40-hour work-week as a tool of immiserating economic growth

“The culture of the eight-hour workday is big business’ most powerful tool for keeping people in this same dissatisfied state where the answer to every problem is to buy something.” Via Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing

Machine learning systems learn to cheat

A catalog of ingenious cheats developed by machine-learning systems “AI trained to classify skin lesions as potentially cancerous learns that lesions photographed next to a ruler are more likely to be malignant.” [Cory Doctorow/Boing Boing]

Internet death sentence

AT&T disconnects whole families from the internet because someone in their house is accused of copyright infringement

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

The customers who are being disconnected have never been able to face their accusers or have a day in court. The people they live with are not accused of any wrongdoing. The internet they are losing is likely the only option they have for broadband — or one of two options, with the other one likely being a cable company like Comcast who may now join AT&T in a race to the bottom.

The internet is not a video-on-demand service, it’s the nervous system of the 21st century. Terminating someone from the internet terminates their access to family, education, employment, civic and political engagement, health care information, and virtually everything else we use to measure whether a society is functioning well for its citizens.

Cory Doctorow on why science fiction is crap at predicting the future

Predicting the future isn’t what science fiction is for, says Cory. Science fiction reflects the aspirations and anxieties that people have about technology at the moment it was written.

It’s not just technology. It’s also politics and social change. And it applies to fantasy. H.P. Lovecraft in real life was a full-throated bigot who feared invading hordes of filthy mongrel immigrants; he turned that into some of the most powerful horror and fantasy written (enjoyed by legions, including the descendants of those same filthy mongrel immigrants). Star Trek has always been a reflection of whatever was going on in the news at the time the shows and movies aired.

Cory covers a lot of ground in this lively interview with Utah Public Radio’s Access Utah:

In a recent column, Doctorow says that “all the data collected in giant databases today will breach someday, and when it does, it will ruin peoples’ lives. They will have their houses stolen from under them by identity thieves who forge their deeds (this is already happening); they will end up with criminal records because identity thieves will use their personal information to commit crimes (this is already happening); … they will have their devices compromised using passwords and personal data that leaked from old accounts, and the hackers will spy on them through their baby monitors, cars, set-top boxes, and medical implants (this is already hap­pening)…” We’ll talk with Cory Doctorow about technology, privacy, and intellectual property.

Cory Doctorow is the co-editor of popular weblog Boing Boing and a contributor to The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Wired, and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. Doctorow is also an award-winning author of numerous novels, including “Little Brother,” “Homeland,” and “In Real Life.”

Writer in 29th year of solitary confinement barred from reading his own book

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing:

William “Billy” Blake is serving a 77-to-life sentence, and has been in solitary for 29 years, since he killed a guard in a failed escape attempt. He is one of the contributors to 2016’s Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement, a book he’s never seen, held or read….

Tommy Chong asks Obama to pardon him for his bullshit drug paraphernalia bust

When federal agents banged on his door and asked him if he had any drugs, he said, “Of course I do! I’m Tommy Chong!” Now he wants his criminal record to go up in smoke .

There’s a serious point to this. The war on drugs ruined the lives of millions of innocent people and is a stain on America’s claim to being a land that cherishes freedom. Chong’s life wasn’t ruined, but he can shed light on their problems.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I smoked a lot of pot in college, never suffered any legal harm from it, and walked away from it in 1985. Now that it’s virtually legal maybe I’ll give it another try sometime. Or maybe not; I gave it up because I realized I’d stopped enjoying it.

(Full disclosure: I also shared a joint at a wedding in 1993 or so. But nothing between 1985 and then, and nothing since. I’m not going to claim to be “clean and sober,” because that would be an insult to people who struggle with addiction. It’s just something I did for a while, and decided it wasn’t working for me so I stopped.)

However, there’s an alternate universe where I got busted for marijuana possession, spent time in jail or prison, and had to get by with a felon conviction on my record. As millions of people do — all for doing a thing that me and Barack Obama did with impunity.

