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Crib Sheet: Halting State

(Sorry 'bout the delay: I've been really busy.)

I have a confession to make: I am not a gamer. No, really and truly. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81, which was so crap that I sold it after two months and bought a Casio FX-702p — a glorified programmable calculator, but I still have it and it still works. I lived computerless until 1985, when I bought an Amstrad PCW8256, and went straight from there to PCs. My computing trajectory therefore missed out the Commodore 64, the Spectrum, and then the 16-bit machines — Atari ST, Amiga, and Archimedes — and then diverged into the UNIX/Linux world. By the time my work machines were able to run games reasonably well, my eyesight and reflexes were those of a thirty-something. Lacking years of twitching (or rather, having keyboard reflexes fine-tuned for vi, not missile launchers), I am consequently crap at almost all computer games.

However ...

I've been really interested in Virtual Reality as a key indicator that we're living in the future ever since William Gibson published Neuromancer back in 1984, and especially since Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash in 1992, and rang the curtain down on cyberpunk in the process. (Yes, I have first edition copies of both books. Well-read ones.) VR seems to exemplify the modern SF paradigm of information space in much the way that the idea of interplanetary exploration exemplified the old paradigm of real space. But, here in the real world, the progress of VR into everyday life has been slow and tenuous ...

Then in 2004 I was in the audience at a panel at an SF convention discussing crime and the internet. One of the panelists had an anecdote from a police station blotter. "Man walks into a police station in South London early last year. 'I want to report a crime,' he says to the desk sergeant. 'I bought a magic sword, only it's not enchanted correctly.'" It took a while for the perplexed officer to understand what was going on, but it was indeed logged as a crime: fraud. (The victim had been sold a duff in-game item via an auction site: offense, "obtaining money (or goods in kind) by deception".) This caught my imagination and I went digging and stubbed my toe on the economy of Ultima Online (paper from 1999), and then the whole then-embryonic field of MMO economics. That you could buy and sell items using real-world currency seemed inevitable, and the prospect of an inflationary production-driven economy sucking in more and more players seemed fascinating. As a friend put it, "MMOs like World of Warcraft are the first commercially successful Virtual Realities to get more than a million users".

This was around the time of the Second Life boom (yes, I dabbled: yes, SL is still going), and all in all it suddenly looked as if, after being fiction for a decade, and then hanging fire due to GPU performance issues and motion sensors not being up to snuff for another decade, it was finally coming through. This was also the point at which I had my first smartphone (Palm Treo 600). So in a fit of creativity I realized that I needed to write a novel about virtual reality — not the by-now cliched cyberspace of the 1980s and 1990s, but the real thing.

Because it would centre on a robbery at a gaming company that threatened to bring down a real world economy, it'd be told in the second person — the natural voice of the classic text adventure game ("you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike"). It would be set daringly close to the present day, just a decade ahead; 90% of the world would be the familiar already-here universe of my home town: 9% would be the predictably-there stuff of the proximate future — take Intel or ARM's road maps for the next three years today and three years ago: draw a straight line extrapolation to get to where our capabilities will be in a decade (yes, I know that's a naive approach, but it works for fiction): and 1% bugfuck strange, alien, and as unexpected as LOLcat videos back in 2003. In addition I assumed everyone would be using 3G or 4G mobile broadband and wearing their smart lifelogging device/mobile office on their head (as BT's Peter Cochrane was doing in the late 1990s): and with ubiquitous GPS integration and imaging, it'd be possible to map a visual representation of the internet onto the real world. (Back in the 1990s HP research were looking into defining an HTTP-like protocol for retrieving information from the internet based on the GPS location of the requester; I assumed a distributed, dynamic DNS-like protocol for servicing such requests would be available by 2015. How optimistic of me: in the early 00s I didn't anticipate HP's reign of misrule, or the downsizing of corporate research departments!)

Finally, it would be written as Mundane science fiction (i.e. no ray guns or aliens, just believable technological and social change). I allowed myself one borderline-implausible device in the whole novel — the quantum computer used for breaking PKE.

Anyway. I went to pitch this to my editors at Ace and Orbit.

At Ace, my editor, an old veteran, gave me a long, cool, appraising stare then said "I'll take it, on condition it's part of a two book contract, and the other title is a space opera." (Translation: "if your wild-ass experiment fails, the sales of the space opera will cover it.")

Orbit in the UK ... had just been sold by Time-Warner to Hachette. Everyone there was extremely nervous at the time I made my pitch, wondering if an axe was about to fall. As it happened, the axe was imaginary; but my editor didn't feel able to gamble on an experiment — he offered an advance half the size I was expecting, direct to paperback for a short run.

My agent and I turned him down, and agreed that I'd take the risk of writing it with just a US sale, and see if Orbit would take the finished manuscript when they saw it. This seemed like a big risk at the time — it knocked 25% out from under my bottom line. It seemed even riskier when the novel took me longer than expected to write: I turned it in three months late, sweating bullets, after taking 15 months over it. (That's three months during which the author doesn't get paid. It tends to concentrate the mind!) But, finally, we got to show the finished work to Orbit ... and my agent got a more-than satisfactory bump in the advance they were offering.

Final note: "Halting State" was something like my tenth SF book in print. And it was that utterly unpredictable thing, the breakthrough novel that makes a career. It ran away. Ace upped my hardcover print run, then sold out before publication and had to reprint. Starred reviews, Hugo shortlist, big paperback print run: it earned out its entire advance in the first month out in hardcover, and six months later a large (and unexpected) royalty cheque landed in my bank account. It did well for Orbit, too — in their scramble to inject it back into their schedule they didn't have time to run a hardcover release, but it came out in trade paperback and kept being mis-filed under Crime in most of the bookstores I looked in. Interesting fact: Crime fiction outsells SF and Fantasy combined by about 3:1. (If I was purely focused on making money by writing fiction, that's where I'd be. (But one word of caution: writing crime is a lot harder and more specialised than I realized before I tried it. It's got the research requirements of hardcore physics-driven hard SF, combined with the characterization requirements of literary fiction, and your plotting had better be bulletproof or it just won't work. (Hint: write the first 90% of the book, with lots of random clues and characters. Then go back, re-read it, decide who Did It, delete contradictory evidence, and write the end.)))

Questions? (I'm a bit busy at present but I'll try to set some time aside for answering them over the next week.)

137 Comments

1:

I know its not really related to Halting State, but I do have 2 questions 1) is Rhesus Chart still on schedule for july 2014 and 2)do you have plans for more Laundry Files books after that?

3:

I vaguely remember this being touched on, but can't quickly find the reference. As I recall it, Ace didn't print enough copies of Halting State, and - if they had - it might have hit the bestseller charts (which would have had very significant implications for your notability and general reputation.)

Was the impact of this particular slip (if I can call it that; after all, not printing enough is, in some ways, better than printing too many) particularly significant, or just a mildly embarrassing blip on the chart?

4:

It didn't hurt too much: Ace sold a ton more books than they expected and suddenly I leveled up.

But it highlights one of the advantages of the Brave New World of ebooks -- with no print runs, you never run out of stock, so if a word-of-mouth phenomenon catches fire in the first month of publication, there's nothing to hold it back.

5:

FYI this book just completely blew my mind.
Neuromancer for the noughties.
The only other book I've reread 3 times is LOTR.

huge thanks, big fan.

6:

Picky technical objection: the Acorn Archimedes series are 32-bit machines, not 16-bit. (To complicate matters, they had a 26-bit - yes, twenty-six bits - address space for some purposes, but there was nothing 16-bit about the ARM processors even then.)

Anyway, I'll go back and read the rest of the article now :)

7:

Second Life is celebrating the official 10th birthday at the moment, and yesterday I was at their virtual Burning Man site talking with Philip Rosedale, who started it all and is now running a second company which is researching new VR ideas. The core of Second Life is decade-old tech. He's working on new ways of producing the 3D graphics, and distributed processing, and a lot of other new stuff.

I think I would need a faster Internet.

You can find this reported at www.burn2.org, though that page misleadingly refers to him as Philip Linden, which is his old corporate Second Life account.

One thing which fits with Halting State are the sensors built into smartphones and tablets. They have accelerometers and gyros, they can sense magnetic fields. So do some game controllers, but how do you use that tech to control a virtual world?

