[Plura-list] How I write; The Anti-Monopoly War Song; My other computer is...

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Sep 30 11:06:09 EDT 2020

Today's links

* How I write: Process notes on Attack Surface.

* The Anti-Monopoly War Song: Party like it's 1882.

* My other computer is...: Next-level IoT meme-generator.

* Leaked EU Big Tech rules: Proposal, or trial balloon?

* Self-driving cars crashing: Uber's cars can't drive half a mile
without a problem.

* This day in history: 2010, 2015

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


💍 How I write

The last trip I took before the plague locked down the world involved a
wonderful day at Tor Books to plan the release of Attack Surface, the
third Little Brother book, coming in a mere 2 weeks.

The ensuing chaos means that nearly everything that happened that day
was driven from my brain, such that I am now being pleasantly surprised
on a daily basis by videos that I have no recollection recording,
beautifully edited and presented by Tor's publicity team.

The latest of these just went live: "Cory Doctorow on Writing," which
answers the following questions:


* What is your favorite way to procrastinate?

* What is your ideal time and place for writing?


* What's your advice for writing occasionally unlikeable characters?
(Inspired by Masha, Attack Surface's antihero)


💍 The Anti-Monopoly War Song

It's easy to forget that American monopolism isn't new - America has
experienced epochs of massive concentration of corporate power to the
detriment of ordinary people.

Here's a forceful reminder of that: 1882's "Anti-Monopoly War Song."


Will you let the idol grim
Tear ye, brothers limb from limb?
And you breath of Freedom choke
With its clouds of poisoned smoke.

No! then onward to the fray,
Hurl the monster from your way,
Let your cry of battle be,
Death to all Monopoly!

It's easy to think of monopolies as permanent fixtures, given their
enormous power and influence. But we're not descended from a fallen
civilization whose arts and sciences are lost to time's mists. We
smashed monopolies in living memory and we can (and must) do it again!


💍 My other computer is...

Meme-generating tools are as old as the internet; I even helped make one
in the paleocomputing days (Jef Poskanzer's Acme Heart maker):


But Jason Kravitz's "My Other Computer Is..." is next-level: it creates
an image of a nerdy person, holding a device, in a room, and the device
is stickered with "My other computer is..." and some IoT device not
generally considered to be a comaputer.


The resulting image can be freely reused (if it does not contain an
AI-generated face), or reused noncommercially (if there is a face - this
is a licensing requirement in the underlying library).


(Images: My Other Computer Is..., CC BY and CC BY-NC


💍 Leaked EU Big Tech rules

The EU Commission has been consulting widely on a set of rules for Big
Tech companies, and they've made it clear that there's a very wide range
of restrictions on the table - far wider than any US bill or proposal.

That's probably down to the fact that the targeted companies are based
in the USA, have a better-developed lobbying capacity there, and have
successfully convinced US politicos of the (largely true) proposition
that they are a means of projecting US soft power abroad.

A leaked document of "blacklisted" and "greylisted" activities for tech
giants ("gatekeeper platforms" in eurocratese), shows the range of
possibilities on the table - and also the stuff that's not within the
regulatory imagination (yet).


Prohibited ("blacklisted") activities include:

* Mining your customers' data to compete with them or advertise to their
customers (think: Facebook Like buttons on publisher pages, Amazon's
own-brand competitors)

* Mixing third-party data with surveillance data you gather yourself
(like Facebook buying credit bureaux data), without user permission
(which is the same as never because no one in the world wants this)

* Ranking your own offerings above your competitors (think: Google
Shopping listings at the top of search results)

* Pre-installing your own apps on devices (like Ios and Android do) or
requiring third party device makers to install your apps (as Android does)

* Using DRM or terms to service to prevent users from uninstalling
preinstalled apps (no immortal shovelware)

* Exclusivity deals - mobile OS/device companies can't force an app
vendor to sell only through the app, and not on the open web

* Using DRM or terms of service to prevent sideloading

* Nondisparagement/confidentiality clauses that would prevent your
suppliers from complaining about your monopolistic behavior

* Tying email to other services - you have to be able to activate an
Android device without a Gmail account

* Automatically logging users into one service on the basis that they're
logged into another one (eg using Gmail doesn't automatically log you
into Youtube)

Companies have to provide:

* Annual transparency reports that make public the results of an
EU-designed audit that assesses compliance

* Annual algorithmic transparency reports that disclose a third-party
audit of "customer profiling" and "cross-service tracking"

* Compliance documents showing current practices, on demand by regulators

* Advance notice of all mergers and acquisitions

* An internal compliance officer who oversees the business

Those are the requirements, and then there's a "greylist" of stuff that
isn't banned or mandator, but that automatically triggers regulatory

* Interfering with the businesses on a platform from getting their own
data (eg Amazon refusing to tell publishers how their books are selling)

* Gathering more data than is needed to provide the service

* Making it hard for users or businesses on a platform to export their
data and go elsewhere

* Encumbering the sale of click/search data or offering it on
discriminatory tools that preference some customers over others

* Using DRM or ToS to stop vendors from replacing the default apps on

* Blocking third-party mobile apps from using the APIs and API features
that the vendor's own apps use

* Blocking identity services that offer "the same level of security" as
your own

* Degrading service for third-party apps, locking users into your own
payment or insurance services, locking users into your identity services

* Price-discrimination among businesses that use platforms ("most
favored nation" deals, etc)

* Refusing to interoperate with competitors' services

* Tricking users into switching from third-party services to platform
owners' competitors

* ToS that "require acceptance of supplementary conditions or services
that, by their nature or according to commercial usage, have no
connection with and are not necessary for the provision of the platform
or services to its business users."

