From Inside the Artificial Brain That’s Remaking Google, a Wired article:

[P]erhaps half of the teams now using the Google Brain software are simply downloading the source code, tweaking a configuration file, and then pointing Google Brain at their own data. “If you want to do leading edge research in this area and really advance the state-of-the-art in what kinds of models make sense for new kinds of problems, then you really do need a lot of years of training in machine learning,” says Dean. “But if you want to apply this stuff, and what you’re doing is a problem that’s somewhat similar to problems that have already been solved by a deep model, then…people have had pretty good success with that, without being deep learning experts.


“Google is not really a search company. It’s a machine-learning company,” says Matthew Zeiler, the CEO of visual search startup Clarifai, who worked on Google Brain during a pair of internships. He says that all of Google’s most-important projects—autonomous cars, advertising, Google Maps—stand to gain from this type of research. “Everything in the company is really driven by machine learning.”

According to both 2006 and 2009 studies published by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, those who read fiction are capable of the most empathy and “theory of mind,” which is the ability to hold opinions, beliefs and interests apart from their own.

They can entertain other ideas, without rejecting them and still retain their own.


cory-doctor-beaverton-city-libraryCory Doctorow spoke at the Beaverton City Library on July 8th, 2014

  • Detergent anecdote:
    • “Make a detergent that makes clothes newer”
    • actually…
    • “Make a detergent that makes clothes LOOK newer”
    • But… that’s done with a detergent that eats fiber ends, digesting clothes, and thus actually making them older faster.
  • Everything is computerized: cars are mobile computers, houses and buildings are dependent on computerized climate control, without which they are uninhabitable. the boeing 747 is a flying solaris station in an expensive aluminum case.
  • in the future…your hearing aide is almost certainly going to be computerized. which means that a computer mediates what you hear: selectively enhancing, and minimizing different things.
  • who controls computers? who regulates them?
  • back in the 1980s, it was all about copy protection. because software was what was sold back then. copy protection on floppy disks (flaws on media, dongles, look up word in manual, etc.)
  • none of it worked.
  • why?
  • because there was something that was encrypted, and the descrambler had rules about when it would decrypt it.
  • but this isn’t real security.
  • real security is: alice and bob want to communicate. they’ve got the encrypted text, they know the protocol, and they have the secret key.
    • Carol can see the encrypted text, can guess the program/protocol. but doesn’t know the key/secret.
    • it doesn’t matter that Carol has the encrypted text or the program, only that she doesn’t have the key.
  • But in the copy protection world (scrambled book, software, etc.)…
    • Bob encrypted the program/software/book/video.
    • Everyone else in the world is Alice.
    • Bob has to provide both the encrypted text and the key. But the key is hidden.
    • Someone is the world is always going to find the key.
    • And once they do, then it’s broken.
    • It’s so prevalent, it’s actually easier to get the one that’s broken without the encryption.
    • (Will: easier to bit torrent a TV show that to get netflix player installed and up to date and authorized.)
  • Copy protection just doesn’t work. Not for software, books, or video.
  • We should oppose breaking computers for the sake of copy protection, which doesn’t work anyway.
  • World intellectual property organization: WIPO
    • WIPO copyright treaty (WCT): modern copyright protection.
    • They want to figure out how to control copies.
    • We understand this Alice and Bob problem, and we’re going to solve it legally:
      • we make it illegal to look for the keys. to share the keys. to host the keys. to tell anyone how to look for the keys. to make software to get the keys. etc.
    • It is now law virtually everywhere.
  • The effect of this law is that it makes it illegal to reverse engineer any of this software.
  • Imagine 18 years ago you went into Tower records and bought $1000 worth of CDs and $1000 worth of DVDs.
    • In 18 years, the value of those CDs actually goes up: you can use them as ringtones, as background music, you can rip them and put them on your computer, store them in the cloud, use them as background music in a home movie, etc. You can do so much more with them.
    • In 18 years, you can’t legally do anything more with the DVDs. Want to watch them on a tablet computer? Not legally. You have to buy the movie all over again. Want to use a snippet in a home movie? Not legally.
  • DRM meetings: If you want to do something evil, hide it in something boring (like standards docs).
    • they wanted to flag TV shows so that when broadcast to you, make it so you can only watch it in the same room as the receiver. charge more if you want to watch it somewhere else.
