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Upcoming appearance: Frankfurt Book Fair

I'm going to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair next week, because Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination, in conjunction with Intel Press, are doing an interesting project: they're putting together a small team of publishing, journalism, academic, and futurist folks, and, in 72 hours, they're going to write and publish a book. The theme will be What is the future of publishing? To quote Dr. Ed Finn of ASU:

Why do this? We're tired of e-books as they exist now. They are, by and large, poor emulations of printed books, and they could be so much more. Intel's developing a revolutionary new digital publishing platform. We're going to put it to the test. We want to imagine the future of collaborative authorship and publishing by doing it, and we're hoping to invite hundreds of people beyond our hardy on-site band of pioneers to join in.
So I'm going along, to help crowdsource a book at the Frankfurt Book Fair. How cool is that?

In other news: I've been quiet on the blog this week because my regular annual bout of seasonal affective disorder has hit, and it usually takes me a while to realize why I'm trying to sleep 12 hours a day and feeling like death. I live in Edinburgh, fifty miles north of Moscow, and in the depths of winter we get only seven hours of daylight. I also live on the northern slope of a hill, overshadowed by tall buildings to the south, so my home gets no direct sunlight at all for about four months each year. There are two solutions: move house (expensive!) or buy high-intensity lamps. The latter, being cheaper, is what I did, so I am now basking under the bright lights. I should be back to normal before long, and then ...

114 Comments

1:

Well, that could be very interesting!
Assuming the quote isn't just marketing hype, that is.
I do agree re current e-books, though. I really like paper, but something should be possible as an improvement.
Problem - e-books require (minimal amounts of) power.
A book does not.


"... bout of [ $Blank ] Uh?

2:

"Charles Stross, science fiction writer, futurist and contributor to Foreign Policy magazine"

I wonder who that could be.

They have a website which goes live on Monday, and I shall be watching, at least.

3:

Or, you could do what Edinburgh's most famous literary son did when it became clear his native town was slowly killing him, which is move all around the world and end up living on a Pacific island. Which is probably the most expensive option of all, so maybe the lamps have it.

Also, by the time he was your age he had been dead for five years.

4:

Famous and dead, or infamous and alive? I know which I prefer to be ...

5:

I don't think you need to emulate Mr Hyde.

6:

"Intel's developing a revolutionary new digital publishing platform"

Run away as fast as you can. Putting your book into a proprietary format readable by a "revolutionary new platform" is like publishing your book as a hypercard stack.

7:

Sssh! Don't give the game away! (Why do you think I'm going? If it's like every other "revolutionary new publishing platform" it's a revolutionary new platform designed by people trying to revolutionize a very old industry that they don't actually understand ... If we're lucky it's just Intel Press coming up with a new interactive format for Intel Corporate technical documentation.)

8:

Problem - e-books require (minimal amounts of) power

That's so much not a problem that the eBook reader manufacturers just haven't bothered with supplying the solution. But they could quite easily.

I have a calculator on my desk. It has a display. It has a solar cell the same size as the display. It has never had a battery. I've had for over a quarter of a century, and it's still perfectly capable of working using only indoor lighting — if the lighting is bright enough for me to read the display, it's bright enough to power the calculator.

If that's possible using 1980s' technology, I'm sure you could keep an eReader going.

(The calculator is usually a few cm from me while I work, but it's not even the closest pure-solar product. That's my watch, which has a solar cell hidden behind the face. It's got enough power to charge the battery, to cover usual operation, the backlight, the nightly attempt to tune to Frankfurt/Denver/Fukushima ... I'm sure you could similarly mount a solar cell behind an eReader screen.)

9:

You wouldn't like it there anyway; it's hot (for values of hot that make London seem cool).

10:

Please let them not use the word 'interactive'. Please let them not use the word 'interactive'...

11:

Books need power.

If you want to read them at night.

The power could be chemical, but better not really.

12:

Books don't need power at all times even at night. The countereffect to the long nights of living in the high latitudes (I live about four degrees North of OGH) is that in the summer you get very light nights.

Even here in Southern Finland you can well read by the sunlight around Midsummer - in the North the Sun doesn't set for a while in the summer.

As to the original topic, it's interesting and I think it's a very good thing Charlie is participating. You seem to know the business from quite a lot of angles.

I wonder how this ties up to the W3C DRM decision: http://boingboing.net/2013/10/02/w3c-green-lights-adding-drm-to.html

There could be a "DRM ebook" standard and plugin which would be needed to read the books. I'm not sure I like this, and I said it already in the BoingBoing comments.

13:

So you're basically going to watch the trainwreck? Yeah, I can see the fun involved...

14:

... or in other words, books don't work all the time without power, not even during the day.

(Yes, I've been in Hammerfest, in January.)

Usually we use the terms 'day' and 'night' as a shorthand for those times when there is a reasonable amount of natural light and when there is not. We ignore such issues as total solar eclipses at midday and nearby supernovae at night.

(My experience is that even a bright Aurora is way too dim for reading by.)

15:

I live about 2.5° south of Edinburgh, and one of the problems we often set our first-year astronomy students is "find the maximum altitude of the Sun at midwinter in Sheffield". The answer (which they usually regard with a certain amount of horror) is 13°. Which does explain why it's dark by 4 pm in December...

16:

I shall take this as a challenge to see what I can write from Monday morning to Wednesday morning. And then the organisers will get a chunk of my inventive, deathless, prose to contend with. Probably involving Andromeda Todd, a shipping pallet of unused €100 notes consigned to a Russian oligarch resident in London, and a one-eyed raven-keeper resident at the Tower of London.

17:

The future of publishing? Ebook sales as a form of money-laundering, of course.

18:

I had a Trimphone dial as a book-reading light (under the bedcovers) when I was a teenager. My Mum threw it out one day when I wasn't around since she didn't approve of my reading habits.

19:

Ok, just why did I attempt to involve Mickey Bricks and 3-Socks Morgan in this? Well, other than that I've just watched seasons 1 to 4 of Hustle that is.

20:

OK, here's an idea: take a bog-standard ebook reader, usual wifi + usb jobbie, nothing special. Recess the screen a couple of millimetres so that if you put it face down, the screen doesn't easily get scratched.

Put a panel of solar cells on the back of the device. Make sure that both these and the screen are made of a toughened, difficult to scratch material.

How you use it is like every other reader, with one little wrinkle: when you're not using it, leave it face down, solar cells up. Ebook readers spend the majority of their time not being used, so leaving it solar cell upwards (especially if you leave it on a windowsill) will keep it charged quite well.

21:

Exactly.

And if people do want to use covers, my suspicion is that a solar panel behind the display would quite possibly work fine with but a bit of tweaking. It's large area should make up for only getting a small percentage of incident light

22:

Too bad no one has a greenhouse near you, Charlie. I've found that walking into one of them in the depths of winter is an even better pick-me-up than sunlamps are.

Got a garden store or something similar in easy reach?

