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inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #0 of 254: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 29 Jan 03 06:01
    
Inwell.vue welcomes Cory Doctorow and Charlies Stross for a discussion,
ostensibly about Cory's novel "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," but
probably ranging far beyond that given Cory's range of interests (a dull
word, how about *passions*)...

Cory Doctorow (www.craphound.com) won the John W. Campbell Award for best
new writer at the 2000 Hugo awards, on the strength of his short stories.  
In January, Tor Books published his first novel, "Down and Out in the Magic
Kingdom" (http://www.craphound.com/down), a novel that explores the twisty
possibilities of economics in a world without scarcity, wherein the staff
of Walt Disney World battle one another for control over the destiny of the
rides.

The book has drawn rave reviews from the critics, but Doctorow's novel is
also noteworthy for another reason: it is the first novel to be
simultaneously released by a traditional commercial publisher and released
online with a noncommercial license from the Creative Commons
(www.creativecommons.org), which allows anyone to freely redistribute the
work. Over 70,000 copies of the book were downloaded in the first month
after release (plus untold more copies circulated on P2P filesharing
networks, web-mirrors and mailing-lists), and the book has soared on
Amazon's sales rank (one of the quirks of traditional paper publishing is
that it's almost impossible to get reliable sales data in the first year of
publication).

In addition to contributing to the re-framing the copyright debate, where
the ever-expanding duation and scope of copyright have eroded the public
domain into a dwindled sliver, the electronic release has fostered a great
deal of creativity. Many of the book's readers have, with the author's
permission, made a variety of derivative works from the electronic text,
including an automated Situationist cutup of the text, a page-at-a-time
email serialization, and new stylesheets that suit the reading tastes of
many readers.

Doctorow is the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net), a popular
weblog, and is a freelance journalist who regularily contributes to Wired
Magazine. He works at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org), a
nonprofit in San Francisco that works to uphold civil liberties interests
in technology law, policy and standards. Born and raised in Toronto,
Canada, he has lived in the US for two and a half years now.

His upcoming publications include a second novel, "Eastern Standard Tribe"  
(http://www.mindjack.com/feature/est.html), which Tor will publish in
November 2003, and a short story collection, "A Place So Foreign and Eight
More," which will be published by Four Walls Eight Windows in September
2003. He has also written a few stories with Charlie Stross, one of which
("Jury Service,") was serialized on SciFi.com in December
(http://scifi.com/scifiction/originals/originals_archive/stross-
doctorow/stross-doctorow1.html), and was called "...crazed, wisecracking, a
thing of ferment and devastating caricature" by Locus Magazine's Nick
Gevers.

He is presently at work on various short stories and two novels, "Someone
Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," an urban fantasy about wireless
networking gangs; and "/usr/bin/god," a novel about Singularity cultists
who nearly destroy the universe. His most recent short fiction publications
include two stories published on Salon.com to great controversy and praise:  
"0wnz0red" (http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/08/28/0wnz0red/) and
"Liberation Spectrum"  
(http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2003/01/16/liberation_spectrum/).


Charlie Stross (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/) was nominated for the
Hugo award in 2002 for his novelette "Lobsters" which cracked the lid on
extropian ideas in SF, including reputations based economics, mind
uploading of invertebrates, and the run-up to a near-future singularity.

He's frequently described as being a "new, Scottish SF writer" -- a
statement that manages to be wrong in more ways than it's right. Originally
from Yorkshire, he sold his first story to Interzone in 1986: his sudden
appearance on the US publishing scene in mid-2000 belies over a decade as a
short story writer in the UK. He currently lives in Edinburgh, which makes
him about as Scottish as a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. His meandering
career path included periods working as a pharmacist (he quit after the
second time the police staked out his shop to lie in wait for an armed
robbery), technical author, and lead software developer for a successful
dot-com. All of these jobs were distractions from his real goal in life --
he currently works as a freelance computer journalist and writer, and has
no intention of getting an honest job ever again.

