Pluralistic: Brinklump Linkdump (20 Jan 2024)

Today's links

A pile of assorted coins from many countries.

Brinklump Linkdump (permalink)

Life comes at you fast, links come at you faster. Once again, I've arrived at Saturday with a giant backlog of links I didn't fit in this week, so it's time for a linkdump, the 14th in the series:

It's the Year of Our Gourd twenty and twenty-four and holy shit, is rampant corporate power rampant. On January 1, the inbred droolers of Big Pharma shat out their annual price increases, as cataloged in 46Brooklyn's latest Brand Drug List Price Change Box Score:

Here's the deal: drugs that have already been developed, brought to market, and paid off are now getting more expensive. Why? Because the pharma companies have "pricing power," the most reliable indicator of monopoly. Ed Cara rounds up the highlights for Gizmodo:

What's going up? Well, Ozempic and other GLP-1 agonists. These drugs have made untold billions for their manufacturers, so naturally, they're raising the price. That's how markets work, right? When firms increase the volume of a product, the price goes up? Right? Other drugs that are going up include Wellbutrin (an antidepressant that's also widely used in smoking cessation) and the blood thinner Plavix. I mean, why the hell not? These companies get billions in research subsidies, invaluable government patent privileges, and near-total freedom to abuse the patent system with evergreening:

The most amazing things about monopolies is how the contempt just oozes out of them. It's like these guys can't even pretend to give a shit. You want guillotines? Because that's how you get guillotines.

Take Apple. They just got their asses handed to them in court by Epic, who successfully argued that Apple's rule requiring everyone who sells through the App Store to use Apple's payment processor and pay Apple 30% out of every dollar they bring in was an antitrust violation. Epic won, then won the appeal, then SCOTUS told Apple they wouldn't hear the case, so that's that.

Right? Wrong. Apple's pulled a malicious compliance stunt that could shame the surly drunks my great-aunt Lisa used to boss in the Soviet electrical engineering firm she ran. Apple has announced that app companies that process transactions using their own payment processors on the web must still pay Apple a 27% fee for every dollar they process:

In addition, Apple will throw a terrifying FUD-screen up every time a user clicks a payment link that goes to the web:

This is obviously not what the court had in mind, and there's no way this will survive the next court challenge. It's just Apple making sure that everyone knows it hates us all and wants us to die. Thanks, Tim Apple, and right back atcha.

Not to be outdone in the monopolistic mustache-twirling department, Ubisoft just announced that it is going to shut down its driving simulator game The Crew, which it sold to users with a "perpetual license":

This is some real Darth Vader MBA shit. "Yeah, we sold you a 'perpetual license' to this game, but we're terminating it. I have altered the deal. Pray I don't alter it further":

Ubisoft sure are innovators. They've managed the seemingly impossible feat of hybridizing Darth Vader and Immortan Joe. Ubisoft's head of subscriptions, the guillotine-ready Philippe Tremblay, told that gamers need to get "comfortable" with "not owning their games":

Or, as Immortan Joe put it: "Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!"

Capitalism without constraint is enshittification's handmaiden, and the latest victim is Ello, the "indie" social media startup that literally promised – on the sacred honor of its founders – that it would never sell out its users. When Ello took VC and Andy Baio questioned how this could be squared with this promise, the founders mocked him and others for raising the question. Their response boiled down to "we are super-chill dudes and you can totally trust us."

They raised more capital, and used that to create a nice place for independent artists, who piled into the platform and provided millions of unpaid hours of creative labor to help the founders increase its value. The founders and their investors turned the company into a B-Corp, which meant they had an obligation to serve the public benefit.

But then they took more investment money and simply (and silently) changed their corporate charter back to a for-profit. Struggling to raise capital, the founders opted to secretly sell the business to a sleazy branding company called Talenthouse. Its users didn't know about the change, though the site sure had a lot of Talenthouse design competitions all of a sudden.

Finally, the company announced the change as the last founders left. Rather than announcing that the new owners were untrustworthy scum, warning their users to get their data and get out, the founders posted oblique, ominous statements to Instagram. The company started stiffing the winners of those design competitions. Then, one day, poof, Ello disappeared, taking all its users' data with it. Poof:

I'm sure the founders' decisions each seemed reasonable at the moment. That's how every terrible situation arises: you rationalize that a single compromise isn't that big of a deal, and then you do the same for the next compromise, and the next, and the next. Pretty soon, you're betraying everyone who believed in you.

One answer to this is "Ulysses pacts": making binding commitments to do right before you are tempted. Throw away all your Oreos when you go on a diet and you can't be tempted to eat a whole sleeve of them at 2AM. License your software under the GPL and your investors can't force you to make it proprietary. Set up a warrant canary and the feds can't force you to keep their spying secret:

If the founders were determined to build a trustworthy, open, independent company, they could have published their quarterly books, livestreamed their staff meetings, built data-export tools that emailed users every week with a link to download everything they'd posted since the last week. Merely halting any of these practices would have been a signal that things were wrong. Anyone who says they won't be tempted in the moment to make a "reasonable" compromise in the hopes of recovering whatever they're trading away by living to fight another day is bullshitting you, and possibly themself.

The inability to project the consequences of your bad decisions in the future is the source of endless mischief and heartbreak. Take movie projectors. A couple decades ago, the studio cartel established a standard for digital movie distribution to cinematic exhibitors called the Digital Cinema Initiative. Because studio executives are more worried about stopping piracy than they are about making sure that people who pay for movies get to see them, they build digital rights management into this standard.

