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Upcoming appearances, Amsterdam, Seattle and Spokane

(Hoisted to top of blog because, well, I'm on the road again as of tomorrow (Monday) afternoon.)

It's that time of year again and I'm travelling and doing stuff in public on That Other Continent, so here's a preliminary list of fixtures.

On Monday the 10th I'm changing planes overnight in Amsterdam. Which means I'll be hanging out in In De Wildeman in Amsterdam from about 8pm onwards; all welcome.

If you're in Seattle, I'm going to be drinking in The Pike brewpub on the evening of Tuesday 11th of August, from 5pm: if you can read this you're welcome to turn up. (No reservations available but I'll grab the biggest table I can find before the after-work rush starts.) Directions here.

(Yes, that's two consecutive pub evenings nine time zones apart.)

On Wednesday 12th, I'm giving a reading and signing from "The Annihilation Score" at Microsoft Research (1:30pm, Building 99, Redmond Campus). You'll need to be an employee or escorted by one to get in. But don't worry, because if you don't know anyone ...

On Thursday 13th I'm doing an evening reading and signing from "The Annihilation Score" at the University Bookstore at 7pm, and you don't need a bookstore employee to accompany you.

I won't be doing much in public that weekend because I'll be attending Prologue, a small local pre-worldcon SF convention instead.

And then ...

The following week I'll be heading for Spokane, for the 2015 world science fiction convention, Sasquan. And yes, I'll be on the program there. I'm on a bunch of program items:

Before Sasquan:

Spokane Public Library are hosting a reception for Worldcon authors and artists to get acquainted with Spokane's literary fans. The reception will be held on the 2nd floor of the Downtown Library, in the "lens," the windows overlooking the beautiful Spokane River falls. The Spokane Public Library is at 906 W Main Ave, which is 2 1/2 blocks from the Davenport, 5 blocks from the Grand or 6 blocks from the DoubleTree.

(I will be there assuming travel arrangements work out.)

Steampunk, Colonialism & Imperialism Thursday 11:00 - 11:45, Bays 111B (CC)

Steampunk was inspired by a time in history when colonialism and imperialism were at their apex. As a world becomes more technological, will colornialism and imperialism always decline?

Panel: Charles Stross (Moderator), Arthur Chu, Warren Frey, Leigh Ann Hildebrand, Beth Cato

The Future of Government Thursday 17:00 - 17:45, 300B (CC)

We like to think that US democracy is the ultimate and best form of government. But the world has seen many different forms of government over the centuries, and even today many different forms exist around the world. What will governments in the US and other countries be like in the next 10, 50, or 200 years? How will changing technologies and world conditions (e.g., climate change) affect those forms? Are there forms of government that have been proposed that have never existed in the real world, but might?

Panel: Karl Schroeder (Moderator), Joe Haldeman, Bradford Lyau, Ada Palmer, Charles Stross

Genre and the Global Police State Thursday 20:00 - 20:45, 300C (CC)

Thanks to the Five Eyes -- the joint intelligence sharing treaty between the USA, UK, Australia, and others -- and the total penetration of the internet by NSA/GCHQ monitoring, we now live in a society that is a secret policeman's dream. Wikileaks and then Edward Snowden blew the lid off the scandalous subversion of western democracies by unaccountable secret government agencies. In past decades, SF and fantasy provided a vehicle for trenchant social and political commentary on on-going cultural changes (consider "The Forever War" as a comment on Vietnam), but where are the genre works dealing with the global police state?

Annalee Flower Horne, Karl Schroeder, Charles Stross, Jim Wright

Reading—Charles Stross—Friday 11:00 - 11:30, 303B (CC)

Autographing—Neil Clarke, William Dietz, Rhiannon Held, Mary Soon Lee, John Picacio, Charles Stross, Jo Walton—Friday 12:00 - 12:45, Exhibit Hall B (CC)

Kaffee Klatche—Charles Stross—Saturday 11:00 - 11:45, 202A-KK2 (CC)

Join a panelist and up to 9 other fans for a small discussion. Coffee and snacks available for sale on the 2nd floor.

Requires advance sign-up

The New Space Opera Saturday 15:00 - 15:45, 302AB (CC)

We've come a long way since the days when "space opera" was a derogatory term. Many of SFs best writers over the last 20 years have written space opera. What's made the difference?

Rich Horton (Moderator), Jeffrey A. Carver, Ann Leckie, Charles Stross, Doug Farren



No Portland this year? sob oh, well, have fun in Spokane & Seattle.


Portland in October -- a separate trip. Details later (when it's booked).


"We like to think that US democracy is the ultimate and best form of government"




What do you think the very first thing I'm going to say on that panel should be?


I'm not going to suggest a specific venue, but it'll be hard to find a real microbrewery downtown.

Unless by chance you're planning on Pike Brewing Company. In my humble seattleite opinion, it's a bit too rowdy/touristy. If by chance you do decide, for whatever reason, to switch venues, I'd suggest you look up in the Ballard neighborhood (about two miles due west of the university bookstore).

Ballard is absolutely rotten with small, neighborhood scale microbreweries. It's fantastic. food for thought.


In 'Gosh its a Small World' news, my cousin is one of your hosts at the Redmond campus.

If you get any questions about The Internet Of Things With Tentacles, worry.


as a v- who just started a new position only 3 weeks ago, this makes me happier than the ginger garlic beef in bldg 16.


Following your link, it took me to the University Book Store, which is the bookstore for the University of Washington, whose main branch is in Seattle.

Seattle University is another institution entirely, and folks will be sorely disappointed if the go to that school's bookstore instead.

Sincerely, Local Yokel


Genre and the police state - in film there's always THX-1138, Logan's Run, and possibly Fahrenheit 451 or that Christian Bale film "Equilibrium"... (Sort of. And of course, Sean Bean dies part-way through. Bet he regrets surviving to the end of "Jupiter Ascending"...)

Books, there's always 1984 ;)


I know [effectively] nothing about film or TV.


On topic, I hope the visit goes well. I wish I lived closer to Seattle than Toronto.

Off topic, inspired by Pulp Fiction:

Martin: [talking about Mia, Marsellus Wallace's wife] I think her biggest deal was she starred in a pilot. Charlie: Pilot? What's a pilot? Martin: Well, you know the shows on TV? Charlie: I don't watch TV. Martin: Yeah, but, you are aware that there's an invention called television, and on this invention they show shows, right? Charlie: Yeah. Martin: Well, the way they pick TV shows is, they make one show. That show's called a pilot. Then they show that one show to the people who pick shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they want to make more shows. Some get chosen and become television programs. Some don't, become nothing. She starred in one of the ones that became nothing.


I think the "we" in that blurb is meant to mean Americans, since it's probably extracted from the con programme. Anglophone nations that aren't America generally don't place America quite so high. Though democracy in general isn't doing so well at this end of the 21st century.


That Space Opera panel sounds super interesting, also looking forward to your reading since they are always interesting. I was lucky to hear you read the first few chapters of Neptune's Brood at Chicon and then when reading the book a few years later, felt like I already sort of knew what was going on.


If you have enough time to swing by Valve while you're here, shoot me an email. Is love to give you a tour and our VR demo.


Quote Moung Ka (by Saki)?


What city -- Seattle or Spokane?


Enjoy your visit to the Redmond campus!

Although I'm scratching my head wondering who/how/why MSFT invited you. (Ya know with that Jesusphone love affair and all.) That said, MSFT folks are among the best I've ever met. Suggest you take a ball of twine with you if touring Bldgs 16-19.


MSFT today isn't what it was even five years ago; I think the effect of the Old Guard retiring (the folks who were there in the mid-1970s and promoted until they ran into the Peter Principle combined with delusions of omniscience -- cough cough, Steve Balmer) has changed the corporate culture for the better by a long way, at least in terms of not trying to be the big mean kid in the corner of the playground who beats everyone up to assert status.

I am told the Laundry Files have lots of fans there. Who am I to disagree, especially if I also give readings at places like Apple, Google, and Amazon?


Re: The Future of Government

I'd start with the difference in perception of education (or philosophy of education) over the centuries focusing on what is taught as dogma (no further poking around allowed) vs. what areas are open to further investigation. The U.S. Constitution has been amended many times. In fact it was written to be amended. Yet quite a few USians treat it like the 'Holy Book' esp. that bit about 'right to bear arms'.

Magic number? For some reason the U.S. is in love with the number 2. It must be, because that's the only number of political parties they consider as having any relevance in political discussion. Everything becomes we-vs-they, pro-vs-con, etc. Imagine what they'd be able to do if they started thinking beyond '2'.

