Pluralistic: A link-clump demands a linkdump (05 Nov 2023)

Today's links

A vintage advertising image of a boy holding up a Kellogg's mini-cereal variety pack. The image has been altered: the boy's head has been replaced with a snarling gorilla wearing a helmet with a satellite dish sticking out of it; the Kellogg's wordmarks have been replaced with a distorted, lime-green version. The boy's hands have been modified to add several extra fingers to each hand. The gorilla's eyes have been altered to add extra pupils: one eye has two pupils, the other has three. The background is a mix of abstract blue shapes. The image has been modified to include shopworn tropes of 'generative AI' 'art,' as bait for moralizing scolds who live to shout at strangers for using Midjourney without e.g. reading alt text. The multilayer version of this image is available at

A link-clump demands a linkdump (permalink)

Cometh the weekend, cometh the linkdump. My daily-ish newsletter includes a section called "Hey look at this," with three short links per day, but sometimes those links get backed up and I need to clean house. Here's the eight previous installments:

The country code top level domain (ccTLD) for the Caribbean island nation of Anguilla is .ai, and that's turned into millions of dollars worth of royalties as "entrepreneurs" scramble to sprinkle some buzzword-compliant AI stuff on their businesses in the most superficial way possible:

All told, .ai domain royalties will account for about ten percent of the country's GDP.

It's actually kind of nice to see Anguilla finding some internet money at long last. Back in the 1990s, when I was a freelance web developer, I got hired to work on the investor website for a publicly traded internet casino based in Anguilla that was a scammy disaster in every conceivable way. The company had been conceived of by people who inherited a modestly successful chain of print-shops and decided to diversify by buying a dormant penny mining stock and relaunching it as an online casino.

But of course, online casinos were illegal nearly everywhere. Not in Anguilla – or at least, that's what the founders told us – which is why they located their servers there, despite the lack of broadband or, indeed, reliable electricity at their data-center. At a certain point, the whole thing started to whiff of a stock swindle, a pump-and-dump where they'd sell off shares in that ex-mining stock to people who knew even less about the internet than they did and skedaddle. I got out, and lost track of them, and a search for their names and business today turns up nothing so I assume that it flamed out before it could ruin any retail investors' lives.

Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory, one of those former British colonies that was drained and then given "independence" by paternalistic imperial administrators half a world away. The country's main industries are tourism and "finance" – which is to say, it's a pearl in the globe-spanning necklace of tax- and corporate-crime-havens the UK established around the world so its most vicious criminals – the hereditary aristocracy – can continue to use Britain's roads and exploit its educated workforce without paying any taxes.

This is the "finance curse," and there are tiny, struggling nations all around the world that live under it. Nick Shaxson dubbed them "Treasure Islands" in his outstanding book of the same name:

I can't imagine that the AI bubble will last forever – anything that can't go on forever eventually stops – and when it does, those .ai domain royalties will dry up. But until then, I salute Anguilla, which has at last found the internet riches that I played a small part in bringing to it in the previous century.

The AI bubble is indeed overdue for a popping, but while the market remains gripped by irrational exuberance, there's lots of weird stuff happening around the edges. Take Inject My PDF, which embeds repeating blocks of invisible text into your resume:

The text is tuned to make resume-sorting Large Language Models identify you as the ideal candidate for the job. It'll even trick the summarizer function into spitting out text that does not appear in any human-readable form on your CV.

Embedding weird stuff into resumes is a hacker tradition. I first encountered it at the Chaos Communications Congress in 2012, when Ang Cui used it as an example in his stellar "Print Me If You Dare" talk:

Cui figured out that one way to update the software of a printer was to embed an invisible Postscript instruction in a document that basically said, "everything after this is a firmware update." Then he came up with 100 lines of perl that he hid in documents with names like cv.pdf that would flash the printer when they ran, causing it to probe your LAN for vulnerable PCs and take them over, opening a reverse-shell to his command-and-control server in the cloud. Compromised printers would then refuse to apply future updates from their owners, but would pretend to install them and even update their version numbers to give verisimilitude to the ruse. The only way to exorcise these haunted printers was to send 'em to the landfill. Good times!