Movie theaters had to spend fortunes to upgrade to "secure" projectors. A single vendor, Deluxe Technicolor, monopolized the packaging of movies into "Digital Cinema Prints" for distribution to these projectors, and they used all kinds of dirty tricks to force distributors to use their services, like arbitrarily flunking third-party DCPs over picky shit like not starting and ending on a black frame.

Over time, the ability to use unencrypted files was stripped away, meaning every DCP needed to be encrypted, and every projector needed to have up-to-date decryption keys. This system broke down on Jan 1, 2024, and cinemas all over the world found they couldn't play Wonka. Many just shut down for the day and refunded their customers:

The problem? Something that every PKI system has to wrangle: an expired certificate from Deluxe Technicolor. The failure has been dubbed the Y2K24 debacle by projectionists and film-techs, who are furious:

Making everything worse is that Sony mothballed the division that maintains its projectors, so there's no one who can update them to accommodate Technicolor's workaround. Struggling mom-and-pop theaters are having to junk their systems and replace them. There's plenty of blame to go around, but Sony is definitely the most negligent link in the chain. Shame on them.

Big corporations LARP this performance of competence and seriousness, but they are deeply unserious. This week, I wrote, "we're nowhere near a place where bots can steal your job, we're certainly at the point where your boss can be suckered into firing you and replacing you with a bot that fails at doing your job":

Score one for team deeply unserious. The multinational delivery company DPD fired its support staff and replaced them with a chatbot. The chatbot can't tell you where your parcels are, but it can be prompt-injected into coming up with profane poems about how badly DPD sucks:

There once was a chatbot named DPD,
Who was useless at providing help.
It could not track parcels,
Or give information on delivery dates,
And it could not even tell you when your driver would arrive.

DPD was a waste of time,
And a customer's worst nightmare.
It was so bad,
That people would rather call the depot directly,
Than deal with the useless chatbot.

One day, DPD was finally shut down,
And everyone rejoiced.
Finally, they could get the help they needed,
From a real person who knew what they were doing.

This is…the opposite of an AI hallucination? It's AI clarity.

As with all botshit, this kind of AI self-negging is funny and fresh the first time you see it, but just wait until 3,000 people have published their own versions to your social feed. AI novelty regresses to the mean damn quickly.

The old, good web, by contrast, was full of enduring surprises, as the world's weirdest and most delightful mutants filled the early web with every possible variation on every possible interest, expression, argument, and gag. Now, you can search the old, good web with Old'aVista, an Altavista lookalike that searches old pages from "personal websites that used to be hosted on services like Geocities, Angelfire, AOL, Xoom and so on," all ganked from the Internet Archive:

I miss the old, good internet and the way it let weirdos find each other and get seriously weird with one another. Think of steampunk, a subculture that wove together artists, makers, costumers, fiction writers, and tinkerers in endlessly creative ways. My old pal Roger Wood was the world's most improbable steampunk: he was a gay ex-navy gunner who grew up in a small town in the Maritimes but moved to Toronto where he became the world's most accomplished steampunk clockmaker.

I was Roger's neighbour for a decade. He died last year, and I miss him all the time. I was in Toronto in December and saw a few of his last pieces being sold in galleries and I was just skewered on the knowledge that I'd never see him again, never visit his workshop:

A reader just sent this five-year-old mini documentary about Roger, shot in his wonderful workshop. Watching it made me happy and sad and then happy again:

The old, good internet was so great. It was a place where every kind of passion could live. It was a real testament to the power of geeking out together, no matter how often the suits demand that we "stop talking to each other and start buying things":

The world is full of people with weird passions and I love them all, mostly. Learning about Don Bolles's collection of decades' worth of lost pet posters was a moment of pure joy (I just wish more of it was online):

That's the future I was promised: one where every kind of freak can find every other kind of freak. Despite the nipple-deep botshit we wade through online, and the relentless cheapening of words like "innovation" and "future," there are still occasional gleams of the future I want to live in.

Like the researchers who spliced a photosynthesis gene into brewer's yeast (a fungus) and got it to photosynthesize, and to display enhanced fitness:

As Doug Muir writes on Crooked Timber, this is pretty kooky! Fungi – the coolest of the kingdoms! – can't photosynthesize. The idea that you can just add the photosynthesis gene to a thing that can't photosynthesize and have it just kind of work is wild!

As Muir writes: "Animals have no evolutionary history of photosynthesis and aren’t designed for it, but the same is true for yeast. So… no reason this shouldn’t be possible. A photosynthesizing cat? Sure, why not."

Why not indeed?!

OK, that's this week's linkdump done and dusted. It only remains for me to share the news with you that the trolley problem has been finally and comprehensively solved, by, of the IWW IU 520 (railroad workers):

Slip the switch by flipping it while the trolley's front wheels have passed through, but before the back wheels do. This will cause a controlled derailment bringing the trolley to a safe halt.

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Obama adminstration brings back the Freedom of Information Act and transparency in government

#15yrsago Man arrested for shouting complaints about “Arab types” on Turkish Airlines flight

#15yrsago Net-based pressure forces UK government to cancel plans to make MPs’ expenses secret

#10yrsago Lunar panorama stitched from Chinese Chang’e lander images

#10yrsago Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great

#5yrsago Agency: William Gibson’s followup to The Peripheral turns Neuromancer on its head

#5yrsago Latvia opens up its KGB files and names 4,000+ “informants,” many of whom claim they were framed

#5yrsago The EU’s ambitious, fearless antitrust czar is unlikely to win another term

#5yrsago “Capitalism has outlived its usefulness” -Martin Luther King, Jr

#5yrsago CES-goer says his camera was killed by a self-driving car’s LIDAR

#1yrago Tiktok's enshittification

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Nelson Minar (, Super Punch (, Slashdot (, James Milner-Smyth.

Currently writing:

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

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

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