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The Curse of Laundry

There's some kind of bizarre curse hanging over my Laundry Files series. Or maybe it's a deeper underlying problem with writing fiction set in the very near future (or past): I'm not sure which. All I'm sure is that that for the past decade, reality has been out to get me: and I'm fed up.

My first intimation came a long time ago—in 2001. I'd just finished writing "The Atrocity Archive" and it was being edited for serial publication in issues 7-9 of the Scottish SF magazine Spectrum SF (which folded a couple of issues later, in 2003). It was late September, and I found myself reading a terse email from the editor, Paul Fraser: "Charlie, about your story—do you think you can possibly find some new bad guys for Chapter 4? Because you've just been overtaken by current events ..."

In Chapter 4 of "The Atrocity Archive" Bob learns from Angleton who the middle eastern bad guys who kidnapped Mo, intending to use her sacrifice to open a gateway to somewhere bad, really were ... and when I originally wrote the story, in 1999-2000, they were a relatively obscure bunch of anti-American zealots who'd blown up the USS Stark and an embassy in Africa. I know this may boggle the imagination of younger or more forgetful readers, but Al Quaida and Osama bin Laden had not at that time hijacked any airliners, much less etched themselves into the pages of world history: they were not, at that time, the Emmanuel Goldstein of the New World Order.

So, on the 12th of September, 2001, the score stood at Reality 1, Fiction 0. And I hastily did an edit job, replacing ObL and AQ with Yusuf Qaradawi as inspiration behind a hypothetical radical group based in groan Iraq (hey, this was before the invasion, all right?). And lo, part one of "The Atrocity Archive" was published in November 2001, and parts 2 and 3 in March and June of 2002.

I don't recall being bitten by any such copy edits to reality in the process of writing "The Concrete Jungle", which together with "The Atrocity Archive" forms the first book, "The Atrocity Archives". Nor did anything particularly batshit derail me late in the process of writing "The Jennifer Morgue". But the Laundry Curse came back to haunt me again when I got to "The Fuller Memorandum", and it's been moaning and rattling its chains at ever increasing volume with every subsequent book.

I wrote "The Fuller Memorandum" in a cold-sweat panic in 2008. (It didn't come out until 2010 because I emitted it out of sequence in a frenzy of 24 consecutive 12 hour working days.) You may recall that the impact of the financial crisis of 2007/08 took a while to trickle down to affect all levels of the economy, precipitating a full-on economic recession in 2008/09.

For reasons of plot, I wanted to move Bob's office from the Laundry's HQ building at Dansey House—hypothetically, somewhere between Leicester Square and Charing Cross: the legacy of wartime spillover from Westminster—to a New Annexe located above a department store somewhere unspecified in South London. An ongoing background story arc that surfaces in book 7 concerns the abortive attempts to redevelop Dansey House, and their catastrophic consequences. While I was writing in the autumn of 2008, it seemed perfectly reasonable for the New Annex to be a dismal 1970s brutalist slab squatting on top of a branch of Woolworths, a downmarket department store chain that had been around for almost a century—at least until the chain's collapse on November 26th, 2008 left me grinding my teeth in frustration.

Take two: I briefly considered Marks and Spencer (too high profile, and anyway, these days they've all gone multi-storey), John Lewis (far too up-market), and British Home Stores (too likely to make non-UK readers go "whut?"). But the risk of any retail chain going bust before the book saw print seemed too great: so in the end I copped out and placed the New Annex atop a branch of C&A—who do not currently operate in the UK (although they have within living memory, and still trade elsewhere in the EU).

At least that zinger got sorted out before the novel went anywhere near a publisher. Right?

The next book I wrote was "Rule 34". I think I've already explained about how the first plan for "Rule 34" (titled "419") didn't survive contact with the global financial meltdown enemy, so let's tip-toe past it. This brings me to the next Laundry Files novel, "The Apocalypse Codex"

Early in "The Apocalypse Codex", which I wrote from April 2010 to March 2011, Bob gets sent on a training course at the National School of Government at Sunningdale Park, the civil service training campus. However, in March 2012 the NSG was closed down for good—some of its tasks were taken on by Civil Service Learning, part of the Home Office, but it was a thing of the past four months before the book finally saw print. I'm a bit burned about that: I spent quite a few days finding out all the publicly accessible information I could about the NSG and talking to a few folks who'd passed through its doors, only for HMG to pull the plug after the book had been typeset (at which point changes are virtually impossible to make without pulping a whole shitpile of printed book blocks—which publishers are loath to do because it costs lots of money).

For a while I thought "The Rhesus Chart" might actually have dodged the curse. It looked pretty bulletproof when I put together the first draft between September and December of 2012, and it didn't have a long lead-time to publication: but the curse struck yet again, this time in the way that the NHS Central Data Warehouse was set up and accessed via users of NHS Connecting for Health. I am told I nailed the description of Bob's project closely enough that an actual medical statistician working with that hairball of hideous Excel-generating big data didn't stumble over the reading—and it's murderously hard to get the minutiae of someone else's job right when you're writing a work of fiction. So I was still patting myself on the back when I learned that the NHS Spine Secondary Uses Service had been completely reorganized between me handing in the final manuscript (in June 2013) and the book being published (in July 2014). As wikipedia explains, "NHS Connecting for Health ceased to exist on 31 March 2013 ..." And to put the final nail in the coffin, The Spine was migrated to a new Open Source system in August 2014.

Which brings me screeching up to the event horizon of the present.

I cannot discuss the contents of "The Annihilation Score", Laundry Files book 6, without some risk of spoilers. This book is so fresh it hasn't been copy-edited yet; it's due out in the first week of July 2015. But I am going to have to modify it to explicitly set it in 2014 or 2013 (coincidentally setting the Laundry Files chronology in stone, something I've been reluctant to do before), because ...

I don't think it's a spoiler if I mention that a big plot point in "The Annihilation Score", is goings-on involving an organization called ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers. (The specifics of which are quite intricate, and totally central to the novel.) Indeed, I don't think it'd be a spoiler to say that ACPO is as central to the plot of the new novel as the Black Chamber was to "The Apocalypse Codex". But I fucked up, because I didn't make ACPO up: they're a real thing. Or they were.

I handed the manuscript of "The Annihilation Score" to my agent and editors around September 28th, 2014. That's last month. On October 17th, 2014, it was announced that ACPO is being scrapped and replaced by a new body, the National Police Chiefs' Council, which will be hosted by the Met and have a somewhat different role and responsibilities.

(You may now pause to imagine yr hmbl crspndnt. leaning on his desk, weeping and clutching his forehead.)

I'm officially done with this shit. The Laundry Files explicitly exists in an alternate history to our own, okay? Word Of God speaking here. "The Rhesus Chart" is set in mid-2013, and "The Annihilation Score" in summer/autumn of 2013. I'm going to kick "The Nightmare Stacks" (or whatever book 7 is titled) down the road into a 2014 which will be well in our past and nailed down by the time the book is handed in, in autumn of 2015. Because I am sick and tired of reality refusing to conform to the requirements of my meticulously-researched near-future or proximate-present fictions. It's gotten to the point where if I write a book that is dead on target when it's handed in, at just the most inconvenient moment before publication reality will snicker and pull out its blue pencil. And I am too old for this shit. Do you hear me, reality? Do you hear me?

(Author screams quietly, then gets up and slowly backs away from the keyboard before turning and shuffling dispiritedly in the direction of the kitchen, and another mug of tea.)

293 Comments

1:

So please can you write UKIP into a significant role in the next Laundry novel?

2:

I'll see what I can do.

3:

For what it's worth, most of the more recent continuity bugs totally don't ping the radar of foreigners. We've heard of Woolworth in Germany, but that's about it, it could be defunct for years or still going strong; ACPO... Yeah. Well. Sure!

I understand it's bugging when you're trying to be correct, but the impact is very variable.

4:

At least you started writing about ACPO instead of the NHS.

Are you going to auction off places in your stories to organizations that best displease us?

5:

Towo: Woolworth definitely exists in Germany, unlike here.

6:

You know, once is happenstance, twice is enemy action. The real Laundry ist after you, destroying your credibility.

7:

I like the idea of UKIP in a book somewhere. Also Golden Dawn, please?

As far as reality refusing to conform -- I mean, you have to make some allowances to reality anyway if you're going to write fiction, and these are little things that were correct when you wrote the books. I suspect most of them won't even register on your readers as much as they do on you.

(For what it's worth, I work in Canary Wharf and live fairly nearby, so I was mentally walking around during the Rhesus Chart.)

8:

now that the Scots independence singularity is passed, are you planning on writing any of the political aftermath?

(bah for having to re-register and looking like a 3-minutes-late parrot)

(Woolies is alive and well as a supermarket chain in AU, currently milking the Jamie Oliver brand for all it's worth and screwing farmers with their monopsony power. You killed the wrong Woolworths!)

9:

As a reader, I've never particularly had issue with fiction and reality being in or out of tune. I can understand the frustration of trying like heck to keep an entire world, plot and characters consistent, but I don't particularly _expect_ it to be.

What I _expect_ is to be entertained and, thus far, have been thoroughly sated in that respect. With that in mind: I appreciate every nit-pick, frustrated scream and dejected mug of tea. I don't pretend to understand the dark magic that brings us all the words from the Anointed Brains of Stross, but if such battle with personal consistency demons is required, I give thanks that another book or so has been delivered before the eventual onset of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

10:

The Laundry Files explicitly exists in an alternate history to our own, okay?

Well, I always assumed so. Of course, I consider all fiction as alternate reality.


Feòrag @1: To apply the curse so that party will die painfully?

11:

Personally I don't care if a fiction is coherent to the latest events.
If a story is a good story, let the latest events of the reality be damned!

12:

I've always thought Bob's universe was an alternate to our own in some fashion, but this "chasing" of our world's events in parallel to your writing is amusing to us readers (even as it tears out your hair)

13:

Chasing the real world ends at the climax of book 6, where [REDACTED] causes global news headlines. The events of book 7 only up the ante, until by book 8 I can open with Bob being interviewed on Newsnight (in 2014) by Jeremy Paxman (who is still anchoring the show).

14:

Oh, and the curse didn't take for New Life Church. They're still around, though have been quiet lately. Maybe because they were more collateral damage in "The Apocalypse Codex"?

15:

or maybe you'r not cursed, but you are a seer...
what about setting case nightmare green in buckingham palace?

16:

Please. "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." --A. Goldfinger to J. Bond, as chronicled by I. Fleming. Claimed by some to be known in intelligence circles as "Goldfinger's Law" or "Goldfinger's Rule".

Having made the picky correction, it is clear that OGH has been hit AT LEAST three times, suggesting that the real-life Laundry *IS* after him...

17:

The best, indeed only solution to what you are doing is to explicitly site the books in a different, parallel universe, or your lack of ability to foresee absolutely everything will carry on biting you on the bum.

As an example of this, look at the prognostications of sci-fi authors and so-called futurologists writing before about 1980. With the one notable exception of Arthur C. Clarke, none of them predicted mobile telephones. Furthermore, not a single man jack of 'em predicted smartphones, not even writing less than a couple of years before the devices were themselves developed.

This tells you two or three things. Firstly, if you have a job as a futurologist milk it as hard and as well as you possibly can, because as soon as any company beancounter realises the above you're going to get sacked for being useless.

Secondly, amateur futurologists AKA sci-fi authors are equally bad at predicting the future.

Thirdly, it is impossible to predict even that which, with hindsight, is completely bleedin' obvious. With hindsight the NHS Plan for IT was doomed before birth, cursed by the dead hand of Tony Blair to a fell and untimely death at the hands of the mob (etc, etc until OGH boots me off for over-dramatisation).

It didn't look like that at the time, though. At the time I reckoned that whilst the plan was somewhat ambitious in scope, the people doing it were professionals and would certainly be following one of the better management frameworks available for planning, developing and implementing large IT works. At the risk of sounding a pedant, such frameworks are essential for running big projects, and a good project manager is worth her weight in gold.

I for one had no idea that the project wasn't being run properly. It looked a dead cert that the NHS would develop a huge data backbone, which could not only assist in patient treatment but could also provide vitally important demographic data for the use of appropriately qualified medical researchers. Instead, it was a boondoggle of a mess which some participants even paid to get out of.

You just can't predict the minutae of a society. It is impossible. Best plan is what OGH is doing, which is to explicitly fork the plot off from this universe.

18:

Take for instance the stories of James Bond films in the Connery, Moore and Brosnan era.
Many places are more or less real (Rio, Venice, London, Instanbul), other are "somewhat real" (Greek islands, Alps) other are not real at all (Dr. No's island, many vilian's place, the space station...). No one cared about the fact that the space station of Moonraker has nothing to do with the reality.

My humble advice: don't let the news limit your creativity.

19:

The Laundry Files explicitly exists in an alternate history to our own, okay?

In which case, can I put in a plea to have Paris Hilton killed again, and this time in a plane crash with the Kardashians, yes all of them?

20:

OTOH other villains' places are entirely real - Piz Gloria (OHMSS), St Cyril's monistory, the islands in The Man With the Golden Gun (well, apart from the Solax stuff), I think the fertiliser plant parts of Dr No's island were a real place...

21:

ACPO is being scrapped

Ack, the one long weekend I'm so busy that I don't read any news and they finally decide to get rid of that totally opaque, FOI busting, democracy avoiding con on the general public that is ACPO! Maybe I should stop reading news for a month and let OGH break the news to me a few weeks later that we now live in an Ian (M) Banks style techno-utopia.

Well, I can dream, can't I?

22:

As for what store was beneath the New Annex, it wouldn't be at all odd for a Woolworths to remain there after all the others have left the country. The reality warping effects of having the Laundry upstairs could keep things the same no matter what market forces are acting.

23:

It's the Observer Effect at work.
You looked at it too hard, so...*poof!*...the superposition has to pick a state and stick with it.
:D

24:

Put a disclaimer in the front: The author refuses to accept responsibility for the reader's inability to distinguish between this work of fiction and their inner reality. If they suffer cognitive dissonance because ACPO no longer exists in the real world but exists in my fictional world it's not my problem.

25:

As cicely noted this is clearly related to the quantum observer effect; we can think of it as the auctoral version of SCORPION STARE. (Please use this power wisely... or at least make the capriciousness amusing, hmm?)

-- Steve

26:

> With the one notable exception of Arthur C.
> Clarke, none of them predicted mobile
> telephones. Furthermore, not a single man
> jack of 'em predicted smartphones

That's because mobile telephones were real, as early as the mid-1960s. Not small or cheap, but you could lease one. Car phones go back to the 1940s.

"Pocket phones" were fairly rare in SF, but Eric Frank Russell and Mack Reynolds had them as story background in the 1950s.

L. Neil Smith's "Telecom" in "The Probability Broach" was a smartphone and tablet computer, back in 1979. It connected to something very like the World Wide Web. I'm still waiting for the holographic projector mode the Telecom got in later books, though...

27:

General warning
UKIP are stealing real, actual "Old Labour" votes & with good "reason" - & not just pinkies like me & Charlie, either, quite a few Brits who are various shades of brown are royally pissed-off with the corrupt EU bureaucracy too .....
However ..
Good riddance to ACPO, they were the sort of "trade union" that would have been correctly vilified by the Daily Nazi, except of course, they were & are all Brit police officers & therefore pure in mind & soul & above reproach, perish the thought that they would do anything wrong ... ( Etc - you'll have to imagine the rest - I can't write this rubbish for any longer )
See also Arthur Chance @ #21.

28:

Perhaps there is "another" verse to UKIP calypso that Mike Read doesn't sing in public..

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

I can almost hear that fitting with that tune

29:

You could always replace the Woolies with a QD Stores. Or are they a Midlands-only phenomenon?

30:

I've seen that claim that ukip are taking old labour voters, and yet not seen much evidence for it. Rather they are taking tory voters, disaffected daily mail readers and others of their ilk. Sure, there has always been an imperialist wing to old labour, who spent a lot of time in office trying to re-assure people they thought the empire was a great thing, but nobody has provided any evidence that old labour voters like ukip. And remember a lot of working class people have voted Tory, how do you think Thatcher got in?

Or, that there are former new labour voters voting ukip just goes to show how incoherent their political views are and that new labour is a lot more right wing than they would like us to think it is.

Arthur Chance #21- actually ACPO (or ACPOOO as the police blogs used to call it) finally became subject to FOI this year or later last year, I forget when. Given the Tories privatisation agenda, I was actually expecting ACPO to become part of a private organisation which issued police training certificates and would be contracted to run police training, i.e. you couldn't be a policeman without such a certificate, thus helping pave the way for total privatisation of the police service.
Certainly ACPO was basically an anti-democratic trade union for the top police officers, which made money on the side by selling the "Approved by ACPO" branding for security items, and it would be useful to know who will take that over.

31:

The Woolworths business was a bit of a shock, and quite a few branches ended up with similar businesses in them. There are certainly regional chains that expanded to fill a gap. Boyes started in Scarborough, and doesn't want to expand too far. In Scunthorpe, Woolworths was a single floor, and then moved. That store became "Bargain Madness"—it's a pity it's a real name. I think something else preceded Woolworths in their final location, but I am not sure what. Now it's British Home Stores.

It's hindsight, but "a boarded-up ex-Woolworths shop" would have been plausible.

One of the rather frustrating things is the number of "business directory" sites that still list long-gone businesses, and only seem to exist to provide cheap advertising space on the internet. But perhaps you could track some brand that is not what it seems using such residues, The long-lasting names seem to be estate agents anyway. And the current name might have little connection to the current owners. A "Stross & Co" might be 100% Whateleys now.

32:

And we haven't even got to the 70s security services starting rumours of satanism within the IRA to try and counter their support. I can imagine the fallout from that involving someone from MI5 being called in for a Talk from Angleton.

33:

Guys, guys! Did you miss the reference in the first book to Al-Qaeda, and how they went from being an obscure terror group to the Big Bads of Global Terror during the book publishing period?

Maybe you should re-think this 'let's put UKIP into the next book' thing...

34:

UKIP is a protest party that has drawn heavily from older working class voters. While it is true that almost 2/3 of it's supporters who have switched from other parties are former Tory voters and almost a third Labour, it is interesting to note that almost half of it's supporters have been drawn from Don't Vote. People who don't think their vote mattered to the mainstream parties. Whether it will amount to anything is another matter, we've been here before with the SDP in the early eighties.

I suspect it's power will wane once real wages start to rise again.

35:

There's a bit of evidence if you listen to vox pops. Generally older voters who say they have voted Labour all their life are saying they're going to switch to UKIP.

There's little to no evidence in terms of votes at the polls - all the excitement about nearly losing in Heywood and Middleton, the Labour vote actually rose very slightly (albeit from a terribly low level), the Green vote rose appreciably, and of course UKIP's vote went through the roof. The Tories and the LibDems lost ground like nobody's business.