23:

I hope this is an opportunity to steer the future in a good way, rather than a forum for self interested parties to expo8und on what they want to maximize their wealth.

I still think traditional books have particular advantages. Let's have them made better, with nanocrystalline cellulose paper for robustness.

24:

Too bad no one has a greenhouse near you, Charlie.

There are a few if OGH fancies a midday wander: Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh Glasshouses. (OGH knows about these, of course).

25:

Greg, a non-backlit e-ink reader with no wifi/3G (in other words, the cheapest variety) typically has a battery life of 50-200 hours, or 4000-8000 page-turns (consuming virtually no power between page-turns).

They typically charge over micro-USB. You can buy disposable micro-USB top-up chargers that will juice one up a couple of times from empty for a fiver. Or one that runs off AA cells. Or a wall-wart charger for even less money. Hyundai just announced they're abandoning the in-car cigarette lighter and switching to USB power outlets in their 2014 cars; it's the established new standard for low-power devices, and even comes built into some mains sockets and multi-way adapters these days.

If you're really paranoid about running out of power for your ebook reader, buy a solar-powered AA battery charger and an AA-cell powered USB top-up gizmo. Then you can retire to your desert island with the complete works of Shakespeare. Oh, you'll also want a zip-loc baggie to protect it if you drop your £35 e-reader in the bathtub sea. But, you know something? This stuff isn't rocket science any more.

26:

The fun also involves evenings in beer halls in Frankfurt.

27:

We have friends in Montreal — Charlie knows them too — who swear by the tropical forest part of the Montreal Biodome in winter.

On the other hand, when the problem is the shortage of light, then Montreal does have advantages being much further south than Edinburgh.

28:

When I was in grad school in the Midwest, having a project running in the greenhouse really did save my sanity. Light matters, but that wonderful, intense greenness is amazing, when the rest of your day is a collage of whites, grays, browns, and black.

Oh well, I've got the other autumnal problem (well, not strictly autumnal): Santa Ana winds and a red flag warning. Here's hoping that human stupidity won't hatch out an illegal campfire (Rim Fire), go cutting steel with an angle grinder in a field of dead grass without a fire extinguisher (Catalina fire, Zaca fire), get lost and light a signal fire for rescuers in a Santa Ana (Cedar fire), string power lines so close to together that they swing into each other and arc (Witch Fire), have an moonlit rave around a bonfire (Painted Cave Fire) or simply drive down the road throwing flares (LA in the 1980s).

29:

...tell us where and when so I can buy you a beer!

30:

Personally, I think the entire idea of videos, sound, whatnots, etc embedded in a book is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. If I absolutely have to have my narrative entertainment making sounds/displaying moving images at me I can just watch a show, yeah? That's what my iPad is for. Shows. But perhaps I'm just getting old. Could be, along with empathy toward one's fellow beings, silence is one of those thing the wired generation can't comprehend. (Crotchety? Me?)
That being said, I cant imagine life without my android kindle app. I love paper, but I've come to the conclusion that physical books are real damn inconvenient. My phone, thus my reading matter, is always on me. In the car (meaning, at work- downtime? no problem), at whatever crap fast food joint is for lunch, in the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, the yard. Everywhere. My book is always with me. Nowadays, even those books the collector in me must needs have a physical copy of, I find I need to buy a kindle copy too, or it just won't get read.
And I contribute more $ to the writers now too. Used to be, I bought almost all my books used on amazon (i know, BAD me). Now at least a few of my pennies end up with the author (I hope). Anyone know how ebook profits are shared, vs. print?

31:

Unfortunately, I never got into Hustle.

And, with names like that, I am nervous about falling into a Runyonesque style.

32:

Personally, I think the entire idea of videos, sound, whatnots, etc embedded in a book is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard.

It depends on what you mean by "book".

If you mean a "novel" -- a fictional text -- then yes, it's silly.

But consider: a programming tutorial book where the code examples are executable in situ with a source-level debugger so you can step through them, set breakpoints, peek at variables, and so on (because it's interpreted code and the ebook includes a VM with a terminal environment and an interpreter). Or consider a biochemistry textbook where the descriptions of enzyme active centres have videos or animations illustrating the conformational changes as the enzyme acts on a substrate molecule. Or a music textbook where the scores can be played back and edited by the student to see how a score works. Or a history book where there are video clips of key events and key figures rather than flat photographs, and every graph of quantitative data is actually a spreadsheet that can be modelled and visualized as the reader desires.

Don't these seem useful to you?

33:

I don't even think the idea is that silly for fiction, children's stories and graphic novels are enhanced by illustration, video and music would likely complement this IMO.

34:

(Accidentally pressed submit before finished. Post cont...)

Also whilst I would most likely be put off by a fully illustrated novel as an adult there are many supplementary benefits to embedded video, apps etc. I'm thinking of fantasy books that often come with world maps having a google maps of their world, with zoom features and the like. I'm sure there are many other users that would enhance rather than detract from reading a novel.

35:

Hell the googe books app has a ton of features, dictionary, read out loud, translation. The biggest hurdle to using it as an effective language learning tool is that the book search is depressingly monolingual and makes it hard to find books in other than english once I've told it that's my default language.

36:

Ah, yes. Guess I got on my high hat a bit fast there. You're absolutely right. There would, of course be many many areas where embeds within a book would be very useful. That's two in the morning speaking for you. (I'm just glad no one has called me on my "the young have no empathy!"rant.:)

37:

There's all sorts of useful possibilities, but what do they do to the economics of creating books?

One example, not one I have seen recently, the photo-based version of the comic-book, telling here-and-now stories. I think the genre was close to what they now call slice-of-life. Think of what extra work it needs, just to get the right pictures. Might be stock photography of places, but I came across, a few days ago, a mention of the checks that have to be done on anything intended for TV broadcast.

I'm not sure I believe the story, but if you take a picture that is going to get on TV in America, you have to be very careful about any recognisable trademarks that appear. The TV company, it was claimed, want a documented clearance for everything.

It sounds almost crazy to me, but take a few TV-soap pubs, and look closely at the brands revealed by the beer taps. The Rovers Return was owned by a fictional brewery, but there have been advertising deals with real brewers.

I reckon illustration is going to suck money away from the author, whether to artists, to photographers, or to trademark holders.

Who was it who wrote that SF short on the myriad substitutes for coffee?

38:

Had eye surgery on Monday, just the one eye and not as disruptive as I feared, but I took the trouble of setting up text-to-speech on my Android tablet and phone.

It's usable, but I am relieved I didn't need it on Tuesday.

One side effect: one of the test pieces I used was something I had written myself. TTS does seem to show up some sorts of typo which weren't obvious to the eye.

39:

You're so right, Ryan. A really interactive, Google type map feature would be cool in a lot of books. Yeah, many things are sure to come along in books which will be no doubt be cool. I guess these darn blinders I sometimes wear do tend to get in the way.

