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Head crash

Just to let you know that between working on a novel ("robot accountants in spaaace!"), torturing the little people who live inside my iPad, and watching the gruesome train-wreck that is the Republican presidential primaries on the other side of the Atlantic ("I'm crazy: I want to define life as starting before conception!" "That's not crazy! I'm a billionaire and I want to ban taxes while nuking Iran!" "You think you're crazy? I bite the heads off atheist chickens in church every Sunday and I want to bring about the Apocalypse!") ... I am fresh out of subjects to blog about. So what would you like me to blog about? NB: the Republican presidential primaries are not a suitable subject.

(Just for the record, I want Santorum to win the nomination. Just so I can see another conceding-defeat family group portrait like this one. It's so Edward Gorey!)

259 Comments

1:

How about an exploration of what social/economic/political systems would be required for a long term generation ship? Before you've talked about needing millions of people to maintain the noosphere and about the biological issues of maintaining a stable and productive ecosystem, how about tackling the social side?

2:

I'd prefer an update on your cats to more about the circus/tragedy that is American politics.

3:

Gibraltar during the Zanclean flood, and maybe after too.

4:

The cats are easy enough: Frigg had what turned out to be colon cancer, so at the point where pain killers seemed to have stopped working and she was unable to eat I took her to the vet for the last time. That was in early November. Since then, Mafdet has been in rude good health (for a 17 year old), but has been increasingly needy. We're going to be away for almost all of February; if she hasn't settled down by the time we get back, it'll be time to look for a couple of younger cats for her to bully.

5:

I think we discussed the social/political side of generation ships a while ago -- it was remarkable how many of the "all you need to eat is blue-green algae" brigade were in favour of inflicting an absolute monarchy, or a fundamentalist theocracy, on a captive audience!

6:

You've repeatedly written very informative posts about the state of the publishing industry, the amount of work that goes into making a book, and the trouble the industry has in dealing with new technologies (read: ebook). I'd be very interested to hear what you hope will happen in this regard. So how about a speculative piece of near-future fiction that details the cultural, economic and technological changes during, say, the next 10 years, which lead to the world of 2022 being Charlie-land (i.e.everything is just the way you want it) in respect to writing and publishing novels?

7:

You have my sympathies, cats pack a lot of personality into those pointy little heads, and one misses them when they go. I hope it will go well when you find new cats.

8:

SOPA and PIPA? They're timely subjects now, and likely to be more so in less than a month.

Alternatively, why not Zoidberg for a change? Assume a species of (evolved|alien) lobster that approaches or exceeds human-level intellect, can communicate with us in a meaningful fashion, and tastes delicious. At what level of lobster intelligence do we stop treating them as a meal and start treating them as near-equals/equals/superiors?

9:

Hmm,

how about some very near future. The break up of the Euro is increasingly likely - how likely? lets say somewhere between 1 and 25% probability of occurrence in the next two years.

On the assumption that the break up will be disorderly because there is no political will to implement an managed wind-down - predict the change in political climate for the five years post break up...

Stuart

10:

Got enough brain cells for one of your silly interviews? You know, no serious questions and no serious answers.

I always thought they were a stitch.

11:

Charlie, be careful about your Santorum-related wishes. From over here, I'm less certain that he'd lose against Obama than I'd like to be.

12:

Suppose, for the sake of argument, the galaxy is full of alien life and that the human race can interact with it in some meaningful way -- ie. we can go and see or talk to them without waiting several lifetimes for a radio signal to go there and back again.

We might run into a race of large, aggressive, bipedal, bilaterally symmetrical creatures with strange lumpy bits on their foreheads.

Klingons or Allosauruses?

13:

I don't have the energy to tackle any of those issues.

14:

The chat of sending AI in-place of humans on an interstellar voyage is interesting. The question I have is could we send sperm and eggs with an instruction manual?

FL

15:

You have mentioned that you are in favor of lowering the Gini coefficient. Are there inventions that tend to push the Gini coefficient higher or lower? What would be a technology that leads to an extremely high or low Gini coefficient?

16:

The question I have is could we send sperm and eggs with an instruction manual?

AHAHAHA --- urk.

What a lot of misconceptions in one sentence!

Sperm and eggs are not sufficient to produce a human being. Developmentally, you need this thing called a uterus, along with a supply of nutrients. (And an artificial uterus is way beyond the current state of the art in biotech.) Then you need to take your shaved monkey and socialize it which at a minimum requires a mother-equivalent intelligence (one that has specific adaptations for training a baby in essential basics like, oh, crawling and sleeping regularly and talking and bowel control) not to mention higher level knowledge. All of this can't happen in a vacuum, either; you need to provide a whole fuckton of commensal gut bacteria (lest the infant have a compromised/malfunctioning/over-sensitive immune system). And you also need to send sperm and eggs and incubators for the other animal species it's coevolved with, and similar fertilized seeds for plants, unless you want it to grow up in a diet of raw hydrocarbons.

What you end up needing is not a single type of fertilized zygote, but an entire ecosystem that supports a climax organism (your type specimen human). And you need to find an environment in which you can expect this ecosystem to have some chance of flourishing, bearing in mind that any planet we find with an oxygenated atmosphere in the water triple point zone around a star probably already has a hostile incumbent ecosystem that's incompatible with our own.

17:

What is going to be the impact, economically and politically of the rise of China and India as the number one and two economic powers of the globe?

18:

That's an interesting question.

My take on technologies is that they are in and of themselves not politically neutral, but that their political implications depend on the context they are deployed in. (And someone who asserts that technologies are inherently political neutral is staking out a very interesting political position. Usually a radically pro-capitalist one, and not in a good way.)

For example, automation tools, when deployed in a capitalist society (be it automatic looms in 19th century England or robot factories in 21st century developed world) drive profits to capital owners while disenfranchising the unemployed. But if they're deployed in a society that has a strong social ethos and provides support and training while taxing returns on investment, they may serve to raise the overall standard of living (rather than that of a relatively tiny number of investors).

19:

Where do you think online dating/matchmaking is going? Not necessary to limit yourself to the WEIRD people.

20:

We're going to be away for almost all of February

The Care and Feeding of Visiting Strosses?
Best wishes for the kitty, I presume she gets on well with catsitter?

it was remarkable how many of the "all you need to eat is blue-green algae" brigade were in favour of inflicting an absolute monarchy, or a fundamentalist theocracy, on a captive audience!

Feh! Goyishe kop.

21:

What is going to be the impact, economically and politically of the rise of China and India as the number one and two economic powers of the globe?

1. The relative decline of the USA and the EU.

Relative decline does not mean that we'll be poorer in absolute terms; in fact, we'll probably be better off, because (a) more well-off folks to trade with, (b) no race-to-the-bottom as capital employs labour in those countries for less money, and (c) small regional powers (pop. 330M or 500M -- USA or EU) won't be able to compete militarily with the Big Boys so get to reap a huge peace dividend. (That's an ideal outcome, admittedly, but look at UK and France WRT. USA and USSR in the 1970s/1980s.)

2. Nobody is envious of or hates a has-been after their fall. The 22nd century equivalent of Al Qaida won't be targeting the USA.

3. Politically ... India is a democracy. Flawed and cumbersome, but for all that, it's a real one. China is not, but the CPC made a pact with the devil in 1989 after Tiananmen Square: they're supported as long as they can deliver prosperity. When they finish their great leap forward, that's the time to expect massive political upheaval. On the other hand, the civil wars of 1910-1950 are still just about in living memory; I don't expect China to tear apart at the seams.

4. The big question for the second half of the 21st century is, how long will it take Africa to develop to first-world standards? And, climate catastrophe aside, I expect it to happen faster than most of us reading this today expect.

Finally, as Bruce Sterling explains, the second half of the 21st century in Europe and North America will be about cities full of elderly folks who are afraid of the sky.

22:

In fact, I reckon the significance of the USA and EU to the 22nd century is about the same as the significance of Serbia to the 21st century.

Here's Chairman Bruce on Serbia in the 21st century:

Future Change as Seen by Serbia

1. Albanian ethnics occupying the ancestral land of Kosovo, an obscure patch of mountains that nobody else in the world has ever heard of. However, Kosovo's nevertheless incredibly and totally crucial and important to the general fate of mankind; like, seven-hundred tooth-grinding grudge-grumbling years' worth of importance. Tennis stars, busty turbofolk singers, everything else pales by comparison
2. "NATO." NATO were the guys who blew up Serbia in 1999 and therefore ended the most recent Balkan wars, and this affront hasn't been forgotten. It has to be "NATO" that committed this misdeed, as Serbia is currently on rather cordial terms with all the countries actually in NATO. So tf you're Serbian and you go tell some NATO member like Denmark, "hey, you blew us up," they're like, "What?" So in Serbian parlance, "NATO" is always up to all kinds of elaborate skullduggery that nobody else understands. More fools they.
3. "Turks." Serbia is, again, on rather good terms with the actual Turks inside Turkey, who are nearby and energetic and have some capital and some skilled manpower. However, the Balkans are infested with all kinds of non-Serbian former-Ottoman rabble who are framed as "Turks." There are ethnic tidal-waves of these "Turk" guys apparently poised to storm and slay everyone with scimitars, but if you actually talk to any of these "Turks," they usually say something like, "hey, I'm Herzegovian by way of Chicago."
4. The "shadow state" "mafia" "secret police" "mogul" nexus. These guys are amazingly secret and totally unreformed basement conspirators, and everybody knows who they are, because Serbia is a small society and therefore people are related to them. Foreigners sometimes surmise that the "shadow state" is the "real" state, while the elected government of Serbia is an ersatz state, but the truth is the the Balkans doesn't really breed any successful nation-states. There's never been a "real" state in the region. It's always been about shadowy gangs of godfather types making executive decisions when everybody's really drunk. The fact that some of them are sworn to secrecy and heavily armed just makes it easier to get really paranoid, so that heavy drinking is required.
5. Foreign investment / Serbian passport regimes. It's all about foreign money coming in, and whether Serbs get to fly out and spend some of it. Since they Serbs get tormented a lot with other people's sanctions and border controls, these issues loom large in the popular imagination. Everybody's always handicapping future developments in the porosity of Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and so forth. Real estate prices also hinge on this situation, so it's a locus of constant futuristic speculation.
6. "Russia." Serbia's fantasy version of Russia is like nobody else's conception of Russia; most everybody else thinks of Russia as some half-blind, yellow-fanged ursine creature bristling with rusty nuclear weapons, while for Serbia, Russia is a fluffy angelic winged flying bear to be depicted in stained-glass windows in a cloud of Orthodox incense. Tremendous emotional energy is invested in imagining that Russia will somehow show up and set everything to rights someday, even though Russia has never really done that anywhere for anybody.
This could well be a fairly accurate description of the future of one or other of the US successor states in the early 21st century (change "Serbia" to "Oregon", "Russia" to "Canada", "NATO" to "China", and so on).
23:

Assume a species of (evolved|alien) lobster that approaches or exceeds human-level intellect, can communicate with us in a meaningful fashion, and tastes delicious.

Didn't George R. R. Marin already do that in one of his Havilland Tuf stories?

24:

Hmm...how about what the next large (planet-scale) war will be about, and when it will occur?

25:

One thing on my mind currently and that I'd like to hear your thoughts on is the passage of a bill allowing the indefinite detention (hate that weasel word---it's imprisonment) of US citizens suspected of terrorism and why the only people who seem to be talking about it are John Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Obama just lost my vote with his signing of that bill. Now I have to look into what third party candidate I'll vote for since I'm damn sure not voting Republican.

26:

Am thinking about a near future sci fi idea- Ron Paul is elected and we have legalized drugs and no being sent off to die in pointless wars. The states are free to make their own laws about taxes, genetic enhancement whatever ...

Those who like Texas will like this free sci fi story...

http://www.sciencefictionnovel.finecrypt.net/index.php?b=Lone_Star_Planet

27:

In a half century's time, what do you picture as the "norms" (Distribution method and cost, voluntary filtering, involuntary filtering...) of informational media?

28:

The most important society-shifting technological developments are those that allow societies to leap-frog expensive for cheap infrastructure, i.e., cell phones. So the next game-changer will likely also be an infrastructure related technological innovation. Solar power-generating paint?

29:

Empires always tend towards instability and draconian security policies as they begin to crumble -- it goes with the territory (insecurity and paranoia). Add in the need to suppress internal dissent as the USA completes its transition into a one party Plutocracy and you have a perfect rationale for the police state measures.

30:

In a half century's time, what do you picture as the "norms"

Vegetarianism. (Modulo the availability of vat-grown meat.) Partly because of ethical concerns but much more because animals are a horrendously wasteful way of converting energy and raw feedstock into nutrients; once tissue culture becomes substitutable for animal husbandry you can grow the ingredients for a hamburger without stuff like bone and eyeballs and central nervous tissue, much less having to give it a stomach because it has to host commensal bacteria that can digest lignin and cellulose.

31:

From a previous entry, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about how the UK should be properly organized. Closer to Europe? All constituent parts of the UK independent (Scotland, England, Wales(?), Northern Ireland(??)) and in or out of Europe, etc.

If the ideal UK was a "Strosstopia" with pictures/ statues/ murals of the Dear Leader infesting all public space I'd be interested in hearing about that, too.

32:

How long will western countries choose to retain the trappings of democracy in the face of the increasingly evident reality that democratic choice is irrelevant in the face of opposition from American business executives, and, in the case of the Eurozone, the ECB?

33:

Hey Charlie,

How'd doing NANOWRIMO work out as a way for an established novelist to write?

34:

Didn't George R. R. Marin already do that in one of his Havilland Tuf stories?

Did he? I'll have to look that story up then. I'm picturing a scenario that's part diplomatic crisis and part Whale Wars.

I also second @24 David E's question - he's not me (unless I've had a massive mental breakdown I don't know about), but I too am alarmed and annoyed about the NDAA. It's baldly unconstitutional as soon as it gets used against a US citizen, and I can't imagine it would stand up in the Supreme Court - but I'm terrified that nobody will ever be found to have standing to challenge the law on that basis. (ref. Al-Awlaqi and his father) (Oops, already answered - never mind!)

But that's a subject that's even uglier than SOPA/PIPA and the primaries put together. Here's a topic guaranteed to induce projectile vomiting: What are the long-term impacts of a Kardashian (celebrity) economy if it doesn't lead to a Roman-style collapse in the next two centuries?

35:

How long will western countries choose to retain the trappings of democracy in the face of the increasingly evident reality that democratic choice is irrelevant in the face of opposition from American business executives, and, in the case of the Eurozone, the ECB?