Consider existing polls and media ... no matter what the polls say, the politically aligned media are already used to putting their particular spin on things. If an ET/UFO landed in the White House rose garden, Fox would probably spin that into a Jesus sighting. Government by polls - especially with media interpreting the results - would be even more mired.

Try some of Piketty's data and arguments ...


Seriously, 10+ years and never one iota of bullying over there. Plus minimal, minimal BS/evasion. But very hectic and fast-paced ... and there was that bottom 10% out-the-door policy.

Tons of HR and legal stuff though ... so this could be part of 'softies' liking of the Laundry Files. (Remember vividly when I first picked up your first LF ... just roared out loud in the bookstore because it reminded me of some ongoing stuff there.)


never one iota of bullying over there

I was referring to what MSFT was like to minority-platform folks during their reign of terror, from roughly 1992 through 2002. The anti-trust settlement mostly cured them of the more florid tendency to stomp on other folks' toes, and Nadela seems to be taking the company back to its 1970s roots -- core business of writing cross-platform business applications (and providing some of the platforms they run on) rather than shouting EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! at all things non-Microsoft.

(Full disclosure: I was working at the Santa Cruz Operation when Microsoft kneecapped ACE. The 15% across the board downsizing was not fun ...)


Seattle. Well Bellevue, technically. We're on the east side not so far from Microsoft.


... one of the first surprises for this non-techie* type was mactopia ... you were saying?

  • I know, sounds weird, but tech isn't only about machines/code.

"Mostly cured" is a bit strong, but I agree that they are one hell of a lot less so than they were. A lot of that is due to the resurrection of Apple, and the realisation that they could lose their application position unless they moderated their attitude.


Are you going to be doing any socializing while you're in Spokane?


Indeed, it isn't. I was taken to task once for describing the (traditional) Inuit as a high-tech culture, but their kayak design and construction alone justifies that.


We like to think that US democracy is the ultimate and best form of government...

Hmph. No.

Many of the basic ideas that started in the United States spread very well, but what began here in 1776 was very much the Version 1.0 of a governmental form that's become very popular in the last 240 years. People shouldn't forget that while the US is now on Version 1.X (and we can quibble about the value of X indefinitely) we haven't had a full government reboot since then. Other nations got to learn from historical lessons that the American founders simply didn't have.

I hope you have fun in Seattle; I'll wait a week and see you in Spokane.


See you in Spokane then.

Imperial Steampunk vs post post modernism is more or less the fight card from Singularity Sky.


Many of the basic ideas that started in the United States spread very well, but what began here in 1776 was very much the Version 1.0 of a governmental form that's become very popular in the last 240 years.

Yes. So when we change things around, the first priority must be to keep any organization from getting so large that it has undue influence on government. We have a big problem with banks and businesses that are TBTF etc, and big media that present too unified a point of view, and so on.

So after we arrange things so that no organization can have undue influence on government, for our second goal we will get the government to ....

Oh, wait.


Please tell me there's going to be a video of this released for those of us not in the states? That moment alone, plus crowd/panel reaction, would be priceless.


No idea. Depends if anyone wants to turn up and video it.


On the bit about the magic number 2 as it applies to political parties:

Democratic political systems with more than 2 parties are unstable, because it is provably (and was proved, formally, by Kenneth Arrow) impossible to create a voting system that delivers rational results with more than 2 parties.

Read up on Arrow's Impossibility Theorem for the gory details.


Democratic political systems with more than 2 parties are unstable, because it is provably (and was proved, formally, by Kenneth Arrow) impossible to create a voting system that delivers rational results with more than 2 parties.

It depends what you mean by "rational" results.

Arrow's theorem proposes a collection of things you might like to have, and shows that you can't always have all of them. But is that so bad?

One of them is that a third party shouldn't change the results between the first two parties. Like, if Party A wins when it's just Party A and Party B running, but Party B wins when Party C also runs, Arrow says that's a bad result.

The US system gets that bad result regularly. Gore would have won in 2000 without Nader running. But then, Bush would have won in 1992 without Perot running. Etc.

The USA could prevent this horrible irrational thing from happening by becoming an official two-party nation and making all third parties illegal. But so far we have not been willing to do that.

And so here we are, with a system that Arrow says is officially bad.


Great to hear you're going to make it to Washington State. I've lived in eastern WA all my life, so if you need any travel tips, let me know. On your way east to Spokane, if you're driving you might want to detour to Dry Falls and Grand Coulee Dam. It's a little out of the way, but definitely worth checking out. I will make sure to attend some of your activities at WorldCon.


Out of sheer, idle, irrelevant curiosity, how do you intend to get from EDI to SEA?

The cheapest routes seem to connect through LHR to JFK/ORD/PHL and on to SEA (groan), but for a couple of hundred USD more there are Amsterdam connections from Edinburgh that go to SEA directly (still groan, but less so).


Charlie (and I) both chose to do an 8 hour drive to a con which was actually at LHR earlier this year rather than go through LHR. Enough said?


Please provide some evidence demonstrating that democracies with more than two parties are completely daft and politically/economically unstable.


I just did a quick search for the number of political parties per country in Europe ... hands down they're multiparty systems. Europe is pretty stable as far as societies and markets go with a good mix of from very small to very large economies.

There are four different European regions reported; the url below is for Western Europe only.


I strongly suggest that you read before commenting further on numbers of parties in a governing body.


There's been a long-known result that winner-take-all systems stabilize at two parties. Parliamentary systems usually don't. It's known as Duverger's Law.


Boggle. Not about not going through Thiefrow, but about driving; my opinion of that horror is similar to yours. I would have taken the train, which is quite possibly quicker than flying, once one has factored in all of the extra time wasted.


And for an example of a direct democracy, here's Switzerland - also demonstrably a stable country/economy.

And Switzerland's 'magic formula'.


"The formula is not an official law, but rather an agreement amongst the rather large coalition of four parties. After the 2003 general elections, the formula was modified, giving two seats to the SVP/UDC at the expense of the Christian Democrats. This was because the Swiss People's Party received 29% of the votes during the election of the parliament making it Switzerland's largest party by votes."

Where else to look for inspiration, data? How about big business ... so, are there any corporations with entrenched two-party systems? BTW, shareholder voting rights are also a topic in Europe re: giving long-term shareholders double their vote.


Charlie was travelling with Feorag (and maybe others?); I had 6 assorted bags and boxes going down, and 8 coming back up. British High Speed Rail just doesn't do that sort of encumbrance (oh and doesn't call at Tebay Services either).


Yes, luggage can be a problem. Even I have been known to drive if I have enough clutter. What on earth happens at Tebay Services that you would want to go there?


What on earth happens at Tebay Services that you would want to go there?

Why, it's a motorway service station on the northern stretch of the M6. What's not to like?

Oh okay, it's (at least AFAIK) the only independent motorway services in the country, and it has an disastrously tempting farm shop attached. Also the cafe actually cooks decent food (for example, if you're selling packs of wonderful sausages in a farm shop, why not also serve them for breakfast). It's the model of what motorway services could be if the business model wasn't fleecing a captive market, and as such is a sight into a different, better world.


There's been a long-known result that winner-take-all systems stabilize at two parties. Parliamentary systems usually don't. It's known as Duverger's Law.

A thought strikes me: do you know of anyone who's looked at the potential for these to degenerate into one party systems? Has anyone demonstrated that this is more (or less) likely for two party systems than multiple party systems?


Ah. The logical negation of 1960s Watford Gap. Thanks.


The people who run Tebay just opened a new one near Gloucester so now there are maybe 2 service stations in the UK that aren't completely horrible.

A friend of mine used to have a book that listed amenities within a mile of a motorway junction, which was excellent but in serious need of an update. I'm sure there is a website/app to be built there.


The Bellinghman has already answered most of your queries correctly; I'll just add that most fans driving to and from West Central Scotland actively plan to stop there, partly because they're good and partly because, since they're good we all plan to stop there so if there's a place where we're going to meet people that we know unplanned, that will be it.


The cheapest routes seem to connect through LHR

We don't fly via the cheapest route because PAIN.

(This time we're flying business class, using a mix of KLM and Delta codeshares -- we're Air France frequent fliers. Avoiding the London hubs, using AMS instead. It's a business trip, you'll note.)


Ok, not so useful if you're not going to be someplace you can cook within a day or 2, but last time up I bought 1.2kg of the objectively best rump steak I've ever had (more tender and better flavoured than sirloin) and priced at £10/kg.


Train from EDI to London takes 4h30m, then another 1h30m on the Piccadilly line to get out to Thiefrow, and finally 30m on a bus to get to the hotel. So, 6h30m.

