Saturday, January 11, 2003

Just before Chrismas, in a slightly eccentric post I noted that 1997 was for some reason a big year for breakthrough performances by new actresses in Australian cinema, and I cited five actresses who were omnipresent in Australian films at that time: Rachel Griffiths, Toni Collette, Miranda Otto, Frances O'Connor, and Cate Blanchett. (I was ambivalent as to whether Cate Blanchett belonged in the same group as the others). My motivation for writing this piece was my feeling that The Two Towers was about to turn Miranda Otto into an international star, which I think it probably has.

Having made that post, I now note that three of these actresses - Rachel Griffiths, Toni Collette, and Miranda Otto, have got married in the last fortnight. As far as I know, Frances O'Connor is still single. (Proving she doesn't belong in the group after all, Cate Blanchett has been married for years and years).

I guess Miranda couldn't wait for me any longer. This is so sad. How am I ever going to find another woman as cool as this.

While on Lessig, this piece of his in Red Herring is interesting. He talks about how a great portion of Japanese manga are dojinshi: works that are set in the universes of other writers and are technically illegal. However, the dojinshi tends to raise the profile of the original works in that universe, which often adds value for the original works. In a way, it isn't too dissimilar to the intellectual property conventions that exist for video games.

My feeling is that present intellectual property law gives original authors far too much control over derivative works. Quite simply, if the original author has complete control over every use that is ever made of anything based on his work, then the work of future artists is going to be hindered, and creativity in the long run is going to be hindered. This is simply because all works are derivative works, and everything is in some way based on what came before. The question is where do you draw the line, and this is not an easy one to answer. However, in order to try to answer it, you have to at least acknowledge the question, and if you simply say something like "The author controls all future uses" you are not acknowledging the question.

Secondly, it is worth acknowledging that there are two questions. One is "When should the author be compensated for derivative works?" and the other is "When should an author be able to control or stop derivative works?". These questions do not have to have the same answer, and even under present law they don't. If I hear a song on the radio and I like it, it is perfectly okay for me to record myself performing this song and sell CDs of the recording. When they sell, I then have to pay royalties to the composer. However, the composer cannot stop me making the recording. If, however, I make CDs of the original recording and sell them, the original performer can stop me.

I think an ideal copyright law would have a relatively narrow definition of "derivative works" that the author can control or prevent, and a much wider definition of "derivative works" that the author cannot control or prevent but can expect compensation from. Then there is the outer ring of works for which there may be some influence but which compensation cannot be expected from. For instance, there may be something to be said for the nephew of Samuel Beckett receiving royalties when Waiting for Godot is performed. However, he should not be able to control the interpretation of the play.

Of course, all this is good in principal, but in practice extremely difficult. Where exactly do you draw those two lines. I don't know, and the answer is going to vary wildly from medium to medium. However, the question is becoming so paramount that we have to try.
Glenn Reynolds is discussing who the Republicans should appoint to various offices to confuse their opponents

And I have their ultimate Supreme Court pick -- but I'll save his name for later.

I personally would go for Lawrence Lessig, but I suspect America isn't quite ready for that. (Actually, it could be interesting. Bush supports Lessig. RIAA, MPAA, and their congressional supporters (many of who are Democrats) scream like there is no tomorrow. Bush is denounced on pages 1 through 76 of Variety. The RIAA, MPAA, and Sen. Hollings then have to defend themselves and their business practices in the most public way imaginable. The Republicans present themselves as the friend of the average American consumer, and the Democrats look to be in hock to rather dubious business interests. The good guys win.

However, I suspect that this scenario is too far from the way lawyers inside the Beltway actually think to happen any time soon.

Yousa steala precious from meesa!

I think that Jar-Jaromir belongs in Peter Jackson's film of The Hobbit, if he ever gets around to making it. What is needed instead in The Return of the King is for us to see Aragorn's coronation in front of a crowd of Ewoks.

