Pluralistic: 07 Apr 2020

Today's links

  1. Pickled 2001 computer store: Deadstock ahoy!
  2. A farewell to APIs: Greed, spam and entropy killed mashups.
  3. Machine learning model performs butthole recognition: Peak Internet of Shit.
  4. Covid loteria cards: Cabronavirus.
  5. California's fiber for all bill: Tell your senator to support SB1130.
  6. 1978 Doonesbury stereotype: Come for the Indochina political humor, stay for the printer's lore.
  7. LA crime plummets: Down 23% (domestic violence is down 11%).
  8. US stimulus is one week's cash: Deflation ahoy.
  9. Private equity blinks on cuts to health workers' wages: Speeding up slow destruction makes it impossible to ignore.
  10. Virtual greenscreen: Incredible computer science paper from the 2020 IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition.
  11. Landlord changes church's locks: The pastor of Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, CA refused to stop holding services.
  12. This day in history: 2010, 2019
  13. Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading

Pickled 2001 computer store (permalink)

This computer store has been sitting derelict since 2001, when the store's owner – who also owned the strip mall it was embedded in – went bankrupt.

J got some incredibly evocative photos through the glass:

Apparently the owner is 76, and there's talk of contacting him to gain access and catalog the incredible trove of high-tech deadstock.

There's also a convenient Imgur set of the pix:

A farewell to APIs (permalink)

In this sweet, sad, fascinating video, Tom Scott delivers a potted history of the API and the role it played in the rise and rise of Web 2.0: the cooperative, mashed up web that was uniquely hospitable to the creative, the odd and the idiosyncratic.

Obviously, that web is largely gone, replaced by the web of "five giant services filled with screenshots of text from the other four."

Scott's video is remarkable especially for the way he captures the excitement and playfulness of that web — and the way it was slowly enclosed, strangled, and then annihilated by the race to block adblockers and the rise of spammers and scumbags.

But it ends on a hopeful note — a hymn to beating back entropy. Harlan Ellison was a complicated and difficult figure, but I was always struck by his quote: "I am anti-entropy, but foresquare for chaos."

Machine learning model performs butthole recognition (permalink)

A group led by Stanford med researchers have just published a paper describing a data-collecting "precision health smart toilet," which uses an array of four cameras, some of which do user-identification based on butthole photography ("analprinting").

The paper describes units that can be retrofitted to existing toilets for urinalysis, uroflowmetry, and stool analysis. They trained a machine learning model to characterize unhealthy stools, based on manual labeling by a pair of coloproctologists.

You may ask yourself, why did they invent analprinting and install a dedicated butthole-cam? Obvs because sometimes people forget to flush, and then someone else flushes, and since the fingerprint scanner is in the flush-handle, there was a possibility of poop misattribution.

Thus: "A scanner was installed to record a short video clip of the user’s anus." A study of test users' anal morphology "provided a reasonable distinction of the participants by analysing their analprint."

(Image: Paul Scott, CC BY-SA)

Covid loteria cards (permalink)

I love Rafael "Pinche Raf" Gonzales Jr's Covid-themed loteria cards, which you can get as tees, magnets, stickers, etc on Threadless:

California's fiber for all bill (permalink)

This world's greatest crises only exist because they are in slow motion: the carceral state, capitalism's health-care rationing, inequality, the manifest incompetence of the private sector in providing broadband. They are so slow that they are tolerable in the moment.

Covid speeds all that up. We get a decade's worth of privatized medicine shittiness in a week, a year's worth of broadband failure in the same timespan.

I mean, if there was ever a moment at which the case for treating fiber as a utility was more obvious…

Enter Senator Lena Gonzalez's California Fiber for All bill, SB1130:

It modernizes the California Advanced Services Fund, updating the definition of
"broadband" from DSL speeds to real, 21st-century high speeds.

Fiber speeds.

Any broadband network provided by the state will be required to be high-speed, and the companies that use it will required to have open access rules that promote competition.

As Ernesto Falcon writes, the standards for CASF are laughably, obviously terrible. The fund has a mere $300m but hasn't managed to spend it, because it's almost impossible to find a California community that qualifies as "underserved" by its criteria.

Covid has laid bare how dependent we are on broadband to carry on our day-to-day lives, how important it is to our education and employment and family lives and romantic lives and civil lives and political lives.

We were always this dependent on broadband, but Covid speeds things up.

If you're a Californian, sign this petition and tell your state senator to stand up for modern broadband.

1978 Doonesbury stereotype (permalink)

I love Glenn Fleishman's photo of this May 1978 Doonesbury stereotype, along with the accompanying printer's lore ("That plate would be put under pressure with a fresh piece of dry flong to produce the first mold.")