What we don't know - turn out was also way down - is exactly what will happen at a general election. Typically you expect the older voters to turn out regardless, so that election would suggest that the older Labour vote is still pretty solid in that particular Labour heartland.

While there are undoubtedly some disaffected older Labour voters moving to UKIP, it's not in big enough numbers to really register at the election level.

And while we're on this cephological strange attractor, the Greens are higher than the Lib Dems in the overall opinion polls for the first time ever today. Fun times.

36:

I suspect it's power will wane once real wages start to rise again.

Ahem: I suspect it's power will wane IF real wages are allowed to rise again.

(The current ruling neoliberal austeritarian elite view rising wages as sinful, because they invite inflation, which is bad for the rentier class who the conservatives represent. Austerity may rely on economic illiteracy but it's a great excuse for keeping the boot firmly on the neck of what passes for the working class. The UKIP protest vote is thus a misdirected rebellion against the choke-hold of the rentiers -- misdirected because it's pretty clear that UKIP are, at the top, themselves indistinguishable from the more riotously outspoken Tory back-benches.)

37:

Um yeah, that Al Qaeda thing suggests that the curse causes negative outcomes, no matter how it works. So maybe not UKIP? I'd also suggest that it's worth leaving US politics and Chinese economics out of the Laundry entirely, just to avoid the collateral damage.

One way to mitigate the curse ever so slightly might be to talk to people in the organizations you research, mention the curse, and ask your informant if there are any plans to wind the organization down in the next ten years. Not that you'll reveal the plans or particularly care about the details, you just don't want to get burned a fifth time. They might be sympathetic.

38:

Didn't finish my thought, but personally, I hope that the ACPO being scrapped is the worst problem with The Annihilation Score.

After all, I'm not sure you want to get the email from your editor saying, "Charlie, could you change the antagonists to dwarves and set the story in Scandinavia? Because you've just been overtaken by current events ..."

39:

Umm, seems to me that AQ isn't much of a threat today (if it ever really was much of one). And if you extend the 'curse' to UKIP, doesn't that suggest it'll end with Nigel Farage being hunted down by SEAL Team 6?

BTW, how is that pronounced; to rhyme with garbage or garage (UK pronunciation)?

40:

Well, everyone has their different takes on the thing. Given what the US did in the name of ridding the planet of AQ (which hasn't happened, incidentally), and given that it's cost something over a trillion dollars so far, I'm just not enthused about UKIP getting treated like AQ. There might be cheaper ways to get the UK to fission into its component states, and I'm pretty sure there are less bloody ones...

But that's derailing the thread.

Personally, I think Charlie could make a modest fortune by releasing his raw manuscripts to (what to call them?) discerning investors who want to know what's going to be floating under the bridge in the near future, and use that to plan their investments accordingly.

41:

Umm, seems to me that AQ isn't much of a threat today

AQ is a franchise operation; folks operating under their banner fork, change names and members, and pop up in different places. Lest we forget, Da'esh (aka ISIS, but they hate "Daesh" (Dawlat al-Islamiyah f'al-Iraq wa al-Sham -- apparently it's an arabic acronym with overtones of darkness and evil) is an offshoot of Al Quaida in Iraq (disowned by AQ HQ as being too damned mercilessly bloody-handed).

To the extent that Da'esh are currently destablizing the border areas of a NATO member (Turkey) and pissing off everyone in a wide swathe of land, I wouldn't dismiss them as "not a threat". Although I wouldn't panic over them, either.

42:

Actually, Charlie, you could have a lucrative career as a consultant to UK labor unions. All you have to do is tell them about the Laundry Curse, and then charge them an appropriately large sum to tell them who you're researching for your upcoming novels, so that they can prepare for the likely layoffs...

43:

Feorag got to the "Can you write [ X ] into your story so it can get overtaken by current events" way faster than I did, but it's still good to know authors who have useful superpowers.

44:

How about Putin and his Ozero collective actually being necromancers? Or how about oil actually being gifts from ancient dinosaur gods for which oil company executives conduct annual sacrifice rituals? And 'peak oil' just meaning that they are getting bored (get it)?

45:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE

The server move went fine and comments are switched back on. (I switched them off prior to the physical relocation so I could shut down MySQL manually, to protect database integrity. As prep for the move itself, the colo center people just did a console control-alt-delete on a whole rack of machines simultaneously, and I didn't want to risk any chance of the database hanging or not shutting down and flushing itself to disk prior to power-off.)

46:

Heinlein's "Space Cadet" had the focus character putting his phone in his luggage so he didn't have to take calls on his way to the entry examinations at the Space Academy, and that was written in 1948.

I first recall seeing smartphone/tablet devices as a minor plot point in "The Mote in God's Eye" by Niven and Pournelle, written in 1974. Before that James Gunn's "The Joymakers" had a portable device with wireless connectivity to something like the WWW.

As for UKIP they are a classic protest party, blaming the current ills of the country on a nebulous fog of outsiders, foreigners and other not-us groups like the EU. Nationalistic to a fault, the leaders are rabble-rousing and anti-immigration although they tend to grandfather in existing immigrants if they've been here for a generation (like Jamaicans and Pakistanis) or fifty (for example, the Angles and Saxons and Vikings). History does not regard such nationalistic parties with any favour.

47:

Are we certain that economic illiteracy only applies to the masses? Perhaps "Clueless" George Osborne actually believes that his tactic will work? (and now I'm depressed.)

48:

Don't worry, "Gideon" is an expert: he went to St Paul's school then to Oxford where he studied modern history (and social drinking, in the Bullingdon Club). So of course he knows all about economics. He had a few part-time jobs, including folding towels in Selfridges, before becoming a parliamentary researcher, an MP, and then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

So our economy is in expert hands, right?

49:

I rather suspect that a lot of the perceived power of UKIP is not so much that they are all that popular, but that the other parties' leadership are about as popular and likeable as Ebola and Herpes combined.

The Lib-Dems did worse at the last election fighting against Gordon Brown's government (one of the most incompetent and unlikeable in recent memory) than they did in several previous elections. Nick Clegg is a liability for them.

The Tories have a vague, vacuous nonentity as a leader; a man so invisible that on his best day he can barely turn heads.

Labour have what appears to be a plasticene dummy for a leader, with policies that match a plasticene brain.

All of these three are strongly in favour of EU membership, yet are incapable of stringing together a coherent argument as to why membership of a supra-national, sovereignty-stealing entity is such a good idea. Worse, all of these have used the EU as an excuse to get away with a great deal of astonishingly poor regulation. An example here would be energy economy and light bulbs. Old-fashioned tungsten filament lamps are astonishingly inefficient; only a very few percent of their output is visible light. The EU regulation merely said "Get rid of these eco-horrors and replace them with something a bit more efficient; tungsten halogen lamps fit the bill nicely here.

Labour chose to use this as an excuse for gibberingly insane housing regulations such as forcing builders to include a percentage of light fittings of a type nobody actually used, for which the only bulbs available were hideously expensive compact fluorescent lamps. This was rightly villified for the arrant nonsense it was, yet the politicians chose to paint the rule as entirely the fault of the EU.

Thus the name of the EU has been unjustly blackened in Britain by our very own self-serving political nincompoops. The EU as implemented isn't a particularly good idea, or a particularly nice organisation, but asking the British public to like an institution that these politicians themselves have used to justify all manner of stupid regulation is really asking a bit much.

This is why UKIP seem to be doing quite well; their leader is likeable, and they oppose the EU which nobody else save politicians seems to really like. UKIP are populist, and thus popular.

50:

So our economy is in expert hands, right?

Ahh yes, economic experts. Are they the one's who economic ideologies ("the market is perfect", "resources are infinite") are nearly as damaging as political ideologies - and who couldn't spot the GFC when it was right on top of them (the number of economists who actually predicted the crash can be counted on the fingers of a penguin).

Face it, a dartboard is more use than a room full of economists.

51:

You would be surprised at the degree of crossover between security service type people and occultists. They both attract exactly the same type of people. It's a weird combination of cynical, idealistic, ruthless and gullible with an itch for secret knowledge and playing games.

52:

Sheldrake's theory of formative causation? Or perhaps HMG/GCHQ are on to you and changing reality to make your writing appear to be fiction?
As for politics, you have to admire the Ukrainian sport of stuffing their politicians into waste bins. It will doubtless escalate to ABH or even assassination, but it beats waiting for an election.

53:

I've long been of the opinion that economics is no better than witchcraft, certainly not anywhere near the science that some claim it to be. (It happens to have a few rules of thumb that are reproducible but that doesn't make it a science.) For most things, you set up you initial conditions and assumptions, run the models and get the outcomes you predict. All very easy and cozy and about as much use as a poke in the eye.

When you combine that with politicians... Well Georgie Porgie's predictions have been proven wrong every time. His theory of austerity is based on a flawed model. Anyone with half a brain can see it - "we've got to get unemployment down, get the deficit down, keep wages down" - so we create lots of low paid jobs. They don't pay taxes and they don't help particularly get the deficit down because although they're off the unemployment figures they're still getting support from other pots. (Not if they're mad enough to re-elect the Tories next time, but the Tories have told them so.)

But then, what he said his budgets were intended to deliver and what they were actually going to deliver were clearly not matching up. Even if you believed the first one, it failed to deliver on its targets. So did the next, and the next, and the next. The current one is miles off target too.

It becomes easy to conclude he's lying about what he's trying to achieve, he's grossly incompetent, or both. Since there aren't any rumours that Callmedave needs Georgie in the way Blair needed Brown to keep the traditionalists in line and keep a challenge at bay, he's clearly not incompetent in delivering what Callmedave expects...

54:

"I suspect it's power will wane once real wages start to rise again."

If you mean 'real wages for most people', as opposed to 'the average is going up, because the 1% is getting all of the money', then your prediction basically becomes 'the UK will become a one-party party state, dominated by the vast and powerful UKIP', because the UK and the US are doing a bang-up job of wage suppression.

55:

You had me thinking of John Creasey's "Gideon of the Yard" at first there!

56:

Late since I couldn't reply last night.

To the extent that Da'esh are currently destablizing the border areas of a NATO member (Turkey) and pissing off everyone in a wide swathe of land, I wouldn't dismiss them as "not a threat". Although I wouldn't panic over them, either.

Well, they are certainly a local threat to their neighbors (glad I'm not one). I was thinking more of how, in this election season, the Republicans keep trying to milk them as an existential threat to the US, which is pure nonsense. Especially the whole "They're wanna bring Shari'a law to America!" bit, as if that could actually happen. It's as if they watched the old film "Red Dawn" too many times, took it seriously but have now replaced them godless commies with them Islamist terrrrists.

Da'esh (or as I think of them: IS=Insane State) are brutal, but haven't shown themselves to be the most organized or skilled fighting force. Recent reports of them "building their own Air Force" out of captured planes are hard to take seriously. Maybe they have a few people who can get the antique MiGs off the ground, but can they do much with them, other than go kamikaze?
And how long before the splinter groups start fighting each other over some theological quibble?

57:

To the extent that Da'esh are currently destablizing the border areas of a NATO member (Turkey)

And to derail this thread a bit more, it seems that Turkey is currently more comfortable with Da'esh on their border than giving aid to the Kurds fighting them.

58:

The usual proto-tablet I've seen referenced in SF is in "2001", what Bowman and Poole watch the news on during breakfast. In the novel they are described as a small device that clips onto a pad about the size of a legal pad which displays text or video. I don't remember if it was supposed to work like e-paper, or was projected--don't think it said.
Also, Clarke described a version of the internet, except it involved homes with terminals connected to the city mainframes, which were networked together. But that, IIRC, was around 1970, so not that big a stretch.

59:

From what I've read Turkey is fine with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria (who are acting as a barrier between them and Da'esh), it's the PKK they have a problem with.

60:

Golden Dawn as in the british pseudo-masonic initiatory occult group, or Golden Dawn as in the greek paramilitary fascist group? (I'd like to see the heirs of the two take each other on, but it may be outside the domain in which OGH's narrative comfortably treads; perhaps somebody else will need to fulfill that particular fantasy)

If the Laundry can tie in some intrigue with P2 / Gladio (and maybe associate UKIP anti-EU policies with the remnants of Gladio -- war of the cryptofascists!), that might be interesting. But, that would take a lot away from the time spent on dead gods and chitinous radiata, so there's something to be said for dropping it in favor of something that would have a bigger audience.

61:

Under no circumstances whatsoever should you dabble in the stock market. I do not want to see a future where you have so much money you never need to write again. (Yes, I'm being selfish -- you live under the rule of cats so you should be used to it)...

However, if Scotland ever did need it's own GCHQ, I suppose your literary oeuvre would be a cheap way of out performing most other intelligence services, assuming you pass the "he's not an English agent" test.

Incidentally, what do you think is the risk of you getting arrested like Leonard Dawe?

62:

Arthur Clarke also had his "Minisec" PDA, which I think showed up in "Imperial Earth." They pretty much did everything the portable displays in "2001" did, along with local computation and massive personal information storage. The only things Clarke missed were they networked optically using UV light, and they didn't make phone calls ;-)

63:

Let us recall that Turkey has a really bad record of genocide directed at ethnic minorities, and a poisonous nationalist ideology that is inherently hostile towards Kurdish self-determination.

I mean, if you think the history of the British in Ireland in the 20th century looks bad, Turkey and the Kurds puts it in a whole new perspective ....

64:

To add to the other replies, SF authors have predicted information tech going back to at least Wells in 1899. http://mindstalk.net/sfpred.html Or Verne's audio TiVo in 1889. Pohl's joymakers were super-smartphones in the 1960s. Leinster had Google services in 1946.

Individual SF authors predicted smartphones and the Internet. SF as a *field* mostly wasn't interested.

65:

IS seen to have arrived in their very own Stalingrad in Kobane. When you have a reputation for butchering prisoners and raping all the women just about everyone will fight to the death against you.

67:

Hadn't read that, but no surprises. The key element is Turkey and making sure that a true Kurdish state does not emerge. because the next step would be the Sunni and Shia parts of Iraq separating. Big win for Iran.

68:

The current ruling neoliberal austeritarian elite view rising wages as sinful, because they invite inflation

That may be a reason, but, in my opinion not the main reason why austerity is pushed so hard - you also read the same folks being horrified about Deflation.

I think what the elites want to prevent most of all is people getting ideas, thinking new thoughts, question things and figure out how to live their lives their own way and remodel society. Parasites prefer their hosts to not evolve away from the parasitic pressure - "Stability" I think it is called in New Inglish.

The elites almost lost it in the 1960's - people didn't need jobs or careers, they needed Money. Jobs were plentiful, taxes low and wages relatively high so it was easy to get Money, then skip the job/career when that got in the way of personal objectives. Many of the present elites got where they are today exactly because of the perturbation and changes opening new possibilities, they remember this well, now they want secure their dynasties by kicking the ladder away from the competition (school fees, universities/education subservient to "industry needs") and they want intelligent people to grub for survival in insecure jobs with low pay, loaded with "service fees" - just in case!

Fear and uncertainty stops thinking and creativity. Lack of resources stop new businesses, privatisations and toll-gates around everything can mop up any slack.

The elites fear deflation for similar reasons: Because the net effect is to increase the purchasing power of the plebeians they are trying to keep struggling. The macro-economic argument about "consumers not buying goods that will be cheaper tomorrow" is the kind of religious rubbish that society pays professors in economics 150 grand a year to deprave themselves with - They can never look at what actually happened in the real world with Semiconductors, that's like, 50 years of hyper-deflation coming up soon with enormous profits on top of it!

People simply buy technology because they need it Today, they do not need "cheaper tomorrow" before "tomorrow" has happened, and they shall not have it - because then they get the wrong ideas again.

69:

"before the eventual onset"..? What makes you think that what Charlie's describing isn't the onset?

The apocalypse is already here -- it's just unevenly distributed.

70:

Test case for Laundry universe make-it-so capabilities:

1- weapons/ammo suppliers
2- U.S. university student loans

Positive 'proof' will trigger a longer, more detailed list. Just make sure we're not getting sucked into AEP's Monkey's Paw universe.

Yours, etc., etc.

71:

There's an American comedy series called Archer that's basically a big old spoof on spy stuff, the Cold War, etc. The setting itself is a deliberate anachronism stew with a mixture of technologies, the KGB still being a thing, etc. The Two big private sector spy outfits are ISIS and ODIN. So when the head-chopping ISIS started making headlines, those of us familiar with alcoholic, incompetent stupor-spy ISIS were confused as hell.

Long story short, the next season they're retiring the ISIS name from the show. The creator is wondering what to do with all the merch they already have with the old ISIS logo because it's not exactly salable, not even to irony-loving hipsters.

72:

Dammit, mobile telephones date from the 1930s - in the mid-1960s,
they were available to even school CCFs, and I carried one!
I can't think of an early reference to tablets, but all those of
us in the game, er, IT area knew by about 1970 that they were
coming; it was clear as soon as LSI (no, not VLSI, LSI) was
developed.

And, as far as parallel universes are concerned, my opinion is
that we are already in one - and, from the current UK political
scene, one written by a rather dystopic author :-(

73:

I'm more or less a professional reader, and I confess that short of some glaring error like putting London next-door to Reykjavik or conflating Lithuanians with Germans or having spacecraft go whoosh-vroom in vacuum*, I don't sweat the small stuff, like whether Woolworth's closed down before the events of The Fuller Memorandum, let alone exactly how gnarly some UK government data system might be. The truthiness of fiction lies in the "the world is like that" rather than in "this novel's street-plan maps precisely on the one I can walk with my own feet."

I will not deny that there is considerable pleasure in finding precise and close-textured correspondence between fictional and actual settings, but that is not the most important pleasure of fiction. I got a tremendous tickle from the descriptions of the Laundry's digs as a *kind* of situation, and while I might have gotten an increased frisson from branding the building as an old Woolie's, that would be less the cherry on top than a couple of sprinkles. The sundae itself if the bigger,very funny, very sharp-eyed picture (to mix my metaphore with ice cream).

* I will pass in silence over whether revolvers have safeties or whether the good guy's Glock was portrayed with the 17- or 19-round magazine.

74:

My iggerent fingerz think there's an "e" in "metaphor." No number of proof-passes seems to be sufficient.

75:

I assume you mean other spacecraft go whoosh-vroom in a vacuum. There's no reason your drive couldn't make those noises.

(And, on a similarly pedantic note, there is an e metaphor. I assume you mean your fingers want to put a second e in?)

76:

The creator is wondering what to do with all the merch they already have with the old ISIS logo because it's not exactly salable, not even to irony-loving hipsters.

