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I'm back

I'm back home from Poznan. It's quite a journey from Edinburgh: we set out on an express train to Berlin (dep. Poznan at 10:27am), then continued by air from Tegel to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Edinburgh, making it home by 11pm after setting foot in four countries in twelve hours.

Pyrkon was ... unexpected. Think in terms of the feel of San Diego Comicon, if you removed the big commercial stands (for some reason, Marvel, DC, Electronic Arts, and Hollywood studios don't think regional Polish SF conventions are worth going to). They stopped charging for admission a couple hours before the closing ceremony, at which point they'd sold 24,513 memberships—no, that is not a typo: this convention was getting into DragonCon scale and is in Poland. (2013's Pyrkon was only 13,000 strong; back around 2011 it had 3000 members.) It's about five or six times the size of a worldcon. A dizzyingly unexpected gathering of the geek tribes in an unexpected place—although if it's going to happen anywhere, Poznan is a good bet: it's a prosperous university city with a bunch of high-tech corporations and a population that skews young relative to Poland as a whole.

Anyway, I'm now facing a stack of page proofs that need checking within the next week, or else bad things will happen to the publication schedule of "The Rhesus Chart". And while I'm doing that I'll try and think of something to blog about. (Current leading contender: the background music playlist for "Dark State", the first of the Merchant Princes: The Next Generation trilogy, due out next April.)



I've read the original six-book version, and I'm guessing that this is not part of the soundtrack.

Good to have you back, and I'll be interested to hear the real suggested soundtrack.


Indeed not! You're looking for stuff more like the first song on this album ...


For some reason, I would expect the Poznan SF convention to skew toward 'hard SF' versus fantasy. When you get a chance, would enjoy learning what topics/sub-genres are the most popular and/or controversial over there.


Lots of LARPers, RPGs, computer gamers, anime/manga fans, MMOs, and cat-girls in fancy frocks and implausible corsetry. Also, zombies and terrifying-looking buff guys cosplaying "Call of Duty" soldiers with guns so realistic that if they were seen in a British or US convention a Police SWAT team would be summoned.

The cosplay went to unfeasible extremes: anime warrior schoolgirls with a decal-encrusted and pink-painted BRDM and a towed 75mm field artillery piece, anyone?

Written fiction was a tiny minority pursuit, meaning only about the size of a British Eastercon, maybe trending up towards US NASFIC scale.


Because you don't have enough to do right now, I'm really hoping you'll weigh in on Facebook's Oculus Rift purchase. Here in the SF Bay Area, the sense of disappointment is palpable. It's playing into the firestorm around the 5 giants of tech taking over the world, creepily spying on everyone, 'flying out of people's lavatories infringing their personal freedom,' usw. There's a class war burning in the Mission (district of SF) and a rising tide of resentment against what people here call the "Google kids" -- meaning all rich, young tech workers, but with a connotation of clueless Glassholes lighting cigars with thousand dollar bills. Is it the dawn of the cyberpunk era, with all of its concomitant corporate dystopian elements? Or is something else at play here?



One of the side-effects of Sarbanes-Oxley, as I understand it, was to close off the normal dot com exit strategy of IPO and cash-out by the founders -- or at least to make it a lot harder to execute. So the modern trend is to sell out to a larger corporation, instead. Meanwhile, FB has a large war chest and a broken business model that is doomed in the not too distant future (kids are abandoning FB because their parents have discovered it: MySpace at 11 -- FB is basically AOL for Web 2.0, only unlike AOL people aren't willing to pay cash for it). So FB is looking for plausible pivot strategies, and turning into the world-leading VR company is one option. If they can make VR work, that is -- thousands have tried and failed (all the way back to Jaron Lanier).

As for the kulturkampf in the Mission, this was happening in the late 90s, too, IIRC. Same as it ever was.

The most scary things about glasshole syndrome, and the fodder for an entire different blog entry, would be the intersection of this and this and even crazier this. Imagine having your glass -- and thereby your entire lifelog -- pwned by looking at the wrong person's face ...


