* Posts by Charlie Stross

58 publicly visible posts • joined 17 Jul 2007


Sci-fi author 'writes' 97 AI-generated tales in nine months

Charlie Stross

Not Clarke, but Fritz Leiber's The Silver Eggheads from 1961 (link goes to US kindle store: currently out of print on paper and in the UK) fits the bill.

Charlie Stross

Nope, this is nonsense.

> Each book in his "AI Lore" series is between 2,000 to 5,000 words long - closer to an essay than a novel. They are interspersed with around 40 to 140 pictures, and take roughly six to eight hours to complete, he told Newsweek.


Boucher notes that his "novels" are short because ChatGPT has difficulty assembling a longer story line. Well, no shit, Sherlock: deep learning language models are purely statistical, so while they produce output that follows the pattern of human-generated text, there's no underlying model of a fictional universe below the surface: it's not going to give you a text where statements in one paragraph line up with the next and lead to an unrolling story with developing dialog, character growth, and plot.

He also claims to have sold 574 copies out of 97 works in a nine month period.

For comparison: my latest book dropped last week. I'm not a bestseller, but it's made around 3000 sales so far in the UK, and probably 4-5x that in the USA. So probably around 12-15,000 sales so far, from one title. (Yes, publishing is an artisanal business with vastly smaller audience figures than you might expect if you're used to film, TV, and computer games. Nevertheless some of us do make a living at it. Just, not from Boucher's level of output or sales volume!)

I have no definite insight into why Newsweek focussed on this guy but I suspect it's astroturf product placement by the AI hype merchants. In terms of being an actual threat to real working SF authors, this horse has been flogged to death.

US Navy in mad dash to salvage F-35C that fell off a carrier into South China Sea

Charlie Stross

Re: F35 A, B & C models

A video of the landing accident leaked yesterday (confirmed by the US Navy):


There appears to be some instability as the F-35C is on final approach, then it throttles up and there's a loud thump right at the end of the sequence.

One possibility is a failure of JPALS, the automated approach and landing system: another is that the arrester wire snapped when the plane hooked it -- if that happened the plane was going into the drink whatever happened, which would explain the ejection and the deck hand injuries.

Now that's a splash down: Astronauts spend 8-hour trip to Earth in diapers after SpaceX capsule toilet breaks

Charlie Stross

Gemini VII still has the record!

The Gemini 7 mission in 1965 set a record for long-duration flight aboard a capsule, in which astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell spent just short of 14 days in Earth orbit in a tin can with roughly the interior dimensions of a SMART PlusTwo, and no toilet. They were investigating the human body's ability to withstand spaceflight for the duration of an Apollo mission to the moon and back.

... The sanitary arrangements were crude, to say the least.

NASA are cagey about the precise details, but it's rumoured that Lovell and Borman went almost six days before one of them cracked and broke out the "defecation kit", which was basically a plastic bag the astronaut had to tape to their ass before taking a dump. They then had to use a finger cot -- basically a finger-sized condom -- to scrape any cling-ons into the bag, break a capsule of disinfectant inside it, and mix the contents thoroughly before storing it under the seat. And that's the system all the Apollo missions used.

Charlie Stross

Re: Before SpaceX it would have been diapers all the time

Not exactly true: all Salyut (Almaz) space stations had toilets, as did Skylab.

It's true that no capsule system I know of has a toilet, but they're basically space taxis for getting to/from something bigger. (I'm not certain of the toilet arrangements aboard the Chinese Shenzhou system.)

Gemini goes back to the '90s with Agenda, Data and mulls next steps

Charlie Stross

I haven't had time to *really* get into my Gemini until this week because I was under heavy deadline pressure, but over the next month I intend to see what I can do with it, writing-wise.

Interestingly, Termux provides a pretty comprehensive Linux CLI environment under Android on the Gemini. If you're used to the classic UNIX command line, being able to load up NeoVim with a bunch of plugins, git, Python, ssh, clang, and all the usual tools makes it feel rather familiar (while keeping Android around for the driver support that isn't completely there yet under Debian).

termux-setup-storage lets you access files off your SD card or other configured storage under Android. I'm using DropSync to synch a bunch of work projects (mostly big documents written in markdown) with my main macOS and Linux systems; with a 400Gb Sandisk micro-SDHC card installed I've got plenty of elbow room (for music and films and general entertainment when I'm not working). If you want a modern productive IDE you could dip a toe in the water with SpaceVim (although personally I took one look at it and fled screaming back to my old school setup).

