Pluralistic: 25 Apr 2020

novels,ya,heist novels,reviews,gift guide,supply chains, makers,ventilators,right to repair,ifixit,inflation,economics,deflation,signs,photos,podapalooza,events,tensegrity

Tensegrity@home; I'm doing a livecast today for Podapalooza; The vernacular signage of the pandemic; A deflationary pandemic; Makers in a time of pandemic; Send Pics

Pluralistic: 25 Apr 2020 send-pics


Today's links

Tensegrity@home (permalink)

I love "tensegrity" – Buckminster Fuller's structures that use tension, not compression, to support loads. You may have seen this amazing, nigh-sorcerous tensegrity Lego build that Jason Kottke recently highlighted.

Writing in Wired, Rhett Allain offers an accessible, plain-language explanation for how tensegrity works, along with guidance for improvising your own tensegrity projects at home.

"Whereas an ordinary table stays up because the tabletop pushes down with the weight of gravity on some rigid legs, this one is held together by a balance of forces pulling in different directions. Those strings on the left are actually pulling up!"

I'm doing a livecast today for Podapalooza (permalink)

Today is the second day of the Podapalooza virtual podcasting festival! It launched yesterday with the first hour of my new reading of my 2009 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town."

It's a novel about a guy who is obsessed with building a citywide, free wireless network – whose parents happen to be a mountain and a washing machine. Gene Wolf (RIP) called it "a glorious book unlike any book you've read."

As part of the festival, I'm doing a live Q&A; today at 11AM Pacific/2PM Eastern. The tickets are pay-what-you-can, and the funds go to benefit Give Directly, which makes direct cash-transfers to families in dire straits due to coronavirus.

If you want a superb, professional reading of the novel, the official audiobook is amazing, read by Bronson Pinchot. You can buy it anywhere audiobooks are sold (except Audible, who refuse to carry my work because it's DRM-free), or direct from me:

The vernacular signage of the pandemic (permalink)

I have always been fascinated with public signage; the signs we post are a window into what we secretly think that other people don't know or understand. I've posted literally thousands of pictures of signs from all over the world.;=sign

The pandemic has ushered in a golden age of signage, with people pressed to create vernacular, often hand-lettered (or home-printed) signage to announce closures or demand attention to public health measures.

Philipp Lenssen has been documenting the covid signage in Frankfurt and has posted 800+ photos under permissive licenses permitting commercial re-use.

He'd like to expand the collection. If you have pics you'd like him to add, email

A deflationary pandemic (permalink)

As central banks around the world fire up the money printers, it's natural to worry that the pandemic will trigger runaway inflation.

But as MIT economist Olivier Blanchard writes in Vox EU, there's a much larger risk of deflation.

After all, unemployment is skyrocketing, anyone with money is halting all discretionary spending to save for an uncertain future, and even if they wanted to spend, there's no open stores to spend in.

After the pandemic, our collective trauma and financial anxiety could usher in a new era of saving and debt-aversion, halting the debt-fuelled consumer spending that has sustained much of the world's economy for the past 40 years.

Blanchard makes a good case that we should be worried about deflation, though he does acknowledge that we're in a "nonstandard environment" where it's hard to predict how the economy will move.

He posits at least one hyperinflationary scenario, in which we see a spike in private debt, larger than the 20-30% already projected; a large increase in the neutral rate; and "fiscal dominance of monetary policy."

This last is what happens when the Fed refuses to raise rates because of political pressure from overleveraged debtors who can't afford higher interest, creating "overheating and inflation."

Blanchard says that this scenario only occurs if three low-probability events all occur, and thus the overall outcome is very unlikely.

Makers in a time of pandemic (permalink)

A funny thing happened on the way to the pandemic. Neoliberalism's imperative to look only at how things work (not how they fail) created lean, overstretched supply chains that allowed investors to extract huge surpluses from companies (AKA: why everything is made in China).

But even as distributed, local productive capacities around the world were being dismantled (redundancy != inefficiency), the maker movement was on the rise, expressing a kind of inchoate urge to be able to make, fix and improve things close to home.

And today, the gaps in the supply chain are being filled by the makers inspired by Make Magazine, Maker Faire, and the new DIY movement.

I've long been fascinated by the way that modern makerism diverges from the old DIY/hobbyist movement of the Modern Mechanix era. The key difference is networked collaboration: if I have a project idea or question, I can easily locate similar projects for inspiration.

Then I can ask questions and solicit suggestions from ad-hoc communities clustered around projects similar to mine; the electronic, written nature of these brainstorming sessions means that they form a permanent palipmsest that future makers can refer to.

In addition to shopcraft and praxis spreading shoulder-to-shoulder in workshops (which happens in makerspaces, obvs), there's this invisible, massive continuous knowledge-transfer happening across time and space, thanks to networks.

Today, we see that happening at speed, as plans, techniques, sources and improvements fly around the world at network speed, with makers taking on both production and maintenance of medical and safety equipment.

Meanwhile, the medtech companies that treated service, parts, schematics and technical documentation as trade-secrets that secured a proprietary market advantage have taken a massive beating as the failings of this model were made manifest.

The pressure has taken its toll: the biggest ventilator companies in the world are opening up their document repositories to enable local repair and maintenance.

It's by no means complete, but it's a start. And in the meanwhile, guerilla efforts like Ifixit's repository of med-tech service manuals and documentation are filling in the gaps.

Send Pics (permalink)

I've been a fan of Lauren McLaughin's writing since her outstanding debut novel, Cycler, an allegorical YA sf novel about a young woman who turns into a boy for 5 days out of 28:

McLaughlin has written in so many modes since, and done so well with each. She reminds me of Kathe Koja or Neil Gaiman, a writer of incredible versatility who writes for kids and adults with equal facility, crossing back and forth from sf to mimetic fiction to fantsy.

Her new novel is superb: SEND PICS is a cyber-heist book whose mechanics turn on the same kind of taut smart-versus-outsmart that made John Rogers's Leverage such a treat.

But what makes SEND PICS really incredible is how it marries that heist-novel tension with deadly serious subject matter: it's a book about a young woman who is drugged, sexually assaulted, and then extorted by her abuser.

McLaughlin's balancing act between these two modes shows off that rare, writerly versatility: this is a book that's on the one hand deadly serious, and on the other hand, a plot-driven romp, and it manages this feat without trivializing its subject or sacrificing its gusto.

On the way, SEND PICS connect patriarchy with inequality, white supremacy, and allyship. It's a gorgeous story of beautiful friendships, a tight tale of justice and comeuppance, and a technothriller of great drive.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago BBC: DRM makes music customers mad

#15yrsago Architectures of Control: DRM in hardware

#15yrsago IP and the Digital Divide

#5yrsago Kansas kid corrects anti-drug teacher, cops raid his house

#1yrago Telcoms lobbyists oppose ban on throttling firefighters' internet during wildfires

#1yrago "Black hat" companies sell services to get products featured and upranked on Amazon

#1yrago Mozilla's Internet Health Report: discriminatory AI, surveilling smart cities, ad-tech

#1yrago Angered by the No-More-AOCs rule, 31 colleges' Young Democrats boycott the DCCC

#1yrago A 40cm-square patch that renders you invisible to person-detecting AIs

#1yrago Court case seeks to clarify that photographers don't need permission to publish pictures that incidentally capture public works of art

#1yrago Older Americans are working beyond retirement age at levels not seen since 1962

#1yrago Vulnerabilities in GPS fleet-tracking tools let attackers track and immobilize cars en masse

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 756 words (8161 total).

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: Podcast swap: Wil Wheaton on Little Brother
Upcoming appearances:

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

"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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