If Stross is currently best known for his short stories, this situation is
about to change. His first science fiction novel, "Singularity Sky", is due
out in hardcover from Ace in August 2003 -- it's both a space operatic romp
and an exploration of social conservativism and future shock in a
post-singularity era. A sequel, "The Iron Sunrise", is due out in August
2004. Meanwhile, his horror/SF/spy thriller crossover novel "The Atrocity
Archive" is due to be published in hardcover by Golden Gryphon in February
2004. He's currently working on the first two volumes of a "big, fat,
fantasy series" for Tor (due out from December 2004 onwards), and a
novel-length expansion of "Lobsters", titled "Accelerando" (due some time
in 2005); "Accelerando" is a century-long family saga that follows three
generations of a dysfunctional clade of posthumans all the way through a
Vingean singularity -- as recounted afterwards by the family's robot cat.  
(Four more installments have been published, and two more bought, by
Asimov's SF magazine).

In addition to writing far too many novels, for the past five years Stross
has been the Linux and Free Software columnist for Computer Shopper in the
UK (not the Ziff-Davis title, but one of the top five newsstand computer
magazines by circulation in that country). He also writes frequently on the
subject of civil liberties on the internet, the ongoing copyright wars,
esoteric computer languages, and anything else that takes his interest.
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #1 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 06:30
    
Hello, and welcome to the "Down and Out" interview -- I'm Charlie
Stross, but the real star of the show is Cory Doctorow, whose new
novel "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" has been wowing reviewers
and generating lots of whuffie over the past couple of weeks.

Cory: do you want to point our readers at a copy of "Down and Out in
the Magic Kingdom"?
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #2 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 06:32
    
... And, while I'm at it, whence "whuffie"?
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #3 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Jan 03 09:28
    
The site for Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is

        http://craphound.com/down

Of course, if you want to buy a copy, I've got a page of links to stores and
etailers around the world that're carrying it:

        http://craphound.com/down/buy.php

The downloads page (which has links to the file in many, many formats,
including a bunch submitted by readers that I've never heard of and hope to
god they weren't making up) is:

        http://craphound.com/down/download.php

The site was a big, cooperative barn-raising effort. Ben and Mena Trott, who
invented the Movable Type blogging system, designed the site for me. Many
friends and mentors in the technology and writing world were gracious enough
to provide blurbs (http://craphound.com/reviews.php). The WELL's Richard
Kadrey did the author photo (http://www.craphound.com/down/about.php). And
of course, Ken Snider, who was a sysadmin at OpenCola (a company I
cofounded), was kind enough to host the site, which was been vigorously
slashdotted a couple of times.

(Look, everybody! It's a favor-economy!)

"Whuffie" -- the nonsensical word used to describe the idiosyncratic
reputation capital in the book -- has a perfectly banal origin. In high-
school, we used to use the phrase "whuffie points" interchangably with
"Brownie points," as in "Woah, major whuffie points for you!" I assumed that
this was universal, but Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla (http://kode-fu.com)
burst my bubble by pointing out that given the era of my high-school career
(1985-1992 -- I was on the seven-year plan) that this was almost certainly
derived from Arsenio Hall's "Woof woof woof" noises from his late-night TV
show.

I like Whuffie (pronounced woo-fee, not wuh-fee), as a word. It's got a kind
of Rudy-Ruckery silliness to it (like his fourth-dimensional cardinal
directions "vin" and "vout"). There have been numerous entertaining theories
about its origins, like some kind of contraction of "Whit Diffie," and I was
tempted to cop to one of these ingenious origin-stories, but no, it's all
Arsenio's fault.

As to the origin of Whuffie as an idea, well, that comes from the universe
of collaborative filtering tools online, which started with Ringo at the MIT
Media Lab (the WELL's Martha Soukup turned me on to this), and then moved on
to encompass things like Firefly, Amazon suggestions, and Google PageRank.