Driving EDI to LHR takes around 8h, plus rest stops (add 2-3 hours because multiple folks with weak bladders). On the other hand, we get unlimited baggage and don't have to wrestle suitcases on the Underground or the buses, it costs less than half as much, and we've got family to visit (and stay overnight with) at the halfway point in each direction if we don't feel like doing the entire run in one day.

Seriously, the UK's transport infrastructure sucks.


Our usual route is: drive EDI-Leeds (240 miles), visit my family and stay overnight, then drive Leeds-LHR (180-200 miles). Do convention. Then on the way back, drive LHR-Manchester (210 miles), visit Feorag's family, then drive home via M72/M8 (220 miles or so), breaking at Tebay.

This is not a route optimized for folks with day jobs that give them fixed amounts of annual leave, but it adds in two family visits and an excellent farm shop while dropping the security theater, baggage restrictions, and wrestling with luggage on buses/tube trains.


I have family and friends in the Glasgow area, and 38 days per year annual leave including public holidays (relevant to Eastercon, yes?). Our detail itineraries are different for reasons, but our reasoning for not flying or using the train is much the same.


It's less than an hour from Kings Cross to Heathrow by the Piccadilly line, and the trains are very frequent. I agree about the issues of clutter and visiting people on the way.


Oops. Sorry. Not thinking. You were adding connection time.


Driving is also a lot more convenient if you've got a big-ass diesel-powered estate designed for long-range cruising, a reasonable stereo, aircon, cruise control and other bells and whistles, and one or more co-drivers to swap with every 2-3 hours.

I would really not want to drive EDI-LHR on my own in a Nissan Micra or similar!


Agreed; the ability to sit for hours on end at 70mph and about 2000 to 2200rpm in air conditioned comfort is invaluable for these trips.


If that character wasn't going to survive to the end of the movie, they wouldn't have cast Sean Bean; they were explicit about flouting that particular convention.
Jupiter Ascending interacts very cleverly with SF film tropes; it all just takes place in an incredibly dumb movie. (Some evidence: the last of the "wild bureaucratic tangle" characters is played by Terry Gilliam.)



Wonderful when we were travelling with toddlers, because it had a soft play area that was good for an hour, and ducks in daylight hours.

However, we did wonder whether the authentic local practice practised by the restaurant was best described by "Stand and Deliver"...


That, and the adjustability that comes with the driver's seat of said BFO Volvo...


Well, this is way off topic but mildly amusing.

Train from EDI to London takes 4h30m, then another 1h30m on the Piccadilly line to get out to Thiefrow, and finally 30m on a bus to get to the hotel. So, 6h30m.

Driving EDI to LHR takes around 8h, plus rest stops (add 2-3 hours because multiple folks with weak bladders).

That's interesting. I live in San Antonio, part of the Texas Triangle(*) and driving within that triangle takes no more than five-ish hours. Even going down to the Lower Rio Grande Valley fits within that. Driving out I-10 to El Paso seems to be like going from EDI to LHR in terms of time.

So, in commute times, the settled parts of the UK and TX are kind of comparable?



Yes. The UK may be small, but it is longer than most people realise, and the populated areas don't have large spaces of not a lot in which to put transport links.

A really amusing map is the UK is one scaled by fastest average travelling times (ignoring private aircraft etc.) - north of the Great Glen is seriously impressive which, if you have travelled there, you will know to be true!


So, in commute times, the settled parts of the UK and TX are kind of comparable?

The Texas triangle is about two-thirds the size of the entire land area of the UK but has a quarter the population -- and about 30% of the UK is effectively uninhabited (the Scottish highlands and Welsh mountains), so the UK's population density is about 5-6 times higher.

Five or six hours behind the wheel in the UK is an exhausting (and quite often terrifying) experience. To give an example, the main road from Edinburgh to London was traditionally the A1, which follows the route of the old Roman Great North Road. It has been gradually upgraded over the centuries, and now most of the first 300 miles from London north is motorway -- no random local traffic, 3 lanes plus hard shoulder in each direction, central divider, crash barriers. But it's insanely busy (because it's a national level interstate-equivalent up the east coast) and for no sane reason the loop around Newcastle -- the most populous city in the north-east -- also doubles as Newcastle's orbital ring road and gets a huge volume of local traffic, while sticking a three lanes, and sometimes narrowing to two. These days, between London and Leeds (the halfway point) you've got the option of using the much newer M1, about 30 miles to the west, which has been upgraded to 4 and 5 lane running in both directions over much of its length -- but the M1 is a sucking hell of heavy freight lorries because it's the country's main midland north-south artery and it's permanently overloaded.

When you get north of Newcastle the A1 runs out of motorway entirely for about 50 miles through the Borders and into Scotland -- and thus the main road connecting the capital of Scotland to the capital of England, with Cthulhu only knows how many heavy lorries on it, narrows to single carriageway (one lane in each direction) with periodic short stretches of dual carriageway for overtaking every 10 miles or so. Upshot: queues of heavy trucks stuck behind a farm tractor towing a slurry trailer are not uncommon. With the odd lunatic in a BMW or Audi overtaking at high speed in the face of oncoming traffic that's also bottlenecked behind a queue of trucks.

Oh, and gas costs US $8.00-9.00 a gallon (depends on the exchange rate).

Add that British drivers are mostly very competent (the ones with licenses) but are very impatient and intolerant of hesitation -- think "Boston drivers, only they use their turn signals most of the time when they ought to" -- and road layouts that predate the automobile by several centuries, then add that land is really expensive so roads tend to be built as low-capacity as possible to handle the anticipated traffic level, but land is expensive because there are lots of people so the anticipated traffic level when a road is built is always way lower than it is in reality ...

It's not relaxing.


PS: The UK's mean population density is so high that if the continental USA was inhabited at the same density it would outnumber China and India combined.


And that is despite having a large chunk of it which is among the least populated areas on earth!


A that is why I would NEVER take the M1/A1 to Scotland.

Even when I lived in Sheffield I would cross over to the M6 when heading north rather than take the eastern route.


Done it once North of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but was starting from Berwick-upon-Tweed, leaving ~Midnight (for reasons), and still nearly ran over a drunk someplace (not Edinburgh).


I regularly travel from Sheffield to Falkirk. My experience is that the quickest route (unfortunately missing Tebay; I second other comments about its quality) is M1 to A1 to Scotch Corner, then cross to M6/M74 via the A66. This is quicker than going straight over to the west coast, because of the extended linear parking lot otherwise known as the M62, and it avoids the horrible northern stretch of the A1 (I agree with all Charlie's comments about the A1 from the Newcastle area northwards). The A66 used to be another excellent place to get stuck behind a tractor, but most of it is now dual carriageway.


That would be my first choice too, but check traffic on M6 first; there was one time I saw "M6 closed at Penrith", went up the A1(M) to Newcastle and over the A69, passing over the end of the South-bound queue on the M6!


Also check weather – the A66 is horribly exposed. I did it once in December (going to visit family for Christmas) in a horizontal blizzard. Not a happy fun experience.


Yep, that's how I often used to do it as well. Got a great aurora display going across the A66 once.

Across the Snake Pass and bypassing the Glossop traffic jam with a detour through Charlesworth was another effective route.


From your description of the A1, if you're driving from Seattle to Spokane, I-5 in Seattle will feel just like home. It's pretty much a constant traffic jam. I-90, which is the major east-west highway through Washington will feel like a different world though, once you get out of the Seattle Metropolitan Area.


Snake Pass is prone to closure if there's a bit of snow around. Scenic as it is, I'd not want to rely on that route for the East-West crossing.

(My first experience of it was being driven in the dark in heavy snow, with the road closed behind us as we entered, by my future first MiL. Who was driving a manual Beetle with only one hand. I've driven it a few times since, for the fun.)


That's true. I used to work in an area that was V convenient for the snake though, so when it was open it worked quite well for me.


I'm on the wrong side of Sheffield for the Snake - I'd have to tackle central Sheffield to get to it. Which gives it a half-hour handicap compared to routes starting from the M1 (which I can reach in about 5 minutes on the Parkway).


I have family in Leeds. I'd normally take the M1 to Leeds, break overnight, then ... A68 cross-country, joining the A1 north of the Newcastle stationary car park if the weather's really good, or straight up the A1 if the weather's bad (the A68 can be closed by heavy rain or snow).

The M6/M72/M8 route is a good 50-80 miles longer, IIRC. But it works well if I'm going via Manchester.


Have fun. Since the PNW is in a drought along with everyone else, I hope you bring some good Scottish rain with you to make everyone feel more at home.


Is this how the Vikings first traveled to Maldon? The thread is turning into several Python sketches.

