Boing Boing 

Nine bar bets you can't lose

Paul sez, "I'm the writer and presenter of the hit BBC3 show 'The Real Hustle', and I've just released a new video to promote my one-man show, 'Lie. Cheat. Steal. Confessions of a Real Hustler' at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 'Free Drinks Forever' teaches nine entertaining proposition bets for you to fool and fleece your friends. Please cheat responsibly. See here for tickets and more information."

Paul Wilson – conartist.tv (Thanks, Paul!)

Cisco locks customers out of their own routers, only lets them back in if they agree to being spied upon and monetized

Owners of Cisco/Linksys home routers got a nasty shock this week, when their devices automatically downloaded a new operating system, which locked out device owners. After the update, the only way to reconfigure your router was to create an account on Cisco's "cloud" service, signing up to a service agreement that gives Cisco the right to spy on your Internet use and sell its findings, and also gives them the right to disconnect you (and lock you out of your router) whenever they feel like it.

They say that "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product." But increasingly, even if you do pay for the product, you're still the product, and you aren't allowed to own anything. Ownership is a right reserved to synthetic corporate persons, and off-limits to us poor meat-humans.

Joel Hruska from ExtremeTech reports:

This is nothing but a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of cloud computing, and it comes at a price. The Terms and Conditions of using the Cisco Connect Cloud state that Cisco may unilaterally shut down your account if finds that you have used the service for “obscene, pornographic, or offensive purposes, to infringe another’s rights, including but not limited to any intellectual property rights, or… to violate, or encourage any conduct that would violate any applicable law or regulation or give rise to civil or criminal liability.”

It then continues “we reserve the right to take such action as we (i) deem necessary or (ii) are otherwise required to take by a third party or court of competent jurisdiction, in each case in relation to your access or use or misuse of such content or data. Such action may include, without limitation, discontinuing your use of the Service immediately without prior notice to you, and without refund or compensation to you.”

Since the Service is the only way to access your router, killing one would effectively kill the other.

Oh, and Cisco reserves the right to continue to update your router, even if you set it not to allow automatic updates.

Cisco’s cloud vision: Mandatory, monetized, and killed at their discretion

Update: A Cisco rep comments below, pointing out that Cisco has since changed its privacy policy.

However, the current policy reserves the right to change it back.

The current policy also allows Cisco to discontinue your access to your router if you download pornography, or if someone complains about you, without a court order, evidence or a chance to state your case and face your accuser.

They have also provided users with a way to back out of the "cloud management" "feature."

But, as noted, Cisco still reserves the right to change how your router works, even if you set it not to accept automatic updates.

TV "psychics" are stock photos


Peter sez, "This blog entry describes how Alan Rice, a student in Ireland, became suspicious about some of the photos displayed as 'Live psychics' to be called at €2.44/min on Irish TV. He used image searches to find photos of some of the 'psychics' on stock photo sites. Other people chipped in and..."

Psychic Pat was in fact a bought stock photo! I quickly tweeted about this and from that I was pointed to the boards.ie thread about the show where I posted the same photos. Things certainly took off from there and some wonderful people there started finding pretty much all the psychics listed on their website from various places around the internet including, from what I gather, a personal Flickr photo. It really begs the question who are you talking to? And in some cases from what I’ve read you only get through to a hold message.

Not only are these “psychics” giving out random pieces of information based on any detail they get from a caller they are exploiting some really vulnerable people who are desperately seeking hope for their current situation. In the brief time I watched last night there was even a call about a missing son for Christ’s sake!

How on earth can TV3 let this deplorable scam be aired and stand over this? It must be stopped from broadcasting and the money (€60 in some cases) returned to the callers.

Con artists working on national television.