And he was talking about identity. I think he was re-running all the old arguments about the names we used on Usenet, only new we're using a 3D avatar that easily looks nothing like the real person. And how some people are developing solid relationships in Second Life which develop into real-world marriage. Cries of dismay from some outside SL, but somebody called Arabella just said "Think pen friends".

All that seems to be reflected in Halting State.

Second Life's Burning Man event is recognised as an official regional Burning Man, There's a bunch getting together in Montana the weekend. How long before we see one held at Burrowhead Holiday Village? They have the perfect location for a Burning Man.

8:

You mentioned you wanted to avoid the 'cliched cyberspace of the 1980s and 1990s' when writing Halting State. What were the main cliches you wanted to avoid? Did you have a sort of checklist of particular tropes you wanted to sidestep? Do you still see books being published today that fall into these traps?

I saw on twitter you completed a NaNoWriMo in 7 days. Congratulations! Hope the fingers aren't too sore!

9:

Did you have a sort of checklist of particular tropes you wanted to sidestep? Do you still see books being published today that fall into these traps?

No, and yes.

10:

So, which tropes did you actively want to avoid in Halting State?

11:

/unlurk
Halting State was the first thing of OGH's I bought 'fresh' so to speak, having picked up a charity shopy of Singularity Sky (which I liked). The cover grabbed me - large format paperback, UK edition, that was so clearly a portrait of the author as sprite - and the front blurb by Mr Gibson sold it( I have a tendency to take the word of an author I have read extensively over many other factors.. Donaldson's cover blurb for the Malazan stuff, too).
The last page pointed me here and I've been lurking since. And buying everything else too.
I've used HS introduce friends and random co-workers over the years... It usually works :)

12:

I wanted to write a world I could actually see myself living in the background of. Not a grim meathook future, not a crapsack world, just: regular folks, getting along, just like normal.

13:

Additional note: I occurs to me that I've received some stick from Americans over the years for writing the USA out of the spy sub-plot in HS because they're busy dealing with a legacy of run-down infrastructure.

Which I think in view of reports like this is just a little bit unfair.

(Not that I'd wish a bridge collapse on anyone, but if it was so glaringly obvious to a foreign SF writer back in 2005-06 that he wrote it into a near-future novel, why was nothing done about it?)

14:

Primus, because it'd involve spending money.

Secundus, because we 'merkins have a serious allergy to getting our taxes raised even when it's a good idea.

Tertius, because those are maintained by the government and there's a political movement you may have heard of who think the government is always bad & wrong and aren't averse to cutting spending on infrastructure and other things (and making access more bothersome) to "prove" it.

15:

Sssh!

I didn't mean to trigger a round of political debate.

Especially foreign (i.e. American) politics.

So please stop it. If you want to debate politics, try debating this stuff instead. (Yes, the USA might have extremely loud reactionaries, but the UK's Conservative party aren't afraid to match them ...)

16:

Halting State was, I think, the first novel by Mr Stross that I read. I read Lobsters in a best of collection (I think it was a best of the best actually), and I loved it. I loved Halting State (and Rule 34) for many of the same reasons. It provides a perfectly plausible look at the future. In fact, this style is my current preferred SF style. So please write another book like this.

Question:
Was it Halting State or Rule 34 that had the London Eye on the cover before you told the (American) publishers that they had to change it? (I saw you mentioned it somewhere before, but I can't just recall which one it was.)

Talking politics, Charlie am I allowed to ask if you'll still be voting LibDem in the future? 'Cause most people I've asked who voted LibDem last time really regretted it (not that the Tories or Labour would have been better to vote for of course). And as you're in Scotland, you have the interesting choice of the nationalists.

17:

Halting State. The original cover had a London skyline and a Scotland Yard logo, despite the novel being set in, er, Scotland (about 400 miles away, in a different country). I threw my toys out of the pram and they swapped in the silhouette of the Walter Scott Monument and and L&B badge. But you only get to object to the cover once, and the next novel was "Saturn's Children" ...

As for the LibDems: I won't get burned that way again.

18:

Hum? What was that? A Voice from the Past?

Once upon a time and not so long ago British Tory Party Conferences were said to have a Solid - Worker BEE? - Support structure that consisted of Tory Ladies lately Graduated from the Young Conservatives and Their would Be Member Of Parliament for Flog Em and Hangem West Hubbies, the late of Eton Oxford and The Brigade of Guards who were of the Hun ten Shooting and Fishing Country Interests ...SHOOT A BADGER FOR JESUS!! ... Tory party at prayer C of E Chaps and Chapessus who were all ever so KEEN to Hang Em Flog Em and then ..Well they'd think of something to do with the remnants’ of the flogged corpse who was doubtless a Trade Unionist who didn’t Know His Place. Anyway the Elect of the Electorate could be relied upon to Bay for Blood as soon as the latest Voice of The Righteous Right declaimed a speech.

Just lately the Ancient of Days Tory Hang Em, Flog Em ,and whatever brigade seem to be enjoying a resurgence...I blame the Liberals! Err, that is to say the Lib Dems. Though come to think of it perhaps we should blame the Scots too? The faint possibility of Scots Independence seems to make the " Hang Em ..Etc “... Tory Right Wing Nuts froth at the mouth...

No, not “I didn't mean to trigger a round of political debate.” me neither but maybe rather to reflect upon not political debate but rather...err, Psychology or maybe Skinner ish Stimulus Response “Operant conditioning "? Ordinary people just getting along with the social conditioning that they have been given? And given in Scotland?

You were, and are," Very Brave " - as Sir Humphrey Appleby of the British TV series “ Yes Minister “might have put it - to have set your feet on the path of a sequence of novels set in Near Future Scotland ...When is Number Three in the sequence due to appear?

I am looking forward to it but have lost my way in the midst of your Seriously Scary projected/anticipated workload.

" Halting State " was the most interesting Crime/police proceedural detective novel that I'd read since ..oh, i dunno, maybe "The Delta Star " by Joseph Wambaugh ?

http://www.amazon.com/The-Delta-Star-Joseph-Wambaugh/dp/0553273868

19:

bthylafh opined:

Primus, because it'd involve spending money.

Yeah, we have sooo much lucre we're cruelly not spending already. Not like we'd have to borrow it from the Chinese or anything

Secundus, because we 'merkins have a serious allergy to getting our taxes raised even when it's a good idea.

Just like so many good ideas in the past. Give me a minute and I'll think of a few.
Giving up upwards of 50% of income in federal, state and local taxes is always a good idea.

Tertius, because those are maintained by the government and there's a political movement you may have heard of who think the government is always bad & wrong and aren't averse to cutting spending on infrastructure and other things (and making access more bothersome) to "prove"
it.

Having big daddy government make the bed, pack our lunch, tuck us in at night and monitor all out bits is a wonderful idea. Let's have it do more.

Hey Chuck: RT-11 on a PDP 11/34 in 1981.

20:

Having big daddy government make the bed, pack our lunch, tuck us in at night and monitor all out bits is a wonderful idea. Let's have it do more.

Yes, let's do it more!

Clue: by your standards, I'm a raving socialist. This is my blog. You're here on sufferance. Play nice and I won't get annoyed; but you have no First Amendment free speech right here, and using my soapbox to preach your politics risks irritating me.

21:

I occurs to me that I've received some stick from Americans over the years for writing the USA out of the spy sub-plot in HS because they're busy dealing with a legacy of run-down infrastructure

someone once said the later you adopt a technology, the better quality of infrastructure you get - actually I think it was you Charlie ;-)

the old world [USA & Europe] is going to get a bad case of that in the next few decades, and might get overtaken by Costa Rica and Bhutan in the hi-tech stakes :-D

22:

Infrastructure is a big expense, but maintenance does employ Americans. What I notice about the general sort of arguments such as seem here is that they don't take notice of the huge expense of fighting a war. Not the expense of having military forces, which is pretty big, but the expense of using them to fight a war.

Back in the Eighties, I saw an argument that the NATO countries could just barely pay the operating costs of fighting a war in Europe, and the Soviet Union had no chance. It was a rather simple-minded calculation, assuming no delay and no cost in switching the economy to producing munitions.

War is hellishly destructive of wealth. One reason for the nationalisation of the railways in the UK was that it cost the government less than paying the deferred bills for the war work the railways did, but they still had to pay for maintenance that had been put off.

