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* Posts by Charlie Stross

50 posts • joined 17 Jul 2007

MS Word deserves DEATH says Brit SciFi author Charles Stross

Charlie Stross
Alert

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!)

10
2

Apple big-screen TV rumor zombie RISES FROM THE DEAD

Charlie Stross
Gimp

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 ...

0
0

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.

0
0

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!

0
0

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.

6
0
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.

Correct.

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.

6
7
Charlie Stross
FAIL

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.)

10
10

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.)

1
0

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):

(BEGIN QUOTE)

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.

(END QUOTE)

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.

9
12

Brits kept waiting as iPad Mini LTE arrives Stateside

Charlie Stross
Facepalm

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.

0
0

Tablet tech is really a Psion of the times

Charlie Stross
Happy

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).

0
0

Door creaks and girl farts: computing in the real world

Charlie Stross
FAIL

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.

2
2

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!

0
0

Where are all the decent handheld scribbling tools?

Charlie Stross
Unhappy

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 ...

1
0

Taxmen extend biz record check pilot

Charlie Stross
Meh

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.

4
0

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 ...

1
1

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.

4
0
Charlie Stross
Stop

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.

25
4

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

Charlie Stross
Alert

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.

9
0

UK nuke station denies Stuxnet shutdown

Charlie Stross
Coffee/keyboard

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 )

5
0

KeyCase iPad Folio Deluxe

Charlie Stross
FAIL

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.

0
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Regent Street blocked by iPad fanboi swarm

Charlie Stross
Pint

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?!?

0
0

Sci-fi and fantasy authors wade into Amazon spat

Charlie Stross
Stop

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.

2
1

Confirmed: no iPad iBooks for Blighty

Charlie Stross
FAIL

Yawn

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.

0
0

Apple's Tablet won't save Big Dumb Media

Charlie Stross
FAIL

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.

3
2

Apple says jailbroken iPhones endanger cell towers

Charlie Stross
Pirate

Huh

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

0
0

Amazon may plug in-book advertising into Kindle

Charlie Stross
Stop

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.

0
0

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.

0
0

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 ...)

0
0

Dell MacBook Air Adamo officially launched

Charlie Stross

Ouch

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?!?

0
0

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

Charlie Stross
Stop

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?

0
0

Google's email service goes down

Charlie Stross
Stop

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.

0
0

Apple scores 'power connector' patent

Charlie Stross
Stop

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

DANGER: USEFUL INFORMATION ALERT

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 ....

0
0

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?)

0
0

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

Charlie Stross
Alert

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 ...

0
0

New York mulls terrorist cell phone jamming

Charlie Stross
Stop

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.

0
0

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?

0
0

Spy chiefs plot £12bn IT spree for comms überdatabase

Charlie Stross
Joke

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.

0
0

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".

0
0
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.

0
0
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.

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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.

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EU project scans air passengers for terrorist tendencies

Charlie Stross
Thumb Down

two thoughts

1. Sounds like someone's trolling for grant proposals. As an actual security package this simply won't fly. (Posit a 99.99% success rate. Now posit fitting this to a Boeing 737-400, with 150 seats, flying short-haul, six sectors per day. The plane's going to be carrying 900 passengers daily ... meaning there's a very high probability of a false positive <em>every</em> day. Given the rarity of actual hijackers, you'd need to make the thing better than six-nines accurate, and there's no way a face recognition system's going to do that.)

2. If they ever deploy this, I start traveling with a stick of chewing gum in my hand luggage. Personally I hate the stuff, but as an alternative to blu-tak it ain't bad ...

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Wikipedia goes to court to defend defamation immunity

Charlie Stross
Alert

Not her only lawsuit ...

I believe Bauer is also suing SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America -- a non-profit trade body of SF and fantasy writers), and several named individuals, in the same basket of lawsuits.

Further comment would be inappropriate, but speaking purely for myself as a working science fiction writer, I hope her head explodes.

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Japanese geeks offered smaller-than-Eee little laptop

Charlie Stross
Stop

Looks like a relaunch of the Kohjinsha SH1 -- which was rubbish

I had a Kohjinsha SA1 last year, to my regret. (It drank a mug of tea eventually, but that's another matter.) This looks to be a revision of the same machine -- same case, same specification, same OS -- at half the original ($1000) price.