40:

I've been recommending the "Life on Earth" textbook to my students. 3D models, videos, animations… they say it is better than their paper textbook.

http://eowilsonfoundation.org/e-o-wilson-s-life-on-earth/

Direct link to iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/e.-o.-wilsons-life-on-earth/id529004239?mt=13

For $1.99, it's a great deal. Downside is it requires an iPad, so limits who can use it.

41:

Dang it, I bought the book instantly! Then realized I'm not at home and it's a 2.24Gb download. (I've gotten used to fibre-to-the-kerb business broadband instead of consumer-grade stuff ...)

42:

Sorry, guess I should have warned you. Although that does handily illustrate a problem with enhanced textbooks: the need for relatively recent equipment. :-/

I should also warn you that when the book is updated the iPad apparently downloads a complete brand-new copy, then deletes the old one — so you need a lot of empty space. Or you do what I do, which is delete the book and re-download it instead of 'updating' it.

if you want a smaller example of interaction in a book, doing what couldn't be done on paper, try this free book (250 MB download):

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mongolia/id689419525?ls=1

In addition to colour photographs, it has an interactive object and a dozen 360° interactive panoramas. No video or animations.

43:

Here's another book doing what couldn't be done with a paper book. Pretty big file, though (600+ MB):

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/360-panorama.fi/id580835169?mt=11

44:
Who was it who wrote that SF short on the myriad substitutes for coffee?

You may be thinking of Dianna Wynne Jones' "nad and dan and quaffy", although I suspect she's not the only one to have toyed with the idea.

45:

Of course, a zoomable scrollable map might serve to emphasize the chronic incompetence of many fantasy authors when it comes to thinking about journeys, especially if it has the ability to GPS-style directions and journey times. (You know the sort of thing I mean, where the hero crosses three hundred miles of treacherous mountain passes in two days and then takes a week to get fifty miles across agricultural plains.)

46:


But consider: a programming tutorial book where the code examples are executable in situ with a source-level debugger so you can step through them, set breakpoints, peek at variables, and so on (because it's interpreted code and the ebook includes a VM with a terminal environment and an interpreter).

Last week, when visiting my parents, I re-read the umpteenth time the old computer book I read as a child. I can't remember even the Finnish name or the English original name, but apparently it was a popular book both abroad and in Finland. Now I myself have children, and I would very much like to give them a book on how computers work and how they are programmed. The book was one of the biggest reasons I work in IT, and because I didn't own a computer for which the games in the book were written, I had to port them to GW-Basic. It taught be a lot.

However, I began to think that a traditional book form might not be the best way to do this anymore, especially when the basic programming tools are not installed by default on many systems - or they are not as easy to use as the BASIC interpreters were, back in the day.

I don't know what would be the best way to do this, and right now I have too many projects anyway, but something running in either a browser or on some mobile device, offering both the book and a simple programming environment (something like the 8-bit computers of 30 years ago) could work well.

I'm not sure if somebody has done something like this. Raspberry Pi seems to be a step in this direction but I haven't had time to check it out properly. (Only have two lying around...) Right now I'm using boardgames to teach programming, like Roborally or the upcoming Robot Turtles game.

47:

Hey Ho, and lack a Day...and whenever I encounter something like this I am drawn to the rememberence that, Once Upon a Time, 500 mega bytes was a pretty substantial hard drives capacity and that the 'Intranet ' was accesed with the aid of an acoustic coupeler device that enabled one to plug ..With a Dramatic Gesture...an old fashioned telephones hand/head set into a socket that matched said handset...it was rumoured that the servents of Multi National Companies were able to use their companies intranet conections from Over There to send first run movies to their confreres over here ..This at a staggering speed of Overnight when such 'Test ' transmissions were possible.

48:

I'm willing to guess Charlie's already seen this*. Here's Hannu Rajaniemi giving a talk on The Future of the Book.

*and other's here, since this may be where I first got the link (and finally got around to watching). Anyhow, recently read "The Quantum Thief". Excellent.

49:

Another ' Once Upon a Time ' I'm afraid... and this time it was of a time when back in the late 1960s I had a Wall Cupboard that was poised lke an Ancient AV Sword of Damoclease over my Drawing Board. This cupboard held many HEAVY 16mm Films that would have squashed me like a Fly if the ancient wall brackets had ever given way..Since I was a teenage boy it never occurred to me that this would ever happen. Anyway, in that collection of State of the Art AV 16mm films there was a film that was called “Programmed Learning " and it preceded personnel PCs by a considerable margin.

Actually the only Computer in the Building that held Arnold Jrs. HQ office/ workshop was an IBM Mainframe in the Computing Department just down the corridor from that office and it had been obtained by some sort of Government Scam and had been lowered into the Computing Department with a Crane after the roof had been removed from above its new home. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that that IBM main frames capacity was rather less than that of a modern mobile smart phone.

That 16 mm film as mentioned above covered various means by which learning could be 'programmed ' in a simple structured sort of way that was suitable for imparting various lessons ..with film strips, audio tapes and even things that sort of looked like Books albeit books that were like those multi choice interactive games 'books ' that used to be popular once upon a time ..Oh, a casual Google tells me that they are popular once again. Who would have guessed?

Anyway the producers of this 16mm film were the British Royal Navy who were the then experts in this system of teaching simple concepts to Jr ratings and officers and doing it as rapidly as possible. I always reckoned that the methodology probably originated during the Napoleonic Wars when conscript - 'pressed ' - men had to learn how to deploy and fire cannon from scratch without losing a limb to the recoil. The film used a Diver Support team as an example for 'programed 'learning machines.

Programmed Learning Machines used film cartridges in a sort of back projection system that looked vaguly like an enourmous modern desktop computer... but they werent too far away from 'programing ' as a concept. Mind you they were an absolute Bugger to keep clean and functioning.

50:

If the book had example programs in it specific to, say, a Commodore PET or 64, you could get an emulator such as VICE (vice.c64.org). And for machines like the Atari 800, Apple ][ or MSX there are also excellent emulators.
Such computers can be understood in their entirety by a fan, which is much more satisfying than current black-box systems.

51:

Smalltalk used to be used for this. Emulations were around for most all computers you might find in a home or school.

52:

The interesting thing here is mistaking the medium for the ends.

In teaching, for example, the point is to get some body of knowledge into someone's head, by any means necessary. Blackboards and chalk work great, if the person knows what they're doing. Heck, songs work great in some circumstances. For example: Koreans reportedly have some reputedly great teaching songs that they use to teach their kids their language. No English-language teacher of Korean has picked up on most of these songs, possibly because businessmen and college students get embarrassed about singing outside of bars.

I tend to be a bit of a luddite about communications and teaching: whatever is sufficient to communicate is the best. Sometimes it's a recited story. Sometimes it's tutoring, or chalk and talk, or a textbook. Rather less often, it's a 3-D movie. One can waste a lot of money and effort trying to go high tech without having a good reason to do so (as the LA Unified School District just found out to the tune of US$1 billion, and I wonder how much of the current ballooning of tuition costs is going to similarly pointless technological upgrades.