It's not the same in the USA, the country isn't a tightly controlled war economy putting all its effort into sustaining an army, but the US Government is making a choice to spend money on destruction rather than construction. What might have been a surprise, at the time Halting State was written, was that the war would continue as long as it has. But it was already enough of a drain to be affecting the money available for infrastructure.

23:

(if we're picking on that I would mention that the Amiga and the Atari ST were also not 16-bit machines, at least measured by the size of their registers, but 32 bits. The data bus of the Motorola 68000 CPU in the first models of those was only 16 bits though, and the address bus 24 bits.)

24:

"Grim meathook future" -- the only one I've actually read was L. Ron Hubbard's To The Stars, which had butcher shops selling human meat (organic, not vat-grown.)

25:

A couple of years ago, you said that over 50% of the predictions in Halting State had come true. How much is that now?

Haven't read HS in a while yet, but I did recently read Rule 34 (signed by OGH while he was in Amsterdam :-) and I must say I was less future shocked than on my first reading of Halting State.

26:

"kept being mis-filed under Crime in most of the bookstores"

For years I've scanned both the SF/Fantasy shelf in NZ bookstores and then the general section because I've not been certain where certain books or authors will be filed. John Birmingham for example ends up in the general section for books featuring time travel and alternative universes (both of which I'd consider SF...).

How do you expect the Merchant Princes reprints to be filed? I saw volume 1 - in the general fiction section - while hunting the third Tregillis novel last weekend.

27:

I will hit you with the stick about American spying, considering how much it's turned into yet another drooling Government-Industrial Complex as of, oh, a few years ago. Here's looking at you, Gen. Alexander. Please don't let your pre-emptively vigorous cyber-defense get us into another pointless shooting war, okay?

In a rational world, America's decaying infrastructure would suck the money away from such silly profit-mongering careerism, but Washington DC of the Post-2010 iteration is so far from rational that you couldn't hit it with an ICBM. Makes me regret voting to re-elect Sen. Feinstein.

The only reason I'd bash you for this, Mr. Stross, is that you *know* how the USSR collapsed. Why on earth did you assume that the intelligence industry in a country pays any attention to the rational needs of its citizens for things like a functioning society?

Still, now that we're seeing the NSA go all McNamara on Big Data (remember Vietnam body counts as a success metric, anyone?), I can confidently predict that anybody who actually matters in a security sense has already realized that the simplest way to camouflage problematic activity is to generate a lot of oh-so-ominous false positive correlations, and rope all the available analysts into chasing ghosts so that they can't sort your plot from the noise.

If anyone ever wants to set a crime story in our near cyber-future, I've got a free title to give away: False Positive (or alternately False Negative). Have fun with it.

28:

Halting State was a lifechanging novel for me. Or at least one of a series of lifechanging events.

I discovered that novel in December 2006, about the same time as I discovered Second Life. I got deeply into SL, and stayed with it longer than most tech journalists. But I’m not active with it anymore. I can’t remember when the last time was that I logged in. It was at least a year ago.

In 2007, it seemed virtual reality was going to replace the Web. Now it seems like it was a dead end. Though it’s a dead end road that has proven to be successful for some people. Lots of people do just fine on dead-end roads.

That was an extremely exciting period for me and tech. I joined Second Life in late January 2007, switched to the Mac a few weeks later, joined Twitter in the spring, and got the first iPhone that summer. These are the events proved to be career- and life-changing for me.

As to why Second Life proved to be a dead end rather than an open road: The iPhone and Twitter killed it. Second Life requires a desktop or notebook computer, but the future has proven to be in mobile. Plus, SL requires a commitment of great swathes of time, but you can check Twitter in an idle minute or two.

29:

I discovered that novel in December 2006

You can't have; it was published in July 2007.

(Otherwise, just update your memory of your internal chronology. It's easy enough to come adrift by a year digit or two.)

SL's huge problem is that the client is implemented in Java, for portability. Guess which huge, major platform doesn't run Java?

30:

Charlie - You very kindly sent me a prepublication copy.

Which major platform are you referring to? I've run SL on both Mac and Windows.

32:

Ah. Yes of course. Like I said, SL requires a desktop or laptop.

However, the Second Life client isn't written in Java; it's primarily C++, with some third-party libraries in C and C++.

By the way, this is (and has been) Mitch Wagner. For some reason Google sign-in on the comments here doesn't identify me.

Mitch Wagner

33:

heteromeles & Manmountain
NOT maintaining your infrastructure is horribly expensive.
We are just beginning to catch up on our railway systems, for instance, after approx 50 years of deliberate run-down, often by horribly corrupt interests. [ Sherman / Serpell / Marples etc ]
But, even so, our cities work a lot better than most US ones, because we have a real transport system.
Apparently, one unexpected success of the otherwise vile fascist-sponsored XXXth olympiad in London, last year, was the effect on the US teams ... they were given "Travel/Oyster cards", that enabled them to go anywhere insde the GLA area ... tube, bus, main rail.
Their comments were, basically WOW!
Yes, it costs shedloads, but not spending on it is even more expensive.
IIRC there was a recent proposal to extend another deep-tube/tunnel iine across the Hudson to/from New Jersey, everyone had signed off ... & then a new (Rethuglican?) "governor" arrived in NJ & cancelled the whole thing at the last moment, because it "would only benifit those rich folks in NY" (or something like that)
The stupid, the unutterably stupid ...
Please correct me on details, if I have anything wrong on that last, btw?

34:

By chance I re-read Halting State last week for (I think) the third time and was pleased to note that the passage of time has not spoiled it. ISTR that someone here, possibly OGH himself, said a while back that SF novels set in the near future may be expected to have only a short life due to its vulnerability to developments Real Life. I think Halting State today shows that's a non-issue for a well-written story which pushes interesting characters to interact in interesting ways. If and when it becomes impossible to interpret a fictional world as an extrapolation from today, it can be just as much fun to look at it as a fork from a divergence point in the past, or simply part of a different universe altogether.

35:

You're very definitely preaching to the choir here, Greg.

Given a choice between the cyberwar-industrial complex that Alexander's scared his bosses into funding, and fixing some of the bridges on the freeways, I'd fix the bridges. The follow-on effects from that would almost certainly do more to keep us safe than would preventing any but the most apocalyptically stupid terror strikes.

These latter (things like crop plagues) can be prevented simply by vetting every plant pathology and mycology student, steering the nutty ones into harmless pursuits like lichenology, and making sure the rest have reasonable job security once they graduate. Oh yeah, that's right, the US doesn't do any of this.

36:

Replying to Mitch Wagner.

The mobile/quick-message combination wasn't really around when SL boomed, was it. I can very much see what you mean.

But I feel that one of the commonplace mistakes the people keep making is the nature of minority interests in the modern world. The Internet (modified by language differences) is essentially one worldwide city, and all the minorities are congregating in their own particular gay bar analogues. Businesses such as Facebook and Twitter succeed because they provide the connectivity for these groups, and so does Second Life. And they do it in different enough ways that they can co-exist.

You can only go so far in making analogies with the real world, and when I use "gay bar" it feels a little too easy to wonder when the law-enforcement pressure on the Internet provokes a virtual Stonewall riot. But we're learning about spies probing us. There's the preparation for aggressive cyberwar, there's the NSA reading our mail (I'm not a US citizen and I am using a US-provided service: oh bugger!), and the longest court case in UK legal history was prompted by a political pamphlet written by an undercover cop.

There were rumours about terrorist training in Second Life at one time, and I think they really showed how ignorant people could be. You think abdullah.resident learns how to use a Kalashnikov by clicking on a mouse? Linden Labs keeps logs of all the communication. Now there's a fuss about people using the virtual economy for money-laundering, but the number of people extracting useful amounts of money from the economy is under 5000, and for them to get the money out they need a bank account. There aren't enough trees in that forest to hide in.

37:

Greg

The ARC tunnel cancellation was a very long saga of bad decisions. Gov. Christie made the right decision, though for his own political reasons. Basically, canceling the tunnel, freed up a few billion dollars to spend on roads right now, rather than on a tunnel that wouldn't open during his time as governor.

However, the tunnel was very badly designed, due to some bizarre worries over historic impacts to the Manhattan bulkhead and was way too deep. Additionally, the costs were astronomical, aprx $12 billion, iirc, and any cost over runs would have been wholly funded by NJ. So it was the right decision to cancel it.

