Charlie's Diary

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Wed, 21 Dec 2005

Not much to say ...

I've been quiet recently because I don't have much to say. (You want me to comment on politics? Hah. Iraq continues to go to hell in a handbasket, the Dead Pool on Tony Blair's career remains open, and oil is going to stay expensive for the forseeable future. Meanwhile, the Party has generously agreed to increase our chocolate ration from 25 grams per month to 22 grams ...)

I've mostly been puttering around, failing to effectively get to grips with book #4 in "Merchant Princes" (which, if I pull my finger out, might reach the 33% point by Christmas Day -- when I'd originally intended to have finished the first draft), ripping the hitherto-unripped half of my CD collection into iTunes (Chainsaw Kittens? Glands of External Secretion? Various Cyberdog compilations? Hello? Anybody listening?), and visiting family members.

On the professional side: "Singularity Sky" is, I believe, now available in French translation, and "The Hidden Family" is due to follow "The Family Trade" over there. "Accelerando" is getting a German translation, while "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise" have sold to Japan. The trade paperback of "The Atrocity Archives" is now available from Ace, and very handsome it looks, too.

I can now safely admit to having sold another five novels -- I'm due to deliver three more volumes of "Merchant Princes" to Tor, at a rate of one per year, and two SF novels to Ace (again, one per year: they're going to be a near-future SF thriller, and a sequel to "Iron Sunrise"). In addition, there may be a short story collection appearing some time in 2008. Those of you who read my words printed on the corpses of brutally murdered trees will be pleased to know that I expect to continue contributing to deforestation and global warming for at least the next couple of years.

Finally, I want you to know that I hate Christmas.

I'm not entirely sure why I hate Christmas -- it's been a feature of my life for as long as I can remember -- but there's something about the mixture of sanctimonious blather about goodwill to all hominids, frenzied bulemic consumption, smug togetherness, and misplaced bonhomie that gets on my nerves like fingernails scraping down an old slate blackboard. (And I really hate the music that goes with Christmas, from Victorian carrols on up to the crass commercialism of more recent chart-toppers.)

To the extent that people use Christmas as a time to give donations to childrens' charities, do the peace on earth and goodwill to all shuffle, and try to be nice ... I've got to ask, why confine it to this particular time of year? If you believe such sentiments are apposite, then there's another 364 days that can benefit from them. And if not, then isn't it all a bit hypocritical? (I'm really scratching my head over this one: thing is, Christmas isn't part of my cultural baggage -- as far as I know, none of my ancestors have ever been Christian -- so I'm fumbling in the dark here.)

But what I really hate most is the crassly exploitative commercialization of the holiday season. It's not enough to hole up at home and over-eat while watching crap suitable-for-the-entire-family movies on TV, but we're supposedly required to buy expensive greeting cards and mail them to near-total strangers (thus, lining the pockets of the Post Office and the likes of Hallmark), buy lots of glittery decorations and contribute to deforestation (which I'm already a past master at), and somehow spend maybe 20% of our annual surplus income in the space of about three weeks. Excuse me, Mr Retailer? If you want to stick your hand in my wallet, would you mind maybe trying to deliver some value for money, rather than the insanely tacky gift-wrapped rubbish that's inflicted on us every autumn?

Anyway. It has been my habit over the past few years to spend the back end of December quietly working on a book. And I'm not going to veer from that pattern this month. Just don't expect much in the way of blogging while I'm getting on with it.

Merry Grinchmas!

[Discuss Grinchmas]

posted at: 17:26 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 27 Oct 2005

And enough of that ...

I'm going to drop the biometrics topic for a while. (Stand by for something completely different.)

In the meantime, I'd just like to add that the uncorrected proofs of the Ace trade paperback of "The Atrocity Archives" arrived today, and they look great! It's officially on sale as of January 3rd, and I'll add a "buy it now" link shortly.

posted at: 14:06 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 22 Jul 2005

Terrorism redux

Here's what the London Underground currently looks like (thanks, Feorag!):


posted at: 01:14 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 25 May 2005

Ian McDonald has a blog


If you don't know who Ian is, you have a lot of reading to do. That is all.

posted at: 16:10 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 18 Jan 2005


So I woke up today feeling a bit under the weather. (Snow, with added sleet and gusts of wind outside the windows.) Nasty taste in mouth, fuzziness around the edges, lack of motivation. I put the page proofs in the post (hurrah!) and decided I'd resume my interrupted week of doing nothing in particular.

