[Plura-list] Ryan North's 'How to Take Over the World'

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sat Apr 16 16:54:58 EDT 2022

Read today's issue online at: https://pluralistic.net/2022/04/16/they-laughed-at-me-in-vienna/

Today's links

* Ryan North's 'How to Take Over the World': Popular science as a series of supervillainous thought-experiments.

* This day in history: 2002, 2007, 2012, 2017, 2021

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


🚿 Ryan North's 'How to Take Over the World'

There's a certain kind of Internet Person who makes the world a better place every day, just by showing up. People like Ryan North, whose many accomplishments include his daily, long-running, brilliant Dinosaur Comics:


The secret to Dinosaur Comics is the simplicity of the bit, coupled with the lengths that North takes it to: it's the same six stock-art panels of a T-Rex, a Utahraptor and a, Dromiceiomimus, discoursing on some funny, bizarre or philosophical topic. Three times per week, every week since 2003, Ryan North has written new dialog for these three dinosaurs, as T-Rex crushes a log cabin (panel 3) and a tiny person (panel 4), while pondering the imponderable.

Thinking up three different gags per week for the same six panels for nearly 20 years has meant that North has had to go to some very weird and amazing places, really push through all the obvious riffs, and take us beyond the obvious bounds of the imagination.

Now, Dinosaur Comics is all the more amazing in that it is basically a side-hustle and passion project. North has several *other* careers he pursues, like producing improbable, delightful, wildly popular crowdfunded books. His choose-your-own adventure version of Hamlet was the most successful publishing Kickstarter when it funded:


And then there was "Machine of Death," a pair of CC-licensed theme anthologies and a card game North co-created, about a world in which people know the exact time and manner of their deaths.


Not only are these great books, they also destroyed Glenn Beck's 2010 book launch by beating it to the top of the charts, causing Beck to conceive of a bizarre, long-running feud against the "culture of death."


North's wide-ranging interests and deeply nerdy outlook (he's also an accomplished computer scientist) makes him perfectly suited to writing superhero comics, and his runs on several Marvel titles are distinguished for their humor and inventiveness:


But beyond the comics, the webcomics, the science fiction and the Shakespeare-inspired remix comedies, North is also an accomplished science communicator. His first book-length foray into the field was 2018's "How to Invent Everything," which addressed itself to time-travelers stranded in the past and explained how to bootstrap a technologically advanced civilization as a frame for stripping away the layers of knowledge and art underpinning our everyday lives:


Now, North has published a sequel of sorts: How to Take Over The World, a popular science book that tours a wide-ranging set of technological ideas by means of explaining how to realize the supervillain plots so beloved of Marvel comics:


HTTOTW is full of extremely funny, extremely informative riffs that make for a engrossing frame for very deep dives into knowledge that is esoteric, interdisciplinary, and damned interesting. For example, if you want to build a supervillain lair, you want to be beyond the reach of state authority, and that's a jumping-off point to recount the history of nation-states, the deeply flawed nature of seasteading and other "libertarian exit" projects, and, finally, a triumphant exploration of Antarctic treaty law and Buckminster Fuller's plan for vast, floating spheres, with a detour into carbon nanotubes and other exotic new materials.

HTTOTW gives the same treatment to immortality, bringing back dinosaurs (so you can terrorize your enemies from atop a ferocious thunder-lizard), controlling the world's weather, traveling through time, switching off the internet, and sending information forward in time to the heat-death of the universe.

For each of these, North presents the hilarious and often terrible histories of previous attempts, the current state of the art, and the outer speculative edge of science. Each one is a way to talk about biology, physics, sociology, and politics - and each one sneakily introduces the book's main theme, which is that the supervillain's true, inevitable downfall is their belief in their singular genius and desire to ignore or trample the agency of others.

That message emerges inexorably through North's expert scientific explanations and often laugh-out-loud humor: supervillains are, basically toddlers who would like very much for everyone to simply let them decide how everything should work, without complaining about their own wants and needs.

