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Gamestop as a fee-free, convenient banking institution


JWZ's law states that "Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail." A corollary is that every complex system expands until it becomes a bank. Yesterday, I wrote about how a chatbot for organizing coffee orders became a full-fledged bank.

Now, here's a 4chan post explaining a dumb/clever way of using Gamestop stores as fee-free banking institutions by pre-ordering (and pre-paying) for games, then cancelling your orders and getting a refund (to make a withdrawal), and ordering new games (to make a deposit). It's fee-free, and as a pre-orderer, you get all the bonus stuff (your bank pays you!).

This is probably more of a reflection of the total dysfunction of banking, where low interest rates and hidden inflation, as well as high fees, conspire to bleed out savers to pay for reckless speculation, but it's still a pretty clever way of getting fee-free banking from an institution with more branches, and better hours, than many banks.

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Fedbizopps: the US government's searchable database of defense-contractor opportunities


Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "The government often makes itself more accessible to businesses than the general public. For Sunshine Week, we compiled this guide to using FedBizOpps to keep an eye on surveillance technology contracts."

Fedbizopps is a weird, revealing window into the world of creepy surveillance, arms, and technology contractors who build and maintain the most oppressive and unethical parts of the apparatus of the US government. Everything from drone-testing of biological and chemical weapons to license plate cameras to weaponized bugs and other malware are there. The EFF post also has links to data-mining tools that help estimate just how much money the private arms dealers extract from the tax-coffers.

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"Fiber to the press release"

Techdirt's Mike Masnick has a gift for catchy, acerbic shorthand terms to describe shenanigans. He coined the term "Streisand Effect" to describe any situation in which a relatively obscure piece of information becomes widely known through a ham-fisted attempt to censor it. He's done it again: "Fiber to the press-release" is the phenomenon of incumbent carriers like AT&T making showy announcements about their intention to build super-fast broadband networks to replace their creaky, under-invested monopoly infrastructure, without ever mentioning scale, timelines, pricing, or any other specifics, only to have the announcement lapped up and repeated by a credulous press. Cory 5

UK Sunday paper won't review books marketed "to exclude either sex"


Writing under the rallying cry "Gender-specific books demean all our children," Katy Guest announces that the Independent on Sunday -- one of the UK's great weekend papers -- will no longer review any books that are marketed to "exclude either sex." It's tied to the Let Toys Be Toys/Let Books Be Books campaign, which petitions companies to stop tying their products to specific gender-identities. Guest characterises the segregation of products by gender as a means of "convincing children that boys and girls can’t play with each other's stuff, is forcing parents to buy twice as much stuff."

I remember being surprised when someone told me that Little Brother was a "boy book." Yes, its protagonist is a boy, but every protagonist has to have some kind of gender identity, and it's a weird world when we're only allowed to read fiction in which the lead character has the same gender identity as us. I once co-wrote a novella whose major characters are galaxy-spanning AI hiveminds -- it would have a rather small audience by that standard.

Good on the Independent on Sunday for this!

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EFF, Public Knowledge and Engine tell the USPTO how to improve patent quality

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and Engine have submitted comments [PDF] to the US Patent and Trademark Office explaining how examiners could improve the quality of patents that the USPTO issues by expanding their search for "prior art" (that is, evidence that the thing under discussion has already been invented) by building searchable databases, and by seeing through the common, misleading practices of using synonyms for common words to make obvious things sound new.

As EFF points out in its post on the filing, the real answer for this is action from Congress to reform patents and end patent-trolling, but these are all useful steps for the USPTO to take in the meantime.

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Slack, a team-talk tool that Just Works


A clever colleague of mine, Jen, joined us last year as Comms Director and suggested that we use a team talk tool, for light comms and general infosharing, preferably something that can handle the trivial (my train's late) but also the serious (get the latest build).

We're a toys-and-games startup, working desperately hard, and fast, and the suggestion was welcome, so we set up Yammer. Despite a heroic effort on the part of most of the team, it didn't fly. It didn't feel useful, somehow, like a chore, and we drifted away from it. Later we tried a browser-based IRC too, but - same. Too many missing functions, or maybe it was just the interface. Hard to pinpoint.

We've been working on our internal comms - hard - and even though we're a small team of 15, it still been tough at times. Jen was right, we somehow needed something on top of/instead of email, Basecamp, drive, Skype. Then Slack launched. We'd known it was coming - disclaimer! Stewart Butterfield, Slack's creator, is an old pal - and who didn't love original Flickr? But I wasn't necessarily expecting to use it, given our previous tries.

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Studio gives Kickstarter Veronica Mars movie backers substandard, DRM-crippled "rewards"


Ryan writes, "I was a backer of the Veronica Mars movie, one level of backer got you a digital download of the movie. They ended up going with Warner Bros owned/backed Flixster. So for me I have an apple TV and a Roku. Flixster doesn't support appleTV or airplay, the Flixster channel for the Roku will crash anytime you try to watch anything. Flixster also will not allow you to watch the movie on a computer that has dual monitors."

