Pluralistic: Down in the (link)dumps (23 Sept 2023)

Today's links

A ID8000 Consumer Commodity label hazmat label, reading 'Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods 9.

Down in the (link)dumps (permalink)

Back when I was writing on Boing Boing, I'd slam out 10-15 blog posts every day, short hits that served as signposts and a public notebook, but I rarely got into longer analyses of the sort I do daily now on Pluralistic. Both modes are very useful for organizing one's thoughts, and indeed, they complement each other:

The problem is that when you write long, synthetic essays, they crowd out the quick hits. Back in May 2022, I started including three short links with each edition of Pluralistic, in a section called "Hey look at this" (thanks to Mitch Wagner for suggesting it!):

But even with that daily linkdump, I still manage to accumulate link-debt, as interesting things pile up, not rising to the level of a long blog-post, but not so disposable as to be easy to flush. When the pile gets big enough, I put out a Saturday Linkdump:

All of which is to say, it's Saturday, and I've got a linkdump!

First up, a musical interlude. I've been listening to DJ Earworm's amazing mashups since 2005 and while I've got dozens of tracks that shuffle in and out of my daily playlist, the one that makes me wanna get up and dance every time is "No One Takes Your Freedom," a wildly improbable banger composed of equal parts Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, George Michael and Scissor Sisters:

I defy you to play that one without bopping a little. I think it's the French horn from "For No One" that really kills it, the world's least expected intro to a heavy dance beat.

Moving swiftly on: let's talk about fonts. I remember when Wired magazine first showed up at the bookstores I was working at in Toronto, and my bosses – younger men than I am now! – complained that the tiny, decorative fonts, rendered in silver foil on a purple background, was illegible. I laughed at them, batting my young eyes and devouring the promise of a better future with ease, even in dim light.

Now it's thirty years later and I'm half-blind. Both of my decaying, aging eyes are filmed with cataracts that I'm too busy to get removed (though my doc promises permanent 20:20, perfect night-vision, and implanted bifocals when I can spare a month from touring with new books to get 'em fixed).

Which is to say: I spend a lot more time thinking about legibility now than I did in the early 1990s, and I've got a lot more sympathy for those booksellers' complaints about Wired's aggressively low-contrast design today. I'm forever on the hunt for fonts designed for high legibility.

This week, Kottke linked to B612, a free/open font family "designed for aircraft cockpit screens," commissioned by Airbus. It's got all the bells and whistles (e.g. hinting) and comes in variable and monospace faces:

B612 arrived at a fortuitous moment, coinciding with a major UI overhaul in Thunderbird, the app I spend the second-most time in (I spend more time in Gedit, the bare-bones text-editor that comes with Ubuntu, the flavor of GNU/Linux I use). A previous Thunderbird UI experiment had made all the UI text effectively unreadable for me, causing me to dive deep into the infinitely configurable settings to sub in my own fonts:

The new UI is much better, but it broke all my old tweaks, so I went back into those settings and switched everything to B612, and it's amazeballs. I tried doing the same in Gedit, but B612 mono was too light for my shitty eyes, so I went back to Jetbrains Mono, another free/open font that has 8 weights to choose from:

Love me a new, legible font! Meanwhile, a note for all you designers: the received wisdom that black on white type is "hard on the eyes" is a harmful myth. Stop with the grey-on-white type, for the love of all that is holy. This isn't 1992, you aren't laying out type for Wired Issue 1.0. Contrast is good, actually.

Continuing on the subject of software updates: Mastodon, the free, open, federated social media platform that anyone can host and that lets you hop between one server and another with just a couple clicks, has released a major update, focusing on usability, especially for people unfamiliar with its conventions:

Included in this fix: a major overhaul to how you interact with posts on servers other than your home server. This was both confusing and clunky, and the fix makes it much better. They've also changed how sign-up flow works, making things simpler for newbies, and they've cleaned up the UI, tweaking threads, web previews and other parts of the daily experience.

There's also a lot of changes to search, but search still remains less than ideal, with multi-server search limited to hashtags. This is bad, actually. Thankfully, we don't have to wait for Mastodon devs to decide to fix it, because Mastodon is free and open, which means anyone with the skills to code a change, or the money to pay techies to do it, or the moral force to convince them to do it, can effect that change themselves:

Case in point: Mastoreader, a great new thread reader for Mastodon:

Every time that guy who owns Twitter breaks it even worse, a new cohort of users sign up. Not all of them stay, but the growth is steady and the trendline is solid:

It's the right call: while there are other services that promise that they will be federated someday, promises are easy, and there's world of difference between "federateable" and "federated." As GW Bush told us, "Fool me twice, we don't get fooled again":

One big difference between the kind of blogging I used to do in my Boing Boing days and the long-form work I do today is the graphics. When you're posting 10-15 times/day, you can't make each graphic a standout (or at least, I can't). But I can (and do) devote substantial time to making a single collage out of public domain and Creative Commons graphics every day:

I am not a visual person – literally, I can barely see! – but my daily art practice has slowly made me a less-terrible illustrator. I got in some good licks this week, like this graphic for the UAW's new "Eight-and-Skate" work-to-rule program:

That graphic was fun because all the elements were from the public domain, or fair use. I love it when that happens. I've spent years amassing a bulging folder of public domain clip art ganked from the web and this week, it got a major infusion, thanks to the Bergen Public Library's Flickr album of high-rez scans of antique book endpapers. 86 public domain textures? Yes please! (Also, the fact that Flickr has one-click download of all the hi-rez versions of every image in a photoset is another way that it stands out as a remnant of the old, good web, not so much a superannuated relic as an elegant weapon of a more civilized age):

Speaking of strikes: there are strikes! Everygoddamnedwhere! After 40 years in a Reagan-induced coma, labor is back, baby. The Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations' Labor Action Tracker is your go-to, real-time observation post as hot labor summer turns into the permanent revolution. As of this writing, it's listing 968 labor actions in 1491 locations:

There's no war but class war and it was ever thus. Brian Merchant's forthcoming book Blood In the Machine is a history of the Luddites, revisiting that much-maligned labor uprising, which has long been rewritten as a fight between technophobes and the inevitable forces of progress:

The book unearths the true history of the Ludds: they were skilled technologists who were outraged by capital's commitment to immiseration, child slavery, and foisting inferior goods on a helpless public. You can get a long preview of the book in Fast Company:

Merchant also talked with Roman Mars about the book on the 99 Percent Invisible podcast:

If that's piqued your interest and if you can make it to Los Angeles, come by Chevalier's Books this Wednesday, where Brian and I are having a joint book-launch (I've just published The Internet Con, my Luddite-adjacent "Big Tech Disassembly Manual"):

Where is all this labor unrest coming from? Well as Stein's Law has it, "anything that can't go on forever will eventually stop." 40 years of corporate-friendly political economy has lit the world on fire and immiserated billions, and we've hit bottom and started the long, slow climb to a world that prioritizes human thriving over billionaire power.

One of the most tangible expressions of that vibe shift is the rise and rise of antitrust. The big news right now is the (first) trial of the century, Google's antitrust trial. What's that? You say you haven't heard anything about it? Well, perhaps that has to do with the judge banning recording and livestreaming and not making transcripts available. Don't worry, he's also locking observers out of his courtroom for hours at a time during closed testimony. Oh, and also? The DoJ just agreed that it won't post its exhibits from the trial online anymore. You can follow what dribbles of information as are emerging from our famously open court system at US v Google:

If the impoverished trickle of Google antitrust news has you down, don't despair, there's more coming, because the FTC is apparently set to launch its long-awaited suit against Amazon:

Amazon spent years blowing hundreds of millions of dollars of its investors' cash, selling goods below cost and buying up rivals until it became the most important channel for every kind of manufacturer to reach their customers. Now, Amazon is turning the screws. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance details the 45% Amazon Tax that every merchant pays to reach you:

That 45% tax is passed on to you – whether or not you shop at Amazon. Amazon's secretive most favored nation terms mean that if a seller raises their price on Amazon, they have to raise it everywhere else, which means you're paying more at WalMart and Target because of Amazon's policies.

Those taxes are bad for us, but they're good for Amazon's investors. This year, the company stands to make $185 billion from junk-fees charged to platform sellers. As David Dayen points out, Amazon charges so much to ship third-party sellers' goods that it fully subsidizes Amazon's own shipping:

That's right: as Stacy Mitchell writes in the report, "Amazon doesn’t have to build warehousing and shipping costs into the price of its own products, because it’s found a way to get smaller online sellers to pay those costs."

Now, one of the amazing things about antitrust coming back from the grave is that just the threat of antitrust enforcement can moderate even the most vicious bully's conduct. Faced with the looming FTC case, Amazon just canceled its plan to charge even more junk fees:

But despite this win, Amazon is still speedrunning the enshittification cycle. The latest? Unskippable ads in Prime Video:

Remember when Amazon promised you ad-free video if you'd lock yourself into shopping with them by pre-paying for a year's shipping with Prime? The company has fully embraced the Darth Vader MBA: "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it further."

That FTC case can't come a moment too soon.

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Pinhole skull-camera

#15yrsago New media formats revealed by the Internet

#15yrsago How Children Learn: classic of human, kid-centered learning

#15yrsago DHS invests in mind-reading anti-terrorist technology — and staff phrenologists to interpret the results,2933,426485,00.html

#10yrsago Floppy ROM: distributing software on flexidiscs

#5yrsago Since 2007, debt-haunted grads have been doing public service to earn loan forgiveness, which they won’t get

#5yrsago #MeToo meets the #FightFor15 as McDonald’s workers walk out over sexual harassment

#5yrsago Exploring the ruins of a Toys R Us, discovering a trove of sensitive employee data

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Jason Kottke,, Naked Capitalism, Slashdot.

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: Plausible Sentence Generators
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

  • The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

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

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Medium (no ads, paywalled):

(Latest Medium column: "How To Think About Scraping: In privacy and labor fights, copyright is a clumsy tool at best

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

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