My wife has a friend who did a lot of traveling between Scotland and Durham or Sunderland; so I have heard some of the bottleneck stories. Plus a lot of social commentary on how London does not care about the rest of the island.


From your description of the A1, if you're driving from Seattle to Spokane, I-5 in Seattle will feel just like home. It's pretty much a constant traffic jam. I-90, which is the major east-west highway through Washington will feel like a different world though, once you get out of the Seattle Metropolitan Area.

Ha, yes, this.

Taking I-90 over the mountains through Snoqualmie Pass should be pleasantly scenic. (I'll miss that on my route, as I'll join I-90 in Ellensburg.) After you're over the Cascade Range it's miles and miles of Eastern Washington; I'm not sure if there's any similar British area to offer the non-traveling readers.


On an off-topic, but warm note for Our Charlie: Walter Jon Williams has been asking his fans for a list of the last three books they read. According to him, every response so far has included Annihilation Score. No doubt there is some devilish purpose to which a malevolent AI could put this information.


I just noticed some hilarious and blatant, err, tea imagery in TAS, in an interesting place. See latest post in the spoiler thread... (Leaving a note here because the thread has been dying down a bit, yet I still kinda want to talk about the book, heh. So, uhm, if anyone wants to head back there...)


According to him, every response so far has included Annihilation Score.

Ha! Totally an accidental artifact with no importance. Nothing to see here!

sidles offstage before anyone notices The Atrocity Archives open in his ebook reader...


Not terribly surprising; I would expect lots of people who liked WJW's "Metropolitan" and "City on Fire" to like the Laundry files, and despite $BIG_PUBLISHER's best efforts to fuck things up (like forgetting to send review copies to the trade mags that store buyers read to decide what to stock) it managed to hit #99 in the USA TODAY bestseller chart.

Must be a slow month or something. That, or the Little Series That Could is still gathering sales momentum.


At the moment I'm speed reading The Goblin Emperor

... oooh! look! cricket!!

... at the moment I should be speed reading The Goblin Emperor


Attempt to drive almost anywhere in Ireland other than from Dublin to Belfast, and you'll long to be back on those crappy English motorways! (OK, there are a few other routes with serviceable motorway-lite roads, but not a lot.)


I'd go for the Dublin - Cork route. I managed to get most of the way from Portlaoise down to Cork with feet off the pedals on cruise control.

Which may be an indication that even a light toll deters traffic.


Having said which - the road from Cork onwards down to Kinsale is traditional horrible slow winding Irish road. I swear it's easier to drive to Dublin from Cork than to Kinsale.


despite $BIG_PUBLISHER's best efforts to fuck things up (like forgetting to send review copies to the trade mags that store buyers read to decide what to stock)

I'm gonna guess that's why I didn't find it in stock when I looked? My copy finally arrived after ordering; of 4 items ordered, all sent separately, it was sent first and arrived last. Now being enjoyed.



I dropped into the local bookshop a few days after release, and found it not on their shelves. On asking, the assistant mentioned something about how they'd tried to get it in earlier and failed. But he reordered and it was in late the following afternoon, so whatever the glitch was had been sorted.

Not good though if you want that first week blip to raise you into visibility in the sales charts.


Yup. The Irish road network is littered with cases like that.

Although, in the boom years of the Celtic Tiger there was a lot of long overdue investment in the road networks, and most of the major cities are now reasonably well linked: Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Galway, Dublin-Belfast, M50 (Dublin orbital -- do you sense a pattern here?), the West Coast Highway. It's certainly significantly easier to get around than even 10 or 15 years ago.

One thing that I notice happens with multi-lane carriageways in Ireland that seems much less prevalent in the rest of the UK, is that everyone in a car has to drive in the outside lane. Doesn't matter if you're not overtaking, doesn't matter if you're below the speed limit and the inside lane is empty: Car drivers have to be in the outside lane! (This is a more obvious problem when you take into account that most Irish motorways and dual-carriageways are no more than two-lanes in each direction.)


I'd gotten used to going to my nearest Barnes & Noble on day of release and not finding the last couple Stross novels on the shelf. But they did have them in the back. This time I waited a couple days (but went to the other B&N in town) and it hadn't been ordered, presumably their buyer hadn't heard of it. I could have asked if it was available at my usual store, but wasn't about to drive down to it for reasons.


One thing that I notice happens with multi-lane carriageways in Ireland that seems much less prevalent in the rest of the UK

<fx: gets popcorn/>

I'll take that as careless phrasing.

When first driving over there some ... fifteen years ago? ... we noted the way the more major single carriageway roads are constructed. Effectively 2 lanes each direction, but the left hand lane (i.e. the one by the verge) built to a lower standard, like the hard shoulder on British motorways.

Understandably, drivers would stay in the right hand lane, because it was the better built one. But when a quicker vehicle came up behind them, they would pull into the left lane while overtaking took place.

It was different from what we were used to, but it worked well.

On motorways, not such a good idea.


Indeed. Careless phrasing due to recently spending time in the company of too many sane people who are able to parse statements like that without frothing at the mouth (probably would have been safer to say Britain, GB, mainland-UK, but: Meh.)

You have spotted one of the big differences in roads built north and south of the border: In the Republic of Ireland you see roads like you described, single carriageways where what is effectively a "hard shoulder" is simply a demarked inside lane (newer roads in this style don't even have the distinction of build quality, it's all the same surface with a dotted line); in Northern Ireland, you will find the same style of "hard shoulder" as on English/Scottish/Welsh roads.

As you noted, it's common in the Republic for drivers of slower moving vehicles to move across onto the inside portion of the road to let faster traffic past, on single carriageway roads with a marked shoulder; but the driving style that I described is peculiar to drivers north and south when confronted with a multi-lane carriageway. The problem this causes is due to most dual-carriageways in Ireland (either bit) being only two lanes in each direction; car drivers automatically move into the outside lane and tend to stay there, even if there is a tailback of traffic waiting to pass and they have the opportunity to move into the inside lane. It's quite bizarre. I routinely see drivers sitting at 50mph to 60mph in the outside lane, with a completely empty inside lane available.


I went to school in Ellensburg. Are you coming up from Yakima or down from Wenatchee? I won't be seeing I-90 until Ritzville. I really doubt there's any terrain like eastern Washington in the UK, let alone like the Cascade Mountains. Hopefully the people visiting WA for the first time get a chance to explore a little bit.


I don't drive, but even I have noticed the middle-lane hogging phenomenon in the UK. In fact even the government have noticed it, and recently made it a traffic offence.

Indeed. Careless phrasing due to recently spending time in the company of too many sane people who are able to parse statements like that without frothing at the mouth (probably would have been safer to say Britain, GB, mainland-UK, but: Meh.)

As one of the main offenders around here, I'd like to (lightly) defend the tendency. I used to let it slide until I realized how many British people thought "British" was an entirely acceptable way to describe Irish citizens. My objections are of the "we do actually exist, you know" kind.


I went to school in Ellensburg. Are you coming up from Yakima or down from Wenatchee? I won't be seeing I-90 until Ritzville. I really doubt there's any terrain like eastern Washington in the UK, let alone like the Cascade Mountains. Hopefully the people visiting WA for the first time get a chance to explore a little bit.

From Portland to Goldendale and Yakima, then on to Spokane; I don't plan to stop in Ellensburg. I went to high school in Yakima and realized that since I was headed that way anyhow it didn't really take me out of my way to go through Yakima on one of the legs of the journey.

I was looking through the Progress Report #4 the other night and read their list of pretty things for drivers to look at. They've got suggestions for the Gorge and Snoqualmie Pass...but eastern Washington gets mentioned for George. The town's attraction is that it's named George, Washington.


Well, you Irish are inhabitants of the British Isles, which not all resident citizens of the United Kingdom are, even if we exclude the Dependent Territories :-)


OK. Buying gas this afternoon my thoughts wandered to the comments here about roads.

It is my understanding that in most of the EU/UK/right side of the big pond consumer gas for autos costs 3 to 4 times what it does in the US. Or more. And most of this differential is for taxes. What is done with all this extra money? Apparently it doesn't pay for roads. Or does the high price drive down miles driven so much that the net is a push in terms of money to pay for roads?

Just asking. My knowledge of government budget details in the UK is to say minimal at best.

As I was driving away I saw a Prius and realized that they are a much better deal over there than here in the US in terms of payback for gas savings.


Most UK taxes aren't ring-fenced so basically it all goes into a big pot with all of the other taxes.

Annual spend on road transport is in the high-single, mid-double £ billion range though (depending on how you count it) — so it's not exactly a trivial amount of money either.


