Here's a reading (MP3) of a short story I wrote for the July, 2014 issue of Wired UK in the form of a news dispatch from the year 2024 -- specifically, a parliamentary sketch from a raucous Prime Minister's Question Time where a desperate issue of computer security rears its head:
Quick: what do all of these have in common: your gran's cochlear implant, the Whatsapp stack, the Zipcar by your flat, the Co-Op's 3D printing kiosk, a Boots dispensary, your Virgin thermostat, a set of Tata artificial legs, and cheap heads-up goggles that come free with a Mister Men game?
If you're stumped, you're not alone. But Prime Minister Lane Fox had no trouble drawing a line around them today during PMQs in a moment that blindsided the Lab-Con coalition leader Jon Cruddas, who'd asked about the Princess Sophia hacking affair. Seasoned Whitehall watchers might reasonably have expected the PM to be defensive, after a group of still-anonymous hackers captured video, audio and sensitive personal communications by hijacking the Princess's home network. The fingerpointing from GCHQ and MI6 has been good for headlines, and no one would have been surprised to hear the PM give the security services a bollocking, in Westminster's age-old tradition of blame-passing.
Nothing of the sort. Though the PM leaned heavily on her cane as she rose, she seemed to double in stature as she spoke, eyes glinting and her free hand thumping the Dispatch Box: "The Princess Sophia affair is the latest installment in a decades-old policy failure that weakened the security of computer users to the benefit of powerful corporations and our security services. This policy, the so-called 'anti-circumvention' rules, have no place in an information society.
My latest Guardian column is an interview with Leila Johnston about her Hack Circus project, which includes a conference, a podcast and a print magazine, all with a nearly indefinable ethic of independence and art for its own sake.
The opposite of useful is not always useless, as such. The opposite of reportage is not always silliness, and the opposite of consumer messaging is not always fooling around. Playboy is one of the most successful media enterprises of all time, so presumably people don't want entertainment for functional reasons. Perhaps fooling around can be a very effective business model.
The events are fun, but they are reality-distorting rather than "comedy". They are funny because the clever, strange people who like Hack Circus are naturally funny and have done such wonderfully surprising things, not because they've written a routine. I don't want to do a science comedy night for sceptics and atheists – there's plenty of that around. I'm far more interested in, and identify far more strongly with, the credulous than the sceptical, and I'm consciously working against the resistance to imagination that scepticism presents.
Leila Johnston: 'Digital culture has created a new outsider'
I'm about to hit the road again, starting in Salt Lake City, where I'll be a Guest of Honor at Westercon (Jul 3-6), and will follow it up with an appearance at the SLC library (Jul 7); then I'm doing a three-day library tour around PDX, with stops in Beaverton (Jul 8), Tigard (Jul 9) and Hillsboro (July 10) (here's a complete list of my scheduled upcoming public events).
This morning, I gave the keynote speech the 2014 conference of The Literary Consultancy in London, about the future of publishing. They got the audio up with lightning speed (I'm in the auditorium, listening to the follow-on panel).
My ZOMGTERRISTSGONNAKILLUSALLRUNHIDE TSA tee-shirt (of Poop Strong fame) is available in tote-bag form, a fact I had somehow missed!
Here's a reading (MP3) of a recent Guardian column, 'Cybersecurity' begins with integrity, not surveillance, in which I suggest that the reason to oppose mass surveillance is independent of whether it "works" or not -- the reason to oppose mass surveillance is that mass surveillance is an inherently immoral act:
The Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman and I presented an introductory session at SXSW before Edward Snowden's appearance, and he made a thought-provoking comparison between surveillance and torture. Some of the opponents of torture argue against it on the ground that torture produces low-quality intelligence. If you torture someone long enough, you can probably get him to admit to anything, but that's exactly why evidence from torture isn't useful.
But Gellman pointed out that there are circumstances in which torture almost certainly would work. If you have a locked safe – or a locked phone – and you want to get the combination out of someone, all you need is some wire-cutters, a branding iron, some pliers, and a howling void where your conscience should be.
The "instrumental" argument against torture – that it doesn't work – invites the conclusion that on those occasions where torture would work, there's nothing wrong with using it. But the primary reason not to torture isn't its efficacy or lack thereof: it's that torture is barbaric. It is immoral. It is wrong. It rots societies from the inside out.
For the first time, one of my books has been challenged. The students at Booker T Washington High in Pensacola, Florida were to be assigned Little Brother for their summer One School/One Book read. At the last instant -- and over the objections of the head of the English department and the chief librarian -- the principal reversed the previous approval and seems to have cancelled the One School/One Book program outright. My amazing publishers, Tor Books, have volunteered to send 200 copies to the school for the students to read, and I'll participate in a videoconference with the students in the coming school year. Read all about it on Boing Boing.
The latest Humble Ebook Bundle has added four new titles: Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, the From Hell Companion (review), Too Cool to Be Forgotten (review); and my audiobook for Lawful Interception, the sequel to Little Brother and Homeland. They join a stellar lineup of other comics, novels and ebooks with work by Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin, Ed Piskor, Nate Powell, Paolo Bacigalupi, Tobias Buckell and Terry Goodkind.
Name your price for them -- all DRM free, and you can contribute to charity when you buy!
Humble Ebook Bundle
Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Locus column, How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance, in which I describe the way that I've explained the Snowden affair to my six-year-old:
So I explained to my daughter that there was a man who was a spy, who discovered that the spies he worked for were breaking the law and spying on everyone, capturing all their e-mails and texts and video-chats and web-clicks. My daughter has figured out how to use a laptop, phone, or tablet to peck out a message to her grandparents (autocomplete and spell-check actually make typing into an educational experience for kids, who can choose their words from drop-down lists that get better as they key in letters); she’s also used to videoconferencing with relatives around the world. So when I told her that the spies were spying on everything, she had some context for it.
Right away, we were off to the races. ‘‘How can they listen to everyone at once?’’ ‘‘How can they read all those messages?’’ ‘‘How many spies are there?’’ I told her about submarine fiber-optic taps, prismatic beam-splitters, and mass databases. Again, she had a surprising amount of context for this, having encountered digital devices whose capacity was full – as when we couldn’t load more videos onto a tablet – and whose capacities could be expanded with additional storage.
Then I talked about not reading everything in realtime, and using text-search to pick potentially significant messages out of the stream. When I explained the spies were looking for ‘‘bad words’’ in the flow, she wanted to know if I meant swear words (she’s very interested in this subject). No, I said, I mean words like ‘‘bank robbery’’ (we haven’t really talked about terrorism yet – maybe next time
Mastering by John Taylor Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."
Once again, it's time for the Clarion Writers Workshop writeathon - we need writers and sponsors to help fund the Clarion Workshop, the respected, long-running science fiction writers' bootcamp. A writeathon is just what is sounds like: a fundraiser where writers ask their friends to sponsor their writing. I'm writing 1,000 words a day, five days a week, on UTOPIA (working tile), a novel for adults: you can sponsor me here. (Disclosure: I'm proud to volunteer as a board member for the 501(c)3 nonprofit Clarion Foundation)