Word processing ... forget Microsoft Word. It works, but it's a bit pants at keyboard navigation: instead, TextMaker HD has reasonable keyboard support and most of the features of an older desktop Word, including editing multiple files and change tracking. (But? It's still Word-document-centric; for most work, I'm sticking to NeoVim.)

Anyway: using an Android system as a basis for a Linux CLI text or coding experience may seem a little perverse, but it's possible and even fun. And this is the best kind of pocket linux fun you can shove in a jacket pocket.

ZX Spectrum reboot firm boss delays director vote date again

Charlie Stross

I'd like to note that, while the Vega+ fiasco has been playing out, CTO Janko Mrsic-Flogel has successfully (albeit a few months later than originally promised) delivered the Gemini PDA, aka the Psion 5 reincarnation-running-Android-or-Linux. (The proof in the pudding is that there's one sitting on my desk next to me.)

In the absence of other insights into WTF is going on with the Vega+ this suggests to me that at least RCL's CTO is competent, even if everyone else was out to lunch the whole time.

'Utterly unusable' MS Word dumped by SciFi author Charles Stross

Charlie Stross

Re: Doubly unusable if he moved the document

If he started the document under LibreOffice (which I suspect he did)

No I didn't.

I wrote the bloody thing in Scrivener (which is at heart an IDE for complex compound documents like, oh, trilogies), then generated a word document as output because my editors insist on working in Word because corporate IT at the big publishers thinks everyone uses it, even though many deeply serious professional authors won't touch it with a barge-pole.

Unfortunately $EDITOR[1] edited the word doc with change tracking. Then $EDITOR[2] scribbled on a print-out with red ink. And they want me to make another pass through it and do some structural changes. So my workflow is:

1. Go through change-tracked manuscript in Word (or LibreOffice) doing accept/reject on changes (I get to veto them at this stage).

2. Go through change-tracked MS and PDF scan of hand-annotated print-out, applying handwritten changes. (Thankfully, not as many of them.)

3. Import resulting document into Scrivener and try to rebuild the book's structure and metadata by hand.

4. Retire to the pub, weeping copiously, to consider the possibility of switching to an exciting and fulfilling career as a car park attendant or a tax inspector.

MS Word deserves DEATH says Brit SciFi author Charles Stross

Charlie Stross

If you're thinking of commenting on the original piece, please note that my blog comments are moderated and I feel no compunction about banning trolls and deleting their pathetic missives.

(Pay attention, accident[REDACTED]@hotmail.com, this means you!)

Apple big-screen TV rumor zombie RISES FROM THE DEAD

Charlie Stross

Maybe not a TV ...

Apple is way overdue to refresh their 27" Thunderbolt Display, which shipped in early 2011, and they've got the new Mac Pro coming in a few months. The Thunderbolt display is a 2560 × 1440 panel -- same resolution as the 15" Retina Macbook Pro. It'd be a bit embarrassing if the flagship pro desktop machine shipped with a display no better than a 15" laptop, wouldn't it?

As the new Mac Pro is pitched as a high end video production workstation my gut feeling is that they're going to ship a 4K display, probably pitched as a Retina-grade replacement for the current CD. And if you're going to ship a $5000 display, you probably want a gorilla glass front for it -- sapphire still being slightly too expensive for anything bigger than a smartphone.

Remember, Apple go for high margin products when entering a new market sector: their prices only come down when they've lightened the pockets of the early adopters. TVs are not high margin products. 4K displays, on the other hand ...

Are driverless cars the death knell of the motor biz?

Charlie Stross

Only catastrophic for the low end of the auto industry ...

The sector of the market that will take a hit is a mix of the low end -- small econoboxes and compact cars -- and sports cars. (There is no point whatsoever in making a self-driving two-seater convertible sports car for a fractional-reserve auto rental market; there may be a market for sports cars aimed at owners who want to have fun at a track day and then tell their car to drive them home, but that's going to be relatively small.)

My guess is that self-driving cars operated by rental/pool companies will tend to be large and/or have more luxurious interiors -- comfortable for the passengers. (Comfort is, after all, a selling point.) Think limo or (cheaper end of the market) taxi or (shopping at IKEA end of the market) crew-cab pick-up truck.

New Android plan: Gurn at your phone to unlock it

Charlie Stross

I'd have been all in favour of this two weeks ago ...

Then I came down with Bell's Palsy. (Temporary paralysis of one side of the face.) It usually wears off after a few weeks, but those weeks could be rendered mighty inconvenient by a sulking smartphone!