NJ has hideously crumbling infrastructure ( the report on the Pulaski Skyway showing structural members completely rusted through, is terrifying, they are going to fix it but are waiting until the Superbowl is done in 2014, which is crazy as it literally could collapse tomorrow)

There is some interesting stuff on-line about why American Infrastructure costs are so high, if you compare the costs for the subway 7 line extension to say the costs for Crossrail, your head will spin.

Sadly, even with a magic wand, it would be a huge challenge to fix things here, and I fear the US will start to pay a price for it as time goes by and more and more people realise that things don't have to be this way.
Regards
Rex

38:

Simon C @ 33
Like the old idea of Dayside & Nightside on Mercury?
The trope is still a useful one, after all, One-Face worlds do exist (like Luna... )

zochoka @ 35
.. it feels a little too easy to wonder when the law-enforcement pressure on the Internet provokes a virtual Stonewall riot.
But, it's going to happen, isn't it?
Someone in "authority" will do something terminally stupid, & it'll be like Paris in 1830, where the last straw was a very crude attempt at a complete control of the press.... [ In fact, wasn't that the trigger for the downfall of Mubarak in Egypt? ]
As noted, the "authorities" still don't seem to have cottoned on to the fact that, whatever it is, if more than a couple of hundred people are involved & those all really secure, because they are really loyal, then there are no (long-term) secrets any more.
See various very recent scandals concerning NHS mis-management, for instance.

Rex @ 36
Thanks - most informative!

39:

I rather enjoyed Halting State...as an Sl denizen it seemed right on the money.

Though no current Virtual World looks like it can deliver on its promise...there remains a vestige of hope, that someone will get it right......I imagine we are 10 or 15 years away from it though.

I enjoyed the tone of Halting State.... the shade of Ian Rankin stalks its halls...but with the Stross-trademark plethora of ideas.

Publishing...like nearly everything...is a hits business these days...I appreciate how thrilling it must have been to be sitting on a hit.

You must have had to resist considerable pressure to keep churning out sequels to the Big Hit !!!!

40:

I'd read several of your books before "Halting State", but it was the one that put you on the "automatic buy" list of authors. The need for economic management of MMPORG hooked me...

As for my programming, it was the Casio FX-501P that my parents got me for Christmas after I'd spent a week utterly engaged with a loaned TI-59. Said TI calculator was the property of the boyfriend of one of mum's teacher colleagues, a US Army artillery officer... He apparently loaded it with the calculations from his firing tables, to produce one of the first handheld gunnery computers. This is only mildly worrying, because he worked on the big guns that fired little drops of sunshine...

41:

Speaking as an alien from business retail, we chose to put Halting State into Crime. Moving a borderline SF title like Halting State to crime is a pretty easy way to boost sales. (we're a bookstore we ONLY exists for sales). The same was done with The City and the City, Gone-Away World, Half-head, Dune and Handmaidens Tale. As sales staff on the floor we can get away with a lot more in the sales pitch by dodging the SF ghetto and simply putting the crime/SF Lit/SF in a different section.

42:

> "Halting State" shelved in Crime

Len Deighton's "SS-GB" and Robert Harris' "Fatherland" are normally shelved in the "thriller" or "military fiction" sections.

43:

OGH - "It's easy enough to come adrift by a year digit or two."

I find it is possible to come adrift by a decade - every now and then I assume 1988 is 15 years ago until I think about it.

44:

Do you think Halting State would be suitable to be turned into a television series?

46:

British conservatives are completely frightening. I can't quite figure out whether they're true believers and really think these programs will do as they say or just con men who know what the game is and don't believe their own line of bull.

It would seem like gutting NHS should be akin to canceling Christmas, a third rail of politics.

How do British conservatives swing it? Is there a similar base of useful idiots as in the United States? Is there a British equivalent to the God, Guns, and NASCAR set?

47:

Great book, and I'm liking this series of posts very much.

One thing, though - the focus on Second Life in discussions of virtual reality, MMOs and the like has always seemed strange to me. Ultima Online and Meridian 59 predate it, and that's without even talking about non-graphical MUDs, which are older still. Everquest was the first MMO to really get big (in the sense both of having tens or hundreds of thousands of subscribers and being noticed by the general media) and World of Warcraft is to all other MMOs as the Sun is to the planets in the solar system (ie vastly, incomparably bigger).

So why does SL have so much mind-share? Is it because it's not explicitly a game and therefore doesn't suffer from being seen as trivial? Is it because they had a wildly successful PR campaign, that included stunts like persuading Reuters to set up shop in SL? Something odd is going on, because if you look at the user numbers, it's a very niche product in quite a large market. I think it's clear by now that virtual reality doesn't typically look like user-generated content in Linden Labs, it looks like orcs in skull armour idling in Orgimmar.

48:

How is it that a Hardcover takes more time than a paperback? Is that just print time or is there additional pre-press to do as well?

49:

Once reason that Second Life out-punches its weight in terms of mind-share is its name, which is a very good one for the lay public and general media to get a handle on. It neatly sums up the concept of all virtual, online existences. "World of Warcraft" just sounds like one lot of metal-clad nutters bashing up another lot - it's quite specific and doesn't mean much outside the target audience. So when a non gameplayer wants to refer to this sort of thing he's quite happy referring to "Second Life" as a concept in a newspaper article, or down the pub, and people instinctively get what he means.

50:

There are elements of Halting State that have already appeared. There's a touch of augmented reality in Sherlock for instance. But such things are hard to do effectively as part of TV. I can imagine a TV series which steps a good way in the direction of that world, but I doubt it could get there.

51:

"But, here in the real world, the progress of VR into everyday life has been slow and tenuous ..."

Have you tried the Oculus Rift yet? If not, and you'd like to, I'd be happy to oblige on one of my reasonably frequent trips to Edinburgh from Aberdeen (schedules permitting!).

The progress of VR might (and it's a bit of a stretch still granted) just move forward a little bit with their consumer level device in 2014, and the $16M capital injection they've just found.

And there's Google Glass at the end of the year which sounds like CopSpace for the masses to a basic extent.

52:

It's not just near-future sf which suffer from the near future going "wrong." Consider stories in which the Soviet Union is powerful centuries from now.

53:

Paperbacks: you print the signatures, guillotine them, print and trim color covers, and glue them together.

Hardbacks: you've got a separate card/fabric cover to bind to the signatures, and then a separate dust jacket to wrap around the cover. It's an extra step in manufacturing and it seems to add complexity and time as well as money.

54:

I must be asleep ...
There is another prediction in "HS" that appears to have, very scarily, just come true.
See HERE .

There is also a suggestion that this technique may have been used to kill someone, too, mere rumor, so far, though, but scary enough.

55:

Eh, the Soviet Union could easily come back like in that Simpsons episode, or slightly more realistically, Putin being an obvious nostalgic for the good old days he might decide on a big revival push as he gets old and doddery.

It's only been gone 20 years, that's more of a blip than anything definite. Keep the .su domain names warm, mark my words.

56:

How do British conservatives swing it? Is there a similar base of useful idiots as in the United States? Is there a British equivalent to the God, Guns, and NASCAR set?

a powerful minority of British conservatives/right-wingers are compassionate, cultured, intelligent, and pragmatic people

a vociferous majority are not - it is this constituency that is being wooed by the [badly misnamed] "UK Independence Party", so the patio fascists are making a comeback...

there are plenty of British people who drive German cars, read Australian-American owned newspapers, drink Polish vodka, drink Tamil tea and Brazilian coffee, and watch the news and surf the web on Chinese made electronics and thinks "England" should be for the "English", and loathes the idea of a European, Black or [English] poor person living near them.

I have a friend who thinks like this - I haven't had the courage to say "What about your wife, then?" [She's from Moldova] - mainly because
a] he used to be a football hooligan, and
b] an NCO in the Parachute Regiment. 8-o

Cognitive dissonance rules OK

57:

I wish I'd remembered that Charlie. Thanks!

Don't suppose Lambda Functionary is in the foreseeable future is it?

58:

>>Eh, the Soviet Union could easily come back like in that Simpsons episode, or slightly more realistically, Putin being an obvious nostalgic for the good old days he might decide on a big revival push as he gets old and doddery.

