Dinkclump Linkdump

A rare, out-of-cycle linkdump.

Cory Doctorow
6 min readFeb 23, 2024

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A mixture of aggregate — various broken up rocks for use in concrete and other industrial applications. Image: Peter Craven (modified) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aggregate_output_%287637833962%29.jpg CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

I’m on tour with my new novel The Bezzle! Catch me TOMORROW (Feb 24) in LA (Saturday, with ADAM CONOVER), Seattle (Feb 26), with NEAL STEPHENSON), then Portland, Phoenix and more!

A yellow rectangle. On the left, in blue, are the words ‘Cory Doctorow.’ On the right, in black, is ‘The Bezzle.’ Between them is the motif from the cover of *The Bezzle*: an escheresque impossible triangle. The center of the triangle is a barred, smaller triangle that imprisons a silhouetted male figure in a suit. Two other male silhouettes in suits run alongside the top edges of the triangle.

Some Saturday mornings, I look at the week’s blogging and realize I have a lot more links saved up than I managed to write about this week, and then I do a linkdump. There’ve been 14 of these, and this is number 15:

https://pluralistic.net/tag/linkdump/

Attentive readers will note that this isn’t Saturday. You’re right. But I’m on a book tour and every day is shatterday, because damn, it’s grueling and I’m not the spry manchild who took Little Brother on the road in 2008 — I’m a 52 year old with two artificial hips. Hence: an out-of-cycle linkdump. Come see me on tour and marvel at my verticality!

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/16/narrative-capitalism/#bezzle-tour

Best thing I read this week, hands down, was Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day piece, “AI search is a doomsday cult”:

https://www.garbageday.email/p/ai-search-doomsday-cult

Broderick makes so many excellent points in this piece. First among them: AI search sucks, but that’s OK, because no one is asking for AI search. This only got more true later in the week when everyone’s favorite spicy autocomplete accidentally loaded the James Joyce module:

https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2024/02/chatgpt-alarms-users-by-spitting-out-shakespearean-nonsense-and-rambling/

(As Matt Webb noted, Chatbots have slid rapidly from Star Trek (computers give you useful information in a timely fashion) to Douglas Adams (computers spout hostile, impenetrable nonsense at you):

https://interconnected.org/home/2024/02/21/adams

But beyond the unsuitability of AI for search results and beyond the public’s yawning indifference to AI-infused search, Broderick makes a more important point: AI search is about summarizing web results so you don’t have to click links and read the pages yourself.

If that’s the future of the web, who the fuck is going to write those pages that the summarizer summarizes? What is the incentive, the business-model, the rational explanation for predicting a world in which millions of us go on writing web-pages, when the gatekeepers to the web have promised to rig the game so that no one will ever visit those pages, or read what we’ve written there, or even know it was us who wrote the underlying material the summarizer just summarized?

If we stop writing the web, AIs will have to summarize each other, forming an inhuman centipede of botshit-ingestion. This is bad news, because there’s pretty solid mathematical evidence that training a bot on botshit makes it absolutely useless. Or, as the authors of the paper — including the eminent cryptographer Ross Anderson — put it, “using model-generated content in training causes irreversible defects”:

https://arxiv.org/abs/2305.17493

This is the mathematical evidence for Jathan Sadowski’s “Hapsburg AI,” or, as the mathematicians call it, “The Curse of Recursion” (new band-name just dropped).

But if you really have your heart set on living in a ruined dystopia dominated by hostile artificial life-forms, have no fear. As Hamilton Nolan writes in “Radical Capital,” a rogues gallery of worker-maiming corporations have asked a court to rule that the NLRB can’t punish them for violating labor law:

https://www.hamiltonnolan.com/p/radical-capital

Trader Joe’s, Amazon, Starbucks and SpaceX have all made this argument to various courts. If they prevail, then there will be no one in charge of enforcing federal labor law. Yes, this will let these companies go on ruining their workers’ lives, but more importantly, it will give carte blanche to every other employer in the land. At one end of this process is a boss who doesn’t want to recognize a union — and at the other end are farmers dying of heat-stroke.

