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politics people who know more than me talk about Epic acquiring Bandcamp

March 2, 2022: Bandcamp puts out a press release about their “joining” Epic Games. This follows in a line of eerily similar acquisitions of companies catering to indies, namely Sketchfab and ArtStation.

There are lots of interesting topics intersecting here:

  • Venture capital and the associated perverse incentives
  • Antitrust and general issues with corporate consolidations
  • The takeover of existing institutions, especially technical infrastructure
  • The false narrative of corporations as indie and non-corporate
  • Epic vs Apple and problems of platform monopoly
  • Bandcamp’s correct but rare approach to piracy, which is endangered

I’ll talk more about those some day, don’t worry. For now, though, have some tweets.

politics Winners and Losers

I can’t write about antitrust. There’s too much to talk about. So I have to break the idea down, way down, to something manageable. I’m going to chew on one phrase here, “the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers.” It’s a favourite of the pro-monopoly types and it almost sounds reasonable, so let’s think about it for like a minute.

First, when pro-monopoly types say “the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers”, what they’re picturing as the “win state” is market domination. They don’t see it as a bad thing, because they feel that success correlates with virtue, so if a corporation beats out its competitors that’s because it was right and good. We know what it’s like when corporations actualize on this; complete market domination, customers have no option but to go through you, it’s impossible to start competing against you. 100% domination, company towns, corporate rule. But that theoretical “win state” is the answer to the question of what corporations “want”.

Corporations”, as entities, are little optimizing robots. Executives and boards and shareholders are the cogs and wires, but the thing they come together to form is something of an entirely different nature, something artificial. This is intentional; people want corporate entities instead of humans specifically because corporate entities and humans are different. Corporations last, corporations have a focused goal, corporations have that machinery to scale and pursue it effectively. That thing they form is a very primitive artificial intelligence that uses its cogs and wires to pursue a specific goal.

And the thing they aspire to, the thing they try to maximize, is market share. Revenue is great, but market share prints money. And, in theory, when nobody is cheating or exploiting or being anticompetitive, this actually works. Corporations compete against each other for customers, customers pick the best products, innovation disrupts markets, yadda yadda.

But of course that doesn’t happen with cheats at the helms of these companies. And — as with any model, sport, or competition — without enforced regulation the market rewards the cheats. And what it rewards them with is power to charge more, power to make exploitative products, and ultimately power to keep competition from disrupting them.

In an environment where corporate crime is tightly prosecuted and nobody is “light on crime” even when it comes to the wealthy and powerful, this doesn’t happen. Cut out the cancer and you heal the body.

But keeping companies from being exploitive would be “picking winners and losers”! And that’s obviously wrong, they whine.

Now, in addition to what the words mean and what the states look like, the language “winners and losers” is also absurd because it spins the conversation with an undue emotional connotation. “It’s not fair for you to regulate companies such that they might lose money, because they’ve earned it.” Poor little guy. They’re hurt, and we’re stealing from them. Except no, that’s obviously a lie. Corporations aren’t people, they don’t have emotions or feel pain, they’re organizational structures composed of individuals who are not unduly harmed by antitrust regulation.

The actual humans in this equation, the only party anywhere near this question who we should worry about harming, are the consumers. The people, who depend on access to food and medical supplies and technology. The people who are actually harmed by monopoly, requiring antitrust in the first place!

Antitrust isn’t punishment, it’s correction of situation that has gone wrong. It’s fixing a machine that is producing undesirable results. It’s a correction to the AI’s value function; there was an undesirable outcome that was accidently being rewarded. The regulatory response needs to be either “whoops, you found a new way to hurt people we haven’t made illegal yet, let’s patch that” or “whoops, you’re overtly committing crimes, and there is a consequence for that because that is what rule of law means.”

The scoundrel is the one who makes the argument that because he got away with hurting people at a profit once, to stop him now would be unfair to him. Doing right by people is bad for his business model, so it’s impossible to say who’s right or not. It’s a transparent excuse for politicians who don’t personally agree with the law because they like the company, or like the money they spend to pick the company as the winner by means of policy drift.

The question of winners and losers doesn’t matter because what “winning” is for corporations is bad, per se. Corporations are artificial creations who perform by setting goals and pushing themselves toward them. And that (competition) is enormously beneficial! But just because some state is the best thing for a nonhuman entity doesn’t mean that should happen. In fact, every way in which that state is different from one that prioritizes people is a compelling argument against it.

fandom Psycholonials Commentary, selections

  • Posted in fandom

The following are exerpts from my fully commented playthrough of Psycholonials, which I wrote last summer. If you aren’t familiar with psycholonials or haven’t played the game, I recommend reading that to catch up.

bonk

If you’ve already played Psycholonials though, here’s some food for you. Exerpts though, not the whole thing.

politics Alma Mater

I went to my old university today.1 I wanted to use the library.