Actually this is kind of troubling. The first LOTR film was a spectacle like nothing we had ever seen before. The second was more familiar than the first, but was done even better than the original. The third one has a title beginning with "(The) Return of the..". Until I thought of this, my expectation for the end of the year was another triumph from Jackson. Now I am not so sure.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Clay Shirky (via Instapundit ) has an interesting piece discussing the circumstances in which communications companies become competitors to their own customers. Essentially, provide an open end to end network and the customers will build the network extensions themselves to provide high value services, and they and not the network operators will gain the most value from services offered over the network. Customers will not pay a premium for wireless service, when they can add this themselves for a hundred bucks for an 802.11 card. Even worse, as I have discussed before, with digital telephone networks the prices being charged for long distance and international phone calls are legacies of past technology and past regulation and bear little relation to the cost to the telco of providing the service today. The data network is the product, and ordinary voice telephone calls are the value added service. We have direct access to the data network for customers via broadband internet access, and the technology that allows customers to add the phone service themselves now appears just about mature. Allow for all these things, and the result will either be that people provide their own phone service using their broadband access, in concert with a group of small, very competitive companies who provide connections to the existing phone network, or the existing telephone companies keep a sunstantial market share, but their pricing comes to reflect the underlying cost of providing the service, not some weird legacy of the analogue days.

What is interesting is how the reverse of what played out with dialup internet service appears to be playing out for broadband. When internet service came along, telcos and ISPs intially attempted to charge by the minute for it, even though this did not refect their costs very well. However, it turned out that the hardest service to offer was actually the communications: the phone service. Typically you could only get this from your local telephone company (RBOC). Lots of ISPs sprung up, and while many of these tried by the minute charging too, it didn't last. Some provided unlimited service, and as this was what the customer wanted and this better reflected the ISP's costs anyway, this was soon the standard. (In countries with timed local phone calls, it has taken a lot longer to get to unlimited time, flat rate internet service). In many places the telcos are also large ISPs, but they have been forced into a flat rate pricing scheme they wouldn't have chosen for themselves.

Now, we have broadband, which is available generally at flat rates. Telephone networks are digital, and the marginal cost of providing a call is negligible. However, telephone call pricing still depends on a cost (and regulatory) structure that was forged in the elder days. The telephone companies are happy with this, as it allows them to provide what is now a value added product at a price way above cost. However, we now have the same situation again: the cost of the equipment to provide the value added service is low, so customers and a large number of small, competitive companies add hardware on the ends of the networks to undercut the telcos. Once again, the big telcos may or may not remain the largest providers of telephone service in future, but the pricing scheme will not be the one of their choosing.

In any event, time to sell your RBOC shares.
Yes, the world does contain a housing market that is less sane than the one in Sydney.

So, if you want to make money in the Hong Kong property market, you can simply follow these easy steps:

1 Buy a flat that doesn't yet exist.
2 Wait until it does.
3 Sell it immediately.

What? There's a problem with this plan? Oh, yes - someplace to actually live. You can't rent, of course, because that would eat up your profits. Fortunately, Hong Kong is liberally blessed with flyovers, so I'll see you in one of those cozy nooks beneath them!

Thursday, January 09, 2003

I wonder how long it will be before Bjorn Lomborg decides he has had enough of this, and moves to America, where he will be involved in a robust but more openminded debate, and where, incidentally, he is likely to be paid a lot better.

If so, it will be an interesting circle completed from reading this 1997 Wired article , to concluding it was "simple, American right-wing propaganda", to setting out to debunk it and discovering he couldn't, to becoming a worthy successor to the late Dr Simon himself, to being excommunicated by the Euro-left, and I suspect to now discovering that has a great many friends and admirers in the largely American anti-idiotarian movement (which appears, at least to the Euro-lefties, to be part of that same American right Lomborg recoiled from in the first place).

In any event, at this moment I will note that Julian Simon was a devout Catholic, which makes it at least logically consistent to suggest that he might be looking down from somewhere and finding this all to be in some way amusing.
In an encouraging move, the Australian Labour Party is apparently elevating Mark Latham to a senior front bench position, despite that fact that the man has not always been what could be described as a team player. This at least seems to be a move towards someone who cares about policy and away from dreadful party hacks veering off into unelectable lefto orthodoxy that we have had in the ALP since Paul Keating's election loss in 1996. As a sign that Australian Latham has what in sporting terms would be referred to as the "sledging skills" necessary for success in Australian politics. Foreigners should be aware that a rude and crude quality in an Australian politician does not necessarily indicate a lack of policy sophistication - it is more a basic survival skill in certain male-dominated parts of Australian survival.