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

Today’s creative writing: 778 words on “The Reluctant Magician”

866 words total. I’m just getting started.

Rather, I’m just getting started for the third time. I made a couple of false starts.

Then I read this essay from Michael Moorcock on how to write an adventure novel in three days.

I do not plan to write this novel in three days. If I can finish it in a year, I’ll be satisfied. But the essay got me thinking about outlining.

Moorcock doesn’t outline exactly. But he does have situations and locations worked out in advance, at the ready, like a metaphorical briefcase into which he can dip and pull out whatever he needs to keep the writing going.

I’ve never tried creative writing with an outline. I always thought outlining was the opposite of creative, and looked down on it. But after reading the Moorcock essay I realized that’s just a silly prejudice. Some excellent writers work from outlines. Others work freestyle. It’s just a matter of what works best; outliners are no better than non-outliners. Maybe outlining would work for me?

I did some research on outlines and came across the snowflake method. You’re outlining your novel by starting from the center and working outward. Like a snowflake — get it?

You start with a one-sentence summary, build that to a paragraph, expand further to studies of your secondary characters, and so on. I started with the snowflake method but abandoned it immediately after the one-sentence-summary stage, because it wasn’t working for me. But outlining was working for me.

I don’t mean a formal outline, with roman numerals and all that. I mean I just started writing down notes about the novel, in sequence. Who were my main characters, what was their problem, how were they going to solve it?

I also remembered a tip from Cory Doctorow on how to structure a novel: A character gets in trouble, does something intelligent to solve the problem but that only makes the problem worse. Repeat that several times until all is very nearly lost, and then the character does one more intelligent thing to solve the problem, and this time it works

Or something like that. I can’t find where Cory said that; the closest I can find is this article on InformationWeek that I wrote nine years ago but have no memory of writing. (That happens sometimes. I write a lot of articles.)

I worked on my outline for a couple of weeks and ended up writing 3,178 words, which I think covers the whole novel.

I think an outline is great for me for a couple of reasons: First, it allows me to forget about the big picture for a little while. I don’t have to hold the whole novel in my head every day, just whatever bit I’m working on at the moment.

The outline is also helpful because the novel I’m working on is a cross between a caper story and urban fantasy, in a fantasy city resembling 1970s-80s America in some ways, and drastically different in other ways, with a lot of background that needs to be explained in a lively fashion and moving parts to keep track of.

I’m not going to claim “aha! I’ve solved the problem of creative writing and will just keep plugging along and producing one novel after another!” I’ve thought that was the case many times before.

Successful Americans lose their shit when you attribute their success to luck.

Cornell economist Robert Frank studies the role luck plays in the outcomes of successful people, and the hostility that comes from suggesting luck plays a role in success.

Behavioral economist on why Americans freak out when you attribute their success to luck -Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing:

Frank’s argument: being born to a rich, privileged family is sometimes sufficient to guarantee success, even for people who aren’t very good at their jobs and don’t work very hard; meanwhile, being born into a family that lacks wealth and privilege can sometimes prevent people from rising in society, even if they are very good and work very hard.

In my observation most successful people are lucky and work hard. I’ve known many unsuccessful people who work hard, and a few successful people who were lazy and lucky.

From my life experience I conclude that good luck is essential to success, and hard work is helpful.

” … Facebook wants to get rid of the internet and replace it with Facebook.”

Joshua Rigsby interviews Cory Doctorow for The Los Angeles Review of Books:

Cory on moving from London to beautiful downtown Burbank, California:

Burbank is its own little village. We’ve got a 2.5-mile-long stretch with no chain stores. I don’t own a car. We walk everywhere. We live five minutes from the airport. It’s very handy and weird and surreal. It’s where they shot the B-footage for ’50s TV shows, so everything feels eerily familiar in a Father Knows Best kind of way.

