Travelling to the future. Through Chaos.

Off to the first of the many British Library events I plan to attend associated with their Out of this World sf exhibit. Hopefully the rest will be cheaper and easier.

I prebooked the tickets by only a few days (and hence only a few pounds) and rediscovered the fact that Visa SecureCode only works on my Credit Card. On which I pay for every transaction. Hassle seemingly over I printed them out before jumping on the 653 to work. By way of Canley, since my observation that all London Midland trains stop at Tile Hill is seemingly less true at the start of the day. So now I have to have an abbreviated lunch to start at four, since i'm only in shortly before 8.

Normal, if slightly bitty day at work, so I sorted my many tickets to Nottingham into prepaid & expensable. The prepaid ones went in the bin and I claimed a few months of expenses. You can see where this is going can't you? That afternoon - after the bins had been emptied - I realized I'd thrown the fought for tickets away.

So, at Coventry, with Jorune patiently waiting for the train we plan to catch - which I can only assume he was in plenty of time for - in the interest of saving time, rather than argue and try and get my tickets cancelled/reprinted, I went to a fast pay machine. In my haste I tapped Single. At which point I started to get somewhat annoyed with myself. One quick queue and a "happens every day mate" later, I finally have a return ticket, just as the train arrives.

If I rave about the talk when it's over, bear in mind what I went through to get here - am I really going to complain?


Make money from categorising nerds!

It seems to be universally recognised that confident people overstate their own abilities while the less confident undersell themselves.

Surely there's a space for an employment company to actually assess people objectively - particularly one in the IT space? In doing so, employers would be more sure of what they were getting and less confident people would get better jobs than they might otherwise - netting the employment agencies more money than they would otherwise.

Other ways to fund:
Large employer (Google?) offering standardised tests on the basis of getting first dibs on respondents.
Professional social networking site (is LinkedIn it?) charging for access to scores.


The fuzzy self

John Scalzi wrote the other day about "Being fictional" - the idea that public figures are fictionalised in the heads of people all over the world. The fictional selves of writers tend to be even further from the original (eigen) self than most since often people have little contact with the writer themselves but have to infer a lot about them from their work.

I quite like this idea. If one plotted all these fictional selves in some sort of information space they would surround the eigen-self. The distribution of these quantum selves would act as an indicator both of how the eigen-self is presenting itself - an accurate view suggests a lot of transparency, an inaccurate view might be reflective of hiding certain unpopular beliefs or shouting about fashionable behaviours - and something about the underlying society within all this is taking place - since you can see what people assume in the absence of information.

Of course it's not just public figures surrounded by such a cloud - we all are. Each new person we interact with under a new identifier* leads to the creation of a new quantum self. Created with limited information, these imperfect copies are ghostly echoes that may even outlive the original. It's not just other people that create these ghostly copies of ourselves, we do it. Every time we wonder what might have been; rethink what we should have said or done; or plan the future.

The more information exchanged with another person, the more accurate a fictional self of the other person each can build. This can vary with physical proximity, levels of openness and simply duration. The changing relationship between two people can either become an attractive or a repelling force. We are all surrounded by a fantastic multitude of lines of communication - of varying bandwidths - connecting us not directly to other people, but to the vision of us they have in their head. This appeals to the physics geek in me - particles interact by exchanging information via virtual particles. Why not humans?

Which is where Terry Pratchett comes in. In Witches Abroad (which I'm about to spoil slightly, but it came out in 91) Granny Weatherwax and her sister Lily get trapped in between two mirrors, surrounded by infinite reflections of themselves with the only way to escape the prison being finding the "real one". Granny being about as grounded as possible whilst still being above ground, instantly realises that she is the real one and escapes, leaving Lily trapped and hunting.

Some people are immensely solid in and of themselves. Others worry about their quantum/fictional selves: how do they compare to what-might-have-been; what do people think of them. I'm not sure either taken to extremes is ideal - one of the ways we grow is in considering how we appear to others but endlessly lingering over the largely unreal distances ourselves from the here and now.

*Where an identifier is simply who someone knows us. Oddly multiple relationships with different identifiers might represent different fictional-selves. Someone who knows you as the guy who looks like *that* & as @twitterhandle & as example@email.com might not know they all refer to the same person. These mental images may collapse with the addition of more information or may stay forever separate.


