July 2010 Archives

In my last blog entry, I asked "What is the minimum number of people you need in order to maintain (not necessarily to extend) our current level of technological civilization?"

It occurs to me that besides the obvious ramifications we've been chewing over (read the comment thread if you dare — it should only take a couple of hours), if you turn this question on its head it looks like a component of a set of answers to the Fermi Paradox.

There's a deceptively simple question that's been bugging me this week, and it is this:

What is the minimum number of people you need in order to maintain (not necessarily to extend) our current level of technological civilization?

There are huge political ramifications hiding behind this question. Let me unpack them for you.

1. Atomic-powered nearly-supersonic trains

You can keep your jet pack and food pills; one sign we're living in the right century is the TGV V150, a train so fast that at top speed the wheel rims are nearly going supersonic. Take a peek at this video (if you're impatient, the money shot is at 9 minutes and 35 seconds in) and remember: it's nuclear powered! (France gets 78.8% of its electricity from nuclear reactors — the highest proportion of any nation on Earth.)

2. Vacations!

Five to eight weeks of vacation time per year is normal for French employees, along with twelve statutory holidays. Until recently they were also working for 35 hours per week. Not so much use to self-employed workaholics like me, but if you work to live rather than living to work, you get an extra few years of leisure time over your career.

3. World's best healthcare

That's according to the World Health Organization. France has a universal healthcare system that costs 30% less per capita than the US system and delivers better outcomes than the US system provides for those who can afford it. Oh, and it's 77% state funded; what insurance companies there are, are non-profit mutual societies. While the UK's NHS is leaner and cheaper, the French system is better.

4. Did not invade Iraq

That whole "cheese-eating surrender monkey" thing is a canard: when George Bush and Tony Blair tried to convince Jacques Chirac to join them in taking down Saddam Hussein he told them where to stick it because, prior to his career as the Republic's #1 Crook, he was a captain in the French army during the Algerian War. Unlike Bush and Blair, he knew from personal experience exactly how easy a western occupation of an Arab state wasn't going to be. Nor was he impressed by the whole Gog-Magog thing. Which is why France didn't pour billions of euros and hundreds if not thousands of lives down a fruitless rat-hole.

5. Cheese!

(Am too busy salivating to eulogize.)

Commenters: your challenge is to come up with five good things to say about a country that you do not, and never have, lived in.

Right now I'm holed up in an air-conditioned hotel room, huddled away from the scalding inferno that is Boston in a heat wave (it's due to hit 33 degrees tomorrow). I'm flying home overnight on Friday, so liable to be in a zombie-like stupor through Saturday and Sunday. Can not haz final beer tonight: I managed to twist my ankle while out walking this afternoon, and while it's not a bad sprain (I can walk on it) I don't want to risk provoking it before I lug self plus luggage through the limbo of Logan Airport.

One noteworthy point that has emerged from this trip is that I am, indeed, capable of spending ten days away from home with an iPad instead of a laptop. The day before we left, my desktop machine ate its hard drive. (Do not worry: there is an up-to-date backup, and a replacement drive in my hand luggage waiting to be installed when I get home.) And my iTunes library is too big to live on my Macbook Air. So I figured I'd give the iPad an extended test, and it's come through fine.

As you can see, I can blog from it. (The keyboard dock helps, though.) I can do regular email chores, too. I haven't been using it for serious writing work, but I managed to get down the outline of a short story that I'll probably write when I get home. All in all, it's nicer than any netbook I've travelled with. While there are rumours circulating that Apple are going to release a new, smaller Macbook Air this autumn, I think the iPad is still likely to occupy the sweet spot for Apple portability. However, I think I will chicken out and take a laptop as well when I head for worldcon this August/September — I'll be gone for over three weeks, and I reckon two weeks is probably the pain threshold for not having a real computer on tap.

(Stuff I can't do with the iPad? Buy DVDs and rip them. Research-driven writing that requires me to have a multi-tabbed browser and a word processing app open simultaneously (although iOS 4 should go most of the way towards fixing that). Carry around my entire 70Gb iTunes library. Browse the really annoying websites that throw up so many ads that I need AdBlock Plus or NoScript to read them. Manage the Airport Express wifi router I keep in my travel kit. Plus some other stuff that, on average, I do less than once every two weeks — write code, play desktop games, that sort of thing.)

Final note: I've been doing so much R&R style tourism stuff that I haven't been soaking up enough crazy ideas to blog substantively about anything. So it may take a few days before normal service is resumed. Feel free to talk among yourselves in the meantime ...

Back on December 29th I came up with a new year's resolution that generated much mirth and hilarity among those who know me: that, subject to certain exceptions (click that link), I would buy no computers during 2010. There was, of course, a loophole for the iPad, because it was obvious that it was coming and equally obvious that if I didn't allow myself an indulgence I'd fail at the first hurdle. There was also a loophole for a replacement mobile phone once my contract expired. And loopholes for replacing kit that goes up in smoke, and for helping out family and friends.

How am I doing, as of the halfway point?

I'm doing a reading/signing event at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, Mass., tomorrow evening (that's Tuesday) from 7pm. Afterwards I'll probably be heading on to the Cambridge Brewing Company on Kendall Square.

It has been a really busy few days at Readercon, and I am looking forward to crashing and burning for a few days afterwards. The weather here is crazy-hot, but then, I gather it's crazy-hot back home, too.) And the drivers in Boston? Just say no — or rent a tank.

I shall blog again properly when I rediscover wherever I hid the stash of spare brain cells.

"The Fuller Memorandum" is officially out in hardcover in the USA tomorrow, Tuesday 6th. Which means if you order it today it'll ship tomorrow. You know you want it ...

In other news: Airline connections permitting, I should be eating/drinking/trying not to die of jet lag in The Cambridge Brewing Company (map here) on Kendall Square tomorrow (Tuesday the 6th) from 6:30pm or thereabouts. I need bright lights and loud noises, to say nothing of food and cask ale, to avoid falling asleep too early: my schedule starts at around 2am EST that day, and experience says that if I can just stay awake until 11pm, I'll be on local time the next morning.

NOTE: We have a tight connection in Paris — 80 minutes to change planes. If our first flight is delayed, we may be some hours late in arriving. If that happens, I will attempt to update this entry accordingly ... but I don't guarantee that (it's contingent on being able to find bandwidth in Paris CDG).

I've been quiet this week for a variety of reasons.

Mostly, I've been busy working. The best way to deal with finishing a big project is to start another, and with "The Fuller Memorandum" playing footsie with George Orwell's "1984" for the top spot in the SF charts on amazon.co.uk, I'm pretty certain that the prospects for another Laundry novel are good. So I'm filling time by working on "The Apocalypse Codex" until the manuscript of "Rule 34" comes back with some editorial red ink on it.

Next Tuesday I'm off to Cambridge, MA and then to Burlington for Readercon next weekend. I should be doing a reading/signing at Pandemonium books and games on Tuesday 13th at 7pm (pending confirmation). Prepping travel arrangements takes time, and I've also been sorting out my Worldcon attendance.

(Finally, I've had some family medical news which may force me to alter travel and work plans at short notice. In particular, I won't be taking on any more speaking invitations until the situation is clearer than it is right now. (Before you ask, (a) Feorag and I are fine, and (b) I don't want to discuss it here.))

And now, because I really can't think of anything else to say, Tentacles!



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This page is an archive of entries from July 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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