Wall Street, like the mafia, but more ambitious

In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi is his usual incandescent self in reporting on the United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm, a bid-rigging trial against brokers at GE Capital, which implicated virtually every bank on Wall Street (and many overseas banks) in a multibillion-dollar municipal bond bid-rigging fraud, a fraud that skimmed a piece of every substantial municipal project in America, from public pools and baseball diamonds to subway stations and housing projects. Bid-rigging, a process perfected by the mafia, has been practiced by the financial sector on a scale never dreamed of by the simple men of the crime syndicates, and the scam is starting to unravel.

The defendants in the case – Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm – worked for GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric. Along with virtually every major bank and finance company on Wall Street – not just GE, but J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and more – these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from "virtually every state, district and territory in the United States," according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime.

In fact, stripped of all the camouflaging financial verbiage, the crimes the defendants and their co-conspirators committed were virtually indistinguishable from the kind of thuggery practiced for decades by the Mafia, which has long made manipulation of public bids for things like garbage collection and construction contracts a cornerstone of its business. What's more, in the manner of old mob trials, Wall Street's secret machinations were revealed during the Carollo trial through crackling wiretap recordings and the lurid testimony of cooperating witnesses, who came into court with bowed heads, pointing fingers at their accomplices. The new-age gangsters even invented an elaborate code to hide their crimes. Like Elizabethan highway robbers who spoke in thieves' cant, or Italian mobsters who talked about "getting a button man to clip the capo," on tape after tape these Wall Street crooks coughed up phrases like "pull a nickel out" or "get to the right level" or "you're hanging out there" – all code words used to manipulate the interest rates on municipal bonds. The only thing that made this trial different from a typical mob trial was the scale of the crime.

USA v. Carollo involved classic cartel activity: not just one corrupt bank, but many, all acting in careful concert against the public interest. In the years since the economic crash of 2008, we've seen numerous hints that such orchestrated corruption exists. The collapses of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, for instance, both pointed to coordi­nated attacks by powerful banks and hedge funds determined to speed the demise of those firms. In the bankruptcy of Jefferson County, Alabama, we learned that Goldman Sachs accepted a $3 million bribe from J.P. Morgan Chase to permit Chase to serve as the sole provider of toxic swap deals to the rubes running metropolitan Birmingham – "an open-and-shut case of anti-competitive behavior," as one former regulator described it.

The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia (via Naked Capitalism)

Class action against PublishAmerica; claims the business is a ripoff for would-be writers

A class action lawsuit has been filed against PublishAmerica, a notorious vanity press that has long appeared in the Writer Beware! bulletins from the Science Fiction Writers of America, which warns of bad business practices from publishers (and "publishers") who prey on naive would-be authors. From the complaint:

Defendant PublishAmerica is a book publisher that portrays itself as "a traditional, royalty paying publisher." But unlike traditional publishers, which profit from the sale of books, defendant profits from its own clients, i.e., the authors who submit works for publication by defendant. Defendant lures these authors in by promising to publish their book at no cost, and it makes false and misleading representations that it will promote their books and support the authors' efforts to sell their own books. But this is not the case.

Instead, once the authors sign the contract, which gives defendant the rights to their book for seven to ten years, defendant does nothing constructive to promote their books, but instead offers various promotion packages on a fee-for-service basis....These services, which are either misrepresented or never carried out, are not reasonably designed to promote class members' books....

Defendant provides very poor editing services, is slow to respond to book orders, and it routinely overprices the books it publishes. This is no accident. Defendant will only lower the price of its clients' books to a competitive rate for a $399 fee. These practices make it difficult for even the most enterprising authors to promote their own books.

Defendant is not responsive to inquiries from its clients, or worse it is dismissive or belligerent.

The Writer Beware! post has information on how you can join the class if you feel you've been wronged by PublishAmerica.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against PublishAmerica (via Making Light)l

Clever sucker-bets

Here are ten clever sucker bets from Richard Wiseman. They're a good mix of physics, logic, low trickery, concept-shifting, misdirection, topology, and breathtaking chutzpah. Seriously, I can't believe that he ever tried #10, because he is still breathing.