It's interesting that the SMH reports this in terms of ALP internal politics - this may be a bad move for Opposition Leader Simon Crean as it moves someone who may stab him in the back closer to him - rather than in terms of how it affects the question of whether Labor can actually win an election any time soon. The fact that it is happening at all indicates that Labor is starting to get interested in the second question again. Until the last election, Labor seemed to be sitting there and assuming that pretty soon the electorate would come to hate Prime Minister Howard as much as they did, and that they would then sweep into office. This clearly didn't happen, and their choice then was (and is) whether the fade off into oblivion or whether to actually do something. They now may actually be doing something.
I am now coming around to the conclusion that dropping the Waugh twins (Steve particularly) from the Australian one day cricket team for the world cup was a bad move. Even without them, I don't think that Australia's position is terrible for the World Cup.. Sri Lanka and India are going to have trouble in South African conditions, and South Africa don't really have the batting to do this. I think Australia still has a decent chance of winning the tournament, but tossing that much skill and experience aside is looking more and more shortsighted.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

William Gibson now has a blog. We will see if this survives for the long term, of if it will die away after the promotional effort for Pattern Recognition is over. (We will also see for how long he uses Blogger). Gibsons comments on the use of non-standard or esoteric English are particularly wise.

Someone posts to complain of the wealth of grammatical errors in my fiction… I would have to say that some are errata, some are nonstandard grammatical choices on the part of a character (and these can be part of the text, as interior monologue or an aspect of “POV”) and the rest are, for the most part, conscious and deliberate stylistic choices involving nonstandard usage.
I suppose the idea that a writer would deliberately choose to “break the rules” would puzzle some people, and annoy others, though it’s a bit of a stretch for me to imagine what it would feel like to be in that particular relationship to prose fiction.
But a character like Rydell doesn’t think in formal standard English, so when I’m interfacing with the narrative through the lens of that character, you don’t get formal standard English. Though that shouldn’t lead you to assume that the more general narrative voice of a given book is “me”. If I’m doing my job, it never is.

Wonderful stylist that he is, Gibson puts this much better than I could, but there are few things more irritating than someone who insists that your a word or grammatical structure in your writing is "wrong", when you know that it is non-standard (and it may be that you are using a word you have just made up) and you did it deliberately for stylistic reasons. (I wish I had been taught Latin and Greek, not to mention Old English, so that my clever made up linguistic structures could be grammatically much cleverer, but alas, my schooling failed me in this.

This is not to excuse typos and genuine errors of course. Alas, I make quite a few typos in this blog. Often I finish a posting and just want to publish it and go to bed, so I do, and discover typos the next day, or never discover them at all. Plus I have a curious form of dyslexia when I type: rather than the word I intend to write, I write a homophone of the same word. Thus I will type "there" when I mean "their" or "they're". I understand the difference between the words, and the error is immediately clear to me when I read the piece back, but for some reason I make the error when typing. Curiously, I never make this type of error when writing things by hand.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

And of course the other revolution that has taken place in the consumer electronics market is that almost every consumer electronics device other than the PC itself has evolved into a PC peripheral. I think we are at the stage where this trend is going into reverse: which is that every electronics device is going to have a PC built inside it, and they are going to be able to talk to each other. The first instances are already here: mobile phones, video game consoles, satellite television set top boxes, personal video recorders. These are all essentially PCs designed for specific functions. What is of course interesting is how opposed to this process the music companies and movie studios are. This evolution means that software can easily be transferred from device to device, and as a consequence of this copying becomes easy. They are so terrified of piracy, that they want to make their devices unable to talk to anything else at all. This is so contrary to the technology trends that all they are going to do ultimately is marginalise themselves, but still they do it.

As an example, see this article in Slate about the two better quality CD formats, DVD-A and SACD. These have much better than CD quality sound. Both are essentially DVD formats: the same high density discs and the same colour laser used for DVD are also used for these formats. In an ideal world, you would be able to play them on your computer using the DVD-ROM drive, and your computer would be able to do interesting things with the bitstream. Standard DVD players would soon be able to play the audio from both formats. However, we instead have a situation where due to fear of privacy, the only allowable DVD-A and SACD players are stand along machines, that are only capable of analogue audio output (which is going to degrade the sound quality from what is possible). Plus the machines are designed to be incapable of talking properly to other digital devices. To protect against privacy, we remove most of the advantages of modern technology.

Of course, audio of this quality may easily be recorded on a PC, stored on a DVD-ROM, and then played back however you want to play it back. There are computer compatible high quality audio formats, however they are simply not interchangeable with DVD-A and SACD. (In the CD world, CD-ROM and CD audio are interchangeable most of the time). There is no way whatsoever that the RIAA is going to keep high quality audio off the PC. All they are doing is creating orphan formats. They may well be assising a whole new class of audio recordings from springing up outside their supervision. That would of course be such a shame.
Globalisation and the New Economy

This piece in the Los Angeles Times on the fact that consumer electronics companies and retailers are not making any money on DVD players, tells us more than anything how much the world has changed. The big Japanese companies have been waiting 20 years for another "blockbuster" product, the last being the VCR and the CD player in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This is The gist of the article is that DVD players are now really cheap: selling for $59 or less. That such a complicated technological product could sell for so little, astonishes some of the people quoted in the article, and it certainly also astonishes me.