... And Jesus Fuck, there's the plot armature for "The Lambda Functionary" (third iteration). Except I don't have time for an attack novel this year, and can't in any case start a new Scottish crime novel until after we've passed through the September 18th political singularity.


Short clip about Pyrkon:

( Thanks for signing my hardcovers : )


Wow! Based on the range of costumes/characters ... English-language SF literary agents should be hard at work getting their authors' key works (best sellers) translated into Polish. Also cover art featuring main characters with emphasis on some sort of 'signature' look/talisman would work wonders (might be necessary) in this market. This is kinda supported by my not spotting anyone dressed like Dresden (Jim Butcher) in the youtube video plus some quick googling turning up more results - higher up -for the comic books than the novels ...


Also, zombies and terrifying-looking buff guys cosplaying "Call of Duty" soldiers with guns so realistic that if they were seen in a British or US convention a Police SWAT team would be summoned.

And then you said: anime warrior schoolgirls with a decal-encrusted and pink-painted BRDM and a towed 75mm field artillery piece.

That might have been the Police SWAT team.

Half-seriously, in the debate about militarising policing, anime warrior schoolgirls and pink BRDMs might be an answer to the problems. It's like putting the Girl Scouts in charge of nuclear weapons: they seem to have an automatic SAN +1 when challenged by politicians.


I doubt my writing is good enough, but I think some things might hit that target. But I didn't see any sign of furries in the video, so maybe Andromeda Todd wouldn't work in that market.


Google for "thrustmaster warthog", which seems on par with the Thrustmaster games hardware of the 1990s, and which can set you back over GBP 300 for a throttle and joystick.

The Oculus Kickstarter got you a full development kit if you put up $300: the headset, the SDK, and development support.

If you got in at that level, I think you paid a fair price for the headset. Though Oculus got so much more business out of the Kickstarter that the hardware may have cost them less than they planned.

If all you got was a t-shirt and poster, maybe you have a reason to feel aggrieved at not getting a payoff now, but you got what you paid for.


"Imagine having your glass -- and thereby your entire lifelog -- pwned by looking at the wrong person's face ..."

Or, include an ap to analyze facial expressions (emotions) and/or read body temperature changes and you have an instant lie detector. Lots of scenarios where that would be useful.


It's a stress-detector rather than a lie detector.


... a many-states-of-being/mind detector.


Imagine having your glass -- and thereby your entire lifelog -- pwned by looking at the wrong person's face ...

Of course, the government can now create a lifelog for you, you just have to make a FOIA request to get access to it. Good luck with that.

As for face recreations based on DNA, I'd wondered if that was possible, but had thought it was unlikely. The example is decent, though the actual face obviously shows the effects of life --which are one reason why I wasn't sure it would work. Perhaps good enough for suspect sketches? I assume it will be improved...and that leads to all sorts of story ideas.


Saw this earlier, kinda related: How to tell if someone is really in pain or just faking it.

The title is a bit misleading, it's about computers being able to analyze facial expressions better than people.


Interesting - thanks! Yes ... to me, that machines are better able to discriminate suggests a relationship between the viewer/judge's 'personality' and their ability to lie-detect.


recreations based on DNA

I've met a couple of pairs of identical twins who were practically indistinguishable as children, but by the time they were in their 30s there was just a general family resemblance.

Of course, now that we know that sections of DNA flip on or off due to external stressors, that's only reasonable...


"Girls und Panzer", a manga that made it into an anime series, about a girl's school with after-school clubs that taught flower arranging, traditional dance, tea ceremony and armoured warfare. Most of the tanks involved wore regular camo, but not all of them...