10 Bets You Will Never Lose

Tax-refund fraud: filing someone else's return to rip them off

In the New York Times, Lizette Alvarez reports on a "tsumani of fraud" in the form of tax-refund identity theft. Using only a very little information, crooks file tax returns in their victims' names (the IRS helpfully corrects any mistakes they make in the particulars), then collect the victims' tax refunds:

The criminals, some of them former drug dealers, outwit the Internal Revenue Service by filing a return before the legitimate taxpayer files. Then the criminals receive the refund, sometimes by check but more often though a convenient but hard-to-trace prepaid debit card.

The government-approved cards, intended to help people who have no bank accounts, are widely available in many places, including tax preparation companies. Some of them are mailed, and the swindlers often provide addresses for vacant houses, even buying mailboxes for them, and then collect the refunds there.

...J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, testified before Congress this month that the I.R.S. detected 940,000 fake returns for 2010 in which identity thieves would have received $6.5 billion in refunds. But Mr. George said the agency missed an additional 1.5 million returns with possibly fraudulent refunds worth more than $5.2 billion.

With Personal Data in Hand, Thieves File Early and Often (via Schneier)

Why "ethical" people commit fraud

An All Things Considered segment (MP3) with Chana Joffe-Walt and Alix Spiegel looks at the circumstances that lead to people cheating and committing other frauds. They frame it with the true story of Toby Groves, whose brother had been convicted of fraud, and whose father made him swear a solemn oath to be upstanding in his business dealings. However, Groves found himself committing fraud later, and brought several of his employees in on it.

Typically when we hear about large frauds, we assume the perpetrators were driven by financial incentives. But psychologists and economists say financial incentives don't fully explain it. They're interested in another possible explanation: Human beings commit fraud because human beings like each other.

We like to help each other, especially people we identify with. And when we are helping people, we really don't see what we are doing as unethical.

Lamar Pierce, an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis, points to the case of emissions testers. Emissions testers are supposed to test whether or not your car is too polluting to stay on the road. If it is, they're supposed to fail you. But in many cases, emissions testers lie.

"Somewhere between 20 percent and 50 percent of cars that should fail are passed — are illicitly passed," Pierce says.

Financial incentives can explain some of that cheating. But Pierce and psychologist Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School say that doesn't fully capture it.

Psychology Of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things

SAP exec arrested for stealing $1K worth of LEGO with DIY bar code scam

Well this is rich. NBC Bay Area reports that Thomas Langenbach, identified as a VP at SAP's Palo Alto Integration and Certification Center, has been charged with four felony counts of burglary over ill-gotten LEGOs.

Authorities say the German software engineer generated his own fake bar codes, printed stickers with them, then slapped those cheaper bar codes over more expensive kits. And then, it is alleged, he sold that hugely-discounted LEGO loot on eBay for a profit.

Stealing and reselling LEGO on eBay is a thing! Back in 2005, Mark blogged about a guy from Reno, Nevada who pulled the same scam with phony DIY bar codes, and made off with $200K worth of stuff. Back in 2008, Boing Boing covered the story of a man in West Palm Beach, Florida who ripped off $42K worth with an even simpler method. And there are more similar cases.

Read the rest

Incredibly detailed look at Internet marketing scams

The Verge's Joseph L. Flatley delves into the world of Internet marketing scams (those stupid spam pitches you get for "lead generation" and such) in eye-watering detail. Fundamentally, these things are exactly what they appear to be: con artists who suck money out of desperate people by lying to them about the money they can make with "work from home" businesses. They're pyramid schemes. But Flatley lingers on the personalities, the histories, the motivations and the unique innovations that the Internet has given rise to, providing insight into the feel of being inside one of these desperate, sweaty scams.

If anything, Internet Marketing is a form of "pure marketing" that exists often without the complication of an actual product. Rather than develop something useful, Internet Marketers create something out of thin air: likely a worthless e-book, or some sort of coaching session that consists of a semi-regular phone consultation.