Printers are still a dumpster fire, and it's not solely about the intrinsic difficulty of computer security. After all, printer manufacturers have devoted enormous resources to hardening their products against their owners, making it progressively harder to use third-party ink. They're super perverse about it, too – they send "security updates" to your printer that update the printer's security against you – run these updates and your printer downgrades itself by refusing to use the ink you chose for it:

It's a reminder that what a monopolist thinks of as "security" isn't what you think of as security. Oftentimes, their security is antithetical to your security. That was the case with Web Environment Integrity, a plan by Google to make your phone rat you out to advertisers' servers, revealing any adblocking modifications you might have installed so that ad-serving companies could refuse to talk to you:

WEI is now dead, thanks to a lot of hueing and crying by people like us:

But the dream of securing Google against its own users lives on. Youtube has embarked on an aggressive campaign of refusing to show videos to people running ad-blockers, triggering an arms-race of ad-blocker-blockers and ad-blocker-blocker-blockers:

The folks behind Ublock Origin are racing to keep up with Google's engineers' countermeasures, and there's a single-serving website called "Is uBlock Origin updated to the last Anti-Adblocker YouTube script?" that will give you a realtime, one-word status update:

One in four web users has an ad-blocker, a stat that Doc Searls pithily summarizes as "the biggest boycott in world history":

Zero app users have ad-blockers. That's not because ad-blocking an app is harder than ad-blocking the web – it's because reverse-engineering an app triggers liability under IP laws like Section 1201 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which can put you away for 5 years for a first offense. That's what I mean when I say that "IP is anything that lets a company control its customers, critics or competitors:

I predicted that apps would open up all kinds of opportunities for abusive, monopolistic conduct back in 2010, and I'm experiencing a mix of sadness and smugness (I assume there's a German word for this emotion) at being so thoroughly vindicated by history:

The more control a company can exert over its customers, the worse it will be tempted to treat them. These systems of control shift the balance of power within companies, making it harder for internal factions that defend product quality and customer interests to win against the enshittifiers:

The result has been a Great Enshittening, with platforms of all description shifting value from their customers and users to their shareholders, making everything palpably worse. The only bright side is that this has created the political will to do something about it, sparking a wave of bold, muscular antitrust action all over the world.

The Google antitrust case is certainly the most important corporate lawsuit of the century (so far), but Judge Amit Mehta's deference to Google's demands for secrecy has kept the case out of the headlines. I mean, Sam Bankman-Fried is a psychopathic thief, but even so, his trial does not deserve its vastly greater prominence, though, if you haven't heard yet, he's been convicted and will face decades in prison after he exhausts his appeals:

The secrecy around Google's trial has relaxed somewhat, and the trickle of revelations emerging from the cracks in the courthouse are fascinating. For the first time, we're able to get a concrete sense of which queries are the most lucrative for Google:

The list comes from 2018, but it's still wild. As David Pierce writes in The Verge, the top twenty includes three iPhone-related terms, five insurance queries, and the rest are overshadowed by searches for customer service info for monopolistic services like Xfinity, Uber and Hulu.

All-in-all, we're living through a hell of a moment for piercing the corporate veil. Maybe it's the problem of maintaining secrecy within large companies, or maybe the the rampant mistreatment of even senior executives has led to more leaks and whistleblowing. Either way, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the anonymous leaker who revealed the unbelievable pettiness of former HBO president of programming Casey Bloys, who ordered his underlings to create an army of sock-puppet Twitter accounts to harass TV and movie critics who panned HBO's shows:

These trolling attempts were pathetic, even by the standards of thick-fingered corporate execs. Like, accusing critics who panned the shitty-ass Perry Mason reboot of disrespecting veterans because the fictional Mason's back-story had him storming the beach on D-Day.