Publishers put a gun to our heads on ebook pricing, squeals Amazon

Charlie Stross

Re: Author's cut?

For ebooks, industry standard is converging on 25%. However, the publishers do a ton of marketing and editorial work which falls on the author's shoulders if they self-pub via Amazon. They also sell through other, non-Amazon outlets. And Amazon only upped their payments to the 35% or 70% models after Apple intro'd the agency model -- which threatened to take a bite out of Amazon's monopolistic lunch.

Charlie Stross
Thumb Up

Re: AsI posted yesterday in another story:

This suit is Bezos or his buddies trying to get even, and because the publishers already been bled out so much they didn't have the cash necessary to defend themselves from an intense government onslaught.


Let me quote here from the public letter John Sargent (CEO of Macmillan) wrote to his suppliers (authors, illustrators, and editors):

Today we agreed to settle our case with the DOJ. We settled because the potential penalties became too high to risk even the possibility of an unfavorable outcome.


Our company is not large enough to risk a worst case judgment. In this action the government accused five publishers and Apple of conspiring to raise prices. As each publisher settled, the remaining defendants became responsible not only for their own treble damages, but also possibly for the treble damages of the settling publishers (minus what they settled for). A few weeks ago I got an estimate of the maximum possible damage figure. I cannot share the breathtaking amount with you, but it was much more than the entire equity of our company.

I like to believe that we would win at trial. But outcomes are hard to predict with certainty, particularly in a civil case with a low burden of proof. And so we agreed to settle with no admission of guilt.

Macmillan is part of Holtzbrinck group. Worldwide, their turnover is less than 3% of Amazon's. Indeed, the entire publishing industry combined in the United States has a turnover of less than $20Bn/year, compared to AMZN's $50Bn+. (Amazon sell a lot more things than just books.)

The shark is suing the sardines for refusing to stand still and be eaten.

Charlie Stross

The problem with the wholesale model Amazon pursued is that they wanted to have their cake and eat it.

Firstly, they bought wholesale at a discount from the publisher, then sold ebooks AT A LOSS to undercut their competitors. This is called "dumping" and, well, the goal was to build a monopoly. Using DRM on the Kindle platform locked consumers onto the Kindle platform once they bought the cheap books; the goal was clearly to drive competing ebook stores to the wall and then lock the customers in. (The publishers fell for the DRM snake-oil, and thereby played into Amazon's hands; Amazon, not the publishers, held the keys to the DRM.)

Secondly, Amazon -- if you read their small print -- claim to be a publishing platform; they are granting the end users a limited license to use their content, not selling the "books" they bought at wholesale consignment price as actual books (to which the First Sale doctrine applies, meaning you're free to do what you like with a dead-tree book you've bought: use it as toilet paper, read it, re-sell it, anything except copy it).

In what legal looking-glass world does a retailer get to buy product wholesale for redistribution (the standard book distribution deal) but also get to claim to be a software publisher distributing limited access rights to the product on their platform?

By 2010, Amazon had about a 90% lock on the ebook market in the USA. That's when the publishers began to panic and look into alternative ways of selling ebooks through other channels that could undermine the AMZN monopoly.

It's a sign of Amazon's huge lobbying muscle that the DoJ anti-trust suit is being directed AT THE PEOPLE WHO TRIED TO BREAK THE MONOPOLY INCUMBENT'S GRIP, rather than at the monopolist.

(Full disclaimer: I'm a full-time novelist, published by some of the firms named in the case.)

Leaks point to new mystery Macs 'with Jony Ive's fingerprints on'

Charlie Stross

Your time machine appears to be calibrated for 2008.

Apple have been selling their SuperDrive for Macbook Airs since 2009. Works fine with my 2012-vintage retina Probook.

It's a standard Apple accessory: looks cute, rather more expensive (cough, you want *how much* for a USB DVD-RW?) than the competition, most non-Mac folks don't know it exists so insert foot in mouth when polled on subject.

(In this SoHo business we have two Airbooks, a Mac Mini Server, and a rMBP, none of which have built-in optical drives. We get by quite happily with a single SuperDrive between us -- in fact, it spends most of its time gathering dust in a drawer.)

Ebook price-fixing: Macmillan settles with DoJ, Apple fights on

Charlie Stross
Thumb Down

Pushed into a corner ...

As an author published by Macmillan, I got the letter from John Sargent (the CEO) earlier today.