"Well, yeah," Dillon Miles said, a little uncomfortably, when asked about this. "I think there's a lot of that going around. There's a lot of people that will teach you how to make money. It's just, the thing is, like, an information product in that niche, is, I mean, how tangible is that information? What is someone going to do with what you tell them. Most people won't do anything with it. You know, 90% of the people who get that information product, really aren't going to do anything with it. It's no different than when our country tells people to go to college for, you know, eight years, four years, like I did and expect a job when they come out. And then there's no job.

It was hard to get him to stay focused. I couldn't tell if he was talented at deflecting this kind of criticism, or if he just couldn't follow a train of thought. Or maybe he felt bad about the whole thing and refused to think about it. When pressed, he would either offer a variation of the "it only works if you work it" language of Alcoholics Anonymous, or express his frustration at not being able to get a job. He repeatedly positioned his Internet Marketing materials as a replacement for college, or said that college is the real scam.

"I just want to make sure we're clear," I said towards the end of our conversation. "You said that this was no different than going to college, but then you said college was a rip-off. Is this [Internet Marketing info-products] a rip-off? Is that what you meant?

"Well, it could be. I mean, that depends on what the person thinks. I mean, the products we sell, you get a sixty-day, money-back guarantee. I don't remember the last college that gave me a money back guarantee. But I mean, it's all relative. Like, I try to put projects together that people find valuable, but information is such an intangible asset that it's hard to qualify."

Scamworld: 'Get rich quick' schemes mutate into an online monster (via Waxy)

TSA saves America from 16yo diabetic, breaks $10K insulin pump which totally could have been a bomb

You probably thought we covered all possible scenarios of TSA stupidity in our recent round-up post.

You thought wrong.

Via MSNBC today, the story of Savannah Barry, a 16-year-old diabetic girl who says the TSA broke her insulin pump. Savannah was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes four years ago, and her pump is a specialized medical device that can cost up to $10,000 to replace, according to MSNBC.

Snip:

The Colorado teenager says TSA screeners forced her to go through a full-body scanner in Salt Lake City last week, breaking her $10,000 insulin pump in the process. According to Sandra Barry, Savannah’s mother, her daughter was coming home from a school trip when screeners required to her to go through a full-body scanner despite the fact that the girl had a doctor’s note describing her condition and stating that she should be given a pat-down rather than subjected to screening machines.

“Believe me, being 16 and female, she probably doesn’t want the pat-down but she knows that this is what’s required,” Sandra Barry told msnbc.com. “She tried to advocate for herself and they just shut her down.”

Read the rest

Shocking new photos from BP disaster unearthed by Greenpeace

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones writes about a trove of new photographs documenting the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which released nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico two years ago.

In the midst of the disaster, BP and its contractors did everything they could to keep people from seeing the scale of the disaster. But new photos released Monday offer some new insight to just how grim the Gulf became for sea life.The images were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request that Greenpeace filed back in August 2010, asking for any communication related to endangered and threatened Gulf species. Now, many months later, Greenpeace received a response from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that included more than 100 photos from the spill, including many of critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles dead and covered in oil.

More photos and more about what they reveal at Mother Jones.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement intelligence chief James M. Woosley pleads guilty to massive fraud

 Files Imagecache Image Medium James-Woosley-Md 0-1 After we learned this week about how rotten the DEA and TSA are, we can also add Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the list of corrupt government entities: "James M. Woosley, former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intelligence chief, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to an elaborate scam over several years involving false travel expense reports totaling nearly $600,000."

Today James Woosley became the fifth — and highest-ranking — individual to plead guilty as part of a series of fraud schemes among rogue employees and contractors at ICE,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said in a statement. “He abused his sensitive position of trust to fleece the government by submitting phony paperwork for and taking kickbacks from subordinates who were also on the take.”

(Via The Agitator)

PBS Frontline's "Money, Power and Wall Street" doc: watch it for free, online

An epic four-part documentary on the global financial crisis from PBS Frontline is now available to view in entirety online.