Paying a debt to society

...is supposedly one of the ideas behind the criminal justice system (the others being punishment, rehabilitation and protection), but prisoners are typically a drain on society(1). Not to mention the risk of prisoners coming out addicted to new drugs increasing their chance of re-offending. I'm going to propose a prison reform inspired by an SF concept not seriously, but more as an exercise in thinking through the practical and moral implications.

The concept(2): A world where there is no death penalty as such: your mind is "uploaded" to await a (poorly defined) point when you stand a chance of being resurrected. Your body now being vacant it is broken down for the "organ banks".

Clearly there are a few technological gaps between this world and that: uploading is practically fantasy rather than sci fi; we can't keep organs alive very long outside of a human. However I think that adds to the benefits rather than reducing them.

A set of tarriff equivalencies is established for various donor needs (blood, bone marrow, kidneys etc) - and rules established about the maximum impact they can have on someones sentence.
Anyone served a custodial sentence is blood and tissue typed.

For things that can be collected on a regular basis and stored (I believe only blood(3), but I'm keeping this open) regular collections are made, each for a small benefit. For larger items, it becomes almost a lottery, with people being offered a (substantial) reduction in their sentence if they are willing to give up some bone marrow or a liver lobe when someone requires it.

I think this has a few benefits: reduction of waiting lists/blood shortages - increased health of prductive citizens; reduction of drug use in prison populations (a high or a chance at a year off your sentence?); possibility of screening the prison population.

And a few downsides: cost - secure medial facilities are likely more expensive than a secure facility and a medical facility put together; privacy/risk - there is alrady a black market in organs, so organs with a high tissue match might be "stolen to order"; ethics - can a typically poorly educated prison population give informed consent?; ick/ reflxive moral outrage.

So, what do you think(4)? Let me know below.

(1) If I'm wrong and there is a prison somewhere using prisoner labouor to raise more money than the prison costs to run I'd be interested to know.
(2) If anyone can remember where this is from, please let me know.
(3) Okay and sperm/eggs, but I can't see this being popular regardless of genetic theories.
(4) I think I starte out intrigued but found I couldn't write this without sounding like some corporate dictator, which doesn't say good things about it...


Still Alive

I wonder how many "I will start posting here again, honest" blog posts there are on the web?

(Actually none show up in Google with the "..., honest" at the end. "I will start posting here again" however has over 11,200 hits)

What was it I came on here to say again?


Possible flat

So, I had two viewings booked for tonight, both of which were cancelled. However, on walking into the first agent I found, I was walked over to one of the places I'd booked to view. It's one bed, furnished, £550pcm and in a block called Friars court onFriars road. And they need an answer by tomorrow.

And now I'm torn. It is in a good location (if not the prettiest street). 0.4 miles and 6 minutes to the train station. Cheaper (by £50pcm) than where I am now, including designated parking. 1 bed. Dishwasher.

I'd prefer to get them to take the table out and replace it with my own - a 2 seater is no good for board games and there are a few niggly bits (wobbly towel rail, knackered door latch) that I'd want repaired. It's also quite a lot darker than current place - it's north facing with one small window for a long room and the shared areas area not as nice as I'd hope.

Hopefully I'll wake up in the morning knowing what I want to do.


I finally got annoyed enough to write to my MP about the Digital Economy Bill. Please do the same!


Dear Clare Short,

I wrote to you recently about EDM 700 (concerning the transparency of ACTA to the Commons) which you were among the first to sign. I am writing now to ask you to do what you can to combat the Digital Economy bill.

Despite the phenomenal work by activists - and yourself - to raise the profile of ACTA and alert the public and their representatives to this appalling piece of legislation, their work will have been for nothing if the Digital Economy Bill passes into law.

I have a few reasons for asserting this:
The consultation that was undertaken before the bill was drafted sets a new bar for what has become a word referring to a one-sided, prior-goal-seeking, good-press-grabbing process.

The all out attack on the constitution in the form of the granting of numerous ill-defined, open ended powers to the Secretary of State; almost all of which give the Secretary of State the power to impose sanctions, against which members of the public have little or no legal recourse.

