inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #51 of 91: Martha Soukup (soukup) Wed 29 Nov 00 12:21
    
How's Hong Kong?
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #52 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Nov 00 16:06
    
I'd had a giant whack of short-story sales and reprints in Year's Best
anthologies and award nominations that came all in a row. I'd post each one
gleefully in the "Hype Yourself Blatantly" topic in the genx conference on
the WELL.

Renee Wilmeth (acquiring editor for the Idiot's books) here on the WELL
dropped me some email one day that basically said, "We're doing the Complete
Idiot's Guide to Writing/Publishing Science Fiction and Fantasy -- do you
think you'd be the guy for it? If not, who would be?"

I had a moment of extreme anxiety about this. After all, I'd never written a
book before, let alone a novel, and I'm not a fantasy writer. openCOLA was
just getting rolling, and it was taking up an awful lot of time. But at the
same time, this was just too great an opportunity to pass up. So I called
Renee on the way to the bus stop, and spent a good half hour talking it over
with her. She described the highly structured format of the series, and the
very, very tight deadline she was on -- Macmillan expected a complete
manuscript in roughly four months. We talked about bringing a co-writer in,
someone who'd been sucessful as a novelist, to handle that end of things --
perhaps someone who'd written fantasy as well as science fiction.

Karl Schroeder's name immediately sprang to mind. We've been workshopping
together and hanging out for about a decade, and I knew that he'd written
something like ten novels, and had just sold the biggest and most ambitious
of them -- a 200,000-word space opera called Ventus that had lots of mythic,
fantasy elements (Ventus just started shipping from Tor books last week).
Karl has taught writing courses at George Brown College in Toronto for
years, and in workshopping sessions, he always had keen, incisive analysis.

We talked him over, and by the time I got into the office, I was really
leaning towards doing it. I had two reservations, though:

* I'm still a beginner myself, really -- hardly a name-brand author -- and
Karl's much the same. Who were we to presume to lecture other beginners on
how to succeed?

* What about openCOLA? How would my partners feel about this? Would I be
moonlighting on them, taking on a project that would take me away from my
responsibilities at work?

After talking the first point over with Renee, I decided that the first
point just wasn't that big a deal. Chalk it up to hubris if you will, but my
feeling was that "making it" in sf is such a slow, slow process that by the
time you're there, you've not only forgotten much of what it took to get
there, but much of what you *do* remember is out-of-date, advice applicable
to a much different industry than modern publishing. As two writers who'd
just really broken in, Karl and I were in possession of the strategies that
worked *right now* -- not a bunch of stuff on how to schmooze with Lester
Del Ray and John W. Campbell, but rather advice that applied to the here-
and-now.

The second point was put to rest after five minutes' discussion with my
partners at openCOLA, Grad and John. Grad's a science fiction writer
himself, albeit one who's been distracted from the task for a few years, and
John's a huge sf fan (back when he was my neighbor, I used to loan him tons
of books from my library -- books which, I feel I should note, he *still*
hasn't returned -- are you reading this, John?). Both of them felt that this
was just too great an opportunity to pass up -- openCOLA was about realizing
our dreams, ding the stuff that we love. If it couldn't accomodate a project
like the Idiot's book, then we were doing the wrong thing.

So I did it. Karl wrote the outline, I wrote the sample chapter, we rewrote
each other's stuff, and sent it over to Renee. A week or two later, we got
the contract. I decided to use Karl's agent, Don Maass, a real smart guy
who'd been Michelle Sagara's agent back when I was working for her at Bakka
(a fabulous science-fiction bookstore in Toronto). It simplified the
bookkeeping and contract negotiations, but also meant that I had an in with
Don, who's now representing my novel, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom."

The thing that really made it possible for us to write over 100,000 words in
just a few months was the formal structure of the Idiot's Guide books. The
series bible describes the number of sections, chapters, and sub-chapters
each book must have, the structure for the chapters, sidebars and so on.
Once Karl drafted the outline, we knew exactly what we needed to do. After
all, the actual content was stuff that was largely rattling around in our
heads already. This wasn't like a novel, where we had to invent new worlds
and characters and story-arcs. All we needed to do was set down, more-or-
less coherently, a bunch of stuff that we not only knew already, but that we
lived with every day.