Just to add a few disruptors, I can't imagine that google glasses will have any difficulty reading cards and remembering them, thus giving any oik the ability to win at blackjack in casinos. Plainly casinos won't let them in while they can recognise them, but I can't think that'll be long. and it shouldn't be too hard to break roulette by working out the speed of the ball and the speed of the wheel; Claude Shannon, the information theorist, worked on that for a while - see The First Wearable Computer ( -- and did quite well even with the technology of the time. The only gambling operations that can really survive google glasses are the purely random ones, like poker machines.


Two intertwined questions, Charlie- If you had to pick a score for your books, music for readers to listen to while they're reading (or, in the more traditional sense, a movie score), what would it be? Would the entire Merchant Princes be roughly the same artist/style? Would the Laundry Files have as diverse scores as they have storyline inspirations? And the related/unrelated question- how would that music differ from what you would choose to listen to during the creative part of writing the books?


Ok, I can see wearables working for card-counting (so in blackjack and chemin de fer) but roulette? Fair enough, a given croupier will probably spin the wheel and throw the ball at reasonably predictable speed ranges and delays between wheel release and ball throw, but you have to place your bet(s) before the wheel is spun. I don't think you're actually doing much more than speeding up the computational parts of a "hot and cold numbers" "system".


Nope, Horizon did a program way back. IIRC, the wearable involved hitting a switch twice as an identified handle of the roulette wheel passed the point at which the ball would be released; and then another hit when the ball was released. This was accurate enough to predict the eighth of the wheel where the ball would land; bet fast, cover those numbers, and 36/4ish beats the 36/37 odds (36/38 in the USA).

Apparently, the battery pack was worn around the trunk; and an operator ended up with a second-degree burn when it was compromised by their sweat. On being asked why they hadn't walked away to fix it, she pointed out how much money she was winning at the time...


It takes a lot longer to write a book than to read it -- going fast, it comes out at 1000 words/hour, but I can only sustain that for 2-6 hours a day, and sometimes writing is as slow as 200 words/hour (meaning an 8 hour day only gets me 1600 words, and a novel takes about 3-4 months of full-time labour to draft -- before we add in structural editing/copy edit/proofreading time on top).

Also music for writing to needs to be non-intrusive or it distracts me from the process.

Having said that, I like to bolt together playlists that reflect the "head-feel" of a story.

Here's a short playlist for Rule 34 (track/artist/album) -- everything's available from the iTunes store:

Shooting from the Hip - Chicks on Speed "99 Cents" Mackie Messer - The Young Gods "Play Kurt Weil" Lovegod - The Soup Dragons "Lovegod" Lightning Man - Nitzer Ebb "Showtime" The Land of Rape and Honey - Ministry "The Land of Rape and Honey" Going South - The Wolfgang Press "Everything is Beautiful" Ich Bin Ein Auslander - PWEI - "PWEI: Product 1986-94" Stalker - The Pillows - "FLCL" Kansas (Flood Mix) - The Wolfgang Press "Everything is Beautiful" Euro Trash Girl - Chicks on Speed "Will Save Us All" Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen - Rammstein "Herzeleid" "Psychoburbia" - Dance or Die "Psychoburbia"


There were furries there. Quite a lot of them, in fact. :-) (You name the fandom and it probably was there)


Lots of scenarios where that would be useful. Useful enough to compensate for the adverse scenario:

If it works: People, who routinely lie as part of their day job, will use this device to bone up their lying skills.

If it doesn't: People, who believe in magick solutions and people who sell the garbage, will happily use a flawed device / technology whatever the consequences.

We already suffer guff like "personality profiling", polygraph tests, even a "magick wand" bomb detector ( blessed by The Authorities and widely used on real people and only one of these was got rid off! After several years - actually - not quite Police earlier said the ADE-651 devices, modelled on a novelty golf ball finder, are still in use at some checkpoints.!!


Stross @ 25: "music for writing to needs to be non-intrusive" Philip Pullman was quoted in the Times today about this sort of thing: '“I can put up with any other noise — traffic, pneumatic drills, as many as you like — but music is a killer,” he told the Oxford Literary Festival. “People who say they can listen to music while writing are either not listening, writing badly or lying.”'