This week in TSA awfulness: a recap of recent American airport atrocities

Cue up the Yakity Sax! In case you missed it, there have been a number of Boing Boing posts of late documenting outrageous TSA incidents:

• A terminal in Newark airport was evacuated because the TSA forgot to screen a tiny baby.
• TSA agents discovered an "anomaly in the crotchital area" of a 79-year-old woman.
• TSA agents at JFK harassed the family of a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and developmental disability.
• TSA screeners in LA ran a drug ring and took bribes from drug dealers.
• The TSA's anti-hugging squad caught a terrorist masquerading as a 4-year-old girl who loves her grandma.
• A 95-year-old US Air Force veteran from World War II and his 85-year-old friend were humiliated, searched and robbed at a San Diego TSA checkpoint.

Did we miss anything else in the past week or so? Let us know in the comments.

Photo: Carolina K. Smith, M.D. / Shutterstock.com

Screwed by the TSA? Now there's an app for that.

Via the BB Submitterator, BB reader rbrammer says:

The Sikh Coalition just released the FlyRights app. It’s a smart phone app that gives travelers who believe they’ve been the victim of discrimination by the TSA the ability to submit formal complaints directly from their smart phones. You should have this on your phone the next time you fly!

Available for both Android and iOS. Makes perfect sense to me that a Sikh organization would be the one to put this together, given all of the idiot-hate that community has received post-9/11.

After Yelp referral leads to $2K moving company ripoff, thoughts on "genuine reviews"

Justin Vincent chose a moving company based on positive Yelp reviews. Things did not work out well. "I spent 40 days without any furniture and quite a few of my belongings have been misplaced – forever." Turns out negative reviews were there, but suppressed. Could smarter design have prevented this? (via @blam)

TSA agents harass 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and developmental disability

The Transportation Security Administration launched the “TSA Cares” program to assist disabled fliers just four months ago, but a story making the rounds today proves that the TSA definitely does not. The Frank family was traveling from New York City's JFK airport to Florida, and were abruptly pulled aside after a dispute over how their 7-year-old daughter Dina was screened. The child is developmentally disabled and has cerebral palsy. She walks with crutches and leg braces.

Read the rest

TSA screeners in LA ran drug ring, took narco bribes


Photo: Reuters. A man is screened with a backscatter x-ray machine at an LAX TSA checkpoint.

Four present and past security screeners at LAX took 22 payments of up to $2400 each to let large shipments of coke, meth, and pot slip through baggage X-ray machines. Oh, we are so very, very shocked.

In one incident detailed in the 40-page indictment (Link), screeners plotted to allow eight pounds of crystal meth to get through—then one of them ducked into an airport men's room where he was handed $600, the second payment for that delivery.

Read the rest

Who did the TSA terrorize today? A 4-year-old girl. Why? She hugged her grandma.

PHOTO: Snapshot by Lori Croft of her 4-year-old granddaughter Isabella Brademeyer, in Wichita, Kan., where she was a flower girl at her uncle’s wedding. The child was harassed by TSA goons on the way back from that family event, for the crime of hugging her granny.


Earlier this week on Boing Boing, Cory blogged about a 95-year-old Air Force veteran who was robbed of $300 at a TSA checkpoint. After picking on the elderly, today the TSA is bullying children. A 4-year-old girl who was upset during a TSA screening at the Wichita, KS airport was forced to undergo a manual pat-down after hugging her grandmother. Agents yelled at the child, and called her an uncooperative suspect.

Nope, we're not making this up.

The child's mom, Michelle Brademeyer of Montana, shared the incident in a public Facebook post last week, and the story has since spread widely.

“They didn’t explain anything and she did not know what was going on,” the grandmother told the Associated Press. “She saw people grabbing at her and raising their voices. To her, someone was trying to kidnap her or harm her in some way.”

Think the TSA has apologized? Nah. The agency is defending its agents, despite promised changes in operational standards to "reduce pat-downs of children."

