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Crib Sheet: 419/Rule 34

It is something of a truism that the reward for a job done well is another job.

In my case ... "Halting State" was that rare, unexpected thing: a commercial breakthrough novel. (The initial hardback run sold out before publication date, and it went into reprint twice in its first month: it earned out the hardcover and paperback advance in its first three weeks.) I was busy finishing "Saturn's Children" when this happened, and regretting not having a sequel up my sleeve—but "Halting State" had been hard to write (it took me 15 months; my contract allowed 12 months per book, so I got paid late).

So my agent went into a new contract round with Ace and Orbit, and this time came back with a three book deal: a short story collection (to give me time to recharge my batteries), a sequel to "Halting State" titled "419", and "The Fuller Memorandum".

So what happened to 419?

I sat down to write "419" in early 2008, right after I wrote "Palimpsest" and then "The Fuller Memorandum", in that order. Then I got blindsided by the future.

"419" was going to be the tale of the biggest bust-out in history: an Advance Fee Fraud targeting the World Bank and the EU and the US Federal Reserve to the tune of (raises little pinkie, Dr. Evil style) "twenty beellion dollars!"

I'd read about the Banco Noroeste collapse, in which a Brazilian bank was brought down by Nigerian scammers who convinced them to invest in a new airport for Abuja. My scammers were going to go one bigger. Key to their scam was a played-out gas field, circa 2020, in Khazakstan or Turkmenistan: it's a little-known fact that when natural gas pipelines are laid, the company that operates the pipeline acquires a right of way not only for the fuel it transports, but also for their maintenance equipment and monitoring telecoms. If you have a gas field in central Asia, with pipelines going west to Europe and east to China, you can blow a lot of fibre optic cables down the empty rusting tubes, and shave milliseconds off the packet latency between the trading floors of London and Frankfurt and those of Guangzhou. And if you've co-opted the government of the country with the gas field, you can then run a man-on-the-middle attack on all those deal orders ...

Then Lehman Brothers went bust, the global banking system coagulated like full-fat milk on a hot summer's day, and Bernie Madoff popped his head up and said "oops", like a bizarrely polite financial groundhog that has surfaced in front of the cameras as a harbinger of the imminent collapse of the global investment banking sector.

As you can imagine, this brought my plans for "419" to a complete screeching halt. Suddenly a novel about a heist netting $20Bn seemed paltry in the face of the rampant corruption that had just come to light. So it was clearly necessary to go back to the drawing board—and to buy more time. I asked my agent, and she negotiated a swap with my publishers: they'd run "The Fuller Memorandum" first, instead of "419", while I worked on a new near future thriller that fit the "sequel to 'Halting State'" remit while not being rendered obsolete prior to publication.

"Rule 34" was a bear to write. It took me eighteen months of skull-sweat, even after I decided to go back to basics, pick up one of the more interesting characters from "Halting State", and focus much more narrowly on her preoccupations five years after the events of that book. The Rule 34 Squad itself seemed like an obvious extrapolation; so did the seedy world of backyard printcrime. The Toymaker and his shadowy criminal entrepreneurial backers ... well, organized crime traditionally runs on the application of business practices to activities that are legally prohibited: where there's a market there's a profit, even if it's a bit marginal and you have to cover your own enforcement and insurance overheads. Organized crime today simply doesn't seem to have assimilated the lessons of a thousand MBA courses, much less agile and just in time production and supply chains. It seems inevitable that if we get over the War On Drugs in the next decade, those criminal cartels that don't curl up and die will have to evolve: hence the Operation, which (coincidentally) appears to be based not a million miles away from Santa Cruz.

A chunk of the background behind ATHENA comes out of discussions I had over a couple of years with Karl Schroeder, whose novels you will probably enjoy if you like mine enough to have read this far. You might also note some influences from the direction of Peter Watts with respect to the utility of consciousness to an artificial intelligence. And I'd been reading too much about soft paternalism as a tool of social control.

Gender issues: I was going through one of my periodic bitching and moaning phases about the ubiquity of stereotyping of non-heteronormative characters in SF and the lack of plausible fictional role models for LGBT folks, and doing a bit of anxious navel-gazing over maybe having fallen into that trap myself. So I decided to make "Rule 34" a decisively non-heteronormative work. The only significant character who is remotely conventionally heterosexual is the psychopathic gangster: everybody else is somewhere else on the Kinsey scale, even if they don't admit it (as is the case with Anwar). If you read it, you might want to keep half an ear open for the sound of breaking genre gender cliches.

Reality issues: I wanted to write a story set in a future I could see myself living into. An inhabitable one, in other words, full of people just muddling through their day to day lives. (Turns out you can get there really easily if you just ignore the big global news items ...)

The second person thing: "Halting State" is written in the second person because that is the natural voice of the computer game. ("You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alive ...") "Rule 34" is in the second person for an entirely different reason. ATHENA is a non-self-identifying AI; ATHENA has no sense of "I", but instead focuses its identity onto whichever human it is monitoring. The "you" is the natural voice for a narrator who isn't human, has no sense of "I", and is in fact the observer in an emergent ubiquitous-surveillance panopticon state.

Any questions? Ask here! (I may update this crib sheet entry if you remind me of anything important I forgot to mention.)

160 Comments

1:

Why on earth did Christopher Priest hate it so much?

2:

A style thing, I think. Also note that at the time he emitted his witty fulmination against the Clarke award shortlist he'd just turned 70. (When Fandom Wank started pointing and LOLing at his remarks, he asked me if I could take their stuff down, as if he thought I was Pope-Emperor of the Internet or something ...) With very few exceptions, the over-50s don't really understand social networks at a gut level, and over-65s often find it deeply unnerving if not actually threatening.

(I know there are plenty over over-50s reading this right now: but you're a self-selected sample rather than representative of the norm.)

3:

We've spent too much time hanging out with you pesky kids - it's ruined us.

More seriously, Chris Priest and Ian Watson were two writers I read quite a bit of when at an impressionable age, and to me then, they were gods. Ah well. At least Ian hasn't got too self-important, and is quite happy to chat at parties.

4:

I suspect Chris got into the habit of thinking of me as one of those pesky kids you have to avoid at conventions ...

5:

Charlie, apart from anything else, you're one of those strange people who looks to be into costuming (Black kilts for instance).

6:

``Pope-Emperor of the Internet'' -- that job sounds either awesome ("THE POWAH!!!") or like hellish - responsible for moderating everything on the Internet.

7:

I think I'm going to have to re-read both Halting State and Rule 34. I don't think it clicked when I first read Halting State why it was in second person (though it is obvious in hindsight...). And it definitely didn't click for Rule 34.

One thing I liked (well, not "liked" as in, think it's a good idea, but more "liked" as in well written and totally plausible, even if scary as shit) was the legal system. No general laws, but instead you need AIs to work out what laws have been broken. It's already partly the case... (Except that the AIs are meat-based.) (Insert here that quote about law that the Randites quote all the time.)

As for the gender issues, I don't think I even noticed that the only heterosexual was a villain. I wonder what that says about me.

Please Charlie, please write another near future novel (though I accept that they are hard, they are quite entertaining). Perhaps discussions of cryptocurrencies and laundries (or mixing service as the Bitcoin community seems to bizarrely call them).

8:

And forgot that a few years earlier he'd been one too.

(Well, a decade or three.)

Ian Watson has managed to keep a youthful impishness which is quite fun. Oh well, two English SF novelists, born a few weeks apart just over 70 years ago in northern England (happy birthday to Chris Priest last Sunday — he's only just 70, so I suspect you misremembered his age), and how they differ.

And these are, in the grand scheme of things, minor imperfections, ones that I'm perfectly prepared to overlook, compared to some. No, I won't spell out OSC's name in case there's a flash and a cloud of sulphurous smoke and he appears.

9:

That's entirely plausible; you and I aren't that far apart in age (from the viewpoint of, say Chris Priest or indeed Karen Furlong) and I know I've never had a chance to speak to him at a con.

10:

I've always wondered why Anwar's wife disregards all the crap he's doing, especially as people are as divorce-happy as ever. Is it love? Is it something people just do?
I'd expect arranged marriages to be sort of a vetting process and really don't understand how that marriage has come to exist in the first place.

11:

...and of course elements of the Advance Fee Fraud research made its way into Neptune's Brood, and cleverly finding a way to avoid the mere 20 beeelion limit.