Burbank has just become our new normal, we’re settled in, we’re about to get our green cards. The bureaucracy is crazy, but it’s a one-time thing and that’s how I maintain my sanity, by saying, I never have to figure out how to get my Canadian long-form birth certificate again. So, I will spend this afternoon trying to figure out the office address of the doctor who delivered me 44 years ago for the Canadian government, but then never again.

On the role of fiction:

I don’t know that there’s a “the role,” but I think that one of the roles that fiction plays is that it’s entertaining. Fiction is primarily about empathy. It’s about pretending you’re someone else and experiencing their emotions. In the same way that getting a back rub feels nice, because it’s good for your muscles or whatever, I believe that thinking about what it would be like to be someone else is just intrinsically satisfying — at least for people within one or two sigmas of normal cognitive activity. Science fiction can also give us an emotional fly-through of a technology. It can be like an architect’s rendering of what it would feel like to live inside a technological regime, and so science fiction has been very useful in policy fronts in that regard.

On Facebook:

… Facebook wants to get rid of the internet and replace it with Facebook.

On his next novel, Walk Away, his first novel for adults since 2009:

Walk Away was inspired by the historian and activist Rebecca Solnit, who wrote the book A Paradise Built In Hell, about the gap between how people who live through disasters experience them, how they are reported, and how political and economic elites react to them. She starts with the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, and she shows this recurring pattering called “elite panic,” where rich people are convinced that when things break down the poor people are going to come and eat them, basically. So the rich preemptively attack the poor. Like General Funston keeping people out of the mission as it burned during the 1906 earthquake. He actually sent out detonation squads that didn’t know how to set fire breaks. They burned down a quarter of San Francisco, and didn’t let anyone go back and fight the fires in their homes. Or in Haiti — the ironclad belief that there would be food riots led to the creation of food distribution centers that were pretty much custom-built to create riots. Or in New Orleans, where there were no verified accounts of looting (as we understand it), besides people taking supplies and leaving IOU notes with the intention of settling up once the owners returned. Nevertheless there were Blackwater mercenaries and rich white neighborhood associations who were shooting to kill because they were convinced that there would be looting. There is this gap between how people behave and how elites believe people will behave.

Walk Away is a utopian disaster novel. It’s a novel about a disaster where people behave well.

 

Cory Doctorow has a fine rant about hotel rooms with confusing lightswitches and plumbing

The quest for the well-labeled inn. [Boing Bong]

I can usually figure out the plumbing fairly quickly. Unlike Cory, virtually all my travel is inside the US, which I expect makes a difference. I’ve never had to deal with a freakshow shower like the one in the photo he posts..

I share Cory’s frustration with lightswitches. I just want to turn out the light and go to bed; I don’t want to go on a goddamn treasure hunt trying to figure out where the switches are.

Not mentioned by Cory: Hotel rooms with inaccessible electrical sockets. This is the 21st Century – we need plenty of electrical sockets to plug in our gadgets, and we need to be able to get at them without moving the furniture. You know what we don’t need? A clock radio. It’s not 1980 anymore. We use our phones to wake us up. If you put in a clock radio, you might as well also include a candlestick phone and Franklin stove.

Living near a Whole Foods doesn’t make you part of the 1%

Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing calls shenanigans on attempts to cast arguments about privilege in terms of class rather than money:

If you live near a Whole Foods, if you don’t have a relative in jail, if you don’t know anyone on meth, you’re not in the one percent.

“We are the 99 percent” was a godsend to the left: a slogan that was “both inclusive and oppositional.” It united the legendarily divided left behind a banner that “put a relatively complex critique of class society in the populist language of American egalitarianism.”

A recent editorial in Vox argues that if you’re not living in dire, desperate circumstances, you’re probably in the one percent. If most of your friends went to college, if your parents only married once, and so on, the article goes, you’re enjoying one percent privilege and need to check it.

This is simply not true. The American one percent has a household income of $343,000 and up. That income is overwhelmingly derived not from labor, but from ownership — owning property, owning stocks, owning bonds and T-bills. These assets get more valuable as the labor of all working people — including the middle class people who constitute the 30 percent of Americans within driving distance of a Whole Foods — gets cheaper.

