[Plura-list] Hank Green's "A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor"; Near-ultrasound links; Disneyland's Tower of Terror in Minecraft

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Jul 8 12:49:55 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Hank Green's "A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor": Catch us live on July 10!

* Near-ultrasound links: Chirpy IoT configuration for <$1.

* Disneyland's Tower of Terror in Minecraft: Brilliant attention to detail!

* Who got PPP and how much did they get?: Propublica has a whole
database of receipts.

* EY helped 'Ndrangheta sell mafia bonds: "Consulting services."

* The rotten culture of the rich: Let me tell you about the very rich.
They are different from you and me.

* The awful stupidity of measuring engineers' productivity: Any
measurement becomes a target.

* Unions say Disney World isn't testing employees: The Florida Man of

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

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


🌋 Hank Green's "A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor"

Hank Green's debut novel "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing" was just about
the most hankgreenian novel you could imagine: a compassionate,
expainly, fast-moving well-told tale about social media stardom and


It's the tale of duelling factions of social media stars who disagree
about whether the mysterious, alien (?) Japanese killer-robot statues
that have appeared in every city in the world at the same instance are
harbingers of doom or salvation.

It ends with an amazing action sequence that left readers with a brutal
cliffhanger, which is a very canny way of setting up a sequel!

Now, that sequel is out, and it's fantastic.

"A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor" hits shelves today.


Endeavor picks up where Remarkable left off, with the same characters in
second acts, their lives utterly transformed by the crisis (timely,
huh?). Like Remarkable, this is a book of global networked movements
galvanized by competing theories about what's truly going on.

And like Remarkable, social media influencers play an outsized role in
our species-wide deliberation. But Endeavor goes deeper here, explicitly
connecting crises and extractive capitalism, scoring deep points about
exploitation and commodification.

It's a brutal and brutally honest look at the mixed and impure motives
that drive "successful" people, the gaudy frauds of heroic tech
founders, and the invisible human cost of "automated" systems that make
the world seem so seamless (when it's working).

The fact that these themes are so salient in this moment is both a
testament to Green's insight and a reminder that the pandemic crisis
didn't create our problems, merely heightened them to the point of
undeniability even by the most motivated of reasoners.

This is a Hank Green novel, so it's charming and fast-moving as all get
out, and has a climax that turns on both heart and fascinating, poorly
understood, super important economic systems, like the endings of 48
Hours or My Cousin Vinny.

And above all, it was so lovely to visit with these charming and
complicated characters again, to watch them learn and grow, and to root
for them against all odds.

The pandemic wiped out Green's plan to tour this book, so he's embarked
upon a virtual tour, with interlocutors including his brother John
Green, Ashley C. Ford, Roman Mars and me!


You can catch my appearance with Hank this Friday, July 10,
livestreaming in collaboration with beloved Minneapolis booksellers
Magers and Quinn.



🌋 Near-ultrasound links

Legendary hardware hacker Andrew "bunnie" Huang was tapped to prototype
a privacy-first hardware exposure notification token for the EU. He
worked with Sean "xobs" Cross to design the extremely clever "Simmel"


One of the comms approaches they tried and discarded for Simmel was the
use of near-ultrasound chirps that would allow tokens to advertise their
unique identifiers to other nearby tokens. Unfortunately, NUS doesn't
work reliably through pockets, purses, etc.

Nevertheless, Huang and Xobs have released the sourcecode for the NUS
library they developed as free/open source, along with schematics for
building your own NUS communications interface.


As Huang points out, this could be very useful for configuring embedded
systems that lack screens and keyboards - "add a ~$1 microphone to a
Cortex-M4 class device, you get a short-range data link to a host
device, such as a phone. "

You could then configure a headless device with wifi passwords, etc, by
generating the correct chirps in a browser using javascript.


🌋 Disneyland's Tower of Terror in Minecraft

The Tower of Terror ranks among the most detailed, brilliantly themed,
atmospheric rides of the Disney canon, and the fact that all that
brilliant built-environment storytelling is married to a thrill ride
makes it a perfect balance of adrenaline and subliminal tingles.

Disneyland's Tower of Terror (arguably the least ambitious of all the
Towers) was replaced with a Guardians of the Galaxy themed ride in 2017,
but it lives on in glorious detail thanks to Mouskegamer's stupendous
Minecraft re-creation.


The re-creation includes so many grace-notes, leaning heavily into that
thematic storytelling, from the lobby to the pre-show (starring a
Minecraft Rod Serling!) to the queue. There's even a working Minecraft
mirror just before the big drop!