Flong: "a temporary negative mould made of a forme of set type, in order to cast a metal stereotype which can be used in a rotary press. The process is called stereotyping."

Not to be confused with:

Flong: "Slang term for thong, perhaps in reference to a flesh-coloured flong, but can be used to refer to any thong."

And here's the strip as it ran on March 18, 1978.

LA crime plummets (permalink)

The perfect book for this moment is Rebecca Solnit's "A Paradise Built in Hell," a meticulously researched history of disasters that uses primary sources to prove that in times of crisis, people help one another – rather than looting and pillaging.

Solnit also documents the phenomenon of "elite panic," the certainty among plutes that the poors are coming to eat them, prompting pre-emptive strikes against the "hordes" before they materialize.

This was the premise behind my 2017 novel Walkaway.

During the pandemic, LA has seen a 23% drop in crime compared to the same period last year – that includes an 11% drop in family violence crime.

(Hey, fellow Angelenos, don't buy groceries in person this weekend if you can help it!)

US stimulus is one week's cash (permalink)

The US coronavirus stimulus sounds like a big cash injection, but as Umair Haque points out, the cash going to small businesses and families amounts to about one week's worth of median income.

The crisis is already four times longer than that, depending on which city you live in. The end is not in sight.

Starving the US economy of cash now will destroy it: "It isn’t quick, large, or simple enough to buoy confidence — and so people are beginning tp panic."

Economic depressions are crises of confidence. The economy seizes up when people don't believe that they can count on future income and so they stop spending what they have.

Congress's timidity and impulse to bureaucratic means-testing do not inspire confidence in 10,000,000 Americans who filed for unemployment – 6% of the labor force in two weeks (at that rate, you get to 24% unemployment in mere weeks).

Haque: "In the end, when they write the books, I’m confident they’ll say this. The American government supported people and business for one week. Just one week. Amidst an epic, historic crisis which was to last months."

"Money at this scale is a social fiction. The government can support the economy for as long as it takes. That doesn’t plunge a society into 'debt.' It’s not money we 'borrow' from China. We are lending it to ourselves. We can cancel the debt afterwards without consequence."

"There won’t be 'inflation.' What there will be is massive deflation if none of the above happens. All those millions filing for unemployment? That means wages fall massively, and prices follow, too."

Private equity blinks on cuts to health workers' wages (permalink)

America's healthcare sector is dominated by private equity firms, which are running the PE playbook on a human essential: load companies with debt, sell off assets, fuck over workers, deliver worse service, walk away from the ashes.

The pandemic is like a stop-motion video for slow crises. PE's looting of the health care system has been a crisis for years, but it's been a game of inches. Now, under pandemic, these too-slow-to-notice crises accelerate and can't be ignored.

So the long-overdue outcry over PE's healthcare looting has finally arrived, as people raise an alarm over cuts to frontline workers' pay. The outrage is so loud, the specter of guillotines is so real, that finally, PE companies are listening.

Alteon, the first PE-backed health company to announce cuts is backing off of plans to cut front-line workers' salaries and taking money out of execs' paychecks instead.

KKR and Blackstone's health companies haven't followed suit…yet.

They may be holding out frontline health workers' wages as hostages in their bid to rake in billions in bailout money.

And of course, we can't fucking trust these psychopaths. The minute the crisis distracts us from them, they'll start crushing doctors and nurses again. Plutes gonna plute.

Virtual greenscreen (permalink)

This University of Washington entry into this year's IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference is jaw-dropping: realtime background substitution without greenscreens!

The footage is coming off of two smartphone cameras, and it's fully documented in the accompanying paper.

It really puts Zoom's background switching in the shade. This is near-miraculous.

Landlord changes church's locks (permalink)

The pastor of the Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, CA announced that he would defy the San Joaquin County Health Department's shelter in place order and hold services. So his landlord, Bethel Open Bible Church, changed the locks on his church.

The pastor's name is Jon Duncan. He's hired lawyers from the National Center for Law & Policy ("a conservative Christian nonprofit law center") to represent him in his case against the county to re-open his church and put his congregants and community at risk.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Draconian UK Digital Economy Bill passes: huge blow for digital privacy, security, freedom

#1yrago The BLM's Burning Man environmental impact statement is terrible, calls for drug searches, dumpsters, and a 19,000,000lb concrete wall

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Waxy (, Matt Webb (, Riven (, Four Short Links (, Naked Capitalism (, Reddit (Reddit).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation.

Currently reading: I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will."

Latest podcast: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots

Upcoming appearances:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

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