Pluralistic: 24 Sep 2020

Today's links

Announcing the Attack Surface tour (permalink)

It's been 12 years since I went on my first book tour and in the years since, I've met and spoken with tens of thousands of readers in hundreds of cities on five continents in support of more than a dozen books.

Now I've got another major book coming out: ATTACK SURFACE.

How do you tour a book during a pandemic? I think we're still figuring that out. I'll tell you one thing, I won't be leaving Los Angeles this time around. Instead, my US publisher, Tor Books, has set up eight remote "Attack Surface Lectures."

Each event has a different theme and different guest-hosts/co-discussants, chosen both for their expertise and their ability to discuss their subjects in ways that are fascinating and engaging.

ATTACK SURFACE is the third Little Brother book, a standalone book for adults.

It stars Masha, a young woman who is finally reckoning with the moral character of the work she's done, developing surveillance tools to fight Iraqi insurgents and ex-Soviet democracy activists.

Masha has struggled with her work for years, compartmentalizing her qualms, rationalizing her way into worse situations.

She goes home to San Francisco and discovers her best friend, a BLM activist, is being targeted by the surveillance weapons Masha herself invented.

What follows is a Little Brother-style technothriller, full of rigorous description and extrapolation on cybersecurity, surveillance and resistance, that illuminates the tale of a tech worker grappling with their own life's work.

Obviously, this covers a lot of ground, as is reflected in the eight nights of talks we're announcing today:

I. Politics & Protest, Oct 13, with Eva Galperin and Ron Deibert, hosted by The Strand Bookstore

II. Cross-Medium SciFi, Oct 14, with Amber Benson and John Rogers, hosted by Brookline Booksmith

III. ​​Intersectionality: Race, Surveillance, and Tech and Its History, Oct 15, with Malkia Cyril and Meredith Whittaker, hosted by Booksmith

IV. SciFi Genre, Oct 16, with Sarah Gailey and Chuck Wendig, hosted by Fountain Books

V. Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk, Oct 19, with Bruce Sterling and Christopher Brown, hosted by Andeersons Bookshop

VI. Tech in SciFi, Oct 20, with Ken Liu and Annalee Newitz, hosted by Interabang

VII. Little Revolutions, Oct 21, with Tochi Onyebuchi and Bethany C Morrow, hosted by Skylight Books

VIII. OpSec & Personal Cyber-Security: How Can You Be Safe?, Oct 22, with Runa Sandvik and Window Snyder, hosted by Third Place Books

Some of the events come with either a hardcover and a signed bookplate, or, with some stores, actual signed books.

(those stores' stock is being shipped to my house, and I'm signing after each event and mailing out from here)

(yes, really)

I've never done anything like this and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about it. Book tours are crazy marathons – I did 35 cities in 3 countries in 45 days for Walkaway a couple years ago – and this is an entirely different kind of thing.

But I'm also (very) excited. Revisiting Little Brother after seven years is quite an experience. ATTACK SURFACE – a book about uprisings, police-state tactics, and the digital tools as oppressors and liberators – is (unfortunately) very timely.

Having an excuse to talk about this book and its themes with you all – and with so many distinguished and brilliant guests – is going to keep me sane next month. I really hope you can make it.

WV's deabeat governor now owes $140m (permalink)

Jim Justice's 2016 campaign for Governor of West Virginia made a simple pitch: Justice is the richest man in WV, a billionaire, and therefore he is better than everyone else and will do a good job governing the state.

Unfortunately (for WV), every billionaire is policy failure and Justice is no exception.

You know the old saw about how rich people are super cheap and that's why they're rich? It's definitely true that a lot of plutes are cheap, but what's more true is that plutes cheat.

Justice made his money the old fashioned way: fraud.

After inheriting a coal empire from daddy, Justice built up the family fortune by (checks notes) not paying his bills.

Justice companies have been named in 600+ nonpayment suits in 20+ states.

Justice is good at fraud: he stiffs you and makes you sue him for nonpayment. Then he stiffs you on the judgment and makes you sue him again. And again. And again. He's been at it since the go-go coal days of the 1990s and never stopped – not even after becoming governor.

Justice is an equal-opportunity deadbeat. He stiffed his coal companies' insurance company, stranding his own workers with no care for chronic illnesses they got while working in his coal businesses.

(Justice also stiffed the DoJ when they fined him for safety violations)

Many of the untreated workers died.

Justice has stolen his workers' wages, then stiffed them on their judgments. He's stolen from the federal government, defrauding them and then stiffing them on their judgments.

Back in May, Propublica's Ken Ward Jr and Alex Mierjeski created an interactive Jim Justice crime explorer, allowing you to search through the $128m in outstanding claims against the governor.

In the few short months since, Justice's bad debts have ballooned to $140,000,000 (!!), thanks to crimes involving stiffing Essar Steel Algoma for steel shipments, stiffing a Texas company over bulldozers, and more.