It was a strange experience. There were things about my time there I missed, but I didn’t miss my time there. There was too much wrong. Ways I didn’t fit.

I looked around. It was passing period, and there was a throng of students coming and going both ways. The pavement was nice, new construction. People were laughing and talking and introducing each other.

Was I wrong? Should I be missing this? There is still so much good here. So I asked myself what it was I saw, exactly. And I looked out.

tech You can Google it

  • Posted in tech

The other day I had a quick medical question (“if I don’t rinse my mouth out enough at night will I die”), so I googled the topic as I was going to bed. Google showed a couple search results, but it also showed Answers in a little dedicated capsule. This was right on the heels of the Yahoo Answers shutdown, so I poked around to see what Google’s answers were like. And those… went in an unexpected direction.

Should I rince my mouth after using mouthwash? Why is it bad to swallow blood? Can a fly live in your body? What do vampires hate? Can you become a vampire? How do you kill a vampire?

So, Google went down a little rabbit trail. Obviously these answers were scraped from the web, and included sources like exemplore.com/paranormal/, which is, apparently, a Wiccan resource for information that is “astrological, metaphysical, or paranormal in nature.” So possibly not the best place to go for medical advice. (If you missed it, the context clue for that one was the guide on vampire killing.)

There are lots of funny little stories like this, where some AI misunderstood a question. Like this case where a porn parody got mixed in the bio for a fictional character, or that time novelist John Boyne used Google and accidently wrote a video recipe into his book. (And yes, it was a Google snippet.) These are always good for a laugh.

Wait, what’s that? That last one wasn’t funny, you say? Did we just run face-first toward the cold brick wall of reality, where bad information means people die?

Well, sorry. Because it’s not the first time Google gave out fatal advice, nor the last. Nor is there any end in sight. Whoops!

gaming Hack ‘n’ Slash is awe inspiring

  • Posted in gaming

Hack ‘n’ Slash is a game about hacking (and comparatively little slashing) published by DoubleFine (of Psychonauts fame) in 2014. It features art by Raz Mavlian and it’s directed by absolute madman Brandon Dillon. It’s not a “programming” game (like 7 Billion Humans, a Zachtronics game, or even Quadrilateral Cowboy), and it’s not at all the action-adventure game it pretends to be at the beginning. It’s very much a game about game hacking, and that goes to some fascinating places.

I’m looking now and of the ~16 games DoubleFine has on Steam, Hack ‘n’ slash is the only one with “Mixed” reviews. This is a tragedy, as Hack ‘n’ slash is most interesting games I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a strange case, though. Although I have an overwhelming amount of praise to give the game, there are a few oddities that make it hard for me to directly recommend everyone buy and play it. I’ll get to that later.

Why Hack 'n' Slash is incredible🔗

or, the ride the game takes you on

QA On motivation

  • 2 min read
  • Posted in QA

Anonymous asked: What exactly drives you to make pieces such as the big one about the hiveswap fiasco and many others?

This is a big question, so that gives me an opportunity to be self-indulgent. Here are a few things that come to me.

One major part of the answer is serious dissatisfaction with how current social media handles persistent information, but I have a whole article I’m planning to write on that topic.

I’ll talk about Hiveswap first because it’s kind of a special case. My intent when I started writing was actually completely different than what I ended up doing. I had been talking with some relatively new Homestuck fans and realized that there was an enormous amount information I just picked up from cultural osmosis that they just didn’t know. What’s more, most of the original sources for that information (peoples’ blogs, the forums, newsposts) were all out of use, shut down, or intentionally obfuscated.

So my original idea was to dump the whole Hiveswap story as I knew it (because I was there at the time, and actively engaged with the news and development information throughout) down on paper, attach archived versions of the original sources where possible, and fill in all the holes in my recollection while I was at it. Just because I thought it was interesting, and significant, and something people in the Homestuck fandom just ought to know. I… I might have even called it a calling? Not at all a “I’ve got to blow the lid on this whole scandal” calling, because at the time I didn’t know there was a whole scandal. I just realized I was one of only a few people equipped with the information needed to actually save that history.

Now, obviously Hiveswap in particular snowballed from there, as I put things together and realized I had stumbled on something important.

