Charlie Stross: March 2009 Archives

MMO operator MindArk has been granted a banking license for its virtual world Entropia Universe, by the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority.

This is an exciting and important development for the future of all virtual worlds being built using the Entropia Platform," commented MindArk CEO, Jan Welter Timkrans.

"Together with our partner planet owner companies we will be in a position to offer real bank services to the inhabitants of our virtual universe."

Entropia Universe acts as a platform from which partners can launch virtual worlds within, with the focus being on microtransactions and virtual currency monetisation.

Tracking GhostNet: investigating a cyber Espionage Network
Researchers at the Information Warfare Monitor uncovered a suspected cyber espionage network of over 1,295 infected hosts in 103 countries. This finding comes at the close of a 10-month investigation of alleged Chinese cyber spying against Tibetan institutions that consisted of fieldwork, technical scouting, and laboratory analysis.

Close to 30% of the infected hosts are considered high-value and include computers located at ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organizations, news media, and NGOs. The investigation was able to conclude that Tibetan computer systems were compromised by multiple infections that gave attackers unprecedented access to potentially sensitive information, including documents from the private office of the Dalai Lama.

Chinese government denies everything

China, via the China Daily, quotes military and security analysts in denying the reports, claiming that they are an attempt to paint China as a threat and are in any case "exaggerated".

BT 21CN Network vulnerable to Chinese attack

Spy chiefs have reportedly briefed ministers that Huawei hardware bought by BT could be hijacked by China to cripple the UK's communications infrastructure.

At a meeting in January, Alex Allan, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, told the Home Secretary that while BT had taken steps to secure its network, "we believe that the mitigating measures are not effective against deliberate attack by China", the Sunday Times reports.

Huawei, led by former People's Liberation Army (PLA) research chief Ren Zhengfei, is a major supplier to BT's ongoing multi-billion-pound 21CN network upgrade. It will see all voice and data traffic carried by the same packet-switched equipment. In 2005 the Chinese firm won contracts to provide access nodes and optical equipment for the core of the new network.

I hereby declare HALTING STATE obsolete, eight years ahead of schedule!

My work here is done.

I am informed that Saturn's Children has been shortlisted for the 2009 Prometheus Award. (The Prometheus Award "is given by the Libertarian Futurist Society in recognition of the best pro-freedom novel published during the previous year.")

Congratulations to Iain Banks, who also made the shortlist with "Matter"! (And to everybody else on the shortlist; all I know so far is what Orbit are saying.)

I'm going to be on the road for much of this week and the following weekend. However, if you're in the Republic of Ireland there's going to be a group author signing event at Chapters Bookshop on Parnell Street from 5:00pm to 6:30pm this Friday. It's not just me: you can also expect Juliet McKenna, C. E. Murphy and Oisin McGann among others.

Thanks to everyone who nominated me, SATURN'S CHILDREN is on the Hugo shortlist for best novel.

I'd like to thank you all for nominating, but I have this to say: I am not going to win.

(a) I am up against Neal and Neil, not to mention Cory and Scalzi. This is not a weak year, and I think SATURN'S CHILDREN is my weakest novel to make the shortlist in a while. (Notwithstanding the one aspect of stunt writing it relies on: a novel with no human beings at all!)

(b) More importantly, I am currently working on a record-breaking streak of losses. The previous record for consecutive failures to win the Hugo for best novel was set by Robert Silverberg in the early 70s. He had a novel on the shortlist (and failed to win) four years running; if I fail to win this one, I'll blow the doors off his record with six. And I'll have beaten the odds (five places, six consecutive fails — what are those odds?) to run up a truly impressive record that will undoubtedly stand as a monument to epic failure for decades to come.

Oh, and (c) this is definitely my last consecutive year on the novel shortlist (unless Ace do something truly weird to the publication schedule for THE FULLER MEMORANDUM). Next year's "novel" is a short story collection (plus "The Trade of Queens", but Merchant Princes books are ineligible for Hugo noms — it's in one of the by-laws, or something). If I'm very lucky folks might like "Palimpsest" enough that I'll be in the running in a non-novel category, but I'm not going to fail to win the Hugo for best novel seven years in a row. Can't be done!

Finally, congratulations to everyone else who's on the shortlist! (And special congratulations to John Scalzi, who with three nominations in different categories, joins a rather exclusive club as only the fourteenth person ever to do that.)

I'm posting this because folks keep asking me how to send me money via Paypal. (I'll add it to the sidebar, along with the comment moderation policy, in due course.)

I write this blog because (a) I'm a compulsive communicator, (b) I work on my own in a small office with a cat for a co-worker (who is a poor conversationalist: she's trying to qualify for the Olympic sleeping relay), and (c) I can kid myself that by blogging I'm promoting my work, which is to say, giving you an advance taster of what I'm obsessing over so that you'll maybe go and buy the books.