I (an anti-hipster) might if I were a fan of the show, but I've never seen it--don't have cable. I think it's pretty childish the way people have been reacting to things with the name Isis attached to them, particularly those that have been around for a while. A local 'news' story involved a man who received a credit card that said "Serve ISIS", he was all irate and demanded that it be replaced. Personally I would have found it amusing. Besides with the font used it looked like 1515.

77:

So you're *definitely* transitioning the Laundry from urban fantasy to municipal fantasy, then?

(urban = magic is secret and the world is 98% muggle; municipal = magic is openly known and a matter of public policy.)

78:

Wages, suppression etc.
This, of course is one reason why really BIG business is pro-EU
Lile the Empire Windrush & ever since, imprting large volumes of foreign labour, who don't know haow "the system" works is a sure way of keeping pay low.
This was one of the arguments used by Wedgie Benn against the EU (IIRC)
Oddly enough, UKIP have taken this up, funny that!
Of course, in the past, it was easier, the imported lobour was mere blacks presons from the colonies whereas now it is Poles, Bulgarians, etc, but the exploitation ( & outright cheating ) is just the same, & it enfeebles all of us, economically.

Problem: How to get out of the "cheap imported labour" bind, whilst still allowing (relatively) free movement, especially of not just "skilled" people, but those who can & will become such?
Not easy.

79:

And. I also give you:
The EU Arrest Warrant, where, without so much as a whisper of a prima faciae case, you can be slung in a freign slammer for 18 months with no appeal or recoruse [ Yes. i's happened] I note that no "public" sueing of the Brit guvmint for illegal arrest or unlawful imprisionment has been seen.
And (yet again) the coorupt corparate lobbying that makes Washington look like a job for amateurs.

Nop "Westminster" could sort all of this out yesterday, if they wanted to, & shoot UKIP's fox, but, they quite deliberately don't & won't.
I think, at this point, we all draw our own mutually-contradictory conclusions?

80:

Your model has been tried before, in late 16th C Japan, where the Shogun, having risen from the ranks, made bloody sure no-one else could follow along.
Not a pleasant prospect

81:

My iggerent brain forgot to specify "terminal 'e'."

Some days nothing goes right.

82:

Regarding the curse itself, I guess then that's a case of Life intimidating Art?

83:

> don't sweat the small stuff

Somewhere in Archeological Filing System I have a British paperback police procedural, written in the early 1980s, if I remember right. Nothing particularly notable for the genre, except the protagonist and his mates are trying to foil a plot against the King of England.

Other than that one thing, there's absolutely nothing SF-ish about it. It didn't look like the author had done a simple gender-swap; quite a bit of the backstory was based on the monarch being male.

I've occasionally wondered exactly how that made it into print. A political statement from the author and/or publisher? Was the Queen seriously ill about then? Was there a movement to induce her to step down?

84:

"Don't be silly, Bob. Everyone knows there's no such thing as Woolworths".

85:

Thinking about the original issue, it seems a key reason for collapsing that exceedingly long publishing cycle - particularly on eBooks. Present day, or near future, fiction gets overtaken by events.

The main problem is the view of a book as a 'fire and forget' entity, with maybe a tweak between hardback and paperback versions. Whereas something like an app will get tweaked and bug fixed, sometimes on a daily or weekly basis. With eBooks, there's really no good reason for this discrepancy to still be the case.

Excepting structural issues with the book (eg Charlie relying on scotland to be independent), you can quite imagine "Halting State v3.11" with the typos being fixed and the story tripping anachronisms removed.

Such an 'up issue' approach would also be good for periodical-type publication (a chapter a week) and for subscription (buy all books in a sequence up front).

Those who still cleave to dead trees get a fossilised version of the current version at the date of printing.

86:

An interesting idea, to tweak ebooks more or less continuously, but the specter of George Lucas looms, if an author just couldn't call it done.

87:

OTOH, how many GRRM fans would be desperate for even an in-revision version of the next book?

88:

Dear Charlie,

Don't worry about it ! Actually, I would not worry about it at all, as I can give some similar examples of other famous authors whose work we all revere - including your very good self - and who have had parts of their novels now impenetrable....

Some good examples :
'Thunderball', Ian Fleming - the interlude with the story of the sailor character on the 'Players' cigarette packet...impenetrable now as by 1967 we get the JPS Black package as seen on Lotus 76, 77, 79 F1 cars...and so modern readers wonder 'what are those two on about' or more concisely 'whut?'

'The IPCRESS File' - Early history of the Atomic Age...its true the Deighton (bless him) includes appendices...and he just about has to....but to a modern reader much of the undercurrents are totally unknown. In other novels in the 'Harry Palmer' series there are countless examples of detail that we just don't get first hand. It helps to read the appendices, but even then, there will be nuances lost on the reader.

TGF Wikipedia ! Or not....or perhaps the internet....or....

Having had the pleasure of buying Charlies' 'The Atrocity Archives' and 'the Jennifer Morgue', one the of things which adds to the enjoyment of the novels have been the requirement to research and learn about the things which I do not know but which Charlie is an expert in - both books were highly enjoyable without the level of detailed knowledge I should have had, perhaps....but then, the details I lacked I quickly studied, so to better enjoy them.

This is true of the works of other authors whose work I enjoy - Asimov, Heinlein, Deighton, Fleming, Stephenson, Gibson, Banks...and not least of which your very good self, Charlie.

The hallmark of the greatest SF and fiction is not only telling an exciting tale, but also expanding the mind of the reader, stimulating interest in the real world, which in and of itself is fractally detailed...and so, on that score alone, Charlie, you are in illustrious company indeed, if I may say so.

Who cannot be captivated by the thought of using an FPGA to make a death ray ? And then not be captivated again to learn that 4 of the same friggin things now can make a binary-complete Cray-2 supercomputer that now fits on the palm of your hand, is faster than the original, and runs of a PM-9 9V battery for days ?

I have been inspired to make a career in science and technology thanks to the very best in SF - because it stimulated a desire to learn, and the enjoyment of SF increased thanks to this....

So don't worry about it Charlie - think like JJ Abrams - take your best, and put into your own private Universe, and I promise you, we will all enjoy !

89:

As an addendum re the last post :

http://www.chrisfenton.com/homebrew-cray-1a/

My favourite line on the page "computational necromancy"!!!!

So deliciously true.....

90:

The whole thing is fairly fixed in time by operating systems and PDAs/tablets/phones anyway, isn't it? I love your stories because I have to go to Wikipedia every few minutes to learn something new, but was never worried if it was a little dated. Save your headmeat the punishment, I don't think your fans will fall out of love with the books over these things, whether they are dated or creepy. We all know that the walls between universes are growing quite thin...

91:

Has anyone ever even tried responding to an EUAW with a writ of habeus corpus?

92:

This paragraph happened to lurk on the top of my browser window:

So don't worry about it Charlie - think like JJ Abrams - take your best, and put into your own private Universe, and I promise you, we will all enjoy !

Without wishing to rain on Deepshark's JJ Abrams parade - IMO please continue to plot more tightly and coherently instead. We'll forgive you the weirdness and drifts from reality.

93:

Your examples are very different. They're changes that happened well after the book was published, even after the author was dead, and are what make the novels period pieces. Do you, perhaps, expect Poirot to use an iPhone?

Actually, I think Agatha Christie would have the talent to pull that one off, were she alive to be writing today.

But the whole James Bond novel canon is from a different era, from before the age of mass air travel. Bond goes places by air, and just that makes him a high-status traveller. Goldfinger is doing his thing in an age when there were far fewer travellers, not really a crowd to hide in. Even the movie was made in a time when air travel could still be exotic.

Three times is enemy action.

And look how widely scattered the places are. Just that makes Bond a significant person, somebody to take an interest in. Miami, the Home Counties, and Switzerland: that's not easy in the early sixties, never mind the detail of the places.

Maybe Fleming was lagging the curve on air travel, but not by all that much. Bond still makes long train journeys, and they could still be exotic. The Flying Scotsman was no longer exotic, though British Rail still ran Pullman trains, and the traditional Orient Express still ran.

94:


Something like Victoria's Secret might have worked as a replacement for Woolworth's.

An Apple Store could be fun, but they tend to be multi-floor unless the store is in a mall.

95:

In Denmark you can & will often get indefinite detention - well - "'custody' until the police find the time to doll up* some proper charges or you perhaps feel motivated to confess your transgressions".

Lengthy custody is usually for crimes like "Hacking". Especially if the hacking and the eventual court case reveals embarrassing facts about "the authorities" and, one has been lead to suspect, said authorities full well know that the evidence is so sketchy that 'police custody' will be the punishment for the alleged crime.

For example that their favourite, private, NSA-infested, service provider are really so incompetent that they leave login and passwords on their home page for The Internet to find, do not have change tracking for police records, ownership of cars, and God Knows What Else "we" entrusted those morons/crooks with.

Basically, it is revealed to the stunned populace, that any random spoiler from 4chan could have shat over the whole thing and probably this is when it is discovered that the backup has not been running since they sacked the guy changing the tape!

It is a scandal, IMO, and worse: If the court accepts the evidence presented to it, precedence is set, and then "the authorities" can pretty much "do" everyone who owns a computing device!

*) The evidence appears to be: Twitter and an IP address.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/06/07/pirate_bay_founder_named_as_suspect_in_paneuropean_police_database_hack/

http://www.version2.dk/interaktiv/cschack

96:

I'm not arguing with you, rather adding supporting evidence in that both Goldfinger and Bond travel from Ferryfield (now Lydd International I think) to Le Touquet by Channel Air Ferries (or similar; the company name changed at least twice) in both the book and the film.

97:

I would like to know more about the ecology and sociology of the alien realms, and the motivations of the entities that inhabit them.

For example, consider the type-three nameless horror that takes over the hapless bumbler who'd accidentally enrolled into a computational demonology course early in "The Atrocity Archive". The one who touches a summoning grid (I'm working from memory here, so I hope that's right), and ends up with luminous purple worms writhing behind his eyeballs.

For ease of reference, let's call this type-three nameless horror Namror, because that sounds ominous and I can't be bothered to think of a clever name. Now, I want to know why and how Namror did what he did.

1) In order to sense the open gateway to Earth and to take possession, did Namror use a tool, or some faculty of his body or mind? If he used a tool, who built it? Presumably, some other nameless entity in the same realm. How did Namror reward this other entity? Did he acquire the tool directly from it, or via an intermediary? In other words, does Namror's realm have shops?

2) If so, there must be economic pressures driving the development of better and better possession tools. How do these work? Who are the early adopters? Teenage Namrors, eagerly flourishing their latest iSnatchers?

3) If Namror used some built-in faculty to take possession of Earthlings, presumably his species evolved it. What selection pressures drove this evolution? Are food or shelter so scarce in Namror's universe that its inhabitants need to flee to ours in order to survive? Or are they fleeing from predators? In either case, a significant number of his species must have succeeded in getting to our universe in order for evolution to decide that the ability to do so is worth retaining and honing, so why do we see so few of them?

4) Do all members of Namror's species have this faculty, or only a few? Perhaps it's actually a disadvantage. We could posit that in one particular region of Namror's realm, predators have made it necessary for namrors to be able to teleport. The ability to do so is conferred by one specific allele of some gene, regarded as abnormal except in this region. Unfortunately, some inhabitants of the region end up with two copies of the allele. To teleport, you make a brief and controlled jump through a neighbouring universe. But if you have two copies of the teleportation allele, it amplifies your ability to jump, making it uncontrollable and wide-ranging. You vanish into distant universes at unpredictable times ... and occasionally end up trapped behind the eyeballs of an unfortunate Earthling. Horrible. But fear not. Researchers remain confident that gene therapy will eventually eliminate this undesirable trait, and you can donate to the relevant charity by texting བྷཀྵཥཥཟཟཀངཀ at any time before 6pm.

5) ... if Namror's universe has a time dimension, that is. What, in fact, is the signature of his spacetime?

6) Does Namror's realm have an analogue to weather? If so, and I can't resist asking this, does he wear a cloak? If so, does it travel with him when he arrives on Earth, and what are the consequences for our fashion industry? Any fabric that can withstand a jump from one corner of the multiverse to another is surely harder-wearing than denim.

7) Well, maybe he doesn't need a cloak because he's well-protected by chitin. Strange, that this specific long-chain polymer can be present in a universe with such different laws of physics. But then, as any episode of Star Trek demonstrates, convergent evolution is extraordinarily potent.

8) How do young namrors learn to jump to other universes, and to possess their inhabitants? Even kitties play at hunting, so do namrors? What do they use for pretend prey? Do they have schools? Sport has developed as, basically, a kind of ritualised hunting, so do their schools have sports days? I want to see a namror egg-and-spoon race.

I eagerly await a Laundry novel told from the viewpoint of a nameless horror.

98:

The Laundry curse goes deeper than you thought, Charlie!
The Scrum terminology you used about chicken and pigs was officially removed from the Scrum guide in 2011.

99:

I actually thought that "Woolworths" was a fictional department store chain that happened to have the same name as the real Australian chain. One of the reasons I thought that is the precedent use of "Grace Bros." which was the name of the fictional department store in "Are you being Served" that had the same name as the real (very similar at the time) chain in Australia.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Bros.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Are_You_Being_Served%3F

100:

So you're *definitely* transitioning the Laundry from urban fantasy to municipal fantasy, then?

The series-scale story arc calls for it. Just as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is progressive (rumblings in book 1, visible as a storm on the horizon in book 3, actually beginning by book 4, and undeniably under way by book 6), so does the Laundry transition into visibility. As of book 5 it's still covert, albeit with cooperation from external people who are "in the know". In book 6 it's still clinging desperately to the shadows but the matter of its work is becoming the subject of news cameras. Book 7 is the full-on rupture point when the whole mess is dragged into the floodlit glare of global media attention; book 8 and onwards is the full-scale crisis of adaptation.

101:

The queen was in her 60s back then; the heir was male: previous monarchs since Victoria had all shuffled off this mortal coil in their 50s to early 70s. So her weird longevity (and that of her mother) wasn't well-established.

102:

With eBooks, there's really no good reason for this discrepancy to still be the case.

There is one reason: cost.

For me, as author, to make a single thorough pass over a novel, looking for and fixing errata, and check for errors, takes a minimum of a week.

Even if we totally collapse the publishing chain and have the author do the work on the final typeset file, with no proofreading, that's a week's work. Will the additional sales justify it? Well, sales of reissues are typically an entire order of magnitude lower than sales of initial editions: so we're looking at hundreds to single-digit thousands of sales, at fully discounted mass market prices.

It's a precarious economic position, and what pushes it over the edge into not-gonna-happen is the opportunity cost of that week is a week spent writing a new novel. Which will make the same (or more -- probably much more) money for the author, provide a new and engaging challenge (i.e. it's more fun to do), and give all but the most pedantic nit-pickers of readers something new and enjoyable to chew on rather than a bug-fix.

Real artists ship.

103:

Now, that is an entirely different question, and has been answered in the affirmative by Webscription's eArc program. (Which I gather is quite a little money-earner on the side, but -- because of the way the bestseller charts are collated via Bookscan -- the presales would cannibalize launch-day purchases of the hardcover, probably costing the book a slot on the bestseller list, which is still marketing gold dust.)

104:

Both utterly unsuitable: as cover for your secret agency office complex you want something that is unexceptional and boring, where plenty of office workers can be expected but nobody's going to turn heads. Victoria's Secret has precisely seven stores in the UK, all in really high profile shopping areas or prestige malls. Apple Stores ... do you really want that much foot traffic with wireless electronic devices under the floor of an IT-heavy secret agency? (Oh, and they also tend to be high profile.)

What the Laundry needs is something like a big 7-Eleven or a Target store if Target operated in older urban areas zoned for business as well as retail and residential usage rather than big-box stores. There's no precise US equivalent, I'm afraid: planning laws work differently in the UK.

105:

I would like to know more about the ecology and sociology of the alien realms, and the motivations of the entities that inhabit them.

You're going to get a healthy dose of that in book 7 (working title is "The Nightmare Stacks", but that's liable to change due to editorial dislike -- new $EDITOR in the US is not so keen on "stacks" so I'm looking for another archive/document synonym).

106:

Someone update the wikipedia page on scrum, then ...

107:

I find it difficult to believe your audience will have difficulty with the concept of "Stacks". Not so hard to believe a marketing type would possess an inaccurate model of the public.

108:

Goldfinger is doing his thing in an age when there were far fewer travellers, not really a crowd to hide in. Even the movie was made in a time when air travel could still be exotic.

I lived in Lexington Ky from 74 through 79. In the movie there's a scene where Bond is driving on the Interstate (limited access highway) and takes the Lexington International Airport exit. Always got a chuckle from me.

When I lived there the road to the airport was a 4 lane (2 in each direction) with a traffic light for the airport. Which had, I think, 4 gates. I imagine in 64 when the movie was released the highway was 2 lanes and only prop planes flew there.

Why Bond didn't fly into Louisville I have no idea. At least it would have had jet service and maybe a flight to Canada or Mexico to make it "international".

109:

Look at the history of science fiction. Where backyard spaceships (rocket powered), happy housewives, and US/USSR rivalries were common. Smart cars were cars with robot chauffeurs.

And they missed the iPhone entirely.

110:

"That may be a reason, but, in my opinion not the main reason why austerity is pushed so hard - you also read the same folks being horrified about Deflation."

I have seen zero right-wing austerians even mention deflation, and even if some few occasionally did, that's nothing compared to the volume of howling lies warning against inflation.

They elites *lilke* this environment, especially as they get bailed out and subsidized.

111:

"The elites fear deflation for similar reasons: Because the net effect is to increase the purchasing power of the plebeians they are trying to keep struggling. "

Wrong. A deflationary environment means high unemployment, low/shrinking wages for the 90%, and a precarious living situation. That's the goal of the elites.

112:

The person in question is a very, very senior editor who is undoubtedly intimately familiar with thee concept of library stacks. Nevertheless: marketing. It's all about reaching out beyond my core readership and hopefully hitting the bestseller lists. (Which you should be in favour of, because it means a guaranteed supply of more Laundry Files books, as fast as I can produce them, and a much higher probability of spin-offs like film/TV/games showing up.)

113:

The current situation in the UK looks like an ideal one for the elites -- we've got low inflation, low unemployment, but all the other characteristics of deflation.

What I think is happening is that we have deliberately engineered stagnation, combined with a property bubble in London driven by a capital influx from sovereign wealth funds. So the rentier class have got all the advantages of a deflationary environment multiplying their relative advantage, but without the mass unemployment and unrest. (It's pretty ghastly.)

114:

"I've occasionally wondered exactly how that made it into print. A political statement from the author and/or publisher? Was the Queen seriously ill about then? Was there a movement to induce her to step down?"