Probably "not listening"... I like having music on while writing but it does have to be non-intrusive, so not a lot of singing-based stuff and I am indeed not actually listening to it, but it is providing a moderately tuneful white noise. Rather late to the party I recently discovered post-rock, people like 65daysofstatic, Mogwai, Sleepmakeswaves, Wecollectskies. I know next to nothing about the bands and some of it can be quite noisy, but it, along with the likes of Philip Glass, I find works pretty well and it blocks out other random noises.


@Lior.K: "music for readers to listen to"

Very occasionally a book and some music gets irrevocably linked in my mind, the main example for me being The Lord of the Rings and The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed, an orchestro-rock album about the progress of a working day (ending in "Nights in White Satin"). They have little in common except that when I first read LOTR in 1973 I was listening to that album pretty much on repeat, I suppose (well, turning the tape over on my Sony TC 66 Cassette-Corder), so whenever I hear the music I think of LOTR.

The same connection doesn't occur when I happen to hear Bo Hanssen's Music Inspired by The Lord of the Rings.


I repeat my objection that bets have to be placed before the wheel is spun.


Sitting hhere I have a radio playing (BBC Radio 2 if it matters to anyone). I sometimes do technical authoring. I can work most of the time, but not when it's a song I really like.


My background music for writing is stuff like Cocteau Twins, Nouvelle Vague, or the less bouncy bits of Jean Michelle Jarre -- instrumental (or with incomprehensible melodic vocals). Not that I listen to while working out or walking at all! Or while reading.


We'll end up with an arms race between the people writing lie detector apps and the people using them to train their lying.

Joy. Possibly there'll be a third group in the arms race: People writing apps to catalogue people known to be liars, although my sneaking suspicion is that if you catalogue salespeople, marketers, and politicians, you'll get a decent dataset to start off with.


Stil cannot listen to Thompson Twins Into The Gap without thinking to one of the Ludlum books from way back then...

...anyhoo, Nouvelle Vague; will try some more; had never heard of them (but then there is so much music on this globe); so plugged into YT, and got this:

...which got me thinking to this:-

(probably just the outside element)


Pullman is entitled to his opinion, but that is what it is. When I'm writing I often have my ipod playing, I think that I know most of the songs on it well enough that they filter through. Though if a particular favorite comes up, I'll give it a listen. There's nothing wrong with a three minute break. I think one thing is that I was supposedly a 'hyperactive' kid, and came up with a tactic of having music or the TV on in the background while I was doing something that required concentration so that I had to force myself to ignore it. Being in silence lets my mind wander. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I have to admit I'm not a fast writer, to begin with, averaging 300 words an hour. And I write in a variety of places, Lately I've gotten a lot done while sitting in waiting rooms when driving my mother to appointments. This second novel is going much quicker than the first*, partly because it doesn't need as much research.

*Third draft of which is done, and I need to get off my ass and get query letters out. Any advice?


I Look forward to a «lizard people» detector. AND A SUSPICTIONS CONFIRMED notifier.


In reply to Charlie on Twitter: My retinal patterns are pretty much unique. “What is this I don’t even …” to paraphrase the geek of opthalmology …

and related to what I said above about waiting rooms. My mother's opthalmologist's official pronouncement was that she has Funky Eyes. Retinitis Pigmentosa, Macular Degeneration in one eye, torn retina in the same eye (lasered), had cataract surgery in both. Basically 20º of vision, night blind, and bad depth perception, and the reason I have to drive her around.


I suspect that the casinos would prefer not to reduce the throughput on their roulette wheels by doing that.

Cameras and staff who know what to look for are probably good enough to deal with most people trying it on with wearables.

Regards Luke


Actauly child soldiers are not known for their humanity as the poor sods that got kidnapped by the Lords Resistance Army.

