April 29, 2003

Story: Charlie


That evening, Marcel picked a fight with Roscoe over supper. It started low key, as Roscoe sliced up the pizza. "What are you planning this week?"

Roscoe shifted two slices onto his plate before he answered. "More dishes. Got a couple of folks to splice in downtown if I want to hook up $SUBURB -- there're some black spots there, but I figure with some QOS-based routing and a few more repeaters we can clear them up. Why?"

Marcel toyed with a strand of cooling cheese. "It's, like, boring. When are you going to run a new fat pipe in?"

"When the current one's full." Roscoe attacked the pizza, chewing methodically. "You know damn well the feds would like nothing better than to roll up a fibre drop from the border. 'Sides, got the journalist to think about."

"I could take over part of the fibre drop," Marcel offered.

"I don't think so." Roscoe put his plate down.

"But I could --" Marcel looked at him. "What's wrong?"

"Security," Roscoe grunted. "Goddamnit, you can't just waltz up to some guy who's looking at twenty to life and say 'hi, Roscoe sent me, howzabout we run some dark fibre over the border, huh?' Some of the guys in this game are, huh, you wouldn't want to meet them on a dark night. Are you with me? And others are just plain paranoid. They wouldn't want to meet *you*. Fastest way to convince 'em the DA's office is trying to shut them down."

"You could introduce me," Marcel said after a brief pause.

Roscoe laughed, a short bark. "In your dreams, son."

Marcel dropped his fork, clattering. "You're going to take your pet blonde on a repeater splice and show her everything and you're afraid to let me help you run a new fat pipe in? Where the hell's that stick up your ass come from, man?"

"Listen." Roscoe stood up, and Marcel tensed -- but rather than move towards him, Roscoe turned to the breakfast bar and the pizza box. "Get the Wall Street Journal on our side and we have some credibility. A crack in the wall. Legitimacy. Do you know what that means, kid? You can't buy it. But run another fat pipe into town and we have a waste of bandwidth, upstream dealers who want to know what the hell we're pissing around with, another fibre or laser link to lose to cop-induced backhoe fade, and about fifty percent higher probability of the whole network getting rolled up because local folks will notice if we're screwing with their TV reception and go complain to the FCC. Do you want that?" He picked another cooling pizza slice out of the box. "Do you really want that?"

"You've got the hots for that blonde," Marcel accused him.

"Fuck you." Roscoe returned to his seat, shoulders set defensively. "Fuck you very much." They finished the meal in silence, then Roscoe headed out to his evening class in conversational French. Marcel, he figured, was just jealous because he wasn't getting to do any of the secret agent stuff. Being an unwirer was a lot less romantic than it sounded, and the first rule of unwiring was *keep your trap shut*. Maybe Marcel would get there one day, assuming his big mouth didn't get everyone around him arrested first.


Word count to date: 3490 words.

Posted by Charlie Stross at 09:01 AM | Comments (3)

April 26, 2003

Administrivia: Plot noodling

WARNING: plot noodling follows. Authors at work.

Do not read the rest of this entry, or comments on it, if you want to read the story as a fun and entertaining piece of fiction with surprises in the plot.

Posted by Charlie Stross at 08:48 AM | Comments (7)

April 25, 2003

Administrivia: They're Unwiring Westminster

Meanwhile, back in our time line according to The Register ...

London's City of Westminster Council is to bring 802.11b wireless networking to the streets of Soho. The scheme, dubbed the Westminster 4G project, will initially provide Wi-Fi connectivity for council operatives and remote systems.

But in a direct challenge to ISPs and the UK's wired and mobile telcos, the Conservative-led Council plans to extend the network to provide data and voice services to the public.

Westminster 4G, due to be rolled out next month, will see a number of "smart boxes" installed throughout the Soho district of central London. Greek Street, Old Compton Street and Dean Street will be among the first to be given blanket Wi-Fi coverage, project leader and West End ward councillor Ian Wilder told The Register.

(Full story here.)

