Charlie Stross: August 2011 Archives

I spent a good chunk of July and August in the United States; while I was there, I did a number of readings, with Q & A sessions after the gig. Some of which were recorded on video.

One of the readings took place in Cupertino, in a training room at 1 Infinite Loop. The Q & A ran on for quite some time, so it's split into three segments (for YouTube's upload pleasure):

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

(Many thanks to Feorag for recording and editing this! Apologies for the poor sound quality on the questions — we're looking into a better mike solution for future gigs.)

If you look to the right of this blog entry you'll see a link titled "Talk to me". It takes you to an email form that'll send your words to my inbox. On that form it says, perhaps a little bluntly, "I hate link exchanges, refuse to publish press releases and will not publicize your project if you ask nicely. And I am not your search engine optimization bitch." That's because any number of greedy ass-hats think that my blog, with its high google pagerank, exists solely to promote their get-rich-quick scheme via search engine optimization.

Despite this, I still get come-ons from idiots who can't read.

Usually I bin them, but I'd like to deliver a special call out to "Andrew Shen", who wrote the following:

Hi Antipope,

My name is Andrew Shen, I am a regular reader of As you know, Google finally announced Google+, its next effort in social. However, because Google+ is still in beta version, Google doesn't add a functional search feature to its new social network.

I just wrote a free web app: Google Plus Search. it can search the Google Plus contents and profiles online, show the hot trends of G+. It also supports for Chrome Extenstion and Android App. The URL:


If you think it'll be of benefit to your readers, could you like to tell them about my site?

It should be fairly obvious Andrew Shen is a spamming liar ("I am a regular reader of" — yeah, right) who, moreover, doesn't read before spamming. And if you agree with me, you might want to copy this link into your own blog: Andrew Shen is a spamming liar. After all, he asked me to publicize his "free" app (which I suspect rapes your address book, sells the contents to spammers, and buys XXX-rated porn using your Google Checkout account) — shame he forgot to specify how.

(Postscript: maybe there'd be a bit less of this sort of spam on the internet if those of us with high pageranks systematically set about crucifying the grifters? Discuss.)

Okay, we're over 280 comments on the "what do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)?" thread.

A couple of observations have leapt out and bit me on the nose, but I'm not going to state them explicitly yet. However, here's a follow-on question suggested by my #1 observation:

What do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)? All male authors are disqualified. (No men. I'll also accept suggestions for books by transgendered/intersex authors. Moderation note: misogynist trolling and attempts at topic derailing in the comments will be nuked, ruthlessly.)

What do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)?

Explain your reasoning. (Novels by "Charles Stross" are disqualified.)

(Actually, there are several reasons I'm not on Google Plus, nor on LinkedIn or Twitter or a bunch of other social networks, starting with "attractive nuisance" and moving on through "waste of time" and "I dislike the amount of spam you're sending me" and ending in "thank you but I don't want you to monetize my personal information": but this is the stuff specific to Google Plus ...)

The designers of Google Plus seem to get that we have multiple overlapping circles of acquaintances — family, friends, schoolmates, drinking buddies, chess club members whatever — and that we want to keep them distinct. This is good, and a big plus relative to Facebook. They also have a hair in their ass about trolling and sociopathic online behaviour, and want to stamp on it before it gets started. This is also good.

But unfortunately they have misapprehended the cause of bad online behaviour. They think that pseudonymity is an enabler and that by banishing pseudonyms they can make people behave themselves.

So Google Plus has a "true names" policy. This is broken by design.

Let me explain the many reasons why Google Plus's names policy doesn't work.

Two weeks ago, at USENIX Security, I banged on a whole lot about the implications of cheap bandwidth and cheap data storage, by way of lifelogging using devices descended from today's smartphones.

But I am currently thinking that I over-narrowed my focus.

Here's the thing: let us postulate that by 2021, we will have hit the buffers using current microlithography techniques on CMOS -- say at a resolution of 5nm (compared to today's 22nm process). (Below 10nm our integrated circuits experience interesting quantum effects, not necessarily in a good way, due to electron tunnelling.) At this point we're well into the realm of nanolithography. Today's Intel Westermere Xeon server cpu has on the order of 5 million transistors per square millimetre (on a 512mm2 die) using a 32nm production process; my BOTE calculation suggests 80 million transistors per mm2 is likely by the time we get to 5-6nm resolution, giving full-sized chips with up to 40 billion transistors.

What applications are going to hit mass consumer adoption in the wake of us reaching a point where a first-rank CPU of some 40 billion transistors (equal to, say, 16 x 10 core i7's) cost US $250, and low power CPUs (an n'th generation ARM descendant with, say, 2.6 billion transistors -- a thousand times the component count of today's Cortex A-9 ARM architecture) can deliver the clout of a 10 core i7 on a TDP of around 10mW for a component cost of around $1-2?