There's a fine art to doing nothing in particular. There's only so much reading of books that I can do, and I'd already exceeded this week's quota of staring at a non-interactive screen by Sunday night (thanks to a video evening -- theme: 007, content: "Diamonds are Forever" and "Licence To Kill"), which leaves magazines, computer games, and poking around the web. The latter rapidly turns onerous as I can't stumble across a fire hydrant spraying opinions without feeling the need to adorn it with my own scented -- ahem, so in an attempt not to do that I decided to go back to Neverwinter Nights.

It is at this point that the annoyance made itself known.

Headphones. They breed in dark corners, don't they? For my iPod, I use a pair of rather nice Sony MDR-NC11 noise-cancelling earbuds. But it's a pain to disentangle them from the 'pod and add them to the Mac, so I went in search of another pair I could leave permanently on my desktop.

Now, I know for a fact that there are three pairs of decent enclosed headphones in this flat. One of them is a pair of Sony professional ones and they're plugged into Feorag's G4, the better to save me from aggravation if, in a fit of insomnia, she should decide to get up and play Sim City at four in the morning. So they're off-limits.

The other pairs are a set of perfectly decent Koss folding headphones and some budget Sennheisers. Lo, as soon as I want them both pairs vanish into the headphone equivalent of a Japanese love hotel. Even worse, all the in-ear phones also go to the mattresses. It is beyond a joke. Normally I can't turn round in this place without tripping over a stray headphone lead, but as soon as I actually want a pair they all vanish!

I go online to see if the nice cheap Koss headphones are as cheap as I remember. Turns out they're priceless -- Koss don't make them any more, dammit. (To add insult to injury, I missed the chance to snap up a pair when Richer Sounds were remaindering them six months ago.)

I normally view headphones as a sort of consumable item, a bit like toner catridges, with the exception of the MDR-NC11s. (They definitely don't fall in the category of "consumable" unless you're Bill Gates, and indeed I whimper faintly as I recall what I paid for them: I'm not about to start yanking them back and forth between machines. They can stay with the iPod and their padded bag.) But as soon as I start poking around online in a desultory manner, wondering if I should replace the Koss headphones with something new, all the cheap headphones scamper away and hide, leaving me to be drawn unerringly to web pages describing the Etymotic ER6i. This is a Bad Thing. Headphones that come with a toolkit and a range of replacement parts are officially Scary, even before you get to the frequency response graphs. All I want to do is play a computer game in peace: I'm not looking for an audiophile grade shopping accident!

The worst of it is, I know that I won't find my headphones until I buy a new pair. Then they'll surface ... two minutes too late to cancel the online order.

[Discuss hifi]

posted at: 16:31 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 10 Jan 2005

Shop for Scandal

I've been quiet recently because I've just finished a novel and, being somewhat tired, have been resting up. I've also been a bit too angry to write my next blog entry, and consequently decided to give myself a few days to cool off and think about it before firing up the text editor.

Our story starts either eleven years ago, or last Wednesday, depending which end you want to hear it from. Eleven years ago, a young and enthusiastic fellow called Joe applied for (and got) a job with Waterstones, a major bookshop chain, at one of their main stores in Edinburgh. Last Wednesday Joe was sacked for alleged gross misconduct and bringing the company into disrepute. His offense, it appears, was to have a weblog, maintained in his own time and at his own expense, from home.

From the disclaimer on, it's clearly a let-your-hair-down, blow-off-steam affair. "The Woolamaloo Gazette is a satirical newspaper I first started on email way back in 1992. It allows me to vent steam on stories which are bugging me or amusing me and hopefully make people think at the same time. Satire is the best defence in any democracy. Items in the old Woolamaloo Gazette style newpaper articles will be obvious from the bold-face banner headline. Anything else is just my ramblings, mumblings or rants." And ramble, mumble, and generally rant is a fair description of what Joe did -- advisedly or inadvisedly -- for about twelve to thirteen years, without any trouble until now.

It seems that when push came to shove, this wasn't enough of a disclaimer to protect Joe from being fired for gross misconduct and bringing the company into disrepute. Rambling, mumbling, or ranting outside the workplace is now, it would appear, a sacking offense.

A couple of circumstances are worth bearing in mind.

