Five Things: September 21, 2023


In a Blistering Opinion, Judge Officially Blocks Texas Book Rating Law | Andrew Albanese

“That said, [the law] misses the mark on obscenity with a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements. And the state, in abdicating its responsibility to protect children, forces private individuals and corporations into compliance with an unconstitutional law that violates the First Amendment.”

I’ve been watching HB900 in Texas very closely because it’s the one attempt at banning books that would have potentially made me complicit, as it would have required distributors to rate books before being made available in school libraries — and the day job is a distributor of comics to libraries, for whom I play a big role in which books we make available in our collections and the custom age ratings we apply to them. We take our age ratings very seriously, focusing specifically on content and context, while individual libraries have the ability to decide what’s appropriate for their own communities.

Some companies were proactively planning to comply with HB900 because Texas represents too much revenue to jeopardize, which is why some educational publishers have Texas-specific materials, while others simply let Texas dictate what they offer to schools across the rest of the country. Thankfully, Texas has less leverage over trade publishers, and other partners fought against the legislation to keep it from passing in the first place. The judge correctly eviscerated the purposefully vague requirements, and I hope publishers and libraries remember who was ready to sell them out.

Fortunately, the good guys won this one, and I can finally stop letting Texas play an inordinate role in deciding whether or not I can afford to quit my job. For now, at least. It has been an especially exhausting year in libraries.


Who killed Google Reader? | David Pierce

“If Google made the iPod, they would have called it the Google Hardware MP3 Player For Music, you know?”

I’m not mourning Google Reader’s untimely death yet again. but belatedly celebrating its memory on the verge of the 20th anniversary of its conception. (But also mourning.) This blog, originally launched on Blogger about a month before Google acquired it in 2003, probably wouldn’t have lasted 20+ years (??!?) if not for Google Reader making it easier to follow your favorite blogs in one place.

Back then, blogs were like digital spokes and online forums were the hubs for various communities of interest. Blogrolls and webrings were clumsy attempts to build loose networks, but once comments became the norm on most major blog platforms, niche communities would form there, too. Reader became the best tool to stay on top of it all. I remember when Google blew it all up, desperately pivoting hard towards Facebook’s walled garden approach instead of investing in their own “polymorphic” experience, but I didn’t realize the origination of its reductive name, nor the full scale of its potential.

Imagining a world where Reader succeeded is depressing on one hand, but as Pierce concludes, we’re at a pivot point where something like it arguably has even more potential — in the right hands. Surely amidst all of the Twitter clones and “AI” chicanery, someone out there has a vision, and the funding, for a new take on the original Fusion?


This Spanish city has been restricting cars for 24 years. Here’s what we can learn from it | David Zipper

“In North America as well as Europe, local retailers are some of the staunchest opponents of pedestrianization efforts, fretting that car restrictions would decimate their business. But studies show they consistently overestimate the share of their customers arriving by automobile. Pontevedra’s experience indicates that many local establishments can do just fine catering to those on foot.”

As much as I love the idea, the main thing I learned from this article is that significantly reducing our dependence on cars in America is practically impossible. We may see a few small cities successfully implement similar policies, but the political will simply isn’t there on a national level, and car manufacturers have way more lobbying power than even the NRA could hope for. Instead, we’ll continue to see EVs positioned as the solution, despite increasingly clear evidence that we’re simply trading the frying pan for the fryer, doing so in slow motion.


It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy | Jen Caltrider, Misha Rykov and Zoë MacDonald

“Even if you did have the funds and the resources to comparison shop for your car based on privacy, you wouldn’t find much of a difference. Because according to our research, they are all bad! On top of all that, researching cars and privacy was one of the hardest undertakings we as privacy researchers have ever had. Sorting through the large and confusing ecosystem of privacy policies for cars, car apps, car connected services, and more isn’t something most people have the time or experience to do.”

One of the things I appreciate the most about old cars is how analog they were/are. Before power steering, power windows, electronic fuel injection, and iPads replacing dashboards, cars were mechanical creatures that anyone with enough patience and a few tools could mostly maintain themselves. Or, in my case, convince yourself that you still can until you’re forced to admit you cannot. 🙁

When the “Internet of Things” became the new buzzword years ago, it was inevitable that cars would eventually be added to the list of privacy-invaders you can’t avoid, but some of the things Mozilla’s research uncovered are truly appalling.


Actual Play, Actual Work (w/ Emily Friedman) | Yes Indie’d Pod

“And then of course, their eight- and nine-year-olds, they bring their own darkness to the table. Right. You know homicidal ducks and all kinds of things. It was a amazing experience and it’s such a lovely game to play with that kind of kind of player cuz you know, eight, nine-year-old, everybody wants to talk right now, and The Quiet Year makes you wait.”

Thomas Manuel’s Yes Indie’d Pod has become one of my favorite podcasts, particularly during long runs, because his guests are always interesting, and he’s always genuinely interested in them. Every episode is a delight, no matter the topic, and I often get random ideas about *designing* my own game that I’ll never follow up on, but it’s inspiring in the moment and keeps me engaged.

Most times, I’ve never even heard of the games or systems they’re talking about, but the way they talk about them is accessible to anyone with a creative bone in their bodies. Of all game-related topics, “Actual Play” might be the least interesting to me, but Friedman helped me appreciate them a lot more in this episode.

If you’re into gaming, worldbuilding, systems thinking, or creativity in general, I highly recommend checking the podcast out, as well as its companion newsletter, The Indie RPG Newsletter.

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