Years ago, a couple of eminent computer scientists (if I remember the story correctly one of them was Danny Hillis; I forget who the other way) were discussing trends in chip production around 1980, and one of them objected to the other's extrapolation with, "but there's no market for such cheap chips! What are you going to do, embed them in door handles?" And five years later, checking into a hotel, he suddenly realized that he was using a magstripe card to open his hotel room door because there was indeed a microprocessor in the door handle.

But it doesn't take much in the way of embedded logic to operate a magstripe reader and a deadbolt. So what are the doorhandle applications that become practical when low-cost embedded devices are as powerful as today's high end servers?

One trivial possibility is widespread adoption of biometric authentication based on mixed parameters that take quite a lot of processing: for example, that hypothetical hotel room door might open for you by recognizing your facial bone structure and gait pattern as you approach. Again, your car won't have a key; it will "simply" recognize you, both by your face and your voice and more subtle cues such as your pressure distribution as you sit in the driver's seat.

But that's a gimmick. By which I mean yes, it's convenient, but it's not a game-changer: we already have ways of achieving these objectives (hotel room keys — or magstripe cards — and car keys with immobilizer chips). It doesn't fundamentally change the way we live the way that, say, mobile phones or lifeloggers would bring about basic behavioural changes.

What are the consequences of powerful microprocessors getting really ridiculously cheap — applications that just aren't practical today? Things like the library digitizer from Vernor Vinge's "Rainbows End" (which I shall not describe, because it's both a spoiler for the book and a thing of horror to bibliophiles), or infinite focal depth cameras, or giving your lifelogger real-time ubiquitous text recognition (as in, everything textual in your field of vision is scanned, digitized, and indexed immediately). What am I missing that isn't possible today and doesn't substitute for an existing process or technique? Alternative formation: if spimes are artefacts which are the physical instantiation of an entity with a trackable history on the internet, what happens when spimes acquire enough on-board processing power to act as the container for their own virtual existence?

I just hit 'send' and mailed the final draft of THE APOCALYPSE CODEX (the fourth Laundry Files novel) to my agent and editor(s) a couple of minutes ago.

It's due out in hardcover next July.

From Ace's marketing/flap copy:

For outstanding heroism in the field (despite himself), computational demonologist Bob Howard is on the fast-track for promotion to management within The Laundry, the super-secret British government agency tasked with defending the realm from occult threats. Assigned to "External Assets," Bob discovers the company—unofficially—employs freelance agents to deal with sensitive situations that may embarrass Queen and Country.

So when Ray Schiller—an American televangelist with the uncanny ability to miraculously heal the ill—becomes uncomfortably close to the Prime Minister, External Assets dispatches the brilliant, beautiful, and entirely unpredictable Persephone Hazard to infiltrate the Golden Promise Ministry and discover why the preacher is so interested in British politics. And it's Bob's job to make sure Persephone doesn't cause an international incident.

But it's a supernatural incident that Bob needs to worry about—a global threat even The Laundry may be unable to clean up ...

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to speak at USENIX Security.

Unlike you, I am not a security professional. However, we probably share a common human trait, namely that none of us enjoy looking like a fool in front of a large audience. I therefore chose the title of my talk to minimize the risk of ridicule: if we should meet up in 2061, much less in the 26th century, you’re welcome to rib me about this talk. Because I’ll be happy to still be alive to rib.

So what follows should be seen as a farrago of speculation by a guy who earns his living telling entertaining lies for money.

I am back home but stunningly jetlagged, so I won't be posting anything substantial for the next day or so. Many thanks to Karl Schroeder and John Meaney for covering for me while I've been on the road!

If you want to read more of their writing, they have blogs: Karl's is here and here's John's.

Last Wednesday I did a keynote speech at USENIX Security; I'll blog the original text in a day or two. My wife and I needed to be in Portland by Friday evening, and due to a scheduling cock-up I left it too late to book a sleeper berth on the train: so we hired a car and drove. Note: this was the first time in 18 years that I'd attempted to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Things I learned:

Just checking in from San Francisco to let you know that I'm still alive.

I spent last week instructing at Clarion West, a workshop which can probably best be described as a boot camp for the next generation of SF and fantasy writers. It was fun, but monstrously exhausting — which, on top of eight hours' worth of jet lag, should explain why I've been scarce around these parts. I'm now On Vacation for a few days, but will be appearing as previously announced ...

* Cupertino: Mystery event, Big Fruit Company employees only, Friday August 5th.

* San Francisco: I'm reading and signing at Borderland Books, Saturday August 6th at 3pm.

* San Francisco: I'm giving the keynote at Usenix Security '11 on Wednesday August 10th at 9am.

* Portland: I'm reading and signing at Powells City of Books, Friday August 12th at 7:30pm.

Normal blogging will hopefully be resumed shortly after I get home — hopefully by August 15th.



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in August 2011.

Charlie Stross: July 2011 is the previous archive.

Charlie Stross: September 2011 is the next archive.

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