Originally published at: https://pluralistic.net/2021/06/09/king-rat/
- Prisoners' Inventions: The unmissable new edition of a maker classic for a carceral nation.
- This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016, 2020
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Prisoners' Inventions (permalink)
2003's PRISONERS INVENTIONS is an underground classic, a high-stakes precursor to MAKE Magazine, combining ingenuity, adversarial interoperability, and user-centered design. After 13 years out of print, Half Letter Press published a new, expanded edition.
Prisoners' Inventions was created by Angelo, a pseudonymous, long-serving incarcerated American who entered into a collaboration with the Temporary Services collective, who both published Angelo's work and staged multiple gallery showings of his work.
For these shows, museum workers followed Angelo's finely drafted, detailed drawings and notes to recreate the inventions he'd documented, recreating his cell from the floorplans and elevations he'd supplied.
The new edition documents these showings, and the absurd ways that Angelo experienced them – for example, when a guard discovered a postcard with a recreation of Angelo's cell, he was convinced that this was evidence that someone had smuggled a digital camera into the prison.
So realistic was the reproduction – so precise and faithful were Angelo's plans – that the warden took extensive persuading to be convinced that the digital camera theory was a paranoid guard's fantasy.
The anaecdote illustrates the core attraction of PRISONERS' INVENTIONS: not just that Angelo has a fine, expressive draftsman's hand, nor that his accompanying text makes for an economical, shrewdly observed ethnography of the tools and their users.
But rather that this ingenuity is an act of survival and resistance, created under harsh conditions where each inventor must create the tools to fashion the tools – under adversarial conditions where all-powerful enemies can smash everything and set the makers back to zero.
In some regards, it's like a for-real version of those neo-neolithic Youtubers who show how to bootstrap advanced tooling from raw materials. In others, it's a physical version of the beloved first-person accounts of daring feats recounted in the pages of 2600.
This is true adversarial interoperability – treating the environment as a puzzle and a challenge, to be deconstructed and reconfigured by toolsmiths for their users' benefit, overcoming both user-hostile designs and policing by the original designers' armed enforcers.
Reading Angelo's accounts of his fellow toolsmiths' ingenuity, I was forcibly reminded of the thrill and dread I experience every time I re-read James Clavell's debut novel, KING RAT, a fictionalized account of his incarceration in the infamous Changi death-camp.
I always lingered over Clavell's description of the POWs' ingenuity, from the contraband radio inside hidden water-bottle compartments that had to be clipped together when the conspirators gathered to tune into war news, or how tailors practiced their trade behind the wire.
This is the true hacker mindset, the combination of playfulness, lateral thinking, user-centered design, and pitting your wits against brutal authority. It's part of a lineage that includes classics like STEAL THIS BOOK.
The illustrations in Steal This Book are strikingly similar to those in Prisoners' Inventions, though Angelo's prose is sharper and less self-indulgent.
Equally, Prisoners' Inventions recalls wartime pamphlets like the famous MEND AND MAKE DO, with their emphasis on thrift and finding creature comforts under conditions of indefinite hardship and privation.
Many of the inventions Angelo catalogues are about creating space for comfort out of miserable conditions. The prisoners who make greeting-card pigments by scraping ink off magazine ads and mixing it with body-lotion embrace the Mend and Make Do ethos as much as anyone.
Prisoners' Inventions deserves a spot on your shelf between your MAKE Magazines and your copy of PRISON RAMEN, a bridge between those two world.
I long treasured my 2003 copy of the original. Last year, my office flooded and I lost my whole bottom shelf of books. I salvaged just two: that 2003 edition and the illustrated history of Dachau my parents gave me when we visited the camp when I was 12.
Both books recorded prisoners' resistance, the humanity of caged people in inhumane circumstances – and both do so from the perspective of the incarcerated, just as King Rat does. These are powerful stories that shaped my view of the world and are never far from my mind.
As the new edition's introduction notes, Angelo died in Dec 2016 in LA, three years after his release from more than two decades of incarceration. He was days away from his 73rd birthday.
He spent his brief years of freedom watching and cataloging films he sourced from thrift stores and other secondary sources, living a quiet and mostly solitary life.
The new edition is a tribute to Angelo. America continues to incarcerate more people than any nation in human history.
This day in history (permalink)
#15yrsago Coupland’s JPod: the Anti-Microserfs https://memex.craphound.com/2006/06/09/couplands-jpod-the-anti-microserfs/
#15ysago EFF co-founder Barlow debates MPAA prez Glickman http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/5064170.stm
#10yrsago Lisa Goldstein’s The Uncertain Places: Grimm fairytale in California vibrates with believable unreality https://memex.craphound.com/2011/06/09/lisa-goldsteins-the-uncertain-places-grimm-fairytale-in-california-vibrates-with-believable-unreality/
#10yrsago American right upset at report that Thatcher won’t meet Palin https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jun/09/margaret-thatcher-sarah-palin-meeting
#10yrsago AT&T lobbies Wisconsin GOP to nuke Wisconsin’s best-of-breed co-op ISP for educational institutions https://muninetworks.org/content/does-att-really-own-wisconsin-legislature-battle-over-wiscnet-continues
#5yrsago UK Parliament votes in Snoopers Charter, now it goes to the House of Lords https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160608/11432334659/uk-parliament-ignores-concerns-moves-snoopers-charter-forward.shtml
#5yrsago How we will keep the Decentralized Web decentralized: my talk from the Decentralized Web Summit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yth7O6yeZRE
#5yrsago Internet elders and upstarts gather to redecentralize the Internet https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/08/technology/the-webs-creator-looks-to-reinvent-it.html
#5yrsago Banks confront negative interest rates with plans to store titanic bundles of money on-site https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/06/banks-rebel-against-negative-interest-rates.html
#5yrsago New York Attorney General to Time Warner: your Internet is “abysmal” and “troubling” https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/06/time-warner-cable-internet-speeds-are-abysmal-ny-ag-claims/
#5yrsago Hard times for judge who sued dry-cleaner for $65M over missing pants https://loweringthebar.net/2016/06/pants-chapter-28.html
#1yrago Auditing Omniballot, a terrible e-voting system https://pluralistic.net/2020/06/09/war-crimes/#omniballot
#1yrago Police budgets are out of control https://pluralistic.net/2020/06/09/war-crimes/#defund-the-police
#1yrago Paramount's Unproduced Screenplays https://pluralistic.net/2020/06/09/war-crimes/#paramount
Today's top sources: Boing Boing (https://boingboing.net/).
- Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Yesterday's progress: 264 words (4715 words total).
A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING
A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown." FINAL EDITS
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: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 06) https://craphound.com/nonficbooks/destroy/2021/05/10/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-part-06/
- Fireside Chat with Beatriz Busaniche (Rightscon)
Get Your News On With Ron/Ron Placone:
- "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.
- The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022
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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla