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Firefox is on a slippery slope

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For a long time, it was just setting the default search provider to Google in exchange for a beefy stipend. Later, paid links in your new tab page were added. Then, a proprietary service, Pocket, was bundled into the browser - not as an addon, but a hardcoded feature. In the past few days, we’ve discovered an advertisement in the form of browser extension was sideloaded into user browsers. Whoever is leading these decisions at Mozilla needs to be stopped.

Here’s a breakdown of what happened a few days ago. Mozilla and NBC Universal did a “collaboration” (read: promotion) for the TV show Mr. Robot. It involved sideloading a sketchy browser extension which will invert text that matches a list of Mr. Robot-related keywords like “fsociety”, “robot”, “undo”, and “fuck”, and does a number of other things like adding an HTTP header to certain sites you visit.

This extension was sideloaded into browsers via the “experiments” feature. Not only are these experiments enabled by default, but updates have been known to re-enable it if you turn it off. The advertisement addon shows up like this on your addon page, and was added to Firefox stable. If I saw this before I knew what was going on, I would think my browser was compromised! Apparently it was a mistake that this showed up on the addon page, though - it was supposed be be silently sideloaded into your browser!

There’s a ticket on Bugzilla (Firefox’s bug tracker) for discussing this experiment, but it’s locked down and no one outside of Mozilla can see it. There’s another ticket, filed by concerned users, which has since been disabled and had many comments removed, particularly the angry (but respectful) ones.

Mozilla, this is not okay. This is wrong on so many levels. Frankly, whoever was in charge should be fired over this - which is not something I call for lightly.

First of all, web browsers are a tool. I don’t want my browser to fool around, I just want it to display websites faithfully. This is the prime directive of web browsers, and you broke that. When I compile vim with gcc, I don’t want gcc to make vim sporadically add “fsociety” into every document I write. I want it to compile vim and go away.

More importantly, these advertising anti-features gravely - perhaps terminally - violate user trust. This event tells us that “Firefox studies” into a backdoor for advertisements, and I will never trust it again. But it doesn’t matter - you’re going to re-enable it on the next update. You know what that means? I will never trust Firefox again. I switched to qutebrowser as my daily driver because this crap was starting to add up, but I still used Firefox from time to time and never resigned from it entirely or stopped recommending it to friends. Well, whatever goodwill was left is gone now, and I will only recommend other browsers henceforth.

Mozilla, you fucked up bad, and you still haven’t apologised. The study is still active and ongoing. There is no amount of money that you should have accepted for this. This is the last straw - and I took a lot of straws from you. Goodbye forever, Mozilla.

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brennen
3 hours ago
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This is a bad idea. We need orgs like Mozilla, but we also need them to make a clear decision about whether they're going to keep hosting marketing behavior.
Boulder, CO
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Infrequent Site Stories is the blog reader we need

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Launching today on all three platforms—web, iOS, and Android—is the new Infrequent Site Stories view. This configurable river of news offers a view of stories only from the blogs that publish less often than 1 story per day.

Most of what you see in your day-to-day feed is news that’s up to the minute and is probably stale within a day. Even 8 hour old news can be a problem. But sometimes what you want is an overview of the news that isn’t exactly news. It’s stories from the blogs who have individual authors, or blogs that publish only a few times a month. And missing out on those stories is a tragedy because it is those blogs that pushed you to invest in an RSS reader in the first place.

Today I’m happy to introduce a new feature that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s called Infrequent Site Stories and you can find it at the top of your feed list on the web, on iOS, and on Android.

Infrequent Site Stories is the river that captures stories from those authors who aren’t pulling from the firehose. These are the stories that are more thoughtful and more relevant days, weeks, months, or even years down the line. These stories are not to be missed. And the best thing about these stories is that there are far fewer of them than there are of your normal full river from All Site Stories.

You can also configure the Infrequent river to be more or less inclusive of content that is more or less frequently published by changing the filter anywhere from 5 to 90 stories per month.

These options are also available on all three official NewsBlur platforms and will let you perform a filter similar to how Focus mode reduces your number of unreads. It’s great to dip into Infrequent Site Stories and get stories you would ordinarily miss out on.

Try out the new Infrequent Site Stories feed, available only to premium subscribers. If your experience is anything like mine, it’ll be one of the new must read feeds in your reader.