For starters, Joe is an extremely knowledgable specialist bookseller. He's an SF fan. Not just an SF fan, but a reasonably personable bookselling SF fan with an encyclopaedic grasp of the field and an enthusiasm for it that was infectious -- it was difficult to walk into that shop and walk out again without having spent far too much money. His buying recommendations spread throughout the company (and outside it, as a regular reviewer writing for the online SF lit crit field), to an extent such that one editor of my acquaintance knew him by name as one of the key people to target if you wanted a new SF book launch in the UK to go down well. People trusted his opinions, people inside his company. The combination of specialist knowledge with enthusiasm isn't something you can buy: if you're running a business you just have to hope you can grab it when you see it. For a fellow occupying a relatively humble niche -- no manager, he -- Joe was disproportionately influential.

For seconds ... over the past few years Waterstones has plotted a precarious path through the turbulent waters of corporate retail. Most recently, the company was taken over by HMV, another large retail media chain. About six to eight months ago a new manager arrived at Joe's branch, and reading between the lines it appears that there was an immediate negative reaction: perhaps calling it a clash of corporate cultures wouldn't be excessive. Joe was banished from the front desk to the stock room, a grubby windowless basement from which he had no exposure to customers. The previously thriving program of author readings and signings mysteriously vanished. Shelf space devoted to SF and fantasy -- Joe's speciality -- receded into the shadowy depths of the store and shortened, shedding titles and variety (which, for a genre where sales are largely midlist driven and readers are browsers, is the kiss of death). And finally, Joe was accused of gross misconduct by his manager on the basis of a trawl through his online journal.

Bluntly: it appears that someone in the company's management (I suspect the store manager) decided that the face didn't fit. In so doing, they set up a kangaroo court using any evidence they could find -- and Joe's weblog came to hand. As with most journals where the author thinks they have a sympathetic audience, an unsympathetic audience can find copious quantities of ammunition. Waterstones has no company policy on employee weblogs. One would think that a bookshop might not want to discourage employees from writing (in their own time), but one would be wrong when a case for dismissal is being whipped up out of nothing in particular. Joe offered repeatedly to rectify any specifics which might have unintentionally caused offense, and was ignored. It seems that the maximum disciplinary response was required for grumbles written two years earlier: just as it would be for an airline pilot found stinking drunk at the controls, or an employee found stealing from the company.

How to explain the unwisdom of this decision ...?

Firstly, Waterstones have just lost one of their two most knowledgable employees in a field that generates a reasonable amount of their revenue. So purely from a business point of view, this was a dumb decision.

Secondly, they're booksellers: booksellers should not be in the censorship business. It makes them look stupid, and obsessively self-important, and a little bit malignant on the side.

Thirdly, I am led to believe that proceedings before an industrial tribunal are likely to commence once the official letter of dismissal arrives. If Waterstones win such proceedings, they'll have effectively established that employers can exercise prior restraint on anything their employees care to publish outside of their job. I don't suppose I need to explain why I think this would be a Bad Thing. On the other hand, if Waterstones lose, they'll have established that some of their management is willing enough to contrive baseless allegations in order to sack employees. (I have difficulty imagining a more efficient impediment to recruiting quality staff in future ...)

This is a lose/lose situation for Waterstones, and I sincerely hope that somebody at head office is awake enough to realize that they don't need the self-generated adverse publicity. I would suggest an equitable solution would involve reinstating Joe to an equivalent post at one of their other branches (to minimize friction), and adding a policy on staff weblogs to their terms of employment so that similar incidents can't happen in future.

More urgently, I'd point to this as a warning for anyone who isn't self-employed and who writes a weblog: watch out. Indeed, it's a warning to anyone who isn't self-employed and who wants to write in their own time. Corporate reach is threatening to deprive you of the right to self-expression. Censorship is no prettier when it's exercised by corporate fiat instead of government bureaucrat: I don't want to paint Joe as some kind of martyr to a civil rights campaign, but that is exactly what Waterstones have unwittingly made of him by their disproportionate response.

[Discuss corporate stupidity]

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

Fri, 31 Dec 2004

Happy Hogmanay!

And another draft bites the dust (complete at a sniffle under 125,000 words). Which means I'm off to see the usual year-end fireworks, and then to the pub just in time for Hogmanay. And I'm not going to start work on another novel for at least a week.