According to this spending has recently been in the £7.5 to 9 billion range. Meanwhile we're looking at about £30 Bn in taxes.

So yes, it's all going into the big pool of taxes to pay for hospitals and defence and policing as well as transport of all kinds.

(Trying to ring fence revenue is tricky. You might get away with it for transport, but I can't see alcohol duty being used to build pubs. And I don't want the dystopia that would be involved in death duties being used to pay for suicide clinics.)


IN 2013 - I never heard they had, good advertising, government! Just goes to show how easy it is to be unaware of changes in the law.

MIddle lane hogs are very annoying, often because in a 2 lane road they will be doing 67mph and overtaking lorries doing 55 or 60, thus a huge queue of annoyed drivers all trying to do 70 or above builds up.

I note Charlie suggests above that British drivers are very competent - not what I've seen over the years. Plus many are very slow and useless at deciding, I've been stuck behind many who hesitate at roundabouts ina way which would fail you your driving test.

According to this spending has recently been in the £7.5 to 9 billion range. Meanwhile we're looking at about £30 Bn in taxes.

Yup, but the RAC have a certain angle to their estimates ;-) As they say in that paper:

"Transport activities are subject to a complex set of taxes and subsidies. Published data does not allow a complete and consistent picture of these to be made, for which reason a number of estimates and approximations have been made in this paper to piece a picture together."

I've seen higher estimates that take aspects of the environmental/health impacts of road building, subsidies for certain classes of transportation, costs of policing, etc. into account.

Nothing that comes close to the total income from car/petrol taxes though.

Trying to ring fence revenue is tricky

God yes. A terrible idea IMHO.


I note Charlie suggests above that British drivers are very competent - not what I've seen over the years.

You haven't driven on roads occupied by American drivers. Or Malaysian ones, I take it?


Ah, you mean comparatively! I've heard stories about lots of countries in the world.


The figure that stuck with me is that 70% of drivers rate themselves as better than average to excellent. Everywhere.


"Better than average" can mean many things when it comes to being a drivers. The best to get around corners the fastest is not necessarily the best in terms of safety etc. Driving is a large collection of skills, only some of which many drivers may equate with "driving"


Yes, and you know about Dunning and Kruger.

Mind you I like to point out that any idiot can go around a corner on the wrong side of the road. THe trick is going round it on the correct side, at whatever speed.


You may have already answered this, but any chance you're going to make it to the east coast of the US in any of your touring?


Not until next year. I usually do NYC and Boston in late January/February.


Also: any damn fool can drive to the best of their abilities, and muscle reflexes generally give us a fairly good grasp of our car's kinematics after a few hundred hours.

The hard part is driving in such a way that if someone else screws up or has a bad day you don't make things worse by being a jackass/driving at your limits.


Yes - young people who have just passed their test have a touching faith in the driving ability of other people.


Yup - because if you're at your limits, there's no margin left.

Sometimes the only way you could have avoided an accident is to have been on a different road. But most of the time it takes two to tango - usually you can drive in such a way that if someone has a momentary glitch you can avoid the accident, and you hope that when you have that momentary glitch (and I know I do have them) the other driver has given enough space.

Oh, and don't get annoyed. The accident I witnessed in 2012 (I think it was that year, but the court case is ongoing) was due to driver A getting upset at driver B being a dick and chasing him. End result - A's car ended hitting between a pair of trees so hard the engine flew out.


It can also mean the driving talent/population curve is weighted towards the middle, but with a short tail of great drivers and a long tail of awful ones - meaning the "average driver" would be worse than the median. (For an example of this kind of distribution, figure out humanity's average number of eyes.)


Sometimes the only way you could have avoided an accident is to have been on a different road. But most of the time it takes two to tango...

Hm, yes. I've got my own selection of 'momentary glitches,' and more than I'd like were fully mine without another person to blame. But I'll share one of my sister's glitches instead:

One night many years ago she and her boyfriend are driving along when BF says, "What's that?" They peer ahead...where another driver has parked a flatbed truck crosswise across the road, without lights, presenting only a thin dark bar a meter above road height. She stands on the brakes and skids to a stop with so little to spare that the front of the car gets stuck under the belly of the truck. I saw the hood of her car later; another meter and they'd have lost the windshield, two meters and we'd have lost the occupants. Happily my sister wasn't driving as fast as she could have been that night...


Driving along I-85 in southern Virginia about 10 years ago or so. This stretch of road can be like driving in a cave at 70 MPH on a cloudy night. Tall trees on both sides and very very very little population.

Up ahead something caught my eye. Dark area on dark road. I started slowing down. When we got close someone had lost a 30 foot boat off their trailer. It as sitting blocking about 2/3s of the 2 lane interstate road. Idiots were standing around looking confused. They had not yet thought that just maybe they should park their truck BEFORE where the boat was sitting and turn on emergency flashers.


Yes. I spend most of my effort trying to predict what is going to happen to other drivers, and how they are likely to react, so that I can be elsewhere (or at least can stop or swerve) when they balls it up. And I am damn glad that some other people do the same, when I balls it up - as, of course, I do more often than I should!


Driving that route next weekend ... white knuckles all the way, with a generous drink at the destination to unclench.


I've just got a dashcam, and am collecting a couple of clips a week of idiots. Who, in time, will be made famous on YouTube.


Returning to the topic... gov't, etc.

Think we need to split this up into several subtopics.

Some governments have well-defined ideals and objectives, some have good mechanisms/systems for ensuring coverage/inclusion of all constituents, some have enforceability, etc.

Ideals ... my preference is the UN Charter of Human Rights

Objectives, measurable and trackable ... no state as far as I'm aware has defined human rights objectives to the same extent as they normally define economic objectives (e.g., GDP, deficits/surplus, unemployment, etc.) See here for ideas/components:

Mechanisms ensuring representation, along with grown-up attitude about sharing/playing fair ... Switzerland

Mechanisms for amending constitution ... prefer referendum for fundamental change.

Funding/contributions ... democracies are for/by the people ... organic individuals, not corporations therefore must stand apart from corporations... including no funding.

Enforceability ... apart from spending limits in some democracies, places like Australia where voting in elections is mandatory (therefore not subject to nonsense), don't know who's got the best/easiest system for encouraging voter information and participation.


Motorcyclists (aka "bikers") have a number of coping strategies, apart from fatalism -- there's a Volvo out there with your number on it so why worry?

One strategy is the Thousand Yard Stare, looking waaaay down the road for possible problem situations and mentally making plans -- there's a junction coming up, what to do if some Volvo-driving idiot ignores his guide dog and pulls out in front of you?

Another strategy is the Escape Route, always planning where can you go, where can you lay the bike down and bale if you need to when something happens in front of you. Stepping off at highway speeds is not the end of the world, it's the sudden stop when you hit something that really does the damage and sliding down an embankment is preferable to T-boning a Volvo estate. Body armour is not optional if you do decide to part company with your trusty steed though.

There are others like the Six O'Clock Lifesaver, a quick glance backwards before changing your riding line just in case your mirrors are lying to you but mostly it's treating everyone on the road, including yourself, as a stupid idiot out to kill you. Even then the MAG and most other biking organisations recommend you carry an organ donor card.


Mutis mutandis, the same techniques are used by the saner pedal cyclists. Both motorcyclists and pedal cyclists have their fair share of those competing for a Darwin Award, of course, but their main risks are from homicidal or negligent idiots in steel cages.


I have a nice clip of a cyclist being nudged off the road by a car cutting in front of me. It seems the gap I left for the cyclist to occupy was just too tempting. Remember: BMW + Custom Plate = Wanker


I have two BMWs with custom plates.

Of course, I also had to swerve out of the way today when a bicyclist decided that a stop light didn't really apply to him and went straight on through the intersection I was turning in. It seems to be a common bicyclist complaint around here -- that car drivers don't obey the laws that treat bicyclists special, and that car drivers should unreasonably expect bicyclists to obey the same laws of the road.


I shall also resist the urge to relate my collection of anecdotes about how pedestrians are routinely treated by cyclists (including a hit and run incident that left a colleague with a broken wrist).

Not all motorists are arses; not all cyclists are arses; but trying to claim that either automatically has the moral high ground is complete bullshit.


Comment on motorcyclists and blind spots. May need you to join Briskoda, but I'm prepared to guarantee that you won't get spammed to death as a result.


That's sort of my big issue with urban bicyclists; the fact that they seem to believe that the rules of the road apply to everyone else, but the only rule that they have to follow is "do not lose momentum".


The custom plate issue is wildly different between the UK and the US.