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brennen
1 day ago
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This is good stuff.
Boulder, CO
samuel
5 days ago
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I’m thinking about making the list of rivers customizable so you can hide any of the three (global shared, all site, infrequent site).
The Haight in San Francisco
JayM
5 days ago
Just being able to click/touch and drag would be great for the order of the items.
tingham
5 days ago
@Samuel Is there an open item on get satisfaction for this discussion?
samuel
5 days ago
No I'm just spit balling. Had the idea a while ago and figured it was time now since some people read every story and have no need for this special filtered feed.
dlanods
5 days ago
Please. I use All, but don't use Global and I can't see myself using Infrequent, so having to remember to aim for the central button of three very similar buttons doesn't feel like great usability given how often I'm misclicking at the moment. Bring able to move All to the bottom would be much nicer.
mokelly
5 days ago
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4 public comments
tante
5 days ago
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"Infrequent Side Stories" are a great idea to quickly determine the stuff beyond news. Love @newsblur for that kind of stuff.
Oldenburg/Germany
tingham
5 days ago
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Maybe do: https://twitter.com/tingham/status/940279104082980865 instead?
Cary, NC
deezil
5 days ago
That was what I wanted in a much cleaner way than what I was going to explain with just words.
rosskarchner
5 days ago
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I've been imagining the opposite feature-- there are feeds, where if an item goes unread for more than a day (or even a few hours, say for an evening Axios newsletter), I'm never gonna be interested, and would prefer them just to silently disappear or be marked as read.
DC-ish
zackfern
5 days ago
I've also wanted a feature like this. But I'm still very excited about this Infrequent Stories feature! Thanks Samuel!
expatpaul
5 days ago
I would also really like this feature. I would prefer a cut-off of a couple of days, but if this was configurable (feed and "stale" date) then we would all be happy :-)
wreichard
4 days ago
Infrequent stories will be great, but what you’re describing is really the feature I dream of. Right now I use Apple News (shudder)for that.
sfrazer
5 days ago
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Perils of UI changes: I keep clicking "Infrequent Site Stories" instead of "All Site Stories" because I target the area above my top feed name, not the words in the label.
Chicago
docheart
5 days ago
Agreed. I read all my news feeds and I would like the option to turn this off. I do love the new app and how it looks on my phone otherwise. Thanks!
deezil
5 days ago
Since I got this, I have clicked on that new header probably a dozen times.
chaosdiscord
5 days ago
I'm intrigued by the idea, and will dabble with it. But like sfrazer, it's throwing off my default use case of reading "All Site Stories." Now ASS (snicker) is in the middle, making a less obvious target. Maybe swap ASS and ISS?
philipstorry
5 days ago
Yep, swapping would be most welcome. Otherwise, a great feature!
JimB
5 days ago
Agreed. Damned irritating. I posted a suggestion to disable it within a couple of days of the feature first arriving.
lhagan
5 days ago
It's no help if you're using one of the native apps, but in the web app you can easily remove the Infrequent button by adding this under Account > Custom CSS: .NB-feeds-header-river-infrequent { display: none; }
hooges
4 days ago
tweeted about this exact same problem. I'm a big fan of all site stories, wish this was moved up one spot
alexlomas
3 days ago
Exactly the same here!

Alabama's Long History of Suppressing the Black Vote

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by Eli Sanders

Democrat Doug Jones, left, will need strong turnout from Black voters in Alabama to win todays Senate race. But Alabama has a long and continuing history of stifling the Black vote.
Democrat Doug Jones, left, will need strong turnout from Black voters in Alabama to win today's Senate race. But Alabama has a long and continuing history of stifling the Black vote. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Look at these maps of Alabama and it's immediately clear that if Democratic US Senate candidate Doug Jones is going to beat Republican Roy Moore today, he will need to receive strong support from Black voters.

Alabama polls close at 5 p.m. Seattle time, so we'll find out what the final tally is before too long.

But we already know this: Alabama has a long history of suppressing the Black vote in election after election.

As journalist Ari Berman reminds us in an important Twitter thread, it was racist efforts to prevent Blacks from voting in Alabama that led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.


As Jamelle Bouie at Slate points out, after the US Supreme Court struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Alabama quickly enacted a strict voter ID law that would previously have been unconstitutional.

The law provided for free state photo IDs to satisfy the requirements for voting, but in 2015—citing a budget crisis—Alabama Republicans shuttered dozens of driver’s license offices, many of them in counties with high numbers of black registered voters. “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one,” noted John Archibald of the Birmingham News at the time.

And as Berman reports, today there have been numerous voting problems reported in Alabama—including long lines, police showing up at polling places, and ID challenges.

This is America's "real voter fraud," writes David Leonhardt at The New York Times. "Not the vanishingly small number of people who try to vote illegally but the large number of American citizens who are kept from exercising their most basic democratic right."

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brennen
2 days ago
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Boulder, CO
mokelly
3 days ago
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What can possibly go wrong?

