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What If America Had Beaten the Soviets Into Space?

charlie Nonsensical question (255 comments)

For geopolitical reasons the Eisenhower administration wanted the USSR to be first to orbit a satellite -- because it would set a precedent for free orbital flight over any territory, thus allowing the USA to orbit the Corona spy satellites without the USSR being legally free to pop off ASAT weapons at them.
In practice, Von Braun was ordered to ballast Thor IRBM tests with concrete to prevent them "accidentally" making orbit prematurely.

more than 3 years ago

The iPad vs. Microsoft's "Jupiter" Devices

charlie Re:12 year old product compares to iPad, and couri (293 comments)

The Sharp Mobilon was also sold as the Vadem Clio.

I owned one, back in the day.

I assure you, the claimed 10-16 hour battery life is a ludicrous exaggeration. In reality, it was good for 4.5-6 hours on a charge.

(Battery life claims are a lot more conservative these days; I remember the first-gen Apple Powerbooks, where the PB100's claimed life of "two and a half hours" was closer to 40 minutes -- and they were by no means the worst of the bunch!)

Also: the thing was near-as-dammit unusable due to crappy design decisions. For example, WinCE 2.11 had the window "close" button right next to the "Maximize" button -- and the pen digitizer was inaccurate enough that if you didn't calibrate the screen very carefully you'd end up hitting "close" instead of "maximize" about 50% of the time!

more than 4 years ago

SoftMaker Office 2010 For Linux Nearing Release

charlie What SoftMaker is *really* for ... (110 comments)

I've used it on and off for about eight years now.

SoftMaker office isn't really a decent replacement for OO.o on Linux. But there is one place where it's indispensible -- if you have a WinCE or Windows Mobile PDA/smartphone, it's miles better than the Pocket version of Microsoft Office. It actually makes my old HP iPaq 214 useful for writing.

more than 4 years ago

Need Help Salvaging Data From an Old Xenix System

charlie Re:Reading the disk will be tricky. (325 comments)

... However, as I remember from back when I worked at SCO (years before the name and some assets were sold to the lunatics from Utah), Xenix filesystem and partition table support was rolled into SCO UNIX SVR3.2/386. And Open Desktop. And ODT came with a proper working TCP/IP stack. It's probably overkill, but once you've tried using uucp to get the files off the BBS, you might want to pull the ST506 drive (presumably an MFM-encoded one, not RLL-encoded) and stick it into a shiny new 386 with, say, 4Mb of RAM and a 40Mb disk with SCO UNIX installed. That should enable you to mount the filesystems and export them via NFS. It's a lot of work, though.

more than 4 years ago

Will Books Be Napsterized?

charlie One fundamental point ... (350 comments)

One fundamental point that tends to get overlooked is that unlike CDs or cassette tapes before them, books traditionally came with built-in DRM, insofar as copying them (via scan/OCR/proofread) was a really tedious process. Whereas it's relatively easy to crack the DRM on, for example, MobiPocket or Microsoft Reader books (and probably ePub by now). So the DRM'd formats are easier to pirate than the previous "analog"-analog format. What this portends for the future remains to be seen, but wearing my full-time novelist hat, I'm a bit worried. The music industry has efficiently trained people to grab files without throwing money at the artists, by bringing the role of publishers into disrepute. Now we're all set to repeat the experience, and unlike a rock band, most authors don't perform well on stage.

more than 5 years ago

The Technology of Neuromancer After 25 Years

charlie Re:160 million copies!? (203 comments)

Note that any sales figure a major English language publishing house discloses will be inflated by between 50% and 300%. This is standard practice -- everybody does it, so if you don't do it, everybody will assume that you're exaggerating your sales anyway and discount the figure accordingly. Stupid, but that's the way the business works. Even if you assume the 6.5 million worldwide sales figures is exaggerated by a factor of three, that's hugely impressive -- an SF novel that sells 10,000 hardcover and 50,000 paperback in the US is doing really well (and you can triple that figure to get an estimate of the worldwide sales).

more than 5 years ago

The Technology of Neuromancer After 25 Years

charlie Re:160 million copies!? (203 comments)

Terry Pratchett's total career sales track is around 66 million books. Steven King sold somewhere upwards of 100 million, total. J. K. Rowling is around the 70-120 million mark, worldwide. I call bullshit, by at least one (and probably two) orders of magnitude.

more than 5 years ago

An Ethical Question Regarding Ebooks

charlie Re:Get it in both forms (715 comments)

The most obviously moral/practical solution in my opinion would be to order the text used from Amazon and then read the pirated electronic version.