The pushback against corporate bullying is everywhere, and of course, the vanguard is the labor movement. Did you hear that the UAW won their strike against the auto-makers, scoring raises for all workers based on the increases in the companies' CEO pay? The UAW isn't done, either! Their incredible new leader, Shawn Fain, has called for a general strike in 2028:

The massive victory for unionized auto-workers has thrown a spotlight on the terrible working conditions and pay for workers at Tesla, a criminal company that has no compunctions about violating labor law to prevent its workers from exercising their legal rights. Over in Sweden, union workers are teaching Tesla a lesson. After the company tried its illegal union-busting playbook on Tesla service centers, the unionized dock-workers issued an ultimatum: respect your workers or face a blockade at Sweden's ports that would block any Tesla from being unloaded into the EU's fifth largest Tesla market:

Of course, the real solution to Teslas – and every other kind of car – is to redesign our cities for public transit, walking and cycling, making cars the exception for deliveries, accessibility and other necessities. Transitioning to EVs will make a big dent in the climate emergency, but it won't make our streets any safer – and they keep getting deadlier.

Last summer, my dear old pal Ted Kulczycky got in touch with me to tell me that Talking Heads were going to be all present in public for the first time since the band's breakup, as part of the debut of the newly remastered print of Stop Making Sense, the greatest concert movie of all time. Even better, the show would be in Toronto, my hometown, where Ted and I went to high-school together, at TIFF.

Ted is the only person I know who is more obsessed with Talking Heads than I am, and he started working on tickets for the show while I starting pricing plane tickets. And then, the unthinkable happened: Ted's wife, Serah, got in touch to say that Ted had been run over by a car while getting off of a streetcar, that he was severely injured, and would require multiple surgeries.

But this was Ted, so of course he was still planning to see the show. And he did, getting a day-pass from the hospital and showing up looking like someone from a Kids In The Hall sketch who'd been made up to look like someone who'd been run over by a car:

In his Globe and Mail article about Ted's experience, Brad Wheeler describes how the whole hospital rallied around Ted to make it possible for him to get to the movie:

He also mentions that Ted is working on a book and podcast about Stop Making Sense. I visited Ted in the hospital the day after the gig and we talked about the book and it sounds amazing. Also? The movie was incredible. See it in Imax.

That heartwarming tale of healing through big suits is a pretty good place to wrap up this linkdump, but I want to call your attention to just one more thing before I go: Robin Sloan's Snarkmarket piece about blogging and "stock and flow":

Sloan makes the excellent case that for writers, having a "flow" of short, quick posts builds the audience for a "stock" of longer, more synthetic pieces like books. This has certainly been my experience, but I think it's only part of the story – there are good, non-mercenary reasons for writers to do a lot of "flow." As I wrote in my 2021 essay, "The Memex Method," turning your commonplace book into a database – AKA "blogging" – makes you write better notes to yourself because you know others will see them:

This, in turn, creates a supersaturated, subconscious solution of fragments that are just waiting to nucleate and crystallize into full-blown novels and nonfiction books and other "stock." That's how I came out of lockdown with nine new books. The next one is The Lost Cause, a hopepunk science fiction novel about the climate whose early fans include Naomi Klein, Rebecca Solnit, Bill McKibben and Kim Stanley Robinson. It's out on November 14:

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago FCC screws America, adopts Broadcast Flag, doom, gloom, armageddon

#20yrsago Human genome online

#15yrsago Spider Robinson’s “Very Hard Choices” — rigorous, science fictional look at telepathy’s problems

#10yrsago Fighting patent trolls and corruption with the Magnificent Seven business-model

#10yrsago Explaining the banned phrases in a Chinese microblogging client

#10yrsago Rob Ford hired a hacker to nuke the crack-smoking video

#10yrsago A conversation with Terry Pratchett, author of The Carpet People

#5yrsago Voting systems in Wisconsin and Kentucky are running FTP. Seriously.

#5yrsago Two Goldman Sachs bankers charged in multibillion-dollar Malaysian money-laundering scam

#5yrsago Analyst: Apple’s poor earnings will recover now they’ve switched from innovating to rent-seeking

#5yrsago The Ghastlygun Tinies: MAD’s Edward Gorey satire that takes aim at school shootings

Colophon (permalink)

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