About &

La percezione equivoca

Hello, Italian friends! I come in peace!

You’re used to me writing in English, but this time I wrote something in Italian.

Cover of La percezione equivoca

Enter La percezione equivoca.

It’s a self-published collection of short stories and flash fiction that I and three friends put together over the past few months. The theme is how we (fail to) perceive reality. There’s really good stuff in there, and I’m very proud of what we created. You should read it. Oh, and I just love the cover, it’s gorgeous and it perfectly conveys the meaning and feeling of the tales inside.

It’s just €0.99 for the ebook and €6.99 for the paperback.

Places For Working And Writing

“But you can work from anywhere, right? With the web and email and Skype.”


I could work from the middle of the Gobi desert. There’s nothing preventing me, that’s true, but it doesn’t mean that I can. Most of us just don’t function like that. Most of us need to get in the zone, which is a mental state that allows us to focus on the job and do it well, with accuracy and passion.

While I can check social media and read news pretty much in any situation, I can’t do much else outside of a controlled environment. To read a book, for example, I need to be in my bed. I can write stuff on the train, but only sometimes. I need quiet, silence, a comfortable place, the right light. If it’s too hot or too cold, I can’t focus. Most of us can’t.

The reason for this is simple. Our brain is the collector of the hundreds of stimuli that bombard us all the time. That guy laughing on the phone. Someone asking if the seat is free (when it obviously is). Your head itching. The woman attracting your attention two rows down. Birds chirping outside. Emails arriving. The more stimuli we get, the less free “CPU time” our brain has to take care of other things. The threshold is different for each of us, but it’s always there.

So, yes, while it is possible to do information work from anywhere and at any time, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

And how do I get in the zone? It depends, but I mostly need:

  • quiet environment, without distinct sounds (white noise or background music is fine)
  • comfortable chair + desk combination (quite hard to find)
  • reasonable temperature: 19C – 24C is optimal (yes, I’m that specific. I’d need an “Operating Temperature” sticker)
  • in many cases, not many people around me (people distract me; they tend to be interesting to look at, although I know I sometimes give them the creeps).

But having the right conditions isn’t nearly enough. I also need a certain level of will, varying from time to time. I have to want to get in the zone. It’s not something that simply happens.

Branch Off Twitter Giveaway!

Branch Off Cover

Branch Off

Everyone loves to get free stuff, right? Damn right. So, I’m giving away one paperback copy of Branch Off (plus epub/mobi ebook). Here are the rules to enter the giveaway:

  1. Follow me on Twitter
  2. Retweet this tweet

The small print:

  • The giveaway will end Friday, September 4th, 2015 at midnight UTC
  • No purchase or payment necessary to enter or win
  • I’ll pick the winner with random.org
  • I’ll announce the winner here and on Twitter and I’ll contact him or her via DM to arrange shipping

Good luck!

Update Sept. 9th. Contest over. The winner is: @unluckiestliam. Congrats!

On Artificial Intelligence

I didn’t even know that the Future of Life Institute existed until a couple of days ago, when Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Hawking and many others signed a petition aiming to ban the military use of artificial intelligence (AI), and in particular autonomous weapons.

I tend to agree that over the next few years we’ll see some kind of breakthrough that will make AI viable. Maybe we’ll have a machine that, after learning, is able to solve simple speculative problems like most mammals do. Maybe we’ll have something more. But that doesn’t scare me.

What scares me is that we could give birth to something more intelligent than us. Yes, it’s fiction. For now.

But what is the difference between autonomous and intelligent weapons?

Autonomous means pre-programmed with certain patterns and able to operate without further input – e.g. “kill all combatants with this insignia.” Building this kind of weapon is easier than you think.
Intelligent means able to learn about the enemy and the battlefield and make decisions on what to do – like a human would – with all the attached issues (can an intelligent weapon desert? maybe change its mind and turn against its commander?). This is hard.

Now, the problem with that petition, which I signed anyway, is that it’s not going to stop the military to develop autonomous, and maybe even intelligent weapons, for the simplest of reasons: someone’s going to build such weapons, so everyone else will as well. As a deterrent, of course, but also to develop countermeasures.

I don’t like talking like this as I know I sound cynical, but we have countless precedents. The most renowned is Albert Einstein’s letter to Truman advising him to develop nuclear weapons before the Germans did. It’s an obvious and very human reaction to a threat, and it happens all the time (think about competition).

The petition is… naive? I think so.

I’m a bit too lazy right now to find documentation, but we have banned anti-personnel mines and chemical weapons, we have signed non-proliferation treaties, and yet Earth’s full of anti-personnel mines, chemical weapons, and nukes. And we keep building and improving them. All it takes is just one bad guy, as we humans are as intelligent as the stupidest of us.

The same will happen with autonomous/intelligent weapons. Knowing what we know about how we, as a species, develop weapons, we should all build military AI as soon as possible. At least we’d get a stalemate quickly and move on to the next military threat, while in the meantime we could use AI for better reasons (like we are doing with computers and the Internet).

Coping With Bad Reviews

When your book doesn’t have hundreds of reviews, you hold each one dear, so much in fact that a good review can make your day, and a bad one can destroy your whole damn week.

Bad Review

I used to be sort of paranoid about Kindle sales and reviews. I was deep into the check-the-KDP-dashboard-page-twice-a-day tunnel. But then things got depressing as I saw only a handful of sales trickling in over the course of an entire month. My survival instincts kicked in, protecting me from myself, and now I only check sales once or twice a week. Surprisingly, as if looking at the Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard could hurt sales, things have gotten a little better (without me doing anything as I’m super busy with other non-writing stuff).

But more sales equals more reviews, and one single bad review still hurts like smashing your bare pinkie toe against the corner of the bathtub.

The first reaction is: “You don’t know anything about my book, you fucking idiot! It is flawless!” Such reaction is perfectly fine and human, as long as it’s just you thinking it or shouting it in an empty room.

There is just one rule to handle bad reviews: accept them.

Don’t reply, don’t try to hunt down the reviewer on the web (or in person!), just breathe and accept them.

Read them once more. You still think the reviewer’s an idiot. Wait a couple of days. Re-read them. Now you start thinking, “Well, maybe she’s right about this one detail… Just this one though, the rest’s all bullshit.” Wait another few days. Then you realize that each review is important, especially bad ones.

So, get over it. Learn from the reviews you get. Fix things (because you can!) Listen to your readers, no matter how bad it hurts. Your next book will always be better than your last one because you learn from your mistakes, and reviews are just a loud way to find them out (unless, of course, it’s something like the picture I posted above… which luckily is not a review of one of my books but a random one I found on Amazon).