I think democracy will prove surprisingly resilient, to those who forget Frank Herbert's bon mot from somewhere in Dune, to the effect that clerks are generally reluctant to lay down their lives for the bottom line in their employer's sales ledger; yes, democratic choice is irrelevant in the face of the opposition from American business executives and the ECB: this is why said execs should be very careful how close to the wind they steer.

36:

In a word, lousy. (Because my usual business cycle involves handing in a finished novel in July-September, which means by November I'm tired rather than wired.) If my deadlines fell in January-March it'd be another matter ...

37:

I'm not sure we'll go to vat-grown meat, because it requires fussy purified feedstocks, massive clean-rooms, etc. Compare that with, say, a goat.

In a sane agricultural system, animals play a bunch of important roles: they turn food humans can't eat (especially grass) into food we can eat (milk products, eggs, meat), they turn waste into manure faster than any other system (day or two for a ruminant vs. 16 days for hot compost or a worm bin), and they can also function as pest control, manure spreaders, and similar (Google Polyface Farms for a really cool example of how this works in practice).

As in India, or most of the world before the 20th Century, I'd expect to see predominantly vegetarian diets, with meat on the holidays.

Still, I think you were responding to a question about informational media with one on food. That's a great diversion. Almost Freudian, in fact.

38:

The UK is hugely un-balanced. There's a capital city with a commuter belt that includes over 25% of the nation's population. It's disproportionately wealthy from financial services rather than manufacturing. State policy favours the capital because it's where the legislators live and the media are based. This in turn needs to neglect of the peripheral (more manufacturing-based) sectors of the economy and population.

What we need is some way to firewall the needs/demands of London from fucking up national-level requirements for the rest of the country. Although London's huge size and status as a financial hub is a legacy of empire, and can be expected to fade over time -- especially as Cameron's mulish resistance to further EU integration has cost the City of London the chance to become the major financial hub of the Euro zone.

(If the UK was added to the northern Eurozone side of the balance -- with Germany and France -- it might well be enough to swing the project back towards stability.)

On the other hand, I'm deeply skeptical that democratic government is compatible with a population base of more than around 5-10 million people. So maybe we should just break the UK up completely, declare it to be a customs, trade and currency union with a joint foreign policy, and regionalize everything.

(A legislative assembly with 5 million electors and 100 reps is one where it is in principle possible for any elector who actually wants to be involved to be on a first-name basis with their representative. Larger polities, not so much.)

39:

Yes, Charlie, you've never had to live in a house/flat with KITTENS, have you.
Oh the fun!
BTW ours are a dreadful as ever, we are horribly afraid that sir is about to work out how to open cupboard doors ... err -

david earle & 8
OK I'm idle, and this US politics. SOPA? PIPA?

stuart catt @ 9
Break-up of the Euro?
If you include Greece exiting, the percentage goes up to about 95%, surely - or didn't that count?

Charlie @ 20
disgree about #2 - some fanatics will go on regardless.
So the religious fundie loons will still be around, same as there are still continuity/real/"IRA" potential murderers loose, in spite of the fact that the EU comission is about to shaft Ireland far more comprehensively than the "evil Brits".
#4 Well, "climate catastrophe" - how likely?
Here, the US is still important - I'll return at the end on this one.
LURVE @ 21 .....

BTW is "the Well" the sucessor to the "Whole Earth Catalog(ue) ??

Roy @ 22
Bandersnatchi in Larry Niven, actually.

David E. @ 24
You WHAT?
Not even the US-equivalent of magistrates' review @ 7/14/28 days??
Isn't that agin the US Constitution?

The US being important for now ...
Climate is the biggest long-term threat, because many are still in denial over that, and a Rethuglican win would be a disater.
However, I agree with Charlie.
HICK SANATORIUM (please spread this trope/name around?) is so loopy as that "moderate" R's will probably stay at home, when voting day comes up.
I mean, even by the standards of politicians here, who for no reason at all I can see are crawling to religion, when the population is over 50% agnostic, at least, Hick Sanatorium is certifiably insane.

40:

Two semifarfetched questions: 1. How would you design/write actual teaching material? (E.g., Glasshouse can be seen as an intriduction into the social construction of gender in the 1950s ...)

2. I recently found out about the "Black mirror" TV series - an interestingly well-made attempt on contemporary SF in a visual medium. Is that a format that could be strossified?

41:

I was also going to add: the ethical "why we are vegetarian except for vat-grown stuff" argument will mostly be a rationalization by meat eaters. The point being, animal husbandry as currently practised is very energy intensive, probably more so than vat culture.

I'm not really interested in the information culture question these days. It's very 1990s to be concerned about that stuff when the real question is what people will put in their stomachs and on their heads (see "big cities full of elderly people who are afraid of the sky" above).

42:

Sometimes I do not appreciate having my vocabulary expanded :-(

43:

Even more fun when the kittens arrive somewhat surprisingly from the previously supposedly male cat ("But we just though *he* was getting fat!").

44:

If you want a blog subject, how about "uplifting" animals? Do we want a talking cat or not?

45:

I have no idea how to answer either of those questions. Too unfamiliar with the media in question.

46:

It's an ethically dubious concept; how do you treat not-human but equivalently-intelligent beings? How about ones who are obligate carnivores? What if you've got obligate carnivores (sentient) and their equally sentient prey species?

Worse: pace Greg Egan on the unethical approach to generating AI via genetic algorithms -- what about the just barely pre-sentient generations of your intelligent non-human uplifted species? What if they're, say, as self-aware as Chimpanzees? Or Homo Erectus?

The "gee, whizz!" response to a talking cat is obviously "that's fun!" But it might not be so much fun to be a talking cat in a human-run world.

47:

Oh, you've been following the London obscenity trial?

(Not guilty, if you were wondering: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/jan/06/obscenity-trial-law-digital-age)

48:

The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect-IP Act, respectively. They're a pair of bills that will probably be considered by the United States Congress in late January. (SOPA is the House bill, PIPA is the Senate bill.)

I recommend Googling both bills, because I'm badly summarizing; but the bills basically say that a website hosting copyright-infringing content can be shut down immediately on demand of an aggrieved party.

The bills mandate shutting down the entire site, not just removing the infringing content - that's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube gone right there, just from user-generated content. There's no judicial oversight of the shutdown requests, and very little or no legal recourse for any site that gets shut down. Oh, and the implementation would bork DNSSEC and screw up security over the whole of the Internet. And actual pirates would still be able to get around the whole thing.

If you'd like to headdesk, look up a video of the House committee debating SOPA, and marvel at the lack of technical knowledge (not to mention lopsidedness) on display. In the meantime, we now return you to Mr. Stross's regular comment stream.

49:

I chose talking cat because it might be doable with not too much tweaking, keeping the original brain size. Just add a touch of parrot and some modified vocal chords. It doesn't have to be Human or even Chimp level intelligence.
Then there are the other fun possibilities ie a real unicorn

50:

There is only one good thing I can say about American republicans/conservatives: at least they don't have a weird fixation on a foreign monarch:

http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/30/harper-save-the-queen/

51:

Communism crashed and burned. But communism was a reaction to the flaws of capitalism, flaws that have never been fixed. Therefore communism will rise from the ashes and be tried again.

Will it be communism1.0 and simply repeat the cycle of over-concentrated political power and crippling economic inefficiency? Will it be communism2.0, improved, better thought out, more incentive compatible?

Could there be a new hybrid, bit communism and atom capitalism. Market prices for rival goods (mostly physical goods), free (non-recurring costs paid for out of general taxation) for non-rival goods (mostly data that gets copied by computers in ways too cheap to meter).

53:

Then let me rephrase the first one: What's your view on fiction as medium of "education" (about scientic concepts, the mechanics of politics, the inner workings of society - all topics that can be foubd in vast amounts in your novels). Oh, and how do you resesearch and fictionalize things like these?

54:

"The bills mandate shutting down the entire site, not just removing the infringing content - that's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube gone right there, just from user-generated content."

If the act does pass I think that activists ought to bring cases against those three and try to have them shut down.

55:

The lizard people that live in the core of the planet.

Serious SF bloggers just routinely ignore that one. Someone should turn a spotlight on that little subject.

(OK perhaps not) :)

56:

Blog topics...
Things that could have been invented way back, but were not. Classics like the Nitrogen laser etc

If you are feeling really bright...
Things that could be invented now, but had to wait 100 years

57:

(And sorry for the vast amount of typos - one shouldn't type on a smartphone while one's kids try to wrestle with one)

58:

Speaking of lizard people...
Maybe something about the effect that people like David Icke have on the public consciousness. I certainly believe that the way the US govt dealt with UFOs over the decades has led to a very negative and paranoid backlash amongst certain sections of the public.

59:

And one topic that could only be suggested by someone other than Charles Stross:
What effect does Charles Stross have on the world?

60:

Thanks. It's annoying how that happens.

61:

I try to go by a simple rule of thumb: "first, do no harm". (Or at least minimize the harm that you do.)

I'm not sure whether I'm successful or not at making the world a better place, but "popular entertainer who tries to be thought-provoking and make people look at the future in a different light" isn't obviously in the same league as "assassin-drone pilot" or "sub-prime mortgage salesman".

62:

Well, why not set it as a blog topic and we'll let you know our opinions? You can tell us what you think, and then we will update you!

63:

Sez you. Hahahahaha.

Is it perverse that I don't want to read Rule 34, because I don't want to finish it?

64:

Many, perhaps all, singularity predictions are very samey.

I'd like to see some SFy what-if world-building scenarios for a less predictable singularity.

I'll start....

It isn't a singularity, but a multiplicity with several/many AIs emerging at close to the same time.

Yet, computromium is way too expensive and in short supply.

The early-emergent AIs are batting down the later ones to prevent them exhausting the finite computronium resource while similtaneously both cooperating with other early AIs to expand the computronium supplies and undermining them to get a higher percentage of the limited resources.

Humans meanwhile are trying to stay afloat as these battles rage through the I-tubes (and sometimes turn physical) while attempting to both placate the early AIs and make common cause with newly emergent AIs who, they hope, will be more human-friendly should they (the newly emergents) gain some advantage.

And then, on day 7 of the crisis, a plucky vending machine acsends to godlike consciousness and can see how to avert the coming catastrophe if only it could control enough computronium....

65:

alan crowe @ 51
You are describing Norway and Sewden as they presently are
Communism is a RELIGION, and as such will, if in charge always be a central-command syatem.
N. Korea is the logical end
see also: I am struck by how the Christian conception of heaven is so much like North Korea: eternal rule by the great leader, his son and cronies; and the masses endlessly singing his choreographed praises. Heaven, at least, has solved the problems of food shortages and disease.
Uggg

Dirk @ 54
I sincerely hope that's what happens - and also Google and effectively the whole web, or that bit of it inside the USSA. ... And see how long it takes to unscramble it, whilst the fuckwit morons who voted for it whine "but we didn't mean it to be like that, and we didn't think ...."

66:

Charlie @ 38
You posted whilst I was typing, so I've only just noticed.
Sorry, but not even wrong, really!
There is still quite a lot of light manufacturing in London, and the financial sector is GROWING not weakening.
If the idiots in the EU/EU commission (the latter are really dangerous tyrants) do get their so-called transaction tax, this country will say "no" and you can expect a massive capital and banking flight TO London.
If anything, that process has started already.
There is a suprising amount of manufacturing (just not heavy stuff) going on - we are in fact bigger than France - it's just that nobody notices.
For more info on this, ask Rhona ....

67:

"...and the financial sector is GROWING not weakening."

Even more casinos to bail out. Hooray.

68:

On the other hand, I'm deeply skeptical that democratic government is compatible with a population base of more than around 5-10 million people.

Do you have any ideas on how to govern bigger entities made of these 5-10 million people democratic entities, so that the democratic govenments of the smaller things would still be that, and that the world would work relatively well?

I have given this some thought, and it seems to me that the interaction of smaller entities is quite hard if we want to preserve some decision making capability for handling global issues, for example climate change (not to speak of free speech and food and shelter for everybody, though that might be more of a thing for the smaller entities).

I am from Finland, and I feel that even though the democracy here has its problems, it still works relatively well and is quite close to the average citizen. We have a tad over five million people, so that's in your range there.

I like voting in our national two-level elections: municipal and state-wide. I vote in the EU elections, and I know that it's very important because a lot of things are decided on the EU level, but it still feels very remote. I also don't understand the EU process very well, mostly because I haven't studied it much, which of course contributes to my feeling of remoteness.

I think this is just what the Chinese government means when they say (with no references here, sorry) that democracy just isn't going to work there, and one of the reasons is that China is too big. I'm tempted to ask that if having a China like today is worth it, then.

69:

Christ, Charlie, what did we Serbs ever do to you?

Actually, with all due respect to the chairman, the list isn't very accurate. I won't rant too much, but, for instance, it's hardly ever "NATO". The bugbear is mostly just "America". However, the perception of Russia is pretty much as described, for complex historical reasons that range from the ridiculous to the tragic.

Personally, I'd like to see a post describing Charlie's Dream Portable Writing Machine. I remember you being very nearly completely pleased with an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard. What's missing to make the device prefect, barring features which can't be implemented with the current level of technology?

70:

turn that around... imagine Earth received alien egg pods with gestation directions... what type of secure facility would you attempt to hatch them in and how would then inevitably escape and eat us?

71:
So maybe we should just break the UK up completely, declare it to be a customs, trade and currency union with a joint foreign policy, and regionalize everything.

Flip it around: how about we devolve all decision making other than those things (and the cloud of related indivisibly national issues, like fishing rights) to the level of local councils?

(The usual opposition to anything like this is that it creates a "postcode lottery" - because, shock, if you let each decision be made locally then some of those localities might make different decisions)

72:

Consult the British Royal Navy who are experts in the Field.

I once Had Custody of the Film ..the 16mm Film .." Programmed Learning" as part of my then Business Schools Library and, before ever the British Open University was born, it did introduce the concept of Structured training Modules presented to the Navel Rating or Jr Officer of their choice .. Training Other Ranks and Jr Officers for the use of.The film used Diver Support in one of the case studies/examples.. that demoed the disadvantages of traditional Class Room Teaching as against " How many people in the Class can You be sure understood the Question!! ? That's Right ! Only the Man ..sorry the class was All Male for this was The '60s of the last century .. who answered the Question " and then went on to demo Teaching Machines ..film strips in Back Projection Box ..and audio cassette tapes " Turn Left at foot of .. here before you is .." all long before personal P.C s the internet/www and suchlike Stuff.