It's really frustrating that none of these tools have been applied to P2P
nets. When the entire universe of all recorded music is available for
download, or even when the universe of thousands of indie releases is
sitting before you, being intelligently selective is really hard. There's a
cliched dismissal of Internet publishing in science fiction circles, that
"the Internet makes us all slush-readers." Slush is the pile of unsolicited
and largely terrible manuscripts that publishers wade through in order to
find publishable material, and the idea is that the Net means that we all
have to do this boring, painful task.

I don't think it's (necessarily) true. Being a good filter isn't hard
(slushreaders are often fresh interns, who don't really require a lot of
training to be able to sort the chaffiest chaff from everything else). But
it *is* idiosyncratic -- one person's slush is another's gold. It would be
really cool if there was an automatic means of discovering people who
categorize the slush the same way as you and then find out what non-slush
they've picked up today.

So Whuffie: in the book's world ("the Bitchun Society"), everything is non-
scarce, thanks to a bunch of Clarke's-Law technologies. Figuring out what to
do in a world of infinite plenty is a hard without collaboration.

In the Bitchun Society, you may choose which restaurant you want based on
the Whuffie it has with your trusted circle, and the maitre'd may decide
whether to seat you based on *your* Whuffie with him. If you don't think
he's doing a good job, you can try seating people yourself, and depending on
your Whuffie with the servers, they may or may not bring food to the people
you seat (who may decide to follow you to a table based on your Whuffie with
them).

The story revolves around two groups of "ad-hocs" who are fueding over who
gets to run Walt Disney World's Liberty Square, which includes the Haunted
Mansion -- my favorite all-time ride. They're each trying to rack up enough
Whuffie with the Disney-World-going public that the other's redesigns will
be foiled. In the Bitchun Society, death is only temporary (you just get
"restored" from a backup), so assassination is fair game, too...
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #4 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 09:43
    
"It's really frustrating that none of these tools have been applied to
P2P nets." -- Don't tell the MPAA or RIAA! Seriously, imagine KaZaA,
or something similar, with a reputations economy. Most of the big media
industry's attempts to take down P2P networks so far revolve around
legal hacks and hiring people to poison the supply with degraded
copies. If there was a distributed reputations service that could
identify good P2P citizens, then the poisoning strategy would
automatically fail; anyone uploading corrupted files would find
themselves whuffied into oblivion rather quickly ...

Do you see reputation metrics like whuffie as univalent or multivalent
-- that is, can you have different dimensions ("this guy is GREAT at
mending computers but IGNORE his political ideas at all costs!") or
just an aggregate trustworthiness? And what about inflation?
Reputations crashes?
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #5 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Jan 03 09:56
    
Univalence or multivalence: it's a good question. In the novel, I have the
convenience of inventing yet more Clarke's Law tech, in this case, a neural
interface that knows how you feel about anything you have an opinion on,
without having to ask you about it.

In the real world, the biggest sticking point is gathering opinion data.
Pollsters know that asking someone how she feels about $ISSUE is actually
not strongly correlated with how the subject actually feels (I've written a
paper about this: http://www.well.com/~doctorow/metacrap.htm). Even asking
someone whether something is good or bad doesn't get you very good results a
lot of the time, since people are often torn between reporting what they
feel and what they think they *should* feel. So if I were building a real-
world Whuffie system, I'd just keep it down to one axis: this is great or
this is crap.

In our social relations, I think we're prone to being univalent in our
judgement. There are a few people who are flaming dickheads who we'll still
listen to or hold in some esteem, but for the most part, the messenger is as
important as the message. I routinely killfile people who piss me off
online, because I figure that if they've got something important and wise to
say, they're likely to say it in such a way as to alienate me from their
ideas, anyway. If the idea is good enough, it will get picked up by someone
with more tolerance than me and repropagated over my transom, anyway.

I don't think that Whuffie inflation is likely, but I *do* think there's a
real danger of Whuffie lock-in, power-law-distribution and positive-returns-
to-scale. IOW, the most popular sources are given the most opportunities to
be more popular, which makes them more popular. Incumbency is probably the
biggest problem a reputation system has.

