Charlie's Diary

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Sat, 29 Apr 2006

Slow News Day

I'm back home from a trip down to London, for the Clarke award — not the award for British achievements in space, but the similarly-named award for the best SF novel published in Britain in 2005 —, which was won this year by Geoff Ryman for Air. Congratulations to Geoff, who's one of the best writers in the field and whose low profile is little short of scandalous.

While I was away from home, about a third of a million people were born; a slightly smaller number died; the government was hit by a series of scandals, some of which are clearly serious enough to demand the resignation of senior cabinet ministers; and the price of light sweet crude blew past US $70 a barrel and nearly peaked at $75. (This latter news item would be more alarming if the dollar had not weakened against the Euro and Sterling at the same time, suggesting that the spike in oil prices might have more to do with the dollar's weakness than with the black gold suddenly turning scarce.) Mexico decriminalized posession of small quantities of cannabis, cocaine and diamorphine (that's heroin, to you) for personal use. New Scientist ran an article suggesting that yet another physical constant — the ratio of the mass of the proton to the mass of the electron — is actually a variable (a couple of other inconstant constants are already under investigation this decade). Intel announced that by 2010 they expect to be working with nanolithography on the 32 nanometre scale in their consumer microprocessors — an if-this-goes-on straight line extrapolation would put us firmly in the Drexler-style top-down nanotechnology scale by 2016 to 2019 (although that's contingent on a whole bucketload of other things).

While I was in London I spent about £50 on a gadget. Like all too many modern gadgets it's basically a silvery plastic box with an aerial socket and a couple of LEDs, and it's made in Taiwan. This one still requires a bit of DIY assembly on the part of the owner, but nothing much more complex than replacing a light bulb. You need to buy a laptop-size hard disk drive and install it in the box, then add electricity. (Not too much of the latter, if you want to avoid letting the magic smoke out.) The box contains an embedded system-on-chip computer running Linux, and it's about as powerful as my 1996-era desktop workstation. It's got a WiFi base station and it basically turns the hard disk into a wireless-aware file server, accessible to any computer that's got the password and a wireless network connection. We have a technical term for this: Network Attached Storage. (Prepend "wireless" to taste.) It used to cost thousands of pounds, oh, five years ago. Now it's a cheap-ass gizmo you take with you so that you can stream digitized movies to your personal media player. Doubtless Bruce Sterling would have something pithy to say about it's Spime-worthiness, but for now I'm almost at a loss to describe what it means to me — it's vastly significant and simultaneously completely meaningless. I must be growing old, or something.

Future shock is everywhere.

Meanwhile, I'm back at work. I've just checked the galleys of "Missile Gap" (a novella, forthcoming as a limited edition hardback from Subterranean Press), and begun signing my way through a twenty centimetre high stack of signing sheets for the leatherbound limited edition of "Glasshouse" (due July-ish). I don't normally use a pen to write anything longer than an address on an envelope, so signing my way through a thousand sheets is time consuming, to say the least. And beyond that, there's the problem of how to write "Halting State".

I started off writing "Halting State" on a mobile phone. All right, so the phone in question was an Orange SPV M5000. (VGA screen. Pocket Word. WiFi. External keyboard and mouse. 4Gb storage card. We're talking 1997 laptops here, aren't we?) This seemed like the way to go — the M5000 is an early forerunner of the spime-o-sphere, a machine that could only be explained via infodump to a resident of the quaint pre-technological era of, say, 1990. But the M5000 has its problems. Notably, just carting a static dump of WikiPedia around on my phone is no longer enough for my research needs. Somewhere along the line, I've turned into a Google junkie. "Halting State" is a very near future novel (a decade is just about within the horizon for tech prognostication and social change) so doing research online is a necessity. As is some kind of technology for maintaining my own mini-wikipedia of ideas, automatically generating cross-linkages, carrying out in-depth web searches and building conceptual maps, and indexing everything.

Interestingly, one company, Devon Technologies, appear to produce a couple of products that fit my needs precisely: DEVONAgent, a web search agent that does the boring data reduction job on the output from the main search engines and produces a digest of the results, and DEVONThink Pro, which is somewhat hard to describe but has features of a free text database, outline processor, web browser, word processor, and concordance generator. You can dump huge volumes of text (or web searches) into a DEVONThink database, then tell it to identify associations and connections between documents and classify everything. Or you can write notes and rapidly turn them into a wiki (which is exportable to static HTML if you need to make it available to other people). It can digest the text out of PDFs and import Word and RTF files or mailboxes — if it had a way to talk to a scanner I'd be declaring the arrival of the paperless office at this point.

For my purposes, these tools look like a promising way of organizing my research and notes on "Halting State". In particular, being able to hyperlink from a name in the text of the manuscript to my notes on the character (and thence to any other characters they have strong opinions about) is coming in handy for spotting inconsistencies. It's the sort of technique that only becomes viable when we've got masses of computing power to throw at the problem of writing books — if this was a technical manual rather than a novel I'd be calling it a power tool for organizing research. But for now, let's just say that while bits of the novel will continue to be jotted down on a mobile phone, the heavy legwork of integrating everything is going to be left to my AI-derived research assistant.

[Discuss Writing (3)]

posted at: 20:50 | path: /writing | 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
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
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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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