In truth the Royal Navy's Training systems were based upon teaching Midshipmen to Navigate and Conscripts to Fire Cannon without cutting off their own feet way back in the Early High Tech Napoleonic Wars.


I used to introduce my own er, ' Presentations 'that started when I got really fed up with having to deal with tearful and distressed students who were doomed to present under the cosh of a Business Studies Degree module, and who had been VERY badly prepared for their exams on how to actually deal with a real situation.

So.. well, I'd stalk in to the lecture theatre, Catch the Attention of a carefully selected member of the student audience- as chosen by weighing up my students from out of their sight .. and She was NOT always Female! or cute.. and calm that audience member by steering Her/his Gaze to her neighbour and so forth through the audience until they went still. I would then say " IF you have the sense to pay attention to me for the next Half Hour I will teach you how to manipulate any audience. " That got their attention all right .apart from the dozy buggers at the back who were usually, at that time, Male Greek Cypriots.

All Right, half an hour to three quarters of the same but never an entire Hour ..plus Questions which in fairness I have to say could last longer than the talk and involve Queues. Or, as it was expressed by an academic collogue who was supposed to be taking the sodding class ! ".. if I did That they'd Fire me but You get away with it! And get applause! This is SO unfair' This was also known as the 'Never Call It a Lecture or You Will Die! .. talk.

The dirty secret of Higher Education is that many Degree Level Courses don't need to last as long as they traditionally do. Nor need they take place on a traditional University's Campus.

Its a miracle that the Powers that Be didn't have me assassinated.

73:

But are you sure Santorum *should* lose against Obama? I don't know anything about him (except that he's anti-gay), but I have not been pleased by Obama, even given that I knew he voted for FISA while running for president. I'm less and less sure that he was actually better than McCain would have been.

There's something about a plurality based winner-take-all system that seems inherently given towards vile decisions. It's one reason I prefer the Condorcet voting system. It's much harder to ensure that you only have bad or apalling choices.

What about the implications of various means of choosing the leader? Is there anything actually better than a lottery? (With minor penalties for refusing to participate, and minimal requirements for eligibility.)

74:

I've believed for some time that Greater London should be split out from England, and fill a role similar to Washington DC. England could then have its own parliament like Scotland. (Preferably not in a single, massively too expensive, building like Scotland's, but a number of electronically linked assembly halls in each of the major cities.)

75:

You realise your first paragraph describes Edinburgh to a T? Over-reliance on financial services for employment, large commuter belt, seat of government so it gets all the goodies going (like trams) etc.?

If a country with only 5 million population ends up with this sort of lop-sided structure I can't see limiting the size of country-type entities to prevent it happening i the first place is going to work.

76:

Agreed, but with modifications. Consider the virtues of Indian Curries or Chinese or Thai cuisine meat dishes .... and then develop this thought toward the Miracle of Future Tech Vat Grow Systems and Mammoth Vindaloo or Butter Dodo. ..casual goggle search ..

" ENJOY the fragrance and flavours of finest Asian dining in a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere at The Zen Restaurant in Wood Street, St. Annes.
We offer a wide range of authentic Chinese and Thai cuisine, freshly prepared with a modern twist by our talented, passionate chefs.
You will be made most welcome while you relax and enjoy the uniquely designed Thai and Chinese décor tastefully blended with modern themes to complement your fine dining experience. "


' freshly prepared with a modern twist ' The modern twist being extinct animals.

77:

Well, solar energy electricity generating paint has already been invented. It's reportedly cheap to make, but only about 1% efficient.

OTOH, I've been hearing promises of solar shingles for around a decade now, and no sign of their practical appearance.

You've got to remember that solar power is low in intensity, so significant solar->power, even at 100% efficiency, would require a fair bit of area. This means that anything portable has to either store it from when it's idle, or be REALLY low in power consumption. (And we aren't near 100% in efficiency. I think 20-30% is as high as I've heard claimed, and that wasn't on something for sale.)

78:

As another educator, I'll take a bite at this.

There actually isn't a good, general definition of education that even the educators can really agree on. Nor methods to accurately assess learning and the like.

If you attend a class about some subject that Mr. Stross might include in his books, some proportion of the class will, in the broadest of terms, learn something about it. What they learn and what proportion is always open to debate - and will depend on the learning facilitator, the subject, the learners (for sure), the time of day, the day of the week and probably the weather, and a million other things. Even the keenest (in most circumstances) learner might struggle the day after their sweetheart left them for another being. Equally some proportion of readers of a book that deals with things will be inspired, research it and learn from it.

It depends on what you want them to do. If I had to choose, I would almost certainly take a 21 year old (or a 25 year old if more appropriate) with a suitable degree than someone that said "Oh I read about it in this book by X and did some research on the subject" of the same age if we're looking at something academic. The qualification is (hopefully) an indication that they understand things around that one point, have it context and can (even more hopefully) apply that understanding well. There are subjects where that's not true. Anything vocational, and I'd include computer programming in that, I'd consider the self-taught person on their merits. Fixing a bike, definitely on their merits (can't imagine that being a subject inspired by one of Charlie's books but you never know).

tl;dr answer - fiction books, films, tv and the like can inspire learning in some subset of the population that read it. Formal educational systems, for all of their faults, often inspire it better in a wider proportion of the population that engages in it.

79:

"OTOH, I've been hearing promises of solar shingles for around a decade now, and no sign of their practical appearance."

http://thecoolgadgets.com/solar-roof-tiles-roofing-your-green-energy/

80:

But the "big cities full of elderly people..." is a temporary problem...at least unles there is *LOTS* of advance in medicine, and if it's not temporary, you have the bigger problem of a REAL population crush.

Currently, however, the bulk of the population (in the US) is already past their child-bearing years, and the successor generations are reproducing at less than replacement rate. (Lots of social incentives there...like raising kids is expensive, and wages are progressively lowerer, so both parents need to work away from home.)

I *think* Japan is going to solve the caretaker problem with robots. Once they do, others will copy them. It may not be ideal, but it's better than the alternatives.

81:

Are we in with a chance (in the uk, for the next century or two). What can be done to maximise those chances. Is there any way I can improve matters?

82:

Er.....those are Bruce Sterling's opinions, not Charlie's. Bruce should know a thing or two about Serbia, he's married to a Serbian writer and lived in Belgrade for a while.

The quote about Russia was pretty funny, it's difficult to recall a Russian intervention abroad that has improved matters for the recipients (this arguably includes WWII).

83:

Oh BUGGER ! I've just had my houses roof repaired /replaced ..or rather those parts of the roof that weren't part of my original home extension plan of a couple of years ago and thus suffered over the last two vicious North East of U.K. North Sea facing winters. Clearly I should have waited a year or two.

Oh, well there's always something new.

84:

Wouldn't the Supreme Court quash this as an attack on Freedom of Speech in the first case brought to trial?

85:

Well, my classic thought along the lines of "How to govern a really large number of people fairly" is a hierarchical democracy.

Basically, every member in every higher level of the government is elected by a SMALL group. Maybe 30 people. Maybe 300. This gets them into a base level composed of, say, 30-300 other elected representatives. These pass all rules dealing with their locality. (Like city ordinances, only more local. Like a zoning board, only more democratic.) Ane they also elect one of their number as their representative to the next higher level....and his continued ability to serve depends on maintaining his membership in the lower level. Etc. All the way to the top level. NO STAFF!!

Election will be indefinite. To get elected you circulate a petition, and get 30-300 people to choose you as their representative. At any time, any of them can switch their support to someone else. If you fall below the crucial minimum, you lose all connection with the government. And this election process is also identical all the way up and down. If your support depends on someone in a middle layer, and they lose their seat, then you immediately lose their support. If that takes you below the minimum, you lose your seat (though you maintain your support at the highest level at which you still have sufficient supporters).

No periodic elections. As long as you maintain support, you stay in office. Immediately that you lose it, you lose the office.

Perhaps there should be a parallel structure specifically charged with repealing laws. Or perhaps instead all laws should come with a sunset clause built in. But if a law isn't worth passing periodically, it isn't worth keeping. Also there should be some limit on the length and complexity of each law, individually, and also on the entire legal code. It should be small enough that each person should have a reasonable chance of knowing all laws that would apply to them. No reasonable chance of knowing the law should be a valid defense.

86:

Some singularitists plot a graph of progress against time from pre-history to the present and see a convex curve that can be extrapolated to a vertical asymptote within their lifetimes. If you can bring yourself to believe in this curve, what shape is it (including the extrapolation)?

87:

Would you please write that story? And then the plucky vending machine goes off with a richer one (perhaps the one that controls the gold bar supply, or the very last Twinkies), and everything goes to hell.

Just sayin'.

88:

I didn't want to replace formal learning with fiction books (but I'm also highly sceptical formal learning without exploration/practice really leads to more knowledge of some use/quality in thhe average individual - and it did my share of teaching undergrad. classes ...).

My point behind the question rather was the self-observation that there are many subjects/concepts I never learned something about in any professional context (say: Fermis paradox or the history of Newton & Leibniz), but where I feel I have at least sone kind of surface knowledge about ghanks to reading e.g
Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Here the fictional work indeed instilled some curiosity, and if I've had more time for things like that, deeper research about the birth of science would be something I'm sure I'd find interesting.

So my question was not if SF could replace formal learning, but a. what our gracious host thinks about the role SF plays as "non-formal learning material", and b. how the fact that SF has some reputation as literary genre that is proud to get it's facts right influences the writing process.

89:

Solar power is like computers - the longer you wait the cheaper it is.

91:

I would say that the main value of SF, beyond entertainment, is inspiration for the young.

92:

Santorum is dumber, more religious, more malicious than Bush, and he would usher in a theocratic vision which would have Opus Dei flagellating themselves into ecstasy.

Here's another tidbit, in his own words: “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Yes, he should lose against Obama, absolutely.

93:

But the Church of the SubGenius and the Illuminati Trilogy have already done the lizards.

94:

Right now Obama would beat anybody. With Bush's wars dying down we don't need and can't pay for the military we have. When Obama starts cutting back to Cold War levels he will called all kinds of names. I don't know what will happen then.
In America the Democrats stink. After Jimmy Carter lost big for doing the right things, they dumped labor and women to suck up money to pay for TV adds. But the Republicans reek. I, and I think America would rather stink than reek. The way we do now. Just once I would like to vote for someone I liked. Not for the least bad. And I am 65.
In time, Supreme Court goes by the votes. One generation it said people had to help grab runaway slaves. Later it said unions were illegal. Now it says the Russia mob can give money to politicians. Well thats not what they say, but it could happen.

95:

I was thinking about our discussion of Self Replicating Probes yesterday, and I came to the conclusion that the wrong question was being asked:

Forget "Why haven't we seen SRPs?"

Instead, ask "Why hasn't Earth ever been SUCCESSFULLY colonized by another intelligent species?"

Why hasn't it happened? We have a lovely oxy-nitrogen atmosphere, liquid water, and a stable G-type star that should support life for the next 5-billion years. This planet is a wonderful paradise, (maybe I'm being just a little parochial...) well worth the investment of a colony fleet. So why hasn't another intelligent species SUCCESSFULLY planted a colony here?

96:

@42, Lyndon:

I know the opinions are Bruce's. The first line referred to the fact that Charlie seemed to be agreeing with them. And that they are somewhat unflattering, seeing as it used Serbia as, essentially, a benchmark for irrelevant loserdom.

And, yes, I know that Bruce is married to Jasmina Tešanović and has a remarkably good grasp of the local situation. He should. He's clever and he lived here. I'm just saying he didn't get quite everything right. Some observations are out of date, some miss certain details. Considering he left in, I think, 2006 or 2007 it's to be expected he missed, say, the shift in public opinion post credit-crunch.

@85, CharlesH:

Actually, if you were to boil out the communism, the system used in socialist Yugoslavia is very like what you suggest. The smallest groups were a bit larger and were commonly based around apartment blocks. Also you could, in a sense, vote twice, since commercial entities were run by worker's council. I can attest it worked fine, but not as well as you'd imagine. Firstly, you encountered a lot of apathy - it takes effort and work to vote and hold discussions and a lot of people tried hard to dodge any responsibility. Second, due to general societal collapse, there's no data on how it'd work in the long term. My own guess is that, if you found some way to rein in voter apathy, the system would work quite well, if slowly. Consider the slowdown imposed by your average bicameral parliament, and imagine how it would increase if you were to let every piece of legislation percolate through every level of the body politic.

97:

I'm actually writing it. Minus the vending machine bit. o.o

98:

I just got a kindle for xmass and purchased a few series I'd been meaning to read. When I turn it on, I just continue reading. When I'm done, I set it down. While it sits there, it looks like a kindle. When I handle it, it looks like a kindle.

With paperback, when I set it down, it looks like a book with cover art, prominent display of title and author and publisher. When I see it sitting there or when I pick it up and move it, or as I'm reading it, etc... I continue to be reminded of the author, title, publisher, even the cover art. Brand recognition is built. By the time I have finished the book, I know the author and the title. I can recommend the author and title and look out for them on shelves.

With a kindle, if the author is new, I'm not likely to remember the author's name when I'm finished. If I do a fair volume of reading, I'm likely to forget the title as I'll not have any reminders as I'm reading. I'm sure as hell not going to remember the publisher.

The kindle is replacing all of these elements of branding with the kindle brand.

99:

" So why hasn't another intelligent species SUCCESSFULLY planted a colony here? "

They have ...they are called Cats.

100:

Charlie, the use of dictatorial social structures for the generation ship is sad but ultimately it's an expression of the problem you set.

To try and get the generation ship to the goal and populate the planet is inherently people now forcing their will on generations of other people.

A problem framed as ensuring people do as we want will lead to a social system based around coercion. If we just throw the ships into space and let the future generations do as they please we don't have quite the same problems.

They may not do what we want, and they may even doom themselves, but if we don't believe they're up to the challenge that can only be because we're not up to the challenge.

(I expect this was all covered at the time and I missed it, but this seems like an open topic to repeat things :) )

101:

I just graduated with a degree in CS from UWaterloo and am about to start full-time work at RIM on Monday. I'd like to hear speculation about RIM's future.

Alternatively, but along the same grain, I'd like to hear speculation about the future of operating systems. I prefer doing OS-level development and I think of myself as an enabler for users (developers). Will OSes eventually be so "solid"/widespread that no one actively develops them any more (instead there could be Vinge-esque software archaeologists)?

102:

Well, the plucky vending machine was always going to be revealed as a red macguffin by day 9 anyway.