I suspect that as some one else has said this is Girls und Panzer one of the less bonkers Manga

Take a look at Apocalypse Meow aka Catshit One - Basically Cute Bunnies as SF operators in Vietnam and Afghanistan - with racial stereotyping that would make Jeremy Clarkson pause.


Actually I think this is machine politics playing out - all the pics I have seen of the protesters are young hipster white kids with African Americans, Latinos and Women not to be seen - all those sort got gentrified out in the last round by the whites.

I suspect some ones nice political machine is being disrupted by the influx of techie workers who dont line up and vote the way the block captain wants.

Personally I woudl have done a deal for the Teamsters to organise the shuttle drivers - their response to some one chucking a brick through a bus window would be "robust" :-)

I also have my suspicions that there may be a hidden race element going on here. I bet the shuttle riders have a fair number of Indians. Based on what on what I have seen in the UK - tech mahindra guys working at MH and Capita in Bedford


Pullman often seems to present things as "I like this, therefore everyone who says they don't is lying". I know people always extrapolate from themselves to the entire human race, but I'm sure he's worse than most.

Speaking personally, I always write with music on; it cuts out the background noise that otherwise interferes. I tend to have just a couple of albums on repeat for any given project, because I do find that I come to associate the music with a particular set of ideas that way; makes it easier to get back into the right head-space.


It's the thought of big tough cops having to dress as anime schoolgirls while on duty, instead of as big tough soldiers...

It would backfire badly, I suppose.

Clarkson is certainly difficult, but the latest fuss seems to be an actress from India, living in London, interpreting what he said as though it were American English.

Is there a word in the English language which hasn't been used as a racist or sexist insult?


I find the best thing about music when writing is it cuts out the background noise that disturbs me. Not just when writing - I can read while listening to music, but the TV being on keeps breaking my concentration.

On twitglasses - sorry, googleglasses. Maybe someone can answer this question. Anything I create is automatically copyright, such as writing. My face is something uniquely created by my style of facial and head hair, makeup (if any), lifestyle. So, therefore, surely my face is automatically copyright. So every time someone records me on their glasses, I can sue them for breach of copyright...

Its a nice idea, anyway...


So every time someone records me on their glasses, I can sue them for breach of copyright...

Probably depends on what's being done with your image. If it features prominently in an ad, I would think so. But if your just a figure in the background, not likely. This reminds me of a couple cases, a few years ago, where people found their pictures from Facebook being used without their knowledge or permission. But of course, IANAL.


Yes. Personally I can only write to music with vocals if I already know the song; if I don't then I'm listening to the words which distract me from working. People talking in front of me or the radio will also pull me out of any work mode.

Interestingly I can't write poetry with music playing in the background. I lose track of the metre, have to stop and count beats and then all the words are terrible.


As I recall, pictures on Facebook are in rather different territory.

One very big point is that we have to go by local law; UK law not US law, and that can make a huge difference. And some of the stock photo agencies want model release forms that comply with their local law, which can open a can of worms.

A good guide to UK law can be found here. The key point for anyone going to loncon3 is that you will have to follow the rules the organisers set.

There'd be a lot of places where you would need permission to record images with Google Glass, and since there's apparently no sign that you're going past augmented reality into taking pictures, its use could be killed off by a simple "No Photography" sign.


Personally, I think music and work performance have a quite complex interaction; first of, there is the phenomenon of certain kinds of music priming for certain moods, which might be important for specific tasks.

Second of, there is a complex interaction of work performance and arousal, as exemplified by the Yerkes-Dodson law,–Dodson_law

so it might be that the same music is necessary to get me on a certain arousal level under some circumstances, in others it's not necessary or might be even detrimental by pushing me too far. It might also be that I need a certain kind of music to get me on a certain level, but once I got there, I have to shut it off. And them there's the arousal arising from the work in question to account for, so I guess it's somewhat difficult to generalize.


People lie for different reasons/circumstances and consequences. The polite lie ... 'it's delicious' is relatively harmless.

