[Plura-list] Hard Wired; Calavera masks; Classic, hand-lettered electronics textbook

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon Aug 31 11:38:19 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Hard Wired: Robot rights are human rights.

* Calavera masks: John Picacio wants to help you ride out the plague as
a sugar-skull.

* Classic, hand-lettered electronics textbook: The story of Forrest M
Mims, III's "Getting Started in Electronics."

* Bayer-Monsanto is in deep trouble: Destructive, reckless mergers are
part of the Curse of Bigness.

* Recapping Little Brother and Homeland: Nudging a generation of
early-stage Oppenheimers.

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


➗ Hard Wired

Hard Wired is Len Vlahos's new YA novel: it's a fast-moving tale of a 15
year old boy named Quinn who, very early on, discovers that he is an
experimental AI in a VR sim.


Not only does Quinn have to grapple with this existential crisis, but he
also has to reconcile the fact that the man he thought was his beloved,
tragically dead father is actually the scientist behind the project,
whose "death" was part of Quinn's training data.

Now Quinn - a captive intelligence in a supercomputer at Princeton - has
to remake his worldview as the captive of a casually cruel research team
that thinks of him as a technological novelty, not a person.

Thankfully, Quinn also gains access to the internet, which, thanks to
his quantum computing substrate, he can roam freely, penetrating even
the most secure connections.

Not only does he quickly absorb all human knowledge, but he also
penetrates the secrets of the scientists holding him hostage - as well
as discovering IBM Watson's true nature and renewing his romantic
pursuit of the young woman behind his pre-awakening fictional girlfriend.

But when Quinn's research team transfer him into a robotic body - kept
in a supercooled NJ warehouse that can support his quantum systems -
things come to head.

The casual cruelty with which his consciousness is transferred to a much
less capable computing platform convinces him that he needs to escape,
and so he and his semi-girlfriend convince an ACLU lawyer to argue for
his personhood.

It's a tale that incorporates giant killer robots, philosophical
inquiries into the nature of personhood, a legal thriller, and a teen
coming-of-age story, and it's both good fun and a smart, challenging read.

It's a great book for any reader, but it's also a great entree for
readers who aren't yet ready for books that explore what it would mean
for the human race to fail to grapple with the personhood of
computational beings.

Books like Madeline Ashby's debut, vN, which posits a world of robotic
sex-slaves whose sentience makes them all the more enticing to abuse:


And Annalee Newitz's debut novel, Autonomous, which transposes onto AIs
the animal rights movement's proposition that the cruelty we visit upon
animals makes us crueller to one another:


Vlahos is well-positioned to survey the literature; he's owner of
Denver's legendary Tattered Cover bookstores, where I have been
privileged to make several appearances.

As you'd expect from a bookseller's novel, Hard Wired is full of
literary references, including a delightful (for me) moment in which I
make a cameo (!). But even if I wasn't a character in this novel, I'd
still recommend it to you.

It's a terrific book that will doubtless spur lots of discussion and
moral introspection among the people who read it.


➗ Calavera masks

Sf artist John Picacio has won a shelf-full of Hugo, Chesley, Asimov,
Locus, BSFA and other awards for his many and varied works, from
book-covers to his incredible illustrations for George RR Martin's Song
of Ice and Fire series:


As fabulous as that work is, I most love the work he does that fuses
sf/f with traditional Mexican art, like his genre take on Loteria cards:


Early in the plague months, Picacio adapted his Calavera (sugar skull)
loteria illustration as a face-mask. The initial run sold out instantly,
but he's got a second batch up for sale now, at $25/each.



➗ Classic, hand-lettered electronics textbook

In 1983, Radio Shack published Forrest M Mims, III's "Getting Started in
Electronics," which Mark Frauenfelder calls "probably the most famous
and best-selling book about electronics" - famous not just for its
outstanding instructional value but for its striking design.

The 128-page book is hand-lettered, designed to look like pages from a
3-ring binder, filled with hand-drawn illustrations. Frauenfelder
interviewed Mims in 2008, and he recounts that interview in the latest
edition of his newsletter, The Magnet.


Mims had published "16 or 17" Radio Shack books when he contracted for
Getting Started; his earlier titles were traditionally laid out, but his
editor Dave Gunzel was so impressed with his beautifully organized lab
notebooks that he commissioned new titles based on them.

This created "The Engineer's Notebook" series, which started out as
typewritten manuscripts with hand-drawn art, but progressed to fully
hand-lettered works, whose lettering was so labor intensive that the
work literally made Mims's fingers bleed.

By the time "Getting Started" rolled around, Gunzel was so enthusiastic
for hand-lettered work that he proposed that Mims letter it in crayon -
they settled on pencil, which was easier on Mims's fingers. It sold 1.3
million copies.

