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Corporate mascots as anime characters


Bruce Yan has created some gorgeous anime-inflected remixes of traditional American logos, including the Girl Guides Scouts and Starbucks. Astro Boy/Atom Boy was really born to be Bob's Big Boy mascot.

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Middle class brands collapse, 1% brands thrive

Evidence of the widening wealth gap: Across America, brands that serve middle class customers are shutting down, while businesses that serve the rich are thriving. Good bye $16.50 dinners at Olive Garden, hello $71 checks at Capital Grille. (via Mitch Wagner) Cory 63

Why DRM is the root of all evil

In my latest Guardian column, What happens with digital rights management in the real world?, I explain why the most important fact about DRM is how it relates to security and disclosure, and not how it relates to fair use and copyright. Most importantly, I propose a shortcut through DRM reform, through a carefully designed legal test-case.

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Brutal working conditions for Qatar Airlines's flight attendants


An article in the Swedish newspaper Expressen documents the human rights abuses suffered by the woman flight attendants on Qatar Airways. These abuses are part of a larger pattern of deplorable labor conditions in Qatar, but Qatar Airlines has the distinction of being a business through which westerners interact with women living under deplorable circumstances. The senior management of QA, including CEO Akbar Al Baker, are accused of sexual harassment, and exercise near-total control over the flight attendants' personal lives, literally locking them in overnight and setting guards on their doors. It's reminiscent of stories of the stories told by women who've escaped abusive husbands, except that the "husband" is a millionaire airline executive and the wives are the vulnerable young women who are made to simper and fetch for passengers travelling to the Qatar.

The contract mentioned in the article is reproduced in part here.

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Archway of books


Vivs Ngo snapped this wonderful shot of Los Angeles's Last Bookstore, an exuberant temple of the bookseller's faith.

Superbowls bring cities between $0 and $120M in economic activity, not $600M

Cities spend millions to court the Superbowl, offering tax-exemptions for Superbowl employees, building fancy stadiums, paying cops and municipal workers to secure the site, and more. The Superbowl claims that this is a good investment: they say a city can expect to bring in $600 million in local economic activity from the big game.

But independent economists who investigate that number find it very, very suspicious. For one thing, the majority of money spent at a Superbowl is spent in the Superbowl, or on goods that are manufactured under license from the Superbowl, and the lion's share of that money leaves town with the Superbowl. One economist, Holy Cross professor Victor Matheson, compares this to "an airplane landing at an airport and everyone gets out and gives each other a million bucks, then gets back on the plane. That's $200 million in economic activity, but it's not any benefit to the local economy."

The Superbowl's own methodology for calculating local spending sucks. Other economists put the figure at between $0 million and $120 million. Not chump change, but also a lot less profitable than previously suspected, especially when you factor in the costs to the city of putting on a Superbowl.

Still, when you compare the numbers with the absolute gouging that World Cup cities endure (Brazil will spend over $13B on theirs), the Superbowl looks positively benign by comparison.

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Cockney ATM


Long have I heard tell of the Cockney Rhyming Slang ATM of Hackney Road, but na'er had I chanced upon it...until today! As soon as I stuck my debit card in the machine in front of the Co-Op Grocers in Hackney Road and was asked to make a language-selection between "English" and "Cockney," I knew I'd found it at last.

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Win a copy of From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, now out in the USA!


In January 2012, I
reviewed a new book from Observer business/tech columnist John Naughton, called From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet. It's a great, fast read aimed at smart people who don't quite get the net -- the kind of thing you'd want to slide under your boss's door to forestall more well-intentioned and frustrating questions about What Should Be Done about this Internet thing.

Now the book is out in the USA and Quercus, the US publisher, is giving away 15 copies of the book in a random drawing. I highly recommend it -- my original review is below the jump!

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North Carolina's Lake Norman Regional Medical Center charges patient $81,000 for $750 worth of snakebite medicine

Eric Ferguson of Mooresville, NC was given a bill for $89,000 by Lake Norman Regional Medical Center, which treated him for a venomous snake-bite last August. Included in the itemized bill from the hospital was a $81,000 charge for four doses of anti-venom -- the same anti-venom that can be had on Ebay for $750. The hospital and Ferguson's insurer settled for $20,227, of which Ferguson paid $5,400.

Ferguson does not fault the standard of care at the hospital ("beyond phenomenal"), but he is understandably curious about the $80,000+ markup on the medicine with which he was treated. The hospital itself is already under investigation for overbilling.

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Key 3D printing patent expired yesterday


Yesterday marked the expiry of US Patent 5597589, "Apparatus for producing parts by selective sintering." This is one of the core patents in the 3D printing world -- the patent that allows 3D printer companies to charge more for fine nylon powder than Michelin-starred restaurants charge for filet mignon. The high cost of consumables in 3D printing has been a major barrier to innovation in the field -- selective laser sintering produces a fine finish that the patent-free fused deposition modeling technique used in Reprap-style printers can't match -- and now the brakes are coming off.

However, there are still lots of patents (including some genuinely terrible ones) in the 3D printing world, so the expiry of 5597589 doesn't necessarily mean that we'll see a flood of cheap printers and cheaper feedstock -- given the murkiness of the overlapping patent claims and the expense of litigating each one of them, radical new entrants into the field are still facing a lot of risk that has nothing to do with making great products at a fair price.