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 21:42 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 28 Dec 2004

Tsunami news

For news and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer work, the best source is The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami weblog, an impromptu short-notice clearinghouse. Spread it around.

(Shameless googlebombing in a good cause.)

posted at: 17:57 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 24 Dec 2004

Merry Newtonmass

Today (well, in about fifty minutes) is the anniversary of the birth of our great teacher, Sir Isaac Newton. Speaking as a scion of the enlightenment, and a non-Christian to boot, I find that a perfectly acceptable excuse for celebration. So, happy Newtonmass, everyone!

I will, of course, celebrate in standard mode by continuing to work. I'm self-employed, in a job where I can basically take a vacation any time I feel like it (read: and can manage the insecurity of not working). This kind of devalues the idea of public holidays. So for the past couple of years I've been in the habit of always making sure I do some work over December 25th, and this year is no different. I just passed 108,000 words on GLASSHOUSE, and it should be wrapped up no later than 120,000 words. At this rate, I should finish it just before Hogmanay.

Have a good time, and try not to over-indulge!

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 23:10 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 10 Dec 2004

The horror, the horror ...

I'm off to visit relatives tomorrow, back Monday night. GLASSHOUSE is progressing slowly, but progressing.

Meanwhile, I thought I'd leave you with a parting shot, dredged from the depths of the New York Post by way of various places in the blogosphere: Oliver Stone is threatening to make a new movie. The NYP original article is hard to locate, but I feel this extract from King of Zembia's blog needs reposting by way of underscoring the flee for the hills message:

From Page Six of the NY Post, courtesy of Zemblan patriot J.D.:

"Oliver Stone plans to explore the possibility of an affair between former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan in his next movie. Stone has apparently always been enamored of Baroness Thatcher, now 79, and wants to cast Meryl Streep in the role in an upcoming biopic, reports the London Sun. An insider told the paper Stone decided to turn his lens on a famous woman after his string of movies about famous men, including Richard Nixon, JFK, Jim Morrison and Fidel Castro."

We're told that Stone is contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated theatrical cut, alas, but the eventual DVD release is sure to contain a treasure trove of Reagan-Thatcher love scenes that were too steamy to make it past the MPAA. Studio executives are already bracing for controversy over one sequence in the script, in which the Iron Lady asks the Great Communicator what he would do to "liberate the Falklands," and he shows her. At length.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in a steamy affair with -- no, let's not go there, okay? Let's not. (Exit an Author, Stage Left, Whimpering faintly.)

[link] [Discuss The horror! The horror!]

posted at: 18:46 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 05 Dec 2004

End of an era

Just over 22 years ago, IBM invented the personal computer as we know it. Yes, business microcomputers (not to mention home computers) predated IBM's belated entry into the sector, but the IBM PC did more than just grab a huge share of the market and establish a de-facto hardware standard; it legitimized those small beige buzzing machines in the eyes of businesses and institutions that had hitherto considered personal computing to be unworthy of interest.

Well, it looks like the era is over. IBM is selling its PC division according to various reports.

Here's the rub; IBM is, and has for almost eighty years, been a service company. They make money by solving problems, not by selling tools. The diversion into the PC making business was a weird aberation in IBM's corporate history, symptomatic of a paradigm shift in the way computing technology was developing: while making PCs was seen as an irritating side-line (IBM originally only expected to sell 50,000 or so of the things -- they sold more than a thousand times that number), by 1982 it was so clearly the coming thing that IBM couldn't afford not to at least look as if they were interested in the idea.

I think the significance of IBM selling its PC business is hard to underestimate. It means that the revolution has run its course; the PC has become commodified, certainly, and the profit margins have been shaved razor-thin, but more fundamentally the whole process of managing data in business has become smeared out in such a way that computers are only part of the picture. IBM doesn't manufacture filing cabinets, desk lamps, and other office equipment: IBM getting out of the PC business implies that PCs are now no longer part of the IT services sector but something that can be taken for granted, like the availability of electricity and photocopiers, in any office environment.

The revolution has run its course. Whatever happens next (and this by no means implies that personal computers will stop evolving), it won't be driven by the same inexorable shift towards office automation that turned the 80's and 90's into a red queen's race for so many businesses.

[Link] [Discuss geekery]

posted at: 00:02 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 02 Nov 2004


I am not going to be able to go to bed until I have some idea of where the US election is going.