Disagree. The author gets not a single bent penny from second-hand sales. (Neither does the publisher.)

The best move is to grab the pirated electronic copy, then buy a new copy of the author's latest book. That way, they get paid and their publisher receives a price signal that this author is popular.

more than 6 years ago


charlie hasn't submitted any stories.



Journal moving

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 12 years ago I'm sick of using slashdot for blogging, a purpose it isn't really suited for.

So I'm moving.

You can find my new blog hanging off my home page, or go here.

Hopefully this means I'll keep it a bit more up to date ...


Exploding bus shelters

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 12 years ago Weird.

For the past couple of months, I've been tsk-tsking about the number of bus shelters and phone boxes around Edinburgh with broken glass and empty windows.

Then, this evening ...

Karen, Claudio, and I were on our way to a pub. It having turned cold, we crossed over Leith Walk to wait at a bus stop (for either a bus or a passing taxi). We were just approaching the bus stop when there was a loud pop -- and a sheet of glass about one metre by two disintegrated, dumping its advertising board all over the pavement, along with several kilos of toughened glass (reduced to fragments).

To say we were shaken is a bit of an understatement; if we'd been under the shelter it would probably have been call-an-ambulance time. There was nobody else within a hundred metres, though, and no other witnesses: this thing just exploded in front of us!

Talk about unpleasant surprises. It had been quite windy earlier, and the temperature had dropped about ten degrees (celsius) in the past three hours, and on our way back we passed a number of glass-free phone boxes, including one that had clearly broken really recently, as there was still glass on the pavement. Best guess we can come up with is that some of the toughened glass the Council are buying to put in their shelters is not suitable for low temperatures or high winds, but it's still alarming to nearly be on the receiving end of a face full of glass fragments.


A US President writes

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 12 years ago Someone in The Guardian's editorial office has a clue; this lengthy quote from a former president seems a hell of a lot more applicable to the current situation than any other editorials I've read in the past couple of weeks. Or any of the frightening noises emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days.


Small objects of desire (reprise)

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 12 years ago Back last June, I bought a laptop; a Sony Vaio PCG-FX103. (To Sony, if you're listening: this is the last piece of your shitware I'm ever buying unless you stop treating your customers like dumb cattle and start supplying electronic guts that match up to the cute exterior decor, instead of the pile of gangrenous filth that is the PCG-FX103. Crippleware. Yes, I'm pissed off. And yes, I'm going to tell everyone exactly why -- but not right now.)

The Vaio was, not to put too fine a point on it, so appallingly useless that I ended up using it as a book-end for most of the time, and forked out some hard-earned cash on a second-hand Toshiba Portege that, while slow and elderly, did exactly what needed doing without any fuss.

Last October a keycap on the Tosh broke, so I ordered a replacement keyboard and fitted it myself. (No, I didn't ship it to Belgium and wait ten weeks for some drone in a Sony service centre to stop wanking and pop the keyboard, then charge me a hundred and sixty pounds for the cornholing. I ordered the keyboard, it arrived two days later, and I fitted it myself in fifteen minutes. Begin to get the picture?)

Anyway, I put the mileage on that spanking new laptop keyboard at a frightening rate, sort of like the way a courier puts miles on a van. Inside four months I think I've written on the close order of 220,000 words of original fiction on it. I've also edited my way through three novels and written four monthly magazine columns, racking up another 50,000 words of non-fiction -- before you add in my email and usenet habits. You know something? The space bar is worn shiny-smooth, the decals on the keys are rubbing away, and a couple of them have begun sticking. Time for a new board ...

Now, for a while I'd been meaning to take a look at Linux -- which is my operating system of choice, as well as my bread and butter -- on PowerPC kit. And I happen to have a soft spot for Macs, because even though Steve Jobs is Bill Gates' Evil Twin, and Apple's software licenses and proprietary hardware must bring tears of joy to the devil's eye, they make nice machines. And in this situation -- old laptop now verging on ancient and in need of a new keyboard -- I made the mistake of blundering into the local Mac dealership in Edinburgh.

And blundering out again half an hour later with a spanking new iBook, 640Mb of RAM, DVD/CD-RW, and wireless ethernet. Drool.