12:

People can be sometimes a bit distant at conventions. Sometimes for good reasons, or at least understandable ones.

(And yes, if I was so to you up in Bradford, that's because I was very much in a mood of only wanting to talk to friends that day, having had my mother die the night before.)

13:

Remembering that they're in an arranged marriage, and a conservative muslim one, divorce isn't too likely. It would likely be considered dishonorable. Some cultures still think it's "Better to be a widow than a divorcée", or more likely a widower in certain cultures. Anwar's wife might even have come to love him, and knows things could've been worse for her.

I think I might argue that she's the only 'conventionally heterosexual' character in the book. The Toymaker obviously has his kinks, and is essentially a rapist (doesn't he do what Assange is accused of?).

14:

That's ok, no offence was taken. Even if it had been, as a Scot I'd consider a family death to be very much a reason for not being in party mode etc.

15:

Your interpretation of organized crime reminds me of James T. Kirk's view in "A Piece of the Action": "You guys have been running this planet like a piecework factory. We're going to run it like a business. We're going to put it under one roof." I'm sure there's much to be learned from seeing through this perspective. But I tend to look at it through a somewhat different economic model.

It seems to me that one of the engines of organized crime is economies of scale in bribery and corruption. That is, it's just not really efficient to have every streetwalker and drug dealer and protection racketeer pay off the police separately. Pooling all those small payments and making one big payment through an established administrative apparatus probably lowers costs and enables purchase of official blindness at a higher level. This also gives rise to opportunities for rent-seeking, as the police can be used to suppress potential competition in crime and vice from independents—a point of similarity between crime bosses and Early Modern aristocrats, and not the only one. I don't claim that this is the only valid analysis, either, but it strikes me as providing some illumination. Does it seem compatible with your understanding of the criminal industries?

16:

'Pope-Emperor of the Internet'

Smmfff:)

17:

A great light has dawned; "internet puppy" was a mistyping (auto-erate or stupidisense strikes again). Chris meant to type "Internet Pape(acute)"!

18:

I will note that modern policing in the British Isles, as largely established by Sir Robert Peel with his reforms and the Peelian Principles, was in no small part a reaction to the previous practice of crime suppression via a system of badly-enforced but brutal and draconian punishments (the Bloody Code) and freelance thief-takers (such as Jonathan Wild, who per wikipedia "invented a scheme which allowed him to run one of the most successful gangs of thieves of the era, all the while appearing to be the nation's leading policeman").

Seriously, go read up on Jonathan Wild and the legal climate he operated in. It wasn't so much corrupt as broken by design, and very badly so: the analogies with the private "corrections" industry in the USA today should be glaringly obvious.

19:

"a bit of anxious naval-gazing?" That sounds like something Tom Clancy would do.

As for the genders in Rule 34, I'll expose myself to ridicule and say that was one of my less favorite parts of the book. It's not that I don't think gender and racial stereotypes should be respected--subverting them is all to the good in my book, and I've even done a bit of it myself.

Rather, because there were so many subverted stereotypes, they started getting in the way. I see I wasn't alone in wondering how Anwar's marriage could have worked, and when there are a lot of those distractions piled on, it gets in the way of the building tension from the plot and similar matters.

Still, as an exercise it was worthwhile.

As for 419, I think you may have missed a beat: it's not clear where all the money from 2008 went even now, but a lot of troublesome people got a lot more problematic in the last five years...

20:

Notwithstanding your apology, you might want to add 10 years to avoid upsetting the over 50s. Never trust anyone over 30, 40, 50, 60.

IMHO, It's the over-60s who don't really understand social networks at a gut level, and the over-75s who find it deeply unnerving.

21:

"a bit of anxious naval-gazing?" That sounds like something Tom Clancy would do.

Groan. Spelling checquer, meet homophone ...

Anwar's marriage thing: (a) arranged marriages are still fairly common in British Asian families[*], (b) marriages are very much seen as business arrangements for maintenance of property and child-rearing continuity within a wider community, (c) homosexuality is still largely taboo (leading many muslim and hindu homosexual men to identify only as "men who have sex with men" rather than gay: they tend to avoid the wider gay community and remain firmly in the closet). Finally, (d) bisexuality tends to be socially invisible, especially among married people. In Anwar's case he's using his wife as a beard; she's putting up with him as long as he's discreet and does his share of supporting the kids.

(Anwar is based very loosely on a merger of a couple of people I know.)


[*] Note that British usage of the term "Asian" typically means "Indian Subcontinent", not China/Pacific Rim.

22:

I second the question/comment, that some of 419 seems to have ended in Neptune's Brood. Care to elaborate?

23:

The elaborate financial fraud idea, and the research into 419s. That's all.

24:

"You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alive ..."

I don't know if that's a misquote or a deliberate tweak, but either way it's a great image.

25:

Doh! I never caught that The Operation was SCO in disguised. I was momentarily perplexed at the choice of Santa Cruz as their nominal headquarters, then kept reading.

Well played, sir.

26:

Charlie, in your "blindsided by the future" blog post you spoke of a technology you thought would be here by 2013, and "as unremarkable as wallpaper by 2023". I don't think you let on which technology you were talking about, so my question is, is it here?

27:

julian bond @ 20
Not quite.
There are quite few of us (I'm 67) who won't use "social networks" - & I'm assuming you mean Faceplonker & similar, because we DON'T TRUST THEM ... and the guvmint snooping & other data-mining used by same.
Twitter I might find really useful (I have an account) IF my phone used it [ Note to self: try again to get a new phone that actually works grr ]
Also, you have to remember that in quite a few professions etc, firms will forbid their members to operate or use a Facepalm account. Accountants, lawyers, certainly.

Charkie @ 18
Very striking that the Peelian Principles seem to have been thrown out in the past few years, don't they?
Or is it just that the failures are more obvious & openly apparent in the age of instant telecomms?
[ Side-note on this: Why did MetPlod, quite deliberately, set out to make sure that they would prefer to be thought of as "Institutionally Racist" (false) rather then "Corrupt & on the take from the local mobsters" (true).
There were & are MetPlods who are themselves racist morons, but that's a separate story. ]

But there were cases like the aforementioned Blair Peach & the Sheffield rhino-whip case & the brick-planter CID Harold Challenor as far back as 1963.

& @ 21
There's always the Ode to the Spell Checker after all!
[ 21d] Yeah - seen quite a few cases - and, AIUI the "normal gay community", if I can characterise such a thing is, itself, none too keen on (male) bisexuality. (?)

28:

Actually, the original Santa Cruz Operation was, like, a real UNIX company. I worked for them in the 90s. The shambling patent litigation zombie hiding behind their name is the undead relic of Caldera Systems, who among other things also bought up the wreckage of Digital Research and successfully sued Microsoft for fucking over DR-DOS back in the day by binding Windows 95 to DOS 7.

Sigh. Anybody who wasn't geeking out over the OS wars in the 90s may now leave the room. I feel old ...

29:

I'd love to hear your take on bitcoin at some point.

30:

I don't think you let on which technology you were talking about, so my question is, is it here?

I don't know. Between roughly 2008 and 2011 I was on a medication that seriously screwed with my memory -- chewing great big holes in it. I'm off it now, but I can't remember what the tech in question was. It might have been 3D printers; early 2008 would be about right for the discovery that they were out in the wild. (RepRap 1.0 was released in March 2007 and already looks as quaint as a circa-1905 aeroplane from the perspective of 1912.)

What other mentioned-in-Rule-34 tech do you think I might have been talking about?

31:

#19 - I think you're having a "different localisation" issue here. A large part of my liking for the Liz Cavanaugh novels is just how utterly plausible the future Scotland actually is. I mean it as an unalloyed compliment when I say that Charlie's writing there is on a par with Christopher Brookmyre, Quentin Jardine and Ian Rankin.

#20 - It's no secret that I'm 51 next week, and have no issues with social media (well other than refusing to use FriendFace or anything that starts with a twit): My Mum does though, and I'll leave even how young she might be as an exercise for the reader.

#21 - Seconded in full as far as I can; the rest is at least plausible.

32:

Very striking that the Peelian Principles seem to have been thrown out in the past few years, don't they?

The Peelian principles were always honoured in the breach as much as in practice; remember the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad? Or, arguably, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover (with their quaint inability to investigate the Mafia)?