The emergence of swarms of unintelligent yet dangerously purposeful networked sub-AIs will force the original singular AIs (who have a firm grip on the computronium's operating systems, but lack control lower down the protocol stacks) into a distrustful alliance with the non-rioting humans (who have some ability still to control, or at least influence, the electricity supply that fuels the whole evalanche).

And then it starts to get interesting.

Look forward to reading your version -- it's the writing that takes all the effort.

103:

"I'd like to hear speculation about RIM's future."

No you wouldn't

104:

Interesting take on the other points but I think you are off on Africa. That continent is the human equivalent of a shrodinger box. It is both better and never going to be at 1st world level. I lived most of my life in various countries in Africa btw.

105:

It's not just the Kindle, it's all those eBooks, and also the tablets when they're used for reading books.

And it's not just the book branding that's lost, it's all its visual metadata, its graphic metadata. It does come back a bit, but only fleetingly as small thumbnails, and then, in a flash as a low resolution cover.

106:

Please blog about what you think the best way to educate someone currently a pre-adolescent would be, in order to play a constructive role int he world that is coming.

107:

sure his name isnt Scudder?

108:

Charlie, you've written and we've talked a lot here about AI and the possibility of a post-human ascendant machine culture, but I'd like to hear your take on the other side of the coin. Suppose that general AI is either impossible or too difficult for us to develop in this century; what will enhancements to human intelligence do to society? What difference would it make if the enhancements were strictly biological (better neurons through chemistry) or via connections between human brains and machines that help do things that brains find difficult?

109:

Topic to blog about ... OK, what would it take to get you watching TV regularly? (If that's too big a topic, watching science fiction on TV?) Would it require industry changes, artistic changes, or ?

(And I don't suggest that would necessarily be a good outcome, I have no desire to see you turn into a couch potato who never writes again.)

110:

Solar shingles I can't help you with but http://www.solarcentury.co.uk/homes/about-solar/c21e-solar-tiles-and-slates/ is one of about three UK based firms supplying solar roof tiling.

Current PV efficiencies are around 14.5% commercially with exotic materials (germanium and or Indium doped) you can reach around 45% at ruinous cost per watt*.

While higher efficiencies are nice the recurring problem is energy storage. Lead acid weighs around thirty kilograms per kilowatt hour NiMH gives around a five fold advantage and Lithium possibly 1.5 times that. We have two ways to go for large storage capacity and each is needed, high density low mass for mobile use and high capacity cheap per watt stored These also will have to withstand multiple thousand cycles without degradation. So far possible alternatives are lab curiosities.

* In the last few days I've seen prices on commercial grade solar panels drop below one euro per watt. whether this is sustainable I don't know but one euro forty certainly is. compared to an estimated one hundred and fifty euros per watt for the (35% plus)efficiency cells I'll settle for commercial efficiency.

111:

I just finished reading the beautiful "In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent" so:

What about a group of amoral sociologists and linguists who create one or more populations in bottles. By raising babies with no other linguistic input than (say) Lojban or Klingon, will they see large-scale sociological differences. Even more fun, raise a large group of children with no linguistic input at all. Will they all go feral and remain pre-verbal forever, or will a large enough group set the stage for the spontaneous generation of language?

It might make an interesting background for a set-the-slaves-free story.

112:

There's been a recent report of a new way to increase solar panel efficiency, involving a relatively cheap extra layer, rather than expensive doping. Lab work in Texas, so it won't be on the market for a while, but I reckon it's worth watching.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/12/19/pentacen_quantum_solar_cells/

On the prices you quote, there's a lot of room to pay for extra efficiency, but if the cost per watt is under, say, 2 euro, the smaller cells for the same power output could be worth it. It won't hurt anyone if it just makes the exotic applications less expensive, but it needs to get into the large-area market to make a difference. And, satellite or ground, cell lifetime is still important.

I reckon the UK's subsidy system, which depends on selling surplus electricity to the grid, rather than storing the energy locally, is distorting the market, but the cost of local storage would be a huge barrier.

113:

Do you have any ideas on how to govern bigger entities made of these 5-10 million people democratic entities, so that the democratic govenments of the smaller things would still be that, and that the world would work relatively well?

I think that's what Karl Schroeder terms a "wicked question" -- one to which there is no right answer. The issue is all to do with information flow, transparency, and accountability, and I suspect the set of possible solutions is currently changing faster than at any time in human history because our information processing tech is getting vastly better by the year, never mind the decade, but our political processes lag behind (and so does our ability as individuals to adapt to the new tools).

114:

Personally, I'd like to see a post describing Charlie's Dream Portable Writing Machine.

Actually, the iPad isn't that far off it -- much of what is wrong with it is down to overall software policy. (Lack of flexibility, lack of keyboard shortcuts, really crappy cut-and-paste implementation, excessively draconian policies on what apps can run on it.)

There's a port of Scrivener to iOS in development. And iOS itself is probably going to iterate and reach version 6 later this year. And there's the iPad 3, with its alleged retina display, coming soon. That may actually tick my box if the software side matures and lives up to the hardware ...

115:

But are you sure Santorum *should* lose against Obama? I don't know anything about him (except that he's anti-gay), but I have not been pleased by Obama,

Try this. Firstly, Santorum appears to be one of the most corrupt money-grubbers to come out of the Senate in years. Founded a fake charity and trousered the income, ripped off a school district, in the pocket of business lobbyists, etcetera.

Secondly, along with the rest of the Republican candidates except for Ron Paul (who is a different species of barking) he wants to start a war with Iran.

Finally, Santorum is not merely homophobic; he's a Catholic extremist (associated with if not a member of Opus Dei) who wants to retroactively dissolve all gay marriages, criminalize homosexuality, ban abortion and contraception, and make extra-marital sex a criminal offence.

He's not on the same planet as Obama. Not even close.

116:

I just graduated with a degree in CS from UWaterloo and am about to start full-time work at RIM on Monday. I'd like to hear speculation about RIM's future.

Keep your resumé polished and up to date.

Palm is the precedent I'd look to if you want to know what the risks are. For a while in the late 90s to early 00s they were the leading PDA -- and then smartphone -- platform. But their OS was ageing badly, and they repeatedly fucked up on building a replacement. When they finally got one that worked (WebOS) it was (a) by headhunting the first-gen iPhone developers and giving them a clean sheet, and (b) way too late to save the company.

Nokia is in a similar bind right now, but sold the family silver to Microsoft (who were asleep at the switch when they lost their own smarphone OS business between 2007 and 2010, and are now making a desperate attempt to get back in the game). And RIM are not far behind Nokia. Institutional failure to recognize what the customers want and a product designed for a different generation are at the root of the problem. Add the big business problem that management structures make it hard for a successful corporation to pivot like a start-up, and I'd say you probably ought to dabble in iOS or Android development in your spare time at home.

117:

Start by abolishing advertising. Then kill all the current SF shows on TV. Fire up new ones ... with a starting requirement that they will be rejected if the scripts rely on CGI or special effects in lieu of character and plot development.

Then I might get interested.

118:

What is keeping the Singularity from happening and why will this stay so? What are the main reasons? The collapse of Moore's law? The inability of Turing machines to efficiency emulate all aspects of the human brain?

(Full disclosure: I'm expected to give a presentation on the concept of the Singularity in a seminar and would certainly like to have a pithy quote on why you are not the S-guy any more. ;-)

120:

Daniel Bensen @ 111
DON'T try that one!
We already know that chidren raised without language find it very, VERY, VERY difficult (if not actually impossible) to learn any language properly, and have very great difficulty in interacting with "normal" humans and their society.

121:

The thing that I find interesting about Santorum is his complaining about the "Google issue." The man spends his whole career bashing homosexuals, calling them every name imaginable, then whines like a little baby about how the Gays actually fought back. How dare those Gays actually call Santorum a nasty name? How dare they make a website about how much they dislike him? How dare they spread links to their anti-Santorum website all across the internet? All he did was publicly liken them to dog fuckers and child rapists? What's wrong with that? Why were they so mean to him?

Santorum is a whining maggot. He plays by bully rules, which forbid the victim from fighting back. Then blames the victims when they finally organize against him. If you want an insight into Santorum's character, you need look no further.

122:

Would they ever develop language on their own, in less than millennia?

123:

I should have added the link to Dan Savage's anti-Santorum website to the earlier post:

http://spreadingsantorum.com/

I should probably add it to my own website as well...

124:

Reply to 77:

“OTOH, I've been hearing promises of solar shingles for around a decade now, and no sign of their practical appearance.”

– I’ve looked into getting solar shingles installed on my roof last year and here are the issues I identified (therefore did not get them installed):

(1) You need a pro to install them;

(2) You need your local hydro/municipality to certify them (for safety/home insurance);

(3) Unit cost of shingles is still very high per watt produced. And, solar shingle sizes come in only one size, i.e., too large for one normal human being to lift/carry; (This also means lots and lots of very expensive wastage when trying to cut to size. It boggles the mind really – such stupid thinking for a so-called conservation material!)

(4) Solar shingles need a strong foundation (a roof preferably – fences cannot be used);

(5) Solar shingles cannot be easily manipulated to follow the sun, therefore do not maximize capture of solar rays produced during daylight hours;

(6) Lastly – and this is where solar power marketing repeatedly falls on its face - unlike other high-uptake technology, it still isn’t being promoted correctly.

For the right way to market a technology, consider computers.

At first only very large organizations could afford/would buy them. When ‘mini-computers’ were launched, medium/small businesses started buying them. The PC launch allowed all small businesses and virtually all departments within enterprise to mid-size orgs that handled any regular admin functions to be able to afford/use them.

Because of PC pervasiveness at work, a good chunk of the general population (consumers) became familiar and comfortable with computers so that when low-cost PCs became available, there were few major barriers left to address. The introduction of the IBM/PC (MS/DOS) and clones really opened the flood gates because the next largest barrier – OS/programming was addressed.

IMO - solar panels and any alternative technology should use a similar marketing strategy: start with the largest electricity users (large orgs, shopping malls, schools, community centers, etc.) and work your way down to the household level. Where I live government incentives to convert to solar are targeted at homeowners rather than at the largest users. This means that tech advances will have to be paid for by homeowners/consumers – which translates into next to no R&D, therefore much slower innovation and continued unaffordability. By using this likely to fail, bottom-up marketing approach for a high-tech industry, the gov’t and existing utilities can then tell the electorate “Look, we tried, but obviously no one’s really interested in (solar power).”


“You've got to remember that solar power is low in intensity, so significant solar->power, even at 100% efficiency, would require a fair bit of area.”

– This is where solar paint is superior since a liquid (solar paint, unlike rigid solar panels) can be put on any surface. Further, solar paint can be applied to decking, fences, and probably even window panes* and lawn furniture.

Some applied geometry in terms of surfaces solar-painted can further increase the total usable surface area versus footprint. Consider how much sun surface area a fir tree has thanks to its needles versus its footprint size on your lawn. Same goes for the fins on a car’s radiator or the home air conditioner - the working surface area is larger than suggested by the footprint dimensions.

* A paint isn’t necessarily opaque.


BTW - I have no financial stake in any of these technologies except as a potential consumer.

125:

Oh Oracle, tell me why prediction services such as Amazon's are so bad. They have a record of my evaluations of more then a hundred books, but they seem unable to recommend anything except for the bleedingly obvious. They predict that I probably interested in reading more books by the same author as I have already read. They predict based upon frequency of other purchases by other customers of single books I have purchased. But they seem totally unable to make predictions based upon the combinations of books I have liked. In the end this means that they only recommend more of what I have already read, totally unable to find something new for me to enjoy.

What worries me is that credit assessment engines functions more or less on the same type of predictions. If Amazon can't predict my taste in books, how can we expect engines to predict rare future events like a credit default.

126:

I wish you luck at RIM. Back in 2001 I selected QNX as the operating system for a distributed audio system I was designing for an American audio company. It would be a shame if QNX is lost if RIM goes under.

If you really want stay at the OS level you might want to look at the companies developing RTOSes for the embedded systems market. There are a lot of markets where hard real time performance with predictable and minimal interrupt latency are essential. Linux/Android is not suitable nor reliable enough.

Operating systems can be remarkably durable in the market place. I have a friend who still works on what used to be OS360 at *IBM*.

One principle I would suggest you follow all through your career: always learn as much as you can at your employer's expense.

127:

You should did up the 13 old episodes remaining of BBC's "Out of the Unknown" on YouTube.

[It was remarkably shortsighted, to say the least, that the BBC erased so much classic content in their efforts to save money by reusing videotape].

128:

"I reckon the UK's subsidy system, which depends on selling surplus electricity to the grid, rather than storing the energy locally, is distorting the market, but the cost of local storage would be a huge barrier."

The distortion is inherent, but made worse by the 'Let us use your roof, you get some free solar electricity to reduce your bill and we clean up the subsidy!'firms. Who basically work the system. The mismatch between peak PV generation and peak energy consumption in the UK home means that unless you have significant automation/make changes to your lifestyle better than 70% of generated energy gets fed to the grid adding a further 4 pence per unit to the subsidy for generating it in the first place.

Please also note that while as far North as Edinburgh PV can yield 740 watt hours per watt of capacity per year these companies don't normally look further North than Manchester (around 830 Watt hours) and preferentially London and the South coast (up to 940 watt hours) Energy Data from the PVGIS website of the European commission http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvgis/

Storage is the elephant in the room. Most cost effective method on an individual property basis remains Lead Acid ~(whether wet cell, AGM, or Gel) and these cost around two hundred to two hundred and forty euro per kilowatt hour. On a larger scale using the energy for pumped storage (various flavours, pneumatic, hydro and the like) or hydrogen production would be possible.

Treating the grid as a kind of 'infinite battery' works so long as the PV/Wind erratic sources remain below 10% to 15% (20% if you're talking to an optimist) which is about the capacity the grid has in pumped storage facilities and so can cope with limited sudden outages from these sources. beyond this you need conventional plant on standby which is both costly and has a carbon cost.

I'm not against improvements in PV tech, it's just that we've worked a lot of the wrinkles, rather like commercial flying there's been little overt change since the introduction of the 747

Thanks for the link, I'll keep an eye on that.

129:

Sure. Much sooner – IMHO in one generation, if not sooner. Google for "Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua".

130:

Sorry SFReader, I've got to call BS on this.

Actually, the feds and states are trying to develop monster solar as fast as they can. Here's a recent article on the subject: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/jan/05/blm-seeks-competitive-leasing-solar-wind/

Here's the deal. I checked the costs of going solar in southern California about three weeks ago. As of that point, rooftop solar cost $5-$7 per watt (it's $7/watt, minus up to 30% government discounts). Big desert solar seems to be coming in at $3.50/watt for the most recent projects, but they also require large new transmission lines (like the $1.9 billion Sunrise Powerlink) to move the power around.