The one thing that springs to mind is that if you combine this with a PDA like the new Palm Tungsten C -- with built in 802.11b -- and SIP (a basic but workable VoIP stack) it makes the mobile phone obsolete. You can tunnel phone calls over TCP/IP over 802.11b wireless, instead of tunnelling TCP/IP sockets over PPP over some kind of brain-dead 1980's PSTN system.

Posted by Charlie Stross at 12:43 PM | Comments (3)

April 24, 2003

Story: Cory

She closed her eyes for a moment. Then she dangled her keyring again, just a flash of matte black plastic. "These are everywhere in Europe these days, along with these," she opened her purse and he caught a glimpse of a sliver of curved metal, like a boomerang, in the shape of the Motorola batwing logo-mark. "They're meshing wireless repeaters. Once you've got a critical mass, you can relay data from anywhere to anywhere. Teenagers are whacking them up on the sides of buildings, tangling them in tree-branches, sticking them to their windows. The telcos there are screaming blue murder, of course. Business is down 40 percent in Finland, sixty in France. They're using the net for telephone calls, instant messaging, file-sharing -- the wireline infrastructure is looking more and more obsolete every day. Even the ISPs are getting nervous."

Roscoe tried to hide his grin. To be an unwirer in the streets of Paris, operating with impunity, putting the telcos, the Hollywood studios and the ISPs on notice that there was no longer any such thing as a "consumer" -- that yesterday's couch potatoes are today's *participants*!

"We've got ten years' worth of editorials in our morgue about the destruction of the European entertainment and telco market and the wisdom of our National Information Infrastructure here in the US, but it's starting to ring hollow. The European governments are *ignoring* the telcos! The device and services market being built on top of the freenets is accounting for nearly half the GDP in France. To hear *my* paper describe it, though, you'd think they were starving in the streets: it's like the received wisdom about Canadian socialized healthcare. Everyone *knows* it doesn't work -- except for the Canadians, who think we're goddamned *barbarians* for not adopting it.

"I just got back from a month in the field in the EU. I've got interviews in the can with CEOs, with street-thugs, with grandmothers and with regulators, all saying the same thing: unmetered communications are the secret engine of the economy, of liberty. The highest-quality 'content' isn't 100-million-dollar movies, it's conversations with other people. Crypto is a tool of 'privacy'" -- she pronounced it in the British way, prihv-icy, making the word seem even more alien to his ears -- "not piracy.

"The unwirers are heroes in Europe. You hear them talk, it's like listening to a course in *US* constitutional freedoms. But here, you people are crooks, cable-thieves, pirates, abetters of terrorists. I want to change that."

Word count to date: 2954

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 07:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Story: Charlie

The Days Inn was, indeed, a dump. More importantly, several second -- and third -- thoughts occured to Roscoe on his way over. Like, if she was a fed there might be more ways she could nail him than just by arresting him in the same room as an illegal wireless card. So when Roscoe spotted a diner along the block from the motel he pulled over, then went inside to look for a wired phone.

"Room 208, please ... hi there. If you'd care to come outside, there's a diner about fifty yards down the road. Just turn left out of the lobby. I'm already there." He hung up before she could ask any awkward questions, then headed for a booth by the window. Almost as an afterthought, he pulled the copy of 2600 out of his pocket. The hacker magazine (shut down by a court injunction last year) was, he'd found, a really good recognition signal -- plus, having it didn't violate the letter of his parole.

Roscoe was halfway down his first mug of coffee when someone leaned over him. "Hi," she said.

"You must be Sylvie." He registered a confused impression of bleached blonde hair, brown eyes, freckles. *Must be straight out of journalism school*, he thought vaguely. "Have a seat. Coffee?"

"Yes please." She put something like a keyring down then waved a hand, trying to catch the waitress's eye. Roscoe looked at the keyring. Very black, very small, very Nokia. Rumour said they were giving them away in cereal packets in France.

"Suppose you tell me why you wanted to meet up," Roscoe said quietly. "Up front. I can tell you right now that I'm out on parole, and I've got no intention of doing anything that puts me back inside."

The waitress ambled over, pad in hand. Sylvie ordered a coffee. "What were you charged with?" she said. "If you don't mind me asking."

