Monday, November 17, 2008

Hammond's Law

So, at the Iain Banks talk, I was originally going to suggest one of the 'laws' that might be appropriate, but then decided that I was going to keep it to myself; thought I think it rather fits in with the spirit of the Culture. So much so, that I might have subconsciously absorbed something like it from his novels. Anyway, Hammond's First Law – and the associated arrogance which goes along with it – is this: “Any technology distinguishable from magic is an insufficient hoot”.

Sounds like something a Mind would say.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Silicon Heaven

Slightly sad news, as far as I'm concerned, this weekend when my old laptop - an HP DV1588 - finally ended up in Silicon Heaven. The noteworthy (if you choose to take it that way) part of all this is that it's the machine on which I put together Heavy Lies the Crown, editing a substantial chunk of the movie on it, doing most of the compositing and rendering a number of CG effects. I bought it after my old Desktop had gone the same way, picking it purely on the basis that it had enough spec to let me finish the film. It even appeared in a couple of TV news items with me, where I pretended I was editing on the spot for the camera crews.

Why do I get so fond of these things?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Lemmings II

Via Mike at Life of a Games Programmer, I present the end sequence for Lemmings II, which has my name in it!  The reason for this is that I designed some levels for it.  Wow, I haven't seen this since sometime late last century!

Spooks Series 7: Episode 2

It's a terrible burden actually knowing stuff.  At least that's how the writer of this episode must feel.  There is a certain cuteness, it must be said, when the mainstream media tries to do technology, like a puppy trying to join in a game of football.  It'll make you go 'aw' but what you really care about is the team.

Strained analogy.  Sorry.

The episode had a distributed denial of service attack on the UK, carried out by a submarine tapping an underwater cable.  Which is, er, a single location.  The 'distributed' part of it was obviously merrily sidelined in favour of - gasp! - a big dangerous looking thing!

So of course the defence against this is to launch a 'zero day attack'.

Oh dear.

A zero day attack is making use of an undisclosed computer vulnerability, i.e. zero days have gone by since it was discovered and hence no defence is in place.

I actually laughed out loud when I heard this.  Politics and police procedures are carefully researched for that added authenticity, of course, but as soon as technology is involved, any old shit is made up.  In this case by someone who has heard the phrases but has clearly no idea what they mean.

And just for good measure, the zero day attack is also a virus.  Because as far as TV people are concerned, computer viruses can do anything.  Perhaps it should have been named the MacGuffin virus?

This kind of thing, being a flagship BBC program, should be beneath them; it turned the normally excellent Spooks into a cartoon.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Banks' Law

Back at the Edinburgh book festival, which I claimed I was going to write more about, we saw Iain Banks at one of the big events. Iain, of Culture novels fame – was giving a talk essentially about being Iain Banks, followed by a book signing. The whole thing was something I was intending to blog about immediately afterwards in the pub, as I'd done the day before, but a rather nasty headache overtook me and so the on-the-spot blathering was quietly dropped. Overall, though, I do believe I have added to the Banks' canon.

So here's how I remember it.

We turned up early, to the point of being first in the queue. In no way are either of us a fanboy or fangirl respectively.  Given that it was SF, does that make us fanbeings? In any case, we were first in the door and by happy chance none of the front row seats were reserved, which is how we came to be right in front of him, a mere smattering of feet away.

(I'm really racking my mind to think what was said, the danger of waiting a few months to note things down. As opposed to my memories of the computer games industry, where the notes have waited something like sixteen years.)

Anyway, the important thing happened afterwards at the signing. Lesley had given me Matter and I was dithering about whether I was wanting it signed, meaning that I worried whether I would be too star-struck to form sentences in front of the great man. Lesley contrived to escape from the signing queue, the better vantage point from which to watch everyone smile and nod and say their names and then Iain's autograph would be jotted down.

Most people brought a single novel; Matter was a clear favourite, being newly released. One or two brought a whole pile of books and the guy in front of us had a Kindle. The mystery of how he was going to get an electronic book signed was resolved when he also had a normal book. A Book, book. Someone asked for Iain to write “something inspirational” to which his response was “Don't let the bastards grind you down.”

I think we can all live with that.

But then it was my turn and in a sudden fit of inspiration I asked for his full Culture name! In the Culture, you see, your full name also includes your planet and star system of birth. Emboldened, I managed to mumble out the question that I'd been too chicken to ask in the talk itself. Given that Arthur C Clarke has a law and Asimov has his laws of robotics, does Iain Banks have his own law?

I was amazed that he only needed a second or two to think this over and come up with a clear answer on the spot, though as he said, laughing, it was still a first draft.

“Any worldview, indistinguishable from solipsism, is wrong.”

I left happy. The remainder of the evening involved the train back and watching a massive glow in the sky from what was apparently a fire at a chemical plant. But that's another story.