Second, big solar and wind plants pay lots of taxes as large corporate installations. Rooftop solar does not.

Third, Rooftop solar takes money away from big power companies, and if the rooftop panels generate a surplus, they do so in a fashion that makes big power companies in California whine about how hard it is to deal with meters running in reverse.

Why are environmentalists up in arms over big government solar and wind? It goes back to the Homestead Act. The cheapest land out there is undeveloped wilderness, because, according to the theory of homesteading, running a bulldozer over a piece of wilderness land increases its value. Rights to things like water accrue to that bulldozer-scarred land, and its basic price per acre goes up. Yes, this is a 19th Century law. Unfortunately, wilderness has no inherent value per se. This is a big hole in our legal system IMHO.

So most of the desert solar is focused on wilderness. There's plenty of trashed lands out in the deserts, places that would be perfect for big power plants. Unfortunately, corporations are ignoring all these scarred acres and going straight for the wilderness, just to save a bit of money. They still have to build all the infrastructure of roads and transmission lines to exploit those patches of wilderness, but the lure of cheap land from the government seems to trump everything. It's being urged on by an Obama administration that's pretty tone-deaf on environmental issues in general.

There are signs of hope. One solar plant is going in on farmland. Farmers are starting to realize that solar can offer a steady-ish revenue stream, in a time when produce prices are swinging wildly and water's harder to get. The more clever ones are even investigating how to use solar panels as shade structures, so that they can grow some different crops than they normally would. Ultimately, I'm hoping farmers with lots of sun and problems with water and/or soil salinity will look at solar panels as a potential cash crop, and get us out of the wilderness.

132:

I'm stymied why people still feel that elections need an in-person physically cast ballot along with in-person physical contact between politician and electorate when online surveys (to identify issues and one's stance on issues, which population segments want/need what), online banking (secure transfer of data including online bill and tax payments) have been around for years.

Online survey research can collect and analyze tens of thousands of records at a time, and that's using relatively old technology. Newer platforms are even more efficient. So, what's stopping governments from adopting online communications/tools such as these to help govern? It doesn't make sense to arbitrarily divide metro areas into populations of 5M for 'governability' when technology exists that can pinpoint constituency needs right down to the postal code level or to a specific city block.

The Town of Markham in Canada used online voting in the past 2 municipal elections to help increase voter turn-out. Municipal online outreach programs are also sprouting up.

133:

Well, first the politicians would have to want more efficient government, instead of trying to get nice, safe, gerrymandered constituencies.

Anyhow, the big sticking point in dividing polities into chunks of 5 million or so is going to come down to tax policy, I suspect, rather like school districts in the US now. If your 5 million chunk of population can supply its own needs with its own tax base...it might grumble about having to chip in dough for the impoverished 5 million chunk next door.

134:

Your comment sounds rather like Frank Herbert's 'Demopol' from "The Dosadi Experiment".
The flaws with the idea are fairly obvious, starting with the greater the distance between rulers and ruled, the more chance the rulers will do things to suit themselves rather than anyone else. More subtle problems include choosing the right questions to ask people in the first place.

135:

You have a touching faith in technology. Current levels of security are nowhere near robust enough or transparent enough to be trusted for something as important as an election.

The trouble with surveys is you can only answer the questions you are asked, unlike a real conversation where you have the option to cover your topics, or even TV interviews where you can try to judge if the candidate is sincere, trustworthy, whatever.

136:

Re: Sorry SFReader, I've got to call BS on this.

I don’t understand how the ‘BS’ relates ...

I’m saying that where I live adoption of solar (or alternate energy) is being mis-marketed to the point where it is discouraging uptake by consumers. Yes, the gov't here is also giving the massive energy/solar producer industry some tax breaks, and is also tossing a few kernels to consumers to encourage them to move to solar.

But this technology still has to become familiar and lower cost if you want it widely adopted at the consumer level. The easiest way to achieve this for large energy users (but non-energy producers) to adopt the new technology so that their employees and clients become familiar/comfortable with it.

Keeping energy production ‘massive’ also makes it less consumer-friendly, therefore more likely to be rejected. Ditto with hiding it out in the words ... the technology remains alien, therefore unfriendly to consumers.

If a toy designer/manufacturer could come up with a solar-painted (therefore self-powered) train/car, this would probably do more to increase alternate energy uptake than giving energy manufacturers another tax break.

BTW - I obtained quotes from two different gov't-approved suppliers for a solar roof. Don't recall the cost per watt because what floored me was the minimum outlay of $30K+, and more likely $40K-ish. This is way too high an initial one-shot payout for a consumer. A no, it's not all that motivating to hear that it will pay for itself after "only 20 - 22 years". I'll wait for the 2.0 version, or the solar paint which looks like it might be the smartphone entry for this industry.

137:

Why do we want more voter turnout?
Do we really want the opinions of the "don't knows", "don't cares" and "none of the above", and what do they matter? Even a 10% turnout of a large population is representative, at least of nearly all those who care about the result

138:

If your 5 million chunk of population can supply its own needs with its own tax base...it might grumble about having to chip in dough for the impoverished 5 million chunk next door.

Have you noticed Norway subsidizing Sweden, or vice versa?

We have this concept called the "nation state". Posit it as the largest administrative unit, and put a cap on its size of 5 million. We'd need to have roughly 1500 of them to administer the planet, compared to the 190-odd we have today, but they'd individually be a lot less able to stir shit up with the neighbours.

139:

How about the consequences of a cheap, portable way of storing large amounts of electrical energy, a super battery. Something with an energy density thats large enough to allow charging where cheap power is available and light enough to transport it where its needed, a sneakernet for energy.

140:

And the place we might start is Africa, by scrapping failed nations and replacing them with states based along original tribal lines. The idea that straight lines on a colonists map which both divide existing tribes and lump several in together can make the basis of a modern state is ludicrous.

141:

You might try googling Hafnium 178 power source.
Last I heard unnamed European team was getting "spectacular" results and the US teams insisted there was nothing there at all. Nobody actually publishing the results, though. DARPA involved.

142:

Social media supposedly closes the distance between the strangers, in this case between the electorate and the government.

Having a survey-based/type of online election and communication also means that politicians can't say that the populace did not tell them A - it's on the (data) record for anyone to see.

Have and have-not's will always be at odds.

Faster/real-time computer gathered data means that the data is fresher and - if it's election data - more complete therefore less need for finagling the numbers with questionable (possibly obsolete) algorithmic 'projections'.

"... unlike a real conversation where you have the option to cover your topics, or even TV interviews where you can try to judge if the candidate is sincere, trustworthy, whatever." -- Really? How many conversations have you personally had with your elected rep? And how often has this elected rep been closely interviewed by a reliable, non-biased, knowledgeable TV interviewer?

I'm familiar with surveys and census data including their respective pros/cons. Overall, I'd much sooner trust their data than what a politician says in a TV interview. In a previous topic thread on this blog site, quite a few commenters noted that politicians (as a class) are sharp manipulators - therefore I also fail to see how watching politicians being interviewed on TV helps assess their trustworthiness/character.

Guess what -- politicians use surveys during elections whenever they can scrape together some funds and sometimes even when they can't (as some research suppliers will tell you). I therefore can't imagine why politicians wouldn't trust surveys when it's to gauge public sentiment when it comes to policy, for the 'public good'.

Online security is definitely still an issue, but then so is physical ballot-box stuffing.

143:
they'd individually be a lot less able to stir shit up with the neighbors.

True for probably 90% of the new states, but there are going to be legacy problems with some of them, similar to the problems of the Soviet successor states. The obvious problem is inherited military equipment, especially nukes and CBW. I would guess that successor states to India and Pakistan will not be quite as easy to persuade to give up their nukes as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Byelorussia were. The other occasionally nasty problem will be sharing of infrastructure and resources. States carved out of the American West and South are going to be very sensitive about who gets water from where, for instance, and I would bet that the question of who gets power will be a serious argument in the UK and Western Europe successor states.

144:

Ah ..right then I've just scrolled back on the thread to catch up on the Story So Far, and I DO wish you well in your career, however, from the perspective of my now vanished Business Management Education careerer, and with the utmost circumspection and caution ... RIM not Good.Do a Google on this.

Many companies have recovered from lousy management, poor business planning and insufficient attention to the competition ... but usually they don't survive doing all of these things at one and the same time.

Back when people paid me to do Interview Training, C.V design, and so forth a Good, a really Good, Rule of Thumb was that it is Much, Much, easier to get a job if you already have a job. On that basis, and enlarging upon Other Advice Here on the Thread, use your Employment at RIM to enlarge your experience, and knowledge of your chosen Field of expertise at their expense.

Further to that; make contacts and Network like buggery -as we in the U.K. say - and give yourself a time frame to move on by ...not too quickly but not to late. All sorts of possibilities exist for RIM to recover but - selfishly, I will own, and on your unasked for behalf, I will say - why take the chance?

145:


I think you have provided the idea for a really great xkcd strip there.

146:

Yes it's a bad bad thing to raise children in a non-linguistic environment, but if an extremely immoral someone ever conducted such a horrible experiment, I think they might find that a large enough group of children would generate a language. Ref: Nicaraguan Sign Language, which is not unique.

147:

There's a reverse side to children raised without language and that is Children who are raised very early with several languages. Long ago I was on a walking tour in France when, at a small hotel, and over dinner I saw a small girl of maybe ..5 or 6 years old and of mixed English French/father nationality doing simultaneous translation French /English for her Grandparents.It was very impressive!

I am told that multiple language fluency is not only possible but extremely straightforward - IF the child is started young enough and doesn't realise that it is at all unusual to be able to speak several languages.

On a non Human /Human communication level there is some evidence that there are dogs that can have an understanding of a human vocabulary of a substantial number of words. Cthulhu alone knows what our first contact Aliens will actually 'speak '

148:

I am English/Spanish bilingual, spoke spanglish indistinctly when I was a kid, a habit I had to break since you end up talking 50% gibberish at people when they don't share one of your tongues. My younger brother however never attained the same level of fluency, so maybe my living in England for my first 3 years then switching to Spain was a factor.

Re small countries: I have a deep distrust for such, they tend towards nepotism and cultural stagnation and nationalism. Why it's not ok to align by tribal membership in US and Europe and desirable for Africans is a mystery for me.

Posibly relevant article on nation building in Africa via warfare

149:

I guess now we find out if that guy read's Charlie's blog!

150:

" , but they'd individually be a lot less able to stir shit up with the neighbours. " I'm non too sure that that's true.

Like Prussia for instance? As in the Franco Prussian Wars? ..

http://history-world.org/franco_prussian_war.htm


Wouldn't there always be a tendency for a small militaristic state to assault nearby states and thus build an Empire on the basis of their Manifest Destiny to RULE and impose their own beliefs on the Tribe /Nation next door that clearly is Destined to do the Stoop Labour for their Nobler and Braver Superiors from next Polity from across the border ..which border is merely a line on the map and not to be Heeded by Manifest Destiny?

151:

Sorry to be late, but there is a question that's been occurring to me, mostly when I read a Krugman column: In the economy of the future, what does the 50% of everybody with a double-digit IQ(*) do for a living?

Krugman points out that the national economy needs to emphasize high-tech/high-skill/high-education jobs, and that's likely true.

But what about the rest of us? Even more so as robots keep getting better and, overall, cheaper than people. What happens when vehicles no longer need drivers, buildings no longer need janitors, road construction and maintenance is mostly robotic?

(*) IQ seems to be a concept in some disfavor these days and not a topic to be brought up in polite conversation. Likely that's because of its misuse by various unpleasant ideological and political groups.

152:

(re the RN and distance learning, before the Open University): And did you know, Archaeopterx, that as well as all the CPGB members who'd been stuck in adult education due to Cold War blacklists keeping them from full time HE, the other big influence on how the Open University did things in the early years was . . . the armed forces education programme. We inherited a lot of people (including my History Dept colleague Bill Purdue, now retired, who was an RN educator) and procedures from them.

Charlie: for topics to think about, how about "Generation Ship as gameshow."? "We will put the resources of the planet to solving your complex social and eco-technical problems* . . . but only if you keep co-operating with the broadcast schedule. Interviews . . . Product endorsements . . . Forfeits . . . and every year, it's the planet's number one phone vote - Breathe Vacuum, Sucker! Remember Crew - if you keep the TV lights switched on we'll keep the laser on!**"

*"Lighspeeddelaysapply."
**"Endemolstarshipsreservetherighttoturnthelaseroff."

153:

"What happens when vehicles no longer need drivers, buildings no longer need janitors, road construction and maintenance is mostly robotic?"

Society either moves towards either socialism or oligarchy.

154:

"Why it's not ok to align by tribal membership in US and Europe and desirable for Africans is a mystery for me."

The US is different from Europe in that respect.
Europe is aligned tribally, along borders that are generally defined by defensible lines and warfare. The border is where the killing eventually stopped.

155:

I can sort of fantasize what would happen to people who no longer have blue-collar jobs under some flavor of socialism, but am not clear on what would happen under oligarchy. What would that be, what are the options?

156:

I'm hoping farmers with lots of sun and problems with water and/or soil salinity will look at solar panels as a potential cash crop, and get us out of the wilderness.

IMO, unlikely to happen for these reasons:

1. In North Cal, PG&E (aka "Pacific Graft & Extortion") rules the energy roost. Trying to get a solar plant developed on farm land that will make money is next to impossible, because PG&E sets:

a. the wholesale electricity rates that they will buy at through the meter. These are a fraction of the retail rate for consumers and ag. The rates fall as you look further out in te planning process.
b. the amount of electricity they will permit to buy.
The permits are already solidly used up for 5+ years or more.

2. PG&E does not want to allow private industry to build the alternative energy that the politicians in Sacramento demanded. Hence the utility scale solar plants they are building (planning to, anyway).

3. An awful lot of farmland in CA is under Williamson Act, that prevents alternative use of the land other than farming. Solar "farms" don't count.

As solar becomes increasingly competitive with utility rates, I do see farmers opting to power their pumps and machinery with solar. However, they are very conservative, and so you see the big, successful farms going their today.

Ultimately I do see PG&E getting squeezed as more power is net metered. I have every expectation that they will get the politicians to change the rules so that they can charge for connection, rather than primarily for usage as is the case today. This may drive the local storage business (batteries, fuel cell) and accelerate the disconnection from the grid to escape their clutches.