If all that pleases and impresses you, lose yourself in Mouskegamer's
other re-creations from Great Moments with Mr Lincoln (!), to Indiana
Jones, to the Matterhorn, to Pinocchio to all of Galaxy's Edge and more!



🌋 Who got PPP and how much did they get?

The PPP stimulus program contained the kernel of a crucial and
beneficial idea - that it would be easier to put people back on the
payroll after the crisis than it would be to find them jobs after their
employers went bankrupt.

It provided 12 weeks' payroll coverage as a forgivable loan that would
not be due if your employees were still on the payroll when it ran out.

As good as this idea was, it had some serious deficiencies.

First, it didn't last long enough. The lockdown continues. It will
likely continue through the rest of 2020 and beyond, thanks in large
part to Trump's mismanagement, abetted by callous, greedy business
"leaders" and Republican state officials.

Next, there wasn't enough. The fund ran out early and many businesses -
especially minority owned businesses - were shut out entirely.

Finally, it was badly administered. 94.5% of the initial tranche when to
giant corporations.


Congress appropriated more after the initial pot ran out, but repeated
the sins of the first tranche, and added a new one: Congressional Dems
made lobbyists and dark money orgs eligible - handing cash to orgs whose
job is to hand cash to them.


All in all, 4.89m loans were approved, and 661,218 loan recipients of
this "small business" money pulled in  $150k-$10m.

Now, thanks to Pro Publica, you can search the recipients of this money,
by name, ZIP, industry or lender.


You can check out for yourself how much the Ayn Rand Institute got in
government handouts ($350,000-1 million).


Or Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist's organization dedicated to
eliminating taxation and shutting down government relief programs:
another $150k-$1m.



🌋 EY helped 'Ndrangheta sell mafia bonds

EY - formerly Ernst & Young - are one of the scandal-haunted "Big 4"
accounting firms, charged with prudent oversight of the largest firms in
the world, involved in strings of farcical corruption stories, each more
terrible than the last.


Even by those standards, the latest EY scandal is unfuckingbelievable.

EY were the consultants that helped Banca Generali - one of the EU's
largest private banks - to move millions of euros' worth of bonds,
selling them on to international investors.


Those bonds, it turns out, were backed by the mafia.

They were part of a 'Ndrangheta money-laundering scheme, in which
revenues from assets owned by the murderous crime gang were securitized
and sold on to the global investment world.

"The bonds were created out of unpaid invoices to Italian public health
authorities from companies providing them with medical services. "
-Miles Johnson, Financial Times

"EY, which was not required to conduct due diligence on the assets in
the securitisation when providing consulting services for the
structuring for one of the vehicles purchased by Banca Generali,
declined to comment."


🌋 The rotten culture of the rich

In his 2019 book Dignity, Chris Arnade left his Wall Street job and
traveled America, talking to poor, marginalized people, mostly at
McDonald's restaurants.

Now, in a new essay for American Compass, Arnade delves into the "rotten
culture of the rich."


Arnade starts with observations about how rich people talk about poor
people: "we talk too much about policy and not enough about culture" -
meaning that poor people's fecklessness, lack of self control and
pleasure seeking results in poverty.

But the wealthy are loathe to examine their own culture, especially that
of the "iconoclastic men who felt held back by outdated social norms
from pursuing their individual pleasure" who went on to run hedge funds
and private equity firms.

These are the people who gave us "junk bonds, leveraged buyouts,
distressed debt, and other complex financial products whose goal is
intentionally unclear," all of it "making obscene amounts of money with
little regard to how or the impact to society overall."

It comes down to this: "Why isn’t it considered bad behavior to sit in
front of a wall of screens filled with flashing numbers making bets on
those numbers?"

And this: "Why isn’t it considered bad behavior to find a mid-sized
company, load it up with debt, strip it of its valuable assets, and send
jobs overseas to the country with the lowest labor cost and least
environmental regulations."

These are just the visible manifestations of the sick culture, though:
Finance's purpose is to "help the powerful bend rules and
regulation...The more complex and devious your financial product, the
more celebrated you are on Wall Street."

Or as the Trashfuture podcast folks put it recently, fintech exists
solely to create unregulated banks.


The wealthy have elaborate justifications for their selfishness,
grounded in turgid Ayn Rand novels and deliberately impenetrable
economics jargon, all to handwave away the indefensible business of
"getting rich by being clever, without regard to the larger impact."

The cultural mores of Wall Street are: "cleverness trumps hard work";
and "disregard for the rules trumps playing it straight."

Wall Street's message is "Why diligently work your way up the corporate
ladder when you can smooth-talk enough people into lending you enough
money to take over the corporation, fire the board, leverage it up with
debt, and then dismantle it while pocketing a few billion."