NB: I strongly disagree with you about the Met. Institutional racism is why the racist individuals continue to flourish there: it means there's an institutional climate in which racists are tolerated or defended. (Meanwhile, the Met is also somewhat corrupt: I suspect that Ali Dizaei got hung out to dry because he was unfortunate enough to get crushed between the two tendencies -- but I'd like to discourage further speculation on his case.)

33:

Bitcoin falls into the standard libertarian/gold bug trap of thinking that we have to replace gold with some sort of scarce resource. It represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what money is, namely that it represents the velocity of commerce: if you've got a growing economy you need to print more money in order to keep up with the rate at which it's exchanged, otherwise you end up in a deflationary situation (which is Not Good).

Also, people who put too much trust in bitcoin are going to get burned by one of several sources of ignition: someone will find a way of forging them (a crypto attack), or the entire bitcoin exchange system will be attacked by short-sellers or other speculators, or the IRS or HMRC or a similar national-level tax authority will turn the big guns on them at the behest of the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England. (Governments are not usually comfortable with seeing their rights of seigneurage undermined by wild-eyed anti-tax radicals.)

34:

"What other mentioned-in-Rule-34 tech do you think I might have been talking about?"

I thought it may have been a technology that you decided to omit from the main narrative, on the count that it would appear 'dated' in 2023. It looks as though I misunderstood. 3D printers would fit the bill, especially as this month Maplin have started to stock 3D printers for ~£700.

35:

It could still be 3D printing; witness the Daily Heil "shock horror" reaction to discovering that the technology could make 1-shot black powder weapons.

37:

3D printers would fit the bill, especially as this month Maplin have started to stock 3D printers for ~£700.

O_o ...

(Fondles wallet, contemplates a trip to Maplin tomorrow.)

38:

What I like about bitcoin is it sidesteps the VISA monopoly on internet transactions, as Wikileaks found out a while back they can arbitrarily turn you off from obtaining funding online with no appeal or recourse (Unless you're big and famous enough that the stink raised makes them back off)

39:

Why do you think Visa and Mastercard have that quasi-monopoly status?

It doesn't occur to you that they might be tacitly favoured by the main national tax authorities for some reason?

Like: they're corporate (hence behave gratifyingly predictably), they've been around for decades, and they provide a single choke-point that allows one-click shut-off of payments to undesirables?

If just anyone could get into the currency-transfer business then all sorts of whackiness might ensue, including tax evasion, money laundering, payments to journalists spies, and frightening of horses. So That Cannot Be Allowed To Happen.

40:

Lets not become overly romantically locked upon the Noble and Heroic Police Detective of Peelian Principle in days of yore - who was usually an upper class Englishman of that ilk - who, although somewhat rebellious and defiant of AUTHORITY did pursue his...Usually HIS...path towards the truth and the exposure of the Vilainous Murderer. It was usually a Murderer since shop lifting /pick pocketing just isn’t the same in terms of social impact on the Middle Class Readership... who naturally could and would unravel the Mystry whilst they were either comuting to be something in the city or having a break from housework to enjoy the latest Agatha Christie.

Anyway this mirage did hold good until the 1960s gave vent to a huge spending binge and an equally huge surge in local government corruption. All policing is at its heart local and when Money meets Policing with low paid cops routinely engaging with Very High Income earners then you meet a point at which it is a last considered, by the Powers That Be, that organised crime - especially foreign - organised crime, has become a threat to the Security Of The State at which point you get ...oh NOT the Security Service MI 5 oh Dreary Dearie me, NO!! The Security Service MI 5 was never ever, No Never, involved, not even a little bit in “Operation Countryman “...

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


Very few corrupt officers of the non Peelian variety were ever actually successfully, officially, prosecuted, but actually hundreds of officers took 'early retirement'.

A great deal of the recent fuss over undercover police operations...

“Undercover police spies unmasked - in pictures " in the Guardian, owed its genesis to Very Senior Plods who were Very Impressed by the, ' Not The Security Services ' deep penetration agents providing evidence of wholesale corruption in the Met ..And other Police Forces around the UK... and who then thought that the same tactics could, and indeed should, be used to suppress those Evil Lefties who were subverting our Precious Bodily Fluids!! Very High Ranking Plods who considered that 'War is too important to be left to politicians '...err, ‘war against crime' that is...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1KvgtEnABY

41:


MY Post wasn't HELD for Moderation! Why wasn’t it held for Moderation! I tell you that all sorts of X Files ish things are happening these days. Spies are everywhere...And some of them are us!

42:


It probably reflects a deficiency in my reading but...Do you know it suddenly occurs to me that I've never come upon any references to a 3D printer being Just the Thing to produce perfect copies of credit/debit cards?

The technology probably isn’t quite up to the embedded chip in the card at the moment I suppose but credit /debit cards as we presently know them may well be running into trouble real soon now.

43:

There's a very cynical Frank Herbert double-quote on this:

"Police always observe that (some) criminals prosper. It takes a pretty dull policeman to miss the fact that the position of authority is the most prosperouis criminal position available.

&

Prisons are needed to provide the illusion that courst & police are effective they are a kind of job insurance."

He also echoed the lamented I Banks, by asking: "What good are laws & prisons, when lawbreaking is not a sin?"
Which is the no-separation-of-church-&-state muslim (& calvinist) viewpoint.
Euw.

44:


" Style " ? And Wot do you infants know of Style? ....

" What is there to prepare one for the sight of Famous Author Chris Priest making play with a foot-long ebony cigarette holder? " ...


" WISH YOU WERE HERE

by D. West

First published in Stop Breaking Down 5, edited by Greg Pickersgill

The 28th Easter Science Fiction Convention took place at the De Vere Hotel, Coventry, over the weekend of the 8th - 11th April 1977. Gollancz's John Bush was Guest of Honour and other SF notables present were Brian Aldiss, John Brunner, Ken Bulmer, Harry Harrison, Robert Holdstock, Anne McCaffrey, Chris Priest, Bob Shaw, Andrew Stephenson, Ian Watson, Peter Weston and James White.

Those are the facts. The rest is lies, damned lies, and statistics of who fell over, passed out, made fools of themselves, scored scandalous sexual successes, hit people with large whips, or failed to hit less-loved acquaintances with beer glasses. "


http://www.cartiledgeworld.co.uk/wish.html

45:

A fabber couldn't reproduce any of the chip, hologram or magnetic strip. That's quite aside from the present technology not being up to the detail needed for the embossed/engraved numbers.

46:


I wonder how much further a faber would need to progress before it could produce anything as complicated as a credit card? Wouldn't multiple feed stocks be needed to push the technology much beyond its present capability? Or maybe specialist feedstock as provided by Evil Genius?

Ah well, lasers had a very limited utility 40 years ago and just look at them now.

47:

In some parts of criminology, at least, a "true mafia" is defined by the fact that it functions as a kind of government for the criminal underworld. More exactly, it provides (in exchange for generous fees!) quasi-governmental services, such as conflict resolution, contract enforcement, and the kinds of collective services which an efficient government normally provides for legitimate businesses. In cases where the government can't or won't provide such services even to the legal economy (e.g., if the court system is so hopelessly inefficient that it's pointless to use it for resolving commercial disputes), the mafia can operate there, too. This also applies to "services" that some governments won't provide even to legitimate businesses, such as suppressing unions or enforcing cartels -- or indeed your example of pooling protection money to shield criminals from police enforcement.

I picked up this in part from Federico Varese's excellent Mafias on the Move:
How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories
; you can read an article (which includes a short summary of the "mafia-as-service-providers" model) based on one of the chapters here:
http://www.sociology.ox.ac.uk/documents/people/materials/varesef/MafiasMigrateLSR_260.pdf
(It's really a kind of fascinating story, about how & why transplanted 'Ndrangheta members succeeded in establishing themselves in one Northern Italian city and failed in another.)

48:

Ok, I have done a basic fact check on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing . It shows some of the main issues ATM, like rasterisation of the curves and angles on the card number, never mind doing working strips and chips, and that's before considering encoding the actual data for a working card.

49:

Sorry, Charlie, save your legs. It's still at the pre-order stage, and the list of tools needed to assemble it is a bit intimidating.

Details of the 3D printer from Maplin

It's a kit produced by Velleman, and I wouldn't try building it without more experience than I have.

50:

In the case of the 3D printing article, Wikipedia is inaccurate at best, and factually wrong in a number of points which stand out on a quick read - probably more if I look at the detail. (I work in the industry, for a company operating the higher-end metal and plastic machines).