Ultimately, the medium is less important than the message. If the message is hacked, fails due to technical problems, or stays in the internet instead of migrating to someone's brain, it's worthless.

53:

Just to point out, but combining a conventional linear narrative book, some illustrations, and an audio narration in one package has a lot going for it. Particular for getting kids interested in reading - you can read HP, or have Stephen Fry reading along with you.

As does the option of some atmospheric sounds as you read. Or even music.

That's without going full bore on multiple narrative streams/points of view, animation, and even, in the right circumstances, a spot of video. Consider the description of the iron bombing in Iron Sunrise - it's essentially a transcript of an audio descriptive track from a DVD.

Given eBooks are basically cutdown HTML anyway, the scope for ePub 5.0 being HTML5 is perfectly plausible.

54:

That report of the example from Los Angeles looks to be presented with some heavy political bias, even if the scheme does look badly flawed. One element which apparently didn't make it into the story was the cost of providing wifi for all the schools. That's around half of the billion-dollar total. How much is the capital cost, how much the maintenance?

Do I trust those figures? There are just under 700,000 students and a reported total budget of just under $7 billion, roughly $10,000 per student. That has to cover everything. So a total spend, on a new hi-tech system, of a billion dollars, is not implausible.

Some of the allegations I am not going to try to judge. Have the laws on raising the money, and how it should be spent, been followed? A billion-dollar bond issue, made at a time of low interest rates, might not be a bad move, but it's one of those magical numbers, big enough that people get excited.

Some of the excitement I saw seems to have a whiff of rather clichéd partisan politics to it. If only those naughty Romans hadn't come up with the term "liberal arts", a couple of millenia ago. The dirty commies didn't even wear pants.


55:

The British armed forces, in the days of National Service, had to have some good teaching systems. They were getting some real thickos, and had to teach them enough to be useful. Even in that golden age (according to Michael Gove) they were having to do remedial teaching on literacy and numeracy.

It was one of the advantages of an all-volunteer military: you could pick and choose so that you didn't have to spend money on that sort of teaching.

As for the advantages of modern technology, I am inclined to think that ebook readers struggle with handling non-linear texts. Once you get past footnotes, it gets tricky. It needs a different approach to reading to replace tucking a finger in to page 437 while you look for the maps, or that half-remembered paragraph in another chapter. The UI can sometimes feel inadequate.

If somebody thinks it is worth putting maps in a book, there needs to be some way of accessing them easily from any page, without losing one's place. The codex format is something we're used to, it may not be that good a model for an ebook, but the physical manipulation it allows gives us a set of tools we are accustomed to, and ebooks may not have good equivalents.

Are ebooks inherently more like scrolls?

(Oh, I see that Bookfair scheme is timed a little differently from what I thought. The website opens on the 7th, the actual live event starts on the 9th. I hope they know about time-zones. So I have a bit more time to inflict my lurid prose on them.)

56:

Are ebooks inherently more like scrolls?

I don't know how other cultures paginate their scrolls, but the sefer torah in a synagogue is read horizontally not vertically, in columns (click through to the wikipedia article to see a photograph). (For search, this is probably even less useful than a bound book or a continuous top-to-bottom vertical scroll of e-text -- it's probably a good thing they're read from consecutively over a period of a year, then rewound to the beginning :)

57:

Try a search for "Scratch" as a programming language. I've downloaded it for our two boys; a bright ten-year-old coped with it. It's a visual development environment, allows you to introduce concepts like hierarchy and iteration, and test out each code fragment immediately.

All it would need is dereferencing to be the perfect teaching tool :)

58:

The concept of "stop conscription and raise the entrant quality" has a downside - conscription (if operated fairly) meant you got the bright kids too. Applied in these times, you'd end up with half your units as graduates (and half female, obviously). In reality, they discovered a higher proportion than average of undiagnosed dyslexics in the British Army; kids who were bright, but not supported well by the education system.

As a regular soldier, my father spent a few years in one particular training team. As part of the multiple-month work up training for an operational deployment, there was a lecture package lasting two or three days. Because each of the lectures was important, there was a lot of effort in keeping up the interest levels.

This was 1981 or so; each presentation was more of a production than a lecture (presenter, director, VT / lighting / pyrotechnics operator, projectionist) and they had full equivalency to PowerPoint, even if it did take matched pairs of 35mm carousel projectors with fade-in/fade-out, the biggest monitors they could buy, film projectors, multiple VCR, etc, etc. Each presentation was scripted and timed, there were frequent breaks, and all made good use of parable and narrative as a teaching tool. I sat in on one from the projectionist's booth due to a childcare problem, and was fascinated (having "Blue" the projectionists lean out to fire off a burst of 9mm blank at one key point in a lecture was fun)

The "system" survives, and is blindingly obvious. Practical skills must have practical lessons; intangible skills have to be applied. Training must be progressive, challenging, and interesting. At its most basic level, it's a cycle of Explanation, Demonstration, Imitation, Confirmation - and the "Methods of Instruction" course is a requirement for your very first promotion (i.e. anything past the rank of Private).

Personally, I just want some copies of the as-yet-unmentioned "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" - did someone from Intel read "The Diamond Age"?

59:

The concept of "stop conscription and raise the entrant quality" has a downside - conscription (if operated fairly) meant you got the bright kids too.

ISTR Peter Weston's book on Psychological Warfare (out of print, came out circa 1975) had a section on stuff the US Army learned in Vietnam. One of which was known as "Catch 23": Catch 22 applies, but the bright conscripts get themselves REMF jobs as typists or radio operators or cooks -- the average IQ of privates on front-line patrols in Vietnam was 85, because they weren't bright enough to figure out a way to find a niche where they wouldn't be shot at.

(This is orthogonal to your point about training methods, of course, but highlights a major problem with conscript armies that exist in the absence of some sort of external threat to national survival -- they generally work best for national defense and are not so good for wars of aggression. Unless you could the Wehrmacht, and they were heavily propagandized to think they were fighting to defend against an existential threat as well as for the glory of the Reich ...)

60:

It occurs to me that I'm wibbling pointlessly on a Sunday morning. Need more caffeine.

61:

Interesting that everybody has been talking about the output format, where from the description quoted the session seems to be talking as much, if not more, about the authoring and production process:

"We want to imagine the future of collaborative authorship and publishing by doing it, and we're hoping to invite hundreds of people beyond our hardy on-site band of pioneers to join in."

Hopefully OGH will let us know how to participate ;-)

On the production/publishing side - some food for thought:

  • Wikipedia the "book" that never stops getting added to and edited.
  • Leanpub which allows authors to publish "in progress" books and feed updates to their readers.
  • Mainstream technical publishers like O'Reilly (via Early Release) and Pragmatic (via Beta Books) do similar things - allowing early in-progress editions out to readers early for feedback.
  • Services like Storify and Eventifier are beginning to show ways you can have folk aggregate information from multiple sources and authors to produce more generally useful artefacts.
  • Products like accel.io that are allowing authors to incrementally produce and refine online teaching material that's a mashup of book / course / video / quiz / random-stuff.
  • People producting things like the Pocket Guides from Five Simple Steps. Very small books on particular topics from well respected folk in the fields — with associated drop in time and investment in production. Along with more decoupling of value/price and word count.