Luckily there is beer in the fridge for celebrating/commiserating, depending on the probable outcome.

(Side-effect of planetary media saturation: colateral psychological damage goes inter-continental. Especially as Bush the Younger is the first politician since Thatcher to give me the instinctive put-boot-through-TV-screen reflex whenever I see his face on the box.)

I need happy fun distration, and I need it now.

[Discuss funnies]

posted at: 23:21 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 30 Oct 2004

Bit rot

I haven't been posting enough lately.

Blogging started off for me as an unashamedly commercial promotional kind of thing (c'mon, tell me you haven't looked at what's at the top of my sidebar!) but rapidly turned into a diary habit. Cory Doctorow has commented that he uses blogging (his share of boingboing, I think) as a kind of collective memory for interesting memes, and so do I, some of the time: but that's an irregular use, and I think something of a minority one. More often than not it's just handy to have a venue in which I can blather anything that comes into my head, regardless of context. (It also comes in handy -- too handy, probably -- as a distraction from the writing that brings in the groceries.)

Anyway, I'm not the only person who isn't blogging as much of late. If you monitor a lot of weblogs you'll have noticed a tailing off of updates. Occasionally a moribund one will spark back to life (as has been the case with Billmon this week) but more often than not they go dark and finally 404 on you. About a third of my sidebar blogs are now in that uncertain limbo, and I've been wondering why ...

Partly, I think, it's the saturation news coverage from the US election process. The blogosphere took in a gigantic kick in the wake of 9/11, and has never really gotten over it: while weblogs can in principle talk about anything, 9/11 turned out to be a historically traumatic event, and I suppose when you live in interesting times paying attention to the events in question comes naturally. But now the whole thing has been coopted into a political process that has become increasingly polarized, so hostile and adversarial (to a degree far beyond the normal stylised posturing expected of any electoral beauty contest) that it is positively frightening.

After my initial strong opposition to the Iraq invasion, I've tried to keep off the topic -- and to keep quiet about American politics in general. After all, I'm not American, right? I don't get a vote. But this is now becoming problematic for me, because I think the outcome of this election will affect me profoundly and directly.

I write, for a living, in the English language. Like it or not, the largest English language market in the world is the United States. It should be no surprise to you, then, that about 70% of my income is paid in US dollars by American publishers. Leaving aside all issues of political or ideological affinity, or the fact that I've got numerous American friends and visit the USA a couple of times a year, the outcome of this election will influence me because the macroeconomic conditions set by the next administration, not to mention the ideological climate of fear, affect my wallet directly. Under the current administration the dollar, stable against a basket of other currencies for the past couple of decades, has slid by nearly 20%, giving me a hefty pay cut: I hope you can understand why this concerns me. So I think I do have some reason to speak out on the matter of the forthcoming election, even though I'm not a US citizen -- about as much claim as a non-naturalized resident or a non-registerable citizen.

I've been reluctant to speak out because of an inconvenient fact: anything you say on the internet will be recorded and may be held against you in future, by people or parties who don't even exist yet. Words in print are hostages to your future fortunes and as we're seeing, what you read and write can get you a visit by Homeland Security (for researching a novel, no less!) or the Secret Service (for talking about your prayers in public). Next time I step off an airliner and go through Immigration control I don't particularly want to be hauled off to one side and questioned closely about my writing, or my views, or my reason for visiting the United States -- especially in view of the fact that, as a nonresident alien, under US law I have fewer rights than Jose Padilla.

I've been watching the course of the Bush administration and the election campaign with increasing dread. If I was an enemy of the United States, I couldn't project a better outcome than for George W. Bush to be elected for a second term -- because I believe in the long term he will be, at best, a really bad President: at worst, a human disaster who will cast as long a shadow over the history of the 21st century on a global scale as Kaiser Wilhelm II cast over that of the 20th. And for much the same reasons.

Some uncontroversial facts are evident. Bush has brought in the largest government deficit in US history. He's presiding over the largest build-up of military spending in decades. Allegedly he's due to go back to Congress and ask for another $75Bn to continue the Iraq occupation ... big spender, huh? At the same time, he's taken an axe to his tax base and eliminated inheritance tax (a vital democratic defense against the establishment of a hereditary aristocracy) completely. Meanwhile, the US economy is not growing at the kind of speed it sustained during the early to late 1990's, and it has the ruinous burden of not one, but two foreign wars and occupations to support.