US author, editor and publisher. Not the top of the heap, and probably working on cranking out cheap stuff fast.

115:

arsenal, chronicles, papers, records, recordings

116:

I've never seen Arsenal referring to printed material. Nightmare Chronicles, would be decent, but sounds more like a series title.

I'm thinking more of things that keep the meaning: Shelves, Depository or Repository. I rather like The Nightmare Repository, it's a place to store nightmares, and implies sleep.

But, does the editor have a problem with the one word, or the title as a whole?

117:

Someone update the wikipedia page on scrum, then ...

Well, first updating it has to be on the backlog, and prioritized for this sprint...

I worked for about three years in a software project which was done with a Scrum-like thing ("Scrum eddies in a waterfall", one coworker called it), and I did quite like our interpretation of it. Scrum did have its problems, of course, but in the end it was a good tool.

118:

You'd be astonished how badly wrong American writers can get the UK. Never mind the execrable "Patriot Games" by Tom Clancey, it only gets worse -- much, much worse.

(I gave up on spotting errors in the above-mentioned work of unintentional secondary-world fantasy after following our convalescent captain -- the only survivor after his SAS battalion (sic) is wiped out by an IRA active service unit in an ambush in a high-rise housing scheme in Belfast (riiiight) -- and is on board a train from London to Edinburgh when it crosses the Forth Rail Bridge (geography lesson ahoy). NB: The authors perpetrated this essay in surreal geography after Google Earth and Google Maps became available, if memory serves. The mind, she boggles.)

119:

Actually, "The Nightmare Arsenal" will do very nicely for book 7. If I can sneak it past the editors. ($EDITOR has no problem with nightmares, only with nightmares in the context of stacks in the broader context of trying to market a break-out book in a growing series).

120:

If the book's as much fun as I suspect it will be, I'll ignore the classist implications of he title change and enjoy it. Not sure that a simplified title will be enough to draw readers who are deaf to the call of cthulhu....

121:

Re: "... as cover for your secret agency office complex you want something that is unexceptional and boring, where plenty of office workers can be expected but nobody's going to turn heads."

A 'telemarketing call center' ... whose 'clients' are industries known for being some of the most annoying telemarketers:

Life insurance - For hypochondriacs only. 'Do you know more about diseases than the last 10 doctors you saw last week? If yes - talk to us.'
Cruise vacations - Cruise the Gobi! (Set sail on the Gobi in wheeled adapted Chinese junks. Airfare not included.)
Replacement windows/doors - '100% Balsam wood frames .. because slamming doors/windows make you nervous' (Also floats really well: can be unhinged and used as a raft next time it floods.)
Magazine subscriptions - Cost Accounting Weekly Digest
etc.

By having many 'clients' (all fake-front companies), the employees can get away with not being expert about any of the products/services.

An interesting (comedic) subplot would be what happens if the decoy/front actually takes off as a business: What steps would the Laundry have to take to deliberately lose sales/potential customers.

122:

on board a train from London to Edinburgh when it crosses the Forth Rail Bridge (geography lesson ahoy).

What? It went the long way 'round, right?
There are plenty of reasons I've never read Clancy, you've added another.

123:

I have, but only very occasionally. In most cases the speaker (used advisedly) is being partly ironic about their collection of titles on military historry, military technology, role-playing and wargaming.

124:

Oops, should have followed the link first. But don't/won't read them either.

125:

See that and raise one of MC Beaton's Hamish MacBeth novels, where he is travelling South down the A9 to Inverness, and has just passed through Kingussie! She doesn't even have the excuse of being USian!

126:

I feel rather that way about tabletop rpg companies (White Wolf comes to mind) that impose changes on their gaming universes after I've already played out a campaign that implies different changes. . . .

So: God as a game publisher who indulges in metaplot?

127:

I had seen the Hamish MacBeth TV series and was thinking of reading the books, but learned that his dog in them is a German Shepherd instead of a Westie, and changed my mind. Not much of a reason, but I have two Westies.

128:

I would like to know more about the ecology and sociology of the alien realms, and the motivations of the entities that inhabit them.

You're going to get a healthy dose of that in book 7 (working title is "The Nightmare Stacks", but that's liable to change due to editorial dislike -- new $EDITOR in the US is not so keen on "stacks" so I'm looking for another archive/document synonym).

Splendid! If I owned a stasis field, I'd jump into it now and send you the key, with instructions to turn it as soon as the book is out. Whatever its title. One thing I can't stand in SF is monsters who just drool, gibber, and chase beautiful scantily-clad blondes. Because these are not rational survival tactics, and every lifeform has to be rational, in terms of its own environment, to survive.

129:

I once read an alternate history in which Joseph Kennedy Snr was still US Ambassador to the Court of St James in 1944, long after his sell-by date.

Well it was alternate history, I spose...

But then, a few pages along, the UK government called an election in wartime [something it never does] in which Peace Party lead by Bertrand Russell wins one-third of the seats from nowhere, and gives a "let's have of armistice, now" speech in the House of Commons.

Book flew across room at this point, in the general direction of a charity sack.

Bertrand Russell was, of course, the 4th Earl Russell by this point, and could neither stand for election, nor sit in the House of Commons.

If you are going to write alternate history, its helpful to actually know some real history.

130:

Depending on what you mean, the "Nightmare Canon" might be
appropriate, but would probably mean less to the ill-informed
than the "Nightmare Stacks". Not to say the people who would
expect end-of-the-world artillery pieces!

131:

paws
Has anyone ever even tried responding to an EUAW with a writ of habeus corpus?

IIRC, yes, & failed ....
I think (& I could all too easily be wrong) that it was tried in the notorious case that has still got real civil-libertarians exited.
A student was falsely accused of violence (murder?) in Greece - & the police beat false "confessions" out of his comapanions - who instantly retracted them , the microsecond they were outside Greece.
Nonetheless, he was slammed under an EAW - he certainly tried the "No prima facie case to answer" defence, as per the statute of the Bill of Rights.
Ignored.
Spent well over a year in Greek prison, whilst G "authorities" used every excuse they could invent (because it was pathetically obvious that it was a fix)...
Acquitted very quickly when it finally came to trial.
After which it went horribly quiet, because I would have thought a suit for wrongful arest & unlawful imprionment against HMG would have been a shoo-in with £1 million-plus in damages.
De nada.

132:

I hate to tell you this Carlie, but the ideal candidate to hide behind, is ...
ASDA - who are owned by Wal-Mart.
Now that should be sufficiently shudder-making, all of itself?

133:

Exception, which may prove "rule" ...
Britain during the period (approx) 1870-1900 had deflation, yet real wages & living standards were rising.
Probably because of the period's incredible technology & productivity increases?

134:

What I think is happening is that we have deliberately engineered stagnation, combined with a property bubble in London driven by a capital influx from sovereign wealth funds.
Deliberately engineered?
Really? I thought boy George wasn't that clever ...
Meanwhile, apart from Germany, the rest of the EU is (not) doing so well, are they not? *cough*
Me, I think it's a giant fuck-up.

135:

Me, I think it's a giant fuck-up.
If only because tax revenues are dropping, even though unemployment is also dropping (quite fast) because the wages are so bloody pathetic.

136:

I already mentioned Pohl's joymaker, which is basically an iPhone in 1965.

137:

Errors can come in a couple of different forms. While someone getting your hometown wrong can be galling, only a subset of the readership will likely catch it.

Everyone will have different pet peeves. The ones that bother me the most:
1. Poor introduction and resolution of plot complications. This can involve putting hero in danger and resolving it with an author saving throw, usually by having the cavalry arrive rather than the hero thinking his way out of the problem. Urban fantasy, dear zod. I like the genre but there are so many plot copouts.
2. Inconsistent characterization, basically when plot forces characters to do stupid things like forget growth, return to old mistakes, catch the idiot ball in order for x to happen. We are told a character is smart and then he does dumb things.
3. Author just forgetting the rules, either of the real world or the imaginary world created, and completely blowing the secondary effects. It's bad enough with stupid oversights like an anime making a teenage boy the hardened veteran commander of an elite commando force or any legal thriller novel showing an evil company resorting to assassins before lawyers. It's even worse when you have a fantasy story like Harry Potter where casual time travel is introduced and completely forgotten from that point forward.
4. Density of interesting things goes down, plot attenuates as padding increases. Drawing out a reasonable smaller story into a bloated and unjustifiable mess.

The importance of the errors would depend on the audience. Scifi geeks will notice all the errors in hard science. If you're writing techno-thrillers, the audience will tear you apart for screwing up the capabilities of the military hardware.

While I find specialist errors I catch to be annoying, I find general errors to be far, far worse. I can overlook a character sliding a fresh clip into his revolver but it's harder to overlook poor characterization.

Of the errors described, only OBL and AQ would have been in poor taste. All the others would have sailed over my head.

138:

If I tried to call book 7 "The Nightmare Canon" I would spend the next decade fending off smug email from readers crowing about the typo they'd spotted in the title. Because that seems to be what a certain minority of readers live for.

Life is too short.

139:

It was listed as a related word to "library" in: Meriam Websters thesaurus.
(As a non-naive speaker I sometimes need help to come up with words :-) )

140:

We could place bets on how many think it should be "cannon" and how many think it should be "canyon/cañon".

141:

That's funny. I used the same site before commenting, except that I looked up Arsenal which did not list Library in the thesaurus for it.

142:

In this case, it was a real British book, from a British publisher, and possibly even a British writer, though it didn't actually say so.

Such things occasionally pop up in used book stores and flear markets nearby, probably brought in from USAF airman rotating back from station in England.

That's how I first came across a book by some guy I'd never heard off, Strauss something...

143:

Sounds like SF fans or the attendees at defcon then

144:

> canon

One of Fred Hoyle's books depended heavily on a "canon with a crown" as a plot point. It wasn't until much later I found out that a "canon" in that context was a type of priest.

145:

so pick one of the many concrete monstrosity's the GPO /BT have in London.

Camelford house was up for grabs - being turned into luxury flats now. Though the is a bit close to Babylon on Thames for the laundry I suspect

146:

ISTR a story that someone from the Intelligence Service was talking to a professional criminal who had spent a day as an external window cleaner around Century House (the old, plain, grey tower block that was the predecessor of the current well-known building) attempting to scout it.

Said criminal was unaware at the time of the building's purpose, and having looked in through the windows had come to the conclusion that apparently that there was "Nothing Worth Nicking", and the Officer thought that this would be a good title for an autobiography.

As for Gladio themed fiction - Gavin Lyall's "The Crocus List" got there first...

147:

There was an odd type of office robbery that flourished, circa 1991-1994, during the RAM Famine (caused when the only factory that made a particular type of resin used in DRAM chip carriers caught fire in Taiwain, causing the price of RAM to double-to-quadruple for a couple of years just as multi-tasking Windows 3.x was becoming de-rigeur in offices which had previously relied on PCs running DOS). Circa 1992, 1Mb of DRAM retailed for around £100, so it was quite portable and lucrative -- almost as valuable per gram as cocaine.

The gang boss relied on under-12s who were below the criminal age of responsibility. After working hours, they'd send a kid, equipped with a stack of stamped, self-addressed mailing envelopes, in through a ground floor window at the back of the office in question. The kid, armed with a screwdriver, would open up all the PCs that had been shut down for the night (as was common back then). Typically PCs running Windows had 4-16Mb of RAM in those days. The kid would strip out all but 1Mb of RAM, then screen the PC case back together. The stripped RAM then went in an envelope, which was left in the "out" tray or the mail room.

At the end of the raid, the kid -- not carrying any memory or envelopes -- would march out the front door, with some story about having gone in looking for a football-through-a-window for the security guard. Who couldn't grab a child, and in any case the kids were below the legal age of responsibility.

In the morning, it would take an hour or two before Tech Support would be overwhelmed by complaints about PCs running slow. Then another hour for them to figure out why the PCs had all gone sluggish overnight. By which time, the morning postal run was in the mail, along with dozens to hundreds of envelopes each containing hundreds of pounds worth of RAM ...

Now apply this to the Laundry. And cringe.

148:

"You'd be astonished how badly wrong American writers can get the UK."

Not after seeing how badly they can get the US. Including places where they've lived.

149:

Aiiiee!!
That would be horribly bad.

150:
In the morning, it would take an hour or two before Tech Support would be overwhelmed by complaints about PCs running slow. Then another hour for them to figure out why the PCs had all gone sluggish overnight. By which time, the morning postal run was in the mail, along with dozens to hundreds of envelopes each containing hundreds of pounds worth of RAM ...

I remember RAM-raids. The most amazing thing was that the post arrived the next day!!

151:

I remember Neil Gaiman commenting somewhere about people pointing about a typo in the phrase "being given loose rein" on similar grounds.

But then there's this to give us hope.

152:

One: How did the authorities finally cotton on to what was going on ... ?

Two: Remember I said @ #135/6 that there was a giant fuck-up?
Well, we've just had another one You could not make this up could you?

153:

O/t, but I won't be bothering with any more of the books after that either, and I enjoyed the Tv series (too?)

154:

Council for the defence would like to submit in evidence The Right Honourable Tony Benn, formerly Sir Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Baronet.

155:

Thanks; Why aren't UKIP talking about stuff like this instead of non-issues like immigration?

156:

Where does Defcon happen then? I mean, I know there have been at least 5 of them, but I don't know where it takes place!

157:

They are. Nigel droned on about it today on his radio programme, it was on the 10 o'clock news on Radio 4.

158:

And the press make more of an issue of "immigration" than UKIP do (I think)
It's the coprarte stitch-ups that are annoying a lot of more thoughtful people, the restrictions on use (except to corporates) the crooked trade deals (TTIP) the (to go back to immigration) encouragement of ultra-cheap gullible imported labour, driving wages & working conditions down, that Charlie correctly notes. Not that the last is anything new, of course.

159:

The 2nd Viscount Stansgate encountered the same problem the 4th Earl Russell would have encountered, i.e. being barred from the House of Commons, and forced to resign his seat, and Tony Benn's case, the Tory who came second taking his place in Commons (the majesty of democracy at work)

Bertrand Russell could not stand in the first place, having inherited the title in 1931.

Without legislation such as this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peerage_Act_1963

No peer could sit in the Commons, except those from Irish peerage, and those with courtesy titles.

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

160:

Ok, I'd not listen to anything that involves "Niggle Farago talking at me", but I am serious about issues like ERAs being of much more concern to me than what sort of accent the waitress at lunch has.

161:

Ok, the Peerage Act was rather later than I thought.

162:

> RAM

In the same timeframe, one of the US industry magazines reported a warehouse with a recent RAM shipment being hit and a couple of security guards being killed in the process.

A couple of years later I got tired of playing delivery tag with UPS and went down to the terminal by the airport, picked up my package there, opened it, and slipped the four SIMMs into my shirt pocket. A thousand dollars' worth of RAM.

163:

One: How did the authorities finally cotton on to what was going on ... ?

They generally didn't: high-tech crime vs. 1980s/1980s police, and once the envelope is in the mail, how do you trace it?

Of course, a 10-year-old walking out the front door clutching a football was eventually recognized as a sign that you should put a hold on outgoing mail the next morning. And smart firms started checking the outgoing mail for identical non-company envelopes, or holding the bulk outgoing mail until after noon. And by 1994 the resin factory was back in business and the price of RAM began to drop, rendering the crime unprofitable. Today an 8Gb SODIMM will cost you about £65 on Amazon and is plenty for a desktop PC, rather than the £500 of DRAM SIMMs you needed to run Windows 3.11 back in 1993. And most office PCs are elderly these days -- have you looked behind the counter of any office recently?

Your point 2 is hysterically funny: it's probably Barroso playing head-games with Cameron. (You're aware that most of the EU budget is spent in the country it's raised in, right? On things like the EU Regional Development Funds. Which the government often doesn't approve of for ideological reasons, and tries to block. Thus giving rise to headlines like "UK asked to pay £2Bn more to EU", rather than "EU, irritated, orders UK to spend £2Bn more on Welsh Development Fund: Tories refuse".)

164:

Yes, but IIRC Tony was already sitting in the Commons when the Baronetcy landed on his head, and it took an Act of Parliament to let him stay there ...

165:

NB: I have the same reaction to Nigel Farage's voice and face on radio/TV that I used to have to Margaret Thatcher, then George W. Bush, and -- later on in his career -- to Tony Blair.

166:

Formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate, there wouldn't have been a problem for a Sir Anthony, Bt.. The legal theory behind barring peers from seats in the Commons was that they already had seats in Parliament as members of the House of Lords. Baronetcies were a Stuart money raising scam and didn't carry a seat in the Lords unlike the more expensive options.

167:

Ah yes, the RAM-raiding period. I wasn't aware that it was caused by the resin factory fire, though.

Around that time we had one PC for our support team (and much preferred 3270 terminals over Windows anyway), and it ran like a slug on valium.
Following a software upgrade (NT? 3.1? (I know we lost the eye-searing "Hotdog Stand" colour scheme)) it was effectively unusable, so I rummaged through my stock of ex-Mac SIMMS and surreptitiously upgraded it to stop the continuous disk thrashing. Some months later it was being replaced, I was in a meeting, so left a note "This machine contains 8MB of my memory (the two Apple SIMMS) and I'd like them back, please." causing considerable confusion in the PC support team: "We're used to people stealing RAM, but never putting their own in." - countered by "Have you tried running Windows in 4 meg?"

Around the same period (or slightly later) there was a spate of robberies (some armed) of SUN kit. (One of our customers was hit by this, the night shift were tied up, and the robbers demanded the location of the machine (E5000, I think) and got violent when told they hadn't got one (it was in our datacentre about 80 miles away). They left (unfortunately before the police arrived) after being given a tour of the machine room (all IBM RS/6000s of little resale value). I seem to remember telephone exchanges being raided for hardware around the same period.

Oh, and the armed robbery in the US where a delivery truck backed up to the loading bay, was alowed inside, and unloaded a gang armed with AK-47s who relieved them of the previous delivery of memory.

168:

Speaking of Sun robberies, I heard an apocryphal tale from the late 80s/early 90s about the computer centre at Leeds University. They'd just taken delivery of some eye-wateringly expensive Silicon Graphics kit when their server room was robbed by computer thieves.

But the University had a lucky escape. The none-too-technologically-literate thieves ignored about a quarter-million pounds' worth of shiny new purple refrigerator-shaped graphics workstations. Instead, they hit a pile of ancient terminals ... and stole only the VT100 keyboards. (Compare that image with this pic of a Commodore 64 and you will probable figure out why ...)

169:

RAM thefts in the Nineties:

Now apply this to the Laundry. And cringe.

Would the modern theft be SSDs, instead of RAM? It would be more easily noticeable, though, because a computer is somewhat hard to boot without a disk...