A Googleglass 'lie-detector' app could have a small good/positive impact on society in that only poor liars would get caught. This is still good because poor liars might be kids/people who ought to get caught sooner rather than later so that they don't mess up their lives. Sociopaths would not get caught using this type of app ... which means that if you were able to obtain good/concrete evidence of a lie, plus of this person's ability to lie through their teeth ... then you should seriously consider severing your relationship with that person.

OTOH, to make this more relevant such an app would have to be able to analyze text for lies because increasingly more 'conversation' is being conducted online. Could be really challenging.

which means that if you were able to obtain good/concrete evidence of a lie, plus of this person's ability to lie through their teeth ... then you should seriously consider severing your relationship with that person.

Not necessarily. Having a frien^w, err, associate fluent in the DARK ARTS(tm) can be priceless, and if you know this person is not as much subject to family matters and like, he is quite easy to steer.

Not that you'd give him full authority about your estate, of course...


In other words, never underestimate the utility of a lawyer... ;)


Problem is, the genetics of facial features are likely somewhat complicated, with some allels having quite prominent results (the Habsburg[1] lip comes to mind),


where it might not just be due to the prominent inbreeding

while other genes more or less are working only in concert. So it migt work quite well with some variants, with others, not that much. Eye color might be a good start, though even here, it would work better with some than with others. As for geographical variation in genetic markers, that might not work that great in quite some cases either, in the Spanish example, being from North African would also include the Berbers, where "blond berbers" as a search term might give you some of the usual "classify ethnic origins" sites, but also this:;f=8;t=005619

So it might work in some cases, in others not so much; in the cases it works, it might mean some additional information, e.g. as with the Habsburgs, stemming from a somewhat isolated population, which might mean several other cans of worms.

On a related note, all hail the return of Cesare Lombroso,

err, there are already a lot of papers talking about testosterone's influences on bone structure, e.g. in fingers and face, but sharing quite often a bus[2] with some special needs pupils, I think there are some facial features that, err cluster somewhat, which might be the case both with hereditary syndromes like VCF syndrome

and environmental influences like the philtrum in fetal alcohol embryopathy

Which might be problematic (or a godsend if you're a diagnostician) in itself, but given monogenetic influences on facial features are likely to be involved in morphogenesis somewhere else, err, it might be of interst in the general population, too, from "Sorry, you just got classed up in car insurance, your nose indicates you're likely to be bad at accomodation under certain circumstances" to "Well, you chin says you're two times as likely to suffer a heart attack." As already said, might not necessarily all bad, e.g. if we get better signs of certain health risks, still not that unproblematic.

And some think showing noticable mannerisms indicative of autism spectrum disorders is bad...

[1] Err, could anybody explain to me why quite some English sources use "Hapsburg", when the German ones I read usually use "Habsburg"? [2] Actually, I quite appreciate Mr. Parkinson never personally examined one of the cases he based his description of the aptly named disease on, he just watched them at the market. I guess Mr. de la Tourette was a different matter, though.


It's the thought of big tough cops having to dress as anime schoolgirls while on duty, instead of as big tough soldiers...

You've never seen pictures of the Royal Marines on a "run ashore", then. Given that they are typically "confident in their manliness", they're perfectly willing to go out on the town in a dress. For fun.

...granted, they tend to do it as a Troop, and they're never going to be mistaken for anything other than blokes in drag, but even so...


And #44 next diwn - UK law applies.

If I do a formal photo session with $person, then I must have a signed model release in order to use their image commercially, other than in "on-site" publicity for my studio.

If I shoot a "candid photo" of them in a public place, then I own full copyright in that photo. The guy who appeared on the cover of one of Norman Cook's (aka Fat Boy Slim) albums tried to sue for royalties, only to discover that he didn't own the copyright because the photo was a candid.

As to "no photography" signs, these are themselves only legal in "private places" (shopping centres that are closed to the public outside shopping hours are provate, but ones where a right of way exists are public. Railway and bus stations are actually public places...)



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 27, 2014 11:18 AM.

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