Which is *quite a list*!

Obviously, no one knows how much of this stuff will end up in any final
rule. And the fact that this has leaked so widely might suggest that
elements of the EU Commission deliberately leaked it to test the waters
and see how people felt about it.

My immediate reaction was that all these rules sound good, but will be
hard to enforce, and 90% of them could be scrapped if you just had a
different rule: "structural separation."

That's the old, tried-and-true antimonopoly rule that bans platforms
from competing with the businesses that use their platforms: rail
companies were banned from owning freight companies, etc.

A structural separation rule for Big Tech would ban FB and Google from
running their own ad networks; Apple and Google from making apps that
ran on their mobile platforms; Amazon from publishing books or selling
own-brand goods.

While this would cause an *amazing amount* of rage from Big Tech, it is
*much* easier to police than any of the measures it replaces.


💍 Self-driving cars crashing

In his magesterial, longrunning series of papers explaining why Uber is
not, and never will be, a viable business, transportation analyst Hubert
Horan calls the business a "bezzle."


Bezzle is John Kenneth Galbraith's term for "the magic interval when a
confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the
victim does not yet understand that he has lost it."

Uber has had an extraordinarily robust bezzle, one that has allowed its
backers - primarily the Saudi royals - to make out like bandits.

Much of that is down to the company's insistence that it can become
profitable once self-driving cars are viable.

Which is great, except self-driving cars are, to a first approximation,


That's how Uber spent $2.5B on a self-driving car R&D; program that has
produced vehicles that can't drive HALF A MILE without a major problem.


In a leaked email from the manager of the self-driving car unit to CEO
Dara Khosrowshahi, the manager writes "The car doesn’t drive well...
[it] struggles with simple routes and simple maneuvers."

On the R&D; unit itself, the manager laments it "has simply failed to
evolve and produce meaningful progress in so long that something has to
be said before a disaster befalls us."

Self-driving cars epitomize how bezzles can run the breadth of the whole
economy: billions of dollars have been spent by supposedly responsible,
sober-sided investors, which is meant to prove that they are possible.

This is comparable to the belief that Facebook and Google's claims about
their products' ability to manipulate us and deprive us of free well
MUST be true, or blue-chip companies wouldn't spend so much on those

Or the belief that hedge-fund managers must be able to outperform simple
index funds or rich people won't entrust them with their money.

Alternative hypothesis: being rich doesn't mean you're smart, it means
you're lucky, and luck runs out eventually.

But being rich *does* make you powerful, and rich people who make bad
bets often try to bend reality to make those bets play out: for example,
rich people who make stupid investments buy new tax codes that give them
giant tax-credits for the losses.

In the case of self-driving cars, stupid rich people insist that
autonomous vehicles can be made safe by forcing humans to modify their

Think of Drive AI's Andrew Ng - late of Baidu - who says the cars will
be safe as soon as we solve the "pogo stick problem."

What's the pogo stick problem? Here's Ng in T	he Verge:

"I think many AV teams could handle a pogo stick user in pedestrian
crosswalk [but] bouncing on a pogo stick in the middle of a highway
would be really dangerous. Rather than building AI to solve the pogo
stick problem, we should partner with the government to ask people to be
lawful and considerate. Safety isn’t just about the quality of the AI

Translation: the problem with self-driving cars is humans, not cars.


The solution: Ban human-like behavior in the presence of cars.

Now that self-driving car R&D; is entering the trough of despair, listen
for a lot of plutes demanding that we make up their losses by changing
our behavior to benefit their shareholders.


💍 This day in history

#10yrsago It Gets Better: video postcards to isolated queer kids from
happy queer adults https://www.youtube.com/c/itgetsbetter

#10yrsago Welcome to Bordertown: the first Borderlands book in decades!

#5yrsago Wisconsin is a paradise for white kids, but a hell for black

#5yrsago Lemony Snicket gives Planned Parenthood $1M

#5yrsago After OPM hack, CIA pulls agents from Beijing for their safety


💍 Colophon

Today's top sources: Slashdot (https://slashdot.org).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 551 words (67043

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: IP https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/09/14/ip/

Upcoming appearances:

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

* Library Leaders Forum, Oct 6

* 3 Big Ideas To Fix the Internet, Oct 7,

* Wired Nextfest Italia, Oct 10,

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

Recent appearances:

* If Big Tech Is Toxic, How Do We Build Something Better? (panel)

* On ‘Attack Surface’ and WiFi Fridges (What a Hell of a Way to Die

* Little Brother vs. Big Audiobook (Techdirt podcast):

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "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.

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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