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Here’s a reading from my upcoming novel, Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother. It’s a rehearsal for the readings I’ll be giving at schools and libraries when I leave for my 22-city US tour next week.


He fitted me with a blood pressure cuff — yeah, it was a tactical cuff, which clearly made this guy as happy as a pig in shit — and then started in with the electrodes. He had a lot of electrodes and he was going to use ‘em all, that much was clear. Each one went in over a smear of conductive jelly that came out of a disposable packet, like the ketchup packets you get at McDonald’s. These, at least, were non-tactical, emblazoned instead with German writing and an unfamiliar logo.

That was when I started puckering and unpuckering my anus.

Yes, you read that right. Here’s the thing about lie detectors: they work by measuring the signs of nervousness, like increases in pulse, respiration, and yeah, sweatiness. The theory is that people get more nervous when they’re lying, and that nervousness can be measured by the gadget.

This doesn’t work so well. There’s plenty of cool customers who’re capable of lying without any outward signs of anxiety, because they’re not feeling any anxiety. That’s pretty much the definition of a sociopath, in fact: someone who doesn’t have any reaction to a lie. So lie detectors work great, except when it comes to the most dangerous liars in the world. That’s the “It’s better than nothing” stupidity I mentioned before, remember?

But there’re plenty of people who start off nervous — say, people who’re nervous because they’re taking a lie detector test on which depends their job or their freedom. Or someone who’s been kidnapped by a couple of private mercenaries who’ve threatened to take him to their hideout if he doesn’t cooperate.

But sometimes, lie detectors can tell the difference between normal nervousness and lying nervousness. Which is why it’s useful to inject a few little extra signs of anxiety into the process. There are lots of ways to do this. Supposedly, spies used to keep a thumbtack in their shoe and they could wiggle their toes against it to make their nervous systems do the Charleston at just the right moment to make their “calm” state seem pretty damned nervous. So when they told a lie, any additional nervousness would be swamped by the crazy parasympathetic nervous system jitterbug their bodies were jangling through.

Thumbtacks in your shoe are overkill, though. They’re fine for super-macho super-spies for whom a punctured toe is a badge of honor. But if you ever need to beat a polygraph, just pucker up — your butt, that is.

Squeezing and releasing your butt-hole recruits many major muscle- and nerve groups, gets a lot of blood flowing, and makes you look like you’re at least as nervous as a liar, when all you’re doing are some rhythmic bum-squeezes. As a side bonus, do it enough and you will have BUNS OF STEEL.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes “Beer Jewelry” and “Odd Musical Furniture.” He often “meditates while reading cookbooks.”

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On today’s podcast, I read read my obituary for Aaron Swartz, and the afterword he wrote for my upcoming novel, Homeland.

I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSS specification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay with Lisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him and assured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes “Beer Jewelry” and “Odd Musical Furniture.” He often “meditates while reading cookbooks.”

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Here’s a podcast of my recent Locus column, The Internet of the Dead:

I had begun my trip with a few days in Toronto, attending to a strange and new kind of memorial ritual for a close friend who had died unexpectedly in June.

My friend’s name was Erik ‘‘Possum Man’’ Stewart, and I’d known him for decades, since we were high-school roommates. We were both geeks, but Possum was a true hacker, a talented and creative programmer who pursued numerous projects, including a lifelong effort to create spatial games like Pong and Tetris that ran in four or more dimensions. Like me, he was in his early forties, and he was in fine health, apart from an unsuspected weak blood vessel in his brain that ruptured without warning while he slept. When his housemates found him, his computer was still switched on and logged in, and his e-mail open, along with various windows with to-do lists and other random notes from one part of his busy mind to another.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes “Beer Jewelry” and “Odd Musical Furniture.” He often “meditates while reading cookbooks.”

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Here’s a podcast of my recent Guardian column, Why all pharmaceutical research should be made open access:

One of the strongest arguments for public access in scholarly and scientific publication is the “public debt” argument: if the public pays you to do research, the research should belong to the public. That’s a good argument, but it’s not the whole story. For one thing, it’s vulnerable to the “public-private partnership” counterargument, which goes, “Ah, yes, but why not ensure that the public gets a maximum dividend on its spending by charging lots of money for access to publicly funded research and returning the profit to the research sector?” I think this argument is rubbish, as do most economists who have studied the question.

The public good of freely accessible, unencumbered research generates more economic value for the public than the quick-hit sugar-rush you get from charging the public on the way in and again on the way out. This has held true in many sectors, though the canonical example is the massive public return from the US Geological Survey’s freely usable maps, which have generated a fortune that makes the ransoms collected by the Ordinance Survey on its maps of the UK look like a pittance.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes “Beer Jewelry” and “Odd Musical Furniture.” He often “meditates while reading cookbooks.”

MP3 link

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Here’s a podcast of my recent Nature comment, co-written with Ben Laurie, Secure the Internet:

In 2011, a fake Adobe Flash updater was discovered on the Internet. To any user it looked authentic. The software’s crypto­graphic certificates, which securely verify the authenticity and integrity of Internet connections, bore an authorized signature. Internet users who thought they were applying a legitimate patch unwittingly turned their computers into spies. An unknown master had access to all of their data. The keys used to sign the certificates had been stolen from a ‘certificate authority’ (CA), a trusted body (in this case, the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute) whose encrypted signature on a website or piece of software tells a browser program that the destination is bona fide. Until the breach was found and the certificate revoked, the keys could be used to impersonate virtually any site on the Internet.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes “Beer Jewelry” and “Odd Musical Furniture.” He often “meditates while reading cookbooks.”

MP3 link

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I did an interview with The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, which they’ve published in both text and MP3 form. We talked about Pirate Cinema, Rapture of the Nerds, the Humble Ebook Bundle, the future of publishing, the Disney/Star Wars merger, and lots more:


Wired: Do you ever get letters from kids who have been inspired by your books to become hacker anarchists?

Doctorow: Yeah, all the time — at least to become hackers, and political activists. My first young-adult novel Little Brother had an afterword with a bibliography for kids who want to get involved in learning how security works, learning how computers work, learning how to program them, learning how to take them apart, learning how to solve their problems with technology as well as with politics. And the number of kids who have written to me and said that they became programmers after reading that, I couldn’t even count them. I’ve had similar responses to my second young-adult novel, For the Win, and I’ve also heard from kids who’ve read Pirate Cinema. In fact, we published an editorial by one of them on Boing Boing — an anonymous reader who makes her own movies out of Japanese anime, and who talked about what drives her and how the book resonated with her.


With Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctorow Grows His Young Hacker Army