You don't need to discuss the wisdom or unwisdom of invading Afghanistan and Iraq to contemplate the fiscal issues. If Bush is re-elected and if he maintains his current course, he is going to need more money. And I suspect -- at this point we're talking about my personal analysis, we're off the uncontroversial territory -- he's going to thoroughly screw the US economy, to a degree that even Hoover couldn't quite contrive.

Meanwhile, there's a lot of anger out there. As noted here (and elsewhere on David Neiwert's excellent and thoughtful site) the emergence of eliminationist rhetoric into mainstream right wing dialogue since 9/11 has been very visible, and it is binging back some very unpleasant memories. The fuhrerprinzip and the dolchstoss are coming out to play and idiots (sorry!) like Karl Rove are encouraging this.

Economic collapse and unemployment breeds anger. A retreat from empire breeds anger. Racism breeds anger. There's a hideous brew out there, being pumped up by a media system that thrives on bad news because bad news -- the culture of fear -- boosts ratings. It seems that traditional adversarial democratic politics -- in which each side acknowledges that their opposition is a loyal opposition, whose ideas on how to manage the country may differ but whose loyalty isn't in question -- is itself in danger.

At this point I probably don't have to say that I would vastly prefer a clear Kerry victory next Tuesday. I really fear the alternative. Despite being critical of US foreign policy, I'm not actually an enemy of the United States: and I fear that if the political polarization continues to grow, the USA is destined to tear itself apart at the seams or decay into dictatorship and violence. (And that really will mean interesting times for us all to live through, I'll be looking for a new job ... assuming nobody comes for me in the night.)

[Discuss politics]

posted at: 20:56 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 29 Oct 2004

With advisors like these, who needs enemies?

According to the BBC, Israeli premier Ehud Barak had a narrow escape in the UK when the IAF Boeing 707 carrying his party (it was visiting Manchester for a refueling stop) "... was in collision with a baggage truck on the tarmac."

(False alarm: nobody injured, on the truck or the plane.)

The BBC goes on to add:

Mr Barak's senior policy adviser, Danny Yatom said: "It is good that it happened on the ground and not in the air."

The mind, she boggles.

[Link] [Discuss dumb]

posted at: 18:58 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 26 Oct 2004


John Peel has died.

Douglas Adams. Joe Strummer. John Peel. Large chunks of the formative culture of my youth are checking out way too early.

posted at: 14:15 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 24 Oct 2004


I just spent the week in Leeds, visiting family. Originally I intended to go down there on Tuesday and back on Thursday, but it got shifted to Wednesday ... and then I ended up coming back Sunday instead. Sigh. I'm going to try and summon up the inclination to write something creative tomorrow; in the meantime, the only real news is that THE CLAN CORPORATE (third in the fantasy series from Tor) has officially been accepted, and is thus going into the queue for copy editing. And its predecessor, THE HIDDEN FAMILY, is due to end up on my desk with red ink all over it some time in the next few days. Just as I was getting back up to speed on re-writing GLASSHOUSE ...

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 22:42 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 18 Oct 2004

Happy birthday to me

I turn 40 today.

Some people who turn 40 have a mid-life crisis. Me, I'm working on a mid-life smugness. (It's a lot more fun ...)

And right now, I'm feeling particularly smug about this:

UK Iron Sunrise cover

That's the cover of the Orbit (UK) edition of Iron Sunrise, which is due out next February.

Birthday presents don't come much better than that, do they?

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 15:57 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 15 Oct 2004

Attention Livejournal users

Some time ago somebody set up an unauthorized Livejournal feed from my weblog.

This is annoying to me because I don't administer it and can't update it. So when I moved my blog, four weeks ago, the LJ feed broke. Now I've moved the DNS for my server over, the LJ feed is barfing up a months' worth of my articles and people are complaining to me.

If you use LJ to track my blog, stop it. Instead, you can grab an RSS feed from here.

If you created the LJ feed, please delete it. Thank you.

We now return to our usual scheduled program ...

posted at: 23:01 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 11 Oct 2004

Drowning in memory

I notice that the price of flash memory cards is falling through the floor -- I've seen reports of 1Gb SD memory cards going for under US $100, and certainly they're down to £75 including VAT if you know where to look in the UK (not Dixons or PC World, both of whom seem to think that's a good price for 256Kb, thank you very much).

What to do with all that memory?

