Pluralistic: 09 Nov 2020

Today's links

Boundless Realms (permalink)

There's a lot of fascinating writing about Disney theme parks and theme park design more generally on the internet, but no one thinks and writes like Foxx Nolte, who is always brilliant, but never moreso than when she is writing about the Haunted Mansion.

Nolte has just published her first book on the subject: Boundless Realm, and – speaking as someone who's read dozens of books on theme parks and the Mansion – I can say that it is the very best book on the subject ever written.

There are multiple explanations for the popularity of the Mansion, and Nolte manages to synthesize all of them into a beautiful, unitary whole.

One major strand of Mansionology claims that the ride's virtuosity is in its coherence, the stories that run through it.

The competing view is that the Mansion's popularity is down to its incompleteness, its incoherence. Famously, the ride went through many conceptual overhauls, driven in part by Walt Disney's ambivalence about the idea of a rotting mansion in his spotless park.

From the idea of a scary house at the end of Main Street to Rolly Crump's psychedelic walk-through "Museum of the Weird," to the Davis/Coats/Gracey/Atencio rides built in Anaheim and Orlando, the Mansion is a collage of elements that survived multiple reconceptualizations.

The theory goes that the mismatched elements included in the opening-day design (and the layers of removals and additions since) created a kind of rich, surprising stew, a salmagundi whose lack of coherence engages our imagination to connect the unconnectable dots.

And Nolte synthesizes these two views – brilliantly. Having worked as a Mansion castmember, interviewed many former "butlers" and "maids" as well as Imagineers; having examined the vast trove of material surviving about the Mansion's design process and the source materials online sleuths uncovered, Nolte squares the circle.

Yes, it's brilliant because it collects the very best elements from several strong (and narratively irreconcilable) concepts.

But it's also brilliant because it's thematically coherent: it tells a story less about the Mansion's inhabitants than it is about you, the rider.

Nolte brings to bear her incredible design sense and her ability to articulate the way that design elements – sightlines, lighting, music and SFX – tell a tale that is multisensory, subliminal and that reaches far deeper into our imaginations than mere words.

The Mansion's tricks – Pepper's Ghost effects, scrolling paintings, crossfading reverse-projections, etc – are easy enough to understand and even to replicate in a home Hallowe'en haunt.

But the real tricks – the way that the designers immerse you in an atmosphere that has a real, narrative arc that is both unmissable and nearly impossible to pin down – are far harder to detect, let alone describe or replicate.

That is the real genius of Nolte's work, the reason I so faithfully read her blog. Her ability to make those design decisions legible and comprehensible to someone who has a severe deficit in that department (me), is like a magic trick every time.

Like noticing the ghostly face in the abstract wallpaper or spotting the eyes on a tombstone open for just a flicker, Nolte's work never fails to give me a surprising, even shocking moment of satisfying revelation.

At book length, she's even better. This is a remarkable achievement – and a definitive one.

Student data breaches vastly underreported (permalink)

Even before lockdown, ed-tech had taken over America's public schools, with students increasingly completing assignments, accessing course materials and messaging each other and teachers through monolithic ed-tech platforms .And where you have IT, you have breaches.

Ed-tech breaches are particularly ghastly – they've leaked teachers' databases of which kids are being bullied; students' medical and mental-health records; and information needed to steal millions from classroom funds.

But as the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center reports, the extent of these breaches has been vastly underreported, because breach-reports count compromised VENDORS, not compromised SCHOOLS.

So when Pearson – one of the monopolistic giants of the ed-tech world – experienced a breach in 2018, that was counted as a single incident, even though it affected 135 school districts, each with many schools.

The GAO's official breach figures count only 25% of the known breaches – and no one is counting the un-reported breaches, which the project believes could raise the figure by a factor of 10 or 20.

UK corporate registrar bans code-injection (permalink)

Companies House, the British registrar of newly formed companies, has forced a firm to rename itself from


On the grounds that merely including the name of the company on a web-page (including the Companies House website) could trigger cross-site scripting attacks.

The company – run by a self-described "playful" IT consultant – has changed its name to:


The company joins other nerd humor business names that Companies House has rejected, including the XKCD-inspired


I remain slightly disappointed that my wife refused to allow me to put curly-braces in my daughter's middle name, or even an old school "+++ATH".

While the UK continues its crackdown on code-injection attacks in official names, Ireland remains a free-fire zone full of people with surnames like O\'\'\'\'\'\'\'\'\'Brien and OO&#039;Malley.

Someone Comes to Town Part 22 (permalink)

This week on my podcast: part 22 of my serial reading of my 2006 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a book that Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read."

You can catch up on the other installments here:

and subscribe to my podcast feed here:

Here's a direct link to the MP3 (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive; they'll host your stuff for free, forever, too!):

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Sony’s EULA is worse than their rootkit

#15yrsago List of CDs infected with Sony’s rootkit DRM

#10yrsago RIP, Robbins Barstow, godfather of the home movie revival

#5yrsago Chelsea Manning’s statement for Aaron Swartz Day 2015

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (, Doug Levin (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 525 words (79380 total).

Currently reading: The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 22)

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