For better, look for the standards work of ASTM committee F42 and the equivalent ISO working group, both of which while fairly early and not yet comprehensive, do include input from a good cross-section of the world-wide industry.

(I should note that I am one of around 200 members of F42 for transparency).

Simon

51:

the over-50s don't really understand social networks at a gut level, and over-65s often find it deeply unnerving if not actually threatening.
oh god ! I thought I was only 42 (and a bit paranoid) and you gave me 23 years more ... maybe it's the haircut, or the moustache... a god, 23 years !

as for Halting State and Rule 34, I didn't read them. I bought Halting state but couldn't read it : to much slang, a much to difficult vocabulary and (yes) style. Do you think it will be translated in french ? and when ?

52:

The whole question of "virtual currencies" is in flux. Second Life game currency put under government regulation leading to some major changes in how non-US customers can transfer money in and out of SL. Unlike BitCoin, the Second Life currency is centrally managed and tracked. And I don't know of any way to get money in and out without involving the modern banking system.

(That web-side is fairly low-traffic: it manages to outline the general legal environment in the USA in the process of explaining why the convoluted TOS of Linden Labs, claiming the game currency is not money, doesn't work.)

53:

Thanks for more information on Anwar's marriage. My general issue is one of balance among all the elements of the book, and it's really akin to gratuitous sex scenes more than anything else, rather than realism. Yes, real people have truly pointless, gratuitous sex, but stories aren't real life.

Is "spell checker" really an Americanism, or was that another joke I failed to get?

54:

I've no doubt that it is, to an expert. To a layman, such as myself, it raises the main issues, like rasterisation on a level which can be detected by eye or finger, which is enough to make card cloning using one impossible.

55:

You're a criminal mastermind. You've just initiated a bootleg copy of ATHENA. You've fed it the complete rules and operational parameters of the Mafia Commission.

56:

"Spell checker" is indeed the common American usage.

57:

"Sorry, Charlie, save your legs. It's still at the pre-order stage"

According to The Independent

(http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/uks-first-commercial-3d-printer-on-sale-in-maplin-for-69999-8697332.html)

and many other sources, it's available IN STORE from 9th July. It does however arrive in 'kit' form, how much of a kit it is I don't know. I suspect most people who will be buying a 3D printer will be quite technically minded though.

58:

Charlie,

Like you, I used to think that the deflationary mining schedule of Bitcoin was inspired solely by goldbug principles and was a major flaw of the system. Then I started poking around the Bitcoin protocol some more, and realized just how many empirically untested assumptions it made at the time it was created. Viewed in that light, the 21M coin limit starts to look like a prudent attempt to mitigate the worst case scenario impact of a whole host of unknown attacks. If it turns out that the Bitcoin difficulty adjustment algorithm is unfixably broken, the worst that a hypothetical adversary could do is cause 100% inflation. Without the coin limit, that inflation is hypothetically unbounded.

I'm not sure whether this is a case of Satoshi getting this right or just that a broken clock is right twice a day, but either way it makes sense in a way that most deflationary monetary economics doesn't.

59:

Unlike with paper money, merely duplicating the physical characteristics of a credit/debit card does not (generally) let you buy stuff--each one is individually linked to a specific account. So you need to clone a *specific* valid card (which can be individually revoked if they figure out what you're doing).

Here in the US, we're still (mostly) using magnetic stripes, so you can theoretically clone a card if you can get it swiped through a reader you control. But I believe the point of smartcards is that they do digital signatures, which means they've got a secret cryptographic key that they don't normally reveal even when being used, which means you'd need to *hack into* the specific card you wanted to clone.

Manufacturing the physical card is the easy part.

60:

You see the libertarian/ goldbug clearly in the fact that Bitcoin is designed for deflation and even hyper deflation. A true pure currency would never change in value. Its a currency designed by people who think only inflation is a bug, deflation is a feature.

61:

Economics and Money

There is a group here in (on?) the American Right Wing that keeps insisting that any day now the American Economy will blow up, I say Blow up with Hyperinflation unless we IMMDIATLY restore sound money. Was looking at the "politics" section of the Local Barnes & Noble (Chain Bookstore, last one standing around here), about half the titles on offer included that trope.... Half were all about the evils that are coming (heavy overlap obviously) because there is a Black Man in the White house and his various nefarious schemes.

Meanwhile, Paypal canceled my debit card last week. I count on it the end of the month to eke out my disability, buy $10 worth of groceries and get a bit of cash for gas and walking around money. It turns out they absolutely MUST have my Social Security Number (Tax ID) so they can report all the cash flow through there to the IRS. Supposedly only if it exceeds $5000, but that will be my GROSS ebay sales, not the actual net, which is about 20% (or Less?). Still, another place where they can monitor (tap) the cash flow of the little people.

I know from experience, three days of temp work at $8 an hour, they tape match and whack your next check.

62:

re Anwar and the fact that "many muslim and hindu homosexual men to identify only as "men who have sex with men" rather than gay: they tend to avoid the wider gay community and remain firmly in the closet"
I'm not sure that's conceptually correct - that men who have sex with men identify themselves as homosexuals is fairly new historically, as is a heterosexual identity. In arabian and asian countries this developement started later (late 20th), so beeing in or out of a closet works different in these contexts. Looking a few years into the future or at a married man in a western country, the picture is probably different again.
My point is not that arabs or asians are so-and-so sexuality wise, but that westerners like me learned a specific sorting algorithm for people, one criteria is "sexual identity", the algorithms and criteria others learn may differ.
Anyway, here I have beautiful pictures men had taken of them together in america in the late 19th, that to me show that the heterosexuality that I learned and live is a pretty recent invention: http://lysis.blogsport.de/2009/09/05/a-friendship-of-the-strongest-kind/
That said, to me Anwar was a believable guy, mostly. If he had felt a little more for his wife and kids I would have liked him, despite that he's somewhat stupid and dishonest and so on.


Re Business Plans for the mafia: Normal business relies on the state in numerous ways: Schools to train the workforce, police to enforce contracts, schools (again) to discipline the workforce (getting up early and sitting still for hours at a time is alearned "skill"), to build it's infrastructure like roads, armies or political pressure to ensure access to overseas markets ...
Ov course, said workforce uses the state too by exerting pressure regarding heatlh at the workplace, social security and so on - all things that may or may not also coincide with the interests of the industry.
Additionally we have banks, insurance and so on (that also need to state to wotrk and to be trusted). I think modern capitalism, ewith it's highly mobile money, works the way it does because institution like banks and tools like stocks or derivates are ultimately trusted: You are somewhat sure that there won't be too much insider trading and other frauds, so you trust your money to complete strangers - via stock market - so they can work with it and kick you back some dividends. If you are rich enough and your bank fucks up, you also know the state will be there to bail out the banks and secure your savings to some degree. So there's a huge system that's ultimately backed by the state that you entrust your money to.

Now, the mafia has to do a lot of the states function itself: the skills and discipline needed are not learnt at school, but in an underground economy, prisons and maybe the military. the public infrastructure is also somewhat controlled, so maybe an own infrastructuer has to be built. Overseas access to markets? bring your own guns and army or find a franchise partner. So organized crime works somewhat like an aristocracy.
Now, on the financial side it is far more difficult (but not impossible) to achieve the same mobility of capital, because you can't just do an IPO to raise funds, you need to find backers who trust you, and who also trust in their ability to enforce the debts (meaning they are larger than you).
I think this makes it hard to apply modern business plans to organizzed crime - not impossible, but hard. The myth goes that at it's heyday, the medellin cartel had a consumption of 100s of kilos of rubber bands, simply to bind all those stacks of money. They were smart guys, it does not make sense for a normal business to have that much money lying around - they would not have done it this way if it was avoidable.

From the story we do not get that much what the actual working on the financial side of the Operation is (finde with me, was a lot of plot anyway), we only got ... I don't know Manfred Max evil twin, the venture-sadist? The Husiness Hells Angel? Anyway, a cool take on a modern MBA.

63:

I checked the link in the article. It leads to the same pages on the Maplin site I read and linked to. From the Velleman site, it appears that the first batch they had sold out. So maybe Maplin were selling it for a few days.


64:

My latest card doesn't even have raised numbers, the characters seem more etched than stamped. But I would expect that if fraudsters want something that looks just like a real credit card, the place to start would be by stealing a credit card, rather than making one.