Roscoe snorted. *Score one for the cool lady* -- some folks he'd met ran a mile the instant he mentioned being a con. "I was *accused* of infringement with a side order of black crypto, but plea bargained it down to unlawful emissions." *Score two* -- she smiled. It was a weak joke, but it took some of the sting out of it. "Strictly no-collar crime." He took another mouthful of coffee. "So what is it you're doing up here?"

"I'm working on a story about some aspects of unwiring that don't usually make the national press," she said, as the waitress came over, empty mug in one hand and jug in the other. Roscoe held his up for a refill.


"I could give you a phone number, but would you trust it?"

"Point." Roscoe leaned back against the elderly vinyl seat. *Young, but cynical.*

"Well," she added, "I can do better." She pulled out a notepad and began scribbling. "*This* is my editor's name and address. *You* can look up his number. If you place a call and ask for him you'll get put through -- you're on the list of interview subjects I left him. Next, here's my -- no, an -- email address." Roscoe blinked -- it was a handle on a famous Finnish anonymous remixer. "Get a friend to ping it and ask me something." It was worth five to twenty for black crypto -- anonymity was the FCC's worst nightmare about the uncontrolled net. "Finally, here's my press pass."

"Okay, I'll check these out." He met her eyes. "Now, why don't you tell me why the Wall Street Journal is interested in a burned out ex-con and ex-unwirer, and we can take it from there?"

Word count to date: 2519 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 03:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 22, 2003

Story: Cory

"Then you should be familiar with CALEA," he said, bridling at the condecension in her voice. CALEA was the wiretap bill, required switch-vendors to put snoopware into every hop in the phone network. It was bad enough in and of itself, but it made the noncompliant routing code that was built into the BeOS. access-points he had hidden in a bus-locker doubly illegal and hence even harder to lay hands on.

"Paranoid, much?" she said.

"I have nothing to be paranoid about," he said, spelling it out like he was talking to a child. "I am a law-abiding citizen, complying with the terms of my parole. If you *are* a journalist, I'd be happy to chat. In person."

"I'm staying at the Days Inn on Main Street," she said. "It's a dump, but it's got a *view of the Falls*," she said in a hokey secret-agent voice, making it plain that she meant, "It's line of sight to a repeater for a Canadian wireless router."

"I can be there in twenty," he said.

"Room 208," she said. "Knock twice, then once, then three times." Then she giggled. "Or just send me an SMS."

"See you then," he said.

Marcel looked up from his machine, an IBM box manufactured for the US market. It was the size of a family bible, and styled for the corporate market. They both lusted furiously after the brushed-aluminium slivers that Be was cranking out in France, but they were *way* too conspicuous here.

Roscoe pointed at the wireless card protruding from the slot on the side nearest him. "You're violating security," he said. "I could get sent up again just for being in the same room as that." He was past being angry, though. In the joint, he'd met real crooks who could maintain real project secrecy. The cowboy kids he worked with on the outside couldn't keep a secret if their life depended on it.

Marcel blushed. "It was a mistake, OK?" He popped the card. "I'll stash it."

Word count to date: 1927

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 07:21 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

April 21, 2003

Story: Charlie

Roscoe shook his head. "Bullshit or not, you going to take any chances?" He straightened up slowly. "Believe me, there's one place you don't want to go."

"Okay, okay, take it easy man." Marcel waved his hands at Roscoe placatingly. "I hear what you're saying."

"I hope you do." Roscoe dumped the wad of towels in the kitchen trash and stomped back into the living room, then dropped himself on the sofa. "Listen, when I was your age I thought it couldn't happen to me, neither. Now look at me." He started thumbing his way through the stack of old magazines on the coffee table.

"I'm looking at you." Marcel grinned. "Listen, there was a call while you were out."

"A call?" Roscoe paused with his hand on a collector's copy of 2600.

"Some woman, said she wanted to talk to you. I took her number."

"Uh-huh." Roscoe put the magazine back down. *Heads it's Janice, tails it's her lawyer*, he thought. It was shaping up to be that kind of day; all he needed now was some asshole to slash his tires. Marcel pointed at the yellow pad next to the elderly dial phone. "Ah, shit. I suppose I should find out what it's about."