I propose a simple litmus test: Do you, or the breadwinner in the family, have a choice between working, government benefits, and homelessness? If those are the only three choices you’ve got, then you’re in the working class.

If on the other hand you have enough investments and savings to never work another day in your life, then congratulations! You’re part of the (metaphorical) 1%, and probably the actual, mathematical 1% as well.

Exception granted for pensioners and other people who’ve retired after long working careers. But the 1% is working on taking that away from the rest of us too.

Reddit’s ‘warrant canary’ died

Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing:

In early 2015, Reddit published a transparency report that contained heading for National Security Requests, noting, “As of January 29, 2015, reddit has never received a National Security Letter, an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or any other classified request for user information.”

Reddit’s Thursday update omits that section.

“Warrant canaries” are a response to the practice by governments of serving warrants on service providers that include gag orders forbidding the service from disclosing the warrant’s existence.

Service providers get around the gag order by “publishing regular transparency reports listing the number of secret warrants received to date as “0,” then omitting the section dealing with those warrants once the first warrant has been served.”

Reddit’s Warrant Canary just died [Cory Doctorow – Boing Boing]

 

Writers’ advice for writers

Cory Doctorow:

The Guardian asked several writers to list up to ten rules for writing (inspired by Elmore Leonard’s little book, 10 Rules of Writing).

I’ve bookmarked the Guardian’s articles for later reading. For now, this:

“You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished” (Will Self)

Heh.

Writers’ advice for writers / Cory Doctorow / Boing Boing

“Habits are things you get for free”

“Write every day. When you write every day, it becomes a habit and you do it automatically. Habits are things you get for free.” – Cory Doctorow, in Lifehacker

Fantastic insight. I think of it often. And it applies to everything, not just writing.

I have literally spent decades of my life wishing I did creative writing every day. Now I do it. It has gotten to be a habit. I do it even when I’m insanely busy with other things, or I’m completely wiped out from work. Just 20 minutes a day, as Cory has said elsewhere. Sometimes even less. But every day. It adds up. For me, it has added up to several short stories, and three novels (one complete, two complete drafts — if you’re an agent or a publisher and want to see them, let me know: mitch@mitchwagner.com).

Same thing with exercise. I went for decades wishing I was the kind of person who exercises every day. Now I do it. I take a moderately-paced walk, every day, even when I’m insanely busy doing other things, or wiped out from work.

Same thing for eating. I used to eat a lot of junk food. Now I eat more healthy foods. I eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. When I’m hungry for a snack, I reach for a piece of fruit, or nuts, or carrots, or yogurt. It no longer occurs to me to reach for potato chips. (I do enjoy my nighttime snack of chocolate cookies — but that’s OK. Treats are part of a healthy diet.)

I don’t say these things to brag. I’m just pointing out the power of habit. If you cultivate good habits, they’re automatic. You know longer have to think about them.

Habits are things you get for free.

I have plenty of bad habits too. I’m a slob. I’m sloppy about personal finance. And even my good habits fall away when I travel: I don’t do creative writing. I don’t exercise. I eat a lot of crap. I’m working on better habits.

Arr, maties, “Pirate Cinema” is entertaining and thought-provoking near-future science fiction

Pirate Cinema cover

I just finished the audiobook of Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema, a rollicking and enjoyable story set in the underground of near-future London.

Cory has a few superpowers as a novelist, but the rarest among them is that he makes political novels entertaining. He puts that power to work in Pirate Cinema.

(Disclaimer: I’ve been a fan of Cory’s for years. He’s done some writing for me when I’ve been an editor with a freelance budget. And we’ve had a few meals together. I think of him as a friend, while also admiring the hell out of him.)