I could go on ;-)

Let's talk about the publishing side. What fun things can folk do there. Especially when you start breaking away from the idea of "the author" working by themselves to produce a final artefact for "the reader". What happens when those categories start breaking down?

62:

For example - off the top of my head.

Could publishing get re-oriented around the "artwork" rather than the media?

Imagine the next multi-author shared world (Star Wars, Doctor Who, etc.)

What if they go out of their way to encourage fanfic? Produce a cross between tv-tropes, wikipedia, the average $FanWiki, and the fanfic end of livejournal (or wheverever the kids go to write fanfic these days).

"Official" authors produce paid work, the better fanfic authors get groomed into official authors, non-monitory awards include things like having your fiction officially "canonised".

Imagine how much effort some fan writers would put in if there was a chance that something they wrote about would be name checked in the next Star Wars film?

Laundry Files Publishing Inc anybody? ;-)

(NOTE: Not implying that this would necessarily be a good thing!)

63:

Imagine how much effort some fan writers would put in if there was a chance that something they wrote about would be name checked in the next Star Wars film?

They'd go write Star Wars tie-in novels for Lucas. Yes?

A sad but unavoidable fact is that most folks have no idea how badly the average novel sells. I don't think any of my novels have yet made it into six digit sales worldwide yet. Pratchett and J. K. Rowling make it into mid-seven digits and they're runaway bestsellers at the top of their category. Stephen King might have sold as many as 60 million books (and he's probably one of the best-selling fiction authors of all time). In contrast, "Breaking Bad" hit 10.3 million viewers in the US alone in its final episode. Just about anything on Cable TV gets an order of magnitude more viewers than I have readers. And that's in today's micro-fragmented TV audience mind-share.

The multi-author shared worlds you reference are almost invariably spin-offs of TV or movie products -- there may in future be gaming ones, but I don't know of a computer game that has spawned a full-blown ecosystem yet (Halo and NWN may come close; D&D and Warhammer have succeeded but started as PnP games). Taking it in the opposite direction -- from book to TV/film/game and media spin-offery -- is dauntingly hard to the point of impossible; very few succeed (even J.R.R. Tolkien and George Martin haven't gone the whole distance to spawning authorized fiction sharecropping).

64:

Try a search for "Scratch" as a programming language.

Thank you! I think I have seen that some time ago, but forgotten it.

I need to teach the kids (at least a bit of) English showing how to use this, but that shouldn't be that much of a problem.

Dereferencing would be a good thing to learn, too, but it might be difficult with such a language.

I did find the book I read. It's called 'Aloittelijan tietokonekirja' in Finnish, and the original is 'The Beginner's Computer Handbook', published by Usborne Publishing in 1983. This is the one I would very much like to have as an updated version, preferably with that integrated programming environment. I'm such an old-schooler that I would like a re-implementation of a C=64 type of computer, with possibility for an assembler type of language.

One could use VICE or something, but a C=64 by itself has so hard-to-use subsystems (sounds, anyone?) that a clearer virtual machine might be more useful.

This is getting a bit far from the future of books, even though it's one clear target for a new kind of book, that I will look after progamming teaching environments elsewhere on the web. Thanks again for the Scratch environment hint.

65:
They'd go write Star Wars tie-in novels for Lucas. Yes?

God no!

They stay exploited fanboy/girls, given intangible awards, maybe some points to spend in the company store. With the odd one or two pushed to some superficial level of success in the "real" world to encourage the dreams of the others.

This isn't a good option for authors I'm presenting. Sorry if that wasn't clear ;-)

66:

God no! They stay exploited fanboy/girls, given intangible awards, maybe some points to spend in the company store.

My understanding is that the going rate is $20,000-50,000 for a Star Wars novel (work-for-hire; author is selling their copyright, so no subsequent royalties). That's pretty decent for a midlist novel, despite the onerous contractual terms.

If you're going to do w-f-h -- and there's no way in hell a creative franchise with any business sense is going to allow createos to retain copyright[*] -- then why settle for peanuts when you can try and sell to Star Wars or Trek instead?

[*] Yes, some do allow creators to retain copyright. Mostly shared universe anthologies developed by writers rather than movie spin-offs franchised by corporations. Guess which generally makes more money.

67:
If you're going to do w-f-h -- and there's no way in hell a creative franchise with any business sense is going to allow createos to retain copyright[*] -- then why settle for peanuts when you can try and sell to Star Wars or Trek instead?

For a professional author the decision would be barking.

But I'm not talking about professional authors. I'm talking about class of author in potentia who started off in fanfic.

From the folk I knew who wrote (and write) fanfic/slash there isn't a huge overlap with the motivations of that group with the motivations of professional authors. They're after peer acclaim, scratching a personal itch for that story about X and Y, writing as entertainment/hobby, etc. The idea of doing it for money comes way down the list. And they're seem very loyal to their particular niche.

I reckon $company could exploit those motivations enough to encourage folk to develop to "good enough" levels of writing to make money while preventing them learning enough to graduate to author-as-profession.

The unit of story might not be novel either.

68:

Let me see. Fanfic authors I know who have won or been nominated for Hugo awards for fiction include Steven Brust, Naomi Novik, and Seanan Mcguire; if you count Sherlock Holmes/H. P. Lovecraft there's Neal Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald", and if you just count HPL there's me (although my Laundry Files are more of a homage than actual HPL fanfic: on the other hand, "A Colder War" was explicitly written as a sequel to HPL's "At the Mountains of Madness"). There are undoubtedly more. Here's more on fanfic by famous authors (Pulitzer prize winners and Nobel laureates!).

But I'm not talking about professional authors. I'm talking about class of author in potentia who started off in fanfic.

Like, oh, Lois McMaster Bujold? (Only four Hugo awards for best novel -- a record she co-holds with Robert Heinlein.)

The point I'm making is that there's no hard and fast dividing line between fanfic authors and professionals. Any more than there's a divide between SF fans and professionals. It's quite easy for someone to be both at the same time. We may presume that the pros are motivated by profit, but that doesn't mean they won't do things for love as well. Similarly, fans and fanfic writers who are motivated by love may well take agin' a company that tries to exploit their labour without compensation ...

69:

For a professional author the decision would be barking.

Let me guess: you don't know many professional SF authors. I know two professional SF authors (full time ones), who have witten Star Trek novels. They're not afraid to have their names on those covers, and I've never heard any of their peers think badly of them for that.

And as a career path, well, it's not in F&SF per se, but EL James seems to be doing alright with her Twilight-fanfic-with-serial-numbers-filed-off. Hell, you can walk along booksehelves and see the books trying to follow her lead.