There were some hard bits, facts and figures that had to be verified, wisdom
that had to be checked and double-checked, but since Toronto is home to the
Merrill Collection of Speculative Fiction, the largest and best public sf
reference library in the world, this turned out to be relatively
straightforward. Usually I got the answers to my questions from the
reference staff at the Merrill while I waited on the phone.

But the writing was easy. I worked for about an hour every morning, and
cranked out a chapter and a half every week. When Karl or I finished a
chapter, we emailed it to the other for editing, then passed it back. Every
few chapters, we bundled them off to Lynn Northrup (the book editor), Don
Maass, and Rennee.

The only restraints I really felt in writing the book were length-related.
There was a whole shitload of good, solid material that was cut from the
final draft, whole chapters removed at the last minute because we'd just
written too much to publish. Some of that is being reprinted in various
magazines, and some of it will be posted to www.cigsf.com, our site for the
book. We had some amazing technical editors for the book as well: George
Scithers, a legendary sf editor, read the book through and gave us tons of
feedback. And Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who also wrote the introduction, wrote
us a several-pages-long editorial note that corrected a number of our
misconceptions about the field and saved us endless embarassment.

--

How's Hong Kong? Oh. My. God.

It's everything I expected and more. The conference has been great, and my
panel yesterday went swimmingly (more importantly, I've preached the gospel
to a number of potential openCOLA partners whom I'll need to follow up with
next week). But as to the touristy, what-a-city/what-a-continent stuff, it's
been beyond my wildest expectations.

The only free time I've had was a few hours on Tuesday and Wednesday
evenings (though I've got most of today free before I need to catch my plane
back to SF), and I've spent with with Cindy and Fred, wandering various
neighborhoods. Tuesday, we went to Wanchai, and yesterday we were over at
the Temple St Market in Kowloon.

I'm still trying to assemble the sensory assault of HK into some semblance
of coherence, but let me say this: before I got here, I thought that NYC was
the single most urban place I'd ever been. Now, HK holds that title. It's a
vertical Disneyland, a total human dominance over land and landscape, with a
density that warms me to the cockles of my city-rat heart.

I'm really struggling to find the words here. To some extent, this reminds
me of the cities of Central America (I lived in Costa Rica for a while a few
years back). It's got the same near-lightspeed bustle, the same riotous
street-culture and madcap entrepreneurship ("Rolex? Fake Rolex? You want buy
fake Rolex?"), the same omnipresence of weird, loud pop music (though
Cantopop and salsa are not that similar).

Everything here is just familiar enough to shock in its alienness. There are
Circle-Ks, 7-11s, McDonalds and Hardee's (advertised as "One of the three
best American fast-food chains!"), there are English signs, but there's a
Twilight Zone half-step to everything, as though the whole city was at
right-angles to reality as I know it. Perhaps it comes down to the semiotics
of the landscape, the bamboo scaffolding that is only found in Disney's
Adventureland in North America, the cinematically weird and wonderful
apartment blocks that stretch to infinity, festooned with laundry and
rotting air-conditioners, the stilted English on the signs... I just can't
get a handle on it -- I'm sorry, it's going to take a while to answer this
one properly.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #53 of 91: Martha Soukup (soukup) Wed 29 Nov 00 16:19
    
I expect it to show up in fiction pretty soon.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #54 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 29 Nov 00 16:48
    
Oh, and I see I failed to mention an important, salient fact about Karl: he
was, at the time, working at IBM Labs Toronto as their hotshot structured-
documents guy. I knew he would be an amazing addition ot the openCOLA
development team and over the course of writing the book, I managed to
convince him to join us -- he's now openCOLA's hotshot structured documents
guy.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #55 of 91: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 29 Nov 00 16:55
    
I'd love to know what a structured documents guy is!
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #56 of 91: Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Thu 30 Nov 00 06:24
    
 Great description of Hong Kong.  I had the good fortune to go there on 
business a few years ago (the year before it was handed back to China), and
I was overwhelmed in a good way.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #57 of 91: Mark Frauenfelder (mark) Thu 30 Nov 00 10:53
    
Cory, I'm interested in how you think openCola could be used with
handheld wireless devices. Have you thought about that?
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #58 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Fri 1 Dec 00 09:13
    
We've given a fair bit of thought to wireless PDAs and oC. I'm a huge PDA
enthusiast (I owned every Newton from the 100 to the 2000, every Palm from
the 128k to the IIIx, two Visors, and a Blackberry), and I've been doing
wireless data things since I started beta-testing Clearnet's iDen network
about five years ago. So I dig wireless stuff.

