already up, as are crude futures, nearing their post-Katrina peak even before Rita has made landfall. OPEC is increasing its output by up to 2 million barrels/day for three months, starting in October -- a 3% increase on its normal daily ceiling of 28 million barrels/day. But I'm unsure what effect this is going to have if a large chunk of the USA's refinery capacity is taken out by a storm. Immediately after Katrina, the US bought up a large quantity of refined gasoline on the Rotterdam market, triggering a spike in the price of oil worldwide, and a sharp spike in the cost of fuel in the UK that triggered protests (which were only prevented from causing serious shortages by immediate government and police action -- the government is paranoid about avoiding a re-run of the September 2000 fuel protests). But if the refineries and port facilities where the tankers can unload their fuel are damaged, is there any reason to buy up tanker-loads abroad?

What I am concerned about is the likely long-term economic impact of this hurricane. (Thankfully, this time there are signs of a real evacuation plan being implemented properly, so the prompt death toll will almost certainly be orders of magnitude lower.) The USA is much more oil-dependent than many other developed nations, but it's a major integral part of the global economy and if the cost of repairing the damage from Rita is comparable to that of Katrina -- even if it's only a tenth as great -- it's going to have a huge impact eventually.

We're still only just seeing the first economic signs of the effect of Katrina (other than the immediate oil supply disruption). The Fed has just upped the base rate by 0.25% -- but is that enough? They're stuck between a housing bubble where a single percentage point can batter millions of home-owners into bankruptcy -- home-owners whose debt driven spending drives the consumer side of the economy -- and the need to make credit easier for businesses trying to pick up the pieces after the storm (and consequent spike in their transport costs). This does not strike me as a good place to be, even before you take into account the backing of the current US administration for predatory disaster capitalism as an engine of "wealth creation" (at least, for their cronies at Halliburton and Brown and Root). The requirements of running a successful disaster capitalism economy seem to be at odds with those of a successful consumer economy, and in the wake of Rita I'm (cynically) putting my money on the disaster capitalists winning, as they appear to have won in New Orleans.

[Discuss Katrina]

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

Fri, 09 Sep 2005

Sleuthing the Sneaky Typo

It has come to my attention that Penguin (in their Berkley imprint) are publishing "The Atrocity Archives" on January 3rd. And they've finally got proofs.

If you own the Golden Gryphon edition now is your chance to show off your eagle eyes! If you stubbed your toes on any tyops (sic), just post on the discussion thread below (including if possible a page number and some context) to get your very own grovelling apology and promise that the forthcoming trade paperback will be empty of such errata.

[Got typos? Click here!]

posted at: 14:27 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 08 Sep 2005

Defend your rights

While I've been moping around worrying about the country going to hell in a handbasket as our civil rights are eroded by a government that appears to be run by control freaks, some good folks have been trying to do something about it.

A couple of months ago, Danny O'Brien set up a pledge (via Pledgebank, an online tool intended to make it easier to put your money where your mouth is, secure in the knowledge that you're merely one of a whole bunch of people to be doing so) to establish a campaigning organization to protect our civil liberties online.

(If you wonder why this is necessary, I'd like to refer you to Home Secretary Charles Clarke's recent statements that Europe must trade civil liberties for security -- alarmist statements made in support of a British government initiative to institute universal communications monitoring throughout the EU. This is typical of the sort of wrong-headed rhetoric that the government -- who have so far created one new crime for every day they've sat in Parliament since winning the election in 1997 -- uses to muddy the waters around their own inability to use their existing and not-inconsiderable powers: "trust us, the other guys are a lot worse" is a fatuous excuse for tearing down the constitutional freedoms that define our entire way of life. But I digress.)