70:
Let me guess: you don't know many professional SF authors.

Not many - but not zero either ;-) I know a lot more fanfic authors who aren't professional SF authors and don't have any particular urge to be either.

(I <cough> may have written the odd bit of Pertwee/UNIT era Who fanfic in my youth. Fortunately for my self respect Google cannot find the vast majority of it.)

I know two professional SF authors (full time ones), who have witten Star Trek novels. They're not afraid to have their names on those covers, and I've never heard any of their peers think badly of them for that.

Which was the point I was agreeing with ;-) The decision not to "try and sell to Star Wars or Trek instead" as OGH pointed out would be bonkers!

And as a career path, well, it's not in F&SF per se, but EL James seems to be doing alright with her Twilight-fanfic-with-serial-numbers-filed-off. Hell, you can walk along booksehelves and see the books trying to follow her lead.

Indeed. It is a career path. I was just wondering if it was the only way companies could make money out of that particular group.

71:

I'm really not trying to say that fanfic cannot be professional. Or that great and wonderful authors cannot start there - or just play there for fun (and indeed profit.)

The point I'm making is that there's no hard and fast dividing line between fanfic authors and professionals. Any more than there's a divide between SF fans and professionals. It's quite easy for someone to be both at the same time. We may presume that the pros are motivated by profit, but that doesn't mean they won't do things for love as well

Agree completely. Didn't mean to imply otherwise.

I'd still argue that the vast majority of fanfic isn't produced with profit in mind, or with the writers necessarily thinking of themselves as being on a path to "professional". I certainly didn't at the point I played in the Dr Who fanfic sandpit.

Similarly, fans and fanfic writers who are motivated by love may well take agin' a company that tries to exploit their labour without compensation ...

Also true - but the compensation doesn't have to be monetary.

To pick another media. Think about the amount of time some folk invest into level editing on computer games. People invest months into 'em.

For some the fact there are all these "free" levels out there is one of the reasons they buy the game. Do the level editors feel they're exploited because the game publisher is making money from them indirectly?

... and I realise I've wandered even further from the topic of new publishing models... sigh... sorry ;-)

72:

I was thinking of purchasing a SAD lamp. What brand of SAD lamp do you use, Charlie? And when and how long do you use them in your daily routine?

Although I live considerably further south from you, I seem to have begun to suffer from SAD during the winter months. Ever since my ophthalmologists photocoagulated the edges of my retinas (to prevent the growth of PDR), I suspect that my retinas are collecting correspondingly less light overall than they did before, and I wonder if this isn't the cause of my increase need for sleep and feel like a zombie from November through February.

Any pointers would be appreciated!

73:

Not replying to any particular comment, but I think some of the ways "fanfic" are getting used are a bit of a stretch. I'm not sure that Shakespeare's reworking of Holinshed really counts. Many of those examples of great writers, and things such as film adaptions, seem to be stretching a little too far.

Part of my hesitation comes from the thought that, for a stage play, every production is a new interpretation. Is it really useful to say that every production is a fanfic?

I have written stuff that definitely is fanfic. I tried to do things that worked for the characters, but which might not have worked for the TV show. Saying Kiss Me Kate is a fanfic of The Taming of the Shrew doesn't seem quite right.

Maybe fanfic, like black magic, is a question of symbolism and intent.

Various things have been happening in my life over the last decade which have maybe affected some of my writing. I haven't been getting into TV serial drama, and that might be one of the commonplace sparks for fanfic. They're already collective works. There is a sense that there is room for another piece of creation, in a ways that there isn't for a book. And I found a shared world setting which welcomed me, and let me create and develop my own characters.

And I've been to enough conventions to know how significant the divide between amateur and professional is in the world of science fiction and fantasy. I get the feeling that some other sorts of storytelling do have more of a barrier, and I wonder how much the very idea of fanfic is an expression of that distinction between the authorised and the unauthorised.

Charlie, I don't know how this week's event is going to work out, but I wonder if some of the fannish elements of being an SF writer will quite fit in with what the other named participants expect. You already use some of the tools that have come out of the world of fanfic, using your internet skills to test and inform your creations. And that is partly because you are part of a community which has been nurturing new writers for generations.

How far is this shiny new project going to get beyond a fanzine? Will it be doing anything that the pulps of the 1930s didn't do? Will there be anything that Campbell or Gernsback did not do to encourage new writers?

Yes, it's a different medium. There will be a feel of urgency via the internet that isn't quite what there is with snail-mail and print.

Remember to take your Internet Puppy tshirt.

74:

I wonder just when the website they promise goes live. Possibly not before evening, UK time.

75:

Charlie, Your use of SAD lamps and the Police helicopter over central Edinburgh yesterday (Sunday) morning was a pure coincidence was it not? It got me out of my bed as well wondering what the devil was going on.

76:

Your use of SAD lamps and the Police helicopter over central Edinburgh yesterday (Sunday) morning was a pure coincidence was it not?

Yes, because I was in Leeds that morning. (Although $WIFE complained about it too, so it wasn't just you.)

77:

It doesn't matter; it's a comment on the way my mind works when presented with a line like "a (shipping) pallet of money".

78:

After a bit of a dig, I was surprised to discover that BASIC is no longer on Windoze boxes.

As to "basics of computing", the "Ladybird Book of Computers" might be a good choice for covering the history.

79:

ISTR Peter Weston's book on Psychological Warfare (out of print, came out circa 1975) had a section on stuff the US Army learned in Vietnam. One of which was known as "Catch 23": Catch 22 applies, but the bright conscripts get themselves REMF jobs as typists or radio operators or cooks -- the average IQ of privates on front-line patrols in Vietnam was 85, because they weren't bright enough to figure out a way to find a niche where they wouldn't be shot at.

If the bright ones needed to. My Dad was taking his banking exams when he was called up; the paymaster at the barracks where he did his basic found this out (and not because my Dad told him) and he spent the rest of his National Service as an accounts clerk working a 40 hour week 20 miles from home and with a weekend pass every week.

80:

It's on this Windows box, but that's because it's part of Visual Studio.

We were doing some development using QuickBASIC about a quarter century ago, but I don't remember that being included with MS-DOS. I think it may be about that time that MS moved from the Unix model of shipping development tools with every copy of an OS to supplying them only to those who paid a bit extra. I'm not sure any version of Windows (as opposed to DOS) came with BASIC or a linker or assembler included.

Eek! I've just spotted a copy of debug.exe on here. 20K in size, dated 2004.

81:

It has crossed my mind that a Russian reporter has fallen for an internet scam. "All I need is enough money to pay off the official at the airport."

But is that an interesting story?

82:

That is the big problem with conscription, isn't it? Not the best system for a hegemonic power.