  • Because it’s against the law to tell people information about how they can add features to their DVDs, or anything else with DRM.
    • But that means that it’s also illegal to tell someone about flaws… a security flaw, a computer bug, etc. (Small exception for a certain class of security issues, but the overall effect of the law is so chilling.)
  • Heartbleed bug had a tremendous effect… and that was in open software that had been around a long time. How many hidden flaws might exist in this hidden, obscured, illegal to reverse engineer software.
  • The purpose of DRM software is to not allow you to do stuff.
    • “I want to do this.”
    • “I can’t let you do that, Dave.”
  • Antitransparency is a huge problem
    • Has to hide features from you.
    • Treats the person who owns the computer as the adversary.
    • Treated as less trustworthy than the people who made the software.
    • If you saw that a HAL9000 program was forcing you to not do stuff you want to do, you’d drag the program to the trash.
    • So in order to keep that program running, they hide it from the user.
  • SONYBMG in 2005
    • Didn’t want you to copy your CDs on your computer.
    • When the CD was inserted, the first thing it did was run a program that modified your computer so that your computer wouldn’t show you any programs starting with $SYS$.
    • The second thing it did was install software named $SYS%something, and it would watch to see if you tried to copy a CD.
    • So virus writers started naming their viruses with $SYS$ because Sony had created a blind spot in over 6 million computers.
  • So DRM and anti transparency creates security loopholes.
    • Whenever there is a hole in the immune system, there’s an opportunistic infection. DRM creates intentional holes
  • TAO: Tailored Access Operations
    • People at NSA
    • Have a catalog of exploits for all computers, smartphones, etc.
    • Tell them what device the target has, they give the agent the right exploits.
  • The NSA knew of an iPhone exploit that was serious.
    • They have a NOBUS (Nobody but us) policy: so they didn’t report the vulnerability.
  • The NSA aren’t the smartest people in the world. So you know that bug had to have been discovered and exploited by many other people: criminals.
    • they use remove access software
    • mostly young men
    • mostly target young women
    • they try to capture incidental photos of their victims in the nude. also capture their social media account passwords.
    • then they blackmail their victims to perform sexual acts or they’ll share the nude photos.
    • when some ratters were busted, they had anywhere from 100 to 150 victims each.
    • So bugs and exploits aren’t just allowing the NSA to spy on you, they’re allowing garden variety criminals to victimize everyone.
  • Lots of people get access to the exploits: other governments, other criminals, other agencies.
  • This stuff gets even scarier when it moves out of the computer in your briefcase into the computers in your body, in your car.
  • Demonstrated attacks on embedded heart defibrillator, pacemakers.
  • General purpose computing
    • seems to be a universal tendency
    • even Page Description Language (PDL) turns out to be scriptable, and can bootstrap an entire computing environment, which means that your printer can be attacked by printing.
  • We have turing complete computers. But we don’t have turing complete minus one computers.
  • When the Ghaddafi regime fell, they had ton of computers they shouldn’t have had.
  • The NSA technicians use their vast surveillance apparatus to spy on cute girls. They do it so much they even came up with a name for it: LUVINT. (like SIGINT, HUMANINT)
    • It’s not just about the government spying on bad guys, or even spying on us, but abuse of the system.
  • We choose. We’re building the systems.
    • We can choose to build in DRM. To cripple computers. To open backdoors. To create vulnerabilities. To have motes in our computers eyes.
    • Or we can choose not to do that. We can say no.
  • Netflix:
    • approaches all major browsers to prevent saving videos to disk.
    • Now putting DRM into every browser.
    • Creating long-lived reservoirs of flaws and vulnerabilities through obscurity and illegality.
  • How can we get the technology that makes us more free? How can we raise the alarm when technology takes away our freedom?
  • Work on getting our devices and computers as open and free as possible, pushing back in all ways.
  • It’s not that there aren’t problems out there. it’s that the solutions they are coming up with aren’t working. When the australian government came up with a child pornography list of banned websites, it turned out to be 98% not child pornography. When you give the government a tool to censor websites, it turns out they do it.
  • It’s urgent, as urgent as things can get. If devices aren’t open or free.
  • Today, crypto can protect data. Even if all atoms in the universe were turned into CPUs, working until the heat death of the universe.
  • People with nothing to hide must obscure their data, to make it easier for people who actually have things to hide through no fault of their own.