65:

As someone who has spent time in Edinburgh's medium security psychiatric unit owing to serious bipolar disorder which manifests in extreme mania before progressing on to acute psychosis, my only real problem with Rule 34 is that you appear to confuse psychopathy with psychosis.

It's a conflation which is commonplace with people using psychotic as a synonym for what is meant by psychopathic. There's a reason why psychopathy is known as madness sans delirium. Most people who are psychotic are no threat to anyone other than themselves except inadvertently.

Yet you have the psychopath developing psychotic symptoms within a very short period of his unspecified, though presumably anti-psychotic, medication being unavailable. The time-frame is hopefully one of narrative convenience as it can take weeks or months before psychosis re-manifests itself. (I become psychotic approximately four to six weeks after I cease medicating).

So is the gangster a psychopath who also has a psychotic disorder or did you simply a screw up and confuse two discrete things, namely psychosis and psychopathy?

As an addendum, psychopaths, in Scotland at least, are only usually 'treated' in a secure hospital environment if they have another treatable psychiatric disorder such as bipolar or schizophrenia otherwise they're left to rot in prison, which also tends to be the case for those with personality disorders, and it's a subject of much debate as to whether psychopathy itself is in any way treatable.

66:

So is the gangster a psychopath who also has a psychotic disorder or did you simply a screw up and confuse two discrete things, namely psychosis and psychopathy?

Both, sort-of. He was somewhere on the sociopathy/psychopathy spectrum to begin with, before being subjected, as a disposable effectively-orphaned kid, [via unethical and under-supervised clinical trials] to an experimental treatment that instead left him with a semi-permanent, florid psychosis as well. Maintaining him in a semi-functioning state is useful to his employers, but he's not in a good way.

67:

It's a year or more since I last got a new card, and all mine still have stamped details. That said, etched details would be easier to fab, but I agree your point that it'll be easier to steal cards than fab them.

68:

#57 also refers. I checks the stuff too. The critical points about "some assembly required" seem to be the need for an electronics soldering iron AND a multimeter, which suggests that you've got to build a PCB, and calibrate the completed fabber.

69:

That's not black. That's Goth Tartan!

70:

I use cash for all local purchases, and buy money orders for paying bills by mail.

I maintain one VISA card for making online purchases. I regularly have to type its number into various web pages, which make nasty comments because I didn't include the dashes, or nasty comments because I put dashes in. And I keep wondering why so many commercial sites with an expiration date drop-down box
only have ten entries, stopping at October, and I have to scroll down to select November...

The latest replacement card has microscopic stamped numbers, only visible by taking my glasses off and holding the card up at an angle to catch the light. I wound up putting a piece of masking tape across the long edge and writing the number in felt tip.

The card normally stays in my desk drawer, so I didn't feel the need to zap the "security chip" and magstripe with my Magnaflux machine.

The US economy isn't nearly as plastic-based as some, but since I've gone to cash-only for face-to-face, I've run into a number of businesses that either don't accept cash, or act like it's more hassle than it's worth for them to take my money. The latest being a very large business which had to send someone to the bank to be able to make $23-odd in change...

71:

I thought of suggesting Mourning Tartan, but has Charlie ever worn a kilt? Living in Edinburgh, I'd guess you have to at least once.

72:

You sure it's not some of the tertiary colours, you know, the ones "on the far side of blackness, the colours that you get if you split blackness with an eight-sided prism", very popular with assasin master students?

73:

Re: the Maplin 3D printer. Note that this embodies the razor blade/ink jet ink cartridge economic model - the printer is remarkably cheap but the refill cartridges are expensive. The cost of ABS/PLA spools for Makerbot and the like is bad enough, but when I looked at it the Maplin approach it only seemed worthwhile (FSVO etc) if you used the printer a few times and then stuck it in a cupboard. That'll probably happen for many people, as 3D printing at the domestic level is pretty finicky.

74:

Right colour, wrong author!

75:

That's not black. That's Goth Tartan!

Clan Eldritch? ;-)

76:

Completely tangential, but if "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alive" is a typo, it is the best typo I've ever read. I'd read the hell out of any book you wrote set in biological architecture.

Are any of the pieces of the plot from the aborted 419 going to be recycled in other books? Do you expect that things will turn around enough within your lifetime to give it a second chance at being written and released to an audience to whom the premise makes sense again?

77:

Caldera Systems, who [...] successfully sued Microsoft for fucking over DR-DOS back in the day by binding Windows 95 to DOS 7.

Sigh. Anybody who wasn't geeking out over the OS wars in the 90s may now leave the room. I feel old ...

Hey, at least you made me feel old, and I'm about ten years younger than you.

I remember the time when Windows for Workgroups 3.11 had to have the correct MS-DOS version (yes, both their own products) to work proprely. At least I was young enough I only had to get my parents to buy the update. I still have the computer with MS-DOS 6.22 and the WfW 3.11 installed, though I haven't booted it up in years.

78:

[shudders] Don't; WFW3.11, AMessDOS 6.22 and Word(im)Perfect 5.2 combined to give me my first grey hair!

79:

The kilt shop downstairs does business kilts, black pinstripe and black check/stripe plaid patterns of different surface textures (shiny/dull, herringbone etc.)

80:

Ah yes,but do they offer black, dress black, hunting black, weathered black, and indeed racing black?

NB, there is a tartan joke or several in there.

81:

Ah yes,but do they offer black, dress black, hunting black, weathered black, and indeed racing black?

Yes. We don't joke about tartans. Here's a link to a screenshot showing detail of one of their black on black with black stripes kilts.

http://i.imgur.com/9NBiqE7.png

82:

TRX @ 70
”Refuse cash” ???
I would have thought that was not legal. Since cash IS money & everything else (including notes & cheques) are promises.

JPR @ 71
You have to remember that “tartans” as presently used, are a 19thC invention. Furthermore, they are a “highland” dress & the lowlands tended not to use them. So that two of the “clans” involved in the greatest fued ever (Makes Campbell / Donald look like a childrens party) didn’t have tartans until “invented” for them later – I’m referring to Johnston/Maxwell, incidentally.

Paws @ 78
”WordPervert” …. ARRRGGGH !

83:

Ref #70 - Not in the UK, but US law on "legal tender" may be different.

Ref #78 - Never heard that one before, but would suggest that it only applies to V5.2 anyway. V5.1 had a very different way of implementing formatting to WordStar or Wurd, but it was at least stable.

84:

At the risk of spoiling someone's fun, all I could say when I saw THIS was Whoa!

How'd that happen?

85:

Dunno, but by the looks of things mine's a cloudy wheat beer!

86:

Speak for your self :-) all of the people mentioned the cyber gypsies are probably over 50 now.

87:

Whoa! indeed. I'd no idea you could reserve tables in the Dagda.

88:

@82:
”Refuse cash” ???
I would have thought that was not legal.
---
In theory yes, in practice no.

Note the US Internal Revenue Service does not accept cash for payment of taxes.

89:

One day we're going to find out that OGH no longer writes SF, but rather a new genre called "Economic Fiction".

90:

I semi-seriously started thinking of it as Economic SF a couple years ago, at least since reading the Merchant Princes.

91:

From the Reserve Bank of NZ website:
http://rbnz.govt.nz/notes_and_coins/0094941.html

Q: Can people refuse to accept cash in payment of accounts or for goods?

A. Unfortunately, the legal tender rules are not straightforward. The rules of legal tender say that cash cannot be refused in payment for a debt. In the case of purchases from a shop, however, no debt is incurred by the customer at the time they offer to pay for goods with cash. This means a shop can refuse to accept the cash and insist on payment by other means (e.g.: electronically). If, however, the customer has incurred a debt before paying (e.g.: taken delivery of the goods before paying) then the shop will not be able to refuse cash in satisfaction of the debt. Whether a debt has been incurred will depend on the circumstances, but in most situations where a consumer offers to buy goods with cash no debt has arisen.

Please note s27 of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989, which limits legal tender in respect of certain coin denominations. For example, 50 cent coins are only legal tender for amounts up to $5.00.

92:

A Lo-o-o-o-ng time ago I did a bid of research on cash, for an article linked to a fame, Then the company selling the game went bust, the the Royal Mint changed the sizes of coins, and it just didn't seem worth the effort to re-write. (Some British coins had been the same physical size for centuries, but not any more. You can't point at a coin in your pocket and say "this size"....)