Could be, but that new USSR will have really weird hybrid ideology. Russia is big on religious revival right now. Church, Cossacks, etc (all state approved).

In any case, they are going to collapse with the rest of oil-producers.

59:

von hichthofen
I think you might be suprised.
IIRC N. Farage's wife is German ....
Most of my fellow allotment-holders are pretyy "old labour" & they have come to loathe & hate the EU for its bureaucratic meddling in affairs that are none of it's concern.

The ones to watch are the "invisible" right-wingers inside the tories, who are definietly pushing for a USA-type agenda to rip everyone off & trouser the profits, whilst wrecking the joint.
I'm not going to name him, but there was a firm, called "Jarvis" whose boss was a tory of the most unpleasant stripe, who, I'm glad to say, overcooked it , & the firm went bust ... but there's plently more like him out there, waiting, watching, hoping to steal from us all.
The saga of the (temporary) closure of all Rail Mail services & the permanent closure of the PO railway in London was another such tale, brought on by a boss (who was politely asked to leave - no prosecutions) but who had big road/lorry (truck in US-speak) private interests.

60:

Further on this; whilst I'm not suggesting that a typical fiction hardback is hand-bound, ISTR that bookbinding is actually a specific skill in its own right.

61:

The mass-market hardbacks are relatively undurable, compared to the more traditional hardback bindings. I am not sure they even use sewn signatures anymore. Depends a lot on the book and the intended market.

ISTR that one of the Making Light regulars knows her book-binding.

62:

Alas, no.

Events overran "419" in 2007, so it got kicked down the road a couple of years and morphed into "Rule 34".

The same thing, only more so, seems to have happened to "The Lambda Functionary". It may surface eventually, but the trouble with near-future novels is that we're living in the fricking' 21st century. (To lazily quote io9 yesterday: "Police are shooting down protester drones in Istanbul. We have mind-controlled robotic arms. The US government is funding a map of the human brain. Plus, computers can recognize pictures of cats on the internet and we have a robot living on Mars.")

So the cogitation on near-future politics is actually going into Merchant Princes: The Next Generation (which is near-future SF, as well as paratime).

63:

British trade fiction hardbacks are perfect (i.e. glue-) bound, on cheap non-acid-free paper.

US trade fiction hardbacks are generally stitched and use more expensive acid-free paper.

(This is one reason why many serious British bibliophiles buy grey-market import American hardbacks.)

64:

The name might be the same, but the political situation may be very different.

I suspect that memories of the socialist aspect of life, the idea that a government puts some effort into caring for the population, will influence what happens. A few of the oligarchs might get stamped on for being too blatant: there has been talk of some $30-billion vanishing from the Winter Olympics project. That is difficult to hide.

And when you look at the history, authoritarian governments in Europe have been the ones that started the ball rolling on such things as universal health care, pensions, and the like. But they're dangerous in other ways. The Soviet Union had a Lenin Myth, and another Stalin would be regarded as a Bad Thing.

I think there might be a streak of republican thinking in the UK which doesn't worry enough about what they might get as an elected head of state. The grass is greener, and all that, but the Dutch seem to do better.

65:

The Oculus Rift is getting some enthusiasm in Second Life circles.

Could have impressive results.

But people vary, and it affects many of the possible control inputs. It's probably not for me, I can't quite touch-type.

Linden Labs, who run Second Life, don't have a good history on implementing alternatives to keyboard/mouse control input. If you want to use a game controller, you really need to use software that takes the input signals and emulates the keyboard

Philip Rosedale, who started the ball rolling, now heads up a company called High Fidelity, which is looking into new ways of doing Virtual Reality. Second Life is based on the technological possibilities of a decade ago.

Incidentally, if anyone had a good Windows machine and is curious, you can get software which will give you your own "grid" to play with. simonastick.com

You can do the building and creation in general, but you don't get the social side.

66:

and Rule 34 work as crime. It's a different part of the crime genre, and the SF angle isn't as well done, but there's also J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas series. So there is a futuristic crime niche.

One difference, perhaps, is that OGH wants to write strong SF. The "In Death" series is in a fairly static world, where the science and tech isn't changing dramatically between stories (though I suspect the occasional convenient forensic McGuffin). It would be possible to write a story set a few weeks after either of those novels from OGH. The "In Death" series spans a couple of years in 30+ novels.

Halting State and Rule 34 are significant changes revealed and illuminated by the crime story, and getting that significant change is hard.

67:

yes, Greg, I'm an old-style left-wing Bennite [Attlee-ite?] anti-European - so there's no party for me to vote for...

...or if there is, their candidates don't stand where I live

I will probably abstain at the next election ;-(

the default setting of British politics is, "See those rich people over there? - Grovel before them!"

Woe betide any government that doesn't.

68:

Fascinating post. I haven't experienced Second Life, but I've spent WAY too much time on World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic. They can be quite immersive, for a game, and do add a global level of interaction. I see a lot of Russian, Swedish and Czech players on my server; it makes for some interesting chat. This globalization of interaction, even for a game, has unpredictable impact.

On the technological side, smart phones have become the new opiate of the masses for the below 30 population; introduction of Google Glasses or a similar technology will only accelerate the trend. To me, the big leaps will be a workable mind-machine interface and implanted technology. Those of us alive today may all be cyborgs by the time we die.

69:

But is a pint still a pint or is it now a half liter?

70:

A pint has been 568ml for quite some time now.

71:

At least that way we know how much we're getting. I gather the US has not one but two pint measures, neither of which is 568 ml. But since the dry pint is pretty useless for beer (Dry goods by volume? What about settling?), I'll ignore it.

72:

You've never cooked a recipe that says "... 1tsp $spice ..."?

73:

'Pinch'. 'Shake'.

Dry goods by volume are approximate measurements, which is why they're abandoned pretty much the moment anyone starts getting money involved. F'rex I don't think I've ever seen $spice on sale by volume.

I'd expect that food companies using recipes will be using mass rather than volume for flour and the like. At least, the big ones who want repeatability - there's enough variability in ingredients as it is without letting variable quantity get in on the act.

A lot of home recipes that specify volume actually have the originator cooking without measurement, and then trying to work out how much they put into something once it works.

74:

How about USian recipes that quote pretty much everythign by volume, even to the extent of saying stuff like "1 cup of carrots"?

75:

What about them? You're surely not arguing that mere existence is any evidence of virtue, are you?

(And a cup of carrots?! I can't get a single local carrot into a cup, it'd just topple out again.)

76:

I've made them work when baking, in the views of others who've eaten the results.

As for the cup of carrots, I think that's stupid too, since the answer is variable with the size of the bits of carrot!

77:

Cooking volumes
The US has this insane non-system ("cups") where EVRYTHING is measured by volume ... ARRRGGH!
A Teaspoon (tsp) is 5ml, a dsp is 10 & a Tbsp is 15 ml - but it always used for finely-divided, usually fairly well-compacted powders or similar.

The trouble with US volumetric measures, ESPECIALLY FOR BEER is that their pint only has 16floz in it, whereas the Imperial one has 20....
Which is why an Imperial gallon (of water) weighs 10 lbs
Oh & a backwards connection: German (well, some German) beer-stiens, which hold 500ml-to-the-line are "overmeasure" like a North-of-England 22-oz glass, to accomodate the "head". Similarly, many German steins are ... brim-measure pints.
The trouble I went to to test that out, too!

78:

A pint has been 568ml for quite some time now.

Interesting. Apparently the UK and US have had different systems for gallons/quarts/pints for a long time. And Germany has a different definition of a quart than either of these.

And yes there is a "dry" system of measuring in the US but I've never seen it used.

79:

Oh yes there is a whole separate world of slightly different "imperial" units Slugs Poundels and superseded SI units Cycles per second for example where what we now call Hertz.

One of the boring bits of my first job was to combine usa and uk data form fluid dynamics experiments and converting the US measurements.

80:

If the someone you're thinking of is Michael Hastings, that rumour is being peddled by a "counterterrorism expert" (AKA someone who gets paid better the more people are scared of terrorists); take with pounds of salt. Not that the ludicrous insecurity of almost all embedded computers is not a very serious problem.

81:

The "Imperial" system of measures for volume goes back to 1836, so it's not that old. The USA adopted existing English measures, and it was something to do with different liquid pints for different classes of material.

OGH knows about this, since it is background info for TMP:TNG.