The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, my first detective novel for kids age 7 through 12, has been out for a few weeks now. If The Case of the Wilted Broccoli Coveryou’re one of the early buyers, thank you so much! If not, I hope you will give it a try or let a friend with kids know about it.

One of the unanticipated joys of publishing this book has been the emails I’ve gotten from parents. One said their son, who normally had to be required to read twenty minutes a day, spent an entire morning reading the novel. Another said their daughter was glued to the pages until she finished. As I kid, I loved books more than almost anything, and so hearing these stories is really rewarding.

If you (or your child) likes The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, it would be a tremendous help if you could post a review online. Reviews help prospective buyers decide if a novel is worth purchasing. And some outlets where I’d like to advertise have a minimum review requirement of twenty reviews or more. It takes just a few minutes, and can be written from the child’s or parent’s perspective, whichever is easier. A star rating and a sentence or two is all that’s needed.


Mike R. Underwood has a nice piece up about 25 Secrets of Publishing Revealed. If you’re a writer, go check it out. I know Mike from an online writers’ community we’re both part of, and I enjoyed his novel Geekomancy.

I don’t disagree with anything Mike said, but I do think his article comes from traditional publishing viewpoint. So after you’ve read his article, come back here and read a few of my reactions. (I’ve only addressed a few of his 25 items. For the most part, I think he’s spot on.)


Mike says that gatekeepers aren’t there to keep you out, but to find content of the right fit for their publisher. He gives brief mention to the option of self-publishing.

I want to emphasize: self-publishing is a very viable choice that has a whole set of advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional publishing, and shouldn’t be seen only as a fallback alternative. Self-publishing gives you the control over the creative, production, and marketing processes. Want to hire your choice of talent to edit, design, or create a cover? Want to keep a greater percentage of the royalties? Want to develop business skills? You can when you’re the publisher.

Evaluating traditional versus indie publishing is asking if you want to be the employee of a big company (little control over what happens, but lots of people to back you up) versus an entrepreneur starting your own business.


They’re key if you go the route of traditional publishing, but less important if you’re indie. However, even if you’re indie, you’ll still want an agent to help you sell foreign translation rights, film rights, etc. It’s especially challenging to reach out to publishers in other countries without an agent. If you are indie, make sure you’re agent is indie-friendly and understands you’ll be pursuing a mix of traditional and indie publication. Your contract should clarify that the agent does not get a percentage of royalties for those titles you’ve indie published.


In this point Mike argues that sometimes a bookseller will screw over (his words) a particular author or genre, and “that’s why we, as authors, are well-advised to develop a diversified publishing portfolio for ourselves and to support a diverse bookselling landscape, so that no one part of our business, no one retailer, no one project, has too much control over our overall publishing fate.”

I agree heartily, and this is an even bigger danger for indies, most of whom get the majority of their royalties from Amazon. I get more than 90% of my book income from Amazon. If Amazon changes their royalty structure (and they’ve given hints of doing so), my royalties and those of other indies could drop in half. They’ve already taken steps to drive exclusivity, reserving the highest royalties for those people who do Kindle-exclusive ebooks, and preferring Kindle-exclusive titles when doing promotions.