Legal tender rules seem to have originated in that slightly awkward period of mixed gold and base-metal coins. Pre-WW1, the value of the Pound Sterling was tied to the weight of gold in a coin. And likewise at a slightly inflated rate for silver coins. So the legal tender rules made all the copper pennies have the correct value, but set a limit on how much copper somebody had to accept.

The penny was silver until 1797 (though not minted for over a century, changed to bronze in 1860, and to plated steel in 1992.

You can see why legal tender laws exist.

93:

Charlie @ 32
I WAS going to write you a personal note, offlist on this one.
BUT
I was listening to the Sunday-morning BBC news/comment programme "Broadcasting House" earlier, & heard something deeply unpleasant & shocking.
Charlie was correct & I was wrong, & what's worse, it's even worse than we thought.
Not only were MetPlod grossly racist ( & are now merely a bit racist ) they were & are bent as well.
What caused this revelation?

The interview with a retiring MetPlod Superintendant - note that he'd only made it to superintendant, despite [ or more likely because of ] the fact that he had a good science degree.
His name?
Leroy Thompson - the interveiw should be available on "listen again" from the beeb website - &, the point is that he is brown, as well as intelligent. [ See note below. ]
He reconted that his locker was daubed with "nigger" early on, & lots of obstacles were put in his way, but he persisted, because he wanted to change the system, from within.
Well, good for him.

Note: The youngest brother of a very good friend of mine will also be coming up to retirement soon - he didn't make if past Chief Superintendant - & he effectively had to move from MetPlod to Devon & Cornwall cops. Again, highly intelligent & throughly disliked by the canteen culture, even after being quite badly injured in the Brixton riots.
It would seem that the squashing of the proposed Ternchard reforms of the police, back in the 1930's was a great mistake, & we are still living with the consequences.

94:

Charlie has worn his kilt at the 2005 and 2007 Hugo Award ceremonies, and at weddings. Here's a picture from 2005.

95:

A "hunting black" kilt worn with a "dress black" shirt and a "bright black" jacket and boots?

96:

That's excellent. Gotta be careful sitting in the front though.
I hardly ever have reason to wear mine.

97:

Charlie,

I think the FBI was worse than you think: the main way they seemed to have investigated Italian-American organized crime (aka "The Mafia" or "The Cosa Nostra") was by protecting Irish-American organized crime, as personified by Whitey Bulger. The local FBI office in Boston, when they were "using" Whitey Bulger as a source actively thwarted Boston and Massachusetts investigations into Bulger's activities. As an aside, Boston is one of the East Coast cities (iirc, the other is Philadelphia) where the "Mafia" never dominated. In Boston, organized crime was dominated by the Irish-American community.

In other words, the FBI wasn't so much suppressing organized crime as conspiring with it to suppress a rival gang.

98:

ALL Law Enforcement agencies suffer from some degree of corruption, from the small time example like the local County Sheriff (An elected office in most US jurisdictions) whose continuous Drunken Driving was never questioned, the minor things like odd free donut, etc.

And of course the US "War on Drugs" has sent corrosive foods of money through the underground economy, even the "Legal" (Asset Forfeiture) mechanisms have had a corrupting effect on Law enforcement practice.

Chicago doesn't have a Police Department, they have a Gang; See Venkutash, Gang Leader for a day.

99:

Heh. I'll be relocating to Chicago by year's end (much better job and the Offspring is in college), so I've been reading up on that illustrious city's history, starting with Royko's Boss, which chronicles the rise and tenure of the first Daley up to 1976 or so. All I can say is, there's a reason why so many gangster movies are set in Chicago. And it isn't because the authorities there were particularly tough on crime. Quite the contrary . . .

100:

Although I'm fairly left-leaning, I do fear that Obama's political roots in Chicago show. I'm not terribly surprised, either.

101:

Charlie has worn his kilt at the 2005 and 2007 Hugo Award ceremonies, and at weddings. Here's a picture from 2005.

A black kilt, black shirt, and big clunky black boots (with black socks)? Some people would make comments on these fashion choices - but I wore that outfit myself to a friend's birthday party just last Thursday! Okay, I had one black button-down shirt rather than a black coat over a black T-shirt. Totally different, right?

I don't know if anyone remarked on Charlie in 2005, but I got "Nice kilt!" three times walking through downtown Portland that evening.

102:

Needs an appropriate sgian dubh, I think.

Anyone know of a sgian dubh that combines a laser pointer (for the cats), some useful electronics (such as a wi-fi hotspot and/or a multi-gig thumbdrive), and a multitool blade? Or is this a kickstarter project waiting to happen...

103:

A sgian dubh is not classed as an offensive weapon when worn with Highland dress in Scotland as it's "cultural", like Sikh quoits. Saying that carrying a single-edged dirk and/or a Glasgow broadsword would get you pulled rather quickly.

Most kilt hire and sales shops will supply you with a plastic replica sgian dubh with a fancy knotwork hilt and optionally a faceted Cairngorm stone but you can pay more and get a real working knife although they limit the blade length to something more appropriate these days.

104:

Returning to rule 34, the part in the discussion about corruption and the fbi as a gang ... A rule 34 squad turns to some black-hats as informants, feeding them some info in turn. Meanwhile, some black hat guys connected the dots of accidents happening to their spammer idols. Beeing wacky conspiracy theorits, they come closer to the truth than any sane person would - though most still suspect jews and/or lizards behind athena. Anyway, a counterstrike is in the making, not only in the black hat community. As is within the operation. But whom have our copper friends sided with?

105:

The official slogan is "Chicago, a city of neighborhoods", which ends unofficially with "and where the residents stay in their own if they know what's good for them." [1] It also makes sense of the observation that Obama got his start as a 'community organizer'. Well, so did Daley.


[1]I'll be residing in Rogers park, about a twenty-minute walk from Loyola. Not the best neighborhood . . . but far from being the worst.

106:

That was a good year for the Brits.

(Of that 16, I recognise 10, would expect all but one of those to recognise me, and encountered 4 of them just last night. How small the British SF scene can be.)

107:

USB flash-drives can be pretty tiny, likewise USB wifi adaptors, so something with some geeky tech in it seems quite possible. Multitools seem a bit more tricky.

Some of the "safety" ones I found on Google might look a bit tacky, but they're plastic and cheap. You might be able to work up something pretty quick with a tool such as a Dremel. Google for the Sandisk Cruzer Fit as an instance of what you could use.

Having the USB drive completely hidden might be a bad idea. It looks like you're trying to breach security

108:

Well, the point is to have something that's recognizable both as a sgian dubh and as a geek accessory for the 21st century. I'd thought of the Atwood knife multitools (see link above), because it would be fairly easy to make a blade that functioned as a screwdriver and bottle opener, and possibly something else (hex wrench, perhaps). The rest of the hilt could be filled up by a nice little laser pointer for playing with cats, or something else a bit bigger. USB drives come to mind because they're generally useful and take up very little space, exposed or not.

109:

As it happens, I was carrying a Leatherman tool which came in handy before the end of the evening. It doesn't look much like a sgian dubh, though.

110:

I've read _Rule 34_ twice now, and there's still one detail I don't get--how did ATHENA come to project its "sense of selfhood" onto the Toymaker, specifically?

111:

Hmmm...
The great advantage of the Swiss Army Knife" isn't the knife ... it's the ability to get into any known drinks container!

112:

how did ATHENA come to project its "sense of selfhood" onto the Toymaker, specifically?

It didn't -- it identifies with everyone who fits its search criteria, in parallel. Tries to nudge them back towards its criteria for "normal and uninteresting", [SPOILER]s them if they don't respond.

(Why would a useful AI be single-tasking? "Just because human intelligence is a singleton" is not a useful answer ...)

113:

I've played enough IF that I immediately grokked the reason for Halting State being written in the second person. I assumed Rule 34 was in the second person for the same reason, and finally twigged the real reason towards the end, when we became aware of the true nature of ATHENA. I thought it was a nice piece of misdirection :-)

114:

"The Lambda Functionary" was going to be written in second-person/present tense too, for an entirely different reason. If I ever figure out how to overhaul it and write it, I'll do so. An entire trilogy in that mode ... not sure anyone's ever done that before. (But that's probably just my ignorance speaking.)

Seriously, though, if I ever find myself unable to write and sell SF/F, I'll shuffle sideways into Scottish crime fic.