I have collected some observational statistics on the demerits of pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, car drivers and others, but won't give them here as they would merely fuel a flaming digression. Please let us not go there.


Agreed. We're all in glass houses, so lets not start passing around the bucket of stones.


In the UK, your car comes with standard alphanumerical series plates, issued by the government. It's just about legal to trade them, so some plates with unusual sequences get sold on even after the original vehicle is scrapped -- but trading plates costs a fair bit and scarcity value rules: in general, if you want a meaningful letter/number sequence you could be looking at paying the cost of the car again. (I believe the current public record is on the order of £100,000 -- possibly other rare plates have been sold privately for more: certainly it's hard to see Sir Bertrand Russell's plate -- A1, the first ever issued -- going for much under a million.)

TL:DR; in the UK, custom plates aren't a "check box and pay an extra $50", option, they're conspicuous consumption and a flagrant "ego the size of a planet" signal.



SEF: there are a lot of cultural signifiers to do with choice on public roads. And there's also the 'bad apples' effect, which may well differ. As an example, over here the Volvo driver has a very bad reputation among the motorcycling community (possibly partly alluded to by Nojay above). This seems to have been due to a certain minority of owners who believed they're totally safe inside one, and their demonstrating the conservation of apparent risk principle by driving to the extreme detriment of other road users. A classic Volvo tactic was to just emerge from a side junction without bothering to check if anything is coming.

What the US equivalent of the Volvo is, I dunno, but I suspect it's not the car with the arrowed circle badge on the front.

Yes, I'm very aware that Charlie is a multiple Volvo owner. Secondly, that car emerging from the side road wasn't always a Volvo. And thirdly the reputation is also a historical thing - I don't believe the current generation would have picked it up.

Quite how a translator copes with these differences I don't know.


they're conspicuous consumption and a flagrant "ego the size of a planet" signal.

As it happens, the only person I know to have a UK custom plate is a certain con-organiser and fan who does post here. But it was a gift, and it's definitely not on a BMW. Or a flash car at all.


A chunk of it has to do with how cars are marketed -- I hold the advertisers culpable for deliberately going for the (pace Jeremy Clarkson) cock market. There's always at least one variety of car that is sold to appeal to idiots who want a combination of prestige and high performance. At one point a decade ago Volvo S80 saloons were all invariably driven by speed maniacs. At another point, those dinky two-seater audi copes (the TT?) were invariably driven by aspiring kamikazes. And I'm sure Range Rover behaviour in the UK has it's cognates elsewhere (Cadillac Escalades in the US, I think, or maybe high-end tricked out Ford F150s: "fuck off, I own the road and anyway I'm bigger than you").

Go back 1+ centuries and clothing was really expensive -- there was no cheap/casual off-the-shelf, everything was made to measure then re-made until it was rags held together with patches. A posh suit or lady's dress would cost the equivalent in today's money of several thousand pounds/dollars. So clothing was a very conscious class signalling mechanism; the poor literally couldn't afford to dress like their betters. Today, clothing is a far less reliable social signifier -- but cars have taken their place.


Waves shamefully: my elder brother, the family gearhead, has a UK custom plate. (One with his nick-name -- three letters, so relatively common and it didn't cost him an arm and a leg. Even so: cringe.)


Pending a certain commenter popping his head up, his plate is almost certainly of no meaning whatsoever to anybody not aware of his nickname. It probably barely scraped 3 figures in price including the transfer fee.

On the other hand, the number B16 EGO (used to be on a vehicle in the car park next to ours at work) is wonderfully self aware.


The one I liked was parked at the top of my road about a month ago; a Range Rover with the registration FAT 61T.


About 30 years ago in Leeds there used to be a Formula 2 racing driver who's Ferrari 308 bore the plate "175 MPH".

That was a bit of an exaggeration, but ...



The USA, having 50 jurisdictions each with it own traffic laws, has widely varying laws about pedestrians, right of way, and bicycles.

Some states give pedestrians absolute right of way, then bicycles, then motorized vehicles. Pedestrians can step out into traffic and if they get hit it's not their fault.

My state changed from that sort of thing a few years back. The new law is "pedestrians and bicycles may not obstruct traffic", plus "bicycles must follow the same rules as motorized vehicles."

Pedestrians are a non-issue in my area, but we get a lot of bicycle injuries and fatalities from foreigners coming in and darting into traffic without knowing the local rules of the road.

It's sort of sad, but when they're wobbling about in traffic with no lights, no horn, no driver's license, no vehicle license, no vehicle inspection, no tax, no mirrors, and not much in the way of brakes, "think of it as evolution in action."


I remember the A1 plate, it used to be owned by Dunlops so was a regular sighting at work. They also nearly lost it due to the traditional incompetence that seemed to infest certain parts of the place. (Short version: unwell driver is orderd to take some bigwig to the airport despite protesting that he doesn't feel well, on his return trip he blacks out while going over the canal bridge and does an amazing pinball run down the hill before colliding with the main gate. Private road, so no Dibble involvement (and endless fun later due to one damaged car that had no right to be parked where it was hit). The wrecked Jag(?) was parked up and forgotten about and they nearly let the tax disc expire before hastily transferring the registration to one of the sales fleet's Vauxhall estate cars.

After Dunlops was bought and asset stripped by BTR (I think), the plate ended up being owned by BAE.


I have always wanted: FUP 1G ...but I suspect it might cause problems. Anyway, new(er) car last week. Wanted a Qashqai but settled for Captain Sensible at half the age and half the mileage for the same price - Vauxhall Meriva (complete with suicide doors).


There's always the sad puppy option (no, not the Sad Puppy option). Go for the one that has the 7 where you want the 1, and then creatively play with the font ...

Hey, the one-time owner of L7NUX did that.


It was a Volvo estate that turned across me on a dual-carriageway when I was on the outside lane lining up to pass it, without signalling or, apparently looking. I might have dodged the car (see "Escape Route" in my previous comment) but I couldn't miss the horsebox trailer it was towing. I put the bike down and didn't quite go under the trailer hitch.

Volvos are a bit of a self-selecting story bikers pass around, other incidents are less memorable like the time I was rear-ended at traffic lights by a little old lady in a Mini ("Sorry son, I didn't see you.") or the VW bus and the black ice or...

Volvo drivers just seem to be the sorts who will follow you through a revolving door to get you when you're on a bike, that's all.


That's fascinating, and I start to understand the reason for differences in attitude about custom plates.


On which cars are markers of specific driving behaviours:

Something like a third of the cars I see manouvring without indicating and often without paying attention to distances etc, are BMW's and Audis. If a car swerves about the road as if it owned it, the odds are that it is one of them being driven by the kind of moron who likes that kind of car.
(The people who actually own the road drive different sorts of cars, or have someone who drives it for them)

Other than that in my experience there aren't so many obvious categories, except that you can usually spot a boy racer type from miles away. One I saw yesterday on the A9 was a Nissan micra with smaller wheels! THe arches were artificially extended so that it was all in scale, but they'd actually put smaller wheels on, with purple paint on the alloys! First time I'd seen that.


There are some details that Charlie didn't mention, so I'll geek on that for a bit. Details may be sketchy, and the current system hasn't always been used.

The system when I registered my current was that one would agree to buy a new car, and the dealership would go to one of the DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Authority) local offices. There they would present the relevant details of the vehicle, and of the first owner, and a while later the vehicle registration document would rock up at the new owner's address. Hopefully with the right name on.

(Somehow they missed my surname off when this was done for me.)

Depending on the office, the initial registration 'number' would be assigned. Mine was registered in Luton, so has 'KE' as the first two characters. (Luton had a pool of available two letter codes, being KA to KL, missing out KI because that could be confused with the legacy K1)

It was also registered in late 2006, so the next part is '56'. Six months earlier, that would have been '06', and 6 months later that would have been '07'.

So the first part is 'KE56'. The second part is then three arbitrary letters.

Assuming registration counts don't go up ridiculously, the system has about 35 years before it runs out.

You may note that for a particular half year, the number of registrations Luton could do was 11 two letter codes multiplied by (most of) the combinations of three arbitrary letters, which comes to the best part of 200,000 vehicles. Also the date and place of first registration are encoded.

Now you can, on payment of a fee, transfer a registration from one vehicle to another. The primary rule is that it can't be used in a way to make a vehicle look newer than it actually is, which means swapping numbers is tricky.

As I mentioned, this wasn't always the case. My father's first car (a Jaguar XK120 - no, we don't have a clue how he afforded that aged 17, but the current owner was tracking down its history which is how I know this) was first registered in 1953 as PAT 111. (His name is Patrick, so this was an early vanity plate). As you can see, a simple scheme with three letters followed by one to three digits.