Well, I have a Palm Tungsten T3. And a neat-o utility called Plucker which is an offline web page and ebook viewer. And I don't have a really decent encyclopedia for my palm, yet. So ...

My first hint was this discussion of how to install Wikipedia on a PDA using TomeRaider as a database. Well, TomeRaider is (a) shareware and (b) development has been lagging on the PalmOS platform of late (that is, for the past couple of years). So I decided to see if I could follow the instructions for generating a static HTML version of wikipedia, like the ones at, from the monthly raw SQL database dumps. I decided to use wiki2static, and then generate a Plucker database from it in the usual way.

Preliminary signs are good: my first static wikipedia build worked fine, albeit with table, graphic, and equation generation switched off -- just plain text for now. It's an intimidatingly huge glom of HTML, about 350,000 files totalling 2.8Gb, that took nearly 12 hours to generate on my 1.33GHz Powerbook G4. The Plucker build process is likely to run overnight and may die -- but there's more than one Plucker back end to try before giving up and so far it seems to be working.

All so that I'm never at a loss for an encyclopedia. Unless anyone can tell me how to get at the internal HTML tree in the Java-based Encyclopedia Britannica DVD distribtion ...?

[Discuss geekery]

posted at: 23:59 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 02 Oct 2004

When data mining attacks

Funny what drops through the letter box when you're about to go away for a week, isn't it? Normally spam goes straight into the rubbish bin, but this one slipped through the net because it appeared to be a letter from a publisher and was therefore of some interest. So I opened it up, and this is what I found:

Dear Mr Stross,

My great hobby is researching ancestry.

Over the last few decades, during which I have carried out intensive research using countless genealogical archives, I have repeatedly stumbled across a whole host of sources containing information about the Stross family name. Having collected a great deal of data, I have now decided to publish the fascinating history of your name in book form. In dealing with the hundreds of christenings, marriages and deaths involved, I have restricted myself to the use of recognized sources. The outcome of all my efforts has resulted in a publication which should greatly interest you:

The Stross Family Chronicle

You, yourself -- as a descendant of this old name which goes back centuries -- are also included in this edition!

The chronicle details the historical development of the Stross name. The genealogical index alone covers some 25 pages (approx 1/3 of the book) and dates back several centuries to approx. 1625. I have also included surname variants. Besides dealing with the origin, significance and development of the surnamed in general, the book also deals with the history of heraldry (coats of arms) ...

I'm sure my Jewish ancestors would be fascinated to hear about all these christenings that went on. And I'd very much like to get my hands on whatever time machine "William Pince Publishers" used to edit history, ensuring that the Stross family name did indeed go back to 1625, seeing as how my Polish-Jewish immigrant ancestors changed their name to Stross just three generations ago, round about 1905. (Anglicizing their somewhat less pronouncable name to a mis-spelling of a German name.)

But there's more. For William Pince, Genealogist and Chairman of the S. G. N. Genealogical Foundation (not to mention owner of an offshore company -- registered in Holland -- that uses a secretarial service and fax number in London) goes on to explain:

In addition to this special offer, I have two more bonuses in store for you, if you decide to take up this advance order.

  1. In the course of my research I came across a magnificent Stross coat of arms.
    This coat of arms has been printed onto parchment paper (20x28cm) in the authentic century-old colouring -- a design comparable to expensive hand-painted heraldry. This beautiful coat of arms is yours TOTALLY FREE OF CHARGE when you place an advance order.

Parchment paper would of course be authentic sheepskin made from acid-free wood-pulp, and the authentic century-old colouring would be applied using an authentic centuries-old inkjet printer. But I must say I'm disappointed in Mr Pince's research; for he failed to take note of my address, and I'd be very interested in seeing what his diligent research could dig up by way of a Stross family tartan. Not to mention a Stross family title of nobility, a Stross family tree, and a Stross family motto. (As I am led to understand that my great-grandfather met my great-grandmother on the return leg of a business trip from Brussels to Tehran, on foot through the Balkans in the late 1870's -- yes, my family reproduce at sufficiently long intervals that my grandfather fought in the First World War and my father served in the Second -- I suspect he'd have to do rather a lot of digging. Either that, or make things up out of whole cloth on the assumption that anyone ignorant enough to use such a service is probably not going to realize they're being bilked.)

