My Kindle Mocks My To-Read Shelf: Machine Learning, Bestsellers, and the Future of Publishing

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This short (>8min) Vox video on machine learning is terrific. It’s a fascinating look at the way work is being automated.

It also reminds me of last month’s post about the academics who created an algorithm to analyze books to see if they’ll become bestsellers or not. Brief summary: they subjected thousands of books to several kinds of analysis in order to identify traits that the bestsellers had that the non-bestsellers did not. They found nearly 2800 distinct differences.

The algorithm couldn’t create a bestseller, and in their book the academics were clear the technology was a long way off, if it was possible at all.

The video above explains why that is, and why the software’s ability to teach itself is so interesting. Recommended.

Since that last post, the academics who developed the algorithm and wrote the book have opened a consulting service. Of course, right? It’s the natural next step. As an author, I guess I’m supposed to find this threatening/a sham/the end of literature, but I don’t. It’s just information. The only real question is whether it’s good information.

I won’t be worried until the day editors stop reading manuscripts my agent sends them unless they’re accompanied by an Archer-Jockers Score(tm). And I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

But no, seriously, that’s an interesting video up there.

As I write this, The Twisted Path has eighteen reviews on Amazon. My short fiction collection, which includes a 20P novelette, has eleven. It would be extremely useful if those numbers could be boosted to twenty-five. Fifty would be even better. Amazon has algorithms of its own, and works with a number of reviews that pass a certain threshold get more prominent placing in search results.

It’s all pretty opaque, but what it boils down to is more reviews=more visibility. If you read and enjoyed either of those works, please consider dropping a review for it.

Randomness for 10/2

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2. How to control Alexa and Google Home through commands that are inaudible to the human ear.

3. A domino run in kaleidoscope: Beautiful. Video.

4. A Quick Beginner’s Guide to Drawing.

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6. Roald Dahl’s publisher threatened to drop him for being a jerk.

7. Why is it so hard to judge a screenplay from the movie that’s made from it?

Randomness for 6/19

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1. Cracked makes an honest ad about the ways casual games are like crack for our brains. Video.

2. Chatbots built by Facebook engineers to negotiate with each other begin to develop their own non-human language. Time to re-watch Person of Interest.

3. Having power causes a degradation of certain mental functions.

4. M.C. Esher: Adventures in Perception: a 20 minute Dutch documentary about the way he created his work. Video.

5. Are paintings that mimic photographs more “realistic” than paintings from before photography was invented?

6. How to build a bicycle with car tires for wheels.

7. The same song played on a $100 bass, a $700 bass, and a $10,000 bass. Which sounds best? Video.

Randomness for 6/10

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1) Author Robert Jackson Bennet on raising kids who don’t give a shit about your nerd pop culture.

2) Scientists have eliminated HIV in mice using CRISPR.

3) An episode of 80’s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon with voiceover to make it seem like a real D&D session. Video.

4) A bucket of water with a camera in the bottom captures thirsty desert animals. Video.

5) My Family’s Slave. This is heartbreaking and awful.

6) How to remove unwanted shows from your Netflix algorithms. Maybe your ex cruelly favorited an Adam Sandler movie before dumping you. Maybe you didn’t think to create a separate account for yourself after a few drinks. Maybe you just have regrets.

7) Four people who were buried alive and how they got out. Spoiler: “knocking” plays a big role.

Randomness for 1/27

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1) Gameification gone mad: China has made obedience to the State a game.

2) Thirty of the Most Important Articles by People of Color in 2016.

3) New superhero idea: the paper airplane gun. Video. Shoots 120 planes/minute. Warning: terrible music.

4) Episode one of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972). Video.

5) A CIA Operative’s Nine-Step Hotel Safety Checklist.

6) To follow up on the last entry: How to Book the Safest Room in a Hotel.

7) “Chatbot lawyer” originally created to help people get out of paying unlawful parking tickets now being used to prevent evictions and will soon aid Syrian refugees.

Randomness for 12/23

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1) Fear of a Feminist Future. Includes He-Man dystopia/post-apocalyptic mockery.

2) How the Web Became Unreadable.

3) A data-driven paper using corpus analysis on page layouts in comics over the decades.

4) A hostage negotiator’s tips to be more persuasive.

5) From the same site: How to make people like you, from an FBI behavioral analyst. I’m going to keep this on hand for that mystery novel I’ve been meaning to write.

6) The Complex Psychology of Why People Like Things. An excellent discussion of all sorts of topics, covering genre, originality, hate-watching, and more.

7) How “Bad Biology” is Killing Economics.

Randomness for 9/25

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1) This history of modern bacon packaging includes a sales video of a modern bacon slicing machine that I found very soothing.

2) This cat is way into Hitchcock. Video.

3) Check out this ONE TRICK that a bicycle shipper used to cut delivery damage by 70% (they printed TVs on the boxes)

4) “I’m a judge and I think criminal court is horrifying.”

5) The “Spiciest Tortilla Chip in the World” is Sold One Chip Per Package.

6) The Woman who is Allergic to Water.

7) Teen Creates App So Bullied Kids Don’t Have to Eat Alone.

Randomness for 8/12

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1) Now that the Olympics are airing, it’s fun to look at some of the demands the IOC makes on countries bidding to host the games.

2) The best way to perform a “USB drop” hack. Technical, but interesting.

3) Saturday Evening Post covers from the DC Universe.

4) Brainstorming is a terrible way to create new ideas.

5) I don’t normally care about this sort of thing, but this mashup trailer combining The Dark Knight with Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a Batman movie I’d like to see. Video.

6) Gamer problems then and now.

7) The “Glarofon” is not a Pokemon; it’s a percussion instrument made from hand-blown glass tubes.

Randomness for 8/5

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1) “The Most Satisfying Video in the World.” Video

2) Climate change releases Siberian anthrax from melting permafrost. 1500 reindeer dead.

3) Getty Images sends woman demand for payment for her own photo. She sues them for one billion dollars.

4) Japanese sword master tests his skills against an industrial robot.

5) Ten Unusual Libraries Around the World.

6) How Jack Reacher should be traveling the country: a DIY airstream camper light enough to be towed by a bicycle.

7) Test flight held for small jet modeled after Miyazaki anime.

Randomness for 7/24

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1) The late great Jim Henson gives a puppeteering masterclass. Video.

2) Inside Portland’s Mystery Hole. #NotPorn

3) Exploding glass filmedin 343,000 fps slo-mo. Toward the end, this gets to be like the drug effects in DREDD.

4) A split screen comparing Los Angeles of the 1940’s with Los Angeles now. Video.

5) What type of low-budget films break out?

6) LA earthquake creates a seiche, a (potentially destructive) wave frequency that amplifies waves and ripples. Video.

7) Police 3D print a murder victim’s finger to unlock his phone.