Of course, incumbency is probably the biggest problem non-reputation systems
have too (the rich get richer).
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #6 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 10:15
    
Whew. The Bitchun society sure has a lot of things going for it!
Direct brain interfaces that can correlate emotional states as
metainformation about directly perceived objects -- people or projects
-- and mind uploading (and cloning). Yet this is all relatively near
future SF. And it's an expanding, hegemonistic society -- one that
sends missionaries to winkle hold-outs out of their bomb shelters. 

Do you think such an outcome is likely? How might we get there from
here? And are there any unpleasant alternatives along  the way?
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #7 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Jan 03 10:31
    
Likely? Of COURSE not! But I think that it *is* likely that we're going to
see a *lot* more collaborative filtering. When the incremental cost of
distribution drops to near-zero, the cost of marketing goes infinite --
you've got to make people aware of your thing in a competitive market that
potentially includes all things (hence today's ad-cluttered mediasphere).

Collaborative filters are a really good way of automating word-of-mouth and
doing cost-effective marketing. We'll see a lot of businesses getting into
this, though ultimately there isn't much of a real market opportunity, since
what you're essentially selling people is each other. While there will
always be niches of people who are willing to pay to be introduced and
mediated (dating services, the WELL, whatever), there will be tons of vacuum
from free services (Usenet, craigslist) sucking people away from the pay
services.

The Bitchun Society doesn't *send* missionaries out -- they go on their own.
Missionaries who convert non-Bitchun people to Bitchunry get a *lot* of
Whuffie. IOW, there is social approbation for missionary work, so missionary
work is done.

I think that the ways that we'll see ourselves getting there from here is
twofold:

1. Collapse. In places like Argentina, where piqueteros are minting their
own time-limited currency for barter markets and the rule of law has all but
collapsed, there's the potential for really strange social order to emerge
(provided that it isn't bled dry by opportunistic looters)

2. Reform. Where you get a bunch of people treating a nonscarce resource as
nonscarce (i.e., the tens of millions of Americans who use file-sharing
systems that treat information as a non-rivalrous resource), you'll get lots
of legislative pressure to make the activity legal -- after all, plenty
serves more policy goals than scarcity.

When bio/nanotech make it possible to instantiate information as non-
rivalrous goods (say, biotech medicines that ferment inside your body and
can be infectiously transmitted), there will be a ton of civil disobedience
from users who just can't bring themselves to pretend that this nonscarce
resource is really scarce, and that's going to bring a lot of pressure to
bear on lawmakers.
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #8 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 10:47
    
There's a conflict of values here: between people who want
_everything_ to be worth something, so that they can count it, and
those who think freedom (of the free-as-in-speech variety) is more
important than wealth. Going deeper, there's the social construction of
value: if something is perceived as having no value, then nobody will
pay for it -- and vice versa. Radio spectrum is classified as scarce,
under the charter the FCC works with, even though photons can pass
right through each other without interfering --  interference is
something that happens in badly designed receivers that can't
discriminate between photons intended for them and photons intended for
some other destination. 

But once people decide to stick a quantitative value on something,
doesn't it become hard to break them out of the habit of thinking of it
as property? (Take the term "intellectual property" as an example:
it's unlike other forms of property insofar as I could give you an
idea, and you'd have the idea, but I'd still have it stuck in my head.
Whereas if I were to give you something physical -- like a futon --
you'd have it but I wouldn't.)

Do you see whuffie, or something like it, as in a way inventing a kind
of currency (I want to avoid the loaded word "money") for registering
transactions where the goods that multiply as they get passed around,
instead of simply moving?