But here's the thing. Basically, wireless PDAs and WAP offerings to date
really kinda blow. Slow, clunky, patchy -- really craptastic. Hybrid
solutions like Vindigo and AvantGo are better, but don't really fulfill the
wireless promise.

There's a lot of talk about 3G phones and such, but historically, cellular
companies have been pretty rotten at rolling out service, especially high-
availiablity, roamer-friendly service. 3G may be coming, but with dumbass
strategies like purposely engineering the interface to make it difficult to
enter data, then selling "placement" on the menus to corporations, who knows
if it'll ever get critical mass?

I wonder about this because I think that there are some pretty damned
exciting, ad-hoc projects going on right now to supplant cellular broadband.
Guerillanet in San Francisco and a complimentary project in London are both
projects that encourage individual users to connect their DSL/Cablemodem
connections to open 802.11 (Airport) base-stations. New iterations of the
802.11 standard include "cellular" features that allow stations to
seamlessly hand-off users as they move from one to another. The net effect
is of cities staurated with 1Mbs+ wireless bandwidth.

And not sucky, non-standards-defined, pale-imitation-of-the-Internet
bandwidth, either. This is vanilla TCP/IP, the good stuff, protean and
flexible. Historically, TCP/IP is an unstoppable juggernaut, vanquishing
everything from IPX to ATM as it steams forward into the future. We know how
to make devices interoperate with TCP/IP networks.

The oC strategy -- at the moment, anyway -- for wireless delivery is to make
sure that there are standards-defined interfaces for openCOLA's data-
delivery: openCOLA can present its results as email and/or html files, and
can do so over the network. Any number of vendors have solutions that can
move Web pages and email to wireless devices, and when the time comes, we'll
figure out some alliances with some of these folks and make it happen.

But for the long-term, I'm putting my bet on real, old-fashioned TCP/IP
networks.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #59 of 91: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 1 Dec 00 09:38
    
This is a great conversation! A new inkwell.vue conversation will launch
later today, so we've reached the end of the announced run for this
discussion... however as you can see from Neil Gaiman's topic 73, it's
quite okay for the conversation to rock on!

Thanks to Cory and Mark! And to all those folks in Hong Kong!

Carry on...
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #60 of 91: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 1 Dec 00 10:26
    
Lots of interesting concepts here!  Thanks, Cory.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #61 of 91: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 1 Dec 00 13:33
    
Is the GuerillaNet project still going?  There's not a whole lot about
it on the web.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #62 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Fri 1 Dec 00 13:51
    
AFAIK it is. ISTR that Brian Oblivion was leading the charge on it, and ther
was a lot of talk about it at LUGFest in Simi Valley a couple weeks ago.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #63 of 91: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 1 Dec 00 13:54
    

Cory, thanks for being here.  It's clear to me that we haven't even
scratched the surface of what you have in your copious pockets, so feel
free to continue as long as you like.  And thank you to Mark as well!!
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #64 of 91: John Payne (satyr) Fri 1 Dec 00 17:26
    
At 128 bits/sec, it isn't exactly broadband, but Metricom
<http://www.metricom.com/> delivers vanilla TCP/IP, and is busy expanding
into new markets.  Whether it's too little too late, at too high a price,
remains to be seen.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #65 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Fri 1 Dec 00 19:38
    
The other important bit about Guerrilanet and its cousins: it's unmetered.
*Real* aethernet, an elusive substrate, invisible under the air itself,
carrying unmetered, high-speed packets for any device that can access
2.5GHz.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #66 of 91: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 1 Dec 00 23:52
    
The new Ricochet's actually 128 Kbps.  As a longtime user of the old
Ricochet (28Kbps on a good day) that would have been okay by me - it
should be fine for web surfing.  It's also a lot better than anything
cell phones will do anytime soon.