Let me quote from it (it's public):


There are two reasons we did not settle earlier. First, the settlement called for a level of e-book discounting we believed would be harmful to the industry. [snip]

The second reason was simpler. I had an old fashioned belief that you should not settle if you have done no wrong. As it turns out, that is indeed old fashioned.

Our company is not large enough to risk a worst case judgment. In this action the government accused five publishers and Apple of conspiring to raise prices. As each publisher settled, the remaining defendants became responsible not only for their own treble damages, but also possibly for the treble damages of the settling publishers (minus what they settled for). A few weeks ago I got an estimate of the maximum possible damage figure. I cannot share the breathtaking amount with you, but it was much more than the entire equity of our company.


Here's the important bit: Macmillan is pretty much the smallest of the big six. Facing a judgement that would potentially exceed the entire value of the company isn't somewhere any CEO can go, even if they're convinced they're innocent.

From my POV, the real insanity is that the bad guy in the case -- Amazon -- have got away with monopolistic behaviour, peaking at 90% of all ebooks sold, while the DOJ opened fire with the big guns on the folks who were trying to claw their way up from a minority position.

Brits kept waiting as iPad Mini LTE arrives Stateside

Charlie Stross

Unless you DESPERATELY need 4G LTE service, it's significantly cheaper to buy a PAYG MiFi from 3 (such as the Huawei E586) and leave it in a pocket for when you're away from wifi. The premium for LTE in the iPad Mini is around £120, while the Mifi, on PAYG, is at most £70.

And the wifi-only iPad Mini is intermittently available in shops. (Saw a bunch in John Lewis last Sunday; by the time I'd finished wavering they'd gone, dammit, but fresh stock will be along eventually.)

Note also that Apple want an extra £80 per 16Gb of FLASH in their iPads. While iPads work just fine with pocket wifi NAS devices like the Maxell AirStash. Upshot: 16Gb iPad Mini and an AirStash with a 64Gb SDHC card cost about £100 less than a 64Gb iPad Mini.

So the sweet spot may well be a low-end iPad mini plus an airstash and a mifi, which you can buy in the shops, right now.

Tablet tech is really a Psion of the times

Charlie Stross

The Palm folding keyboard is still available, with bluetooth, works with iOS and Android

A Chinese factory is churning out what appears to be the original "Think Outside" folding keyboard (as shown in the photo illo with the Palm Vx) for about forty quid a pop -- go and google for "Dracotek" if you want to find the importer. The new version has a rechargable battery (charged over USB) and talks Bluetooth; my old Think Outside bluetooth keyboard works fine with a Google Nexus 7 tablet and an iPad.

But the best mobile typing setup I've found short of a Macbook Air is an iPad, and the Logitech ultra-slim keyboard cover. It's a magnetic smart cover for the iPad with a bluetooth keyboard; looks a lot like the posh keyboard Microsoft are pushing with their Surface tablets, costs about 70 quid in John Lewis, and turns the iPad into a serious writing machine (they got the ergonomics and key spacing brilliantly right, and yes, the keycaps don't fly off if you look at them funny).

Door creaks and girl farts: computing in the real world

Charlie Stross

My Retina Macbook Pro so DOES have gigabit ethernet ...

... It came with a Thunderbolt to GigE adapter in the box. (Came in right handy for that very first 200Gb Time Machine backup ...)

In addition, the rMBP works absolutely fine with the bog-standard Apple USB Superdrive they've been selling for yonks for the Macbook Air and Mac Mini (server model -- which has no internal optical drive, due to having a second hard disk).

Shorter version: if you want a lighter 15" Macbook Pro AND all the girly-fart features, you need to carry a small bag of peripherals. Or you can travel light and use Bluetooth file transfer or DropBox or something.

iPad bludgeons to death two UK Apple reseller shops

Charlie Stross
Thumb Down

The Edinburgh Cancom shop *used to be* reasonably good ... back when it was Scotsys. Then Cancom took it over, re-branded, and fired most of the experienced staff. Service took enough of a dive at that point that I took to catching the train to the Buchanan Street Apple Store in Glasgow instead if I needed my hand holding badly enough (which should tell you something).

I hope there's more to those Princes Street Apple Store rumours than hot air; otherwise the nearest thing Edinburgh's got to a reseller is John Lewis!

Where are all the decent handheld scribbling tools?

Charlie Stross

Viliv RIP

The Viliv S5 is *exactly* the machine Liam's looking for -- the reincarnation of the Psion 5 form factor (even fits in a Series 5 case!), only with the specs of a Win7 netbook.