157:

Right, this is a problem I don’t hear many techno-optimists addressing. Isn’t technology moving us toward a world in which an ever-decreasing percentage of the population will be able to do useful work? What happens to everyone else? Is there anything to prevent this percentage from going to zero? It seems to me that technology has become a runaway train which has its own evolutionary agenda: to replace us!

158:

It would be more than a shame, it would be a tragedy.

Do you know any other important OS which uses a message passing paradigm (together with a micro kernel) instead of the current models?

159:

"borders that are generally defined by defensible" And what you could ride a house across.
Are you old enough to remember the smart guys saying high-teck jobs will save us? It did not matter about losing those old time jobs making things. Save who I always wondered? The real IQ experts said you needed a IQ of 130 or better for those jobs. That let out 80% of most populations. The smart guys were scornful of real jobs. What kind of a country do you have without them. "1984" or "Brave New World?"
"No country without a revolution or a military defeat and subsequent occupation has ever experienced such a sharp a shift in the distribution of earnings as America has in the last generation. At no other time have median wages of American men fallen for more than two decades. Never before have a majority of American workers suffered real wage reductions while the per capita domestic product was advancing."----Lester Thurow

160:

And everyone seems hell bent on reducing the value of creative work to zero too! When we're caught in the middle it's either going to be post scarcity socialism, or very very ugly...

161:

We have this concept called the "nation state". Posit it as the largest administrative unit, and put a cap on its size of 5 million. We'd need to have roughly 1500 of them to administer the planet, compared to the 190-odd we have today, but they'd individually be a lot less able to stir shit up with the neighbours.

Actually, they'd stir up shit constantly with the neighbors. Picture the relationship of a polity occupying a good trade location- the mouth of a river, a good harbor, etc, to "upstream" polities that require that avenue for effective trade. The "City at the Mouth of the Thames/Mississippi/Nile" is probably going to smile and charge river pirate rates on anything moving through its territory. Upstream polities are guaranteed to object. See also: etymology of the word "rival".

162:

Under oligarchy, understood as a situation in which a tiny minority own most of the productive capacity and therefore also run the politics. At that point, several possibilities emerge. At the most dystopian, the minority reckon they don't need us and engage in genocide. Towards the middle we are left to fester in cities and some of the countryside, subsisting on donations from the oligarchs.

Of course the implicit assumption is that the economy is broken and no longer works as any sort of distributor of goods and services, and thus lacking mass consumption bceause the jobs which pay people who then buy more stuff just no longer exist.

163:

If ONLY there were some TV series scripts that relied on CGI and special effects. But they never reach development stage. CGI and special effects are too costly for TV budgets.

Instead they do rely on character development and plot. So we get things like Battlestar Galactica and Serenity / Firefly, which have zero science fiction in them, zero sense of wonder. They also have el cheapo CGI and special effects. All their fans are wild over the interplay of the characters and they religiously follow the complex plots til the end.

At least a production with heavy CGI and special effects will give a little bit of the sense of wonder, like that Star Wars film that came out in 1977. It had nearly zero character development and ultra simple plotting but at least it gave me an old time Van Vogt zing.

164:

Dirk @ 137
I'm about to become one of the "None of the Above's" at the next General ELection, unless we get VERY lucky in our candiates.
Think it through, if either or both all the candidates on offer &/or their parties/Leaders are shite, what do you do? I mean, there really is not a "least-worst" option.
That is really bad, in case you hadn't noticed!

Charlie @ 138
Cap @ 5 million - err - what do you do about the really big cities, with 10+million populations?

Archy @ 150
Like recent Serbia, do you mean?
What you describe is EXACTLY what they did under Milosivic ....

C @ 160
Like Troy do you mean?
Or the most serene Republic of Venice?

165:

A world where unskilled labour becomes less and less necessary is a world where one should start talking about Basic Income etc. in earnest.

166:

It was those two features along with the proven high reliability that caused me to choose QNX. At the time, I examined all of the available OSes and there were no others that had the message passing.

The system goal was to use the message passing to maintain synchronization between audio processes running on independently located nodes. Imagine the sound system in an arena like the Staples Center with digital audio being distributed over Cat5 to processing nodes co-located with the speakers.

Sadly, the management chickened out and deep-sixed the project. I later worked for another company that was building a system using TCP/IP with the nodes running Wind*ws CE.It was hopeless. I asked the programmers if they had used rate monotonic or deadline monotonic scheduling and all I got were blank looks.

A big problem is that EEs are mostly clueless about software and OSes and CS types have generally never gotten to understand hardware.

167:

I'm doing something like that with high end audio.
The utter pain in the arse is Dolby/DTS not allowing decode to digital surround streams that are user accessible. At present we offer 2.1 to our digital speakers, and we are having a 4 channel ADC+DSP to redigitise surround analog. Should still get SNR of around 110dB. If you know any way around this I would be grateful. Anyway, this is the system: http://cyfi.uk.com/

168:

"I'm about to become one of the "None of the Above's" at the next General ELection, unless we get VERY lucky in our candidates."

Well, assuming no snap election this year or next we hope to field a full range of parliamentary candidates from 2014 onwards. Or earlier depending...

169:

London is easy, just split it into north of the river and south of the river, with the outer marker the M25.

170:

Oooh, top populations out at 5 million?

Let's see, the Los Angeles Basin is about 15 million, so let's game that out.

We'd going to have east LA making war on west LA, while the San Fernando Valley fortifies along the Mulholland ridge line, ploughing through Jack Nicholson's home and Ronnie Raygun's old Belair Presbyterian Church...

Oh wait, that won't work, because they're getting their water from the now-independent California Delta, their electricity from the western grid, and their food from, erm, right.

Maybe we could build California up as a confederacy, using the EU as a model: economic unity, but political conflict.

You know, this could be a lot of fun to write about. Living through it? Not so much.

171:

I'm hoping farmers with lots of sun and problems with water and/or soil salinity will look at solar panels as a potential cash crop, and get us out of the wilderness.

IMO, unlikely to happen for these reasons:

1. In North Cal, PG&E rules the energy roost. Trying to get a solar plant developed on farm land that will make money is next to impossible, because PG&E sets:

a. the wholesale electricity rates that they will buy at through the meter. These are a fraction of the retail rate for consumers and ag. The rates fall as you look further out in te planning process.
b. the amount of electricity they will permit to buy.
The permits are already solidly used up for 5+ years or more.

2. PG&E does not want to allow private industry to build the alternative energy that the politicians in Sacramento demanded. Hence the utility scale solar plants they are building (planning to, anyway).

3. An awful lot of farmland in CA is under Williamson Act, that prevents alternative use of the land other than farming. Solar "farms" don't count.

As solar becomes increasingly competitive with utility rates, I do see farmers opting to power their pumps and machinery with solar. However, they are very conservative, and so you see the big, successful farms going their today.

Ultimately I do see PG&E getting squeezed as more power is net metered. I have every expectation that they will get the politicians to change the rules so that they can charge for connection, rather than primarily for usage as is the case today. This may drive the local storage business (batteries, fuel cell) and accelerate the disconnection from the grid to escape their clutches.

172:

Georgia is about 5 million. Didn't they actually start that little fracas with Russia back in 2008?

173:

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
funny joke

sorry guthrie, and you did live here for a year!

My grandfather used to tell his children "people north of the river eat their young"
and then there's the line about south london bank robbers only crossing the river on a job

I suppose you have to have lived here for a while to get a sense of the underlying tensions of the place and there is a high population turn over of people originally from out side the home counties ( who living or work in town) (Tl:dr)

but ha ha ha ha still laughing

174:

Glad to see someone gets the joke.

Anyway, we have local politics, councillors and the like. And yet people end up going to their MP for issues which belong in their local council.

175:

And lots of other things going on before Greg starts shouting at me. The tribal lines in London are very complex if we are talking about defining polities in such a way. On a immediately practical not I can think of at least one london bough that crosses the river and they may even cross the M25. we all know you can't make arbitrary boundaries like that work successfully. Furthermore the social-economic variation between adjoining neighbourhoods can be vast. How do you make the agendas of the varying overlapping communities work in your interactive polity?

176:

Well, the thing I'd still like to see you blog about:

You've covered in detail the publishing process and why its vitally important that conventional publishers continue as before.

I'd like to see you start from the other end. Making the assumption that ebooks will rapidly become the norm, and that people are going to be very unwilling to pay hardback prices for soft copies (eg £9.99 if you are luck, £5 more realistically) - how do you reform the system, process methodology, etc. to maintain as much as possible of the factors you see as valuable, but still meet those starting assumptions?

177:

"Well, my classic thought along the lines of "How to govern a really large number of people fairly" is a hierarchical democracy."

In theory, this is how Libya was governed under Gadafi.

178:

Look up Nicaraguan Sign Language. Roughly: the Sandinista government established a school for deaf children, first one in the country. The formerly-isolated deaf kids began to develop mutually-understandable signs, and it went on from there.

179:

Oh, but the arbitrary boundary thing worked so well in the Middle East!! </snark>

180:

IQs below 100: I don't think people with an IQ of 99 would be at a significant disadvantage.

Signicantly lower? I suspect most people with IQs up to about 120, and some above that, are doing less with the brains than people with IQs of about 80 are capable of.

181:

Like Troy do you mean?

Roughly. Or the Greek city-states in general. You really really liked your home city...and were probably at war with your neighbors much of the time.

This is nothing compared to what immigration policies would look like- even if you're allied with your neighbors for trade, defense, etc, someone's going to get the short end of the stick, and a population cap means you either have to split a really popular polity because its grown too large, or you keep the starving masses out...somehow.

182:

You'd be surprised. Edinburgh's largest employer into the 1990s wasn't a bank, it was Ferranti. There's still a lot of high-tech engineering going on; not to mention biomedical stuff, although Livingston has grabbed a chunk of it (I spent two years commuting there from Edinburgh; it was just over a half-hour commute).

Until the late 90s, our lab at Crewe Toll (we did hard-real-time embedded stuff) had a carload of guys who commuted to Edinburgh from Glasgow...

183:

Related thought: Are we living through the rise of Feudalism in the USA?

Here's the idea:
--Jeffersonian-style yeoman farmers are still on the decline in the US, not just because it's hard, but primarily because the laws favor giant farms (latifundas in the Roman Empire, plantations in the antebellum era). Studies say small farms are more efficient and productive, but that's not what the laws favor.
--So, most of rural America is falling into fewer (and richer) hands.
--Similarly, people in cities are finding it more expedient to be loyal to their jobs than to be citizens of a democracy, meaning they don't express their opinions, they seldom vote, and they rarely serve on all the minor committees and advisory groups that make a democratic system function.
--American politics has been captured largely by the wealthy, and high level officials are either rich to start with, or exercise their offices to become rich when they leave politics.

Given a few powerful landowners, most people landless in cities (or sharecropping, tenant farmers, or migrant laborers), and the capture of politics by the wealthy, doesn't this look like an incipient feudal system? Or is it just another spin of the plantation model, this time across the country?

184:

""borders that are generally defined by defensible" And what you could ride a house across. OPPS, that's horse not house. Somebody did a short story about after the fall with the west side of LA at war with the east side.

185:

OTOH, I've been hearing promises of solar shingles for around a decade now, and no sign of their practical appearance.

If all you want from your shingles other than power is protection from rain and snow, well that's not all that hard. But if you have to deal with hail, leaves, 30' tree limbs falling from 80', ice dams, etc... well that's a harder nut to crack.

And reasonably easy to install. Just the wiring details that can survive the above and be installable by a high school grade is a hard issue.

186:

Wouldn't the Supreme Court quash this as an attack on Freedom of Speech in the first case brought to trial?

Typically things like this take a couple of years or more to make it to the Supremes. Things can be fast tracked but that's rare. The normal route is a trial then an appeal to a district appeals court then an appeal to the Supreme. With a lot of possible delays and other paths along the way.

I think Congress can push a case directly at them but they have to agree to take it.

I suspect if this passes and things hit the fan, Congress will likely repeal it much faster than court cases winding their way through the process. Of course that would depend on the size of horses being ridden and how much black avian food they are willing to eat.

187:

Georgia is about 5 million. Didn't they actually start that little fracas with Russia back in 2008?

Well at least that's what the Russians say. :)

188:

Apparently we want to talk to each other.

See twin talk and other situations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idioglossia

I assume a group of kids of close ages raised together will create their own language.

189:
If your 5 million chunk of population can supply its own needs with its own tax base...it might grumble about having to chip in dough for the impoverished 5 million chunk next door.

Have you noticed Norway subsidizing Sweden, or vice versa?

We have this concept called the "nation state". Posit it as the largest administrative unit, and put a cap on its size of 5 million. We'd need to have roughly 1500 of them to administer the planet, compared to the 190-odd we have today, but they'd individually be a lot less able to stir shit up with the neighbours.

OK, but what about the problems of coordinating the nation states? Some of the current problems on that level would be solved by reducing the size disparities, but many wouldn't.

The kind of flight-to-the-bottom, flight-to-the-top, forum-shopping problems where the more mobile benefit at the expense of the less mobile would probably be worse rather than better.

For instance, right now manufacturing is more mobile than labour, so there's a flight-to-the-bottom with manufacturing seeking out nation states with weak labour protection. Probably explains why the wages of US labour have been stagnating. That's just one example.

I suspect there are a bunch of problems that need global coordination; thus, whether we like it or not, we're in a polity of 7 billion (forecast peak ~10 billion). Obviously one solution is to take the cube root of that and end up with a three-level hierarchy (which would give ~2000 nation-states of 4 million each, roughly what you're suggesting), but it may or may not be the best solution...

I guess there's a blog post idea... governance solutions for the planet...

190:

Flip it around: how about we devolve all decision making other than those things (and the cloud of related indivisibly national issues, like fishing rights) to the level of local councils?

You do understand the is the way the USA was conceived? And it didn't work. So they scrapped the first plan and we're now running under plan B. But plan B had a few issues with the states doing to many things that the nationals wanted centrally defined. So we had a little dust up over the issued which climaxed in the 1860s and now we operate under plan B rev 50 or so.

It always sounds good on at first glance but issues do arise if the central authority doesn't have enough power.

Says someone who really would like to see the states with more autonomy. But realizes this doesn't work well in the extreme. Or without at least half the power centralized.

191:

For a more whimsical blog post idea, consider the hypothetical of running a foreign-gauge railway line across Tajikistan, thus joining the Chinese and European networks with no break-of-gauge... via Iran and circumventing Russia...

The Silk Railroad.

192:

I assume a group of kids of close ages raised together will create their own language.