(And: is marketing desirable? Or is it actually a symptom of an
imperfect flow of information within society and something we'd be
better off without?)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #9 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Wed 29 Jan 03 10:51
    
(I can tell this is one of those threads that is going to leave me
feeling awfully stupid when I come back to it tomorrow morning. If you
think it's getting out of control just yell TILT! and I'll go back to
wibbling about something less philosophical! :)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #10 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Jan 03 13:10
    
The only way to get value out of non-rivalrous goods is to engineer a
market-failure (i.e., to make something nonscarce into something scarce). We
usually characterize this as a bad thing (for "we," read "people living in
capitalist states"), except when we don't, because some orthagonal policy
objective calls for the creation of a monopoly (i.e., the author's monopoly
in copyright whose objective is to give authors an incentive to create so
that their work will enter the public domain so that others can use it to
create, given an incentive by a limited monopoly, which will then expire the
work into the public domain, and around and around we go).

I think that we have an intuitive sense that engineering scarcity is a bad
idea, and we rightly view market failures with some suspicion (though we may
not always have the vocabulary or reasoning to justify the suspicion and
fall back on empty jingo like "Information wants to be free," or "Britney
Spears and Hilary Rosen suck"). When the means of ending scarcity are
readily to hand, the suspicion deepens.

Whuffie is a way of keeping score of a real-world currency: esteem. Money is
just a crude way of measuring esteem, but it's non-idiosyncratic (in a real
Whuffie economy, you wouldn't ever get a "rich asshole," because "asshole"
would mean "poor," at least for your own purposes). It doesn't engineer
scarcity because it's not used to apportion nonscarce goods, only scarce
ones, like attention and physical locations.

Social incentives are the most powerful forces in our world -- the reason
you can't wear your underwear on your head is because of disapprobation. The
most disruptive thing about the Internet is its ability to locate you in
homogenous communities that embrace the same values as you, so that there's
no dialectic in socail pressure: IOW, you can spend all your time in
alt.underwear.on.my.head and never get the funny looks that would cause you
to reconsider your fashion choices. This isn't necessarily a bad thing
(except when it is, i.e., alt.big.nazi.idiots), but it is a powerfully
disruptive thing.

Sidebar: in our second collaboration, "Flowers from Alice," we deal with
uploaded "people' who can instantiate many copies of themselves in parallel.
One of the interesting things about this is that it suggests that attention
isn't necessarily a scarce resource -- if you need to do two things at once,
you just make another copy to do it...
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #11 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 06:31
    
I noticed that both "Down and Out" and your forthcoming novel "Eastern
Standard Tribe" are infused with the same core themes -- the interest
in peer to peer networking and the emergent economics of non-scarce
resources, and also ad-hoc networking of groups of people seeking
related goals through alliances of convenience. To what extent do these
ideas spring from your personal experiences (for example, your
involvement with OpenCola)? Come to think of it, how _did_ OpenCola
develop?

(Feel free to yell "none of your business!" if it's still a major sore
point; I know we've both had bad experiences in the hot core of the
dot com boom. But as a sideways excursion, I'd be kind of interested in
hearing how you got involved in OpenCola, and how it influenced your
fiction -- both in the short stories and in these two novels.)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #12 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 08:22
    
OpenCola -- the company I co-founded in 1999 -- was started to build a
distributed collaborative filter. The idea was to make a filter like
Amazon's or Firefly's, but one which would a) consider a much wider variety
and number of items (anything with a URI) and b) scale as a function of the
number of users in the system, since the filter distributed the
computational load of the project across all the users in the system.

The company's still around, though I left about a year ago to work for EFF
-- in the course of watching P2P companies like Scour and MP3.com and
Napster get sued into bankruptcy and then acquired by media companies who'd
brought the suits at pennies on the dollar, it seemed to me like the real
way to bring something like OpenCola to market was to first clear the field
for innovative technology through legal reform and activism.

