I had the pleasure of spending some time with Cory Doctorow on Feb. 25 at the Jefferson Hotel here in the nation’s capital. Doctorow is the author of “Little Brother” and more recently “Homeland.” He’s perhaps more well known as a co-editor of Boing Boing, a long standing must-read for people like me. Here are some amusing excerpts from our chat.
Malda: Burning man. I know nothing about it. The only thing I know about it is that at the Hack Space I worked at for a year, there were two kids building suits for Burning Man.
Rob ‘CmdrTaco’ Malda
Rob Malda is the chief strategist and editor-at-large for the Washington Post’s WaPo Labs team. Prior to that, under the pseudonym "CmdrTaco," Rob created the popular “news for nerds” Web site Slashdot.org, which he ran for 14 years. He periodically offers opinion and analysis on a range of topics, including media, technology and innovation.
(Rob Malda) - Cory Doctorow, author of \"Homeland\"
Cory Doctorow: I never went to Burning Man when I lived in San Francisco, but my wife talked me into going for my 40th birthday. People go totally, completely all out and do the most improbable things. It reminds me a bit of the Teller from Penn & Teller where one of the secrets of magic being is that when people see a magician doing a trick like making cockroaches appear they suppose that it’s possible to train cockroaches, but nobody would do it. One of the secrets of magic is that you actually do train cockroaches. You do the improbable as part of the the preparation, and people discount it. Burning Man is like that.
Malda: You make a concerted effort in Homeland to tell people how to do certain things. You will have a character talk about securing an Android Phone for a page or more. That’s an article I read on the internet two years ago, maybe the same time you did.
Doctorow: It’s a tradition in techno thrillers to have have spycraft excerpts. James Bond explains his cypher wheel. On one hand, this is in that tradition. I grew up with books like “Steal this Book” and “The Whole Earth Catalog” — books that were filled with recipes or instructions for doing stuff. That was back when facts were expensive. How do you cheat a pay phone to give you a dial tone without a quarter? ... If you know something is possible, you can type it into a search engine and find out how to do it, so the challenge today is to convey that things are possible, and that they are worth doing. And that’s what the book is doing. It’s not recipes like Make Magazine. It’s the pitch that you would make to Make Magazine to get the editor to buy your article. My hope is that kids will follow from this and type it into a search engine.
Malda: You had a thing about cold brew coffee. You explain for two pages how to make cold brew coffee. You had an article a few years ago on a book tour where you explained your frustration with coffee while on a book tour. You explained the Aeropress which I use.
Doctorow: I have one upstairs
Malda: So this is familiar material to me.
Doctorow: It’s about conveying your enthusiasm. My readers like that enthusiastic voice. The dirty secret about geeking out is that it becomes a meditation. What starts as a frivolous “whatever” and people go, “whatever, look at that guy with too much time on his hands” becomes a meditation. Thinking about anything and doing it well becomes meditative.
Malda: You see that with coffee. They have all their procedures and scales. This is relatively new to me: an Aeropress is relatively simple. Pour-over [coffee] has 20 steps, and you can add steps 21-23. It becomes a Zen thing.