[Plura-list] Lego's new Haunted House is wheelchair accessible; Marcus Yallow has coronavirus; Home Computers; "Shoe-leather" contact tracing works

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Tue May 19 13:21:30 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Lego's new Haunted House is wheelchair accessible: Hot and cold
running chills.

* Marcus Yallow has coronavirus: Fanfic from liquidCitrus.

* Home Computers: Arty pix of paleosystems.

* "Shoe-leather" contact tracing works: Apps are - at best - a
"workforce multiplier."

* Softbank's "pegasus" grift: Pay no attention to the unicorn in the ditch.

* HP Lovecraft warns against pulp contamination: A deplorable style
which is hard to unlearn.

* Highspeed rail for America: LA to SF in under 3 hours, without the
cursed departure hall.

* $10T to avert another Great Depression: Save America for the cost of
two Iraq wars.

* Toothsome masks: Pleats are magic.

* This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019

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


🕴 Lego's new Haunted House is wheelchair accessible

Lego's new, $250 Haunted House kit has all kinds of sweet, fine details.
Open the house like a book and you'll find "a working freefall ride,"
automatic doors, and "spooky haunted front doors."


And there's also a wheelchair ramp and a little Lego wheelchair to go
with it!


🕴 Marcus Yallow has coronavirus

liquidCitrus wrote a smashing piece of Little Brother fanfic: "We Call
It The Raven" is a short story inspired by their anxiety "about post-ICU
syndrome, and that there's no resources online for how to call an
ambulance for an internet friend."


"When a certain m1k3y becomes seriously ill, Neil finds himself in a
position to help."

It's told largely through chat transcript, a form I adore.

And the story itself is goosebump-raisingly scary and plausible.

<tAngent> Marcus' mother called me. He's on a ventilator. Not doing
great. But alive.

<tAngent> The doctors said they appreciated that emergency wallet card
with basic medical stuff written on it

<tAngent> so if you don't already have one of those now would be a good time


🕴 Home Computers

Home Computers is a new book tracing the industrial design of PCs in the
1970s and 1980s, AKA, the Cambrian explosion era, with some of the
1990s' best designs as well.


It's by games writer Alex Wiltshire, and features beautifully shot
photos of the machines. The Guardian has a small gallery of the images:



🕴 "Shoe-leather" contact tracing works

The "contact tracing" apps don't do "contact tracing" - they do
"exposure notification." Contact tracing is a labor-intensive
shoe-leather process built on relationships and it is stubbornly
resistant to automation.


The highest covid app penetration is in Iceland, which *has* managed to
largely contain its outbreak, but public health officials there say the
app did little to help in this process.


Meanwhile, America's top public health officials are lukewarm on apps
(the time to try an unproven, untested solution is not in the middle of
a once-in-a-century pandemic). Instead, they're deploying armies of
human contact tracers.


What is that "shoe-leather" work like? Turns out it's simple enough to
learn, but also surprisingly varied in its day-to-day operation. What's
more, it's very effective, even when it's imperfect.


"Isolating symptomatic cases would reduce transmission by 32%...
combining isolation with manual contact tracing of all contacts reduced
transmission by 61%. If contact tracing only could track down
acquaintances, but not all contacts, transmission was still reduced by 57%."

But contact tracing only works in concert with "robust testing
capacity," and somewhere for sick people to quarantine. The path to
glory is "Test, trace, isolate."

And contact tracing pays another dividend: it generates reliable data
about the disease that can improve our models and help evaluate
therapeutics, prophylaxis and other techniques for containing and
mitigating the disease.

Meanwhile, the idea of using Bluetooth-enabled proximity-sensing apps
remains untested. From the unreliability of Bluetooth to the lack of a
well-defined "epidemiologically significant contact period," these apps
are an evidentiary void.

As Iceland found apps can be "a welcome labor mulitplier" to help
stretch contact trackers' shoe-leather. Tech has a boring, vital role to
play ("text messages to ask exposed contacts how they’re feeling can
reduce the number of daily follow-up calls for a health worker").

The success of a contact tracing effort relies on trust and goodwill
from the population being traced, on voluntary compliance and
truthfulness. This is totally uncontroversial in public health circles,
and, if anything, it's the worst news for our own outlook.

America's institutions - including the for-profit health sector, but
also suspicious, accusatory public relief sector - are widely mistrusted
for good reason. Trumpism's go-to tactic is exploiting that mistrust for
partisan gain. It's a frightening situation indeed.


🕴 Softbank's "pegasus" grift

Softbank's investments - Uber, Doordash, Wework, etc - are cons. They
launder Saudi oil billions with "businesses" that lose titanic amounts
of money for many years, while also preying on real businesses and their
own workforce.

Then, Softbank exits with an IPO that offloads the money-losing company
on suckers who think its longevity means there must be a "path to
profitability." Softbank cleans up, but workers' lives and real
businesses are destroyed, and the suckers get cleaned out.

A little microcosm of this is yesterday's viral tale of a pizzeria that
found itself on the receiving end of a bungled short-con by Doordash and
turned the tables on the company. It's a petty revenge, but so satisfying.


After all, when you're up against a bottomless well of Saudi
oil-billions, there's precious few ways to score even a petty victory.

Enter coronavirus.

Softbank just posted a $17.7B loss on Wework and Uber.



If there's one thing Trumpism has taught us about sociopathic
con-artists, it's that their greatest boasts mask their deepest terrors.
And Softbank is no exception.

Yesterday's Softbank earnings call was *hilarious*.


Softbank presented investors and analysts with a slidedeck that showed
their "unicorns" (companies with >$1B valuation, though often that
valuation is based entirely on Softbank's bald-faced, con-artist's
assertion) tumbling into the "valley of coronavirus."

