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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



Archive for September, 2007



I’m in the air, wheeling into San Francisco, having just finished William Gibson’s Spook Country. I brought it with me on a trip to Canada, because you should read later Gibson on airplanes and in slightly-foreign Western hotels, just as you should read Ballard in airports and light industrial parks, and William Burroughs off your face on purest horse.

I like Gibson in exactly the way you thought I would, so I’m not sure I can say anything unpredictable here. The potted-review I came up with when I was about twenty pages will do: This feels like Eighties Gibson, writing about our recent past as his envisaged near future. Set in 2006, it has geohacking, retro-fame, rogue states, cold war warriors gone white hot with rage: they’re all written about as though extrapolated from 1985, instead of marked back from 2007. I feels like a 20th century dystopia, which sadly doubles up as rather optimistic from our point of view.

There, gnomic enough for you? I’m trying to be awkward. I was mildly irritated all the way through by a spoiler I’d read in a review — which turned out not to be a spoiler at all, but an inept phrasing by the critic. No-spoilers are even worse than spoilers, because you don’t even have that grim sensation of following through. You just read to the end of the book, and then go “Hey, wait, wasn’t it supposed to turn out they were all otters all along?”

I’m still having dreams — which may, now I think about it, due to my steadily worsening stomach (it may be horrendously nasty gut-rot, but I doubt it: I think it’s just IBS turned psychosomatically psychopathic. I’m seeing a gastro in a fortnight. I’m sure he’ll just recommend a change of diet. Gastro! The menu!).

Last night I dreamt I was in a jeep in South America with Cory, planting explosives to covertly excavate out a new, spare, Panama canal for the US. The day before I was a sort of inept Professor Xavier, doing childcare for a bunch of superpowered preschoolers and having to defend them from some bigger supercriminal kids. Lots of soccer-coach encouragement of them to shoot percussive sonic blasts while I cowered behind them. This is a parental anxiety dream, but more exciting than most.

I was in Canada to meet with privacy activists. I can’t give you their names because obviously we all met in darkened rooms wearing blindfolds. I did get to see Michael Chertoff give a keynote though. Boy did he misread the audience. Never ever tell an international conference of data protection and privacy commissioners that you can scan a fingerprint at the US border, and match it to a print on a document found in a safe house in Europe. Because while you’re sitting there thinking “hooray for l33t national security tricks!”, they’re thinking: what the hell else are you doing with that tech?

I guess we’re all in a fucking jeep driven by a science fiction author now.


tattoo and copyright, saints and pirates

Gikii, the UK day conference for law, tech, and popular culture, took place last week. The papers look fascinating, especially these slides about tattoo and copyright from ORG volunteer and past EFF intern Jordan Hatcher. It’s hard to make out all of the points he makes from just the slides, but towards the end you can see he’s asking some tough questions about the European principle of moral rights in creative works. If an artist has a inviolable natural right to control what is done with his artwork after it is produced, does that mean tattoo artists can sue to stop their work being erased modified (Thanks Ian for schooling me on the limits of moral rights)?

Also good is Ray Corrigan’s examination of the proto-copyright beliefs of Saint Columba, patron saint of bookbinders, founder of the Scottish Church, and cause of 3000 dead over the unauthorised copying of a manuscript in 6th century Ireland. Columba transcribed without permission a rare copy of the Vulgate Bible brought back by a colleague from Rome. The suit over the case went to the Irish court, where some familiar debates ensued:

Finnen first told the king his story and he said “Colmcille hath copied my book without my knowing,” saith he and I contend that the son of the book belongs to me.

“I contend,” saith Colmcille [Columba], “that the book of Finnen is none the worse for my copying it, and it is not right that the divine words in that book should perish, or that I or any other should be hindered from writing them or reading them or spreading them among the tribes. And further I declare that it was right for me to copy it, seeing the was profit to me from doing in this wise, and seeing it was my desire to give the profit thereof to all peoples, with no harm therefore to Finnen or his book.”

“Have attitudes to law and technology really changed a whole lot in 1400 years?”, Corrigan asks. For how the judgement goes and the rest of the story of the Battle of the Book, you’ll need to read the paper. A full list of papers from the conference is also online.



I’ve started dreaming again. I don’t mean this metaphorically — for the last few years, I’ve dreamt very very rarely and could not remember anything of the dreams when I did.

A few nights ago, I had a wonderful dream, integrating lots of metaphorical images of San Francisco, full of dioramas and mise en scenes, a giant commune-theme-park in the mountains, full of the nicer kinds of aging in drag and with guns, where I wandered with Liz and Ada, and got into miscellaneous (and continuous) adventures. It went on for hours, and I woke up open-mouthed.

I don’t know what it means, or whether it will continue. It may just mean that I had more grilled cheese on toast than I should have done (I have something stomachy and unpalatably unbloggable going on, which involves me inventing a low residue diet while it resolves, so plenty of cheese and bread for me).