Of course if the Laundry leaves (homeopathic?) traces into the RAM of the computers, then it'd be a bad thing to filch the RAM.

170:

It's the data that matters. Snowden and Manning used Flash stick

171:

"Of course if the Laundry leaves (homeopathic?) traces into the RAM of the computers, then it'd be a bad thing to filch the RAM."

It works in so many ways - some of the RAM could be 'processed' so that leaving Laundry grounds fries it.

The RAM for mobile devices could be set so that when it leaves the current device it fries (on top of the device being set to fry itself).

OTOH, people might be able to read things off of the RAM, given arcane knowledge.

172:

Which reminds me of another (older) tale: National Tyre Service (then owned by Dunlop) were rolling out a stock control system to all their depots. This consisted of a DEC Rainbow system with keyboard, monitor, and modem (1200 baud, I think) for nightly updates (via BT's "Midnight Lines" deal). Because the data transfer was so slow, the systems were preloaded with the branch stock according to the mainframe, just prior to shipping it.

One burglary later... roll-out team have head in hands at the thought of a week down the drain building the system, when there's a phone call: "Er, they took the keyboard, computer, and box with the phone, but left the big box under the desk behind".
(Caller was surprised to hear cheering from the other end.) "Oh good, we'll come up and replace the stolen bits tomorrow when we were intending to start using it anyway."

Another funny was the branch that never connected... tests worked fine, overnight failed. Eventually someone went up there to babysit it:

Ops: OK Jim, transfer should start in ten minutes.

(pause)

Jim: Er, I can see the problem; all the lights have gone out. I'll call you back once I've found my torch.

Happy days.

173:

There was a spate of Sun thefts from Universities in the late 90's early 2000's, usually just after a delivery of new kit.
Bradford got hit for about a quarter million quids worth of kit, some of it still in the box. From what I recall Dundee, and somewhere in Kent/Essex also got hit. Turned out that they had an inside man in the couriers.
It was an interesting few days lashing together dns,web and mail servers out of whatever kit we could bolt together.

174:

Oddly his voice doesn't set off my vomit reflex, although two of the other three you've mentioned do. Kudos to Meryl Streep and her voice coach, the trailer for The Iron Lady also did the same.

For me, Nigel's voice is just smarmy. The content is sickening, short-sighted and so on, but there's no actual instant desire to vomit or cringe, it's an intellectual reaction to his message.

For Tony... his voice doesn't instantly do it. That 'smile' though, that incites an almost incandescent fury. Add that to his words and it can rapidly transmute into a desire to break him.

And thinking back to politicians of that era, Michael Hessletine always struck me as the most dangerous. I would often catch myself nodding and listening along, thinking how reasonable he sounded. Then about an hour later it would sink what he'd actual said and I'd want to take my brain out and wash it clean. He just had a voice and a style of delivery that could persuade me that black was white, up was down, at least while he was actually speaking. Very dangerous in a politician.

175:

That 'smile' though, that incites an almost incandescent fury. Add that to his words and it can rapidly transmute into a desire to break him.

If you haven't read "Transmetropolitan" by Warren Ellis, hie thee too it; it may be an SF graphic novel, but his portrayal of "The Smiler" -- a leading politician/head of state -- is Blair down to his toes (and a psychopathic killer, too, before Blair's true lack of scruples and megalomania was fully clear to us). Watch out for other British political easter eggs: the quotes from Dame Shirley Porter (Westminster gerrymandering scandal) are something special.

Heseltine always struck me as having a brain, and -- within his frame of reference -- a lot more personal integrity than many of his peers. (Remember his resignation? It wasn't over back-handers full of fifty pound notes, or being caught in bed with somebody else's mistress: it was over a point of principle.)

176:

It's one of those no names moments, and there aren't that many small parties in the UK so it would be hard to invent one, but what if something similar to The Apocalypse Codex afflicted a politician, but it only worked face to face. TV was no good. And it only had a short-term effect. So he gets to be head of a small party, but he doesn't get big TV coverage. He does a lot of work in a Westminster constituency, and maybe even gets elected, but it doesn't translate to Parliamentary success. His career is a dead-end-path as far as any Thing From Another World is concerned.

But, as Bob Howard starts moving in those circles, and gets a taste of the effect, the alarm bells ring. Can he really ignore the hands-off rule on politicians? And the stars are right. Is the guy really in a dead end? What else hasn't been noticed, and what does this imply for other sorts of apparently normal success.

Is it really an office joke to wonder if Sir Alan Sugar is human, and how can you check discreetly?

And is all this malice from another world, or just a student project?

177:

For Tony... his voice doesn't instantly do it. That 'smile' though, that incites an almost incandescent fury.

He always reminded me of that line fron Hitchhikers - "He smiled that smile that made Ford want to hit it, and this time Ford did!"

178:

I would agree about Tarzan's brain and his principles. They don't completely align with mine, no surprises there - he's a Tory and former defence minister - but I feel he's a fundamentally decent, smart human being with bad politics.

179:

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Rev. Ian Paisley's voice...

180:

it's probably Barroso playing head-games with Cameron.
Unfortunately, I think you are correct.
Like I said, you couoldn't make it up - except someone just did .....
Yes, your parallel comment on "Regional Aid" is a trifle snarky, but true.
Politiciians. huh!
Talking of which, Farrago doesn't, but Milibean does - what a w*nker & "CallmeDave" just turns me off - what a wimp. The Boss goes ballistic if V Cable shows up ... it's almost like a personal allergy-test, isn't it?
Curious how the madwoman got to so many people though .....
As for T B.liar ... well the conversion to RC christianity was what finally did it - I start screaming if he shows up - exacty as Granthamwoman used to.

181:

Yeah, I can see how fiction based heavily on current reality can be a confounding. Sort of reminds me of William Gibson in the middle of writing “Pattern Recognition” having to rewrite to include 9/11. I prefer the alternate history route, it takes care of the past, present and future timelines handily. The possibilities are endless, things can be both familiar yet strange. Grimwood’s “Arabesk” trilogy comes to mind.

182:

...it only worked face to face. TV was no good. And it only had a short-term effect. So he gets to be head of a small party, but he doesn't get big TV coverage. He does a lot of work in a Westminster constituency, and maybe even gets elected, but it doesn't translate to Parliamentary success...


Sounds like someone who would work in the background. My mind went instantly to Sir Humphrey, or maybe Karl Rove.

183:

That definitely rings a bell - I was fairly sure, though, that it had been the separate keyboards for the 3270 terminals for the Amdahl that went.

184:

@dale Allen you managed to type almost word for word what was running through my head
While catching up on comments in this thread. Impressed or maybe I should be terrified

185:

Though Grimwoods use of common brand names struck me as jarring

186:

Sure, the common brand names would be part of the familiar world. Brand names would be destined to be as common as place names of cities or states. You would have to eliminate the inventor or founder at the source. Things become more strange and unfamiliar when you step into Grimwood’s envisioned 21st-century Ottoman Empire.

187:

Ah, Rev. Shouty. For him the mute button was invented. Freedom of speech allowed him to have his say. Nothing required me to listen to him shouting. Although I understand he mellowed remarkably in his older years.

188:

The government does not want low wage inflation. It would love real wages to be rising. Rising incomes would mean that the deficit would be rapidly falling.

Rising real incomes would mean the Tory party coasting into a an easy win at the next election. Politicians love rising incomes.


The current plan is only working on cost reduction, the taxes are just not coming in, as lots of low wage job creation means hardly any taxes. Also the banking industry is still flat on it's back (wage deflation is highest in the financial sector). It was the financial bubble that underwrote the previous governments spending, the collapse has permanently removed a big chunk of the tax base. People seem to forget that the biggest recession since the 30's is not an exaggeration. It's gonna be a long slog.

There are signs that business investment is at last picking up, but that will take a long time to increase productivity. Wages will only rise in the Uk once productivity increases.

What the government would really like is higher inflation from high wage growth. High inflation is the only way to get rid the debt. Inflation of 7% would halve national debt in just 10 years or at a more manageable 4% in 17 years.

How do you think we got rid of our war debt.

The government has already weakened the BOE's guidlines in regards to inflation unlike the hapless ECB who is hostage to Germanies paranoia that is driving the continent into deflation.

The actual big threat is how long can Europe drift in paralysis. Germany needs a bit of inflationary spending and the reigns loosened in France and Italy. Either that or the Euro needs to break up. So any future government will have a strong chance of another financial emergency steam rolling over them. Europe needs to either face up to the problem or a new crisis will force the issue.

The UK is finding it increasingly finding it difficult acting as a safety valve for employment problems in other countries. NI registrations from people from Mediterranean countries quadrupled last year. Housing pressure in SE England is at an all time high. It's vital that Europe revives not only for themselves but for the effect on our own economy and reduce immigration into the UK.

Each lurch seems to designed to drive the UK out of the Union, a big mistake for all sides.

189:

I was idly musing about this earlier.

Their so-called economic plan doesn't make much sense. The austerity plan is based on an economic model that's plain wrong. (The data that underpinned it was shown to be wrong and when corrected, the model fell apart.)

It is generating lots of low paid jobs and still keeping the benefits bill high - no surprises there when you freeze public sector pay and keep inflation super low. Wages aren't super-likely to rise.

Announcing in a climate like that "If we get elected, we're going to shaft the working poor" might be popular with the rich, but it's really not going to get you votes. (That's not the words they used of course, but it's basically one of the policy announcements from the last conference.

I find myself wondering if Callmedave and Georgie Porgie have had enough. They're not going to be hurting financially once they get out of Downing Street. They can go on to do whatever they like without being pinned down to all the pesky responsibilities of actually pretending to run a country.

They obviously can't actually say that of course, but "more of the same only worse" really doesn't sound like a great winning formula. The latest poll I can find suggests the same. Even with Miliband in charge, Labour have a clear lead.

Cynical, moi? But it lives up to your handle as plans go.

190:

I actually assumed your putting the office above a C&A was your admitting it wasn't quite our world - I recall being confused when I read that, as it didn't seem to match up with other references, as I thought they'd disappeared from the UK a long time ago!

191:

Best place to put the Laundry? Above Wood Green Shopping City. Lots of car parking, "apparently residential", and plenty of crawling horrors already installed.

(Long term Haringey resident)

192:

If Nightmare Stacks is too arcane for $Editor, then how about Nightmare Tape Silo. During my time in a datacentre I did always wonder if those things were possessed and the big ones were certainly scary. We had nearline storage for the Australian government welfare department and their gear was huge. Cylinders 10m in diameter and 3m high packed to the gills with robots and tapes. Knowing that life and death decisions for millions of people where decided on the zeros and ones trapped inside was a bit eery.

193:

The traditional place to hide a secret British organization tasked with repelling alien invaders is underneath a film studio...

194:

Their so-called economic plan doesn't make much sense. The austerity plan is based on an economic model that's plain wrong. (The data that underpinned it was shown to be wrong and when corrected, the model fell apart.)

Ah, this must be the notorious Reinhart–Rogoff spreadsheet. An economic model implemented as a spreadsheet by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff as the basis for their 2010 paper "Growth in a Time of Debt", which some politicians used to support their governments' austerity plans. And which student Thomas Herndon found problems with in 2013, which is when the model became notorious.

I don't like the austerity plans any more than the next person, and I suspect that the economics on which they're based is wrong, though I'm not an economist. But if that is the economic model you were thinking of, it's probably wrong to say that the austerity plans are based on it. Supported by it, certainly, but since the paper came out in 2010, I'm not sure they could have been based on it.

There's been a lot of academic discussion on whether the data that the model used was wrong, and if so, how. It's subtle, and I feel I ought to link to an FAQ written by Reinhart and Rogoff in response to criticisms of their model and its data. The FAQ contains a link to Herndon and his colleagues' paper.

By the way, I know these references because I research into how to make spreadsheets safer, and was going to use the model as a test case.

195:

I've read the rebuttal and the original criticism before.

I'm not used to the standard of debate when an economics paper is criticised - my academic background is biology and then education.

The original criticism looks like a paper to me. Well structured and researched, properly written. I don't know the journal and while the fine detail of the economics undoubtedly escapes me I can understand enough of it. (Some of the differences aren't so subtle either.)

The FAQ looks to me (despite one of them being a woman) like two proud men standing up and saying "How dare these upstarts challenge us?!"

Perhaps that's normal in the field?

As for not based on it... I appreciate it means trusting a politician when his lips are moving, but he cited the paper in February 2010 at the Mansion House speech, before the election stating it gave a firm basis for understanding the economic crisis and how to recover and certainly implying he'd seen advanced copies and this was why he'd gone down this route and used this language. There are broad similarities to Thatcherite "the country is like a greengrocers and we have to balance the books" economics but the language of austerity is different and derives probably in part from the time but in part from the implications of the original paper too.

196:

Rational Plan & El @ 188 & 189
Well, "our" recovery is better than anyone else's (at the moment & in Europe )
Not that that is saying much.
As both of you seem to note, wage increases, if not inflation would be good for us, but would also bee good for the present incumbents in office.
And Dave wants to be re-elected (they all do) so the "get rich quick & shaft the poor" scenario is a nice little hate-dream, but just ain't so.
Me, I want a hang parliament again, or better still a highly-strung hung parliament ......

Please note that "If we get elected, we're going to shaft the working poor" might be popular with the rich... Ain't on either.
The working poor include people on salaries of £150k a year these days - as Charlie has previously pointed out, they are still 100% dependant upon their salaries & licking the boss's boots.
"The rich" are the 0.1% (or even smaller proportion) - & catching them is an uphill struggle.
I do wish this "class" nonsense could be buried - it's the fight-before-last from pre-1960 if not before 1939 & irrelevant.

197:

"Best place to put the Laundry? Above Wood Green Shopping City. Lots of car parking, "apparently residential", and plenty of crawling horrors already installed."

On that basis The Barbican works pretty well. The architecture seems kind f appropriate as well...

198:

"I do wish this "class" nonsense could be buried..."

Hey, I'd be quite happy with that, but as a society we seem determined to keep trying to re-invent it....

199:

Just finished reading Rhesus Chart, and skimmed the spoiler thread. One comment nobody seems to have made is why clever Bob did not have a simple vampire tester ie a small but high power UV LED attached to his lapel with which he could inconspicuously zap everyone he met. Basil would not have lasted even half the book.

201:

I've always thought that the best place to hide some *British* secret dept was underneath a *foreign* embassy. Nobody is going to be snooping around those, and if something goes boom, or you have any infestations from some ethereal dimension, you can always blame the foreign country.

Besides that, it's worth noting that a secret department is unlikely to be in a new building, unless it's very public. Too many buildings that got requisitioned in the war and were never handed back to pay rent on commercial space (nor have to deal with commercial landlords).

Nah, if they are in London, they are likely to be in undistinguished older building. It's only when someone thinks it's a wheeze to save the London weighting by shifting a department to Wales, or worse, the North; that you get newer buildings. But usually they don't last long, so far from the levers of power.

202:

Ah, yes, the proximity to the boss thing... C. Northcote Parkinson's book about the British colonial service politics still mapped directly into corporate IT when I was doing that sort of thing.

For that matter, so did a book about the social structure of primates, with only moderate concessions for the grooming and poo-flinging bits.

"Parkinson's Law" is one of the few books I actually try to lend to people; looking at the shelves, it appears the last copy never made it home. Time to order a replacement...

203:

...why clever Bob did not have a simple vampire tester ie a small but high power UV LED attached to his lapel with which he could inconspicuously zap everyone he met. Basil would not have lasted even half the book.

Likely Bob wouldn't either, particularly if faced with a group like the Scrum. Bob wouldn't know that the vamps normally avoid their own.
How likely is it that something the size of a lapel pin would be powerful enough to incapacitate them? Getting the right wavelength might be tricky, after all they must be able to withstand some UV light produced by fluorescent lighting.

204:

However much you'd like it to be a "class" statement, one of the policy announcements at the last election was to, i paraphrase, rein in out of control spending on working age benefits.

This won't affect the people on £150k, who may receive Child Benefit (but will give it back in tax) but will affect a number of people who are either out of work (but only get 3% of the welfare budget) or are in work and getting low income and so receiving various benefits. What phrase doesn't offend your delicate sensibilities apart from working and poor for people in work but on such low incomes that even this current government gives them benefits in these times of austerity?

What phrase for saying "we're going to take that safety net away" apart from shafting those people doesn't offend you?

As for doing better than other countries, yes, we're doing better than any country in the Eurozone. We're doing worse than the US that ignored austerity and went with the old-school "government borrows and invests its way out of a recession" approach (despite the screams of the republicans).

The thing that austerity is meant to be delivering - reduced government borrowing and overall debt - is increasing year on year.

Just how is this a success?

205:

By the way, I know these references because I research into how to make spreadsheets safer, and was going to use the model as a test case.

Interesting. Do you have a link for your work or can you elaborate a bit?

206:

People seem to forget that the biggest recession since the 30's is not an exaggeration.

Not the 1930s; the 1720s.

Each lurch seems to designed to drive the UK out of the Union, a big mistake for all sides.

No argument there.

207:

It's only when someone thinks it's a wheeze to save the London weighting by shifting a department to Wales, or worse, the North; that you get newer buildings. But usually they don't last long, so far from the levers of power.

That's a major plot point for book 7. I will note, however, that some departments have major flagship headquarters outside London. Generally in cities where there is a high speed railway line to the capital -- for example, the major DWP office in Leeds (two hours away by East Coast Main Line, making it possible for senior folks to commute to and from meetings in Whitehall if necessary).

208:

As I remember that DWP office, it had architectural features that made is easier to defend against a riotious mob, things like windows overlooking the entrance which allowed machine-guns to set up a crossfire.

Shops are easy to break in to, big ground-floor windows. Government offices, even a local Job Centre, less so.

209:

It was built on the site of the building earmarked to become Gestapo HQ (England) after the successful execution of Operation Sealion. So welcoming! Much Secret Police! Wow!

210:

It depends on the office. I used to sign on in Liverpool. One of the offices was a converted school. Not very defensible at all. The head office used to be quite accessible - you could see the nice big windows behind the two layers of mesh to armour it up.

Inside both had been retro-fitted with thick glass (plastic or whatever) screens to prevent direct interaction. Some time during my time there they were refitted so the screens went to ceiling. A very pissed off service user flung a bag of excrement over the top as a crude biological weapon...

Here in York the DWP offices are much more open plan still. The council offices however, are not. I appreciate that the same place handles money as well as complaints about money, housing benefit and the like, so there's probably a genuine theft risk but it does amuse me somewhat.