Starting and helping to run OpenCola taught me a lot about organizational
politics, about loyalty and betrayal, and about what it means to be driven.
In addition to the people we hired and the people we raised money from, we
also spent a lot of time dancing with and around a lot of related parties,
like the still-strong clan of P2P hackers that is running CodeCon
(http://codecon.info/), media executives, and blood-sucking opportunists
from management consulting firms and PR agencies.
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #13 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 08:47
    
Sounds familar. The organizational politics, loyalty and betrayal, and
what it means to be driven, that is; I got a big dose of all of the
above at Datacash, the British payment service provider I joined as
employee #1 and wrote the server-side code for during 1998 to 2000.
Especially the blood-sucking opportunists who moved in as soon as the
IPO got under way, and changed the company culture into something
really unpleasant -- at least to my eyes -- in the space of six weeks
flat in December 1999 to January 2000. 

(As an aside, there was nothing visionary or revolutionary about
Datacash: it was a straightforward case of "why can't we take credit
cards over the internet? What do you mean, there's no software that
does that? Let's write some!" The British banking system processes
credit card payments in a fundamentally different way from the US
system, and we had to handle multiple currency types and interfaces to
different banking back-ends, including a French system that still gives
me the cold shudders. But as an aside on top of the aside, Datacash is
not only still going -- it's in the black this quarter. (One of these
days I'm going to have to write a novel about it -- but not until the
scars are healed.))

Here's an odd thought: the kind of blood-suckers who get to the top of
the dogpile are all very personable, smooth, and outwardly friendly
and affable. In fact, they tend to be hyper-socialized: if they aren't,
they aren't able to slither into the high-up positions they crave. How
does a distributed esteem-measuring system like whuffie cope with
smooth sociopaths? (I mean, other than by forcing them to be  a bit
more discreet in the way they deal with people who are on the
down-slope.)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #14 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 08:55
    
Wow, we're digging pretty deep into the ins and outs of a reputation
economy!

Here's my guess: Empty suits are loathed by a sizable fraction of non-suits.
Dilbert workplaces are full of techies who hate the droids at the top. And
in today's post-Enron world, slick glibbers are doubly mistrusted.

But it may be that this *is* a failing in a reputation economy. Of course
it's a visible failure in non-reputation economies, too!

(BTW, congrats on selling *two more* novels, this time to Tor; Jesus,
Charlie, your a goddamned machine!)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #15 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 09:11
    
(er, "you're")
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #16 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 09:29
    
Yeah, well, writing the second one's going to be most of my workload
for the next year :-)

(Explanation: see http://www.antipope.org/charlie/fiction/faq.html for
grisly details. It's just a coincidence that the news came through
today -- it's been in the works for a few months.)

But back to the sociopathic weasels; looking at your average TV show,
the folks you see in just about any soap opera or ongoing comedy series
(thinks of one at random: Frasier, for example, or Ally McBeal) are
outwardly not entirely different from the slick glibbers. They're
expensively dressed and immaculately turned out and articulate and have
opinions and live a lifestyle we're trained to think of as something
to aspire to. A whole lot of programming revolves around implicitly
selling lifestyle choices to us. (If you contemplate the implications
of product placement as a marketing exercise, the _environment_ in
which the product is placed is important.) Now, we may deduce by their
behaviour that the sort of opportunistic upper management weasels we
both met are attracted to the high budget lifestyle. And they manage to
both look and act the part. I wonder, are we selectively programmed by
our recreational media habits to defer to people who fit a particular
role -- popular TV stars -- which appeals overwhelmingly to sociopaths?

Think of it as protective camouflage, or an evolutionary arms race
between parasites and the parasitized, or ... eep. (I'm tempted to
suggest we try writing a story around this theme -- about the sort of
parasites who might flourish in a whuffie-based society, maybe from the
PoV of a retread dot-con man who hasn't adapted properly and is
therefore 'poor' -- if I could just figure out a non-obvious angle.
Hmm.)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #17 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 09:43
    
Well, there's certainly a kind of protective coloration that weasels can
assume in order to suck up power, that of someone who is confident,
charming, etc, but I'm not cynical enough to believe that these traits are,
in and of themselves, indicators of sociopathy.
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #18 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 09:55
    
Indeed not. But they're the traits that sociopaths strive to emulate.
It's easier to portray the outer trappings of success than to appear to
be kind, good-hearted, etcetera (when you're not).