Anyway, in a day or two I managed to repartition the iBook and configure it to triple-boot -- MacOS 9, MacOS X, and another mystery partition (currently loaded with Yellow Dog 2.1, but shortly to try Mandrake and SuSE Linux for PowerPC). And you know something? Much to my self-disgust I am finding that I am spending 90% of my time in MacOS X.

See, I'm an old UNIX head. And I've just bought a box with a cute, glitzy face that -- under the hood -- just happens to be running BSD. And sure there are problems with it; a surfeit of crap commercial payware, no decent package management system, lack of support for foreign filesystems (ext3, Apple, we need it bad!) ... but. But. But. It's got the cute front-end of MacOS, all the bells and whistles like iTunes, and something underneath that I can port my writing tools to and crank up vi or emacs on.

So if I've been a bit quiet lately, you know why. Meanwhile, here's Salad With Steve.



charlie charlie writes  |  more than 12 years ago Okay, so Boing! Boing! is travelling really close to the speed of light in our reference frame, so a week there looks to be a very long week from outside. Right?

Actually, that's only one of my excuses for not writing recently. Another part of it is mild depression. I tend to sleep longer in winter, and for some reason I also tend to finish writing novels in winter. I've just stuck 1400 pages of manuscript in the post to my agent and, not to put too fine a point on it, I feel exhausted. One redrafted novel (118,000 words) and one wholly new novel (185,000 words) is enough. At least for one winter.

(The day trips to Amsterdam, Brussels, and Leeds didn't help either. Talk about alternate realities ...)

Meanwhile, cheer up: if you haven't met him already, here's Argon Zark.


Not a Number: dialectic and The Prisoner

charlie charlie writes  |  about 13 years ago Yet another SF-related link: this article explains, in the author's words, "How I was politically educated by The Prisoner". A thought-provoking look at a fascinating TV series and the way it put over a number of interesting politically- charged points at the height of the cold war.


Cool Vernor Vinge interview

charlie charlie writes  |  about 13 years ago Event Horizon interviewed Vernor Vinge in 1999 about his recent novels, the Singularity, and all sorts of interesting background stuff. If you're interested in current directions in SF and haven't read it, the interview is still on the web.


Giving your All for the Firm

charlie charlie writes  |  about 13 years ago Some companies expect their employees to give an arm and a leg, but this is just taking the piss. (Er, or something like that ...)


Shameless self-promotion

charlie charlie writes  |  about 13 years ago Much to my becrogglement, I just learned that my short story collection TOAST is, like, going to the printer tomorrow.

More details as and when they become available. Okay?


Bare-faced Truth

charlie charlie writes  |  about 13 years ago Feorag's made the Independant on Sunday, this time. (Scottish edition, again.)

I suppose I should explain.

We're members of the Edinburgh naturist swimming club, abunch of people who, well, hire a swimming pool so they can swim around with no clothes on.

A month ago, for a laugh, a couple of members of the club committee proposed doing a 2002 calendar. Being a naturistclub, obviously the club calendar would have to featurevarious members -- wearing lots of clothes.

In the fullness of time, the Evening News (who had previously run a feature about the club) send a photographer round, for a laugh and a human interest story. Feorag was among the club members who showed up.

Then The Sun picked up on the story and ran with it ("Naturist club calendar cover-up"). Then the Indy picked it up.

Where's it all going to end?


Dirty secrets from the 1940's

charlie charlie writes  |  about 13 years ago In 1949, playwright Harold Pinter was attacked by neo-nazi thugs on the streets of London.

Newly declassified Home Office documents covering the investigation show that the government of the day was more worried about the Communist Threat than about nazi thugs beating up its own citizens; his complaints to the police were dismissed as nonsense and the Home Office spent more time investigating the National Council for Civil Liberties for 'subversion' than dealing with violent thugs in their own capital city.


It isn't April 1st ...

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 12 years ago So I trust you'll take me seriously when I say that right now, as I speak, Feorag is all over page three of The Sun.

(At least, the Scottish edition -- she's not in the English version.)

Note for non-UK readers: page three of The Sun is reserved for topless bimbos. Just what she's doing there wearing a t-shirt, leggings, and sunglasses I leave to your imagination.

All will be explained tomorrow ...


Why your next general-purpose computer may well be your last

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 12 years ago For the last year, The Register has been tracking the entertainment lobby's attempts to get CPRM copy prevention built into all ATA standard hard disk drives.