Arnade refers us to American Compass's Coin-Flip Capitalism project,
which quantifies the extent to which high-flying venture capitalists,
hedge fund managers, and private equity looters underperform a coin-toss
when it comes to picking winners.


This project includes a Returns Counter that "aggregates returns data
from multiple sources to create a simple metric—a 'Returns Counter
Average' that can be directly compared against public market benchmarks."



🌋 The awful stupidity of measuring engineers' productivity

Though I love good rants, I struggle to differentiate good rants from
their tedious, far more common cousins, bad rants. It's all about
staying power. It's been 18 years since I read fucker at meatrobot.com's
Usenet swearfest and I still remember it.


This rant, by Mipsytipsy, is a good rant.


Mipsytipsy is answering a reader who wrote in asking "Can Engineering
Productivity Be Measured?"

She begins by describing a time when she had a 100% remote gig as a
sysadmin for a boss with weak technical judgment, who rated employees
based on the number of tasks they closed in a work-day. This turns out
to be very easy to game.

"I became a ticket-closing machine. I’d snap up the quick and easy tasks
within seconds. I’d pattern match and close in bulk when I found a
solution for a group of tasks. I dove deep into the list of stale
tickets looking for ones I could close as 'did not respond' or 'waiting
for response', especially once I realized there was no penalty for
closing the same ticket over and over."

Punchline: "My boss worshiped me. I was bored as fuck."

She restates the useful and important Goodhart's Law, "Any observed
statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed
upon it for control purposes."

AKA: "Any measurement becomes a target."

Measuring the productivity of employees with targets doesn't work for
jobs that involve "challenging and novel" tasks.

This is where the ranty bit starts.

"Your execs should fucking well know this: how would THEY like to be
evaluated based on, like, how many emails they send in a day? Do they
believe that would be good for the business? Or would they object that
they are tasked with the holistic success of the org, and that their
roles are too complex to reduce to a set of metrics without context?"

She goes on to make a bunch of extremely sensible recommendations for
assessing and improving the work of people whose jobs involve these
"challenging and novel" tasks, but the rant is the part that stuck with me.

It's a perfect gem of a rebuttal to neo-Taylorism and its high-tech
sidekick, Bossware, published in a moment of both record unemployment
and record discontent among tech workers. The right message for the
right moment!



🌋 Unions say Disney World isn't testing employees

Walt Disney World has re-opened. Its employees' union says that its
employees are not getting covid tests before they report for duty,
exposing each other and customers alike to a preventable infection risk,
in a state with skyrocketing cases.


There are some rides - apparently in Animal Kingdom, at least - where
there are social distancing enforcement measures are in place, which is
good to see.


But maintaining good pandemic hygiene requires attentiveness and
vigilance, something that is antithetical to holidaymaking.

What's more the core of public health is consideration for others,
social cohesion and willingness to sacrifice short-term benefits for
long-term gain. These are in short supply in Florida at the best of
times, and they have only grown scarcer during the emergency.


🌋 This day in history

#15yrsago Pro-software-patent/anti-software-patent naval battle in

#15yrsago White Wolf cuts own throat with "licensing fees" for game
organizers https://boingboing.net/2005/07/08/white-wolf-cuts-own.html

#10yrsago Danny O'Brien talks UK geek history

#10yrsago Berlusconi tries law prohibiting reporting on corruption
investigation; Italy's press refuses to report any news in protest

#10yrsago Patent holder's demand: stop discussing my patent

#5yrsago Computer scientists on the excruciating stupidity of banning

#5yrsago Argentine police raid programmer who discovered fatal e-voting

#5yrsago Mad Max: Muppet Road

#5yrsago NZ's anti-troll law: gift to trolls, bad for free speech

#1yrago High art subprime: borrowing on private art collections surges
into billions

#1yrago Hong Kong protests continue to mount, and popular sentiment is
with the protesters

#1yrago Zuck's personal head of security resigns after allegations of
homophobia, transphobia, "pervasive discriminatory conduct," and
"horrific levels of sexual harassment and battery"

#1yrago EFF publishes an indispensable, plain-language guide to
"cell-site simulators": the surveillance devices that track you via your

#1yrago The Serial Toilet Clogger of Sheboygan, WI is going to jail for
150 days


🌋 Colophon

Today's top sources: Super Punch (https://superpunch.net/), Naked
Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Ongoing
(https://www.tbray.org/ongoing/), Four Short Links

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 502 words (35493 total).

Currently reading: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 09)

Upcoming appearances:

* In Conversation with Hank Green, Jul 10,

"Working as Intended: Surveillance Capitalism is not a Rogue
Capitalism," Jul 21,

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

Upcoming books:

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters,
bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

* "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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