That said, conscription had some great benefits, such as putting men from all walks of life together in a situation where they all had to work together, like JFK (or John Kerrey, for that matter) piloting a PT or a swift boat. One wonders if part of the "Tea Party problem" is that an increasing majority of people in Congress never went through conscription, so they don't have that formative experience of shared misery with someone who's different from you, whom you don't like, but whom you have to work with to survive (and the quotes are because I suspect this is a problem for both parties now, although the Tea Party has uniquely chosen it for a strategy).

As for the professional military being a bunch of uneducated dolts, I'm pretty sure that's not true. Yes, the US certainly has a poverty draft, in the sense that the military is the only reasonable employment of certain ghettos or underprivileged states. Still, a large number of officers these days have advanced degrees. Back in the day, I taught and knew a bunch of people who were paying their way through college by joining the military. For things like veterinary school, ROTC actually made tremendous financial sense, given that you'd make more money as an army vet than you would in private practice starting out, and they'd pay your tuition (which is on par with medical school).

83:

Well, it can be. How good is your characterisation? That was one of the great strengths of Hustle; likeable goodies (the con artists) and hissable villains (the marks).

84:

The Spanish Prisoner is always an interesting story.

85:

The website for the project is live and I have signed up. They offer a free download of the Intel software needed to read the result, but the software is Windows-only. Also, the download mechanism doesn't work with Opera. I have a dreadful feeling that I shall have to fire up Internet Explorer.

The upload interface is not, I think, suited for lengthy texts: it is more suited to blog-like comments, and has the feel of being for on-line composition.


Manwhile, Andromeda Todd is stood by a lamp post, down Lambeth way, apparently reading something on her iPhone, and waiting for a certain young man. She is not leaning on the lamp post. That would be slovenly.

86:

The reader program can be downloaded with Firefox.

The recommendation is for a 5 Mb/s connection.

William Tare Fox and similar exclamations of astonishment. Early evening in rural England, I shall be lucky to get 10% of that, short of beggaring my progeny unto the seventh generation.

87:

One of which was known as "Catch 23": Catch 22 applies, but the bright conscripts get themselves REMF jobs as typists or radio operators or cooks -- the average IQ of privates on front-line patrols in Vietnam was 85, because they weren't bright enough to figure out a way to find a niche where they wouldn't be shot at.

...see my comment about "conscription (if operated fairly)"... stress on "fairly". The job of "radio operator" can be a poisoned chalice - the platoon radio operator is generally within arm's reach of the platoon commander, and is regarded by all as a high-payoff target in the close battle. He has to do the same physical work as the rest of the platoon (if not more - the platoon commander has to run about a fair bit), with a few extra kilos of metalwork to carry.

I suspect that Peter Weston is being selective about his statistics. Certainly in 1965, a large percentage of the US participants were ideologically committed volunteers; this changed over time. Over half of all armed forces recruits were volunteers, not conscripts. I'd question the veracity of the "IQ 85" value, unless you compared it against a similar cohort of infantry from WW2 or Korea. I'd also ask whether his claimed statistic included the USMC, or just the US Army; and whether it included the 1966 MacNamara bright idea called "Project 100,000" (worth looking up, as it will have affected his statistics)

AIUI, the USSR traditionally didn't allow the bright ones to escape; they were able to fill the recruiting pipeline of their special forces (the "Units of Special Designation") from the school / college sports stars and all-rounders - and officially they didn't let them pull a "deliberate fail" to get an easy job. Granted, children of the nomenklatura may have had a different experience. If you were a bright, fit lad, you went to the Desantnye, and apparently you kept doing the training until you passed out with your blue-and-white-striped T-shirt. Bright but non-athletic lads presumably went to the Navy or Strategic Rocket Forces...

Conscription could also be the reason why one of the last NATO tank gunnery competitions of the Cold War (an annual competition known as the "Canadian Army Trophy") saw a win by Dutch conscripts driving German tanks; followed by German conscripts driving German tanks; followed by American professionals driving American tanks (the British weren't competing by then). The Dutch picked the brightest lads from across their armoured units, and let them train hard.

88:

Sadly - not one of the four general computing devices I have in the house are capable of running the reader. Hey ho ;-)

89:

Nor are any of the half-dozen or so in my office :)

90:

I find that I can run the reader program here, and the design is awkward. It's asking for a login name and password, and I am reluctant to use the login I used for the website. And, the way it started up, and the default use of my nice, big, monitor, leave me thinking I would get better readability out of my Kindle.

I don't use Apple, but I am sure they can do a better job of UI design than Intel appear to have done. And I cannot say I am impressed by the web design skills that may be found at the University of Arizona.

91:

OK, I uploaded my first chunk.

Fiction in the spy-thriller style, making use of personal computing gadgets such as an iPhone. How much do characters in books still live as if they don't have even a dumb mobile phone? Our heroine even has an app which signals the Butler as the GPS location approaches the front door.

Oh, and automatic payment of public transport tickets mediated by an iPhone. There might be elements you could trace to Halting State: I just wrote it quickly, and if it seems original that can be put down to sheer good luck.

92:

How much do characters in books still live as if they don't have even a dumb mobile phone?

Easy: have the Adversary™ root the phone at the beginning, and let the Protagonist know. At which point the phone becomes a bug/tracking device/secret police agent, rather than a useful tool.

93:

Well, it's still a useful tool... just not for the protagonist.

94:

We are now in a world where every phonecall is un-secret. So maybe.

But so many plots fall apart, not just spy fiction, when everyone had a phone in their pocket. You can lock your heroine in the trunk of a car, and she can make a phone call. But why don't the abductors bother to check for a phone?

A smartphone isn't much use if you need to download the map, and you can't connect to the internet, but you still have GPS, and the nav app I have has a default low-detail map.

Where is Ken, wails Barbie but why can't she use her phone to ask him?


95:

I found a good use for the car trunk/mobile phone gambit in DARK STATE, but I can't tell you what I did for another year or two ... let's just say it's a nasty reverse gambit and leave it at that :-)

96:

And that gives a chance to mention the sensual element of physical books, a speculation on how many old books may never be seen in digital editions, and the sort of illicit things which could be down with ebooks, if you could get around the logistics of getting dirty money into the world of electronic payment.

That's 1400+ words that deal with information flow in a digital world, and the nature of books and money.

At least I'm trying.

97:

So this leaves me with the picture of Edinburgh's equivalent of a SWAT team breaking into your home because some guy thought there was some hidden Cannabis plantage. Only to discover poor Feorag with the SAD lamps.

Thank you.

98:

And now you can see the library scene on the web page.

The spelling error is a deliberate attempt to illustrate the necessity for copy editors, honest.

(Incidentally, there are three complete sets of the paperback edition of the Fifty Shades trilogy in a local charity shop. No I don't feel that charitable.)

99:

For the IQ of 85, first of, there are some issues with IQ tests and demographics, e.g. rural blacks scoring lower than rural whites scoring lower than urban whites for a variety of reasons. With the Flynn effect hinting to at least some environmental component. If there were different levels of volunteers from different backgrounds, that might explain something.