In a good piece on 3D Print, Eddie Krassenstein speculates about the scary supplementary laser-sintering patents lurking in the wings, pointing out that Stratasys (the major competitor of 3D Systems, who owned 5597589) didn't design their entry-lever printers to use SLS, even though they knew that the patent would be expiring in early 2014. Krassenstein suggests that this means that Stratasys knows about some other gnarly and deadly patent that would torpedo them if they went SLS.

But I'm a lot less convinced than Krassenstein is about the potential of a competitor taking the risky step of making a SLS printer that sticks to the claims in 5597589. Virtually every technical idea is covered by a stupid, overbroad patent, and yet people start businesses every day that open them to legal liability from a troll or an entrenched incumbent. If the potential for a patent suit was, in itself, a sufficient deterrent to raising capital and starting a business, we wouldn't see any startups. And a company that sticks to the claims in 5597589 has a powerful weapon in any patent suit: the USPTO granted 5597589 20 years ago, and so if they granted overlapping patents since, they were manifestly in error, a matter that is relatively (in patent terms, anyway) easy to prove.

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Been threatened by Lodsys patent trolls? Take this survey and help fight back

The Application Developers Alliance is trying to nail Lodsys, the notorious troll that uses a bogus patent from Intellectual Ventures to extort money from app developers. Lodsys is shrouded in mystery, uses global banks to avoid tax, and uses its patent claims to try to bankrupt companies that publicly call it out for trolling. The ADA is asking for developers who've been threatened by Lodsys to fill in a survey that will establish the evidentiary basis for fighting back against the Lodsys racket and maybe put an end to it. (via Techdirt) Cory 1

Network Solutions not sure if it will opt random customers into $1,850 "domain protection" plan

Are you one of those Old Net Hands who has a domain stashed with the always-terrible Network Solutions (now Web.com)? Time to move it somewhere sensible (I use and recommend Hover): Netsol is moving random domains (they say it's high traffic, high Pagerank sites, but who knows what that means) into a $1850 protection racket -- but don't worry, they're only going to auto-bill your card $1,350 per year, per domain, after the first year. Netsol initially insisted that this would be an opt-out program, then changed their tune and said it would be opt-in. But even if you opt in, $1,850 is an awful lot of cash to charge for setting the REGISTRAR-LOCK bit in a database, and it's unclear why they're charging $1,350 a year to leave it that way. Cory 19

Study: French three-strikes law did not deter or reduce piracy

In Graduated Response Policy and the Behavior of Digital Pirates: Evidence from the French Three-Strike (Hadopi) Law a team of business-school researchers from the University of Delaware and Université de Rennes I examine the impact of the French "three-strikes" rule on the behavior of downloaders. Under the three-strikes law, called "Hadopi," people accused of downloading would be sent a series of threatening letters, and culminating with disconnection from the Internet for a period of a year for everyone in the household. Hadopi is the entertainment industry's model for global legislation, and versions of it have been passed in the UK and New Zealand, and it has also been proposed for inclusion in the global Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty.

The researchers carefully surveyed French Internet users to discover what effect, if any, the Hadopi law had had on their behavior -- specifically, whether they were encouraged to download more from legitimate sites and pay more for music as a result of the threat of Hadopi. Their conclusion: [Hadopi] has not deterred individuals from engaging in digital piracy and that it did not reduce the intensity of illegal activity of those who did engage in piracy.

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Announcing "In Real Life": graphic novel about gold farming, kids and games


Yesterday, FirstSecond formally announced the publication of In Real Life, a graphic novel about gaming and gold farming for young adults based on my award-winning story Anda's Game, adapted by Jen Wang, creator of the amazing graphic novel Koko Be Good. Jen did an incredible job with the adaptation.

Kotaku conducted a Q&A with Jen and me about the book and its themes, and lavishly illustrated it with art and panels from the book:

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All library audiobooks going to DRM-free MP3s

Ben writes, "Overdrive, which is one of the main suppliers of downloadable audiobooks to public libraries, announced that it is retiring its DRM-encrusted .WMA formats and pushing everything to DRM-free .mp3s."

This is a big deal. Audiobooks are the last holdouts for DRM in audio, and one company, Audible, controls the vast majority of the market and insists upon DRM in all of its catalog (even when authors and publishers object). Itunes, Audible's major sales channel, also insists on DRM in audiobooks (even where Audible can be convinced to drop it). Audiobooks can cost a lot of money, and are very cumbersome to convert to free/open formats without using illegal circumvention tools. To stay on the right side of the law, you have to burn your audiobooks to many discs (sometimes dozens), then re-rip them, enduring breaks that come mid-word; or you have to play the audio out of your computer's analog audio outputs and redigitize them, which can take days (literally) and results in sound-quality loss.

Overdrive going DRM-free for libraries is a massive shift in this market, and marks a turning point in the relationship between the publishers/creators and the technology companies that act as conduits and retail channels for their work. It's especially great that libraries are getting a break, as they have been royally screwed on electronic books and audiobooks up until now.

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