211:

Greg, the "EU arrears" story is even funnier than I thought (in both senses of the word "funnier"):

Sex, drugs and the EU budget

Shorter version: the Office of National Statistics was ordered to cook the books by expanding their definition of the UK economy to include prostitution and illegal drugs as economic activity, thereby proving that the UK wasn't in recession, thereby generating favourable news coverage in the run-up towards the election.

The EU budget people noticed and are taking the ONS (and thereby the Chancellor) at their word: "okay, your economy turns out to be doing better than you said: pay up!"

Your question for $64,000 is how certain -- ahem, illegal -- economic activity is supposed to contribute to the tax revenue base on which the EU tranche is levied.

212:

In the USA, at least, our tax laws cover that. Box 21 on the 1040 is for "Other Income". Not paying income tax on ill-gotten gains is a traditional way of taking down gangsters over here.

213:

It's a bit more complicated.

The old calculation was done with the ESA 95 rules.

They're now being done with ESA 2010 accounting rules, which change the effects of such things as Military Expenditure and general R&D on the GDP total. See this Wall Street Journal article.

There's more detail in The Economist, including estimates of what Drugs and Prostitution will do. It's not something that's just a British statistical fiddle. It's an EU-wide change.

And it does seem that the revision affects recent historical figures, and hence the EU bill for past years. This isn't getting mentioned in very many news reports. The £1.7 billion demand is for recalculations that go back to 2002, and the headlines are comparing this to the net payment for this year, £8.6 billion. The GDP is about £1200 billion, if I have read the Google search results right. So we're talking about roughly 0.15% of the total to correct the accumulated errors of the last dozen years.

We're being lied to. And maybe the EU is being stupid, but so is David Cameron, so what's new?

214:

Jay Gee
If you are not careful & with Charlie's permission, from my own family's very diverse history, I'll really tell you why "class" is irrelevant!
But not right now, okay?

215:

Agree, actually - you DID note my caveat about "in Europe" didn't you?
No it isn't a "success", but it's also a lot less of a failure than anyone else's efforst (roubnd here at any rate).
Um

216:

It's difficult, but the thing is to imagine the conservatives aren't evil lizards and instead a bunch of normal humans, and since they are top politicians, driven by ego, vanity, and a number of other desires.

So the thing is, they have this ideology that says small government is good, hence they don't have a problem with cutting the budget. They also reject pretty much all economics formulated after the middle of the 20th century, (Reinhert Rogoff was a justification after the fact, not a reason for it {And they also reject the lessons of the 1930's}), so the standard response to a recession and government deficit is to merely cut government spending.

Hence the long recession we've had.
So far so good, their plan does actually make sense from their point of view, twisted and evil though it is to many of us.
However they clearly know that their ideology damages people because actually, SURPRISE! they've not done all the cuts yet. Peopl are hurting right now but government spending is only down about half of what they want to cut, but because they are politicians, they know not to put all the pain into their first year or two at the helm.

Dave and company probably think that if they do the death by a thousand cuts people simply will get used to it, and they'll be able to retire after a 2nd innings with the country locked into a smaller government outsourcing everything to private companies model, said companies will then take the helpful politicians onto their boards.

The problem is that new labour has a not dissimilar outlook on economics; they promised to reduce spending and the deficit, although they did do one thing almost but not quite right - quantitative easing. Pumping more money into the economy can have an inflationary effect (As we've seen with house prices), the trick is to create it debt free and spend it on infrastructure and other important things. We were actually on course to come out of the recession when the Tories got into power and cut spending and got rid of any idea of QE, thus making sure we'd have a multiple dip recession.

217:

Greg - it's easy to have a better recovery than other countries when 1) you've had the worst recession for a century or two, so the economy behaves somewhat like the north of Britain after the melting of the glaciers, 2) 5 years of deferred investment by corporations who've not bothered to spend any money, now they feel it is safe to do so, 3) the UK is actually one of the best countries in the world to do business, so of course it compares well to countries which aren't coming out of recession, 4) the insane austerity measure in Europe are still not sorted out.

I do howerver think you're wrong about class. Yes there are people earning 150k yet still working poor (There was an article in a 'news'paper earlier this year with some poor man whining that he only got 100k after tax and when he'd paid school fees for his children he only had about 40k left to pay the mortgage, car food etc etc.), and yes the composition of the upper class is perhaps less skewed towards the landowners than it used to be. But class is about more than mere wages.

218:

Charlie, some of us noticed that DRUGS etc bit from microsecond one....
Something smells of truly rotten kippers right through this story.
Meanwhile, I'm reminded of a story from Sydney.
A local "madam" gave her occupation on tax forms as "chicken farmer"...
On being challenged by HMIT, she took the local tax inspector into a vacant bedroomn:
"THIS is your place of business?"
Yup, cobber, raised more cocks than you've ever seen, right here!"
*cough*
etc, runs away, aplogies for joke, etc ....

219:

But class is about more than mere wages.
Ah, but you are, perhaps one of the 1% or less, who may realise this?
By education, interests & background, I'm A1
By income & domestic circumstances, I'm, C3 or D.
Now what?
Two of my ancestors Father-& Son were Lord Chancellors of England, others were penniless religious refugees, whose descendants never got even faintly rich, yet another string of the family had the name Paramour ( = Par Amour ) which tells you something. Others were fen farmers, descended from dirt-poor Danes/Angles or similar.
What was that about "class" then?
Utter, total bollocks, in other words.

[ p.s. AFAIK there was only one pair of L chancellors who did that - & I still look like the younger one!
The err, "fsmily portraits" are scary - like mirrors ]

220:

When we talk about the upper class nowadays, although I often use the term "Owning class", we/ I mean the ones who actually have the money, power and influence. Sure, (in a hypothetical example) your grandfather might have been a Duke or something, but since he drank all the family money away, you don't have any money, power or influence. Moreover in your case, it doesn't exactly matter when we're talking about ancestors 3 or 5 or 8 generations ago; there are plenty of such descendants around nowadays who still think somewhat like an upper class person, who wish they had had enough money to send their children to the right school, but in terms of power, money and connections they are certainly no longer upper class, although they might still have some vestiges of the culture.

221:

ON what's happening re. jobs and the recovery (hint - normal people are stuck in the mud), this blog has a nice round up:
http://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/lost-decade-we-used-to-dream-of-a-lost-decade/

What confuses me is that there's allegedly going to be an increase in demand for high skilled jobs. But how are people who are capable of doing such jobs, e.g. me, supposed to get them without both the right training and experience? Which we can't get because employers won't employ us or offer decent pay and conditions and opportunities.

222:

guthrie
more bollocks
I only found all this out "much later" so to speak
I went to a (very good) state grammar school, since destroyed by people who believed they were "elitist", & thus utterly destroying any hope of poor but intelligent children (like my father) getting a better education, & an escape from poverty & dead-end jobs into a better life.
I was born & have lived all my life in a NE suburb of London, where my parents lived about 20 houses apart - & about 300 metres from where I now live.
The area is now gentrifying very rapidly, but I like it here - it was always a quiet & pleasant place.
It used to be regarded as solid upper-working class, as if that meant anything.
As for "money" - what's that?
Sorry, this whole class thing, as I said is a distraction - there are the ruling elites (in the wrong sense of elite, since they are by no means the best) & the rest of us - oh & the truly rich, the 0.1% (0.01%?).
Nuff said?

223:

And there's this:
http://coppolacomment.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/bifurcation-in-labour-market.html

"But job insecurity and robots are only half the problem. The other half is skills. Businesses are constantly moaning that they can't get the skills they need, and blaming the education system for failing to provide workers with the right skills. Actually they have been doing this for as long as I can remember, so it is clearly an intractable problem. Now if there really was a skills shortage in the economy, shouldn't there be high vacancy levels? But vacancies have fallen considerably since 2007. So what are businesses really complaining about?"

"So part-time and temporary jobs, and growing self-employment, may not be a transitional stage on the road to economic recovery. They may instead indicate a fundamental change in the labour market. Perhaps insecure working is the shape of things to come for the majority of people. If so, it raises fundamental questions about the way in which society operates. How do you plan for the future if your job can disappear at any time without notice? How do you get finance for a house, or a car, if you have no reasonable certainty of future income? In fact, if you don't know if you will have a job tomorrow, you aren't going to spend money unless you absolutely have to, are you? So I would expect the rise in temporary work and self-employment, particularly, NOT to be accompanied by a rise in GDP."

224:

By the way, I know these references because I research into how to make spreadsheets safer, and was going to use the model as a test case.

Interesting. Do you have a link for your work or can you elaborate a bit?

I'll start off by introducing some maths.

Do you remember a passing mention of "two-dimensional categorical group theory" or some such in "The Rhesus Chart"? There actually is a branch of maths called category theory. How can I explain it? You may have done enough maths to have come across mathematical objects such as sets, groups, fields, and rings. A category is another kind of mathematical object. Just as there are rules describing what sets are made of and how you can combine them with other sets, so there are for categories.

By the way, this use of the word "category" has absolutely nothing to do with its everyday sense of class or classification. No more than the mathematical object called a field has anything to do with grass, cows, or wheat, or a mathematical ring has anything to do with weddings.

So one way of thinking about categories is that they're abstract mathematical objects. But there's another way. Categories can be seen as "mathematical workspaces" which hold other mathematical objects and the relationships between them. For example, there is a category of sets. You can visualise this as an infinite network of dots and arrows going between the dots. Each dot is a set. Each arrow represents a transformation from the set at its tail to the set at its head. Similarly, there's a category of groups. Once again, you can visualise this as an infinite network of dots and arrows. Each dot represents a group, and each arrow represents a transformation between groups.

The above won't make sense if you've not come across mathematical objects such as sets and groups, but the essence is that categories are mathematical structures that hold a collection of things (the collection can be finite or infinite), and also the relations between the things.

And, importantly, you can use them for reasoning about these relations.

Category theorists have devised a lot of mathematical tools for combining categories and parts of categories. One of these is an operation called "colimit", which is a kind of generalised "putting together". If you have a category of things, and you want to think in a rigorous way about how to put the things together, you apply colimit to them.

This is where spreadsheets come in. Excel is just a programming language, albeit an unusual one because it's graphical. Now, most programming languages are "modular". If you're writing a big program, you can split it into pieces, write each piece as a separate module, then test and debug that module. Do the same for all the other modules. Then, when they're all working, glue them together to make your program. This makes programming much easier, because you don't have to think about all of the program at once. It also means that you can hive off the job of writing modules to a subcontractor, you can share them with other people, and so on.

But you can't do that with Excel. If you want to write a big spreadsheet, you can't do so by writing a lot of little spreadsheets, testing and debugging each separately, and then putting them together. You have to do the whole thing in one go. This makes it hard to do things like sharing spreadsheet development across a team or setting up libraries of useful spreadsheet components.

What I was inspired to do was to set up, in effect, a category of spreadsheets, and to use colimit to combine several small spreadsheets into one big one. My inspiration came from the researcher Joseph Goguen and his paper Sheaf Semantics for Concurrent Interacting Objects. I won't go into details, but the paper uses categories to reason about systems of interacting objects, and how the behaviour of the system gets derived from that of its components. If you look at the abstract, you'll see that it says:

The approach is very general, and applies not only to concurrent object oriented systems, but also to systems of differential equations, electrical circuits, hardware description languges, and much more.

That's one aspect of my work. Categories are very wonderful and deserve to be better known. Joseph's feeling for mathematical elegance was also very wonderful and deserves to be better known. The act of explaining stuff is wonderful too, and is almost never done enough, especially by programmers. So I've combined the category theory and modularity with an idea called Literate Programming, invented by computer scientist Donald Knuth. To quote from the link above:

I believe that the time is ripe for significantly better documentation of programs, and that we can best achieve this by considering programs to be works of literature. Hence, my title: "Literate Programming."

Let us change our traditional attitude to the construction of programs: Instead of imagining that our main task is to instruct a computer what to do, let us concentrate rather on explaining to human beings what we want a computer to do.

The practitioner of literate programming can be regarded as an essayist, whose main concern is with exposition and excellence of style. Such an author, with thesaurus in hand, chooses the names of variables carefully and explains what each variable means. He or she strives for a program that is comprehensible because its concepts have been introduced in an order that is best for human understanding, using a mixture of formal and informal methods that reinforce each other.

With that background, I'll give some links to my work. One that I'm very pleased with is an SF plot-generator in Excel. This works by recursing over a transition graph of plot elements. You didn't think you can program recursion in Excel? Well, there is a way, if you replace time by space.

More seriously, let me link to this page. It's a page I set up for a campaign to fund my project to safely replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff model. The campaign is now closed (it didn't raise much money, so I probably need to improve my publicity if I try again), but I've left it there because it contains links to everything that I thought relevant, including papers about my work. I think it contains all the elaboration you'll need. One nice thing I demo'd is a system that lets you select spreadsheet modules from a library and glue them into a Google Spreadsheet much as you would a chart.

225:

A fast rail line, or a the M4, really don't work if you want to successfully defend your department from internecine attacks.

If you stay mainly at the supposed dept location, you aren't on-hand for the backroom deals, whispering campaigns, and just plain glad-handing required to keep the cash flowing. Eventually you turn up to a high level meeting (after 2 hours on the train) to find they have decided to merge you with AN Other dept; usually in another part of the country. Remember than most decisions are agreed outside the actual meetings.

If you stay mainly in town, to fight your department's corner, you (and your board, which needs to be doing similar) become disconnected from your actual department and it's work - meaning you can be blind-sided from that direction. Either it continues well without you (in which case it's a prime candidate for being put under the authority of someone else to save costs (merge), or it goes off and does it's own thing, which become undiscovered mines that explode in your face eventually.

The only potential fix for that is to make sure that no department is in town, throw them all out - everyone is in the same boat. However the two models above still occur eventually and things coalesce geographically within a few years (witness Canberra, Brussels, etc.)

It's a common problem of command and control, hierarchical structures. The closer your department is to "the centre", physically and informationally, the better you do.

226:

Off-topic:

Charlie, re: seasonal Laundry story. Before writing Cthulhu in Moominland, you really need to read the last two books in the series, "Father and the Sea" and "The End of November", to put you in the correct mood. :-)

227:

guthrie
Businesses are constantly moaning that they can't get the skills they need, and blaming the education system for failing to provide workers with the right skills. Actually they have been doing this for as long as I can remember, so it is clearly an intractable problem.
Actually, they are LYING, as simple as that.
What they actually mean is:"We can't get people aged under 30 whom we can cheat, because we don't want older, experience workers - they cause too much "trouble"
I have an MSc in Engineering - number of days employed using that skill - zero.
Tells you something ....
It's like the drive for unrestricted, unskilled immigration by "the bosses" - it gives them a lever to shaft the rest of us.

228:

Assuming I get a decent (by my choices, almost everyone else on this list will have different choices and many will have different standards of decent) alternative I won't be voting for any of the big 3 parties in May.

I'm sure given the way I write it won't surprise anyone to learn UKIP don't meet my criteria for decent.

229:
Businesses are constantly moaning that they can't get the skills they need, and blaming the education system for failing to provide workers with the right skills. Actually they have been doing this for as long as I can remember, so it is clearly an intractable problem.
Actually this is a very political statement. Businesses don't like taking people straight from school or university because they tend to have a habit of taking 'too many' random days off AND needing moderate to extensive specific OTJ training. The combination is unattractive, and obviously the businesses would rather off-load the cost of the specific OTJ training if they can. They'd also rather that people just entering the workforce didn't pull as many sickies as they do.

But there is a genuine problem too. Something like 35-40% of school leavers have what are categorised as poor basic skills - that's a failure to reach internationally agreed standards of literacy, numeracy (and more recently IT skills). Those numbers are much lower if you're looking at employing graduates but not zero.

As an example, I have lunch most days in the same place and I'm friendly with the owners. They took on a 16 year old over the summer as a waitress who couldn't count the change in the tip-jar and divide it between the number of people who had been working. That is a skill an employer should be able to reasonably expect of a 16 year old. The particular person in question was actually only there over the summer and is now doing AS and then A2's and planning to go to university. She may or may not become more numerate before then.

That number varies a little, but only a little, across cohorts - it shows a decline with age as people pick up the skills with life experience. We really are mostly talking about skills you need to live and function in the modern workplace.

And there are solutions. They're just not very politically palatable ones (for governments of any colour). The solution, bar none, with the most proven track record for improving this is not to change teaching strategies (the national curriculum, artificial phonics, "new math(s)" if you're old enough or a Tom Lehrer fan) - they tend to change which subset of the class isn't suitably taught, not affect the overall numbers - it is to teach much smaller classes, classes of under 8 ideally. (This is the limit for teaching to adult basic skills classes, and for the ones with really poor skills you often teach 1:1 or 1:2 - that is the mandated class size by the funding authorities.) There's decent evidence that teaching in schools with much smaller classes makes a big difference too - and many of the private and public schools use this as part of their selling point. But, of course, it costs a small fortune.

230:

If you stay mainly at the supposed dept location, you aren't on-hand for the backroom deals

This disincentive only applies at ministerial/top executive level. To flip it on its head: a department that keeps most of its body away from the capital can get far more bang for the buck with respect to facilities, wage bills, and premises -- even if they're renting back an outsourced property portfolio -- simply because the pressure to centralize everything in the capital creates competition for staff and office space, driving up prices.

Which is why there's a major DWP HQ in Leeds, and it's been there for most of thirty years. And why the BBC moved most of their operations to Manchester. And so on.

231:

I've posted about category theory in fact, so I thought I'd now post about category theory in fiction. As I said, a category holds information about things (objects, programs, mathematical structures, spaces, concepts, ...) and the relations between them. Some people praise it because they claim that it counteracts an unfortunate property of Western thought, which is to emphasise objects at the expense of relations.

Be that as it may, when you start taking relations seriously, you can do interesting things with them. For example, you can combine them, you can ask when they are equal, and you can do both. That leads to a common categorical notion, the "commutative square". Imagine a square with corners labelled A and B on top, and C and D below. These represent objects. The edges of the square represent transformations between them. Let's give these edges directions: A goes to B; B goes to D; A goes to C; C goes to D.

Now, the result of combining A→B with B→D is itself a transformation. So is the result of combining A→C with C→D. Are these two composite transformations equal? You need to know the details of their components to answer that, but mathematicians very often come across situations where they're given two such paths of transformations in this square pattern, and where it would be greatly useful to be able to prove them equal.

I mention this as preamble to a passage from Greg Egan's short story "Glory". Look at page 11, from the sentence "The theorem itself was expressed as a commuting hypercube, one of the Niah's
favorite forms". He uses a very similar idea in his novel "Incandescence", from which I've quoted the relevant passage here.

I think those are rather beautiful.

OGH mentioned category theory and higher-dimensional group theory in "The Rhesus Chart". In comment 79 to his Rhesus Chart: blood dripping fresh ... thread, I pointed at some papers which explain higher-dimensional group theory, and how it might be used to model the brain.