"The joke is you're going to get a free DVD player with the purchase of a DVD [movie] pretty soon," said Noah Herschman, vice president for video at Tweeter Home Entertainment Group of Canton, Mass.

"You can buy a DVD player that has a laser and all sorts of advanced technology ... for less money than it costs to buy a necktie," he added. "It doesn't make any sense."

When you think it through, it does make sense, and for two main reasons. One is economies of scale. The size of the market for consumer electronics products has expanded extraordinarily over the last decade. Go almost anywhere in the world, certainly anywhere throughout asia, no matter how poor the country, and there is now a market for this stuff. Virtually the whole world now watches television, and the whole world is a market for stuff like DVD or VCD players and satellite dishes. These are products where the costs of development are high, and the costs of setting up factories to make the products are perhaps high too, but the marginal costs of making individual products are very low to negligible. And the marginal costs are dropping. The article alludes to a reason for this

Even worse for consumer electronics makers and retailers, the DVD experience may be a harbinger of things to come. Competition at the market's low end is intensifying for all sorts of digital gear, fueled in part by low-wage assembly plants sprouting up across China.

Yes, it is our friends the industrialists of the Pearl River estuary in action. They can use low cost labour to produce products much more cheaply than can anyone else. The PC revolution and the internet have led to a logistics revolution, so components can be sourced much more cheaply and easily in the past, so setting up a DVD player factory is suddenly much cheaper. All this means that there are more DVD player manufacturers, and that markets for new technological products get commoditised much faster than before, and once this happens, prices collapse. With low transport costs due to container shipping and superior logistics in Wal-Mart's distribution and retail system, the product ends up on a shop shelf in the US costing $59.

It isn't just DVD players: such things as printers and scanners, low end digital cameras and the like from no name manufacturers are now incredibly cheap, even compared to three or four years ago, but the DVD player market was particularly vulnerable to be captured in this way for a couple of reasons. For one thing, traditional consumer electronics companies attempt to segment the market. They produce a variety of models, some low end, some high end and some in the middle, with varying features, and for reasons of economies of scale many of these are often made on the same production line together for about the same cost. (Genuine high end products are often made separately to higher standards and sold to people who genuinely care, but the low end product is usually just the middle product with some features disabled. The middle product does not cost any more to make than the low end product).

Although segmenting your market in this way is how the electronics companies have traditionally operated, it still involves duplication of some costs and costs money. The cheap Chinese companies generally don't bother, and go for a one size fits all approach. As the additional features of the mid-level product cost very little for the manufacturer to add, cheap players often have more features than low end products from Sony or Panasonic. Thus, a customer may be faced with a choice of $59 for a Chinese no-name product, $100 for a low end Panasonic with fewer features than the Chinese player, or $150-200 for a mid level Panasonic with the same features as the Chinese no-name. This makes Panasonic's market segmentation strategy look obvious and silly.

Plus there is one other thing about the DVD player that made it vulnerable, which is the deliberate crippling of the product by the consumer electronics industry to make the movie studios happy. DVDs and players are region coded, so that DVDs sold in one part of the world will not play in players purchased elsewhere. It is quite easy to produce a DVD player that will play any DVD. It is also in most places perfectly legal. However, electronics companies are prevented from doing this by the nature of their contracts with the consortium that devised the standards for DVD players. If, however, you are making DVD players in Dongguang, the nature of your contract with the DVD consortium is somewhat nebulous, and in any event, you can only be sued through the Chinese courts, which means you are safe, at least you are if you are well connected. Therefore, Chinese DVD players almost always come out of the box without any regional coding. (A small industry has sprung up to disable regional coding for brand name players, but this adds hassle and cost). Therefore, if you want to watch discs you have bought from and you are in London or Sydney, then a Chinese no-name player may well be better. Hopefully, this result will discourage companies to deliberately cripple products in future. (That said, when the crippling comes from pressure from the MPAA, this message will not get through for a while. The MPAA is not known for learning things quickly).

All this means that customers are better off, which is surely good. However, it also means that life is hard for the large Japanese consumer electronics companies. However, there is a good side of this too. To quote the article once again

"You survive by making new technologies," explained Andy Parsons, a senior vice president at Pioneer Electronics Inc. in Long Beach.