As a farmer, it is somewhat annoying for US grain prices to be quoted using bushels as the unit of measure, since the "bushelweight" is a useful indicator of grain quality. In the EU, for a long time a bushelweight of 76 kg/hl was the minimum density for some markets. The not so obvious reality is that a bushel of wheat is 60 pounds, and that is what is being traded in Chicago. Which implies a bushelweight of 77.4.

It's rather difficult to make a good measure of bushelweight since the handling of the grain affects the packing fraction. And the moisture content affects both the density of each grain and its shape. The USDA is trying to make it simple and just use mass.

82:

Never neglect the Sheer Pleasure of Handling a Book ..the way it balances in the Hand , the way it OPENS the Way it Smells The Sheer BooBiosity of its Wrap arround Cover..and so forth.

Up until now there is NO way that an E Book could compete in terms of the traditional Book /Reader interface! Unless you are a reader who has never had the chance to Read a Real Dead Tree plus Ragged remnants of clothing BOOK? Let’s say that you are a Child of NOW and your local Public Libraries in the UK are being closed to save money? This not just in the UK because I do seem to recall that the Beloved Governator of California was intent upon doing away with all these dead tree thingies in the Californian Public Scool System and replacing them with the Concept of E Book on E Readers .. don’t know if the Concept meets the reality of issuing poverty stricken kids with I Pads of their very own but there’s nothing wrong with the Futuristic Idea of it all is there?

Oh, and in the interests of total ish disclosure I've just learned that at least half of the local public libraries hereabouts in my bit of the North East of England are too be closed - this in a Labour Party Dominated Local Council - whilst the local Public Library ..in and ever so intensely Middle Class Bookish area ..is to have its opening hours reduced by half.

There is a vague reference to E Books being made available.

Professional Writers and their agents really do need to be paying an awful lot of attention to the E Book forms of Public Lending Rights ..hereafter is my ever so disciplined LINK , just ONE ..to what this means to those of us who might need to be reminded that .. ALAS ..REAL books are doomed in all save the Specialist Bibliophile market that isn’t so very different from how books used to be before the era of universal literacy at which time the reader would BUY the printed sheets of the BOOKE and then carry them around to The Bookbinder to be bound in Your Binding of Choice.

Skipping past the possibility of .

" Is 3D printing about to hit the mainstream?
The technology for 3D printing is moving fast. One day every home may have one .. "

A book dealer, whose Second Hand shop in Newcastle Upon Tyne I used to visit very regularly .. " GOT to Go to ..do necessery Female Stuff .. Arnold, Mind The Till for a While Will You? “ ..Moved her shop to Haltwhistle and then closed the front of house Book Shop to concentrate on Book Binding.

Craft Shop and similar such specialist Shops are going to be the, Return To The Past/ Future, salvation of The High Street .. if only the Greedy and desperate Local Politicians/and Landlords can be persuaded to remit local taxation in the interests of Arts and Crafts and lower rents - oh The Horror! Rent Control!

Anyway here in the interests of entertainment and Curiosity..for Our Hosts Multi National Audience ..is a link, or two ..err, Oh, WELL, er, that undertaking to just one link couldnt last could it ? Hereafter ..
A Properly Bound Book ..


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYm-zTKJo5A


Alas though the E Book Thingies of Evilosity are Getting There in terms of add on Book Reading Value and I expect that at any time now we will speed downward towards an Electronic Version of,

" Prosperos Books " by Peter Greenaway ..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDgO5E05SdI

A Terrific Film and elements of it Will become the Bookes of The Future

83:


Only if you insist on having your Pint topped up to the proper level!

84:

You imagine I don't?!?

85:

@ 83. 84
Well, ...
I've been told that "it's allowed to serve a little-bit short, it's not a criminal offence & we've just been told it's OK" (about 5 years back this was) ...
My reply was that ... "Short measure is an excise offence (it is, you are defrauding HMRC of duty) - and there's a cop-shop across the road - now do I get a full pint, or do I invite the Plods in?"
I got a Pint.
The other classic trick, but which only works if everyone is drinking the same slosh ...
5 pints ordered - all turned up short - "change mind" & ask for extra half ... then top up pints with said half & tender correct money for 5 pints ... I've done that one as well - the barman's face was truly amazing to watch!

86:

"...the natural voice of the classic text adventure game."

That's why it's entirely in the second person! I have to admit that thought never occurred to me, I just thought it was a narrative trick on your part to keep us on our toes.

Makes me want to go and reread it with that in mind.

87:

I'm still waiting for somebody to come out with a second person shooter...

88:

I've never had brim measure glasses (or steins) in Germany, or Austria. This also took much research, some of which had to be repeated due to the inability of the researchers to remember the previous day's results at breakfast! ;-)

89:

Not that the ludicrous insecurity of almost all embedded computers is not a very serious problem.

Rubbish. Unless you mean that you don't have very good locks on your house, and your TV / washing machine / hi-fi / bike computer / smartphone got stolen.

Most embedded computers execute from EPROM, for obvious reasons. If you want to change programming, you would typically need both physical access, system understanding, and source code to modify, because your cunning-yet-dangerous change still needs to work until your evil plan kicks in. On older systems, this may also include carrying a UV light and an ROM programmer, or a jumper to connect up the 12V line for the flash memory...

The example of a hacked car is more about the ludicrous insecurity of the network allowing commands to be issued to a display peripheral. Oh no, it's not, they needed access to the diagnostics port, because rather sensibly the car designer didn't put the braking system on the same network as the wi-fi. As far as I can see, the limit of their carjacking was "look, we can send messages to the dashboard and change your engine tuning so that it runs smoother". Not sure that they can interfere with either brakes or steering.

No offence, if someone has interior access to your car and lethal intent, it's more likely to include introducing air to the hydraulics, or a couple of pounds of explosive to the ignition system.

90:

"Most embedded computers execute from EPROM, for obvious reasons. If you want to change programming, you would typically need both physical access, system understanding, and source code to modify, because your cunning-yet-dangerous change still needs to work until your evil plan kicks in. On older systems, this may also include carrying a UV light and an ROM programmer, or a jumper to connect up the 12V line for the flash memory..."

My experience (in a "been doing this stuff for a living for over 25 years" kind of way) is that for some time very few embedded systems have used ROM for more than a boot loader with the actual "app" code (along with any underlying OS/RTOS/Executive) being stored in flash and copied to RAM for execution. I can't remember the last time I saw an old-skool UV erasable EPROM or the last time I burnt a PROM and temporarily patching code running from RAM or injecting a spurious update for flash memory remotely is often disconcertingly easy,..

91:

USSR Revival?

It could still happen; There was a standing joke in the 1980's about the USSR being a Third World Country Masquerading as a Superpower.

(stategic) Nuclear Weapons have a modest cost in terms of a Budget the size of the FSU; It's the delivery system infrastructure and maintenance that gets pricy, and they seem to have tended to that.

One of the few cool bits in a "Bad" SF novel by the Nazi Lover who will not be Named, was a throwaway refrence to Tsar Putin V....

92:

Not sure that they can interfere with either brakes or steering.

I'd be dubious, largely because these systems rely on mechanical inputs rather than electronic ones. It might be possible to make an electronic ABS go "full open" by spoofing signals for a 4-wheel skid but it would be way faster and easier to open the bleed screws and let you pump the hydraulic fluid out.

You could set a "drive by wire" throttle to go to full open after a given run time, but you can get round that by declutching.

93:

Insert the phrase "Second Person Shooter Zato" into your preferred search engine.

94:

Jeez, I thought someone would pick up on the "1984" reference. Ah, well, too obscure I suppose.

95:

Re: Not sure that they can interfere with either brakes or steering.

Steering, definitely on modern stuff. Modern cars do not rely on muscle power from the driver, and even hydraulic power steering is now almost extinct on new cars. What you get instead is electric power steering, with a whacking great electric motor built directly into the rack, controlled by a computer.

What you then do with that computer-controlled steering motor is a matter of software. For some time cars have been on sale with 'self-parking' functions, and the new Mercedes S-class now coming on sale provides self-steering in the cruise, within the lane markings of a multi-lane road. There's still a direct physical link between the cabin steering wheel and the steering rack, but there are moves to eliminate that legacy regulatory requirement, and in any case the power steering servo on a Merc S-Class has the power to over-ride the physical strength of a lot of drivers. So there's no fundamental reason why a conflict between the wishes of a human on-board driver and the computer will not go the way of the computer.