I don't carry advertising for third parties because this blog exists to showcase and promote my own writing. I figure that to promote an informational product, the best thing you can do is hand out free samples — which is what this is. And putting advertising content inside what is in effect one giant ad is, I think, taking chutzpah to a new level. Besides, I hate ads. So: you don't need to pay me for writing this blog.

But. Folks still ask me how they can send me money. Usually it's because they've downloaded a warez copy of one or more of my books and enjoyed it and want to pay. Well, I'm happy they enjoyed the books, and pleased that they want to pay me — but still: no tipjar.

If I put a Paypal tipjar on this blog, to take conscience money from folks who've downloaded a (cough) unauthorized ebook or two, the money would come to me, not to the publisher. And without the publisher those books wouldn't exist: wouldn't have been commissioned, wouldn't have been edited, wouldn't have been corrected and marketed and sold in whatever form filtered onto the unauthorized ebook market. (Yes, they commission books, and pay authors for them up-front — a vital part of the process, because most of us can't afford to take a year to write a book on spec and then hope somebody liked it enough to buy it. And if you think my bank manager would front me the kind of advance money that Ace, Orbit, or Tor have no difficulty offering for a novel that isn't even written yet, let alone doing so without charging interest or asking for their money back when the product's late, well ... you might want to think again.)

Your typical book publisher is not like the music or movie industry; they run on thin margins, and they're staffed by underpaid, overworked folk who do it because they love books, not because they're trying to make themselves rich on the back of a thousand ruthlessly exploited artists. I think their effort deserves to be rewarded appropriately.

Luckily there's a simple solution that should make everyone happy.

If you've downloaded unauthorized copies of my books, instead of hitting on a tipjar button, I urge you to buy a (new) copy of one of my books. (Feel free to use the Amazon links to the right of this web page.) It doesn't matter which one. If it's one you read and liked, why not give it to a friend? Or if it's a new one to you, read it and then give it to a friend. Or keep it, eat it, frame it and hang it on the wall, or donate it to a library — whatever you do with it after you bought it is up to you. The only proviso is, it needs to be a new copy. That way, both I and my publisher get a kickback, and you (or a friend, or a library) get a new reading experience.

(Things you might like to know: (a) Neither I nor my publisher get a bent penny from second hand book sales, (b) we don't get anything from remainder sales either, (c) we get about five times as much from a hardcover as a mass-market paperback, and (d) yes I know DRM is the root of all evil, and so do the publishing folks I deal with: why it still happens and why you can't buy sensibly-priced DRM-free ebook editions of most of my work is a long story and material for a different blog post.)

I've been away (visiting relatives) and shirking my bloggerly duties, so please allow me to suggest that if you read one essay today, it should be this one, by Clay Shirky, thinking the unthinkable about the future of news media:

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.
Read it on the web because you won't read it in your newspaper ... his diagnosis fits the disease: the only problem is, nobody knows how to cure it.

I've just had an interesting afternoon at the headquarters of Lothian and Borders Police, on the far side of Edinburgh's city centre. It wasn't quite what I'd been expecting — the Society of Authors in Scotland had organized a group visit and tour, but the tour side of things was somewhat abbreviated and focussed mainly on the Specialist Operations Support Branch and their work, with a briefing by their training coordinator.

If I thought I'd gotten anything like a substantial overview I'd blog about it at length, but as it is, while it's all grist for the research mill (see also "419") I wasn't able to put together a coherent picture: probably because we got a tightly focussed view of a small corner of the operation, rather than a seagull's eye perspective. It's still useful, but it gave me as many questions coming out as I went in with.

Mind you, one factoid stuck in my head. Lothian and Borders are unusual in that they're one of the police forces that still has horses — eight of them, at present. How much does it cost to maintain eight horses? Answer: around £480,000 a year, making them roughly as expensive as (if not more expensive than) a helicopter unit. Each horse requires a full-time officer, and they need exercise, stabling, and other facilities that run to £30,000 a year per animal — more than the price of a new pursuit car. (And why does Edinburgh's police force still have horses (instead of, say, another chopper)? Because after London this is the city where the Queen is in residence most often, and they're needed for ceremonial duties ...)

Horses: obsolescence delayed by politics in motion. If I go back in a decade they'll be proudly showing off their micro-UAV fleet and their segways with blues'n'twos and webcams — but I suspect the horses will still be placidly munching away in their stables as long as we've got a monarchy.

Wolfram Alpha is launching soon. Developed by Wolfram Research, Alpha is a knowledge engine with a natural language front end: it's designed to answer questions about domains of structured knowledge, much as search engines come up with answers about unstructured piles of data.

Paging D. G. Compton: the man with a camcorder in his eye (I wonder what the police will do about this? Especially if we add real-time broadband uploading? And it catches on?)

The 3D bone printer deposits tricalcium phosphate and polylactic acid in layers to build up a bone-like matrix, then bone marrow stem cells are used to grow osteoblasts which are washed into the scaffold. On then being cultured under the skin of a living animal (in trials they use mice) it matures into living human bone tissue. If they can get blood vessels to grow into the material, and layer muscle and other tissue over it, there may be hope for amputeees.