One area with potential is DVD recorders. Mike Mohan, director of audio-video merchandising for Good Guys Inc. of Alameda, predicts that more DVD recorders than players will be on the market within two years. And he expects them to sell for $200 to $300 per unit.

That is, if you have ferocious competitors snapping at your heels, you innovate faster and faster to try to stay ahead of them. Sounds good to me.

Aside: Of course, there have actually been other successful consumer electronics products since the CD player. As far as I can see, there have been three of them. Firstly, there is the mobile phone, which has been dominated by non-Japanese companies (Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, and maybe now Samsung). Secondly, the video game console (which has benefited one of the traditional Japanese consumber electronics companies, Sony, enormously, but which has not been the sort of commodity product that all the Japanese producers could produce and earn fat margins on. Thirdly, of course, the personal computer. This was, of course, a product like no other. Microsoft got control of the software market, and the hardware market turned into the combination of one or two very high value parts (microprocessors, mainly, dominated by Intel) and a mass of low value components came ultimately from Taiwanese, Korean and Chinese manufacturers rather than the Japanese. Sony, Panasonic etc were not playing in this particular market in a big way, but the way that PC hardware became commoditised was the precursor to what we have seen with DVD players, and they really should have been watching.

Monday, January 06, 2003

There are lots more details of the Sendo-Microsoft falling out here . Lots of apparent bad faith on the part of Microsoft. Once again this looks like (if nothing else) a tremendous public relations disaster for Microsoft. I cannot imagine they will find many other mobile phone companies to partner them in the future.
It's something of an old joke that real programmers remember telephone numbers in binary, but this is ridiculous.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Tim Blair points out once again that depleted uranium is (from the point of view of its radiological properties) completely harmless. (It is, however, poisonous in the same way lead is). It is worth observing that there are approximately 1.5 tonnes of depleted uranium in the wings and tail of every Boeing 747. The weight is necessary to ensure that the wings are balanced properly, and uranium is used because it is the densest naturally occurring material. That is, the 1.5 tonnes of weight can fit in a very small space if you use uranium. Thare are various mentions of this on the web, for instance, here.

You can also find various conspiracy theories concerning this use of uranium, many to do with the El Al crash in Amsterdam in 1992. (Given that an Israeli jet managed to crash into a housing block full of muslim immigrants, conspiracy theories were inevitable for that one).

In a university physics department in which I once worked, we had a little demonstration of the weights of different materials for visitors on open days. They could pick up a number of objects the same size and see how much heavier some were than others. One thing we had was a piece of depleted uranium (that somebody had somehow obtained from someone in the aviation industry and that had supposedly come from a decommissioned airliner) which we and large numbers of members of the public all picked up from time to time. Nobody that I know of has suffered any ill effects. (Given how little radiation - and what kind of radiation - the stuff gives off, the claims of the conspiracy theorists are just ludicrous. They should all go and get an education).
This article by Bella Thomas in Prospect on what people in different countries watch on television is fascinating.
Virginia Postrel is apparently receiving an e-mail deluge from people who believe that Blade Runner is Philip K Dick's vision rather than Sir Ridley Scott's, as she claimed. I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously, given that Scott made a book adapted from Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? , then the answer has to be "a bit of each". Scott is certainly responsible for the visual style of the film. That said, the style is in keeping with the sort of semi-post-apocalyptic worlds that Dick favoured, and that are in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep . Phil Dick unfortunately died before a complete cut of the movie was assembled. However, he was shown a 20 minute reel of some of the highlights of the movie before he died. According to Paul Sammon's book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner Dick had this to say upon seeing the footage

"How is this possible? How can this be? Those are not the exact images, but the texture and tone of the images I saw in my head when I was writing the original book! The environment is exactly as how I'd imagined it! How'd you guys do that? How did you know what I was feeling and thinking?!

And of course, the film is entirely about the key questions that come through most of Dick's work: What is it to be human? and What is real? . The plot is quite different from the original book, but it is about the same things. The sorts of ethical questions that led to Virginia bringing up Blade Runner in the first place are questions that constantly fascinated Dick. The third key contributor to the film was the first screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who originated the film project and who were more responsible for the structure of the film than anyone (including Ridley Scott). To extent Fancher took the story away from Dick's original sensibilities, but Scott brought it back. The unicorn is a very Dickian devise, and that was entirely Scott's. The "Deckard may be a replicant" suggestion was there in the book, and while it was not entirely absent from Fancher's versions of the screenplay, it was given much greater emphasis by Scott.

