September 2012 Archives

(Arising from work on a new novel ...)

There's a syndrome I've occasionally seen, whereby people who got hauled into research or tech management roles because they were good at actually doing research or tech jobs find themselves losing touch with their research or tech skills. At which point they begin to get jittery about it and try to put in some hands-on time. (This frequently happens to the folks who are better at working the coal face than working in the manager's office.)

This is definitely not the Dunning-Kruger effect at work; these are skilled, experienced competent people who have merely lost their edge in a field. It's clearly related to "regular" impostor syndrome, but it's distinctively different thing. In impostor syndrome, the competent worker feels like an impostor who's about to be exposed. In the condition I'm describing, the formerly-competent worker feels as if they're losing skills or going rusty because they've moved on to another role, and they respond inappropriately by trying to brush up their old skill set.

Example #1: A project manager who suddenly starts trying to write software for the project they should be managing.

Example #2: A senior military officer, supervising a large unit on exercise, who gets so involved in the minutiae that they start trying to micro-manage a much smaller unit (for example, a General focussing on a single platoon).

Does this syndrome have a name, and has it been well-characterised elsewhere?

[ Discuss ]

... But I am being attacked by a novel.

(It's fighting its way out, sort of like the alien from John Hurt's chest. Not sure I can stop it. Not sure I want to stop it; feels better out than in. Anyway, I'll try to think of something more interesting to say in the next day or two. Sorry!)

There's a concept in economics called the diminishing marginal utility of money. Loosely put: if you give a £20 bill to a homeless dude, it will make his day—it's worth a bunch of hot meals or a hostel bed for a few nights. If you give £20 to an average wage earner, it's nice but not a game-changer: it's worth a couple of cinema tickets or a round of drinks at the pub. And if you give £20 to a billionaire they probably won't know what to do with it—they have employees to carry the money around for them, and anyway, they earn more in the time it takes to open their wallet and stash the bill than the £20 note is worth. They're losing money by taking it!

Money. The more of it you've got, the less useful any additional increment becomes. And you don't have to be a millionaire to get a handle for this.

Cory and I are doing a double-header interview on The Well's Inkvue forum — if you haven't met it, the WELL is a decades-old electronic conferencing system, one of the few classic BBSs to have made the transition to the Web 2.0 era relatively smoothly, and you can follow the chat via their web interface: click here.

We promised it, and here it is (slightly delayed by a signing tour and epic-level jet lag): "The Rapture of the Nerds" by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross is available as a Creative Commons licensed download right here: The Rapture of the Nerds.

[ Discuss it here ]

I'm home (and jet-lagged). Normal blogging service will be resumed once the world stops spinning around my head.

Meanwhile, the rent on this server is due up later in the month and I'm going to take that as a reminder that it's due for a major software upgrade and some troubleshooting work on the blogging software. Current plan is to find someone who can fix the log-in system then re-enable comments for users with a registered ID only—Facebook, or OpenID, or just an email handle verified by the blog itself. As 99% of the server-crippling spam was anonymous this should allow me to restart the comment system again.

Reminder: until then, I'm curating a Google Groups forum for comments on this blog (this is a clickable link).

I've been sitting on this for months, but if you've been wondering why I was collecting typos in the Merchant Princes books and moaning about editing my way through a mountain, I can now explain:

Tor are relaunching my Merchant Princes series in the UK as a trilogy of big fat alt-hist thrillers.

Cover: The Bloodline Feud

They'll be available in trade paperback and (DRM-free) ebook formats, rolling at one month intervals starting in April 2013. This is a "author's cut" of the first six books; I've fixed a ton of errors and tidied up the text, merging the six short novels into three much longer ones. Note that we've had to re-title the books to avoid confusing booksellers' databases: so they're going to be titled "The Bloodline Feud", "The Traders' War", and "The Revolution Trade".

(Your questions are answered below the cut.)

I am going to have this recurring nightmare for the next few years ... I'm trapped in a reality TV show after the model of "The Apprentice", in which the marketing folks at a publisher responsible a bunch of aspiring authors are gifted with the marketing and promotion budget of a best-seller to spend on their pool of newbies, in a gruesome elimination match to see who can survive the signing tour. Sort of like "The Hunger Games" for authors.

Here's how it works ...

Note: this signing tour has consisted of 16-18 hour working days (up at 5am, head hits the pillow at 10pm plus or minus). If I'm on a tour and you invite me to dinner or a pub and I decline, I'm not being antisocial: I'm sleep-deprived. Also, I don't run it or plan the itinerary: that's our publisher's marketing person (who has done an epic job and is almost as sleep-deprived as I am: hi, Patty!). Also, please don't give me Stuff, especially Heavy Stuff; I'm probably making a flight a day with carry-on only luggage, and I don't like pouring bottles of spirits in the TSA trash bin, or having to check my carry-on (with laptop) bag.

I'm now at the IEEE Games Innovation Conference — or rather, at a hotel nearby. Cory and I will be doing a double-headed keynote thing tomorrow morning. Some time thereafter I get to wind down, and I'll have another real blog entry for you soon.

Meanwhile, here's the video of our talk at MakerBot Studios in Brooklyn last Thursday.

Yes, it came out a couple of days ago but I didn't have time to blog about it due to bouncing around the United States like a methamphetamine-crazed flea on a signing tour with Cory Doctorow: we have a novel! (Click the image to order it ...)

The Rapture of the Nerds

And here's a short teaser extract, below. (The whole book will be available for download under a Creative Commons license once Cory is in one place for long enough to build the book's website.)

I'm on a signing tour for the rest of this week, with Cory Doctorow!

You can catch us at the following venues (one or two of which have special entrance requirements, e.g. a Google employee pass or membership of an IEEE conference):

Wednesday, September 5th

Lexington KY

7:00 PM to 8:00 PM EST

Reading, Talk, Signing
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
161 Lexington Green Circle
Lexington, KY 40503

Thursday, September 6

New York

NY noon-1pm

Reading, Talk, Signing
Google, Central Park office (Not open to the public, I'm afraid)


NY 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM EST
Reading, Talk Signing
Bot-Cave / MakerBot Industries
87 3rd Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Friday, September 7

Boston, MA

7:00 PM to 8:00 PM EST

Talk, Reading, Signing
Brookline Booksmith
279 Harvard Street
Brookline, MA 02446


Saturday, September 8th/Sunday 9th

Rochester, NY

IEEE - 4th IEEE International Games Innovation Conference

Sunday Keynote: 10:30 AM
Reading & Signing at RIT: 7:00 PM

So I have a Google Nexus tablet. What do I do with it?

Well, Android 4.1 is just about acceptable as an alternative to iOS. The user interface is rather less polished and the average standard of app design is ... well, it tends to lack the design aesthetic of apps written by Apple fanboys who have been brainwashed with the Cult of Cupertino's desire for things to be functional, pleasing, and useful. This is not a good thing, and the result is a somewhat sparse app ecosystem cluttered with junk, me-too apps, and a scattering of malware. Fragmentation beckons.

However, there are some hidden gems ...

Specials

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