115:

#102 and #103 - You might get away with a broadsword around Gilmourhill (Glasgow) depending on whether or not the University of Glasgow's regulations still contain the rule "Gentlemen must wear their broadswords at all times whilst on campus".

#114 - It's not your primary field ATM true, but I've said before that I'd place you with the best of Scottish crime writers for giving us that sense of a specific city and time, combined with good characters.

116:

What I find interesting, well, a bit interesting is that in the twenty-first century with all the fabulous tech and so forth it's still useful to have a knife, even a simple not mutlitool sort of thing, just a simple knife.

And how outraged I get with travelling and not caring to get mixed up with security theatre and so forth that of course I end up just needing a fucking knife and of course not having one to hand.

Sorry, language.

117:

Go Captain
SIGH
Tell me about it
I'm off for my annual dancing-&-drinking trip to Germany on Thursday - I'm going by train ..
And EVEN THERE we have fucking stupid unnecessary sceurity "theatre" on Eurostar - we have to put everything throough x-ray machines ... but they DON'T for acar & lorrie usuing the shuttle!
Nor the Swills alpine tunnels, either.

What a collection of wankers, & we put up with it.

118:
(Why would a useful AI be single-tasking? "Just because human intelligence is a singleton" is not a useful answer ...)

Maybe this is a better answer than just 'because', maybe not: If you go with a Dennett-style interpretation of consciousness, it's just the master-narrative. By definition. So multitasking consciousness would be impossible. By definition. Alternatively, each and every one of those processes following a human may have human-equivalent awareness and the AI's consciousness - the master-narrative - incomprehensible. Possibly enough not like our state being that probably can't label it 'consciousness' anymore.

But what do I know :-) I suspect that at the end of the day this sort of thing is mostly just playing word games.

119:

So, when I'm doing $task_1 and suddenly figure out how to do $task_2, I'm not multi-tasking?

Of course, you can always argue that no computer truly multi-tasks; the closest they come is either time-division multiplexing on a single core or limited parallism between rendezvous on multiple cores.

120:

Well, there's an older idea of unity of consciousness. Even God can't be three persons (it's a mystery). I don't follow Dennett because I can't follow Dennett, can't follow his argument.
But an AI could model indefinitely many personalities or personae without actually having one.
Am I possibly agreeing with you here?

121:

Human beings don't generally multi-task; we task switch, i.e. we swap from focus of attention to focus of attention.

However, over-learned non-conscious behaviours (from walking or chewing gum to driving a car) can happen simultaneously and we can think or talk about other things at the same time -- just as long as the automatic task doesn't suddenly become so complex it requires conscious oversight (approaching a complex road junction, finishing the chewing gum and looking for somewhere to dispose of it).

122:

Absolutely. Since I live in earthquake country, I routinely carry a "survival knife," which, in this case, is a single bladed lock-back utility knife that's so useful it's always in my pocket. Hence, it's available as a survival knife in case I have to cut my way out from under a bunch of wall panels that fall on me when the Big One hits, or (more likely) start cutting up rags for bandages at a triage and primary treatment area.

Seriously, though, I think a multitool with fancy scrollwork and an optional cairngorm would be the ideal thing to wear with a kilt, especially at the Festival Fringe. Call it the Scots Army Knife, and absolutely make sure it's capable of opening every known bottle and can.

Here's a wee bit of inspiration for ya.

123:

Why not do it anyway? Then you can be the Scottish, erm, Rex Stout or Arthur Upfield. Yeah. Somewhere between those two.

Incidentally, I'd love to see ITV's version of Halting State, over here in the States on Masterpiece Mystery. I know, there's a snowball's chance, but still.

124:

Because I can't write fast enough.

"Halting State" took me 15 months.

"Rule 34" took me 18 months.

"Lambda Functionary" was cancelled/replaced by "The Rhesus Chart" (coming next year) because it was shaping up to take me 24 months -- or even longer -- and I simply couldn't afford to take that long between pay cheques.

Publishers like to see novels on a schedule divisible by 12 months -- ideally one a year. Less than that and they feel they can't maintain shelf visibility in bookshops, so they have an incentive to spend their promotional budget on other authors who can produce the goods.

As it is I'm currently committed to writing a trilogy in 18 months, which is pretty harsh going. Luckily it's in-series (so much of the world-building and character development is already done) and it's going to be structured as a single Neal Stephenson sized story with two dotted lines down the spine labelled "cut here" (to mark the mid-point climaxes).

125:

I sort of agree with (well agree with you in the cases of some individuals) but I have had a "Eureka moment" on a software problem whilst driving without crashing.

126:

Why? I, and I'm not alone (except maybe amongst regular poster on here) reckon that Charlie's crime fiction is comparable with Christopher Brookmyre, Quentin Jardine and Ian Rankine (should all be on Wikipedia), and I'd read any of them before Stout or Wolfe (never hear of Upfield before; will check Wikipedia).

127:

Hm. I think the sticking point may be the SF element. If, however, you staged a different murder at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe each year, you could do your research on the street, as it were, and not spend so much effort on the background.

Or do the Martha Grimes ploy. Instead of setting murders around famous pubs, set them at Cons. (Note that this has been done, notably in Zombies of the Gene Pool). It would give you a great reason to attend Cons all over the world.

128:

Organized crime: If I recall correctly, the Sicilian Mafia operated only in the more civilized parts of Sicily. The interior was too lawless for a Mafia to take hold.

129:

set them at Cons. (Note that this has been done, notably in Zombies of the Gene Pool)

Or even older: Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher, from 1942.

130:

heteromeles: I was recently thinking that Halting State would work well as a long-form TV serial; glad to see the idea has some legs.

And, really, this is the best message board around. At least, the best one that I visit regularly.

131:

Ah, is that what that book's about? Thanks. I saw my father's old copy, but it was too beaten up to read (Old paperbacks don't age well, I'm afraid).

132:

@116:
in the twenty-first century with all the fabulous tech and so forth it's still useful to have a knife,
---
As a child in the 1960s, I wondered at all the nasties the crew of the Enterprise kept running into, that phasers didn't affect. McCoy even made a comment about it in one episode.

I kept thinking, even an 1800s-tech revolver might do the job where Federation tech fell short...

"Eat hot lead, alien scum!"

133:

@121:
Human beings don't generally multi-task; we task switch, i.e. we swap from focus of attention to focus of attention.
However, over-learned non-conscious behaviours (from walking or chewing gum to driving a car) can happen simultaneously
---
That's what we call "lizard-brain processing." For racing drivers or riders, the lizard does the work of shifting, braking, and following the racing line. The driver's conscious attention should be on traffic.

That's why we used to make a distinction between "racing drivers" and "drivers of racing cars." Racing drivers don't drive cars; the lizard does that.

134:

As someone who works on organised crime professionally and reads SF recreationally, I especially appreciated the Organisation's model in Rule 34; this is the kind of post-modernist, business-model crime we're already seeing emerging from the Russians but also beginning to creep into old guard structures like the Mafia. In an age when the Chechens franchise out their 'brand name', this should hardly surprise. Great ideas in a great storyline, but it's a shame that so many law enforcement agencies are having trouble adapting to this kind of model. They clearly ought to read the book...

135:

Feòrag:

"That's not black. That's Goth Tartan!"

I thought that it was Scotts 'soap is tae expensive' black :)

136:

An interesting take on performance driving; most previous stuff I've seen (some by racing drivers) say that when they're going well it's like everything goes into slow motion.

137:

Paws @ 119
Like Henri Poincaré, you mean? [ Supposed to have had a solution to a long-established problem pop up in his mind, as he was getting on to a bus ( a train in some versions) …. ]
- AND – you confirm that in # 125
I’ve had this myself, when walking with friends, over the Malverns … it was a stinking hot day, but at the top, there was a little breeze: I was told, “Ah yes, it’s said 12 winds meet up here” ( !! )
Well, now, within about a second I realised the reference to a poem, well-known to SF readers as an inspiration for several stories, but also a solution to an Enigma whose “Dark Heart” – according to the composer – & the likely solution was the dark under the hill, under the mountain, under the Earth – which looms, to this day, large over the town where he lived.
I believe the term is: “Satori” ( ?? )

138:

CHECK - please

I have just re-corrected the links in the previous post & checked their format - but I can't get them to load.
If they work properly, please delete this post.
{ I can't get them to work in either i.e.8 or Google Chrome - um. }
This sort of thing is getting more common, as I'm still on WinXP ... grrr ....