But even back then, the codes were regionally assigned (easier to avoid number collisions that way), so the second and third letters tell us that he went to Hull to register it.

Hull had four two letter codes, AG/AT/KH/RH, so it had a total of 4000 vehicles it could register before running out.

Of course that system ran out, so the first extension was to put a letter after. If he'd bought that car in 1963, it might have been PAT 111A, and Hull would have been able to do 4,000 a year. At this point, the date of first registration has appeared.

About 20 years later, that system ran out (I, Q and Z had been reserved for other purposes), so they then reversed it to have a prefix letter. In 1984, the registration would have been A111 PAT.

Not long before 2000 they ended up doing two letters per year, meaning the number space ran out a bit quicker.

This whole description ignores Northern Ireland which did things differently (perhaps not unintentionally, as NI vehicles were fairly obviously different on Mainland Britain's roads). It also ignores Man, Jersey, Guernsey and the other islands which aren't part of the UK anyway. And Armed Forces vehicles have a different system too.

Oh, the regional offices? They've gone, apparently.


... Sean Eric? Are you still awake?

Is anyone still awake?


I had the impression those S80s with the twin turbo 6 were (and presumably are) ludicrously overpowered. So even people buying one for the "larger urban tank that isn't an SUV" factor would surely develop a lead foot.

Volvos used to enjoy a similar reputation in Oz, but it was definitely completely supplanted by anything from Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg pretty much by the late 90s/early 2000s. This shifted to larger SUVs since then, and that rolls up the XC90 of course, but only in the same bag as X5s, Cayennes and Vogue edition Range Rovers.

Disclaimer: we owned the classic "Volvo driver" wagon for a while when much younger, having been gifted a '76 245 by my lunatic father-in-law. We were a Toyota family for years afterward, and lately were a 2 Camry family till mine got written off in a hailstorm last year. By chance I happened to be looking through the used car listings really exhaustively (there were thousands of people used car shopping with insurance cheques) and happened to settle on a 2007 S40 that I'm now very happy with. So it's sort of full circle, but I can't claim not to be a Volvo driver.


I'm sure there's a Porsche Cayenne getting about Brisbane with the plates W4NK3R. I can't have just imagined that. I may even know the owner slightly.


Agreed. However, there is a very simple way of modifying the behaviour of even those "drivers" of mobile penis-extensions. Drive the same (type of)vehicle as I do. A several-years old, & never washed-on-the-paintwork [note] "proper" Land-Rover. Watching them suddenly come to a halt & obviously go "Oh, maybe not" is highly amusing.

NOTE: (1)I do wash the windows, the lights - & the underneath once a year, to get any salt out. (2) They are about to stop making these, December this year or January '16. Prices will rise - indeed, they already are, for good secondhand ones.


The AA 1000 plate is visible on a Mini in the 1960s TV series Adam Adamant - worth a fortune now I imagine:


Indeed - I Used to dread even Stansted - owned by LHR. A couple/three weeks back - what a change - now owned by Manchester Airport. Um.


a book that listed amenities within a mile of a motorway junction, Would "The Good Beer Guide" qualify?


TBF it's not just bikers that Ovlov drivers seem to be "out to get"; it's pretty much everyone else.


Would "The Good Beer Guide" qualify as a guide to amenities within 1 mile of M/way junctions?

Sort of, but I'd expect it to be organised by towns rather than m/way junction numbers?


Take all the pages out and re bind them organised by motorway. Maybe it's time to revisit the concept.

Here's one for free: I'm quite partial to stopping in Moffat when heading south from Scotland. The times don't work when I'm going north so well but there are a couple of very good cafes.


Not quite: there's more to life than just decent beer. But it'd be a decent start.

I'd also suggest not going by 'within x miles', but more 'within y minutes'. A mile from Staples Corner for example covers a lot of territory, much of which takes ages to get to.

Hmm, I think this shed ought to be green.


Equally, there are "good real ale pubs" which just plain don't do food, eg the 3 Judges at Partick Cross in Glasgow (normally 8 to 10 real ales and real ciders on tap; handy for all forms of public transport and just under 1 mile from the M8; tends to get well stowed in the evenings).


Some people might argue that decent beer is incompatible with long drives.


Some might. It does depend on how many are in the vehicle as opposed to how many will be driving it.

(The fuss last year about Wetherspoons opening a branch at the M40 services assumed nobody ever took passengers, and that Wetherspoons didn't serve food either. I boggled at the dumbness.)


Feeding passengers diuretics doesn't make for a happy long drive either.


Feeding passengers diuretics doesn't make for a happy long drive either.

It depends on your goal. If you want to get there as quickly as possible, then no.

But if you have a map of good places to buy beer, then the more often you need to stop the more places the passengers get to sample. It could be fine for them.

"Life is a journey, not a destination."

"Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it."

Of course, sometimes driving a carful of drunks can be damn annoying.


"One for the road" is another of those phrases you don't hear much anymore.


I tend to go to Scotland for walking and mountaineering holidays. I do enjoy "The journey", as that is what I do when I get there.

The 11 hour drive is the pre-journey journey, and I would quite happily do without it if I could persuade my partner that moving north was a good idea.


I think it could be counted as a positive feature - stopping more frequently gives the driver more breaks.


I think it could be counted as a positive feature - stopping more frequently gives the driver more breaks.

Yes, if you care about how pleasant the drive is. But if the drive is just something bad that you have to suffer through while you wait for your real life to begin, then it's better to get it done as fast as possible.


What happens to a plate when a car is scraped?


You're required to notify the DVLA on sale or destruction of the vehicle.

(Failure to do so means they'll assume it is still in use, and you will be taxed appropriately.[1])

Assuming you've not transferred the number, it effectively reverts to the DVLA. They can in principle reuse it, and if it was something like A1[2], they might auction it, but for the vast majority it then becomes dormant/defunct.

[1] Unless you make a declaration it is not being used on public roads. And some vehicles have a zero tax rate. But they still want to know about it

[2] In which case you'd probably have auctioned it instead


If you've been in more than a few states in the US you likely know it is a state by state thing here with lots of variations on standard assigned numbers, vanity plates, and plates that support a cause. The latter driving the police nuts as you can have many duplicate numbers with the distinction being the logo that lets you know this owner supports birds while another supports the national guard.

And since many plates can read like words and phrases most of the states now share a database of combinations they will not issue.


I've only actually driven in Tennessee and Georgia, and not in the last decade. But yes, different states, different rules. I'm under the impression some require you to carry front plates, others don't, which if so must make cross-border traffic annoying.

Oh yeah, cross border traffic over here. I've driven my car in the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. If you're going to drive a UK vehicle abroad, you need to display the country code (GB, obviously). In most cases that'll be on a flash at one end of the plate. The majority of the vehicles I can see from here have no such flash, and have not been abroad.

Fun game when bored - spotting which country vehicles are registered in. FL is pretty rare, unless you're beside the right road in eastern Switzerland (hint - it's not Finland).


Admission - the wife and I have each been driving Volvos for the last fifteen years...

However, I was 30 before being a frequent driver; I lived in the middle of Edinburgh, and cycled everywhere for a decade. I prided myself on bring a firm follower of the Highway Code, and still get rather upset by muppets on cycles who jump red lights, cycle through pedestrian crossings, etc, etc. It teaches several very healthy driving habits; namely, that you have to think ahead, that you can't use power to get you out of trouble, and that everything else on the road is about to try and kill you.

That, and three colleagues were dead before their mid-20s in car/bike accidents. And I got to see the result of my police-driver-trained father doing a crash test of a Volvo 360 in an attempt to avoid a driver who decided to turn across the road without looking or indicating. He nearly made it; the Volvo stopped in the length of its own bonnet, courtesy of a stone wall, but the other driver walked away. Dad suffered a broken sternum, clavicle, and ribs from the seatbelt, and had a few days in the cardio unit while they checked his heart for bruising. So; I'm a sucker for the SchwerGrossenGanzSchnellKinderTransportPanzer... quite apart from being big enough to take a family of four, a roof box, and four bikes on the back.

Second confession. For Christmas one year, my wife bought me a selected plate -one of the cheap ones, at 300 quid or so, where you choose your plate from legal combinations. In my case, it starts with the high-score in my sport, and includes DAD...

So. I'm a Volvo-driving, selected-plate owner, who attempts to go against the grain by spotting bikers well ahead of the point they pull in behind me, so as to give them lots of room (both beside me to pass, and in front of me to shelter before their next sprint through traffic).

Apocrypha - DVLA reserve the right to tweak numbers so as to avoid "rude or offensive words"; that's why a few years back, the scheduled SN07 plates all became TN07.