Read the rest

95 year old veteran and 85-year-old friend humiliated, searched and robbed at San Diego TSA checkpoint

Omer Petti is a 95-year-old USAF veteran with artificial knees and a heart condition. Madge Woodward, his partner, has an artificial hip. They recently flew home to Detroit from San Diego, and were humiliated and robbed at the San Diego airport TSA checkpoint. The metal in their bodies set off the TSA magnetometer, and Petti was instructed to put his $300 in cash in a bin. Then he was further detained when a swab detected the nitroglycerin residue from his heart pills. He and Woodward were subjected to humiliating patdowns, and then discovered that their $300 had gone missing. When Petti asked where his money had gone, the TSA agent required he and Woodward to remove their shoes again and empty out their pockets, and asked if they were "refusing his request" when they objected. The TSA manager checked the security footage, but reported that it was "too blurry" to see what had happened to the money. The two elderly people were loaded into their wheelchairs and taken to their plane at full tilt, barely making it. They never got their money back.

"Can you imagine an 85-year-old lady and 95-year-old retired Air Force Major in wheelchairs being treated like terrorists?" Petti asked recently sitting in the kitchen of the Bloomfield Township home he shares with Woodward.

On March 29 Petti and Woodward arrived at the San Diego International airport at 10 a.m. for a flight scheduled to leave at 11:36 a.m. As usual, Petti and Woodward removed their shoes, jackets and sweaters and put these along with their other belongings — belt buckles, carry on bags, purse and jewelry, including Petti's money clip — into a total of four rubber bins.

Petti says a security officer asked him to remove Kleenex and $300 in folded bills that he had in his pocket and send it through the detector. "I hesitated and said: 'You really want me to put my bills in there?' " Petti said. The officer said yes, so Petti put the cash into a fifth bin. Then he and Woodward proceeded through the metal detector.

Seniors get the TSA runaround, lose $300 (Thanks, ROSSINDETROIT!)

Leonard Cohen ex-manager/thief/lover/stalker sentenced; Cohen dry and warm throughout

The Guardian's Esther Addley reports on the trial of Kelley Lynch, his former business-manager and lover who was convicted of stealing from him and leaving him penniless, who was ordered to pay $9.5M in restitution but didn't, and who then relentlessly stalked Cohen and harassed and threatened him. Lynch has been sentenced to 18 months in prison and 5 years probation for the stalking by a California judge.

Addley's account has Cohen behaving with admirable calm and dignity in the courtroom, even as his lawyers presented the jury with 10 binders full of threatening, crazy emails from his former manager. After the sentencing, Cohen cordially thanked the judge and even wished Lynch well, expressing his desire that she would "take refuge in the wisdom of her religion, that a spirit of understanding will convert her heart from hatred to remorse, from anger to kindness, from the deadly intoxication of revenge to the lowly practices of self-reform."

Cohen's post-ripoff story is remarkable. Penniless at nearly 70, Cohen moved into a Zen Buddhist monastery in California for five years, then emerged with a fantastic new album and a record-beating tour that netted him more than the $9.5M he was owed.

Addley's account of Cohen's courtroom behavior is just fabulous, a kind of parable about karmic justice and the power of positive emotion to trump life's miseries.

"I want to thank the court, in the person of your honour," Cohen told an LA county superior court judge, "for the cordial, even-handed and elegant manner in which these proceedings have unfolded. It was a privilege and an education to testify in this courtroom..."

"'Cohen is going to be hung,'" the singer drily told jurors at one point, "is not agreeable to hear..."

"I want to thank the defendant Ms Kelley Lynch for insisting on a jury trial, thus... allowing the court to observe her profoundly unwholesome, obscene and relentless strategies to escape the consequences of her wrongdoing," he said.