(I'm trying to figure out a way to combine these news stories. How about you?)

It's that time of year, and the mass market trade paperback of SATURN'S CHILDREN slouches towards a US release.

If you have read SATURN'S CHILDREN in hardback and stubbed your toes on any typos or mistakes, please post here and let me know what you found? (Remember to specify whether it was the US, Ace edition, US SFBC edition, or UK Orbit edition. If possible, give a page number; ideally give me a few words of text I can search the MS for, and the exact typo. "You mis-spelled one of the characters names halfway through" is not helpful: "you spelled Jeeves with only two 'e's on page 264 of the Ace hardcover" is very helpful.)

Last week must have been a slow news week; a lot of headlines and newspaper column-inches were devoted to the shocking findings of a recent survey of women's health that apparently indicated that drinking any alcohol at all correlated with an elevated risk of cancer:

Even small amounts of alcohol increase a woman's risk of cancer" (The Guardian)"

"Drink a day increases cancer risk" (The BBC)

"Even a little alcohol ups cancer risk in women" (Reuters)

Daily drink for middle-age women cancer risk (Washington Post, syndicated)

Here's the original paper: Moderate Alcohol Intake and Cancer Incidence in Women, by various authors from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford.

Did any of the journalists who generated those scare headlines read it beyond the abstract?

Alas, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute keeps the actual text behind a paywall; which makes it hard for me to check this takedown by Junkfood Science. However, I feel the need to quote two chunks of that post (which you really ought to read):

... there was no dose response between the number of drinks the women consumed and their risk for all cancers. Women drinking no alcohol at all had higher incidences for all cancers than 95% of the drinking women.

The actual incidents of all cancers was 5.7% among the nondrinkers. The cancer incidents were lower among the women drinking up to 15 drinks a week: 5.2% among those consuming ≤2 drinks/week; 5.2% of those drinking 3-6 drinks/week; and 5.3% among those drinking 7-14 drinks a week. [Table 1.]

In other words, women drinking as many as two drinks a day were associated with lower actual incidences of all cancers compared with the nondrinkers.

In other words, the abstract of the paper was radically at odds with the substance of the study's findings.

Surprised? Let's carry on:

... as the Washington Post noted, “officials have long worried about sending the ‘wrong message’” about drinking, even though “it’s true that studies have indicated that moderate drinking may cut the risk of heart disease and other ailments.” The newspaper went on to report:

“[Moderate drinking] is a level of consumption that generally has been found in scientific studies to be associated with a relatively low risk of harms,” said Robert Brewer of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.* “But low risk does not mean no risk.”

* The newspaper failed to disclose that Dr. Brewer is manager and director of the Alcohol Team at the CDC; serves as Principal Investigator for Alcohol-Related Disease Impact software, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and has authored numerous publications on alcohol and alcohol-related health effects.

Does this make the nature of the propaganda exercise clear enough yet?

"Alcohol is evil. We know this because it is True. And it's especially bad for women because, well, women shouldn't drink. If you run a study to confirm this belief and the facts don't back you up, the facts are wrong. So tell the public the Truth (alcohol is always evil) and bury the facts; the press won't be able to tell the difference because they're (a) lazy (or overworked, take your pick) and (b) statistically innumerate."

This is pernicious fallout from the way the 2000-2008 Bush administration did business. Their contempt for science was so manifest that distortion and suppression of results that undermined a desired political objective became a routine reflex. If the science doesn't back you up, lie about it or suppress it. That administration may have been shown the door (and replaced by one that so far seems to have a pragmatic respect for facts), but the disease has spread internationally, becoming endemic wherever ideologically motivated politicians who hold their electorate in contempt find themselves seeking a stick to beat the public with.

There's an anti-alcohol backlash in progress (especially here, in Scotland); this propaganda-spun negative study is just the latest tired remix of Reefer Madness.

I've been blogging heavily in the past week because I've been (a) consciously slacking (to get over a chest infection) and (b) between jobs. But I've just started work on the next novel, so I'm likely to post a little less in the near future. (Working title "419"; it's the sequel to "Halting State", set five years later. Just in case you were wondering.)

Update (March 4th): And just as I thought I was going to get a clean run at chapter 1 of "419", I get editorial feedback on a different novel, and hear that I can expect more feedback on yet another one within the 4-6 week time frame. Edits ahoy!

Diving back, back into the mists of prehistoric blogospherical time, I discover that I started blogging in 2001. (On Saturday, August 18th at 10:16am, near as I can date it ...)

You can find my early blog entries, made via Slashdot, here. After March 2002, I quit using Slashdot as a blog tool and moved onto a blosxom server on my colo box.

You can find most of my blosxom blog entries here. (Due to a filesystem whoopsie, blog postings from before March 2002 all got jumbled together and can be found on this page.)

I am going to try and remember to do a tenth blogoversary posting on August 18th, 2011. If I show signs of forgetting, prod me. OK?



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in March 2009.

Charlie Stross: February 2009 is the previous archive.

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