The number, when he looked at it, wasn't familar. That didn't mean much -- Janice was capable of moving and her fancy-pants lawyer seemed to carry a new mobile every time he saw her -- but it was hopeful. Roscoe dialed. "Hello? Roscoe. Who am I talking to?"

A stranger's voice: "hi there! I was talking to your flatmate about an hour ago? I'm Sylvie Smith. I was given your name by a guy called Buzz who told me you put him on the backbone."

Roscoe sat up tensely. Odds were that this Sylvie Smith was just another innocent punter looking to leech a final mile feed, but after this morning's run-in with the law he was taking nothing for granted.

"Are you a law enforcement officer federal employee police officer lawyer FCC or FBI agent?" he asked, almost running the words together, knowing that if she was any of the above she'd probably lie -- but it might help sway a jury towards letting him off if he was targeted by a sting.

"No." She sounded almost amused. "I'm a journalist."

Word count to date: 1568

Posted by Charlie Stross at 02:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Administrivia: How about P2P?

What about if the musicians abroad have tried to spoil P2Pnets by flooding them with bogus files like Madonna's recent stunt, and as a result, have had courts rule that they deliberately diluted their trademark interests in their band-names? See my blog entry for more details:

I doubt Madonna has thought about the damage these planted spoofs could do by diluting her trademarks. Trademarks, after all, are intended to protect consumers by defending a source's association with quality goods and services. If the same name is increasingly found on deliberately poor quality music files or curses, with the authorization of the trademark holder, duped listeners might reasonably stop thinking favorably of the brand -- giving a plausible argument that the artist had diluted or abandoned her own mark.
(quote from Wendy Seltzer, an EFF staff atty)

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 07:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

April 20, 2003

Story: Cory

Marcel looked up from his laptop as Roscoe stamped through the living-room.

"Slushy boots! For chrissakes, Roscoe, I just cleaned."

Roscoe turned to look at the salty brown slush he'd tracked over the painted floor and shook his head.

"Sorry," he said, lamely, and sat down on the floor to take his heavy steel-shank Kodiaks off. He carried them back to the doormat and then grabbed a roll of paper towels from the kitchen and started wiping up the mess. The landlord used cheap enamel paint on the floor and the road-salt could eat through to the scuffed wood in half an hour.

"And paper towels, God, it's like you've got a personal vendetta against the forests. There's a rag-bag under the sink, as you'd know if you ever did any cleaning around this place."

"Ease the fuck off, kid, you sound like my goddamned ex-wife," Roscoe said, giving the floor a vicious swipe. "Just ease back and let me do my thing, all right? It didn't go so good."

Marcel set his machine down reverently on the small hearthrug beside his Goodwill recliner. "What happened?"

Roscoe related his run-in with the law quickly. Marcel shook his head slowly.

"I bet it's bullshit. Ever since Tijuana, everyone's seeing spooks." The ISPs on the Tijuana side of the San Ysidro border-crossing had been making good coin off of unwirer-symptathizers who'd pointed their antennae across the chain-link fence. La Migra tried tightening the fence-gauge up to act as a Faraday cage, but they just went over it with point-to-point links that were resistent to the noise from the 2.4GHz light-standards that the INS erected at its toll-booths. Finally, the radio cops got tired of ferretting out the high-gain antennae on the San Diego side and they'd Ruby-Ridged the whole operation, killing ten "terrorists" in a simultaneous strike with Mexican narcs who'd raided the ISPs under the rubric of shutting down narcotraficante activity. TELMEX had screamed blue murder when their fibre had been cut by the simple expedient of driving a backhoe through the main conduit, and had pulled lineage all along the Rio Grande.

Word count to date: 1193

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 09:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)

Story: Charlie

"Sounds good to me." Roscoe relaxed imperceptibly, certain now that this wasn't a bust. Then the cop cleared his throat. "Still, you might want to finish this one then go home and stay there for a while. DA's office, they've got some kind of hot shot from the FCC in town preaching the gospel and, uh, getting heavy on bird watchers. That sort of thing."