For several years the other underlying enablers for self-driving or remotely-driven cars have been getting bolted into place. The manual transmission, with clutch pedal, is now on the endangered list, replaced by electronically controlled self-shifting transmissions of varying types. Every volume production car now has electronically controlled brakes, and electronic stability and traction control which can brake individual wheels as it sees fit. (incidentally that's another way for a computer to steer a car regardless of what a driver does with a steering wheel). Throttles are almost all now drive-by-wire, i.e. intermediated by software rather than the driver operating a cable which directly opens and closes a throttle valve. Parking brakes are increasingly electric on-off switches rather than applied by muscle and cable. Adaptive cruise controls with built-in radar are now widely available on high-end cars, and trickling down to the cheaper stuff - these cruise controls on Audis and Mercs now have autonomy to bring the car to a full stop, and set off again when the car in front moves off. Most new cars now have electronically-controlled central locking and windows, with interior door handles that disengage when the doors are deadlocked. Many new cars have digital perimeter sensors and increasing numbers also have built-in perimeter cameras. BMW, for one, has announced that all its new cars from 2015 on will be permanently connected to the internet as standard.

All the fundamental bits and pieces are in place, or rapidly coming into place, so the next step towards full automation or remote operation is now really just one of a few additional sensors, some software and/or bandwidth. Plus, of course, a matter of public perception and pinning down where the liabilities are going to end up. Law will have to change in this regard.

96:

Apparently, the researchers who triggered this have only demonstrated what might be done with access to the diagnostic port, and said, in effect, don't panic, but better to sort out the security issue now than get caught out as the PC business was. And, since cars last a long time, it is something worth thinking about.

One possible part of the problem are the EU rules which mean that third party mechanics have to be able to get access on equal terms with the dealers (after a few years), so that a monopoly can't develop. Being able to get the diagnostic data means you can find out what the fault is, and replace parts.

It gets tricky, and with auto-driving vehicles being tested, it all gets a bit difficult. If a Google car is on the road, what security would the insurance companies expect on the control system?

I think the risks to current cars are being exaggerated, but the questions need to be answered.

97:

Jeez, I thought someone would pick up on the "1984" reference.

I noticed it; I just thought it was too obvious.

98:

Just add a second controller.

But seriously, how would that even work? Is a second person shooter a game where you play as a series of first person targets?

99:

Not quite the same thing, but close enough:

http://edition.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/04/17/aa.bills.shut.engine.down/

Devices like the Disabler are made possible by continual surveillance of cars and similar devices. Apply it to a driverless car and it simply drives itself back to the lot if you miss a payment, whether you're in the car or not.

100:

I doubt the USSR will be revived under that name, simply because communism has been largely discredited.

That said, Russia has always been paranoid about invasion. Getting over-run by Mongols, Huns, etc. does that to a country (not counting French and Germans), and for good reason: they don't have any good natural borders separating them from the steppe. Their general solution to invasion has always been to have an active military. Whether they've had an effective military is another issue.

Remember, the Great Game was all about who controlled Central Asia: the British Empire or the Russian Empire. Personally, I suspect that some flavor of imperial Russia is almost inevitable. For the foreseeable future, though, it may be a modern, democratic empire with a metropole, periphery, oligarchs instead of princes, and elections to let the public choose which to ratify a preselected slate of candidates in every election.

101:

A second-person shooter is one where you see your avatar/character from the point of view of the other player(s) - the equivalent of looking at the other player's screen in a first person shooter.

102:

I'm curious about how, if at all, the live-your-life-online (virtually) option has changed people's sense of culture, regionalism, etc. From some of the comments above, I'd say not at all; this despite quite a lot of pop-psychology and media coverage that such would happen.

So -- why not? What's stopping the online-rs from abandoning their birth/regional/socioeconomic cultural roots/mores? (This is distinct from access to social media/instant communications such Twitter, FaceBook, etc.)

103:

All right then, please describe to us a third person shooter, implemented in the past perfect tense.

104:

Any shooting game in which you are looking at your avatar from outside is a third-person shooter.

To make it past perfect, you need a time delay similar to controlling a rover on the Moon -- what you see is always few seconds behind what your avatar is actually doing. :)

105:

The official second life client (and most forks and re-implementations) is in C++, although there are a few re-implementations in Java and in C# (all of them written after the source release, around 2008). Both the official second life server software and the reverse-engineered implementation OpenGrid are in C#, although there was a short-lived attempt to re-implement OpenGrid from scratch in pure c.

106:

I don't think that Second Life is so different from the other social media in how it creates a different culture. You still have to be in the real world. Second Life, because it has a significant internal economy with the ability to convert profits into real-world money, does support some people. There's a chap in Edinburgh who must be making a lot of money supplying animations, though not just for SL.

Video about Abramelin Wolfe

More the social side, there is 1920s Berlin.

Jo Yardley in 1929 Berlin

Maybe if you haven't found the engrossing virtual culture, you just haven't looked.

107:

Second person shooters, then, are also third person shooters.

All this mixing of tenses is starting to get a bit Strange Loop-y, eh?

I like the idea of a time delay shooter, though, an automatic handicap to work around. You may already have been blasted out of existence.

108:

Perhaps sf writers should stick to farther-future settings. Like Jerry Pournelle's CoDominum, in which the US and USSR are very close allies.

109:

You could set a "drive by wire" throttle to go to full open after a given run time, but you can get round that by declutching.

Based on what went on with Toyota's over the last decade declutching or putting the transmission in neutral doesn't seem to occur to most drivers in that situation. Or even the 911 call centers. This is in the USA.

I figured this clutching into neutral soon after getting my license. Turned out the previous owner of my POS used car had SOLDERED a brake line. It blew out and I had no brakes. I started down shifting and slowing down till I could slowing pull into an uphill parking spot. I was lucky I didn't have to try and stop the car with the emergency brake. This would not have been a great idea given the state of the art in parking brakes in this 62 Buick Skylark.

110:

With a full manual, I suffered a stuck part-open throttle once, so I actually know my first reaction will be to declutch (manual) or select N (auto). That said, some computerised autos and semi autos won't select N above a given road speed to prevent engine over-speeding.

111:

An action movie :)

112:

SWITCH OFF ?
Trouble is, that will probably lock the steering, & will certainly switch off power-steering.

gravelbelly @ 89
NO
"they" can simply programme a plug-in, which is then attached to the diagnostic port, by carefully breaking-in to the car & then exiting, locking-up behind them.
Nothing happens at all, until the command signal is sent.
Only defendable-against by checking diag-port every time you get in .. like for car-bombs ...

Simon C @ 95
If, sorry WHEN this comes, there WILL be a rash of murders - it's just too easy!

113:

Not really. The accepted meaning of third-person shooter is "from the point of view of a camera looking over your character's shoulder" (or if you listen to complaints about some 3PS games, swopping balletically around the battleground showing you everything but what you need to see). 1st person is your view, 2nd person is opponent's view, 3rd person is spectatorly view.

As Charlie pointed out, for an example of a third person past perfect shooter see Die Hard. ",)

114:
I like the idea of a time delay shooter, though, an automatic handicap to work around. You may already have been blasted out of existence.

Which is exactly what happens when you play multiplayer shooters agains people with lower latency connections than you.

And lo many cries of LAG! were heard across the server, and there was much gnashing of teeth among those burdened with a high ping.

Of course neuroscience has taught us that we already go through life with a 1 second lag so it's not impossible to compensate, it's what your brain does all the time.

115:

Ah, LAG!, blind idiot god of network traffic, will we never be free of your influence?

Thanks for that, it's always good to read something funny first thing in the AM.

116:

@102:
I'm curious about how, if at all, the live-your-life-online (virtually) option has changed people's sense of culture, regionalism, etc. From some of the comments above, I'd say not at all;
---
Bingo.

James Lileks wrote an article for a newspaper back in the 1990s on that very subject. He used to have a link to it off his web site, but it went away a few versions ago.

Basically, his comment was that everyone expected the internet to be a broadening experience; you could meet all sorts of strange people, be exposed to different ideas, philosophies, and viewpoints, boldly go where no man has gone before, etc.