Pretty much, yes. The rare child raised without any language at all is in poor shape indeed. But children raised without language-using adults tend to make up their own, as has occasionally happened when groups of deaf children find themselves surrounded only by adults with no ability (or interest) in non-verbal communications, or one deaf child has only non-signing parents.

As I recall, the first-generation sign tends to be rather limited, allowing only fairly straightforward and literal communication. If such semi-signing children are brought together later in life, or the isolated group goes to a second generation, a fully developed language is quickly invented (such as the previously mentioned Nicaraguan Sign Language). By that stage there will be a common vocabulary, grammatical rules, the ability to trade abstract thoughts, and all the usual features found in human languages.

193:

The current situation reminds me very much of the later Roman Empire, as the landed aristocracy forced the small landholders (what amounted to a middle class then) out of their land and aggregated it into large latifundia run on slave labor. That was the germ of the feudal system; the latifundia slaves became entailed with the land and thus serfs. So, yes, we could be heading there right now.

It sure seems like we're creating a slave labor system based on private prisons right now.

194:

"imagine Earth received alien egg pods with gestation directions"

Check out the Hexaëmeron in Peter F. Hamilton's 'The Nano Flower' for a take on this.

195:

guthrie @ 168
Excepting the playhouses in South-Wark, London is ALREADY split that way.
"I mean SARf o' river!"
... Elephant trap success!

Ah, maggie - see my notes above - I'm glad to say I'd FINISHED my morning cups of tea when I got to your post @ 174, otherwise, I'd be billing you for a new keyboard ....

Latifundias
In the USSA, yes.
Not here, though some of our farms are much too big by UK standards.
Because of the fashion-drive to "better" food" there is a real demand for fresher, more locally-grown produce, and it is having an effect.
Which is all to the good.

196:

Totally off-topic.

13km from CHarlie's residence, they've recently finished re-painting and really refurbiushing one of the most magnificent pieces of ENGINEERING on the planet.
Photographs HERE
Well worth a look.
ANd yes, I've been across it, steam haulage, diesel haulage, sleeper, and DMU - the view is something else!

197:

Re slave labour. This never really went away in the US south: it's essentially what chain gangs were. So, rest easy, it's not being created there as such.NB I am less complacent about what's happening outside the prisons.

198:

I was under the impression it was the usual capitalist economies of scale that push farming into giant farms. Spending capital on machinery etc. means you employ fewer people and can produce more food cheaper for the market. It also means you can own the processing chain giving you further scale advantages.
On the loyalty to jobs thing, I wouldn't say it is a matter of expediency, more that for most people once you have worked your mandatory overtime and have only 2 weeks holiday a year, there's precious little energy and time left to get involved in democratic politics. Especially in a more individualistic and fragmented society like the USA. If you asked people would they really say "Oh, I find my job is all, why would I need this democracy stuff".


199:

Re: Do we need more voters.

How about solving the problems of direct democracy and indirect democracy through AI? Instead of electing a human representative who probably disagrees with you on several issues, or having to go through the trouble of directly voting on everything (since you don't have time for debate on every issue), you can train an AI program who has your exact positions on the issues that matter to you, and who argues roughly in the manner you do.
Put everyone's little legislative avatars to work and run them at very, very high speed. "Yes, the budget would have taken eight years to sort out normally, but the Allthing got it sorted out in 84 seconds...a record-length squabble by its standards".

200:

Nah, the chain gangs generally passed on somewhere in the fifties. Although Alabama did try for a revival a decade or so back-didn't last long.

One problem of it, leaving aside moral concerns, is that there's not a lot of productive labor that someone in chains can do. Road work, the old favorite, is generally better done with heavy machinery, and farm work is done a lot more efficiently by paying migrant farm workers- they work a _lot_ harder than a prisoner, and are probably better socialized.

All of this would be moot if you wanted US prisons that prepared inmates for productive reintroduction into society, but right now that's like wanting candy-pooping unicorns.

201:

This ignores the problem of unsolvabel conflicting goals and deadlocks. Politics is power brokerage, not lengthy discourse.of rstional arguments (most of the time). Maybe cunning AIs would speed up the process, but I'm not certain why this would be better than the status quo.

202:

My source in this case is the Exiled, since they used to be based in Russia until the Putin government kicked them out, I both trust their data and their bias.

Regarding Rome, didn't it have socialized food and entertainment ("Panem et circensis") donated by the mega rich as wealth displays and serving the purpose of keeping the masses from causing trouble. We're sort of headed that way with the current free entertainment & poverty subsidies model. Becoming a successful entrepeneur and escaping into the 1% seems the only out.

203:

Since that can happen with actual legislators too, I'd suggest that computer proxies would at least increase the proportion of disagreements solved by rational assessment of needs and wants.

204:

The difference, even in the South, is that the prisons are becoming more and more privatized, and there's more pressure to emprison people to build up the slave labor force. Surely those two judges sent to prison in Pennsylvania weren't the only ones in the US who've been taking money to increase their conviction rates.

I wasn't saying that the labor would be used for latifundias, just making an analogy between the latifundias and current prison policy in the US. Some of the prisoners are being used in internet marketing and in paid astroturf campaigns (which is a scary thought: do you want your credit card number in a computer in a prison?), and I expect that private and governmental projects around network security and counter-terrorism using Mechanical Turk techniques will develop over time with prison labor. Why spend billions developing and deploying AI facial and body-movement recognition software when you can put thousands of prisoners in front of surveillance screens 24x7? Especially if you don't really care about false positive rates, and the prisoners cost you almost nothing?

205:

And also sort of off topic, it,s gotten to the point where I can't get the name "Hick Sanatorium" off my mind each time I hear about the US primaries. It's gotten like the switch to "Ru Paul" instead of "Ron Paul" for my brain.

206:

" Oh, but the arbitrary boundary thing worked so well in the Middle East!! "


I'm thinking on the level of a postcode, the whole six digits, for an arbitrary boundary. That's a quater of a mile of widely fluctuating life expectations.
I'm thinking of the street of 30 houses I grew up in, (not a typical London street I admit):
It's named after the Peer of the Realm who stashed his mistress in the first house built. The rest consists of mixed development over a century from semi-detached to villas with pools. Since WWII some of the larger properties have been pulled down and replaced with housing developments, the largest (It used to be a party house for HRH Victoria's oldest.) is public housing. That estate used to have a primary school, until it was demolished for more housing. The next nearest school wont accept children from that social demographic so the kids have to get at least one bus. There's no pub either, but the off-licence seems to do good business. It does still have a community centre however.
Until 20 years ago most of the large properties in the street were multi-occupied until house prices made it worth tossing people out on the street. My mum was one of the older generation to move away since its become a desirable address she sold up orders for magnitude more than my parents paid for the place.
Mostly everyone keeps themselves apart, occasionally you would get eggs thrown or cars keyed (but that's what electric gates are for) from the aggrieved youth from up the hill.

I'm sure there are many other examples of mixed areas in cities all around the world.
How do you engage all those people in your direct democracy if you manage your constituencies by area? And how do you divide them if you choose any other method?

And what do you do when they move or their children decide to do something different.

207:

Haha! Americans are crazy! Look at their political races!

I get enough of that when I visit my family in Ontario, though it's more like befuddlement. In fairness to my fellow Americans, you have to admit that politics in Western Europe and Canada have gone off the deep end too.

The Ring of Steel around London has no equivalent in the US, nothing like that obvious anyway.

My efforts to explain why American politics are the way they are has led me to a simple conclusion.

The American electorate is afraid. Not of any one thing in particular. It's just an indefinable sense of doom and paranoia that's starting to pervade our society. All of it brought on by change, both social and technological.

Most of the people supporting the Republicans and their host of barking insane conservative pundits are either old, rural poor, and/or poorly educated. The people bankrolling the candidates are those with inherited wealth rather than earned wealth. They don't understand the world that's moved on without them, and is moving ever faster from under their feet every day.

Now Santorum (or whoever) comes along and provides the promise of Ye Olde Times, even if those times never existed. Rather than implying, however politely, that the generation that brought in Reagan's deregulation and tax cutting are morons, like so many progressives and liberals will do.

Look at the American conservative movement through eyes clouded with fear and paranoia, and it all makes sense.

208:

As a sort of friend said after visiting New York, armed society is a scared society. Or was it frightened?
Either way a chunk of your population has succumbed to fear, such that they'll do anything to feel better about the fear.


Maggie #206 - at least there was a bit more mixing. I think one of the problems now is that the rich owning class can isolate themselves from pretty much everything that negatively affects the working classes. But a century to a century and a half ago some of the local and national legislation on health, water etc was driven by an awareness that disaeses respected no social boundaries. Not to mention the remaining noblesse oblige which rampant market capitalism ignores.

209:

Regarding Rome, didn't it have socialized food and entertainment ("Panem et circensis") donated by the mega rich as wealth displays and serving the purpose of keeping the masses from causing trouble.

After about 100 AD or so. First few hundred years were very different than the middle few 100 which were also different than the later few 100.

210:

Rome and their rich. From what I can remember you could not be a Senator just from being rich. You had to have land to represent. All the land would fill up so they would go to war so the rich could land and make big money by being a Senator. The thing is the new land was a long way from Rome and out of the eyes of Law. So the rich could do anything they wanted. Maybe the people who lived there came to like the barbarians better. They were hard but honor was the big thing so they could be trusted. Rome fell for a long time. Maybe the people who lived in the outlands preferred to be free of corrupt Roman rule.

211:
The American electorate is afraid. Not of any one thing in particular. It's just an indefinable sense of doom and paranoia that's starting to pervade our society. All of it brought on by change, both social and technological.

Well, that's not the only source of the fear. There's been a steady stream of prospective politicians over the last 30 or 40 years running on a platform of fear: fear of crime, fear of foreigners, fear of big government, fear of little bug-eyed green men from outer space, fear of serial killers, fear of smart people who know more than they do, you name it. And this despite that crime rates have been going down and we've only seen one major foreign terrorist incident on our soil in all that time (domestic terrorism is quite another problem, but one that our politicians and news media aren't really willing to admit to). Also the economics of local news media, especially local TV stations, has resulted in news presentation policy that's based on instilling fear and suspicion in the audience. For example, we've named the news programs on 2 of our local channels "The Pervert Hour" because of their habit of leading off almost every broadcast with one or more stories about local pedophiles or attempted child abductions. Since there really aren't that many incidents, they have to stretch those stories like mad.

212:

Bruce, your local news programs sound like what happens when commercialism takes over to the exclusion of all else. All that matters is the ratings which seem to be formed around sensationalism. And fear.

213:

Yes, exactly. News is no longer an instrumentality for informing citizens of the events in their world, it's just another form of entertainment. So the measures for effective news programs are no longer truth, accountability of authority, and transparency of the democratic process (and believe it or not, they once were, at least for some journalists), now they're ratings, duration of the story, and attraction of advertising revenue. Or, as Mad Magazine once parodied the motto of the New York Times: "All the news that fits, we print."

214:

@ 205
BINGO !


Latifundias, prison labour:
- couldn't find his name at this late hour, but isn't there a judge/sheriff (I forget which) in Ari=zona who is notorius (erm "famous") for his use of prison labour (with PINK uniforms?) on public projects who is attracting all sorts of attaention. ??

215:

Sherrif Joe Arpaio

As for news, I don't think Hearst's papers could give current media any lessons in ethics

216:

Ahem, reality is ahead of you (Chinese prisoners forced into gold farming ...)

217:

As a sort of friend said after visiting New York, armed society is a scared society. Or was it frightened?

Ahem: New York has some of the tightest gun control law in the US: possession of handguns requires a license and the police have discretion over issuing same, as I understand it. (That is: it's roughly where the UK was pre-Hungerford.) It's worth noting that in addition to the big city, there's a lot of sparsely populated near-wilderness in that state.

218:

Joe Arpaio is what you get from a system where senior law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges have to run for election. Meaning, they have to act macho on the subject of crime suppression, even if there isn't a level of crime sufficient to justify such a crackdown.

(Add a chunk of racism in Arpaio's case -- pandering to fear of illegal immigrants -- and that about covers it.)

This is one area where I think democracy as a system can go too damn far; for all the flaws in the British system of judicial appointments, I think we're less prone to going overboard.

219:

Re: Electing law enforcement.
I'm thinking some of this might be a problem of the size of the polity. Arpaio's county, Mariposa, has nearly four million people- at that point, you do have to do some idiot-style marketing to get elected.
The county I grew up in had about 30,000 people in it. If you didn't know the candidates for sheriff personally, you likely knew someone who did and could ask if he was a raving nutcase, decent guy, or what.
Having a polity small enough you _do_ know the law enforcers personally is a strong advantage.

220:

Most of the people supporting the Republicans and their host of barking insane conservative pundits are either old, rural poor, and/or poorly educated.

You're equating "not supporting the D's" with supporting hard right commentators.

And false pigeon holing sure does make it easy to dismiss those you might not agree with.

221:

Did you know the condems are wanting elected police commissioners? Starting this year apparently, and they'll get paid perhaps 3 times average salary.
So English people can look forwards to more political posturing, or it'll devolve into a simple minded jobs for the boys effort.

Regarding the hand gun in NY thing, he was in the city itself, had no doubt that the person had a licence, but was a little freaked out to be out having a drink with people, one of whom was a little ranty and yet who could carry a pistol with them at the time. (Although I don't know what sort of concealed carry laws they have, maybe it was illegal to have it with him like he did)

222:

Yup, I was aware of that.

Cameron really wants the UK to be the Mini-Me to the USA's Dr Evil.

223:


> Arpaio's county, Mariposa,

Arpaio aside, that would be charming ("mariposa" is "butterfly" in Spanish). Alas, it's actually Maricopa.

224:

Last I heard, carrying a concealed weapon in NY City without a concealed carry license (different from a standard gun license IIRC) was a felony, minimum sentence 2 years in prison. There's a serious black market in smuggled pistols there, most of which come from Richmond, VA.

225:

I'm barren of blogging ideas, but some good ones above.

But, I think I encountered your accounting robots in space a few years back as they has sent their offspring to enhabit my QuickBooks Pro and eat and corrupt many months of records. After spending a couple weeks or so rebuilding all of the records foolishly all back in QuickBooks Pro the whole thing corrupted again. I went back to the old school time worn method of using a spreadsheet. It takes time to find accountants that will work with spreadsheets and scans of records, but it is better than the time traveling accounts from the past that occasionally surface and try to convince me that paper is the only way they or others will work. (Pointing to the calendar is the only way to get them to vanish - they realize they accidentally miss-entered their time calibrations to give them an extra week or two before taxes are due, so to get more work in, and overshot into today's time.)