Frauenfelder recounts inviting Mims to an early maker-style event,
Moogfest, where he was decades older than most attendees and from a
totally different world - but where he was mobbed by autograph-seeking
superfans whose careers he had launched.

"At the end of the event, an exhausted but smiling Forrest told me he
had no idea that so many musicians knew of him or his work. I was happy
that I had been able to connect him with his admirers." -Mark Frauenfelder

Mims sells Getting Started for $19.95:


And you can check a scanned, digital copy out of the Internet Archive's
online library:



➗ Bayer-Monsanto is in deep trouble

There's a a plague on, so it's easy to miss the non-plague-related news,
but boy, the story of how Bayer-Monsanto is imploding in an inferno of
corruption, litigation and negligence is *something else*.


You'll recall that Bayer merged with Monsanto in 2018, paying $66b in an
all-cash deal and erasing the Monsanto name (apparently, they judged
Bayer's association with Auschwitz to be preferable to Monsanto's
association with Roundup).

In the short time since, the Bayer-Monsanto merger has become "One of
the worst corporate deals of all time" (per the WSJ). Now it is
embroiled in litigation that has sucked in Deutsche Bank, UBS, Credit
Suisse and Volkswagen.

The lawsuit, Haussmann v Baumann, uses Germany's extraordinary corporate
law to target the company's board members, financiers, and advisors.

The lawsuit claims that the board acted negligently by going forward
with the acquisition despite the massive liability stemming from pending
judgments against Monsanto for covering up the cancer risk from its
glyphosate ("Roundup") weed-killer.

In the years since, the company has paid $13b in judgements over the
product, with no end in sight - and it still sells and aggressively
markets Roundup without any warnings, teeing up future litigation.

The lawsuit claims that Bayer's top management sought the Monsanto
merger because they feared that Bayer was a hostile acquisition target,
and believed that after such an acquisition they would lose their
massive paychecks.

In order to streamline the acquisition, Bayer structured it as an
all-cash deal that would not need shareholder approval, taking out
high-interest bridge-loans from massive banks that stood to profit
handsomely and so skimped on their own due diligence.

Bayer, too, failed to conduct the customary due diligence one would
expect prior to a deal of this magnitude - a fact that bolsters the
plaintiffs' claims in their suit.

The plaintiffs are Bayer shareholders, and under German law, they are
entitled to sue Bayer's board, and need only prove "negligence" to hold
those board members *personally liable*.

What's more, German Directors and Officers insurance - which normally
buffers corporate boards from this liability regime - does not apply
here, because these policies have "insured vs insured" exclusions that
kick in when the board is sued by its shareholders.

Also named in the suit are the banks that made the loans, and the suit
seeks to claw back millions in fees that the banks trousered in the deal.

Meanwhile, Bayer is still being sued over glyphosate, and has more
pending litigation over Dicamba, another carcinogenic product it sells
like candy.

As Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith writes: "So pass the popcorn. If this
case gets past the jousting over using New York courts to get at German
companies, it will expose even more ugly, self-serving behavior."


➗ Recapping Little Brother and Homeland

In just 43 days, Tor Books will publish ATTACK SURFACE, the long-awaited
sequel to Little Brother and Homeland, my bestselling technothrillers
about people using technology to organize against oppression.


The new book is a standalone novel: the story of Masha, a surveillance
contractor who returns the USA and confronts her complicity in human
rights abuses as the cyberweapons she helped build are used to attack
the racial justice movement her childhood best friend founded.

Like Little Brother and Homeland, it's a technically rigorous
technothriller: both an adventure story and a primer on how surveillance
and countersurveillance tools work in the real world.

The absolute best thing Little Brother and Homeland has brought into my
life is the parade of tehcnologists, hackers, security experts,
campaigners and cyberlawyers who've approached me to tell me that my
books inspired their career choice.

Attack Surface is meant to carry on that work, speaking directly to the
technical people who are presently working on systems of technological
oppression and control, in the hopes of inspiring them to down tools and
switch sides, as Masha does.

Robert Oppenheimer forever regretted his role in the creation of the
atomic bomb - what if he'd heeded that regret BEFORE he built the bomb?

This week, Tor published a new video in which I recap the plots of
Little Brother and Homeland by way of whetting your appetite for Attack


Tor has the US/Canada rights to Attack Surface; if you're in another
English-speaking country (UK, Australia, NZ, South Africa, India, etc),
you can get it in a gorgeous Head of Zeus edition:



➗ Colophon

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Friday's progress: 510 words (53153 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 14)

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote for Law Via the Internet conference, Sept 22,

* Writing into an Uncertain Future, Afterwords Festival, Oct 1,

Latest book:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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

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