Instead, what happened was that the internet allowed people to search out others who thought and acted just like themselves, and join a community where they fit in and never had their basic ideas challenged. So instead of being a broadening experients, the net turned out to allow them to narrow their social interaction down to others like themselves.

Lileks stopped there, but an extension of that is that when everyone in your world agrees with you, you get the idea that all the world thinks like you do. That sort of thing goes back way before electronic communications, of course, but going online makes it much easier.

Blinkered thought patterns like that result in things like the Japanese Army circa the 1930s, Heaven's Gate, jihadis, various politicial parties and economic schools, etc.

117:

We are all the speed of light's bitches.

And we always will be.

118:

Slaves to the inadequacy of meat-borne perception.

119:

That will all change when the revolution comes!

120:

Charlie @ 117
One word.
Tachyons.

121:

Greg @120
One more word.
Hypothetical.

122:

Two unconnected points:

- When everyone in your world agrees with you, you don't just get the idea everyone agrees with you, you also get more extreme over time as the group spirals off in an orgy of self-reinforcement. See (because I'm in Ireland, and things have been Interesting here recently) pro-life activists claiming a majority of society supports their position when the polling suggests it's a 75/25 split in the other direction.

- Interestingly, the Internet has had at least one broad effect; "online" English has more epistemic modality markers than "offline" English - IM(|H|NSH)O, AFAIK, IIRC, etc. It's probably a combination of the strong academic influence on the early Internet and USENET, and the massive amount of arguing. ",)

123:

anonemouse
Purrrlease!
When you use those two particular hyphenated words, please also use the phrase "Sc-called" & put quotes around it, as in: So-called "pro-life" factions (in the pay of the RC church) have claimed today, that... etc.
It's like the other switch routine used by that lot, where "morality" alays means SEX & also means RELIGION ... when, in fact, neither is the case.

I'm sure you're aware of this, but it still grates ... sorry.

124:

@122:
> self-reinforcement

Correct.

> claiming a majority of society
> supports their position when
> the polling suggests it's a
> 75/25 split in the other
> direction.

In that case, it's hard to tell if it's self-delusion, or just another example of the Big Lie school of persuasion. Tell the lie with enough frequency and vehemence, and people who know better will sometimes give up just to avoid the hassle. Or substitute lie for "opposing viewpoint" as needed.

Perhaps related, I often look up historical dates, etc. when discussing things online. In the last half-decade or so, I've seen people who should know better accept the first hits from Google or Wikipedia as fact, even when the results are... questionable. The ease of online lookup vs. driving to a library, filing an Inter-Library Loan request, and waiting a week or two has had the interesting effect of generating a new concensus of truth; if the information is not online, it's likely to be challenged now. To which my usual reply is something along the line of, "buy or borrow some real reference material; I'm not going to annotate your thesis for you."

We might call this the "Glasshouse Effect." If everyone is operating from the same (abridged) reference material, they're more likely to come to the same conclusions...

125:

Agree mostly .. re:
> claiming a majority of society
> supports their position when
> the polling suggests it's a
> 75/25 split in the other
> direction.

A couple of other comments/observations:

a) While everyone with an email account which is pretty well everyone with online access knows what SPAM is (i.e., garbage, self-serving nonsense), most seem to act as though the rest of their online experience (barring pop-up ads) as being SPAM-free.

b) While humans are still limited to a single flesh body at a time, there's no control whatsoever over the number of email accounts (therefore online identities) anyone can have at any time, nor of the number of online aliases. This seems to be difficult for some people to internalize: that any so-called count of people online (including social media such as Facebook or Twitter) has little/no relationship to the count of real flesh-and-blood individuals.

Because of (b), I think that our online personal perceptions are still mostly ruled by expectations formed by our real-world/flesh-and-blood experiences and not the other way around. By now, I would have expected a 50-50 accommodation so that perceptions developed primarily online would be carried over and essentially trump real-world perceptions.

126:

Well, the internet really isn't a whole new thing, just a new implementation of an old thing: the ability of media to broaden or entrench views. We've had the written word for thousands of years, recently supplemented by radio, television, movies. The internet puts a printing press in every home essentially, and now in every pocket.

But even before the internet, it was possible to wall yourself off in a niche belief group. The best example in the States is the Christian Conservative movement. There's radio, television, and print media all supporting that narrow point of view and allows an entire subculture to feel like they are living in the armed camp of their enemies.

But I would agree that the internet is helping to crank this preexisting thing up to 11. I think that people inclined to have their eyes opened can do so and those looking to have theirs sewn shut can do the same.

127:

With Second Life celebrating it's tenth anniversary, which can be reckoned good going for a tech company, it seems worth pointing out a few of the things which have changed.

1: The basic underlying structure was set over a decade ago: 256m square regions running on servers which send streams of data to clients which do the rendering. Over time, new rendering technology has appeared, new ways of calculating physics effects, and various changes to what data needs to be sent, and a shift from UDP to HTTP. The region servers used to send you all the data. Now more specialised servers will send you large files, such as textures, but the 256m grid hasn't changed. Neither have the limits on how many people can be in the same place.

2: Some things have changed. Instead of using a set of arbitrary primitives, which can be distorted in certain ways, you can now use full mesh models. A mesh model can be horribly bigger to download, but the end result, done right, is less load than the huge number of prims it might replace.

3: In the years of the hype, five or six years ago, the commercial use was the big thing. Companies paid for regions, which they could decorate as they liked. The US DoD still has a large area of land, clustered around "Coalition Island", which is mostly deserted now. They paid for it to be staffed, for a couple of years. A lot of the corporate and educational locations have gone.

4: But the numbers are holding steady. People still sign up and use Second Life. It's a social venue, with some significant game playing. There is an official regional Burning Man event. It may be small, compared to the internet at large, and so misses out on a lot of advertising in-world, but it is the internet in microcosm.

5: Including the sex. No surprise there.

6: It's hard to be sure, because it is hard to get reliable figures, but people do make a living out of providing virtual goods in Secon Life. How many? A few hundred, certainly, and a few thousand at least showing a profit on their activities.

It's going to be hard to compete. Second Life is where the people are, and a social system needs people. But the internet is changing. Portable computing of all sorts is supplanting the desktop machine. And some things about a 3D world on a tablet computer are going to have to be different. Games have altered over the years: Second Life still uses the usual camera position of over a decade ago.

What will be happening in ten years time?

I shall be getting old, that's for sure.

128:

People make a living selling HATS on team fortress.

129:

"Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash in 1992, and rang the curtain down on cyberpunk in the process." Would love to see you expand on that. I always just thought Snow Crash came late in the natural life cycle. Do you mean " rang the curtain down" just in he sense it was a hard act to follow? Or was there something more definitively final about it?

130:

zhochaka - Interesting points. Discussions of virtual worlds tend to devolve into whether they will become mainstream. I'm guilty of participating in that myself -- I did so right here.

But that tends to bury a subject that to me is even more interesting: Why do people who are still active in Second Life stay there? What is the appeal for some people?

The simplistic answer is that these people are broken. Either physically disabled, or psychologically incapable of succeeding in meatspace, either through neurological impairment or failure of character. Those people do exist in Second Life. But surely that isn't all of them. (The same, btw, could be said of sf fandom.) So for the ones who aren't broken -- what keeps them hanging around?

131:

I laughed out loud at the line about tunneling TCP/IP over AD&D. I even thought for a while that maybe you came up with that line and wrote a ton of the book around it?

132:

Well, you heard about tunneling TCP over pigeons, did you?

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

133:

What's a ' Judas switch ' ?

134:

It's a switch that turns off (or on) the Judas functionality. Judas is the most famous betrayer. This switch is on the phone ... so it's turning off the ability of the phone to betray you.

Or in other words, it's putting it into flight mode.

135:

So, with current(ish) tech, it might disable GPS locating (and hence navigation) in hardware.

136:

And whatever else might be relevant, yes. Turning the phone fully off may be inconvenient, given the way they're pocket computers these days.

(Well, mine's mostly a 64GB MP3 player - that's what it spends 8 hours a day doing)

137:

Short of removing the battery, there is no way of turning mine off completely in h/w. Of course, that said mine is basically a telephone, although it theoretically plays games and MP3s, takes photos and mounts a web browser. Theoretically because I've never used any of the capacities.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 22, 2013 12:28 AM.

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