Second of, with the draft there were quite some ways to evade it. College enrollment being one of them likely did not that much to heighten IQ in the Army...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft_dodgers#Vietnam_War

Third of, err, we could start a long discussion about IQ tests and ways to fail thanks to lack of motivation or some neurocognitive glitches (having questions read to you is not funny with the attention span of a Cocker Spaniel), semi-functional literacy, social influences on IQ (common joking was we all lost a few point after school when working in a housing for the old), higher education being an inadvertant training for IQ tests etc.

So yeah, psychometrics, yeah.

100:

I think I know what you're talking about, there are a few examples of this phenomenon, it's akin to viral propagation in that it cannot be reliably duplicated, but some franchises seem to take a life of their own in the hands of their fandom.

The craziest example I can think of is the japanese shoot'em up Touhou videogames, a fairly simple bullet hell linear shooter made by a single man that has morphed into some kind of strange hydra of spinoff comics, anime, more videogames, fan art, roleplaying games, etc, etc...

Obviously this is a highly desirable outcome but very hard to produce intentionally, especially by a corporation.

Penny arcade spaned a quite active wiki http://elothtes.pbworks.com/w/page/18807121/FrontPage that fleshed out a throwaway satirical corny fantasy world from one of their strips
http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2005/11/07

Various online RPGS also seem to spawn fairly high quality fan art and fan comics (Sometimes by pro authors such as Fred Perry's LvlUp based on his final fantasy online gaming)
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1918362508/calculas-lvl-up

101:

The low quality of early second-world war American
infantry was due to each of the services, armor, paratroops, intelligence, AA, AT, skimming the best
performing individuals into their ranks leaving the
remainder for infantry.

This changed in mid-late '44 when the US released large cadres of these skimmed troops back into
infantry forces...with a noticeable effect on
US troop performance through late 44 to 45.

-- Andrew

102:

So this leaves me with the picture of Edinburgh's equivalent of a SWAT team breaking into your home because some guy thought there was some hidden Cannabis plantage. Only to discover poor Feorag with the SAD lamps.

Could be. I recall a counterintelligence story from WWII: a civilian in New York happened to be looking out at the nearby buildings and noticed a light go on...then off...then after a time it came on again. This went on a while. Irregularly. It occurred to this guy that it looked like very slow Morse Code! So the NYC counterintelligence office got a phone call of the "I know this sounds dumb but..." variety, and agreed they should go take a look.

It turned out the subject owned tropical fish and their aquarium was heated by a lamp controlled by a thermal sensor. They suggested he move the aquarium away from the window and all was well.

103:

first of, i hope the reference to scott's post is kept, yeah, sitting at my tablet again..

second of, there persistent rumours, though consuming a substance that is known to imbue a certain, err, salience in everyday eventa, aka slight paranoia with somewhat chronic or high dosage use might play a role:

http://www.theweedblog.com/do-utilities-tell-cops-about-marijuana-gardens-with-high-electricity-bills/

there are also rumours of some false positives,

http://techland.time.com/2011/05/23/report-police-confuse-bitcoin-miners-power-use-for-weed-grow-op/

though bitcoin somewhat tied in with online drug trade (though then so is most of real world money, it is said) and taking a dive after silkroad got busted, and this being the year 1 after snowden with the dea fabricating backstories to somewhat fishy sigint makes for some alternate interpretations.

keeps one thinking if housing the next lan party is such a good idea, otoh.

104:

It could always turn out to be an illicit chihuahua ranch hidden in suburbia...

105:

I don't know if Charlie is reading this from Frankfurt, but what I see from the website or through Intel's fancy ebook app is a big heap of nothing happening. There's little or no sign of dialogue, unlike places such as this blog.

107:

Thanks.

I am probably writing the wrong sort of stuff, but this blog still feels far more alive.

108:

Somewhat to my embarrassment, the Russian Oligarch in my piece of fiction is named Boris, and I have found that his personal assistant has been lumbered with the name Natasha.

Wi nøt trei a høliday in Sweden this yer?

Excuse me....

See the løveli lakes

The tiger leaves the computer and returns with a mallet of unusual size.

The wonderful telephøne system

The tiger taps her palm with the mallet in a suggestive way.

And mani interesting furry animals

And that is enough. Damn Microsoft ø-day bugs!

Including the majestic møøse

BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

A Møøse once bit my sister ...

No realli! She was Karving her initials on the møøse with the sharpened end of £&!*@?%%#~|**NO CARRIER**

109:

LOL, literally and physically.

110:

I see that the actual virtual book has now changed, and dropped most of the videos.

Things are not over yet, but so far I haven't seen anything that couldn't be done with HTML.

111:

The final part of my effort has been submitted, a little more than 4,300 words dancing around the modern world of very personal computing, crooks in business, and what ebooks could be for.

What do you do with 20 billion Euro. How can you launder it? Maybe you lose it, knowing your competitor cannot afford to lose that much money keeping a business afloat.

112:

The website is now showing a lot of essays by the various named contributors named at the start of this event.

I was probably off on completely the wrong track, but I'm left with a feeling that the invitation to "Contribute to the Book" was something of a hollow sham. I can't really see what, if anything, came from any outsider.

The original video-heavy form of the ebook has been replaced by something text-heavy. Most of the media components have vanished.

I doubt I was the only person on the outside of the scheme to submit material, but there's a sneaky little part of me asking, "What if you were?" Might it be that a lot of assumptions were make about ebooks are based on a rather unusual pattern of behaviour. Just by posting to a blog such as this, we are generating unusual amounts of text. The vast majority of readers are passive consumers and of those who are not, how many even had a chance to hear of this scheme?

I put in some 4300 words. One chunk seemed to briefly appear on the web page. How much material did they expect from outside, and how much did they get? Was I part of a small crowd, or a lone black swan?

NaNoWriMo looks. I have other things to worry about. I don't need feedback, but it seemed to slow me down that this event was inviting contributions that it then seemed to blackhole.

Small note: One of the freeview channels (ITV4 I think) is reshowing The New Avengers. I caught the titles at teatime. and the three lead characters, Steed, Gambit, and Purdey, are certainly echoed in my piece.

Joanna Lumley has aged well, hasn't she.

113:

Something has happened.

The ebook has turned into a huge download. Which keeps stalling at 92%

Anybody got a Kindle or ePub version, I'm not fussy, but I have already seen one grossly oversized ebook file produced by professionals this year.

114:

I finally managed to get the thing downloaded.

Charlie, for an outfit trying to look Beyond the Book, they did a bit better than Bamforth & Co were doing a hundred years ago, but their video did have the advantage of sound and colour. I am not sure that I can call what they did a book, and movies are such an ancient thing anyway.

I wouldn't be surprised if you got more readers through this website, because somebody tipped off The Register. And, I reckon, you're ahead of the game already. I don't think the bunch who organised this have really tried to think about the future. They're assuming unlimited bandwidth, just as a start.

And maybe I demonstrated that not all of us can write. Even if we think we can.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 4, 2013 7:37 AM.

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