Alas, Viliv went into liquidation in July due to, er, a lack of sales -- seems everyone was buying tablets instead.

Thus illustrating the perils of going for a minority market ...

Taxmen extend biz record check pilot

Charlie Stross

I'm in Edinburgh, and self-employed. I was one of the folks HMRC picked for their pilot business record check scheme. Seriously, it *should* be no big deal. They come in, ask you some questions about how your business cash flow works, then how your record keeping works. As long as you're keeping full records of income and expenditure, and receipts as evidence of expenditure, you've got nothing to worry about.

In my case it was "I enter all my expenses in this spreadsheet and file the receipts themselves in this envelope, and I enter all my income in this other sheet and hang on to my bank statements, and once a year I throw it all at my accountant." And that was pretty much all it took to get a clean bill of record-keeping health signed off by HMRC.

This stuff isn't rocket science; I reckon it's really about shaking trees and seeing if anything falls out, in the shape of people who can't be bothered to do even the minimum.

Logitech Touch Lapdesk N600

Charlie Stross
Thumb Down

Not very southpaw-friendly, is it?

I'll be giving it a miss for that very reason ...

Fukushima: Situation improving all the time

Charlie Stross

Heat wave

Irony doesn't work well on the net: my point was that the *absence* of nuclear power from the Fukushima plants may well cause a ton more deaths than a full-on Chernobyl grade disaster, or even a magnitudfe 9 quake followed by a once-in-a-thousand-years tsunami.

Charlie Stross

Unfortunately, thousands will die ...

There is a huge health risk, unfortunately, and it may well kill tens of thousands over the next few months as a direct result of the reactor outage at Fukushima Daiichi.

See, Western Japan and Eastern Japan do not share an electricity grid; because of an historical accident, in the 1890s when they were first getting electric lighting, one utility chose to run at 60Hz and the other picked 50Hz. Consequently there's no grid interconnect between the two halves of the Japanese electricity supply system.

Eastern Japan has just had 15 nuclear reactors scrammed by an an earthquake. Some of them may be checked out and approved to start delivering base load again over the coming months, but they all need a thorough inspection at this point -- and we know for sure that at least three of them will never work again (not after they've had seawater pumped through their primary coolant circuit).

We are now heading into summer. And Tokyo doesn't have enough electricity to maintain power everywhere even in spring.

Summer in Tokyo is savage: temperatures routinely top 35 celsius with 100% humidity. In a heat wave, it can top 40 degrees for days on end. Back when I visited in 2008 the heat wave had broken and daytime temperatures were down under 37 degrees again -- the week before it had been over 42, and joggers had been dropping dead in the street.

Greater Tokyo also has 30-million-odd people, of whom a large proportion -- maybe 20% -- are 75 years or older.

Elderly folks do not handle heat waves well; they get dehydrated easily and if they don't have air conditioning they die in droves. Normally it's not a problem in Tokyo because 80% of households have air conditioning, but with rolling blackouts and insufficient power it's another matter. They can try and evacuate old folks into school gyms with aircon and portable generators, but the logistics of moving several million geriatrics are daunting, to say the least. Not to mention feeding them, keeping them hydrated, providing their medication, and handling sanitation.

If Tokyo experiences a heat wave this summer, the deaths (from heat stroke, among the other-75s) may well outnumber the direct fatalities from the earthquake and tsunami combined.

Lost ancient civilisation's ruins lie beneath Gulf, says boffin

Charlie Stross

Post-glacial inundation

Let's remember that, at the end of the last ice age -- 12,000 years ago -- sea levels were much lower than they are today (the water being locked up in the ice caps that covered most of Europe and North America). Given the early human tendency to live in lowlands/near bodies of water, that means that many mesolithic and neolithic settlements have been submerged; for example <a href="https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Doggerland">Doggerland</a>, the huge low-lying fertile basin that stretched from between the Wash and the Thames to Germany.

We know next to nothing about the settlements of these lands because their remains have been under water (and silt) for thousands of years.

UK nuke station denies Stuxnet shutdown

Charlie Stross

No, it's not Stuxnet.

Heysham 1 is one of the UK's fleet of Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors.

A few years ago I had the opportunity -- non-repeatable, alas -- to crawl all over (and under) one of its siblings, at Torness.

If you want to write a worm that can wreak havoc on an AGR, you don't want to go for Siemens controllers -- you need something with hands and the ability to pick padlocks! Literally *every* valve in the insanely complex plumber's nightmare that is an AGR is locked in position with a padlock -- by design. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of operational parameters that can be adjusted, and a limited envelope within which the reactor can sustain criticality while generating steam; while running, these are literally locked down, with the only easily accessible controls being physical safety features. I suspect the mere idea of running an AGR on SCADA software controlled from Windows might make the engineers responsible faint ...