Things you want to know before you try and buy one? The keyboard is nearly the worst I've ever used -- far inferior to the more expensive SH6/SH8 models. The screen is no better than the Eee's (and far inferior to the more expensive SH6 and SH8 models, which sport 1024x600 pixels to the SA5's 800x480).

The SH6 I replaced the SA1 with is a much more civilized machine; slow, but the screen is a delight and the keyboard doesn't feel like they've stuffed a decaying squid under it.

Verdict: assuming I called it right and this is a straight reissue of the SA1, my advice would be "don't touch this with a barge-pole". Wait for the Eee 901, or if you need the disk space and have the money go for an HP MiniNote. This one's a turkey.

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RIAA chief calls for copyright filters on PCs

Charlie Stross
Stop

Computer Misuse Act

Unless I'm very much mistaken, installing such malware in the UK would leave them open to prosecution under the Computer Misuse Act (1990), viz (to quote the Act):

A person is guilty of an offence if—

(a) he causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer;

(b) the access he intends to secure is unauthorised; and

(c) he knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the function that that is the case.

(2) The intent a person has to have to commit an offence under this section need not be directed at—

(a) any particular program or data;

(b) a program or data of any particular kind; or

(c) a program or data held in any particular computer.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to both.

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Straw: Police can bug MPs without asking Cabinet

Charlie Stross
Paris Hilton

Am I thick or ...

... What's to stop the security services from asking the police to bug a person of interest if the PoI happens to be an MP, and thus off-limits under the Wilson Doctrine?

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US navy electro-cannon test successful

Charlie Stross
Stop

Pissed old hack baffled by (not very) new technology

Mach 7.5 sounds a lot more impressive than 2400 metres per second, which is what this is.

It's worth noting that modern tank guns firing APFSHS-DU penetrators routinely achieve 1600 metres per second, that tweaked APFSHS-DU has tested out to 1900 metres per second, and that it's generally agreed that it should be possible to push conventional explosive-driven projectiles to 2000 metres per second in the next generation of guns. So what they've got here is maybe a 15-20% improvement over where the state of the art is with explosive-driven guns at the same level of development.

Meanwhile, did you notice the sparks flying from the underside of the railgun? Serious arcing -- always a problem when you're throwing millions of joules around in under a millisecond -- tends to wreck railguns. And you get arcing when you mix that kind of current with air. Especially damp, salt-laden air (hello, paging the Navy: you are aware that your ships sail on top of seawater which is (a) conductive and (b) tends to splash everywhere? There's a reason naval guns on real warships come with protective caps which are only removed just before firing ...)

Railgun technology isn't new; it's been a hangar queen ever since the Nazis scratched their heads over it in the 1940s. Now DARPA have got it to work about as well as the conventional alternative, in a demo. Nothing to see here, move along ...

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Boffins slashed in big-science budget blunder bloodbath

Charlie Stross
Unhappy

Missing the point

The Diamond synchrotron is mostly going to be used by biological and materials science researchers, not physicists or astronomers -- but those are the specialities whose budget is being dipped into to pay for the project. Ditto the other "big science" cost overruns.

What this means is: the physics/astro budget is being used to cross-subsidize other fields, in a manner that will result in 25% funding cuts to physics and astronomy over 3 years, at a time when physics in the UK is *already* in big trouble.

If this isn't fixed, then an entire generation of high energy physics specialists are going to be out of a job -- and once lost, it's very hard to rebuild that kind of academy. (Look at what happened in the USA after the Superconducting Supercollider got axed in the early 1990s ... then consider that the USA still had a whole bunch of other high-energy physics projects and didn't have a major problem recruiting and educating new physicists.)

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Strict copyright laws do not always benefit authors

Charlie Stross

A writer's viewpoint

Not to put it too bluntly, these conclusions do not follow from the (reported) survey findings, because they're not comparing like with like: the British and German book markets differ in other respects than simply copyright law.

English language rights are traditionally sold in two tranches -- North American rights (US and Canada) and UK and Commonwealth (excluding Canada). On a population basis alone, the UK and Commonwealth sector has a comparable number of native speakers of English to German speakers (in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). When you throw in a proportion of British authors who (like me) also sell to the US/Canada market, it should be unsurprising that the revenue stream is fatter. It's hard for non-English speaking authors to gain a toe-hold in the English language market because most English language editors aren't multilingual and won't read submissions in foreign languages (much less pony up the not inconsiderable cost of translating a book). Basically, network externalities are on the side of the English speakers.

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