Leonard Cohen's poetic thanks as former manager and lover is jailed for harassment

Theaters will charge premium on 2D movies in order to lower the cost of 3D movie tickets


Writing for Screen Trade Magazine Joe Paletta, CEO of Spotlight Theaters, announces that cinemas will begin to eliminate the premium charges on 3D movies and raise the prices of 2D movies to make up the difference. This gives me the rage. 3D movies give me a headache and eye-strain, and I actively avoid them. I hate the idea that I'd be charged a premium on the few 2D movies I can find in order to subsidize 3D screenings.

As Roger Ebert put it, "Oh, no! In a move to recoup their unwise investment in 3D, theaters discuss, and I quote, 'patrons will have a single price for both 2D and 3D films. 2D prices will increase and 3D prices will decrease.' In other words, punishing those who dislike 3D."

Among the bigger changes will probably see the 3D-upcharge disappear. 3D charges will help increase the overall ticket-price but, as an industry, I think we’ll see a blend begin to emerge in 2012, where patrons will have a single price for both 2D and 3D films. 2D prices will increase and 3D prices will decrease.

Joe Paletta - screentrade

(Image: 3D glasses, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mattneale's photostream)

Infographic: Charter Cable's dirty tricks to kill community broadcast


Christopher sez, "We developed an infographic along the lines of 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' to show how Charter Cable is engaging in predatory pricing to kill cable/broadband competition in one of the few places in the US people have a choice. You want to know why we don't have real competition in broadband and cable? Anytime a new entrant builds a better network, these big corporations run them out of town by dropping their rates for crappy cable. If the FTC/FCC bother to act, it will be years from now."

Charter Fights Dirty to Kill Competition in Monticello (Thanks, Christopher!)

Warner wants you to go to a depot and pay to rip your DVDs to DRM-locked formats


Here's a scathing editorial from Public Knowledge's Michael Weinberg on the Warner Home Entertainment announcement of a new "service" that allows you to legally rip your DVDs by driving over to a special DVD-ripping depot and paying a fee to have them converted to DRM-locked formats that only play in approved devices. Warner calls this "safe and convenient."

You did read that last paragraph correctly. The head of Warner Home Entertainment Group thinks that an easy, safe way to convert movies you already own on DVD to other digital formats is to take your DVDs, find a store that will perform this service, drive to that store, find the clerk who knows how to perform the service, hope that the “DVD conversion machine” is not broken, stand there like a chump while the clerk “safely” converts your movie to a digital file that may only play on studio-approved devices, drive home, and hope everything worked out. Oh, and the good news is that you would only need to pay a reasonable (per-DVD?) price for this pleasure.

To be fair, this plan is easy, safe (safe?), and reasonably priced compared to the movie studio’s current offer to people who want to take movies they own on DVD and turn them into a digital file to watch on, say, their iPad. That offer is a lawsuit, because personal copying of a movie on DVD requires circumventing DRM, which is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Furthermore, right now all of the major studios are arguing passionately (pdf) to stop the Copyright Office from granting a exemption that would make personal space shifting of movies on DVD legal.

Try to picture the real alternative to this hokum – people making their own copies of their movies at home. Luckily you won’t have to use your imagination too much because people making their own copies of media they own is exactly what people do with their CDs. They download a free program, make a copy of the CD at home, put the MP3 files on whatever device they want, and go on with their lives.

Warner Bros. Embarrasses Self, Everyone, With New “Disc-to-Digital” Program (via Hack the Planet)

10 commandments for con artists

From Lists of Note, the 10 Commandments for Con Men as set out by Victor Lustig a con-legend who once took $5K off Al Capone and sold the Eiffel Tower.

1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).
2. Never look bored.
3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
4. Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
5. Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other fellow shows a strong interest.
6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
7. Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
8. Never boast. Just let your importance be quietly obvious.
9. Never be untidy.
10. Never get drunk.

Lists of Note: 10 Commandments for Con Men (via Kottke)

(Image: Victig.com)

Understanding the scale of the ripoff in the Robosigning Settlement

Barry Ritholtz sez, "The Washington Post has been kind enough to allow me to vent about what is wrong with Wall Street and Washington DC. Today's episode: Robosigning Bank Settlement."