(A full write-up of my visit to Torness is here: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/rants/nothing-like-this-will-be-buil.html )

KeyCase iPad Folio Deluxe

Charlie Stross

Buyer Beware!

I got over-eager and bought one of these ... sent it back for a refund the same day.

In a nutshell, the keyboard is like a dreadful hybrid of the worst aspects of the original Asus Eee 701 (too small, tiny, no right shift key) and the Cambridge Z88 (rubber! lots of rubber!)

It was impossible to type accurately on the bloody thing. And it wasn't even very good as an iPad folio case -- there are plenty of much nicer, better designed ones that don't include a failed keyboard.

Save your dosh and scour eBay for a second-hand iGo Stowaway bluetooth keyboard, say I.

Regent Street blocked by iPad fanboi swarm

Charlie Stross

Not being totally insane ...

I pre-ordered an iPad. Not being unfamiliar with the Apple hype machine, I made sure to put my order in within a couple of hours of the online ordering system opening for business.

It arrived yesterday without any queueing, screaming, or drama.

Who *are* these people?!?

Sci-fi and fantasy authors wade into Amazon spat

Charlie Stross

A week late and a dollar short

Really, I'd expect better coverage from El Reg. This has been all over the web since last Friday, and making shockwaves throughout the publishing industry since Monday. Latest news as of today is that Hachette and HarperCollins (aka NewsCorp) are joining in.

The proximate blame for the bean-fest can be laid at Steve Jobs' door -- for lo, it is the retail model for the iPad that is at the core: the publishers like it, Amazon hates it because it strips them of leverage.

Confirmed: no iPad iBooks for Blighty

Charlie Stross


This was inevitable.

1. Rights to English language books are typically sold in two tranches -- US & Canada, and UK/rest of world. Ebook rights are also sold with this territorial split and, get this, they're EXCLUSIVE. So a US publisher is violating the author's copyright and in breach of contract if they sell books in the UK, and vice versa, UNLESS they acquired world English language rights (rare).

2. All this means is that Apple will have to ink distribution deals with the British publishers' arms rather than the US parent companies before they can fire up the iBook store in the UK.

3. Other ebook apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch should work just fine in the iPad -- including Amazon's Kindle.app, Stanza, eReader, and others.

Nothing to see here, move along now.

Apple's Tablet won't save Big Dumb Media

Charlie Stross

Wot, no advertising?

This analysis is faulty because it relies on the assumption that big media -- newspapers -- are about news. They're not, they're about advertising sales. The internet (and google) are eating their lunch, but they can't dig their way back into profitability simply by hiring more journalists and going back to pavement-pounding, because that wasn't where they made their money in the first place.

80% of the revenue of newsstand publications comes from the advertising department; the readers are just there to deliver ABC headline figures to the ad salesfolk so they can squeeze more money from the clients. <em>This</em> is the bind they're in; as advertising spend goes online, there's less left over for trad media, so less money to pay for those (loss-leading) journalists.

Apple says jailbroken iPhones endanger cell towers

Charlie Stross


Thanks to this, I'm going to have to jailbreak my iphone.

Amazon may plug in-book advertising into Kindle

Charlie Stross

Breach of contract

Speaking as a novelist, there are clauses in all my book contracts that <em>explicitly</em> forbid in-book advertising of any kind (with the exception of specific ads for related books in the same imprint by the same publisher, at the back of the text).

This is hard-won stuff that followed a whole series of lawsuits in the 1920s and 1930s.

Obviously different publishing fields may work differently, but in mass-market fiction (the primary target of the smaller regular Kindle) it'd be a flat-out breach of contract between authors and publishers if the publishers permit it to happen, and things could get very ugly.

RIP Personal Computer World

Charlie Stross

RIP ...

Wow, I didn't know Felix had a hand in PCW -- tangentially speaking, that explains a number of things that puzzled me about the way the Computer Shopper folks ran things in the early days (another Dennis project).

Oh yeah: I still have an ICL One Per Desk in the attic ...

I haven't read PCW in years. But I'll raise a pint to her (it?) tonight.

Russian mag teases with netbook MacBook specs

Charlie Stross
Thumb Down

Stuff and nonsense

For starters, the 1280x768 resolution is a giveaway that someone behind this article is coming from PC-land -- Apple use 1280x800 as one of their standard screen resolutions for a reason.