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AI assisted porn video is, it seems, now a thing. For those of you who don't read the links: you can train off-the-shelf neural networks to recognize faces (or other bits of people and objects) in video clips. You can then use the trained network to edit them, replacing one person in a video with a synthetic version of someone else. In this case, Rule 34 applies: it's being used to take porn videos and replace the actors with film stars. The software runs on a high-end GPU and takes quite a while—hours to days—to do its stuff, but it's out there and it'll probably be available to rent as a cloud service running on obsolescent bitcoin-mining GPU racks in China by the end of next week.

(Obvious first-generation application: workplace/social media sexual harassers just got a whole new toolkit.)

But it's going to get a whole lot worse.

What I'm not seeing yet is the obvious application of this sort of deep learning to speech synthesis. It's all very well to fake up a video of David Cameron fucking a goat, but without the bleating and mindless quackspeak it's pretty obvious that it's a fake. Being able to train a network to recognize the cadences of our target's intonation, though, and then to modulate a different speaker's words so they come out sounding right takes it into a whole new level of plausibility for human viewers, because we give credence to sensory inputs based on how consistent they are with our other senses. We need AI to get the lip-sync right, in other words, before today's simplistic AI-generated video porn turns really toxic.

(Second generation application: Hitler sums it up, now with fewer subtitles)

There are innocuous uses, of course. It's a truism of the TV business that the camera adds ten kilograms. And we all know about airbrushing/photoshopping of models on magazine covers and in adverts. We can now automate the video-photoshopping of subjects so that, for example, folks like me don't look as unattractive in a talking-heads TV interview. Pretty soon everyone you see on film or TV is going to be 'shopped to look sexier, fitter, and skinnier than is actually natural. It'll probably be built into your smartphone's camera processor in a few years, first a "make me look fit in selfies" mode and then a "do the same thing, only in video chat" option.

But with procedural speech mimicry on top of face/body substitution, all video evidence turns questionable. We can no longer believe the evidence of our own eyes and ears, unless we are in-person witnesses to a politician's speech. Everything becomes deniable, and in an age of state-sponsored infowar waged in social media it'll be trivially easy to discredit anyone. The political consequences of this toxic metastasis of "false news" I leave for discussion in comments.

And then things get surreal.

For a while now there's been a very weird phenomenon on YouTube, whereby popular childrens videos are pirated, remixed, and reuploaded as advertising delivery vehicles. The content and keywords on these ad-videos is largely algorithmically composed, and optimized for maximum eyeball draw. (The preceding link is long and deeply creepy in its implications: it's a must-read.) And when algorithms go hog-wild to maximize eyeballs and/or sales you get weird and unpleasant results like this:

Keep Calm and Rape A Lot - computer-generated tee shirt ad

(This came up because some idiot wrote a bot to sell tee shirts via Amazon, with the caption "Keep Calm and [X][Y]" where [Y and [Y] are phrases some sort of machine learning system scraping lists of verbs and pronouns. Most of the output was random gibberish, or inoffensive at worst: the same can't be said of "Keep Calm and Knife Her" or "Keep Calm and Rape A Lot". It's possible the perpetrators don't speak or read English; this is a side-effect of machine learning tools gone feral.)

Maximizing views is easy if you decide to go for the shock value. Spamming YouTube keywords for ad revenue? Also possible. The point is, we're close to going beyond simple recaptioning/keyword addition of pirated kids' cartoons, and getting into AI-assisted remixes of real people with TV/movies/game content, optimized to compel the viewer to watch it. Forget troll armies harassing people they don't like by 'shopping their heads onto snuff movie victims and posting this on social media (so that if you naively go searching for person X, your first thousand hits are videos of person X committing horrific acts or being dismembered). Once we combine procedural video generation with toolkits for promoting social media addiction and good old web tracking, we're on course to all be parasitized by our own AI stalkers, helpfully generating video and other content tweaked iteratively to compel us to pay attention, whether due to arousal, disgust, happiness, fear, or whatever. It doesn't matter how insanely CPU-intensive this sort of application is: some dipshit with no social insight and an underdeveloped sense of morality is going to deploy it in an attempt to monetize us. The low hanging fruit is procedural porn tailored to appeal to the micro-targeted audience's kinks, even if they don't think they have any (use A/B testing to see which random fetish images get their attention, then converge). What are the high-end applications, beside destroying all trust in news media forever?

Discuss.

(PS: This blog entry was delayed because I needed to finish and formally submit "The Labyrinth Index". Which is now with the editors at Tor.com and Orbit. Phew!)