One of the great things about Blade Runner is that although it was quite different from Dick's original text, it was very true to the spirit of it. No other film of a Dick story or novel has come as close: certainly not Spielberg's Minority Report which seemed determined to remove all the Dickian elements of the story. The first two thirds of Paul Verhoven's Total Recall actually does a better job than you might expect: although the film then turns into "Arnold solves all the problems by shooting everyone else on Mars", unfortunately. And we shall see what John Woo and Ben Affleck come up with in their forthcoming film of Dick's Paycheck.

My compliments to the British government for recently knighting Ridley Scott. He richly deserves it. Now, if the academy could give him his much deserved Oscar some time, that would be even better.
Here we have more advance buzz on William Gibson's new novel Pattern Recognition , which I recently mentioned in passing here . A sample chapter can be found here, and another here. I recently reread Gibson's classic Sprawl novels, and a few months ago I wrote about how vital they still seemed to me. I had expected them to feel dated, but instead I found that Gibson had predicted the mood of today extremely well. Even if the details of the exact communication technologies were wrong, Gibson got the sense of disconnection in an increasingly globalised and omni-communicating world extremely right. Which is why it is interesting that his new novel is set in the present. He is not alone in this. Two of the other most famous "cyberpunk" novelists are Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson. It is debatable whether either of them have written anything recently that could be called cyberpunk, but the most recent novels of both have been essentially set in the present: Sterling's Zeitgeist , set in turn of the millenium Turkish Cyprus and the southern United States, and Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, set partly in the Second World War, and partly in what now feels like the dying days of the tech bubble. It is now no longer necessary to use a future setting for the types of things these guys want to write about. It is also no longer necessary to write fiction: Sterling seems to be spending more of his time on futurism and other non-fiction (although he continues to be the most prolific fiction writer of the three, so I am not complaining), and all three writers have spent at least some time on this. You have a tendency to find their bylines in Time or Fortune or The New York Times, too.

So we have the present setting. Also, though, we have the London setting. Fundamentally, Gibson's novels are about finding patterns, and connections, and details in an ever more technologically complex world, and finding structure in complexity of that world. And if you find this type of thing fascinating, there are certain places you go for the most complexity. London is one such place. Tokyo is another. (Gibson talks about both places in this article from the Observer). In both places you find the same obsession with detail, the same types of shops selling ultra-ultra-ultra niche products, that there is a need for a shop that sells them somewhere in the world, but probably only one or two. You find obscure and highly specialist service businesses. You find the height of globalization in both places. (My basic rule of thumb: the more globalized chain stores there are in a place, the more culturally complex the place. London and Tokyo have more global chains than any other cities anywhere. In some instances these are Japanese chains who have few non-Japan stores but many in London, and vice versa). You find the most advanced technological gadgets in both places. Both are media centers. Both seem to be major sources of the global Zeitgeist.

As for other cities, New York lacks the international aspects of London and Japan. Try to buy a German newspaper in New York, or even an English newspaper. (Yes it can be done, but it is hard). New York contains the best examples of particular mainstream stores in the world, but lacks the ultra-specialist quality of some in London or Tokyo. America as a country has more complexity than any other American city, and America has more complexity on average than any other country, but it is more homogeneous in the US. Somehow it lacks the peaks of intensity you can find elsewhere. Perhaps it is simply that America exports its culture to the world, so you can find the best of America in London, but the reverse is less true. Or perhaps it is that America is comparmentalised. New York is New York, Los Angeles exists as a source of the global Zeitgeist but has no other purpose, so its contribution to the Zeitgeist consists largely of movies containing explosions. San Francisco and surrounds is the American tech center, but again is too isolated from everything else. On the other hand, Hong Kong possibly is getting there. Here you have a tremendous mixing of culture from all of greater China, plus western and other Asian influences, being mixed together. You have a film and television industry for the Chinese world. And you have the industrial heartland of the world just down the road. This one is interesting, but perhaps hard for an anglophone to understand.

So somehow London appears one of the epicenters of the type of world Gibson is writing about. He understood this by the end of the Sprawl novels, hence the lengthy section in Mona Lisa Overdrive describing the daughter of a Japanese Yakuza boss wanderting around London which seemingly had little to do with the rest of the plot. And of course he got Japan from the beginning of Neuromancer. Now he has decided to write about London properly, and I can't wait to read the book.

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