And for seconds, 5100-odd mAh in the battery for a 1Kg netbook? If they can do that, we have a technical term for this machine: we call it a "bomb". (Most netbooks with 6-cell batteries tend to weigh in at around 1300 grams, for a reason: half of it is battery. If they've crammed that many cells into so light a machine, either the machine itself is barely there, or they've got some mystical new high-energy-density storage medium ...)

Dell MacBook Air Adamo officially launched

Charlie Stross


Since Apple upped the Macbook Air to use an Nvidia chipset, the Air seems to have the edge on CPU speed (1.6 or 1.8Ghz) <em>and</em> graphics performance <em>and</em> weight <em>and</em> price.

The only thing left to the Adamo is the dubious privilege of running Vista, and the battery.

What were they thinking?!?

UK IT should 'fire men first', says Kate Craig-Wood

Charlie Stross

Is that legal?

While restoring the gender balance to IT is all well and good as a goal, <em>in practice</em> doesn't the Sex Discrimination Act (1975 and as amended) have something to say on the topic of firing people because of their sex?

Google's email service goes down

Charlie Stross

Minor correction

Gmail is in fact working <em>fine</em> -- if you use IMAP or POP to access it. It's just the webmail front end that's down.

Apple scores 'power connector' patent

Charlie Stross

It's been on sale for a year now. I own one. Because ...


This is part of the kit you get when you buy Apple's in-flight magsafe adapter for a magsafe-equipped Macbook (Pro, vanilla, or Air).

It's a "condom" that fits into a car's 12v socket. Inside it, there's another socket -- for an airline seatback 12v plug. And then there's a cable with a magsafe connector at one end and an airline 12v plug at the other.

Macbooks can run off airliners with 12v seatback power, or cars, using just a cable and this gizmo -- no need for a transformer brick.

Nothing to see here, move along now ....

Time to axe Microsoft's Zune

Charlie Stross
Jobs Horns

Leap year bug

Wot, forgotten their disastrous Zune leap year bug already -- the one that temporarily bricked virtually every 30Gb Zune on the planet, and for which Microsoft's fix was "just wait until the new year rolls round and reboot it"?

Yes, that happened late in December -- but it won't have done any good to the post-Christmas sales, or to customer loyalty for that matter.

(Wasn't there also a DRM server whoopsie, or am I getting confused with someone else?)

25 years of Mac - the good, the bad, and the cheese grater

Charlie Stross

On the Bad front ...

Why did you overlook the Powerbook Duo, Apple's first try at a subnotebook?

The thing was a dog. They made it out of plastic, and went hog wild on weight-saving. So wild that if you lifted it up while it was running on battery, the case would flex so much that the battery bay contacts would lose the physical connection to the battery and it would die on the spot.

They left a lot of stuff out. Ports, floppy drive, display adapter. Instead, there was an external dock. Smart folks bought the mini-dock which clipped on the back and gave it pretty much everything that the similarly-priced standard duo-dock gave it (except for an extra internal hard disk).

The standard duo-dock was, however, a thing of a horror. Resembling an old-style VCR, you slid the (closed) Duo into a slot in the front, whereupon a whizzy motorized mechanism would latch on and suck it into the bowels of the dock, there to give every semblance of an underpowered gutless desktop machine. Except that sometimes the latch mechanism jammed. In which case, you could either invalidate your warranty with a screwdriver, or schlep the whole mess back to your local dealership.

This motorized dock was hard-sold to Duo <s>customers</s> mugs, while the mini-dock stayed in scarce supply, for no earthly reason ...

New York mulls terrorist cell phone jamming

Charlie Stross

Here's what I reckon Bruce Schneier will say ...

In the Mumbai attacks, it was notable that the attackers hit police targets first (including the head of anti-terrorism ops).

If there's some sort of filter to allow law enforcement officers to register their phones and by-pass a general block on cellphone use, then the <em>first</em> thing any competent attackers will do is whack some cops and take their phones. At which point, the filter becomes more of an impediment to defense than anything else.

The Year in Operating Systems: No battle of big ideas

Charlie Stross
Paris Hilton

I'm slightly puzzled ...

You missed out the best-selling UNIX by actual volume -- OS/X! Surely a platform that out-sells Linux on the desktop and is actively evolving is worth a word or two?

Spy chiefs plot £12bn IT spree for comms überdatabase

Charlie Stross

That weird sound ...

