around the web

Simon Reynolds on Auto-Tune (Pitchfork). Long, thorough "explainer" piece on the effect, how it's used, and its history in commercial pop. For purposes of his discussion, Reynolds has temporarily ignored Sturgeon's Law that "90 percent of everything is crap."

UK sf/slipstream author Christopher Priest on why his new 9/11 novel An American Story has no American publisher. The Gollancz ebook is currently available at Barnes and Noble so it's not as if the book can't be read in the US, it's just that no US company would do a print run, book tour, etc. The silence on the subject of our national myth (what happened and how it happened) is actually the theme of the book. It's well worth a read.

a hubristic step too far

One of the reasons Amazon grew to massive size is its supposed "all about the customer" philosophy.
Make it easy and cheap to buy books ("buy with one-click!"), then introduce other product lines to keep the consumer hooked on an ever-expanding range of easy-to-acquire merchandise.
Enter VPNs, or virtual private networks. These allow users to surf the web with some degree of privacy because the users' (encrypted) connections only go to the VPN host. In other words, the VPN host's server, not the user's, has the IP address the visited website "sees." As a practical matter, this means when a VPN user visits Google Maps, instead of "starting" with a map of the user's neighborhood (a creepy form of surveillance), the map is either of the entire United States or the city where the VPN host has its server, because Google has no idea where the user is.
VPNs allow cookies to be passed to the user's browser, so sites the user visits will still recognize the user on a later visit.
Recently Amazon stopped doing this. Now it doesn't "see" VPN users until they login, and requires two-factor identification to allow them entry to their own accounts (emails are sent to the user with a temporary passcode).*
The reason for this is video streaming. Amazon doesn't want people outside the US to spoof it with stateside VPN host servers.
Unfortunately the company is too technically-challenged to differentiate between a VPN user who wants to stream and a VPN user who just wants to quickly login and buy merch.
Erecting barriers to a quick login, and not "remembering" all the products the user browsed in the last session, is the opposite of the "one click" philosophy. Here's hoping the hubris behind this decision has some effect, however small, on the Bezos bottom line. "I heard Walmart allows VPN visitors and doesn't force them to use two-factor logins!" "Oh, really, I'll shop there because privacy is important to me." Cue jingle.
Naturally there are VPN companies claiming to be Amazon-proof. This plug seems not to realize (or care) that it's not just Prime and streaming that's being blocked by Amazon, but everyday shoppers with VPNs.

*Amazon customer service has confirmed that a "stable IP" address is required to log in to Amazon without 2-factor.

chat log

a confining idea of a "public sphere"

Statements such as this one from libertarian pundit Brendan O'Neill (in the wake of the Alex Jones purge by social platforms) are common on both the left and the right:

For good or ill, the social-media sphere is the new public sphere. The expulsion of people from these platforms is to 2018 what a state ban on the publication or sale of certain books was to 1618. How can we convince the owners of social media to permit the freest speech possible and to trust their users to negotiate the world of ideas for themselves? This is the question we should be asking ourselves, rather than concocting more ways to encourage these corporate overlords to censor and blacklist.

O'Neill's main complaint in the essay is that "radicals and liberals" (i.e., the left) approve free speech suppression by platforms:

We live in strange times. On one hand it is fashionable to hate capitalism these days. No middle-class home is complete without a Naomi Klein tome; making memes of Marx is every twentysomething Corbynistas’ favourite pastime. But on the other hand we seem content to trust Silicon Valley, the new frontier in corporate power, to make moral judgements about what kind of content people should be able to see online. Radicals and liberals declared themselves ‘very glad’ that these business elites enforced censorship against Jones and Infowars. We should be ‘celebrating the move’, said Vox, because ‘it represents a crucial step forward in the fight against fake news’. Liberals for capitalist censorship! The world just got that bit odder, and less free.

Yet O'Neill also cedes power to platforms when he calls them the new public sphere. People can and do quit Facebook and Twitter. A large infrastructure called The Internet still exists outside platforms. Jones got his start in that infrastructure and it's still available to him. He wasn't denied funding sources (a la Wikileaks and Paypal) and the servers hosting his websites haven't been shuttered. People have gotten lazy about letting Zuckerberg et al "do it all for them" (web hosting, photo uploading, managing mailing lists). All these activities can still be done outside corporate-managed "social."

Update: After this was written Alex Jones got de-Paypalled. As a friend noted, the establishment must truly be worried about revelations of demons and lizards at the highest levels of government.