Pirate Cinema tells the story of Trent McCauley, a teen-ager from the north of England obsessed with downloading pirate movie clips and mashing them together into satirical short videos. When the authorities shut down his family’s Internet access for his piracy, his father is unable to work, his mother can’t get medical treatments, and his sister finds homework overwhelming. Blaming himself, Trent runs away to London, where he falls in with a band of lovable rogues who are like digital updates of the characters of Oliver Twist (there is even one character nicknamed “Dodger.”)

Trent continues making pirate films and runs afoul of the law. Eventually, he and his pals resolve to take down the entire entertainment-industrial complex.

Cory has spoken out and written voluminously about abuse of copyright law. He puts his passion to good work here, weaving a story about underground, black-market art and the people who make it, as well as the business interests who fight against it and the laws they buy. However, some Amazon reviewers found the lecturing in the book heavy-handed.

But Pirate Cinema is primarily a coming-of-age novel. Trent learns to fend for himself, take responsibility for his own actions, experiences first love, and explores the wide world of London. Cory is an expatriate Canadian who’s lived in London for years, and he paints a vivid picture of the metropolis and the people who live between its cracks.

The voice acting of the audiobook, by Bruce Mann, is well done, bringing the characters to life. Mann appears to do all the various varieties of English accent authentically — although what do I know? I’m from New York and live in California.

High school principal cancels summer reading program because it includes a novel about questioning authority

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a near-future dystopia about the Department of Homeland Security setting up a police state in San Francisco, with the cooperation of school authorities. Cory and his publishers, Tor, are sending the school 200 copies of the book.

In an email conversation with [Mary Kate Griffith from the school English department], the principal cited reviews that emphasized the book’s positive view of questioning authority, lauding “hacker culture”, and discussing sex and sexuality in passing. He mentioned that a parent had complained about profanity (there’s no profanity in the book, though there’s a reference to a swear word). In short, he made it clear that the book was being challenged because of its politics and its content.

It seems to be Cory Doctorow weekend here; this is at least my third post mentioning him in the past couple of days. And I’m listening to the audiobook of his novel Pirate Cinema.

Why I’m sending 200 copies of Little Brother to a high-school in Pensacola, FL

Little Brother

Research finds long-term weight loss is nearly impossible

Cory Doctorow blogs about research showing weight loss comes back in 5-10 year.

Sobering news for me — I’m only three years into my own weight loss success. I went from a peak weight of about 276 in 2003, to 266 in 2008, then down to 176 in January, 2011, and finally lost another 10 pounds this year. As of Monday I was in the high 160s.

I tend to put on weight when I travel, which is a problem because I’m traveling more this year. I eat a lot of crap when I travel: Candy from hotel minibars,  pastries from the snacks they put out at conferences, fried food, desserts, the same stuff that made me fat to begin with.

Cory describes how he lost 80 pounds 2002-3, and kept it off. Our methods are similar in that we require constant vigilance. I log everything I eat, and weigh and measure it when possible. Corywent for a low-carb diet where I’m counting calories (and probably reducing carbs as a side-effect — I don’t keep track of that).

It’s not a huge deal, but it limits choices. For one thing, Julie and I almost never eat out anymore, which is a shame. I miss going out to eat with Julie. One recent weekend morning Julie suggested spontaneously that we go out for breakfast, and I had to say no. My meals are almost always planned in advance, and the prospect of changing those plans was overwhelming (particularly on an empty stomach, ironically enough).

I’m curious how Cory manages his weight when he travels, which he does a heck of a lot more than I do.

Long-term weight loss considered nearly impossible – Boing Boing.

10 years ago yesterday, the idea of “life hacks” was born

“I was the world’s most disorganized person, and I resolved to adopt the habits of the world’s most organized and prolific geeks and become a Charles Atlas of organization.”

Cory Doctorow blogged a talk by Danny O’Brien.

Name checks: Amphetadesk. It’s still available. I suspect a few people still use it. It was the shizzle, back in the day. The last version was apparently 2004.

Longhorn” was Microsoft’s codename for Windows Vista.