[[ Nothing to do with XP, Greg. You've been told before that if you're going to write a comment in a different editor, do it in Notepad rather than Word. Word replaces double quotes with 'smart' quotes ]]

139:

#137 - Effectively yes.

Also, for the record, although they may have just been fixed in the last 3 or 4 minutes, the links now work fine in Chrome under W7.

140:

I haven't used Word in a long time, but I think they call the feature "smart quotes" and it can be turned off. So I googled.

Official Microsoft Instructions on fancy quotemarks which break URLs

Open Office and Libre Office do something similar. Sometimes it can be awkward: do you want a leading apostrophe?

141:

Further on this - I can probably remember how to do it in most versions of Word Greg, so if you can post the version number or year (I'm guessing something like 2002) I'll give it a shot.

142:

OK totally off-topic, but very interesting.

Newspaper report HERE
and the original JPL?Cassin photo here as well

Amazing stuff.

[ Oh, & typed in "Notepad" as well - see if it works ]
Though I note that I had correcty altered the "Word"-loaded ones perviously, now - it's just that I couldn't "see" them before, when in preview mode ....

FYI
WinXP, IE8 or Google Chrome as browsers.

[[ Actually, you had not correctly fixed them in that previous comment - I corrected them for you and that's why they now work. Usually I will make such correction silently, since it's obvious what the problem is and what the poster had intended. If a link is initially not there and then later works, that's the probable cause — ahb ]]

143:

ahb
Thanks
This is really irritating - since I can usually "see" Word screwing with my input & correct it - but it is obvious that it is being un-corrected as I post.
I'll try to remember to use "Notepad" in future ....

144:

Yes, the issue is that when Word uses "smart" quotes it replaces the normal ASCII code for double_quote with something of its own, that browsers don't read correctly, in the name of having the quotes point inwards at both ends of the text, the way a printer would.

145:

This sounds like flow to me.

146:

Ok, I only skimmed the article. You're possibly right, but I've seen text sources talking about this going back to the 1950s, so significantly pre-dating "Flow theory".

147:

Mark Galleotti - care to link to a paper/article that explains a bit what you mean in your last paragraph? Would be much appreciated!
Also, how far off the mark was my last comment re. the principal difference between mafia/legal business (now that there's a pro ...)

148:

I think the volumes in question are "Halting State" and especially "Rule 34" by OGH, and possibly the first 6 (or 3) volumes of "The Merchant Princes", also by OGH.

149:

Ah, I meant about the real crime!

150:

Whatever the cause, I think Rule 34 was the best Stross novel yet. Maybe it's good for some people to do hard work rather than counting on talent. There are non heteronormative subcultures and neighborhoods, and the novel was clearly set in such, whatever the authorly guilt reasons for it. Which is fine, if you like science fiction you should be ready to look at things a sight more radically unfamiliar than that. The second person wasn't a problem. It matched Halting State and if there's a rationale behind it whatever. It all went for an uncanny valley type effect that set a tone that worked well with the plot. Questions? No questions that don't boil down to a request for a more in that setting.

Also regarding bribery: if an organization does an economy of scale bribe, such as say if the mafia bribes the police commissioner instead of each individual shady type bribing individual policemen, that wouldn't work. Competition would rear its ugly head. Even though the whole force was looking the other way by illicit influence from the top, individual policemen could risk being unusually upstanding and by-the-book--unless given an individual bribe as well. Lower rung criminals who were part of the larger enterprise would compete with each other to bribe lower level law enforcement more than the next guy as well.

151:

I would pretty much agree with you, unless I happen to have read Halting State, The Apocalypse Codex or The Fuller Memorandum more recently than Rule 34.

152:

I've read and enjoyed Rule 34 twice, and now it looks like I need to read it again, with a new understanding of ATHENA.

Does an ATHENA-style state of non-self-identifying/selfhood projection occur in humans, possibly as the result of brain damage?

If so, is there a name for the condition?

Sounds like something Oliver Sacks would have written about.

153:

A few months ago, Bruce Schneier linked to an analysis of Bitcoin from his blog. Bitcoins, you see, record a history of all transactions in an anonymised form in each coin, so the history of the entire currency's transactions can be traced. As it happens, this history absolutely stinks of "scam".

Early in the history of Bitcoin, a very large transaction occurred and immediately after this, portions of this whopper of a transfer got repeatedly passed back and forth between a few of the participants, in a manner scarily like that employed to obfuscate who owns what in a conventional financial scam.

Bitcoin isn't conventional, though, so we can conclude that whoever was doing this didn't know that the actions could be traced and that they would not obfuscate the initial transaction. This then strongly suggests criminal and not-quite-smart criminal involvement in the whole thing. The net result is that for anyone reading that article, Bitcoins tend to seem irrevocably tainted.

154:

You're actually missing the point; for a criminal a credit card is not so much the physical card its self so much as the informational entity linked to it. A stolen credit card is the front number, back number, name and address associated with it and not the physical item at all.

155:

Nope, because bribing the Commissioner isn't about gaining invisibility to law enforcement; it means you now own the cops. If any unusually upright officer of the law causes you trouble, you can deal with them via the police's own disciplinary process.
(An instructive anecdote of corruption in '80s Ireland: a Garda entered a bar after hours to find it still serving. The Cabinet minister in attendance asked him "Do you want a pint or a transfer?" No charges were brought.)

156:

Given that the ATHENA AI is operating in effectively a limited loop of "Nudge human, observe for a time, repeat" with break-outs for "task achieved" and "human out of range for nudge, do something else", then to be effective it HAS to multitask, though in an unusual fashion. Humans spend about 8 hours per day asleep, so anything monitoring a human is going to be idle for a third of any day.

What I would expect the thing to look like is a huge number of execution threads, each of which spends pretty much all of its time waiting for the glacially-slow humans to react to the previous nudge, or just to wake up. This pretty much means that ATHENA has to have a truly staggering amount of disk-like storage, a rather lesser amount of working RAM and probably fairly modest CPU requirements.

It would operate by having monitoring processes periodically examining each thread of execution to see if anything has changed, and only waking these threads if there has been a material change. Once woken, the full power of the AI concentrates briefly only on the two or three threads that need this attention at any one time.

ATHENA is therefore scarily believable. It doesn't need god-like levels of CPU to function, merely rather large amounts of disk and much ingenuity to construct.

158:

Only if written in Java .-p

Erlang has very efficient thread- and event management mechanisms and relies on message-passing instead of locks so it fits well with soft-realtime distributed computing that I think one would want in ATHENA (The language was originally developed for 1980's digital telephone exchanges).

The hard part of ATHENA is the tweaking mechanism - it requires super-human understanding of biochemistry and human intelligence to tweak the psychopath's medication into something that will also make him psychotic.

OTOH - such mechanisms can perhaps be evolved, partly by accident. There exists several parasites and fungi in nature which modify the brain of their victims to get a behavior that suits the parasite's purpose.

Stuart Kaufmann's research suggests that one would need a different "computing fabric" than pure software to evolve "code"/"algorithms" because computer programs are too brittle to be "evolvable" (However, I suspect that a cat-brain-simulation that someone uploaded by mistake would perform adequately ;-)

159:

Sorry for being late on this thread. I found that Halting State had a reasonable and enjoyable "blossoming love" associated with the main heterosexual relationship, but all the homosexual or bi-sexual or other relationships in Rule 34 were purely physical, and not nearly as entertaining. I also thought the "new romance" in the first Laundry book was very good. But by the second it was just functional like eating, sleeping and going to the bathroom. I think you do great with "boy meets girl" and should make that a regular in most of your books. You can dump them if need be in the first chapter of the next book, or even inbetween chapters the books, but you should include real romantic interests in each. You do it so well. Personally I am a sucker for riding off into the extra world, or augmented reality sunset together. Sorry if you think that is shallow, but entertainment is rather much personal opinion.

160:

Google '[Toymaker's medication] "side effects" psychosis' spider 3 levels deep on all links on all results, and you'd probably hit something usable - as long as you were able to access the academic repositories; and we know ATHENA's a research project, she's probably got at least one node able to take advantage of an institutional subscription.

The number of things one needs to figure out from first principles is inversely related to the power of one's ability to search. ",)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 19, 2013 12:21 PM.

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