Oh no, you might think, those poor unicorns are stuck in a ditch!

But fear not! According to Softbank, those unicorns are merely a larval
stage, and they will pivot to becoming pegasi, sprouting wings and
flying away!





🕴 HP Lovecraft warns against pulp contamination

HP Lovecraft has a complicated legacy. He was a vicious racist, so
revolting in his eugenic views that Robert "Conan" E Howard remonstrated
with him and told him to knock it off.


Apart from the ghastly racism, Lovecraft is remembered for the haunting
imagery of his mythos - hence Call of Cthulhu and other pop culture
descendants - and for his bizarre, overwrought, turgid prose, which
defined a subgenre of pulp fiction.

But it turns out that Lovecraft HATED pulp fiction. In a February 1920
letter to the editor of the Omaha Bee, Lovecraft excoriated the pulps
and urged writers to avoid them, lest their writing be tainted by the
poor writing to be found within.


Lovecraft's fear of being tainted by lesser beings extended beyond
eugenics and into writing craft: "All attempts at gaining literary
polish must begin with judicious reading."

"It is also important that cheaper types of reading, if hitherto
followed, must be dropped. Popular magazines inculcate a careless and
deplorable style which is hard to unlearn, and which impedes the
acquisition of a purer style. If such things must be read, let them be
skimmed as lightly as possible."

Howard recommends that would-be writers stick to quality literature: the
King James Bible and Lord Dunsany.


🕴 Highspeed rail for America

Rep Seth Mouton [D-MA]  has proposed a $205B, 5-year high-speed rail
project that would be augmented by another $243B in local, state and
private funds; the money would create infrastructure for private rail
operators (not just Amtrak) to use.


With a 220mph rail network, we'd get "Dallas to Houston without the
3.5-hour drive. Chicago to Atlanta, with fewer weather delays and stops
in Indianapolis and Chattanooga. PDX to Vancouver at 220 mph. LAX to SFO
in under three hours."


High, speed, electric rail is green (provided you have renewables to
power it) and safe (Japan's Shinkansen system has had zero fatalities in
55 years). Rail is comfortable, with wide seats and dining cars, and

The biggest barrier to mustering political will for such a project is
the failures of the planned SF-LA high-speed link, which is vastly
behind schedule and over-budget.

I live about 5 minutes from the local Amtrak station and riding the
Surfliner to San Diego is one of the great delights of this arrangement.
It's fantastic when it's a work gig in the middle of the year, but it's
even more delightful during Comic-Con, when it turns into a Mos Eisley
Cantina on wheels.


🕴 $10T to avert another Great Depression

Lockdown froze the economy. Then, freezer burn set in. The US economy
isn't just shedding jobs - it's shedding small and medium businesses,
and those jobs won't come back. The economy needs a massive cash
infusion from the US government, much larger than the stimulus to date.

According to Derek Thompson, the target number is $10 trillion,
inclusive of the money already spent and on the drafting board.


Here's how to spend it.

$1.T for families: another $1,000 per person, extend the $600
unemployment-insurance benefit, subsidize food and housing with
rental/mortgage support. Unemployed people who get a job should get a
cash bonus.

$600B for business: Zero-interest loans with long repayment schedules
for SMEs.

$1T for state/local governments: Cash transfers to make up for
sales/property tax shortfalls.

$200b for public health: Mass testing, contact tracing, quarantine
facilities, stockpile production, funding for rural healthcare workers,
pharma R&D.;

All these payments should automatically renew until some kind of
economic target is met.

Add that to existing and scheduled stimulus and the total comes to $10T.

Thompson throws his hat in with the Modern Monetary Theory on whether
this will be inflationary (it won't, and our biggest risk is deflation):


And if we have to do this within the self-imposed (arbitrary and
suicidal) debt-ceiling constraint, we can just follow Rashida Tlaib's
suggestion and mint a few trillion-dollar coins:


If $10T seems like a big number to you, I'll leave you with Yves Smith's

"So, two Iraq wars, but we get to build stuff instead of blowing it up?
And we don’t blow a few hundred thousand faraway brown people to pink
mist? Where do I sign up?"



🕴 Toothsome masks

Malicious X is a gothy Japanese fashion company that has released a line
of covid horror-masks that capitalize on the hidden folds of pleats to
create amazing, monstrous effects.


Available designs include a wide variety of teeth/fangs and several
kinds of cryptid/monster eyeballs (about $30 each).

If you're looking to gang up your order with some other purchases to
make the shipping worthwhile, may I suggest some horns?



🕴 This day in history

#10yrsago Verizon makes a hole in woman's lawn, fills it with bags of

#10yrsago Tank covered in bookshelves: Weapon of Mass Instruction

#10yrsago Anti-identity-theft huckster has had identity stolen at least
13 times

#10yrsago Honey, I Wrecked the Kids: a guide to democratic parenting

#5yrsago America's terrible trains are an ideological triumph

#5yrsago Chris Christie denounces "civil liberties extremists"

#5yrsago Bottled water: the ultimate throwback to feudal selfishness

#5yrsago Taxi medallion markets collapse across America

#1yrago Wil Wheaton's "Dead Trees Give No Shelter": terrifying tale,
beautifully told

#1yrago Bernie Sanders' "Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education"
will desegregate schools, defund charters, pay teachers, end the
school-to-prison pipeline
Ada 25% cognition


🕴 Colophon

Today's top sources: Super Punch (https://superpunch.net/), Ben
Hammersley (https://benhammersley.com/), Slashdot (), Fipi Lele, Naked
Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 532 words (16871

Currently reading: The Case for a Job Guarantee, Pavlina Tcherneva

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 03)

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

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

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

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

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