One very nifty thing about categories is that the objects can themselves represent transformations. In which case, you end up modelling transformations between transformations, relations between relations, mappings between mappings, etc.

So bringing this back to the Laundry, you could have a category whose objects are Dho-Na curves. As I understand it, a Dho-Na curve makes part of one spacetime congruent with part of another, thereby allowing nameless horrors to cross from one to the other.

What kinds of relation could you have between Dho-Na curves? Words like "subsumes" and "includes" are always good. Given a Dho-Na curve ཌྷ, you can presumably have a curve ཌྷ+ which connects slightly larger regions of its respective spacetimes, and a curve ཌྷ- which connects slightly smaller regions. So ཌྷ+ is bigger than ཌྷ, and ཌྷ- is smaller than ཌྷ. You could diagram this thus: ཌྷ-→ཌྷ→ཌྷ+ , where the arrow means "is smaller than". And if you do this for all the curves connecting the two spacetimes, you get a kind of fan diagram.

You might (*), at one end of the fan, get a curve ཌྷ0 which is smaller than every other. (Strictly speaking, smaller than or equal to, because category theory insists that it must be related to itself too.) So there's an "is smaller than" arrow leaving it and pointing to every other curve, but none entering it (apart from the one that compares it with itself). Categorists call this kind of object an "initial object".

(*) Or you might not. Perhaps there's a quantum uncertainty effect, analogous to zero-point energy, which prohibits null curves. It may be that every Dho-Na curve has to connect at least one Planck length in its source spacetime with one Planck length in its target spacetime, though this becomes problematic if one or other of the universes is not quantised.

You can do more. Suppose there's a Dho-Na curve ཌྷ which links a rectangle R♁ located contiguous with the door of Bob's office with an identically-sized rectangle R卐 somewhere in the Atrocity Archive SS universe. Now rotate R♁ and R卐 90° clockwise to make rectangles R♁↱ and R卐↱. Then there ought to be another curve ཌྷ↱ which links R♁↱ with R卐↱.

So now take the fan diagram I mentioned, and transform every curve ཌྷi in it into ཌྷi↱. Do the "is smaller than" arrows still make sense? This is an empirical question about Dho-Na curves and rotations, and can only be answered by experiment. But if they do, you've managed to map an entire system of objects and relations onto another such system. So these then become objects in a grander category...

Given that category theory is routinely used in cosmology and quantum theory, by Egan's aliens as well as Earthlings, it would seem vital for systematising the phemomena that the Laundry deal with. But who should learn it? Bob strikes me as unmathematical, and although Mo may be a whizz at stats and stochastic logic, she seems unimaginative. I am applying high standards here, I admit: I want someone capable of AHA! moments such as Einstein's riding-on-a-light-beam insight:

"...a paradox upon which I had already hit at the age of sixteen: If I pursue a beam of light with the velocity c (velocity of light in a vacuum), I should observe such a beam of light as an electromagnetic field at rest though spatially oscillating. There seems to be no such thing, however, neither on the basis of experience nor according to Maxwell's equations. From the very beginning it appeared to me intuitively clear that, judged from the standpoint of such an observer, everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the earth, was at rest. For how should the first observer know or be able to determine, that he is in a state of fast uniform motion? One sees in this paradox the germ of the special relativity theory is already contained."

Mo couldn't do that, she's too staid. Of the characters I've met, the most likely seems Alex.

232:

This disincentive only applies at ministerial/top executive level.

True, but the executives can't effectively oversee an organization that they're distant from. Their job is to be the link between the policy setters in the capital and the grunts on the ground; if they spend all their time in London or DC the grunts will gradually succumb to entropy and inertia.

Making a bureaucracy do what it's supposed to do is actually very hard; doing it on a one day a week basis just doesn't work.

233:

By the way, I know these references because I research into how to make spreadsheets safer, and was going to use the model as a test case.

That sounds very interesting. Are there any tips or techniques or philosophies you can put into a hundred words or less?

234:

Hey, I don't mind the rich are so obscenely rich so much. If they just took the money and quietly played with it that would be harmless enough.

But the bearers of great fortunes do insist upon their privilege to meddle in public affairs, don't they? That's the link that has to be broken.

235:

By the way, I know these references because I research into how to make spreadsheets safer, and was going to use the model as a test case.

That sounds very interesting. Are there any tips or techniques or philosophies you can put into a hundred words or less?

1) Don't use spreadsheets. Use a different programming language, because it will have user-defined functions, modules, and the other stuff needed for big projects. Excel doesn't.

2) You would not perform brain surgery, cook a banquet, design a bridge, write a novel, landscape a garden, or paint a portrait without training. No more should you believe that you can program without training. Not even in Excel.

3) Specify the problem, and your solution, before you start coding.

4) If you need to build a prototype before you can do that, throw it away afterwards and start again.

5) Test everything.

6) Document everything.

236:

Ah yes, money without power. That's the American fantasy in a nutshell.

I don't like Marxism, but that's one thing that the Marxists got right: you can't disentangle money and power. They're facets of the same thing. What's the point of having more money than you could possibly use, except as a political power base?

You can't break the link between riches and power.

In fact, I've been fiddling with the interesting exercise of describing global capitalism as a global empire. It's at best a clumsy metaphor, since capitalism has no borders and at best a murky hierarchy. If it were a government, it would best be described as a system designed to avoid responsibility, rather than assign it.

Still, if you see money and politics as a single system, it's possible to see the fight between the "small government" libertarians and the "big government" progressives as a fight over who has more power: traditional nation-states or emerging transnational corporations. In this metaphor, the libertarians are simply the lackeys of the transnats, people who prefer to pledge their loyalty to a corporation, rather than to a country. The fights over regulation on the national and transnational level are fights over the global power hierarchy, who gets to tell who what to do. In this conception, the US can be seen as the major player in the capitalist system, rather than as the hegemon of the American empire of global capitalism.

As noted, this is a metaphor. I'm interested in it primarily because history has told us a bit about how empires fail. This is especially true for the few corporate empires that have popped up, the British and especially the Dutch East India Companies. I'm wondering if seeing capitalism as an empire would help us figure out how the whole thing could fracture, and what would happen to the pieces. It's an interesting metaphor to explore, at least.

237:

Heh. I get my notions of the way things are in the UK from The Avengers. What, Steed and Peel aren't representative of English law enforcement operations?

238:

Ah yes, money without power. That's the American fantasy in a nutshell.

How is this fantasy American? There are absolutely legal ways in the USA to use money for political aims. Lobbying, donations, etc.

On the other hand, those things are supposed to be transparent, which make the USA somewhat better than, I dunno, Egypt.

239:

Thanks for the links! But how do you apply category to spread sheets to make them 'safer'? Use whatever big words you need -- I did my graduate work in algebraic geometry so homological algebra kinda got drilled into me. Category theory is one of things things that could be taught at a much lower level, btw. It's diagrammatic approach suits the learning style of most people who have to take a math class and it's really not that hard. The biggest problem is the abstraction; most people need concrete examples as motivators (I'm no exception), so you have to take classes in set theory and algebra and topology to get concrete examples of category objects, morphisms, and functors.

240:

Given that category theory is routinely used in cosmology and quantum theory, by Egan's aliens as well as Earthlings, it would seem vital for systematising the phemomena that the Laundry deal with.

Greg Egan collaborates with John Baez who used to be a regular contributor to The n-Category Café so perhaps it's not surprising that category theory makes an appearance from time to time in his novels.

241:

I think you've misread.

The American fantasy is that money and power can be separated, you can be rich without being influential.

242:

This works by recursing over a transition graph of plot elements. You didn't think you can program recursion in Excel? Well, there is a way, if you replace time by space.

How do you manage this trick? I can do it, but only by writing specialized macros. Why would you want to do this? Well Excel may be a programming language, it's not a very powerful one. Generally speaking, it doesn't support the loop construct, so it can't do universal computation. Give Excel the ability to loop (via recursion), and all of a sudden it becomes a powerful language . . . and an unusual one, given it's graphical nature.

243:

There's decent evidence that teaching in schools with much smaller classes makes a big difference too - and many of the private and public schools use this as part of their selling point. But, of course, it costs a small fortune.

Maybe you shouldn't call them 'teachers' any more. If our betters are determined that the value-added business model be the new educational paradigm to which we hew, well, since the high costs associated with it are justified on the grounds that the value added is increased income potential, perhaps we should stop calling the workers in that field 'teachers'. How about we call them 'income facilitators' instead and justify the high cost of employing them by saying they increase the income potential of the 'consumer' who uses their product? Sauce for the gander and all that ;-)

244:

Amplifying this, the American fantasy is that we can allow the rich to accumulate limitless wealth and still have a government that responds to the will of the masses.

245:

This notion goes at least as far back as the Campbell era science fiction and doesn't show any sign of dying out any time soon. Mmmm . . . perhaps this explains where libertarians get their odd notions of money without influence.

246:


I think not. Rather it should be that you can be Influential without being Rich...think of all those American Folk Heroes along the lines of Daniel Boone or ..." David "Davy" Crockett (August 17, 1786 – March 6, 1836) was a 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician." and so on and so forth.

Sub Category “Rags to Riches” or from the Old World?

“Dick Whittington: the true story

By The Museum of London

Richard Whittington lived from about 1350-1423. He achieved many things in his life. Now he is known for having a pet cat and 'turning again'. How did Whittington become so famous?

Richard or 'Dick' Whittington was born during the 1350s. He was the younger son of Sir William Whittington, Lord of the Manor of Pauntley in Gloucestershire. Sir William died in 1358. The oldest son inherited the estate, so Richard travelled to London to find work. "


http://www.bbc.co.uk/gloucestershire/content/articles/2005/06/16/about_dick_whittington_feature.shtml

SO ...a “STRIVER Rather Than a Skiver “in modern terms of the U.K s political Right Wing of Politics, eh wot?

Oh ...and he had a Cat! Or rather the Cat had Him.


There’s a wonderful mythology of the Needy Middle Classes of the U.K. and that is only if only they STRIVE...err, and also have well off parents then, if only they WORK Hard -and pass the !! Plus and thus go to Grammar School rather than those nasty working class Secondary Modern Schools/ Comprehensive Schools that are the same thing really, then they can achieve the Heights of the Aristocratic Wolf Pack of Eton Oxford and The Brigade of Guards.

That may have been true a couple of generations ago but from the 1980s onward that started to fade away and these days the growing gap betwixt Rich and Poor in the U.K. is steadily eliminating all of the betwixt and between Middle Class Professional Classes and the technical die off of those classes has only just begun as Expert Systems in Information Tech gains pace and eliminates modest capability Nice People Like US classes of the " Professionals " classes that didn't really demand much in the way of intellectual prowess for admission to the moderately well off middle classes of Home Ownership and ...


" ''It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums.
It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.''

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963), Anglo-Irish poet. Bagpipe Music (l. 39-43). . . New Oxford Book of English Verse, The, 1250-1950. Helen Gardner, ed. (1972) Oxford University Press. "

Personal Declaration in the interests of fair play?

My Hat is indeed hanging on a U.K. public service pension. Oddly enough it is a pension that is supported – Local Government Pension Scheme – by an investment portfolio...

http://www.lpfa.org.uk/How-we-invest.aspx

Not that I didn't earn it but alas most of my fellow public servants in the U.K. won’t get anywhere near the early retirement terms that I did how so ever long that they might work.

Interesting to think of where we might be now in terms of public debt in the U.K. if the entire Civil Service had been funded by such a scheme.

As it is the Tories look at the Local Government Scheme lick their chops and speak wistfully of how wonderful it would be if all of that Local Gov Scheme Loot were to be diverted into ever so desirable Public Works Projects like High Speed Choo Choo Trains.


247:

Nope...too Stylish and with an undercurrent towards understated Gayness ...well I always thought that 'Steed ' was Gay though he never had the nerve to declare it and come out of his natty Gents Saville Row Outfitters closet.

The real thing of the U.Ks Secret - but not so stylish - Police would be far closer to Len Deightons early novels ..

“Several of Deighton's novels have been adapted as films. His first four novels featured an anonymous anti-hero, named "Harry Palmer" in the films and portrayed by Michael Caine. "

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

as an working /lower middle class MI 6 with the Security Service, MI 5 being closer, in terms of fiction, to " Callan "

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Callan&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&client=firefox-a&gfe_rd=cr&ei=bE9NVNb5Ne2q8weRrYKIDQ


Than to the really dire " Spooks "..

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

Whose characters did stalk about in Glossy Offices and Pose like anything...also the casualty/fatality rate was startlingly high in ‘Spooks ‘which must have served to keep the salary rates for the actors down to the affordable level.


248:

Thanks for the links! But how do you apply category to spread sheets to make them 'safer'?

What category theory did was to provide my inspiration. I'd been experimenting with mechanising Goguen's sheaf semantics (the Goguen paper I linked to in my original explanation about my spreadsheet stuff), and I realised that a particular layout of spreadsheet could describe objects and systems in the way that his paper explains.

The limit of a combination of spreadsheet behaviours would then give me the behaviour of the entire system, and the colimit of the combination of spreadsheets regarded as algebraic theories would give me a theory describing the entire system.

(For non-mathematicians: the Goguen paper prescribes a way to draw a network diagram of the components that make up a system, and of the interactions between them. If you apply a standard category-theory operation called "limit" to it, it generates the behaviour of the system from the behaviours of the components. If you apply the "colimit" operation, it generates a program implementing the entire system from the programs that implement the components.)

This happens to be closely related to how the OBJ family of algebraic-specification languages does modularisation. So this showed me that I could regard spreadsheets as program modules, and that I had a way to combine these modules into a spreadsheet that contained all of them.

Goguen once wrote a paper, "A Categorical Manifesto", suggesting that category theory can often help one clarify ideas and choose the "right" operations to use when formalising things. So it happened with me. Categories gave me the inspiration to see complicated spreadsheets as systems of interacting modules, and suggested the "right" way to combine these modules.

And modularisation makes spreadsheets safer, because it makes them easier to think about, and makes it easier to share development between people.


Use whatever big words you need -- I did my graduate work in algebraic geometry so homological algebra kinda got drilled into me. Category theory is one of things things that could be taught at a much lower level, btw. It's diagrammatic approach suits the learning style of most people who have to take a math class and it's really not that hard. The biggest problem is the abstraction; most people need concrete examples as motivators (I'm no exception), so you have to take classes in set theory and algebra and topology to get concrete examples of category objects, morphisms, and functors.

I agree. Part of the problem is the history. I believe category theory was developed mainly to clarify algebraic topology (at first, anyway), so a lot of the examples come from there.

I've actually thought quite a bit about teaching. I wrote a program for demonstrating category theory on the Web (it links to an n-category café thread about extending this), and I've also put together a grab-bag of suggestions called "Make Category Theory Intuitive!". Some of the latter might be useful for teaching at a lower level. By the way, I'd be interested in what you think of the section called "Stand and look".

Going on from that, I tried to persuade the university's external studies department that we should work on a course for non-mathematicians. We'd look for examples of functors, natural transformations and adjunctions from outside mathematics, for example in various kinds of humour and analogical reasoning. And we'd try to use depict them using the best tricks of graphic design that we could conceive. Sadly, they weren't interested: not enough certainty about people signing up and thereby covering the development costs.

Such a course could also play with ideas in the way that I did with categories of Dho-Na curves. A lot of the elementary stuff is about properties of transformations, and of sets of transformations, and about how one set of transformations can be transformed into another set of transformations... and one could invent many fine examples to illustrate such things.

249:

Greg Egan collaborates with John Baez who used to be a regular contributor to The n-Category Café so perhaps it's not surprising that category theory makes an appearance from time to time in his novels.

I've found some of John's writing very helpful. "The Tale of n-Categories" for example, in "This Week's Finds in Physics" 173 and onwards. Attended some fascinating lectures on categories and network theory when he came to Oxford too. Oh, and he was kind enough to blog my project!

Anyone here who doesn't know John Baez's stuff, go and look. You're in for a treat. It's not just categories, or even maths

250:

This works by recursing over a transition graph of plot elements. You didn't think you can program recursion in Excel? Well, there is a way, if you replace time by space.

How do you manage this trick? I can do it, but only by writing specialized macros. Why would you want to do this?

Maybe this posting on calculating Kaprekar's constant in Excel will explain. I'm exploiting an analogy between functions and arrays in the programming language I devised that compiles into Excel. The recursion gets laid out (or spread out ...) in space rather than time. As such, it is restricted by the number of cells Excel provides.

However, I have still found it useful. I used it in a spreadsheet that modelled the finances of social-housing companies, to program a string search that was most easily expressed by recursion.

251:

Indeed, I thought it was obvious that sort of comment (Not mine but I agree with it) was political. POlitics is about who controls and gets the resources in society or a given group of humans, thus issues of education and training, and the CBI demanding as free a lunch as possible whilst doing everything to make business free from actuall paying the taxes that help make it possible, is politics.

That's the really cunning thing; the propaganda of the last few decades has managed to decouple politics from money in people's thoughts to a large degree.

252:

OGH wrote:
Which is why there's a major DWP HQ in Leeds, and it's been there for most of thirty years.

I moved from Manchester to Leeds a couple of years before the then DHSS moved.
I found Leeds drab and rundown compared to greater Manchester. After the move there was an improvement in the city centre and an increase in house prices which I ascribe to a combination of the influx of people fron the home counties and extra government money. You certainly wouldn't walkthrough the Leeds city centre now and describe it as rundown.
More movement of government offices like this would help the country ans repatriate tax money closer to the taxpayers.

253:

Um, I don't think it's a new idea.

As I pointed to above, one of the central differences between capitalist economics and Marxist political economics is that the study of economics (sorry, I'm gagging on calling it a science) is all about the money, while the Marxists insist that you can't decouple money and politics, and study both together. While I think the latter are more right, their central problem is that it's difficult to quantify political power, and easy to quantify money, so studying political economics doesn't seem to lend itself to the elaborate quantitative models that economists love.

Anyway, the idea that politics is divorced from money goes back to the roots of economics, and it was reinforced both by the Cold War and by the increasing habit of presidents and prime ministers having economics advisers rather than historians as advisers. It's so normal to the way we think that it's very hard to look back and figure out where the great divorce between economics and politics started in the first place.

254:

Oh, no doubt that if you have a big bunch of paper pushers, you are probably going to end up with them outside London - hence the DWP in Leeds. You'll note, however, that the board level is at Caxton House, in Westminster.

One of the models you can try, to attempt to deal with the previous problem, is you put your entire Headquarters people in London, and make your lower department managers commute between Leeds and London. That means the board still have better control over the business, but means the dept managers get more out of touch - and they are *supposed* to be more 'hands-on'.