Meanwhile, back on the planet Doctorow, what are you working on right
now? (Oh, and what music are you listening to, and what kind of cereal
are you eating?)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #19 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 10:23
    
(Lest those questions sound kinda weird, I should add: I'm just trying
to spark a new random direction.)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #20 of 254: Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 30 Jan 03 10:27
    
I'm currently working on two novels:

/usr/bin/god (working title -- I know that no one knows how to alphabetize a
slash, and besides everyone would spell it /user and besides number two, it
should probably be /usr/sbin/god...). This is a novel about Singularilty
mysticism and apocalyptic personality cults.


SPOILER ALERT


















Mason is a hacker/loudmouth in the crumbling ruins of the dotbomb who falls
in with a group of extropian polyamorous cultists who are trying to hack
themselves immortal. He ends up charged with smuggling the data from a
secret, destructive scan of the fatally ill cult founder's brain to the
technoanarchic autonomous zone of Argentina, but is nearly caught en route
and is exiled to Argentina. He works to instantiate a running copy of the
founder's consciousness through an evolutionary algorithm that tests its
human-ness by inserting itself into machine-mediated human conversations,
answering craigslist personals, spamming, leaving voxmail, chattering on
IRC, etc. Eventually, parallel copies of this consciousness infect all
networked comms that have a human being on one end of them, and the Internet
itself shuts down, prompting a UN invasion of Argentina. Along the way, he
becomes alienated from the main cultists in the Bay Area, and founds a
breakaway sect in Argentina, which helps to smuggle him out of the country.
He works his way back to the Valley and discovers his former co-religionists
missing-in-action -- they've been nano-disassembled by a successful version
of the cult-leader, which has realized that the first disembodied
consciousness that consumes all the matter in a finite universe in the
service of parallelizing itself will "win" -- and is currently ramping up a
plan to hasten the heat-death of the universe.



/SPOILER ALERT


The second book is "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," which is an
urban fantasy/magic realist novel about the eldest of ten brothers who are
the offspring of a mountain in Northern Ontario and a washing machine. The
brothers are as strange as their parents: one is procognitive, three nest
like Russian dolls, one is an animated corpse, one is an island, and so on.
The animated corpse was actually murdered by the other brothers, but
bootstrapped himself back to life and made his way back to the mountain to
complain to their parents. Alan, the eldest moved to Toronto and became a
successful serial entrepreneur, finally retiring to Kensington Market to
write a short story that is to be discovered after his death. While there,
he falls in with crusty-punk dumpster-diver community wireless activists who
are unwiring all of Toronto with a meshed network built out of junk hardware
salvaged from suburban industrial parks. Alan wants to help, but he's
distracted by his corpse brother, who is hunting down the remaining brothers
one at a time and murdering them, possibly abetted by his neighbor, Kirshna,
whose girlfriend, Mimi, has mysterious wings that Krishna saws off once a
month, but which keep growing back. It's pretty strange techno-utopian
stuff, and very optimistic in tone.

Music: well, my main iBook is in the shop, so I'm using my old machine,
which has a pretty limited slice of my music collection on it. However, I'm
currently obsessed with three bands that I've recently been turned on to:

* The Dillards

This is the bluegrass combo that made regular appearances as the musical
hillbilly family on the Andy Griffith show. They do beautiful harmony, and
they pick and strum FAST.

* The All Girl Summer Fun Band

My friend Heath (kalel on the WELL) turned me on to this jangly girl-pop
band in December. They sing these really beautiful faux-naive girl-pop
numbers with funny lyrics like, "My boyfriend works real late/and he won't
spend his make/won't even buy me cheap cheap cake"

* Flogging Molly

I found this upbeat Celtic-punk band through eMusic, and they're way more
Pogues than even the Pogues were. Very fast swirling Celtic songs about
drinking and barfing and dancing.