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brennen
4 days ago
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Yep.
Boulder, CO
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Some Chestertonian Apothegms

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The danger with argument by paradox, proverb, apothegm and the like is that such rhetoric closes down, rather than opening up, further discussion. If you see the point being made and agree with it, you're likely to smile knowingly at the clever perversity with which it has been made and move on, your prejudices un-unsettled. And if you see the point and disagree with it, the form, deliberately lacking the lineaments of logical argument as it does, gives you little by way of purchase for articulating the specifics of your disagreement. Arguing with a witty Chestertonian apothegm is likely to seem like missing the point, like quarrelling with the premises of a joke.

But that's a shame. Witty or otherwise, these things are means of making a point, advancing an argument; and being witty isn't necessarily the same thing as being right. So for example:
If there were no God, there would be no atheists. [Where All Roads Lead (1922)]
OK, but this is an argument against nomenclature, rather than one against materialist-atheist belief. It was religious people who coined the term atheist, after all. This is as if we brought into general usage the term ‘ahippogriffists’ for people who don't believe that hippogriffs are real, and then twitted such people with the line: Ah, but without hippogriffs there would be no ahippogriffists! There's a sort of truth there, on the level of semantics: but it doesn't change the fact that there are no such things as hippogriffs.
Vers libre, or nine tenths of it, is not a new metre, any more than sleeping in a ditch is a new school of architecture. [Fancies versus Fads (1923)]
Because poetry is a house, and metre and rhyme are walls, windows and roof. Why is poetry a house? Why do rhyme and metre have these functions? Because I say so. Is poetry a house, though? Reading a bit of Tristan Corbière is like sleeping in a ditch because only those too poor to afford even the most basic of lodgings would do it, the experience lasts all night, chills you horribly and in the morning you emerge dirty and unrested. Not so funny now, is it!
The general notion that science establishes agnosticism is a sort of mystification produced by talking Latin and Greek instead of plain English. Science is the Latin for knowledge. Agnosticism is the Greek for ignorance. It is not self-evident that ignorance is the goal of knowledge. [The Thing (1930)]
I really think this is Chesterton failing in his own Chestertonianism. Ignorance is the true goal of knowledge is a perfectly serviceable paradoxical maxim, after all. What was it Einstein said? ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, where imagination encircles the world.’
As for science and religion, the known and admitted facts are few and plain enough. All that the parsons say is unproved. All that the doctors say is disproved. That's the only difference between science and religion there's ever been, or will be. [Manalive (1912)]
I've honestly no idea in what sense he means ‘proved’, here, but presumably it is not in the sense that a mother whose child is born with a cleft palate had better take them to a doctor than pray for them to get better, and that there are ten thousand or similar physical circumstances.
A sober man may become a drunkard through being a coward. A brave man may become a coward through being a drunkard. [Charles Dickens (1906)]
And a coward may become brave with a stiff drink in him, as the British Army recognized when they carried the rum ration round the men who were about to go over the top on the Western Front. Your point?
It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged. [Cleveland Press, 1 March 1921]
I suppose this is aiming at jauntiness, but the whole ‘hate your elected officials’ line reeks of incipient fascism: it is, after all, what the fascist dictator cries as he rides in on his white horse. And when every politician not a lickspittle is hanging from a lamppost I'm not sure what good it does to say, but, but I was only joking! Talking of which:
Let a Jew be Lord Chief justice, if his exceptional veracity and reliability have clearly marked him out for that post. Let a Jew be Archbishop of Canterbury ... But let there be one single-clause bill; one simple and sweeping law about Jews, and no other: that every Jew must be dressed like an Arab. Let him sit on the Woolsack, but let him sit there dressed as an Arab. Let him preach in St. Paul's Cathedral, but let him preach there dressed as an Arab. ... If my image is quaint my intention is quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point applies to any Jew, and to our own recovery of healthier relations with him. The point is that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land. [The New Jerusalem, (1920)]
So a Jew can never be British. I see. I think the best retort here would be ‘fuck you, Gilbert’.
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brennen
4 days ago
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This... Did not make me want to read Chesterton.
Boulder, CO
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There is no personal pan pizza

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The Girlfriend and I have a running joke about winning a personal pan pizza. During our childhoods, that was always the iconic, go-to prize for any kind of contest involving kids. Imagine the luxury, from a kid’s perspective. Kevin from Home Alone captures it well: “A beautiful cheese pizza, just for me!” You never get to pick the toppings as a kid, or at least there’s never enough of the toppings you want. In my house, we would always order one with sausage, pepperoni, or both and one execrable monstrosity with ham and green pepper (my mom’s preference). One half of the toppings correlated to one quarter of the family, who tended not to eat a lot anyway — and so I would be stuck with leftover ham and green pepper the whole rest of the week. I experimented with different methods of picking off the green peppers, but before or after microwaving made no difference. It was tainted. The gross green pepper juice had soaked into the cheese somehow, leaving green pockmarks. And years of experimentation revealed there was no “sweet spot” of microwave time that would leave the pizza warm and the ham non-rubbery. It was a struggle.