That strange noise in the distance is <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Honecker">Erich Honecker</a> wanking furiously in his grave.

Sony e-book reader to debut in UK tomorrow

Charlie Stross

Not a palm pilot

The PRS-505 isn't a PDA.

The display is amazingly better than anything that Palm ever sold, back in the grey-scale days. It just doesn't bear comparison on any basis (resolution: 800x600 rather than 160x160, contrast ratio: astronomical).

Nor does it chew through AAA cells when you're using the backlight (what backlight? The Sony device doesn't need one, unless you still read under the covers in bed), or lose its memory if you fumble the battery swap.

I travel with a sub-notebook too, but oddly, it takes me more than 3-6 hours to read a couple of books. If you want to use a sub-notebook instead, you'd need a hand-cart loaded with spare batteries (or a portable generator and a gallon of petrol) to match the PRS-505s life.

It's quite simply a niche gadget. It does one thing only, and does it pretty well. Where it tries to do more than one thing, it's pants -- my advice is to delete the MP3 music samples it comes with, lest you accidentally nudge the volume switch and it tries to play something (which will run the battery down in well under 24 hours). But if all you want to do is read, I reckon a single charge should see you all the way through "Cryptonomicon".

Charlie Stross
Thumb Up

The non-Windows user experience, in detail

There's a lot of FUD floating around on this discussion. I own a PRS-505 and I don't do Windows; here's my experience.

The reason for the buttons is that the PRS-505 uses an e-ink display. It's really slow -- the latency is around half a second -- so rather than a pointer-based interface it expects you to use an old-fashioned numbered-menu system to navigate between features. All the e-ink machines are like this, the Kindle included; it's the price you pay for a device with the contrast ratio of newsprint that'll run for a week between charges.

I find the PRS-505 usable, despite that. It charges over USB, and exports its internal memory (and the SD or MS cards, if either are installed) as USB mass storage devices.

Stick an RTF, ASCII, PDF, or LRF file in the right directory and the PRS-505 will display it. (LRF is Sony's proprietary-ish file format. If you're a non-Microsoftie the reason for converting RTF files to LRF is that the PRS-505 can pick up metainformation tags like author name and title from the LRF, thus making it easier to find if you've got a lot of files on your machine.)

The PRS-505 will *not* read Microsoft Word files as-is (but you can convert them to RTF using OpenOffice or, on the Mac, textutil).

The PRS-505 will display PDFs. Since the July firmware update it's supposed to support PDF reflow as well, reflowing text to fit the screen better. (I haven't tested this.)

The PRS-505 supports the newish ePub ebook format, which includes DRM support (it's not mandatory) and is promoted by Adobe. To that extent, they seem to be stepping away from their previous committment to LRF, and before that, to BBeB (which nobody else used).

If you're a Mac or Linux user, the Calibre tools (calibre.kovidgoyal.net) will let you convert a variety of ebook file formats into LRF and sync them with the PRS-505. It includes HTML conversion and web spidering, so that you can grab various magazine/news websites and stick them on your reader. The only features of the PRS-505 it *doesn't* support are DRM and access to the Sony ebook store. There's loads of content on Project Gutenberg, and a lot of free books on the internet that you can download legally; more info at www.mobileread.com.

Charlie Stross

Frequent Flyer's companion

I bought an PRS-505 on a trip stateside last year, and I've got to say, *if* you (a) read a lot and (b) travel a lot, it's a major boon. (Note that it's going to be rather less useful if the sort of stuff you read requires you to make notes in the margins; this is a basic e-reader, really aimed at the casual consumer of popular literature.)

Last month I ended up on a journey from hell (I arrived at my destination 36 hours late, via three cancelled intermediate flights and a brisk jog around Dallas-Fort Worth); the Reader kept me entertained, and after ploughing through three novels it was still showing three bars out of four on the battery indicator.

Sony's software support for non-Microsoft folks is, as usual, dire, but Mac and Linux users may want to investigate Calibre (http://calibre.kovidgoyal.net/), the open source Reader management application.

Third time unlucky for Elon Musk's Falcon rocket

Charlie Stross

The usual starting trouble

It's worth noting that virtually no previous orbit-capable rocket has succeeded without a string of early failures. The R7 (Soyuz) launcher, for example, is famously reliable today ... but not back in the mid-1950s when it was under development. The Ariane IV had about twelve failures in its first eighteen launches -- then had a spotless record for the next several dozen. And so on.

Losing three in a row is disappointing but hardly unprecedented; if they get it right with #4, all will be forgiven soon enough.