Pluralistic: 09 Apr 2020

Today's links

  1. Neighbors treated to socially isolated buildingside screening: Scott Duggan treated his terrace to "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
  2. Philips quadruples ventilator costs: They reneged on their HHS deal and will get $646.7m for their trouble.
  3. Kansas GOP nukes ban on large Easter gatherings: What's wrong with Kansas?
  4. Kickpunch's Disney comics/horror movie mashups: Daniel Björk's terrifying poster children for fair use.
  5. Plastic-eating enzyme: Leaf-branch compost cutinase to the rescue.
  6. Cold brew coffee chemistry: Making the black stuff reproducible.
  7. Tails adds Secureboot support: Evil chambermaids, beware!
  8. Crisis makes heroes of IT workers: When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth.
  9. Automating fake PDF signatures: Make it look like you printed, signed and scanned.
  10. Pocket Art Director: Your high-handed boss in D20 form.
  11. This day in history: 2019
  12. Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading

Neighbors treated to socially isolated buildingside screening (permalink)

Scott Duggan is the tech manager of the Cyclone Rep theater in Cork. He's on lockdown, along with his neighbours on his terrace. So he set up a screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on the gable-end house, with audio transmitted over low-power FM

He used the cinema's projector and solicited donations for Age Action. The neighbourhood all watched from socially distant locations — patios, gardens, etc.

Philips quadruples ventilator costs (permalink)

13 years ago, HHS signed a contract with Newport Medical Instruments to produce low-cost ventilators against a future pandemic. Covidien (now Medtronic) bought Newport and killed the project. They make a ventilator that costs 333% more than Newport's.

Years later, HHS offered the same deal to Philips, who failed to produce a single respirator in time for the coronavirus pandemic, despite absorbing millions in federal spending for the project.

Now, Philips has done a deal to sell the US government ventilators at four times the price that they were contracted for — more than $15,000 each (Covidien's overpriced ventilators only cost $10k each).

Philips stands to make $646.7m on the deal, through which they will provide 2,500 Trilogy EV300 ventilators rather than the 10,000 $3,280 ventilators they'd agreed to provide for HHS's national stockpile. Philips was already paid $13.8m to develop the low-cost ventilators.

Kansas GOP nukes ban on large Easter gatherings (permalink)

Kansas's Democratic Gov Laura Kelly issued an executive order limiting Easter and Passover gatherings to ten people. The GOP legislature overturned it.

It's another reminder that the right's claim that it is the party of rational long-termism rather than squishy bleeding-heart reflex is just bullshit.

Koch has the foresight to buy coal tech with 20-year amortization, but not to spare the lives of the GOP's voting base.

There's literally nothing more politically short-term than dooming your core voters to die gasping deaths in a month because you're afraid they'll be angry at you on Easter Sunday. Angry voters might not vote for you. Dead voters can't.

The Saudis have banned the Hajj, the Pope has cancelled Easter services, but we're still seeing mass gatherings, primarily among evangelicals — a reliable source of turkey-votes for Christmas, and the key to GOP political dominance.

Kickpunch's Disney comics/horror movie mashups (permalink)

Daniel "Kickpunch" Björk created an incredible set of Disney Comic/horror movie mashups.

There are 18 in the series (so far) and you can get 'em as tees or art prints. Be sure to check out his whole portfolio — he's a font of parodical, grotesque and wonderful pop-culture remix illustrations.

Plastic-eating enzyme (permalink)

Researchers at Carbios and the the University of Toulouse have created a "mutant" variant of leaf-branch compost cutinase that can break the bonds in PET plastics.

The new enzyme is 10,000x more efficient at breaking up PET, and remains intact at temperatures above 72' C, which is PET's softening point (softer plastics are easier to break down, but enzymes also break down at higher temps).

The breakdown is so efficient that it produces recylced plastic that is as strong as virgin plastic, and the enzyme naturally separates out pigments used to make color plastics so the end-product is clear.

"Carbios is building a demonstration plant that is expected to recycle hundreds of tons of PET per year." The process is more expensive than making new plastics, but because we allow plastics manufacturers to impose the external costs of their process on society.

(Image: Grendelkhan, CC BY-SA

Cold brew coffee chemistry (permalink)

Niny Rao and colleagues from Thomas Jefferson University have been studying the chemical composition of cold brew coffee, a subject very near and dear to my heart. They just posted a "virtual poster session" at the American Chemical Society's site.

They tested roasts of varying darkness, and found that with darker roasts, there were significant differences in the solids extracted with and without heat.

They conclude that cold brew improves when brewed at room temp (not in the fridge).

They also advise multiple rounds of filtering (through multiple layers of filter) to remove unwanted solids and halt the extraction process, and a ten hour (e.g. overnight) extraction.

I'm going to try it. I've tinkered with lots of ways of making cold brew, including some expensive (and beautiful – love my Kyoto dripper) apparatus, but ultimately went back to the easy, low-mess "grinds in a mesh bag, bag in a water jug, wait, squeeze, discard" method.

Tails adds Secureboot support (permalink)

Secureboot foils malware that targets firmware by checking BIOS before it loads, using a secure coprocessor on the motherboard to verify cryptographic signatures to detect tampering.

The Tails project – makers of the fantastically secure bootable OS-on-a-stick – have added Secureboot support in their latest version, after a six year development cycle.

This means that Tails users no longer have to disable UEFI Secureboot, making using Tails both easier and more secure!

Crisis makes heroes of IT workers (permalink)

IT workers are typically undervalued and heaped with abuse in a Morlocks-vs-Eloi dynamic that has been shattered by the pandemic, which has made IT (even more) utterly central to firms.

The IT trap of wanting to control your users and wanting to empower them is on full display, as IT departments pull all-nighters and multi-day marathons to set their coworkers up for remote work and provision their systems to handle the new workflows.

Now they're station-keeping, supporting users far from the office, and expressing weary IT laments: "Kelly’s team was flooded by calls from employees who’d forgotten their computer password and guessed wrong too many times."

"He's also hoping people learn to use the “reply-all” button on group emails more sparingly."

It's not quite When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, but it's getting there.

Automating fake PDF signatures (permalink)

The modern era has many tiny hypocrisies, but none quite so common as the mutual pretense by which you ask me to print, sign and scan a PDF and I pretend that I didn't just paste my signatures into it.

But some firms shatter this tacit social contract and demand that you really engage in the ridiculous ritual of actually printing, signing and scanning.

Enter Falsiscan, a tool to automate convincing forgeries of this procedure.

Falsiscan takes in 27 variants of your signature and then feed these sigs and your PDF to it, with the (x,y) for each signature blank as arguments, and it will produce a slightly off-center, slightly degraded new PDF that looks like you actually signed it.

Pocket Art Director (permalink)

Pretend Store have released a sequel to their Art Director D20, the all-new Art Director II, a $17 substitute for your socially distant, relentlessly negative boss, who, I'm sure, you really, really miss.

This day in history (permalink)

#1yrago Today, Michigan regulators vote on conservative education "reform" plan to purge the word "democracy" from curriculum

#1yrago Public Sans: a free/open font from the United States Web Design System

#1yrago How to Do Nothing: Jenny Odell's case for resisting "The Attention Economy"

#1yrago The Chinafication of the internet continues as the UK proposes blocking any service that hosts "illegal" or "harmful" material

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (, Naked Capitalism (, Geekologie (, Four Short Links (, Super Punch (

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:

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

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

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