Justice is running for re-election and standing on his record as a businessman and a governor. He followed Trump's lead in 2016, refusing to put his assets in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest.

He has conflicts! Like the environmental protection settlement he's on both sides of, which stands to save him millions.

Faulty TV behind daily, town-wide internet outages (permalink)

For 18 months, people in the Welsh village of Aberhosan lost their broadband signal at 7 every morning. No one could figure it out. Engineers at BT Openreach – the privatized engineering spinoff from BT – undertook multiple steps, including replacing cabling to the village.

Finally, after a year and a half, they figured it out.

One of the villagers had an old TV set they'd switch on every day at 7. The faulty TV would blast out a single high-level impulse noise (SHINE) that knocked out broadband for the whole village.

You might think the quirkiest thing about this story is the broken TV and its mortified owner, but you'd be wrong. The most amazing thing here is the BT Openreach, literally the worst company in the world, solved a single, solitary problem, even if it did take them 18 months.

Seriously: if BT Openreach was a satirical comedy about technical incompetence, poor back-end support, buck-passing, jobsworthing, and pure sadism, it would be cancelled midway through the first series for being so broad than no one could suspend their disbelief.

But I didn't post this merely to note the amusing busted TV or to remind everyone that BT Openreach should be shoved into a lead-lined pit, sealed with 200m of concrete, and the whole thing signposted MENE MENE TECKEL UPHARISIN.

Mostly I posted it because I wanted an excuse to relay the funniest everything-stops-working-every-day-at-the-same-time story I ever heard.

It's Michael Skeet's story, and it comes from the days when he was working at the old CBC Toronto studios on Jarvis St.

Every night at 9PM, all the equipment in one of the studios would suddenly lose power and then restart. Then it would happen again every morning at 3AM.

Engineers tore the studio apart, rebuilt key power supply components, etc. Nothing worked.

Then, one morning at 5AM, the cursed studio had an explosion in its main transformer. When the smoke cleared, the entire studio was spattered with…baked beans.

Have you figured it out?

I didn't.

The overnight security guard would arrive on shift every night at 9. He would open the main transformer door and put his dinner – a can of beans – on top of the transformer to heat up.

At 3AM, he'd open the door again to get out his hot beany supper.

The transformer had an automated safety feature: when you opened the door, it cut the power so that you didn't electrocute yourself.

After years of this, the night watchman forgot to get his beans out, and….boom.

Mystery solved!

PS: BT Openreach sucks.

(Image: Arnold Chao, CC BY-NC)

Blogcritics on Attack Surface (permalink)

The most nail-biting moments in a novelist's career are that moment just before publication, when the very first reviews start to trickle in, and you don't know how the book will be received. It's hard not to fall prey to gnawing doubt!

For me, that moment is now: just before ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother book, comes out (Oct 1 in UK/AU/NZ/SA etc; Oct 13 in US/Canada).

Thankfully, things are looking good on that score!

For example, Richard Marcus's new review on Blogcritics, the venerable web publication, which calls it: "A brilliant book with a great main character, a riveting plot, and an incredibly topical story combine to make this an essential read."

Seriously, you can't ask for better than that – though Marcus manages it, saying "Doctorow has recreated our world in all its scary detail."

(the review is also scheduled to run in the Seattle Post Intelligencer!)

Now, in the interest of balance, I must note this review from "McMasters," who wrote the first Amazon review on the book:

"A bit childish and making too much of an effort to have 'strong female characters', to the point of only havng female charcters. I guess that sells?"

He gave it one star.

For the record, there are some male "charcters" too!

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Microsoft’s DRM makes your computer vulnerable to attack

#10yrsago Multinational copyright companies will require French ISPs turn over 150,000 subscriber names and addresses per day

#5yrsago Kentucky Republican state Senator: the First Amendment protects my right to receive bribes

#5yrsago Walt Disney’s plan for the FBI of tomorrow

#5yrsago Study: tracking every RPG book in every public & academic library in the world

#5yrsago Dooce quits mommyblogging amid toxic pressure from advertisers

#1yrago Here’s how to take Wired’s advice and get your own e-scooter, for a fraction of the cost

#1yrago Trial begins for the “cum/ex” bankers accused of stealing €447m and trying for €60b

#1yrago At the UN, Greta Thunberg excoriates world leaders and her elders for climate inaction

#1yrago Far-right Australian billionaire demands $500k and a vow of silence from a satirical vlogger

#1yrago Nerf unveils “DRM for darts”

#1yrago Permanent Record: Edward Snowden and the making of a whistleblower

#1yrago Annalee Newitz’s “Future of Another Timeline”: in which punk feminist time travelers battle Men’s Rights Advocates who want to stop feminism from every emerging

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 507 words (64876 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: IP

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