Anyway, the pledge drive is now 85% of the way to establishing the number necessary to set up ORG, the Open Rights Group, including hiring office space and the core administrative staff necessary to get a new campaigning organization off the ground. Initially envisaged as a British counterpart to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ORG is coming into existence in much more fraught times than the heady internet boom days of the early 90s; and the task ahead of it is much more daunting, as their preliminary statement explains:

The Open Rights Group is committed to protecting your digital rights, to fighting bad legislation both in the UK and Europe, and to fostering a grassroots community of volunteers dedicated to campaigning on digital rights issues.
Your civil and human rights are being eroded in the digital realm. Government, big business and industry bodies are taking liberties with your digital liberties, actions they could never get away with in the "real" world.
Our goals are:
  • to raise awareness within the media of digital rights abuses
  • to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
  • to campaign to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
  • to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
  • to nurture and assist a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts
Your right to privacy is being eroded by the government's ill-conceived ID card scheme, by biometric passports and the threat of vehicle tracking systems. Your right to free speech and freedom to use digital media is under threat from corporations who believe that 'fair use' of copyrighted works should exist only at their sufferance. Your right to private life and correspondence is under threat from a proposed European directive to log traffic and geographical data for every call you make, every SMS you send, every email you write, every website you visit.
It is essential in this time of international tension and uncertainty that we vigourously defend our digital civil liberties, ensuring that the our hard-won freedoms are not taken away simply because they've moved to the digital world.

I'd like to add that in my opinion, this isn't about being "soft on terrorism" (although that's inevitably how the Home Office will try to paint us) -- rather, it's about making sure that in their zeal to defend us against terrorism, the government doesn't end up constructing a police state. Terrorism is undeniably bad, but a stampede towards repression will usher in a new regime that is disastrously, monstrously, worse.

If you live in the UK and you agree that seeing your country incrementally turned into a police surveillance society would be bad, I urge you to sign the pledge.

[Link] [Discuss Civil Rights]

posted at: 13:39 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 01 Sep 2005

The real end of the 20th century?

From The Guardian:

"It is now appropriate to talk of a major energy crisis after Hurricane Katrina pushed US energy markets beyond the edge," Barclays Capital said in a report.
The Mississippi River basin is home to a tenth of the country's oil refineries, churning out 1.8m barrels a day, as well as to ports that handle large imports of grain and fruits and warehouses that stock a quarter of US coffee supply.
Barclays Capital estimates that 20m-40m barrels of refined oil could have been lost, but no one has been able to penetrate the flood waters to assess the pipelines. If the damage is worse than expected, it could push crude oil prices to beyond the 1980s oil spikes from the Iranian revolution.

Oil is a fungible commodity. The price spike triggered by Hurricane Katrina is going to propagate through the oil markets world-wide over the next few days. Hopefully the trailed release of the US strategic oil reserves will dampen it down: but the question that needs to be asked is, can we increase capacity anywhere else? If the supply of oil can be increased we might be able to dodge the bullet, but if, as some sources suggest the big Saudi fields have passed their peak, we might end up looking back and seeing Katrina as the incident that finally toppled the global economy into a peak oil crisis -- the true end of the 20th century that began when, in Lord Curzon's words, the western allies of the first world war "sailed to victory on a wave of oil".

[Discuss Katrina]

posted at: 17:21 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Logistics watch

Reading between the lines of the Washington Post, the effects of Hurricane Katrina seem to be propagating down the supply chain. 10% of the United States' oil refinery capacity is offline. 5% of the world's oil supply is pumped from the Gulf of Mexico; there are reports that as many as 1 in 13 oil rigs there might have come through the storm without sustaining critical damage.

It takes time for a shortage to make itself felt, but filling station owners are already calling the situation a crisis and airport managers are worrying about resupply; one of the side-effects of the just-in-time logistics chain that has become the model of choice for efficient businesses over the past two decades is that there's no surplus capacity, no reserves that can be tapped to deal with a shortage.

Average petrol prices in the USA are now just under US $3/US gallon, or in real terms almost 50% of the UK retail price. however, Localized price spikes in the South have driven prices as high as $6/gallon in Georgia. Whether this is opportunistic gouging or a reflection of a real supply shortage remains to be seen, but if it's the latter the US economy is in for a very bumpy ride over the next month or two.

[Discuss Katrina]

posted at: 16:40 | path: /wartime | 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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Missile Gap
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The Jennifer Morgue
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The Clan Corporate
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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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