My belief that the future of Britain's economy lies in our well educated workforce and our ability to change faster than the rest of the world. The extra value the decaying dinosaurs of the media industry will add to UK plc having been propped up by this bill will in no way reimburse us for the amount this bill will cost us by handicapping our ability to adopt new business models.

I would ask that if I have not convinced you this is a bad bill that you investigate the Open Rights Group before the bill enters the Commons.

Yours sincerely,

Jon Knight


It's probably more enraged than coherent, but hey-ho.



Now all I have to do is 3 loads of washing and catch with all the stuff I didn't write up and figure out what to do with the video I have.


My feet hurt.

Wandered from the hotel to the bottom of the CN Tower ($30!) then over to the end of Queen st, the longest boho area I've ever seen. I didn't buy anything in the end, but it had a nice atmosphere.

Drop some extra cash off, then head off north for a walk. By this point it was 5pm and I'd not had anything to eat all day so I was getting a tad peckish (my eating pattern is going to be even more borked than my sleep schedule when I get back). As it turns out, dinner turned out to be a Mum tribute meal - a frozen Pino Colada and a meal from Red Lobster (Snow crab is nice, but I'm not quite sure what the fuss is about).

Then another brief walk to the north (10+km) - one thing I can't get over is how spread out everything over here is. Then UP at the cinema in 3D which everyone should go see. T'is awesome. NB Not a kids film, just an animated non-violent one. Funny, sweet. I (and the group of guys behind me, I earwigged) cried at least once.

Then I hit the hotel with the intention of writing up the day quickly. I turned the TV on, so I failed. Soul sucking distraction box.


Ottawa to Toronto

Well, the only thing I didn't arrange before I came over were the intercity connections. This wasn't just laziness, I had a look at the rail websites and everything seemed fairly straightforward.

So, knowing I had to sort this out; having a ticket for a museum and not having tried the hotel's breakfast or pool, I set both the radio alarm in the room and my phone. My superpower helpfully kicked in, disabling both of the alarms (I wonder if it works on burgurlar alarms?) so I overslept a smidge.

So, waking up at 1030, I had to check when I had to vacate the room. Turns out it was midday, so I had a bit of time. Splash, shower and pack later and I try to buy train tickets - at 1145. I got a bit of a shock when I found out that they only had business class left - $200.

Panicking slightly I had to go down and checkout and after half an hour of getting increasinly flustered I finally had printed out an e-ticket for the famous Greyhound bus network (concierge didn't even suggest it - I think there's a stigma associated with it because it's cheap and you have to mix with people with no money).

A further flap later which meant I gave up on catching the bus out to the station I ended taking my first cab in years (I've realised I've avoided them for years, no idea why), getting to the station with 20 minutes to spare. When I say 20 minutes to spare, that's allowing for the hour I was asked to leave before boarding. I was all set to complain (at least in my head) when boarding only started 5mins before departure, before I realised about 15 people hadn't got on the coach.

While Canda is a very pretty country, it is mostly a VERY big country. So, y'know, while I did have a look at some of the scenery, there was an awful lot of it and it's mostly trees. So, read a bit, so it wasn't just a day spent travelling.

Dinner was a burger and poutine (fires, cheese curds and gravy - Canadian delicacy that is better than it sounds). Toronto looks like a fun city so far - lots of people out and about, even late (though the weather may help with that) and I'm only a few blocks away from the local equivalent of Times Square which is pretty cool (Thanks to Doug for the recommendation).

[On a random note, switched to glasses a while ago no. A/C and contacts do not play nicely. Now I know why you see so many Americans wearing glasses.]

So, it's 1030 and I have to keep myself entertained. How to do that? Rather than go and see another film (GIJoe may top my worst films list for a while) I went to a place around the corner called Bistro¦Beer. 20 beers on tap and more types of bottled beer than the whole of Birmingham. $6 to try 3 of the draft beers. I may have been there for some time...



You'll only be able to see the last few photos on the widget down the side, but I've just added a ton of photos from Montreal. IIIRC the widget has a link, but if that fails, you can get to them via http://www.flickr.com/photos/syntheticbrain/ - they run up to the end of page 3.

2:20 in the morning may not be the best time to be doing this.