Relevant story, honest... On holiday right now, in a small island where they give H-prefix plates to all the hire cars; the better to have advance warning of likely poor road craft.

PS avoid 1on1 basketball with your teenage children, it's tiring :) Pina coladas and a sunbed by the pool beckon, along with the chance to catch up on my reading...


which if so must make cross-border traffic annoying.

Interesting. Over here we don't think much about state borders. Except watching for speed traps and gas price changes due to differing tax rates. As to cars with various plates and numbering systems where I live is a big importer of people from all over. So I can easily see plates from 10 states or more in a 10 minute drive. You are supposed to re-register your car when you move between states. Typically in 30 or 90 days. Many people just wait till their existing sticker expires (annual event) then deal with it. Fines for "forgetting" are typically waived if you take care promptly when caught.


that's why a few years back, the scheduled SN07 plates all became TN07.

"SNOT" was considered offensive? Hmmmm. Over here they are continually expanding the list to deal with people asking for plates that refer to sex acts in languages other than English. It's almost a game and there are folks who've made the news by having their plates "recalled" multiple times once it was discovered what their latest custom letter/number combinations stood for.


I recall seeing "ANMLVR" on a plate in Georgia once. I thought bestiality was illegal in the US, even in Georgia.


Depends on your state of mind.


Probably going to see you this afternoon. Look for someone with a Norwescon t-shirt and a big hat.


Wetherspoons also sell tea & coffee - see also "diuretics" comments from others .....


Yes. The "Old" method for becoming, at the least a competent driver. Ride a bike, get & ride & survive owning & using a motor-bike, THEN drive a car. It certainly teaches you a lot about comparative speeds & vulnerabilities. Two things I've noticed over the past 30 years as that learning-combination got rarer: 1. People rush up to traffic lights & then throw the anchors out - they are not looking ahead. ( I often take the car out of gear & let it roll (unless going downhill, of course) 2. Fewer & fewer seem to know how wide their car is, with ridiculous road-spacing, even at walking pace.


I saw a news story a year or so back about a woman who was fighting with her local DMV over a custom plate about her favorite food.

Presumably someone else had TOFULUVR and they wouldn't give her ILUVTOFU.


Agreed with notes:-

1) I leave my car in gear because it has an over-run fuel cutoff so it does infinite mpg on a closed throttle and revs over 1_500.

2) Tell me about it; the other "offending group" for inability to judge width is "women over 50" some of whom seem to think that a Hyundai Getz is wider than my Octavia (nearest equivalent USians will be familiar with is a VW Bora).


On an unrelated note, I just stumbled across this...


Interestingly, the fabled A1 plate is apparently currently registered to an 8yo. SORN'd Mini Cooper. An investment, maybe? Still seems odd to own something like that and not drive around using it - after all, it's not like it'll depreciate.


I can have eggs with the end of that link? Then I'd have spam and eggs!


Now you see why sensible bloggers close comments after a while: eventually the blog spammers track the page down and infest it. It's not that they expected anyone to read those comments, but getting links to their sites from blog entries would improve their search ranking.

(Whether it still does, I dunno.)


Driver's age - starting at around 35, reaction time, peripheral and night vision, and bladder capacity/control all decrease as age increases. (No more 1,200 mile in one day drives.)


Agreed. I'm not likely to do much beyond 5-600 miles in one go these days.

(I once did Munich to Cambridge overnight, leaving central Munich at about 19:00, in a Renault 5. But yeah, not yet 35 then)


Heh. I looked at that and my first thought was, "Bob is not that bald."


And they're getting better at it. On one blog I keep running behind the scenes we just saw a SPAM comment that was actually on topic. Someone had to read the post at least a little to make that comment. But the link was to a Chinese site selling baby clothes. Or maybe just stealing control of your computer or credit cards. I had to explain to the moderators that they MUST look at the link (but not click) before approving comments from first timers.

I suspect that some poor smuck in a poor country is paid something like $.01 per comment that gets through.


Is this really blog spam? A link to a genuinely related site, by a poster who's been posting here on a regular basis for at least 6 months, and has no apparent links to the site? Its not even derailing, considering how this thread has been thoroughly derailed already.

Granted, the site is trying to sell stuff. But given that the stuff its trying to sell is using the name Bob Howard attached to plots about combating Cthulu, this would appear to be walking a fine line on the whole selling fanfic question, an aspect that may be of interest here.


I'm not sure it's even fanfic of Charlie's work. Can we eliminate the possibility that it's a Lovecraft spoof that picked the common-sounding name "Bob Howard" by coincidence?

It might not be, of course. Where OGH's setting has the Laundry, the Ben 10 cartoon has a similar organization called, you guessed it, the Plumbers.

I shrug, amidst lightweight speculations drifting about without any ballast of facts.


Yes, it's blog spam.

Not the link posted here - that's genuinely relevant.

No, what is blog spam is that the 2010 dated post at the far end of that link has three comments on it, from 2012. Those comments would all be apparently relevant if that post had been about plumbing rather than showing the cover of a comic that happens to have the keyword 'plumbing' associated with it. And all three comments appear to link to commercial plumbing sites.

(Well, the third one forgot to put the 'http://' in, so the link is broken. But does anybody think said spammers aren't stupid as well as dishonest?)


See this set of Plumbers for a famous covert organisation so named.

'Cleaners' are usually a little bit more focused on cleaning up messes, particularly ones involving the aftermath of unexpected death. In that sense, the Laundry might be slightly misnamed, were it not for the repeated origin story for the name.

Without considerably more research, I can't tell how apposite the naming is in the plumber case, and how much coincidence there might be.


Damn, I was just at the American Book Center in Amsterdam to pick up The Annihilation Score, and the clerk told me how he'd drank a beer with you last monday. I was disappointed I didn't know about that because I'd have been there!


I arrived in AMS after the store had shut; the beer was just with friends while passing through (I flew out the next morning).

But I'll be back -- we're setting up an interview/reading/signing at the American Book Center for September 24th at 7pm (I'm stopping for a bit longer that time).


Looking forward to your Seattle appearance.

If Bob starts using Windows 10 then we'll know that the Microsofties got to you yesterday, the culture change under Nadella notwithstanding. Or that your trope in that novel is possession. (inclusive OR: both could be true)


We ran out of time before I could ask you this question, but first an almost brief backstory:

Your books were my first excursion into the more interesting and powerful side of semi-advanced to advanced mathematics. As such I find your style and semi-cynical approach to the subject both hilarious and engaging.

Would you consider writing a guide to the more esoteric side of maths? In my mind it needn't be on any particular subject (limits, infinite series, and the language of linear algebra are my weak-points but whatever engages you is obviously a better subject).

If you're curious, I was the person who mentioned Christopher Priest.


I just thought it was interesting to see yet another Cthulu related Bob Howard out there, but I'm sorry if I derailed the Top Gear thread. Not very sorry.


Awesome, I put it in my agenda!


But we all know there's no such thing as cthulhu!


Would you consider writing a guide to the more esoteric side of maths?

Nope, because I'm not a mathematician.

But you might enjoy some of Rudy Rucker's work. Can I recommend "Infinity and the Mind"?


"Nope, because I'm not a mathematician."

I was once, and sort-of still am. I can assure you that limits, infinite series, and the language of linear algebra are among the LESS esoteric areas :-) The more esoteric ones make the brains of mere ordinary mathematicians hurt just to think about them ....


Followup from the Seattle reading.

I agree with you about Northwest IPAs. They're like listening to music with the treble turned up to 11. While you were at Pike I hope you tried the Kilt Lifter, which is eminently drinkable malty goodness.

I forgot to ask: have Bob and Mo moved, or are they still in the house they shared with Pinky and Brains? There has been some discussion of this so an authorial answer would be appreciated.

A question I didn't ask because it didn't seem appropriate for a public venue: in the Merchant Princes, the character of the American Vice President is based on Cheney (yes, I know that it's an alternate reality, etc). Why did you soften the character so much? Would a realistic portrayal have been too dark a character for the books?


Thank you for your reply Mr. Stross.

I know that they are among the less esoteric of Maths. I wasn't looking for personal help through my courses so much as being interested in the different perspective that an author who writes how Maths leads to Magic might take to something that truly hurts the brain (probably well beyond my understanding for now unless we start talking about undergraduate statistics).


You might also find this interesting given the context


Leaving this here, since it's thoroughly off the current topics, which I've had nothing to add to.

Anyhow FWIW, here in eastern Colorado we are getting haze and smelling the smoke from the wildfires in in Washington state. We know a little something about wildfires here. Stay safe and indoors as much as possible, and breathe well.



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