If it's rote stuff like DWP it's probably more sustainable. However it just shifts where the shafting goes on - the London Headquarters looks to outsource that remote lump (they 'go native' to treasury preoccupations and don't fight hard).

eg http://diginomica.com/2014/03/11/1bn-cuts-forcing-dwp-radical-outsourcing-digital-measures/#.VE19zMqjhEM

As for the Beeb in Salford, you do realise how hard they all fought against that, don't you? No one wanted to be there, its well out of the action and they knew what it meant. My guess is that when the inevitable 'privatisation' of production activities happens (leaving the Beeb DGs as just the purchasing managers in Broadcasting House) most of the newly privatised entities will jump south as soon as possible.

255:

[Reference grammar test to keep idiots off the Net]

That reminds of a chat with a friend, at the beginning of Endless September about twenty years ago, where he allowed as to how there should be an IQ test before posting to Usenet:

"There was one before AOL fouled the waters with a point & drool interface."
"What? I never saw such a thing."
"UNIX."

256:

Category Theory
Much used in The "Mars" trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson ....

Arnold @ 246
I see you've been reading right-wing roadbuilding propaganda:
ever so desirable Public Works Projects like High Speed Choo Choo Trains.
Steam-powered from turbines @ power-stations!
Works in France, Germany, Spain, Belguim, Japan, etc. can't possibly work HERE.

257:

I saw an interview somewhere with two of the stars of Spooks that basically said whenever the boss wanted a pay-rise they started a sweepstake for who (and how many) of the rest of the cast would die.

258:

They're both rather historical examples.

Dick Whittington wasn't significantly influential while poor. He started poor, worked hard to become rich and became very influential as he become rich.

Davy Crockett's history is a bit harder to unpick but although he clearly started poor (he worked to pay off his father's debt according to wikipedia), and seems to have had influence standing up for the poor throughout his career there's things like served as a colonel in the local militia that suggest he didn't stay poor. He went on from that to serve in congress - another guy who became rich and influential in parallel with it.

So while historical they seem to reinforce the idea that money and influence go together.

I do agree that it's possible to have significant influence without money. However, it's rare and tends to be passing unless it's tied to something very dramatic. Although it's rather melodramatic Stephen Lawrence wasn't rich but his death has had a significant, on-going influence on British society and British policing. It would be silly to pretend it's made things perfect, but 21 years later we still know his name.

It's also possible to be rich and not use the influence you have. I guess lottery multi-millionaires who just buy houses and cars and live a luxury life are the most obvious examples here.

And in the UK's system individuals who wield power don't necessarily have to come from money - Maggie and Bliar were both from not incredibly wealthy backgrounds (although neither of them were truly poor). But the party system enabled them to get into parliament, get to a position of power and accrue power and accrue money too.

There's a lot wrong in Marxist analysis. Starting from its opening piece - we're not all equal in all aspects and if you give us all the makings of an apple pie we won't all make equally nutritious food. But within the current system money and influence are tightly coupled. You can find exceptions, yes, but it's not a bad rule of thumb.

259:

Er, Excel really isn't a programming language. It's a giant sheet of accounting paper that has a fairly carp programming language (VBA) as one of its extensions.

Although #235 makes me woder if you do in fact realise this. Oh and BTW that's how I'd handle recursion in Excel, is by learning VBA first, and then using it to create custom recursion formulae.

260:

Nope...too Stylish and with an undercurrent towards understated Gayness ...well I always thought that 'Steed ' was Gay though he never had the nerve to declare it and come out of his natty Gents Saville Row Outfitters closet.

Why? It was hinted (never stated but well it was the 1960s) that he had had an affair with Emma Peel, and he certainly had liasons with some of the string of young ladies who were seen leaving his home in "The New Avengers" (in my defence, I was 14 or 15 at the time), but would certainly have responded to questions on the subject with "There are some things that a gentleman does not talk about". Witness one NA episode where a USian guest star asks Steed of Purdey "Was she made?" and Steed's response is "I believe it has been tried."

261:

No. Excel actually is/has a rather manky dataflow language that manages to be Turing complete without the VBA extensions.

262:

Ok, I had to check what a "dataflow language" actually is, but it seems to me that they rely on tasking and rendezvous without ever using these names ("An operation runs as soon as all of its inputs become valid"). A series of Excel formulae will try to execute as soon as they are entered (in direct mode) or whenever recalculate is signalled.

263:

the idea that politics is divorced from money goes back to the roots of economics, and it was reinforced both by the Cold War and by the increasing habit of presidents and prime ministers

It's hard-wired into the origins of economics as a discipline (a more accurate term, IMO, than science: there's structure to it but it's impossible to put it on a fully replicable experimental basis). Consider the nature of politics in the era when Adam Smith was working: it was dominated by absolute monarchism as the default system, with the British system of a constitutional monarchy and a legislative parliament (elected by, oh, almost 10% of the population! Male land-owners of the right religion, in other words) was considered radical.

To suggest that power was all about money, or vice versa, contradicted the doctrine of the divine right of kings [the right to absolute rule]; it was thus not only politically subversive and liable to bring you to the attention of the secret police: it was religious heresy in many parts of the world. There's a reason Marx did his work in the British Library while in exile after 1848, and a reason so many German political radicals (by 19th century standards: today they'd be arch-reactionaries) ended up in exile in the United States and the UK after the year of revolutions.

Economic thought tends to pay homage to whatever source of temporal power holds the sceptre in any given age. European economic thought in the 19th century was dominated by the presence in the background of unsteady monarchies with police officers keeping an eye open for subversion: it's no surprise they mostly avoided theorizing about a glaring weakness in the claim to legitimacy of their governments! This state collapsed surprisingly late -- in 1917-1921 -- by which time the current foundations of economics as a discipline had been laid. You don't get to be an economics professor until you can convince the older, senior economics faculty that you deserve the title: so in the absence of falsifiable predictions and replicable experiments -- as in the sciences -- economics as a field has more institutional inertia (it's less susceptible to paradigm shifts).

I'm bloviating before morning caffeination is complete. Does this make sense?

264:

Wrong: Excel is Turing-complete. As such it passes the acid test for "is it a programming language". We can argue until the cows come home over whether it's a completely crap one or not, but that it is one is not in dispute.

(Mind you, so is the M4 macro processor, or troff, or "Magic: The Gathering". It's a surprisingly low bar to pass.)

265:

That's pretty much it. Veering off topic, the dataflow approach lends itself nicely to automatic parallelisation.

There used to be a functional/dataflow language called SISAL for numerical computing that got very respectable performance on SMP machines of the day. It would have been a contender if they had the sense to call it FORTRAN :)

266:

The scariest abuse of turing completeness I have seen for a few years is this - a CPU emulator in LaTeX.

https://gitlab.brokenpipe.de/stettberger/avremu/tree/master#README

267:

Define 'programming language'.

Excel is, as mentioned, missing a lot of what 'normal' programming languages consider essential. But it transforms input using user-defined rules to produce an output (without requiring VBA). I doubt that it's Turing-complete, but that's not a requirement.

(Oh, it is. OK)

(I've seen Space Invaders implemented in a spreadsheet before now.)

268:

No. Excel actually is/has a rather manky dataflow language that manages to be Turing complete without the VBA extensions.

Does Excel support looping (or recursion) constructions without the VBA add-ons? If it doesn't how can it be Turing complete? Maybe my memory of what it means to be Turing complete is at fault. I'm older than Charlie :-)

269:

If I remember rightly you can do without things like looping if you have infinite memory - copying code and instructions is enough.

With excel you can apply an instruction to an "infinite" number of cells (row/column) and emulate looping by filling extra space.

I know you can argue that this runs you out of memory fast so it doesn't count but I would reply that infinite memory is a myth, and by that standard no physically realisable language or machine is really Turing complete.

Excel works by copying data. For the other approach I alluded to there's an esoteric language called SMITH that does "looping" by copying code from the past.

270:

"copying code and instructions" should read "copying data and instructions"

271:

Thanks for the link to the Goguen paper. I might have run across it in my university days but I don't think I've read more than the abstract. I'll try to consume the whole paper now :-)

I did some stuff with co-algebras, so category theory isn't new to me. I don't think CT is directly applicable anywhere, but it's a nice framework to organize your ideas and translate them from one subject ares to another.

Regarding spreadsheets: requiring types and names for all data is the way to go. Also unhiding all those formulas from beneath their cells. Spreadsheets as they are really are a software engineer's nightmare.

272:

The big future of (currently) unconventional computing is reversible computing. Undoing the operations you no longer need to recover the potentially lost energy. It gets you around the Landauer Limit.

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

273:

Thoroughly off the original topic, and no where near the current one (which I know nothing about).

Why? It was hinted (never stated but well it was the 1960s) that he had had an affair with Emma Peel, and he certainly had liasons with some of the string of young ladies who were seen leaving his home

Not that I care either way, having only seen a handful of episodes. Though their names are suggestive, I doubt the writers gave much thought about the orientation of their characters. Steed (or Bond) shtupping any available female was not a reliable indicator of straightness.
Back then it was certainly not unusual for gay men to marry and have families, whether to 'pass'* or from being in deep denial and proving how manly they are (or joining the military for the same reason). For the most part that ended after Stonewall, though it still happens among American evangelicals.
*Women too, of course.
Sorry if that's all obvious.

274:

It's the peril of writing near-future, it's a grin and bear it. We had Woolworths in the States, I vaguely remember a couple of them from my childhood in the '60s. Here we have the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and as I did IT for a major metropolitan police department (1,200ish sworn, double that civilians) I really look forward to seeing your incarnation. Next July, eh? There's a slim chance I can buy a copy over there, we're planning a trip to Europe next year.

275:

I did some stuff with co-algebras, so category theory isn't new to me. I don't think CT is directly applicable anywhere, but it's a nice framework to organize your ideas and translate them from one subject ares to another.

This already mentioned page runs some Web-based category theory calculations on my server, to generate examples in the category of sets. But I originally used those algorithms to calculate the limit of a diagram whose objects were Prolog clauses, as a way of generating a Prolog program whose behaviour was the limit of the behaviours of those clauses.

I've a demo of it here. You'll see the diagrams in it, and also their limit objects, constructed as a rather ungainly assemblage of products and equalisers. Below each limit object is the result of running it. I claim that this is a direct application of CT. Though not a very efficient one...

276:

Emma Peel is supposed to have been named because the creative team wanted to cast a female lead that would appeal to the male gaze. They had the short-hand on their casting notes M-Appeal and read it out, realised it made a name and thus had the name for the role.

As for being gay, I don't think the sexuality of either is ever really discussed. Mrs. Peel is happily married - and leaves to go back to her husband. That doesn't make her straight of course. Steed is a confirmed bachelor, which in some circles and at some times has certainly been code for being gay. On the other hand he certainly chases a number of young ladies out of his flat at various points. He might be bi, but it's not the typical behaviour of marriage to someone to have a beard to protect you from accusations of being gay.

277:

Re: "There are absolutely legal ways in the USA to use money for political aims. Lobbying, donations, etc."

And you don't see this as a problem - basically enshrining that money will buy political access? (Just checking.)

I'm pro making sure that very small, low incidence groups that might be ignored/overlooked be adequately represented. I'm not fine with people/institutions who preemptively stomp on others' rights/needs citing that we live in a zero-sum universe. (I disagree with the 'zero-sum' bit.)

278:

I have never claimed that it is a new idea. It is however one that I agree with, based on my own integration of observations, theory and reading of history.


279:

Just a bunch of geeks talking sh...

280:

the idea that politics is divorced from money goes back to the roots of economics

Hmm, I don't know Charlie/hetermeles, it's been ages since I read Smith (or Ricardo, Marx, Mill et al.) but I don't this is the right way to characterise him.

I went looking for the Smith quote about cartels because it was the one I remembered, and found these instead:

"The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it." (Book I, Chapter XI, Part III)

"Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people." (Book I, Chapter IX)

"The government of an exclusive company of merchants is, perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatever." (Book IV, Chapter VII, Part II)

"To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers." (Chapter VII, Part III)

"Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all." (Chapter I, Part II)

There are lots more at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Adam_Smith.

So "the idea that politics is divorced from money goes back to the roots of economics" doesn't get much support if you look at Smith. I am not a historian of economic thought, but to the extent this idea is a real phenomenon, I think it's relatively recent, say 20th century or post-WWII. And (now I'm on familiar turf) it's far from universal in mainstream academic economics. The top economics journals regularly publish stuff on corruption, lobbying, regulatory capture, etc. I just checked the list of forthcoming articles in the American Economic Review (#1 journal in the discipline) and found one on lobbying and one on corruption and election fraud. Pretty mainstream, actually.

281:

I'm re-reading Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell, where Strange occasionally assists Wellington in the peninsular by re-arranging Iberian geography to inconvenience the French, and later (temporarily) relocates Brussels to the north american plains during the Waterloo campaign. So a certain amount of geographical indeterminacy might be expected as Case Nightmare Green manifests.

282:

In Dominion, CJ Sansom has the German embassy with its Gestapo sub-basement, in Senate House. As a UCL alumnus, the thought of the University of London HQ draped in giant swastikas irked me.

283:

I tried to read that book but there was just too much crap in its underlying hypotheses to suspend disbelief. Ditto with much of "Hollywood occultism" - nothing like magick (the word with a "k" in it) and utterly theologically unsound.
Charles does it successfully, which is why I pay money to read his Laundry books.

284:

Adam Smith wasn't "the roots of economics" -- you're missing the physiocrats and all the earlier theorisers. He's just the root of modern economics, much as Newton is the root of modern physics (and we tend to forget about his embarrassing alchemical experiments, or his predecessors).

285:

More that re. NEwton and alchemy, it was pointedly ignored for 200 years as the later 18th century scientists tried to get away from all the weird stuff of the past and bolster their social position.
UNfortunately what happens nowadays is that every couple of years the media rediscover that Newton was an alchemist, the problem being that actual historians of science have known that since the 1970's, and there are lots of books out on the topic, but the media don't care about that.

It can in fact be shown that chemistry owes a lot to alchemy, not just in the physical apparatus, but in the ideas, but then alchemy wasn't magic, it was actually a proper testable hypothesis about how the world worked.

There are a lot of people who could do with reading up on the history of science.

286:

Putting the Gestapo in Senate House was Samson tipping his hat to 1984's Ministry of Truth surely?

Regards
Luke

287:

I remember reading Martin Woodhouse's "Tree Frog" (the first "Giles Yeoman" novel) while at school - similar in some ways to Len Deighton, but slightly earlier and more science-focussed.

It's interesting to hear his perspective on "The Avengers", which he co-wrote.

http://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php?/archives/1483-MARTIN-WOODHOUSE-EXCLUSIVE-INTERVIEW-WITH-WRITER-OF-THE-AVENGERS-AND-SUPERCAR.html

As a person, the author must have been fascinating bloke, and it's a shame that his personal website has since gone down: the wayback machine has it here:

http://web.archive.org/web/20110928181425/http://www.martin-woodhouse.co.uk/

288:

The whole campaign spend by one of the major parties in a UK general election is on the same order as a single Senate race in the USA. A Presidential campaign has a budget larger than some small nation states. Why? Media buys.

In the UK you get a strictly rationed number of party political broadcasts, and then it's basically campaign staff, leaflets and billboards. There isn't all that much to spend the money on. You certainly cannot buy TV or radio time beyond your allotted quota.

If you want to reduce the impact of money on politics in the USA, all you need to do is limit political advertising on TV and radio. Good luck with that though. Quite apart from the constitutional arguments, the media has a vested interest in maintaining an income stream.

289:

I'd agree that certainly the first two (Crystal Gayle and Emma Peel) of The Avengers women were very much the equals of any of the men they came across, and of Steed. In Steed's case in every respect I think I'd say, in the villains' case not necessarily - the villains have to be able to get one up on the heroes for some of the story after all, to put them in peril, but they get one up on Steed too.

It's interesting to read how deliberate that was. And, for me at least, it's one of the reasons it remains more watchable than say, The Prisoner. It's a bit less surreal too, but it treats its central female character with a much more modern touch. The Prisoner always feels far more dated in how it treats all its women to me.

Although that's way, way off topic, even off the diversion of the topic that the discussion of Steed's sexuality was!

I did notice in your link discussion of them as swingers. I have no problem with the idea they both swing both ways, as I think I said - although I don't think you could find clear evidence in the shows. The F/m theme it talks about is much stronger and clearly displayed. But again way off topic.

290:

Hmm hmm ... I don't think so. The original comment by hetermeles at #253 is about the origins of "modern economics", I think:

The idea that politics is divorced from money goes back to the roots of economics ... it's very hard to look back and figure out where the great divorce between economics and politics started in the first place.

And my point is that if you take Smith as the starting point for "modern economics", there's no divorce between economics and politics. They're quite happily married at that point.

I don't entirely agree with hetermeles about the current state of the economics discipline either: it's easy to find mainstream high-profile etc. counterexamples to the claim that "studying political economics doesn't seem to lend itself to the elaborate quantitative models that economists love", as I noted in my previous post. But I don't entirely disagree either.

I think the problem in the economics discipline (my day job) is actually two different problems. There is a tendency in modern economics, or perhaps I should say on the part of some economists, to ignore or simplify away the politics. But there's a second, more pernicious problem: some members of my tribe have a bad habit of pretending to do "positive economics" ("what is") when it's actually just a cover for "normative economics" ("what should be"). Too easy to find examples, sadly.

291:

And my point is that if you take Smith as the starting point for "modern economics", there's no divorce between economics and politics. They're quite happily married at that point.

I was listening to Radio 4, and they asserted that the original title of the subject was "Political Economy", i.e. the spreading your available resources efficiently within a greater number of political demands.

This was then shortened to "Economy", hence "Economics".

292:

If you go by the actor's ages, which can be a starting point, Diana Rigg was born in 1938 and Patrick Macnee in 1922. It is possible that Steed is a few years older than the actor, but he might not have made Major during the war. The Wikipedia article is slightly silly on the dates, suggesting he might have been born in 1925 and reaching Major by 1945. Promotion in the Army of Occupation would fit too.

It's a little hard to think of people of Steed's age being swingers, and homosexual activity would have been all sorts of problems though legality and security concerns.

293:

Patrick Macnee's wartime service is impressive enough - apparently he served in the Royal Navy on Motor Torpedo Boats, and ended up commanding one (he was also lucky to survive; he was taken ill, and while ill his MTB was destroyed).

To put this in perspective, each side was trying to dominate the English Channel, and the MTB/MGB and German E-boats were too small for radars, too weak to stand and fight - they operated largely by night, and often at very close range. It was "knife-fight in a phone box" stuff - raiding, recce, landing and recovering SOE agents and officers.

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