Roscoe sucked in his lower lip. "I may do just that," he conceded. "And thank you for the warning."

The cop waved as he turned away. "My pleasure, sir."

* * *

Roscoe drove home slowly, and not just because of the snow and compacted slush on the roads. *A hot shot from the FCC* sounded ominous : looked like the inquisition were in town. Roscoe had conceived a deep and abiding hatred for everything they stood for -- *not the people but the party* he had to force himself to remember -- about three years ago, when they first got him on a Federal telecoms rap. He'd lost his job and spent the best part of six months inside before his attorney plea-bargained them down, from a twenty years-to-life infoterrorism stretch to second degree tarriff evasion. The judge sentenced him to time served plus two years' probation, two years in which he wasn't allowed to program a goddamn microwave oven, let alone admin the networks that had been his trade. Prison hadn't been as bad for him as it could have been -- unwirers got respect -- but while he was inside Janice filed for divorce, and by the time he got out he'd lost everything he'd spent the last decade building -- his marriage, his house, his savings, his career. Everything except for the unwiring.

It was this experience that had turned him from a fun-loving geek into what $NAME [[need credible name for Chairman of the FCC]] called "one of the information terrorists undermining our homeland's security." And so it was with a shudder and a glance over his shoulder that he climbed the front steps and put his key in the lock of the house he and Dan rented.

Word count to date: 750 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 03:42 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

April 18, 2003

Story: Cory

The cops caught Roscoe as he was tightening the butterfly bolts on the dish antenna he'd pitoned into the rock-face opposite the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. They were State Troopers, not Fed radio cops, and they pulled their cruiser onto the soft shoulder of the freeway, braking a few feet short of the soles of his boots. It took Roscoe a moment to tighten the bolts down properly before he could let go of the dish and roll over to face the cops, but he knew from the crunch of their boots on the road-salt and the creak of their cold holsters that they were the law.

"Be right with you, officers," he hollered into the gale-force winds that whipped along the rockface. The antenna was made from a surplus pizza-dish satellite rig, a polished tomato soup can and a length of co-ax that descended to a pigtail with the right fitting for a wireless card. All perfectly legal, mostly.

He tightened the last of the bolts and slid back on his belly, off the insulated thermarest he'd laid between him and the frozen ground. The cops' heads were wreathed in the steam of their exhalations, and one of them was nervously flicking his -- no, *her* -- handcuffs around on her belt.

"Everything all right, sir?" the other one said, in a flat upstate New York accent. A townie. He stretched his gloved hand out and pulled Roscoe to his feet.

"Yeah, just fine," he said. "I like to watch winter birds on the river. Forgot my binox today, but I still got some good sightings."

"Winter birds, huh?" The cop was giving him a bemused look.

"Winter birds."

The cop leaned over the railing and took a long look down. "Huh. Better you shouldn't do it by the roadside, sir," he said. "Never know when someone's going to skid out and drive off onto the shoulder -- you could be crushed." He waved at his partner, who retreated into the steamy warmth of the cruiser. "All right, then," he said. "When does your node go up?"

Roscoe smiled and dared a wink. "I'll be finished aligning the dish in about an hour. I've got line of sight from here to a repeater on a support on the Rainbow Bridge, and from there down the Rainbow Street corridor. Some good tall buildings there, line of sight to most of downtown, at least when the trees are bare. Leaves and wireless don't mix."

Word count to date: 416

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 08:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 16, 2003

Administrivia: Story outline

Click the "Read more..." link for the outline we sold this story from. Warning: it's one big spoiler. Read more...
Posted by Cory Doctorow at 08:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Administrivia: Jury Service

Our first collaboration was a story called "Jury Service," which SciFi.com syndicated in December, 2002. You can read the whole text here.
Posted by Cory Doctorow at 08:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Administrivia: Flowers from Alice

Here's an excerpt from "Flowers from Alice," our last collaboration, forthcoming (soon!) in Mike Resnick's New Faces in Science Fiction anthology, which DAW is publishing. Read more...
Posted by Cory Doctorow at 02:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)