The right wing coalition that has put this demand before the court has all sorts of demands, from forced birth to (I kid you not), the end of recreational sex:

https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2024/02/getting-rid-of-birth-control-is-a-key-gop-agenda-item-for-the-second-trump-term

That coalition is backed by ultra-rich monopolists who want wreck the nation that their rank-and-file useful idiots want to wreck your body. These are the monopoly cheerleaders who gave us the abomination that is the Pharmacy Benefit Manager — a useless intermediary that gets to screw patients and pharmacists — and then let PBMs consolidate and merge with pharmacy monopolists.

One such inbred colossus is Change Healthcare, a giant PBM that is, in turn, a mere tendril of United Healthcare, which merged the company with Optum. The resulting system — held together with spit and wishful thinking — has access to the health records of a third of Americans and processes 15 billion prescriptions per day.

Or rather, it did process that amount — until the all-your-eggs-in-one-badly-maintained basket strategy failed on Wednesday, and Change’s systems went down due to an unspecified “cybersecurity incident.” In the short term, this meant that tens of millions of Americans who tried to refill their prescriptions were told to either pay cash or come back later (if you don’t die first). That was the first shoe dropping. The second shoe is the medical records of a third of the country.

Don’t worry, I’m sure those records are fine. After all, nothing says security like “merging several disparate legacy IT systems together while simultaneously laying off half your IT staff as surplus to requirements and an impediment to extracting a special dividend for the private equity owners who are, of course, widely recognized as the world’s greatest information security practitioners.”

Look, not everything is terrible. Some computers are actually getting better. Framework’s user-serviceable, super-rugged, easy-to-repair, powerful laptops are the most exciting computers I’ve ever owned — or broken:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/11/13/graceful-failure/#frame

Now you can get one for $500!

https://frame.work/blog/first-framework-laptop-16-shipments-and-a-499-framework

And the next generation is turning our surprisingly well, despite all our worst efforts. My kid — now 16! — and I just launched our latest joint project, “The Sushi Chronicles,” a small website recording our idiosyncratic scores for nearly every sushi restaurant in Burbank, Glendale, Studio City and North Hollywood:

https://sushichronicles.org/

This is the record of two years’ worth of Daughter-Daddy sushi nights that started as a way to get my picky eater to try new things and has turned into the highlight of my week. If you’re in the area and looking for a nice piece of fish, give it a spin (also, we belatedly realized that we’ve never reviewed our favorite place, Kuru Kuru in the CVS Plaza on North Hollywood Way — we’ll be rectifying that soon).

And yes, we have a lavishly corrupt Supreme Court, but at least now everyone knows it. Glenn Haumann’s even set up a Gofundme to raise money to bribe Clarence Thomas (now deleted, alas):

https://www.gofundme.com/f/pzhj4q-the-clarence-thomas-signing-bonus-fund-give-now

The funds are intended as a “signing bonus” in the event that Thomas takes up John Oliver on his offer of a $2.4m luxury RV and $1m/year for life if he’ll resign from the court:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GE-VJrdHMug

This is truly one of Oliver’s greatest bits, showcasing his mastery over the increasingly vital art of turning abstruse technical issues into entertainment that negates the performative complexity used by today’s greatest villains to hide their misdeeds behind a Shield of Boringness (h/t Dana Clare).

The Bezzle is my contribution to turning abstruse scams into a high-impact technothriller that pierces that Shield of Boringness. The key to this is to master exposition, ignoring the (vastly overrated) rule that one must “show, not tell.” Good exposition is hard to do, but when it works, it’s amazing (as anyone who’s read Neal Stephenson’s 1,600-word explanation of how to eat Cap’n Crunch cereal in Cryptonomicon can attest). I wrote about this for Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit” this week:

https://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/my-favorite-bit/my-favorite-bit-cory-doctorow-talks-about-the-bezzle/

Of course, an undisputed master of this form is Adam Conover, whose Adam Ruins Everything show helped invent it. Adam is joining me on stage in LA tomorrow night at Vroman’s at 5:30PM, to host me in a book-tour event for my novel The Bezzle:

https://www.vromansbookstore.com/Cory-Doctorow-discusses-The-Bezzle

If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this post to read or share, here’s a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/23/gazeteer/#out-of-cycle

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