At a moment when selfish assholes have decided that the pandemic is over, and other people have no right to demand that they consider how their actions harm others, HTTOTW is a timely reminder that we all have intertwined destinies, and that science and reality have an anti-hyper-individualist bias:



🚿 This day in history

#20yrsago Goodbye, Damon Knight https://memex.craphound.com/2002/04/15/goodbye-damon/

#20yrsago Patrick Nielsen Hayden on Damon Knight https://web.archive.org/web/20020609133416/http://www.panix.com/~pnh/electrolite/el_arch/2002_04.html#000113

#20yrsago How the RIAA cooked the books https://web.archive.org/web/20020606131911/https://scriban.com/movabletype/2002_04_15.html

#15yrsago April 23 is International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day https://web.archive.org/web/20070515000000*/https://papersky.livejournal.com/318273.html

#15yrsago Women outnumber men online https://web.archive.org/web/20070415213124/http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?1004775

#15yrsago Sao Paulo goes advertising-free https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonydemarco/sets/72157600075508212/

#10yrsago London’s dystopian Olympics: criminal sanctions for violating the exclusivity of sponsors’ brands https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/apr/13/olympics-2012-branding-police-sponsors

#10yrsago Canada Post sues crowdsourced postal-code database, claims copyright in Canadian postal-codes https://web.archive.org/web/20120416032306/https://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6415/125/

#10yrsago Sergei Brin on the existential crisis of the net: walled gardens + snooping governments https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/15/web-freedom-threat-google-brin

#10yrsagoo Tim Powers’s Hide Me Among the Graves: secret history of the vampires that stalked the pre-Raphaelites https://memex.craphound.com/2012/04/16/tim-powerss-hide-me-among-the-graves-secret-history-of-the-vampires-that-stalked-the-pre-raphaelites/

#5yrsago David Dao’s injuries: concussion, two front teeth knocked out, broken nosehttps://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-live-stream-david-dao-presser-20170413-story.html

#5yrsago Masterprints: synthetic fingerprints that unlock up to 65% of phones (in theory) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/10/technology/fingerprint-security-smartphones-apple-google-samsung.html

#5yrsago The IRS deliberately targeted innocents for civil forfeiture program that stole millions from Americans https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/press/press_tigta-2017-05.htm

#5yrsago The latest NSA dump from the Shadow Brokers tells you how to break into banks https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/04/nsa-leaking-shadow-brokers-just-dumped-its-most-damaging-release-yet/

#5yrsago Blockers will win the ad-blocking arms race http://randomwalker.info/publications/ad-blocking-framework-techniques.pdf

#1yrago Murder Offsets: Greenwashing will kill us all https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/14/for-sale-green-indulgences/#killer-analogy

#1yrago People's Choice Communications: An ISP owned by striking Charter works that diverts profits to its customers https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/16/where-it-hurts/#charter-hires-scabs

#1yrago $100m deli made $35k in 2019/20 https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/16/where-it-hurts/#hometown

#1yrsago Mass-action lawsuit against Facebook: Digital Rights Ireland wants to make the other GDPR shoe drop https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/16/where-it-hurts/#sue-facebook


🚿 Colophon

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Friday's progress: 517 words (84523 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

* Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: When Automation Becomes Enforcement

Upcoming appearances:

* Launch for Jennifer Egan's "The Candy House" (Vancouver Public Library), Apr 19

* Seize the Means of Computation, Emerging Technologies For the Enterprise, Apr 20

* Wikiworkshop, Apr 25

* UK Competition and Markets Authority Data Technology and Analytics conference, Jun 15-16

Recent appearances:

* Breaking Free From the Corporate Matrix (Audiblegate podcast):

* The Long, Slow Death of the Internet (Factually with Adam Conover):

* Creative Commons Open Minds Podcast:

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html

* "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: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.

Upcoming books:

* Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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