But I’ve also noticed my writing capacity eking up. Also, I realised earlier this year that I’ve answered my two big questions for the last decade, at least to my satisfaction. They were, nostalgia-fans: “How deep a culture is geek culture?”, and:”How many people do you need to be famous for?”.

The second wasn’t really my question, it was Stew’s (at least, it was his response to NTK‘s micro-pico-celebrity that prompted it), and so it’s fitting that he answered it. In a piece about being unable to evade druck heckling English rugby fans, even in New Zealand, he noted:

In the mid-90’s I was on television, and was of the mistaken belief that this represented a logical end-point in comedy. Returning to stand-up recently after four years off, the actual numbers game seems much simpler. I need about 7000 fans. If each of them gave me about £5 a year after tax, agent’s commission and travel expenses, I would be making a fine living, and probably never having to deal with sports fans coming to my shows. There is no need for that 7000 strong audience to include English rugby fans. If I can find some way of operating at such a level whereby they never find me, I could have the most wonderful life.

(Stew will probably now be picketed by thousands of fundamentalist rugby fans, furious at his blasphemous comments.)

So, there you go, the answer is: 7000 people. It sounds about right.

The first question was “how deep a culture is geek culture?”, and I have always had terrible problems explaining it, or how I would know when I had found an answer. The nugget explanation I gave was that I wanted to know whether geekdom was intergenerational: was it like the beatniks, or the mods, likely to be buried in aspic within a decade of its beginning. Or did it have more life than that: like Quakers at one end, or Goths at the other; able to leap generationally, and grow a depth beyond the years of its earliest creators?

I declare that I have discovered the answer to this now, but I’m not sure I can show it to you. It’s a small pamphlet by Len Anderson, a poet from Santa Cruz. It’s a wonderful, 15-page parody of Howl, giving the history of the personal computer.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by MS-DOS in T-shirt & sneakers eating microwave popcorn,
dragging themselves through endless dungeon arcades at dawn looking for an angry joystick
longhaired hackers burning for the serial port connection to the silicon dynamo that powers the machinery of thought &mdash

Bill Gates! I’m with you in Redmond
where you’re the richest man in the country, engaged to be married, building a new home that includes a nursery and you are madder than I am
Steve Jobs! I’m with you in Silicon Valley
where you still dream the next dream and have a wife, a home, kids, a dog and like it and still are madder than I am
Steve Wozniak! I’m with you in Los Gatos
where now you’re retired and built a cave playhouse for your children and you must feel very strange! and I think we’re both about equally mad

It’s beautiful and funny and to me, who so often can only mediate my emotional reactions through accurate parodies, quite moving.

It was also, as you might be able to tell from the second extract, written over a decade ago, in 1993. It doesn’t feel like history, though. It doesn’t even feel that much like nostalgia. The litany it reels off (before Gates and after), would wring a response from a whole class of geeks aged from fifteen to their fifties. It feels like a plumb-line on the sort of depth I was looking for.

Deep enough, then. Deep sleep with enough deep dreams.


comply! comply!

[I refuse to admit that I am restarting this blog until further evidence is provided. But, anyway, it occurred to me that almost everyone who still has this in their RSS feed is probably the CEO of some Web 2.0 startup by now, so let me plug my sainted employer’s latest wheeze for you:]

Save the Date: October 10 for EFF’s Compliance Bootcamp .

Does your interactive company have to contend with the maze of laws dealing with user privacy and publishing user content? Want to do the right thing by the online community that gives your business value, and still fulfill your legal obligations?

EFF is hosting a one-day session for Web 2.0 workers who handle issues arising from users and user-generated content. From DMCA to CDA to ECPA, the law surrounding internet content can be confusing, especially for the folks who have to decide on the fly whether to let something stay up or take it down, or whether to give their customer’s name to the FBI agent on the phone. Let us help.


One-Day bootcamp. EFF’s staff attorneys will be teamed with private attorneys specializing in the various legal issues. We’ll give you the basics on the key topics and you’ll leave better able to protect your customers, your company and your job.

Topic areas

  • Defamation, harassment, and other accusations of bad behavior.
  • Fair use, free culture, and the right to remix.
  • Copyright take-downs and put-backs: Understanding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  • How to respond to cops, crooks, and courts who want your customers’ communications and other private information.
  • How to avoid becoming the next Napster and stay on the safe side of the Copyright Wars.
  • The rights of anonymous speakers.
  • Porn, predators, and the pressure to police.
  • Lightning rounds on Creative Commons licenses, webcasting and what to do when you’ve been hacked.

Who should attend

People who do front-line or mid-level work for companies and projects that rely on user-generated content and communications. This includes compliance, customer service and community management workers.


In the past year or so we’ve met with several Web 2.0 companies, sometimes before — and sometimes after — embarassing incidents when they found themselves out of step with their communities or the law. We’d like to give the people who make these important initial decisions the tools they need to do the right thing by their companies and their customers.


Fenwick and West Silicon Valley Center
Mountain View, California

How much

Sliding scale of $100-200 per person. For individuals, some portion may be deductible as a charitable donation. Space is limited, so sign up soon. Email


petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.