It’s also challenging for indies to get into bookstores, but that’s a topic worthy of a whole post by itself.


Mike said about this: “If you sell a book to a major publisher, you’re agreeing to give over a big chunk of the book’s income in order to hire an army to go to bat for your book. If you sell to a smaller publisher, you’re hiring a smaller, more focused army. A traditional publisher includes the following people helping to make your book amazing and to sell it: editor, publicist, sales representatives, sales managers, marketers, library representatives, book designers, artists, layout artists, inventory staff, finance & royalties workers, and hundreds more positions in a bigger house.”

Yes, but… That big army can on occasion be an army of mediocrity. That can happen if everyone at the publisher is just so-so in their talent and skill, or because the A-team got put on someone else’s book, and you got the B-team or the C-team, or the just-hired intern who has no idea what they’re doing. (Surely we’ve all experience the pockets of abyss that can exist inside bigger companies.)

This is my biggest fear with traditional publishing compared to the indie world. In the indie world, you can pick the people who work on your book, whether that’s hiring a great editor, an amazing cover designer. Or you can choose to do the work yourself, taking charge of social media, advertising, and marketing. The danger here is that indies often don’t know what they don’t know. You might not know you need a proofreader after your copyeditor, or you might have hired an inferior editor and can’t judge that yourself. But in the indie world, if you do make a mistake, because you’re still in control, you can fix it: hire someone better, or reedit the book after it’s already gone out. It’s very rare to find that in the traditional publishing world: forget about saying “let’s try a new cover” after the book has been out two months.


Among other points, Mike says, “The reason publishing is slow is that it’s big, and it’s powerful. In order to align the dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees behind a book as part of a publisher’s season, there’s a ton of coordination and steps to go through to make it a powerful butt-kicking sales machine.”

Yes, there are reasons it’s slow, but they aren’t all good, and they aren’t all necessary. I’ve personally experienced this, working in large and small companies. Large companies have huge amounts of overhead as they task-switch between projects, wait on constrained resources (maybe the one interior-layout designer), or just drop the ball. In fact, the best teams inside large companies are usually the smallest, most focused ones. A small, nimble, focused team can do in a couple of months what might take a large organization a year to do. And they’ll usually do it with higher quality and better results.


Mike argues that covers are for the buyer, not the author, and that it’s best to turn that over to the people who know best: a designer with experience with book covers. With a traditional publisher, authors get zero input into the cover design.

I agree that an author should never design their own cover (unless they happen to be a talented book cover designer). But an author should be familiar with their genre and know enough to be able to pick something that matches their genre and yet stands out.

Many long-term cover designers are thinking first-and-foremost about how a cover will look as a 6×9 paperback. But if the majority of your sales will be online (as they are for many genre writers), then the cover must be amazing not at 6″ x 9″, but at 100 pixels by 150 pixels: less than an inch tall. That requires a whole other set of design principles.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s not a given that a traditional publisher will give you the best cover. You might be allocated a cheaper cover, or an designer who isn’t designing for icon-sized covers, or someone who doesn’t know your genre. You must become educated enough to know what works and doesn’t work and involve yourself in the process of approving the cover. (Of course, as an indie you’ll get total control, and with a publisher you’ll have only minor influence.)


I completely agree with what Mike said here, and just want to add that it’s fun, too!

Unless many other types of work, writing is innately a solitary activity. So you must take steps to make it social. Find a local community and an online community. Take writing classes to meet people, attend your local conventions for writers, and tell people about what you do.


In this point Mike talks about the art of hand-selling: talking to people one-on-one at conventions and bookstores to convince them to buy your book.

I think handselling is great, but I’d be cautious about getting too distracted by it. I see a lot of authors put a tremendous amount of time into conventions or bookstores, and then go on to sell anywhere from two to five copies. Investing a weekend of work to sell a few copies isn’t a great ROI. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fine to do this and it might be fun. But I see it’s as something you do mostly for the fun of it.