But it’s usually not just “I feel like I know some facts”, it’s usually that I make some interesting connections or observations that I want to point out. YouTube broke links and other life lessons and Twitter Blue is a late-stage symptom are very basic examples of this, where I try to link some real thing going on in the world with the concepts I’m reminded of when I hear about them, but that other people might not be. The same is sort of true of The Sarah Z Video Fallout, where I feel like I have a particular understanding of the story that lets me contextualize the new developments in a way other people might not naturally do. A lot of times, when some tech company is doing something something bad and sneaky, they rely on people not being able to properly contextualize it, which is how they get away with things. So it’s good to contextualize things, and even better if I teach somebody how to contextualize things in the process.

There’s also a strong memex element, where I use articles to organize and connect my own thoughts, and especially connect my thoughts about issues to other writing or videos or papers people have written. Whenever I see something that just strikes me as particularly good or important or poignant, and relates to a topic I’m personally interested in or have a particular take on, I’ll either staple it somewhere near where I’ve written about that topic before or toss in a folder to connect to an article later.

I have this sort of katamari method of writing, where every time I have a thought that seems particularly interesting, or related to a topic I have interesting thoughts about, I’ll write it down and categorize it somewhere until eventually my internal notes reach critical mass and there’s enough there to expand on and write into a real article.

And, on that note, I have a bigger answer to “why write things down” in a draft right now that will continue collecting thoughts passively until it’s ready, and then until it hits the top of my list. So, look out for that some day.

politics Client CSAM scanning: a disaster already

On August 5, 2021, Apple presented their grand new Child Safety plan. They promised “expanded protections for children” by way of a new system of global phone surveillance, where every iPhone would constantly scan all your photos and sometimes forward them to local law enforcement if it identifies one as containing contraband. Yes, really.

August 5 was a Thursday. This wasn’t dumped on a Friday night in order to avoid scrutiny, this was published with fanfare. Apple really thought they had a great idea here and expected to be applauded for it. They really, really didn’t. There are almost too many reasons this is a terrible idea to count. But people still try things like this, so as much as I wish it were, my work is not done. God has cursed me for my hubris, et cetera. Let’s go all the way through this, yet again.

The architectural problem this is trying to solve🔗

Believe it or not, Apple actually does address a real architectural issue here. Half-heartedly addressing one architectural problem of many doesn’t mean your product is good, or even remotely okay, but they do at least do it. Apple published a 14 page summary of the problem model (starting on page 5). It’s a good read if you’re interested in that kind of thing, but I’ll summarize it here.

fandom Polygon’s “Life after Homestuck” (Thread)

  • Posted in fandom

politics Ethical Source is a Crock of Hot Garbage

There’s this popular description of someone “having brain worms”. It invokes the idea of having your mind so thoroughly infested with an idea to the point of disease. As with the host of an infestation, such a mind is poor-to-worthless at any activity other than sustaining and spreading the parasite.

A “persistent delusion or obsession“. You know, like when you think in terms of legality so much you can’t even make ethical evaluations anymore, or when you like cops so much you stop being able to think about statistics, or the silicon valley startup people who try to solve social problems with bad technology, or the bitcoin people who responded to the crisis in Afghanistan by saying they should just adopt bitcoin. “Bad, dumb things”. You get the idea.

And, well.

Okay, so let’s back way up here, because this is just the tip of the iceberg of a story that needs years of context. I’ll start with the most recent event here, the Mastodon tweet.

The Mastodon Context🔗

The “he” Mastodon is referring to is ex-president-turned-insurrectionist Donald Trump, who, because his fellow-insurrectionist friends and fans are subject to basic moderation policies on most of the internet, decided to start his own social network, “Truth Social”. In contrast to platforms moderated by the “tyranny of big tech”, Truth Social would have principles of Free Speech, like “don’t read the site”, “don’t link to the site”, “don’t criticise the site”, “don’t use all-caps”, and “don’t disparage the site or us”. There are a lot of problems here already, but because everything Trump does is terrible and nobody who likes him can create anything worthwhile, instead of actually making a social networking platform, they just stole Mastodon wholesale.

Mastodon is an open-source alternative social networking platform. It’s licensed under an open license (the AGPLv3), so you are allowed to clone it and even rebrand it for your own purposes as was done here. What you absolutely are not allowed to do is claim the codebase is your own proprietary work, deliberately obscure the changes you made to the codebase, or make any part of the AGPL-licensed codebase (including your modifications) unavailable to the public. All of which Truth Social does.

So that’s the scandal. And so here’s Mastodon poking some fun at that.