Cereal:

I've sworn off carbs and become a devotee of the apostate medical philosophy
of Dr. Atkins, losing 40+ lbs since mid-September. I was convinced to do
this by the amazing results that were on exhibit at last year's World
Science Fiction convention, where the rotund hordes of fandom were
noticeably slimmer, a condition that was universally attributed to low-
carb/high-protein diets.

The other thing that I love about the low-carb thing is the hacker ethic: if
you searched-and-replaced "metabolism" with "front-side-bus" in the
alt.support.diet.low-carb FAQ, you'd have the alt.overclocking FAQ. It's all
these people experimenting with their bodies and measuring the results with
Ketostix, and always, YMMV.
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #21 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 30 Jan 03 11:43
    
While we're at it, if any WELLers out there are reading, feel free to
pass me some questions!
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #22 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 31 Jan 03 05:40
    
Let's see if I can pin down a cluster of memes that keep cropping up
in your work:

* file sharing via decentralized peer-to-peer networks

* "information wants to be free" is an over-simplification, but
  locking information up in a prison cell doesn't work, either

* ad hoc groups of people working together can achieve startling
  results and attack projects that corporations wouldn't even dream 
  of

* you can find treasure in trash heaps (and yard sales)

* junk finds its own use for the street

* highly strung protagonists veering  between total committment and
  near-breakdown as they pursue their goals

* the treachery of friends as a plot hinge

* and of course the whole extropian bundle'o'fun concepts that haven't
  yet gone mainstream in SF (mind uploading, cryonics, nanotech,
  reputation economies, the singularity, transhumanism, smart drugs,
  better thinking through technology) -- at least, not as a cluster

Am I missing anything?
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #23 of 254: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 31 Jan 03 07:23
    
(People not-on-the-WELL can participate by emailling comments and questions 
to inkwell-hosts@inkwell.vue, and we'll post 'em for you.)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #24 of 254: Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 31 Jan 03 08:35
    
(Just to add to what Jon said, you can also email me directly as
charlie(at)antipope.org. Bear in mind that I'm in Scotland, eight hours
ahead of California, so if you mail me much after 4pm (8pm on the
other coast) you may have to wait for me to wake up the next day.)
  
inkwell.vue.174 : Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
permalink #25 of 254: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 31 Jan 03 09:02
    
Cory, one of the things that comes up in the novel, and bears some 
discussion, is the way that personal whuffie depends on who is doing the 
scanning. Those empty suits that Dilbert deplores have a _lot_ of whuffie 
in corporate culture. They just don't connect well with reality useful to, 
say, people who make actual goods, or who are responsibility for real 
production.

Reputation management, in and of itself, doesn't necessarily solve the 
problem that people who can talk in marketese make a lot of sense to 
people who talk in marketese. The opposite is also true. Anyone who is not 
an engineer, who has tried to convince an engineer to do something humanly 
useful (but not the way the engineer feels is most efficient, say) knows 
how useless enginees can be at building useful stuff - it's like hanging 
with reverse marketers.

I guess what I'm saying is that not every judgement is usefully based on 
personal attitudes alone. Nor is the ability to convince other people that 
you deserve lots of whuffie a reasonable indicator of the same. 

Hmmm. Define "reasonable".

Well, to the German people, even while he was busy killing all socialists, 
gays, Jews, and other social undesirables, Hitler had god-like quantities 
of whuffie.

It isn't just that to most people he has lots of reserve-whuffie--you 
can't just average the extremes, or note that people tend to be on the 
extreme, and come up with a measure that makes intuitive sense. Bill 
Clinton, after all, was seen as demonic by American fans of the Republican 
party, and as near God-like by fans of the Democratic party. Was he really 
just an average president? 

Does whuffie really work when it goes beyond relationships between people 
you actually know? Seems to be it gets iffier the farther it gets. A 
friend of a friend may be someone I wanna hang with, but sometimes isn't. 
And someone talked up by the media, or whose reputation is built entirely 
on being able to convince people I don't know about things I may or may 
not agree with?
  

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