The music and film industry is in big trouble, and they've got a vested interest in preventing digital copying because it drives the cost of their core commodity towards zero. (Forget the fact that 80% of the revenue from films comes in the form of merchandise and spin-off rights; these guys are totalitarian in their outlook, and none more so than the music industry who have neatly set things up as a supply-side monopoly and don't want cheap MP3 copying to disrupt the money pipeline.)

This article, by Hale Landis, is still valid, and it explains exactly what the core of the MPAA/RIAA strategy is: the total destruction of the general-purpose computer as we know it.

PC's are just too damn flexible to coexist with distribution monopolies, it seems, so the strategy is to push the big manufacturers towards making closed boxes (like the early Macintosh -- thank you, Steve Jobs) and bundling closed 'secure' (for whom?) operating systems on top of them. Software patents and 'trade secret' lawsuits can then be used to sue those pesky free software people into shutting down the sites that distribute their software, and closed hardware architecture will make it impossible for mere users to get at the underlying devices and use them for things like unrestricted and unfiltered data i/o.

This whole plan is completely insane, but there are worrying signs that it may be working. Remember: what they can't steal by stealth, they'll steal by passing a law to say that it isn't stealing (and trying to hold on to your rights is depriving them of their legally mandated source of income).


Feorag's blog

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 13 years ago Feorag's started a blog. Okay, it's actually an online version of her 'zine, Pagan Prattle, which she's published irregularly for the past 15 years or so (and which is neither pagan nor prattle, if you ask me). If you're into Loony Fundamentalist Nonsense, as Feorag is, go read.


Why I'm a member of the EFF

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 13 years ago The Electronic Frontier Foundation campaigns almost entirely on US legal issues relating to civil liberties and the internet. Why am I, living in Scotland, a member?

Some of the answers are here, in this article by rusty on Kuro5hin, the thinking geek's uber-Slashdot site. But those only cover what the EFF does, not why it's important to non-Americans.

The reason is important, but not exactly simple: what passes into law in the USA seems to get echoed at the next WIPO treaty session in the form of an international agreement, which gets passed into law in the EU and then the UK shortly thereafter. Because UK citizens don't generally get consulted about international treaties while they're being negotiated, we have a lot less chance of avoiding bad agreements once they've been passed by WIPO than we do if they're blocked there, first. If a law gets rejected by US legislators, the odds are that it won't get passed by WIPO -- at least, not easily.

We are already living under a de-facto world government; it's a free trade system controlled by international treaty organisations, and it's not a democracy. The only people who can afford to lobby their 'representatives' are big corporations or lobbying groups who can afford to fly around the diplomatic circuit at will. I view political lobbying in the US as being a pre-emptive strike against bad legislation in the UK. This situation sucks, but short of applying for US citizenship or tearing down the whole treaty system (returning the world to the state it was in in 1933) there's no obvious way to change it.

So, even if you're not American, think hard about supporting the EFF. Who knows? It may be your interests they're defending, tomorrow.


What the dot-com crash was really about

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 13 years ago Cory Doctorow's written an editorial on O'Reilly.net in which he discusses the root causes of corporate disillusionment with the internet, and where the next revolution will come from. Provocative and worth reading even if you think you know it all. Elevator summary: the internet is unreliable, this doesn't fit with corporate assumptions about marketing, so the old-fashioned businesses have caught cold. (New businesses that can cope with unreliability and peer to peer equality are a different matter.)


What I want for Newtonmass

charlie charlie writes  |  more than 13 years ago ... is one of these.

Unfortunately they're just a theoretical possibility at this stage, but when you take the old HitchHiker's catch-phrase "brain the size of a planet" seriously and start extrapolating towards the limits of computation achievable using nanotechnology and the energy of a single star, this is what you get: a Matrioshka Brain is a Dyson Sphere on steroids.

If you buy Hans Moravec's estimate of the computational complexity of a human mind, and assume that mind uploading is possible, a single Matrioshka Brain gives you the ability to host as many human-equivalent minds as you'd get if every single star in our galaxy had an inhabited planet with the population of the Earth in 2001 orbiting it. Alternatively, a single MB could re-run the life and consciousness of every human being who has ever lived in simulation in about half an hour.

Of course, a Matrioshka Brain is a piss-poor computer when compared to a neuron star (no, that's not a typo), but we don't really know how to structure strange matter yet. Doubtless when we've built an MB it'll figure it all out in the first ten minutes or so.

I'm just astounded that these concepts haven't caught on among SF writers yet. Maybe they're too big, or something?

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