Had a quick wander around Ottawa. Looks pretty, a bit more human scale than Montreal and the principal language is English which makes a surprising difference to the atmosphere. Will have to take some photos tomorrow in the light.


Post con (con write up to follow)

Sitting in a café watching the rain come down and waiting for it to stop. Music is good, food was okay, coffee is bloody awful. I'll get to today in a bit, but first a bit of a retrospective.

As the con has progressed, I've got more confused about whether I'm enjoying it. George RR Martin made me realise what was bothering me in the Q&A session after his reading: he was asked "What do you enjoy doing at Worldcon?" And replied with a cheerful leer "Getting drunk and chasing women." (Though he did go on to clarify he'd caught one some years ago).

While I was (unsurprisingly) viewing this con as a way of hoovering up unresisting ideas - which went reasonably well - the majority of people who seem to get a real kick out of it - and on who my expectations were based - are those for whom the seminars are an excuse, a lure, to gather like minded people. As it happens I did have dinner with two people I'd had brief contact with online before the event (and two nice conversations with Patrick Rothfuss who kindly didn't tell me to go away when I kept bugging him) but I didn't experience the meetings and butted in conversations that seem to be a staple way of meeting people. Which, when you consider that isn't how I was behaving/planning my activities is rather unsurprising.

So, after GRRM's reading I attended the closing ceremonies, I then bimbled around the waterfront and the old town for a few hours, got changed and then headed to the "Dead Dog" after party. After ghosting around the rooms for 10 minutes it became clear there wasn't going to be a cry of "You look interesting, come, join this conversation" so I wandered back to my hotel, feeling pretty rubbish.

A decent nights sleep, my first lie-in and finishing my book have restored my energy levels somewhat. Walked up Mont Royal (from which Montréal apparrently takes it's name - it's not a dreadful pun) and took a few photos. Delighted to find some water fountains and to get back down to a coffee shop before the heavens opened.

After a brief rest and picking up a waterproof headed out to the Olympic park which feels a lot more than 4km away. (Video and pics coming.) Caught the tube back to the city, and after a bit of a wander I've found some free wifi and I've just caught up a bit and added to this (from "somewhat" above).

As well as writing this, checking email/twitter/feeds has all been done on my phone despite lugging my laptop around! Will post this and then see if I can find some free video editing software since I suspect nothing I've shot will be suitable for public consumption without tweaking.


Day 1 so far

The werewolves of brigadoon: The misappropriation of Celtic history by non-descended authours.
GRRMartin amusing - clearly a lot of experience at this. I'm afraid my final position is roughly "cry me a river" History and myths are always misappropriated. The better story will always win out - regardless of the truth. You don't have to read it. Some loons will think it true, but do you really care what idiots think?

Hollywood's favourite SF writer: Why is PKDick so adapted? Who's next?
Scalzi as funny in person - knowledgable panel. Blade Runner rocked - success sells. He's dead - can't complain/be a nuisance. Artistic/academic cachet doesn't hurt, but mostly about money.

No more soldiers: will robots replace soldiers?
Knowledgable panel - lots of real world (unattributable) examples. Got slightly sidetracked, into asymmetric warfare. Maybe a little too real world - not very SFnal. Robots good at stuff like sentry duty - rubbish at warfare. Removing human targets from the conflict invites terrorism.

Anathem book group
Too tired to go!


Well, I'm here in Montreal.

I've not been terribly complimentary about the hotel, but on the other hand, it is a cheap two star hotel in the middle of a city. Actually not too bothered that the promised internet in the hotel is wired (which I don't have a wire for) since it has forced me to explore the area. Currently sat in the nomad station a few blocks from the convention centre, waiting for the exhibition area to be ready at about 11.

Getting really quite excited about the convention. Despite being dog tired, sat up till midnight local time (meaning I'd been up 24hrs on 4hrs sleep) highlighting things I want to do.

Video may follow, once I figure out how to do it...


Canada Prep

I've not done quite as much packing as I'd have liked, but I've ressurrected this blog, so it's all new and shiny for when I start spamming it with video postcards from Canada next week.

I appreciate that this is probably what lj is for, but the friending makes that more of a social thing, where this is more publishing - and it has options for all sorts of little widgetty things down the side, which is fun.