I remember vividly when I was in line for my first personal pan pizza. I was in sixth grade, and our class was doing a kind of trivia contest over a set list of young adult novels. Reading was basically all I did at that point, so I felt like I was a slam dunk. The actual contest was a big deal. We took multiple days of class for it, and it was a double-session language arts class. I showed up to my first round and answered my first question: which novel features this plot point? I knew the answer without hesitation — but I was disqualified, because I left off the initial “the” from the title. I spent the next several days at my desk, reading, occasionally glancing up at the people still competing for the personal pan pizza.

I don’t know if I even felt disappointed. There was something about the whole proceedings that I just didn’t believe, going in, and losing on a technicality felt right somehow. Better that I lose now rather than get closer and lose then, right? I had done all the work, read all the books, even taken detailed notes, all without any real sense that I would ever win.

And if you think about it, what would I have done if I got the personal pan pizza? How was that going to work? Was my mom going to drive me to Pizza Hut — a restaurant we never went to, not even a single time — all so I could have my precious little pizza? Would we order in, and I’d get my sad little box all to myself? Would there be a mixup on the coupon, and my dad would argue and get mad and then give in and pay the extra amount when the delivery driver showed up? It just couldn’t happen. The personal pan pizza was an illusion, and I saw through it.

I’m not sure where this attitude toward competition came from, but it seems to have been a constant for me. Whenever there was a contest, I knew that I would either lose or lose in winning. I had a piano rival growing up, someone who was my same age and took lessons from Mrs. Miracle, too. We often had back to back lessons. Every year there was a rated piano competition, and we always both got “superior” ratings. Sometimes I would edge him out on points, but that never seemed to matter. The one year he got a mere “excellent,” though, I couldn’t enjoy it — because it was just evidence of how much he had going on, the cool job he had (I bagged groceries), all the friends and activities he could hardly keep up with. No matter how much better I did at the piano competition, he would always be better looking and better liked and somehow more natural and fluid in his whole being, his whole relation to the world. The very fact that I did better, that I could even care that I did better, showed that on a deeper level, I had lost.

The story was the same everywhere. Whenever the science fair came along, I couldn’t be bothered, and my mom had to force me to do something at the last minute. I knew I would never have a cool project, would never have a display that people would be impressed with, would never actually demonstrate anything useful or meaningful. Or when a new kid came to town and started targeting my friend group, with the express intention of pushing me out — he smelled weakness, and he was right. Fair enough. More power to him.

I’m realizing that I’m venturing into the territory of a previous autobiographical post, and I do hate repeating myself. To cut to the chase, then: I have trained myself, somehow, not to want the personal pan pizza, to reject everything within me that wants a personal pan pizza, while at the same time wanting to be recognized as the person who, for idiosyncratic and utterly incommensurable reasons, deserves that personal pan pizza more than anyone else does or could. The personal pan pizza haunts me, as the ladder I keep trying to climb without climbing, which I can’t let myself finally kick away because I have defined myself negatively with regard to the personal pan pizza, as the one constantly let down and abandoned by the personal pan pizza, as the victim of the entire personal pan pizza complex.

Who talks about personal pan pizzas more than me, after all? Who nurses more bitterness toward the personal pan pizza, imagining it burning the roof of my mouth even as it grows instantly cold? Even if I got the personal pan pizza, could I possibly be happy? Would I not spend the whole meal complaining that there was no dipping sauce, or if there was, that it was marinara instead of creamy garlic? Would I not point out, randomly, months later, certain telltale flaws in the personal pan pizza, when everyone thought we were talking about something else? Even in winning, I would lose, as I showed myself to be one of those people who could not handle the personal pan pizza, who was too uptight and particular and awkward to relate to the personal pan pizza in the right way, to receive and dwell in the joy that is peculiar to the experience of a personal pan pizza. To enjoy the personal pan pizza in just the right way — that, for me, is the true and unattainable personal pan pizza.


Filed under: Memoir Material, The lighter side of AUFS



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brennen
7 days ago
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I won so many personal pan pizzas for reading books as a kid. Somewhere I still have the Pizza Hut-associated "BOOK IT!" button.

I do not, overall, remember my time in elementary school with much fondness, but I do not in any way regret the iterated triumph of the personal pizza coupon.
Boulder, CO
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