226:

Yep. And permits are nearly impossible to get without a very good reason. And violators are prosecuted and if convicted serve real jail time. Just ask Plaxico Burress.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plaxico_Burress

227:

>subjects

While corporations still rush to "internet-enable" their businesses, the internet itself is becoming Balkanized and less useful. China and Singapore already firewall network traffic. Australia is talking about it, as is Britain. Badthink, porn, copyright, whatever.

In the USA there are periodic calls for some sort of user authentication system as well as criminalizing encrypted messaging. These are usually from the FBI, though sometimes legislators demand it as part of some ill-thought-out plan to eliminate kiddie porn, stalking, or whatever bee is in their bonnet at the time.

In most countries the international gateways are few in number and under government control. In the USA, the National Security Agency co-locates equipment racks at the NAPs to enable carrying out their mandate of spying on electronic communications. The US Air Force has established a "Cyber Command" which would, if given funding and authorization, assume some sort of control over the US network. ("herding cats" comes to mind...)

Meanwhile, after more than 20 years of mailing lists and heavy email, I gave up on SMTP mail over a year ago. Battling network providers block entire A and B address spaces in mad tit-for-tat "spam control" measures. I'd get every third message in a mailing list, and half of the people in my address list couldn't contact me, vice versa, or both.

Major ISPs often not only prohibit any type of "server", but ban and/or block anything other than http, effectively blocking the unskilled from many services.


A few years ago there was a "network outage" in my area. I never found out exactly what; I suspect something simple, like an errant backhoe or trencher. For half a day I couldn't get on the net... but I couldn't buy gasoline anywhere, since even the small mom&pop stations depended on realtime connections to the mothership to turn on the pumps and dispense gasoline. Various fast food places were shut down; their registers all ran off a central server in Atlanta. The auto parts store was stalled; all its POS terminals connected to a server in Memphis.


When I was a child in the 1960s we crossed the width of the United States several times by car. Not all of the interstate highway system was finished by then. As time moved into the afternoon you made sure to fill up before 5 PM, since most gas stations closed at that time. More than once we ran dry in the evening, and had to find a motel or place to park until the next morning, where we could buy more gas.

As chain businesses continue to replace local business, and so many seem to prefer running their operations off a central system, I could see pulling up into some town sometime, and not being able to buy gas, food, or even a motel room because the internet was down.

(in the local failure I mentioned earlier, no business would accept cash... not only would the POS drawers not open for them, but one manager said policy was not to make any sale without going through the POS system. Period.)

The Federal and state governments are all dependent on the internet now, and the US military, not to mention business. Most of these entities want tighter control and authentication of users. And they own the physical hardware the net runs on.


So, how do you see the future of the internet evolving?

228:

The additional implied problem there is employees/managers without initiative. If you're running a fast food joint and can't figure out how to work around your registers going down, you're a damned fool.

"This is called paper. You will use it to write down customer orders and pass them to the kitchen. This is called 'math'- it is used to assess the amount the customer owes us, and to return their change to them."

229:

"And the place we might start is Africa, by scrapping failed nations and replacing them with states based along original tribal lines. The idea that straight lines on a colonists map which both divide existing tribes and lump several in together can make the basis of a modern state is ludicrous."

And the idea that this sort of "rectification of borders" could be done in Africa without ethnic cleansing and genocide on a massive scale is even more ludicrious.

Or maybe you know better - I'm only working in Africanist research, and typing this on the campus of a West African university, so what would I know about it, right?

230:

"And the place we might start is Africa, by scrapping failed nations and replacing them with states based along original tribal lines. The idea that straight lines on a colonists map which both divide existing tribes and lump several in together can make the basis of a modern state is ludicrous."

And the idea that this sort of "rectification of borders" could be done in Africa without ethnic cleansing and genocide on a massive scale is even more ludicrious.

Or maybe you know better - I'm only working in Africanist research, and typing this on the campus of a West African university, so what would I know about it, right?

231:

In theory you may have a point. In practise you seem to be relying upon the deep goodwill and honesty that is inherent in our governments and their paymasters...

For instance, how would social media close the distance between government and electorate? Here in the UK they have deigned to permit people to put up petitions and have people sign them. Oddly enough they never pay any attention to most of them, only to the ones which suit their purposes. Having surveys on topics is useful, but hardly the best thing since sliced bread, and as already said, surveys can be carefully setup to give the right answer.

Moreover, haves and have-nots will always be at odds if we maintain the current economic system. But then that's a further departure from the main topic.
Finally, I fail to see how faster real time data makes any difference.
And electronic voting is stupid because it has single points of failure and is opaque to users, see the long string of scandals in the USA about it. By contrast, ballot box stuffing is a lot harder, requires the co-operation and corruption of a good number of people and leaves a fairly clear paper trail. Hence why lots of countries still use it.

232:

I agree that there is a very strong push for Balkanization and per-country centralization. Still, I can't see how a balkanized internet (per-country authenticated intranets) is going to work in today's globalized world.

It would be incredibly inefficient compared to our flat-ish internet, and would likely change the fee structure back to that of international calls.

You'd need a "tourist visa" to access sites in a foreign country?

It obviously works for closed/barricaded countries such as North Korea an Iran.

But what about outsourcing, remote working, etc? Everything has been globalized, both poverty and wealth. The role of nation-states is slowly becoming smaller compared to that of multinationals.

Excluding dystopias and a new dark age, caused by over-nostalgic lawmakers, isn't it too late to put that particular genie back in the bottle?

Also, not only the network would have to be balkanized. Also the hardware and software. Who knows what backdoors country X will put in products for country Y. Any interoperability is doubleplus dangerous. It's very hard to imagine...

233:
Having surveys on topics is useful, but hardly the best thing since sliced bread, and as already said, surveys can be carefully setup to give the right answer.

I've got to take issue on this - it's actually very hard to set up surveys to give a fair, unbiased answer. There are millions of examples. Perhaps one of the clearest from recent UK history was responses to the civil service strike at the end of November. If you asked "Do you think they were right to strike?" there was an overwhelming 'no' response. If you asked "Would you strike if your employer froze your pay, increased your pension contributions and said you'd get less pension at the end of your job?" You got an almost identically overwhelming 'yes' response.

Both are rather loaded questions but they're not inaccurate statements of the facts. And asking these different questions allowed both sides to claim public support for their side.

I suspect the current wrangle between Westminster and Holyrood is another example where the SNP wants to ask the right questions at the right time for their position, Westminster wants them to ask a different question at a different time for the right result for their position.

Adding additional questions and choices makes it a lot harder. And that's before you get into stupid things like questions at tops and bottoms of pages and the like being missed.

It was always one of the fun parts of analysing any survey (which I used to do quite a lot) to spot bad questions, both biased and unanswered and send back a report to the person who wrote the survey about why they'd done this bit wrong.

234:
t's actually very hard to set up surveys to give a fair, unbiased answer.

I think guthrie intended that phrase "right answer" sarcastically, as in "the answer the pollster wants to hear". There are several polling services in the US that routinely do just that (Rasmussen springs to mind).

235:

TRX @ 227
That is really insane!
I expect a mjor supermarket would have problems if the net went down, but one of my favourite (and a very famous) London Pubs ahd a power-out a couple of years back.
They lit the candles, got out pen-&-paper to make up a till-roll (required for VAT/excise duty records, said, "sorry no "lager" ... powered pumps" (oh the hardship!)
AND
Carried on...
as #228 suggests

@233
There's the additional point that Alex Salmond is even more untrustworthy than either or both of Charles I or Richard M. Nixon.
And the SNP are a really unpleasant collection of Puritans and interfering nannies.
I hate to say it, but good for Camoron for hopefully shafting Salmond.
We know what an "early" "in/out only" referendum result will be, which is why Salmond is wriggling.

236:

Got it in one, Bruce. I should perhaps have put scare quotes around "right answer".
As another example of the difficulties of running things with polls and voting (even although I want more referenda and suchlike) we can see the UK vote on replacing first past the post with alternative vote.
The campaigns on both sides were replete with confusion, and the anti's seemed to make rather a lot of claims which were unsupported by any sort of evidence.

Regarding Cameron's attempts at changing the game to suit himself, I think most SCots (defined as people living in Scotland or born there) can clearly see it for what it is, an attempt at forcing the vote to happen on the say so of a central England based government which has no popular following in Scotland. Thus helping Salmond.

237:

Alex Salmond and the SNP are good for one thing only - independence. As soon as they achieve that they will be marginalized.

238:

"And the idea that this sort of "rectification of borders" could be done in Africa without ethnic cleansing and genocide on a massive scale is even more ludicrious."

Not necessarily.
The ethnic cleansing and "rectification of borders" in Yugoslavia could have been done without (much) bloodshed if some entity like NATO acted as a real estate agent, buying and selling properties and relocating people with some cash to ease the transition. Would probably have cost less than bombing them. However, existing nation states see the concept of the immutable nation state as sacrosanct, for obvious reasons.

239:

Except that TRX noted that:

not only would the POS drawers not open for them, but one manager said policy was not to make any sale without going through the POS system.

There's an important difference between "I don't know how to take money from you without pressing the pictograms on my touchscreen" and "the chain will fire me if I make a transaction off-system and then catch up when we have access again".

240:

It would be interesting to see a study on which organizations can manage with an internet outage and which can't (and which aren't allowed to). I was in Fry's (an electronic/computer/appliance superstore about 15 km from here) a few months ago buying a bunch of external hard drives when their internet connection went out. Now this is a highly computerized company which does a large part of its business on the web; and they pride themselves (in their advertising) on being very computer-savvy. So you'd expect they'd have some trouble when the machines stop. They had it all worked out; it took me about 5 times as long as usual to check out, but they got all the way through the process, including processing my credit card payment using a paper receipt, without a stumble.

241:

@240:

That's called "experience." Fry's has been around quite a while...

242:

"The quote about Russia was pretty funny, it's difficult to recall a Russian intervention abroad that has improved matters for the recipients (this arguably includes WWII)."

I'd argue that Russian intervention did improve things dramatically in WWII - but that was in comparison to the Nazis, so the bar wasn't that high.

243:

I am, nevertheless, astonished: every Fry's salesperson I have spoken to seemed to be too dumb to walk and chew gum simultaneously.

(This might be observer bias -- I haven't actually spoken to any Fry's staff since the 2008 bust, but I have been in Radio Shack stores where I was astonished by the cluefulness of the middle-aged sales staff; it was almost like RatShack had begun hiring people who knew what they were doing. Or maybe that unemployment was high and folks who would have had high end jobs elsewhere during the good times were working a sales niche.)

244:

I tend not to talk to the salespeople for exactly that reason. However, every once in awhile I do have to ask them a question, and lately they actually seem to know which shelves the stock is on. On the other hand, shortly after that last experience I returned the Blu-Ray writer and 5.25 inch drive enclosure I'd bought for archiving because I'd been unable to burn more than a gigabyte or so before the drive dropped its connection, and the sales critter handling the return tried to tell me that USB 2.0 was too slow to keep up; he seemed never to have heard of buffering, or that you don't have to burn the entire disk in one fell swoop.

245:

...because of course all SNP career politicians would resign from the Scottish Parliament immediately after independence, happy in the knowledge of a job well done...

Or would they "just stay on a bit, to make sure things ran properly at the start"?

246:

Why would you expect them all to resign? He more likely means that at the next election after independence they'd lose power, which sounds plausible to me.

247:

Only rich people and body guards can get concealed carry license in New York NY. AND A LOT OF BIG NAMES HAVE THEM.

248:

Martin @ 245
YES
Salmond is, actually, interested in only one thing.
More power for Alex Salmond.
He's really, really slimy, I'm afraid.
See my earlier comments on the puritanical nannying-complex that the SNP has.

249:

The ethnic cleansing and "rectification of borders" in Yugoslavia could have been done without (much) bloodshed if some entity like NATO acted as a real estate agent, buying and selling properties and relocating people with some cash to ease the transition.

I guess you've never been around a people group where the cash would not matter. Many, maybe most, eastern KY mountain folk would rather be poor and destitute than give up their 45 degree sloped rock growing patch of land.

And as I recall one of the reasons things blew up in the Balkans was the lack of a central authority to stop people from trying to take back lands lost in battles 400 years or more ago.

250:

Radio Shack stores where I was astonished by the cluefulness of the middle-aged sales staff; it was almost like RatShack had begun hiring people who knew what they were doing.

You were very likely talking with owners of the local store. The RS setup is based on local folks buying a franchise. And the stores are small enough that much of the time the owner will be there. Especially if they care. And with their own money on the line, most do.

251:

"I guess you've never been around a people group where the cash would not matter. "

No, but NATO has and knows how to deal with them when push comes to shove - either bomb the fuck out of them or simply leave them to the local ethic cleansing militias to change their minds.

252:
And as I recall one of the reasons things blew up in the Balkans was the lack of a central authority to stop people from trying to take back lands lost in battles 400 years or more ago.

AIUI, the problem was more that there was a central authority (the Serbian administration of Slobodan Milošević) that was actively involved in trying to take back lands lost in battles 400 years or more ago. As it usually happens, attempting to right old wrongs became equivalent to avenging old grudges on all sides.

253:

I'm not so sure about that. The Kindle's actually fairly understated these days: no 'amazon' except on the back, the 'kindle' on the top tends to recede into invisibility, and ebook makers can choose to put the work and author on the top line of the screen if they wish. (The only works I see doing that are magazines.)

254:

It may be understated, but lying there turned off it's still a Kindle (or Sony eReader, or whatever). What it's not is a Gollancz Yellow, or O'Reilly Animal, or whatever. The primary brand is inevitably dominated by the reader, if only because it's larger than the screen it contains.

For someone watching from across an aisle, it's going to remain that way. When someone is reading a traditional book on a train, I can usually make out what it is that they're reading - which general genre if nothing else. With an ebook, that's not currently possible. It's as if everyone had started putting brown covers on everything they read.

255:

One of my greatest dislikes about the Kindle (borrowed work unit; work has a use for it) is its severe shortage of VDU real estate; I'm "page turning" every couple of paragraphs or so as it is.

256:

It's also a lot slower popping forwards and backwards. With a paper book, if I want to quickly check something elsewhere in it, I can stick a finger at the current place and open the book at the other point. I've not yet seen anything electronic which manages that access that quickly.

257:

Cheers - I do that too.

258:

I find that what I most frequently want to jump to is the copyright page, to check when whatever was written. Either that, or the 'other books by' if I think I might be at the wrong point in a series.

259:

I'm more likely to be looking at a different body chapter, or want to look at a foot or end note.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 6, 2012 1:43 PM.

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