I'm kinda curious about how GuerrilaNet would handle roaming. 
Wouldn't the IP address change whenever you switch to a different DSL
connection?  They must be using IP tunneling or something.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #67 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Sat 2 Dec 00 07:13
    
No, it's cellular 802.11 -- I think it's 802.11B. I heard a talk on it at
LUGFest. The idea is that since every base-station is publishing a NAT and
DHCP gateway, your drivers know that your IP isn't really relevant and re-
establishes your open sessions at the new address as you move from cell to
cell.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #68 of 91: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 2 Dec 00 08:20
    
I may have missed this, but how is your session maintained if not by IP?
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #69 of 91: John Payne (satyr) Sat 2 Dec 00 08:25
    
> The new Ricochet's actually 128 Kbps

Duh!  Right, of course!  <http://www.metricom.com/>
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #70 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Sat 2 Dec 00 16:13
    
It's funny NAT gateway stuff -- and now I'm officially over my head, so I'm
gonna shut up.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #71 of 91: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 3 Dec 00 06:55
    
Heh. Don't worry, I wouldn't know the difference. My head is similarly
under water. Fascinating stuff, though.

That made me think of another question, one that's relevant to my own
life: how does it feel being the less technical guy working with engineers
etc.?  
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #72 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Thu 7 Dec 00 07:31
    
Good question, that. I went out for drinks and cards last night with Dan
Moniz, one of our research scientists, and a bunch of his Newhackcity/ha><or
buddies . I was, by a wide margin, the least technical person in the room --
quite a switch from the average circumstance, where I'm with people of a
suit-ier bent, whose tech-fu is vastly inferior to mine.

In those circumstances, I'm finding it easier and easier to let go of my
natural, techie-guy oneupmanship. I think it comes down to accomplishment.
These days, I'm basically satisfied that I'm getting some really good stuff
done, and that I'm doing it colllaboratively. There's so many really killler
milestones being met in all my endeavors, and they're each and every one a
team effort -- it doesn't matter if I'm the tech guy.

Increasingly, I'm convinced that the fundamental dillemma of the founder is
delegation: being able to pass off to one's capable coworkers jobs that are
critical, but that you don't need to do. Grad, one of my partners, has a
good rule of thumb for this: if you can get the job done 80% as well through
delegation, then delegate it. The problem is that delegation is never that
simple: there's a communications overhead -- explaining a problem that's in
your head in sufficient detail to be sure that the delegatee gets it before
letting go of it. Given my current workload, this is something I've really
be struggling with.
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #73 of 91: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 7 Dec 00 11:34
    
Are you coming up with strategies for knowledge transfer? Do you think the
problem can be generalized (i.e., and you come up with a general approach
that is more or less applicable to each delegation situation?)
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #74 of 91: Mark Frauenfelder (mark) Sat 9 Dec 00 19:42
    
Hey Cory, I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Amsterdam (to talk
about the "wirless internet" at a conference for 15 minutes). I'm
pooped. I was thinking about you and how you travel so much. How do you
handle it? I know you are about 10 years younger than me, so you have
more energy, but still...
  
inkwell.vue.95 : Cory Doctorow Talks About Nearly Everything
permalink #75 of 91: Life in the big (doctorow) Sun 10 Dec 00 07:06
    
Don't ask me -- I just work here. My travel sched has been nutso since,
like, last January, and it just sorta...happens. It helps, I think, not to
have kids, and to have an office staff that can keep running while you're
running around.

Technology and timezones are hugely important. The worst part of being in HK
was the fact that my cellphone didn't work in HK, nor did my Blackberry, and
the Internet access crawled. And the 13h timeshift from the W Coast (16h
form Toronto!) meant that there was basically no time at which I could have
synchronous communications.

But in Namerica, I go to herculean lengths to find hotels with DSL access,
and the difference between high-speed, in-room Internet and dialup
(especially metered dialup, like in Vegas, where the MGM surcharges
$0.15/min on local calls to discourage you from effing around online when
you could be down at the tables) is the difference between low-sweat, high-
productivity travel and a stressfest that sends me running to the Xantac.

It becomes a habit. Gradually, you refine your travel so that you know
exaclty what you need to bring, where you keep it all, and where to use it.
I think there's a huge potential market in lightweight, flexible powerstrips
for business travellers -- checking into a hotel room for me involves
plugging in my laptop, cellphone charger, Blackberry charger, hard drive,
MP3 player, and spare-battery charger. Finding six free outlets (especially
outlets that are spaced widely enough to acocmodate the wall-warts on the
phone and Blackberry chargers) in the average hotel room is nearly
impossible, but powerstrips are too bulky and heavy to make it into my
standard travel-kit.

What were you doing in Holland? How was the trip?
  

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