The studio will allow you to buy a better experience on a non-Flixster service, send them the bill, and get a refund (but only if you complain first).

There's a copy of the movie on The Pirate Bay with more than 11,000 seeders, which means that this Flixster business is doing precisely nothing to deter piracy, and is only serving to alienate megafans who voluntarily donated money to see this movie made, and to subject the studio itself to potential millions in administrative costs and refunds to investors who were forced into the retail channels.

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Samsung Galaxy back-door allows for over-the-air filesystem access


Developers from the Replicant project (a free Android offshoot) have documented a serious software back-door in Samsung's Android phones, which "provides remote access to the data stored on the device." They believe it is "likely" that the backdoor could provide "over-the-air remote control" to "access the phone's file system."

At issue is Samsung's proprietary IPC protocol, used in its modems. This protocol implements a set of commands called "RFS commands." The Replicant team says that it can't find "any particular legitimacy nor relevant use-case" for adding these commands, but adds that "it is possible that these were added for legitimate purposes, without the intent of doing harm by providing a back-door. Nevertheless, the result is the same and it allows the modem to access the phone's storage."

The Replicant site includes proof-of-concept sourcecode for a program that will access the file-system over the modem. Replicant has created a replacement for the relevant Samsung software that does not allow for back-door access.

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UK university admissions service sells applicants' data to energy drink companies


UCAS is the UK post-secondary admissions service, and is the sole means of applying to most British tertiary institutions. It has been caught selling its applicants' data to marketing departments hoping to sell Microsoft products, mobile phone contracts and energy beverages to young people. UCAS warehouses data on children as young as 16. UCAS doesn't deny selling applicants' data, but insists that it violated no laws, because the students whose data it sold did not opt out of "mailings" (opting out of mailings with UCAS also means you won't receive information from educational institutions and potential employers).

UCAS's "UCAS Media" offshoot advertises access to children's data with the slogan, "We help them reach uni – we help you reach them." Another UCAS company, UCAS Progress, collects data on children aged 13-16 and asks them to opt into marketing pitches as well. A third of UCAS's income comes from selling university applicants' data to third parties.

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How we read and share online

Please stare at this self-explanatory and rather sad graph for no less than 90 seconds, then share it on Facebook. Tony Haile:

If you’re an average reader, I’ve got your attention for 15 seconds, so here goes: We are getting a lot wrong about the web these days. We confuse what people have clicked on for what they’ve read. We mistake sharing for reading. We race towards new trends like native advertising without fixing what was wrong with the old ones and make the same mistakes all over again.
[Time Magazine via Flowing Data]

Canada and South Korea manage a free trade agreement without crazy copyright provisions

Michael Geist writes, "Canada and South Korea announced agreement on a comprehensive trade agreement earlier today. The focus is understandably on tariff issues, but the agreement also contains a full chapter on intellectual property (note that the governments have only released summaries of the agreement, not the full text, which is still being drafted). The IP chapter is significant for what it does not include. Unlike many other trade deals - particularly those involving the U.S., European Union, and Australia - the Canada-South Korea deal is content to leave domestic intellectual property rules largely untouched. The approach is to reaffirm the importance of intellectual property and ensure that both countries meet their international obligations, but not to use trade agreements as a backdoor mechanism to increase IP protections."

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Guardian Cities: how Hackney council let developers demolish the startups of "Silicon Roundabout"

I've written a guest editorial for the new Guardian Cities site about the way that the offices that house the startups of London's famed "Silicon Roundabout" are being systematically demolished by developers who are put up cheap, high-rise private student housing to take advantage of a foreign-student bubble.

(Note: this went up briefly last week by accident and came down again, apologies if you see this twice)

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Free download of danah boyd's must-read book "It's Complicated"

danah boyd has posted a free PDF of the full text of her must-read book It's Complicated, the best book about young people and the Internet I've read to date. boyd hopes you'll enjoy the book and then support her and her publisher by buying a copy, sending a signal "that this book is important, that the message in the book is valuable."

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Tim Cook to climate deniers: get bent

The National Center for Public Policy Research, group of climate deniers with stock in Apple, tried to force a motion to terminate Apple's use of renewable energy (and failed miserably). At the company's AGM, an NCPPR spokesdenier asked Apple CEO Tim Cook to defend the profit-maximization nature of green energy. Cook told him -- more or less -- to go fuck himself: "If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock." Cory 28

Disney drops $4.8M in Boy Scouts funding over anti-gay policy


Disney has dropped the Boy Scouts of America from the roster of charities eligible to benefit from its Voluntears program, through which the company donates money to charities when its employees do volunteer work in their communities. The Scouts have a policy banning gay people from serving as scout leaders, and Disney has a policy banning charities that are "inconsistent with Disney's policies on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, marital status, mental or physical ability, or sexual orientation."

Last year, the BSA received $4.8M in funding through the Voluntears program.

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