If you want to sell books, I think it makes more sense to focus on activities with a bigger return-on-investment. If you had a weekend’s worth of time, could you sell a hundred or a thousand books? Probably not at a convention handselling to one person at a time, but you could do it with online advertising, clever promotional strategies, and so forth.

Focus on what scales, because your goal is to sell thousands of books, not dozens.


Mike explained how traditional publishers work. Most of the money you’re likely to earn comes from advances, which are paid out in thirds when the contract is signed, the final manuscript is turned over, and the book is published. Royalties (if you earn any) will usually get paid either annually or semiannually. You typically won’t know how many books you’ve sold until you get these annual or semiannual reports. Which means that if you want to know whether you should be celebrating you won’t know for a very long time. The long feedback times also make it difficult to determine the effectiveness of promotional efforts.

With indie-published books, all of the money you earn will come as royalties after the book is sold. You’ll typically get paid monthly (except for Smashwords who pays quarterly), and royalties will lag by about two months: so you’ll get paid at the end of March for the books you sold in January.

You’ll see your sales in real time, so that you can know by midnight how many books you sold that day. This means that if you run an advertising campaign, talk about your book at a convention, or get a big blog mention, you’ll immediately know the sales impact. This kind of continuous feedback helps you optimize what you to do market and promote your books. (And it’s very rare to find a big publisher who is doing this kind of continuous optimization.)


Mike argues that one downside to the indie world is that it takes a long time to become good and that new authors can put work out that is bad. Hence, maybe it makes sense to write for six or seven years, and get a couple of novels written before publishing the first one.

I agree that we get better by writing, but sometimes a first novel is good-enough. It might not be great, and it might suffer from many first-timer mistakes, but it also might contain just enough to good bits to really resonate with an audience. Avogadro Corp was my first novel, and although it went out with errors and poor writing, it’s also been very, very popular. Should I have stuck in a trunk and not published it? I think that would have been a mistake.

I come from a software background, and in particular use agile and lean methodologies. That means getting out a minimal product and then getting user (or for books, reader) feedback on it. In the case of Avogadro Corp, I received feedback after it was published, and then made improvements to it. Two years later I’m still making improvements (this last round of revisions took six months and included both copyediting and proofreading improvements).


In sum, I liked Mike’s article and agree with nearly everything he said. I hope you’ll find these additional points from the indie-perspective helpful.



If you’re at OryCon 35 in Portland, I’d love to chat. Either stop me and say hi, or find me at one of these panels:

Social Media and the Modern Writer
Jefferson/Adams      Fri Nov 8 12:00pm-1:00pm
Websites, Facebook fan pages, email lists, contests, twitter, tumblr,
Pinterest, ads, blogs and that annoying thing called a “platform”: what
works, what doesn’t, and why you need to care (spoiler: you do).
Grá Linnaea, William Hertling, (*)Jason Andrew, Aaron Duran, Cat Rambo,
Peter A. Smalley

Revision: Path to better writing or way to never finish?
Lincoln              Fri Nov 8 2:00pm-3:00pm
Endless revisions can kill good writing, but everyone says polish your
work.  Besides, the first draft is usually bad, right?  How to navigate
through the apparent contradictions without going crazy.
Renee Stern, (*)Irene Radford, William Hertling, Amber D. Sistla

Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA) Booth
Dealer’s Room     Fri Nov 8 5:00pm-6:00pm

The future of dental floss
Hamilton             Sat Nov 9 10:00am-11:00am
How technology will change everyday life, from taking a shower to reading
the newspaper, from getting to work to the clothes we wear.
(*)David W. Goldman, William Hertling, Mark Niemann-Ross

How near is too near
Broadway             Sun Nov 10 12:00pm-1:00pm
What time frame is too near for near future science fiction longevity and
(*)Jason M. Hough, William Hertling, Blake Hutchins, Nancy Kress