Anyway, as they say, you get what you pay for. Especially if what you pay for is a copy of the phone book, a mailmerge program, and a scheme evidently aimed at extracting cash from the rootless and vulnerable.

[Discuss scams]

posted at: 11:14 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 01 Oct 2004

Chicken Tracks

This photograph (warning: 600Kb) gives me the shivers, for some reason. It's probably the first ever snapshot of robots exploring a dead planet, as seen from orbit. Unlike those Apollo boot-prints, these chicken tracks will be filled in by the next dust storm to happen along. It's very much a thing of the moment ...

[Discuss space]

posted at: 14:08 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 30 Sep 2004

Things to do in Brussels when you're dead

I'm tired of travelling. But I'm off to a couple of friends' wedding in London this weekend, and spending most of next week in Brussels, administrative heart of the EU and generally picturesque burg.

Aside from the Atomium, and the numerous local beers, what should I be looking to do in Brussels for a couple of days of creative slacking?

[Discuss Brussels]

posted at: 23:56 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 20 Sep 2004

The future, redux

Can anyone tell me if this is a fake? (The TTY looks a bit too modern to me ...)

Update: A MeFite writes, It's actually the maneuvering room of a US Navy nuclear submarine, circa 1960's. The original is a photo from the Smithsonian, and this pic is a result (I'm pretty sure) of a Fark PS contest a couple weeks ago. The wheel is the steam throttle valve for the propulsion turbines.

[Discuss toys]

posted at: 18:27 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 15 Sep 2004

Welcome to the new server

If you're reading this, you're looking at my new server. Don't bother updating your bookmarks or links -- if you hit on my blog at its old site you'll be taken straight there, and in a week or two (when I've moved some other stuff over) I'll point to this machine. In the meantime, let me know via the mail form if you notice any oddities (other than the server responding faster).

posted at: 14:42 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 16 Aug 2004

Bonded warehouse

(or: "Do you expect me to talk?" "No, Mister Stross, I expect you to blog!")

One of the perquisites of the writing job is the ability to claim weird and wonderful business expenses. I have just now taken delivery of an item which will raise eyebrows when the Inland Revenue notice -- a complete boxed (or rather, canned) set of all the James Bond movies, except for the revisionist "Casino Royale". I intend to claim them as a research item. Because the next novel I write (assuming nothing bumps it out of my priority stack) will hopefully do for Ian Fleming and the Broccoli franchise what The Atrocity Archives did for Len Deighton.

I'm about to head off to the US for a couple of weeks, and am otherwise preoccupied right now ... but an insane scheme is brewing in my mind, for October. Which is this: the Fleming novels are not, themselves, particularly long, running to roughly 70,000 words each. Why not spend an entire month on Bond? Each day, start by reading a novel. Then in the afternoon or evening, watch the corresponding movie.

And blog about it.

(In the personna of the Evil Overlord, of course ...)

I can see a few problems with this scheme already. For starters, the novels and the films were made in different sequences, and the later movies (after Fleming died) veered increasingly away from the original snob-infested spy caper format that Fleming left his stamp of authority on. Which takes precedence -- Ian Fleming's Mary-Sue adventure yarns (his ID number, as secretary to the Head of Naval Intelligence in the Admiralty during the Second World War was, tellingly, 007), or the Broccoli family's technofantasy series?

Also, although I read all the Bond novels when I was younger (not to mention taking in a biography or two of Fleming) I'll need to re-acquire the complete set and read them, too. And I'm not quite the voracious speed-reader I used to be. Skimming a Bond novel in a day is within my capacity, but doing any other useful work before or after might not be.

Finally, there's the most important problem: I might not survive the exercise with sanity intact. I might have to make the odd excursion in the direction of Austin Powers territory, just to keep the Evil Overlord from MST3K'ing the canon, or launching on Kennebunkport, or something. Because, and this is something of an embarrassing admission, I've come to look down my nose at Bond. He's a snob, a poseur, and a borderline sociopath. The world has changed: the individualist anti-hero (or gentleman amateur, if you want to damn Fleming's creation with faint praise) is no longer in demand. If he applied for a job with DI5 or GCHQ today he'd be politely turned away. The villains in the Bond canon are, invariably, more interesting and quirky than the hero.

So. What do you think I ought to do?

[Discuss Shaken, Also Stirred]

posted at: 17:19 | 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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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
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December 2005
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September 2005
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December 2004
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(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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