Before the settlement, we learned that nearly every aspect of the robosigned documents was false. None of the details were ever reviewed. The signatures attesting to the review of the documents were fabricated — made by someone other than the person whose name was on the document. Neither person — the supposed signatory to the document nor the hired forger — ever validated the facts of each case. All of the safeguards put in place to make sure foreclosures were done correctly and legally were bypassed. Even the notary stamps were bogus — they were not real, and not signed by a notary to validate that the signer and the signature matched...

The bigger issue is the economics of criminality. Most people who get caught committing crimes are punished. Commit a felony — if you run a bank — and your shareholders pay a monetary fine. Violating the law has merely become the banker’s cost of doing business.

Thus, the robosigning agreement has allowed the mass production of perjury. It has gone unrecognized and unpunished. It has made perjury a business expense, like travel or office furniture. The same reckless approach to giving loans to unqualified people was institutionalized, leading to another reckless approach to foreclosing homes.

Foreclosure settlement a failure of law, a triumph for bank attorneys (Thanks, Barry!)

Author discovers that Amazon can reprice his indie Kindle books however they want and cut his royalties, at will

Veteran author Jim C Hines offered some of his titles independently direct through Amazon's Kindle store. He discovered that Amazon reserves the right to arbitrarily reprice his books -- slashing the cover price of a $2.99 title to $0.99 -- and pay royalties on the lower price.

Hines points out that when his traditional publisher and its bookseller partners decide to offer his work at sale prices, he still gets paid royalties based on the cover price, and discusses the difficulties he faces in lacking the clout of an agent or a major publisher in negotiating with Amazon over this practice.

With my DAW books, if a bookstore offers a sale, I still get my royalties based on the cover price. Amazon is selling Libriomancer for pre-order at almost half-off, but I’ll get paid my full amount for every copy sold. Not so with self-published titles. Looking at my reports for last week, my royalties were slashed by 2/3 for every copy sold, because Amazon paid me 70% of the $.99 sale price, not my list price.

According to the KDP Pricing Page, royalties should be based on the list price ($2.99) unless the price adjustment was due to a price-matching situation (dropping the price to match a competitor’s price) … but my royalties report still shows a 67% cut.

When I followed up with the DTP team, they responded thusly:

The price at which we sell your book may not be the same as your list price. This may occur, for example, if we sell your book at a lower price to match a third party’s price for a digital or physical edition of the book… In this case, if you have chosen the 70% option for your book, your 70% royalty will be calculated based on our price for the book (less delivery costs and taxes).

Of course, this wasn’t actually the case, as there was no lower third-party price. I asked them again to show me where their Pricing Page or Terms of Service allow Amazon to arbitrarily cut your book’s offer price and reduce your royalties based on that change. I haven’t heard back from them.

Who Controls Your Amazon E-book Price? (via Making Light)

Marvel/Disney wages petty, vicious war against Ghost Rider creator

This much is certain: Gary Friedrich created the Marvel comics character Ghost Rider. Freidrich sued Marvel (and its new owners, Disney) because he claims that he never signed away the rights to his character, and thus the feature film based on the comic was illegal. Freidrich also apparently launched his own, rival line of authorized Ghost Rider merchandise.

Disney/Marvel has countersued Freidrich, claiming that the boilerplate legalese on the back of his paychecks were all the assignment they needed to assert ownership of his character. What's more, Misney has broken with the industry-standard practice of turning a blind eye to creators doing sketches of their own characters for money at conventions, and singled out Freidrich for punitive, retaliatory legal claims for doing what every artist in the field does.

Finally, Misney has sought to prohibit Freidrich from publicly identifying or marketing himself as the creator of Ghost Rider, on the basis of the ancient legal principle of fuck you I said so and I can afford more lawyers than you so shut up.

As payback, not only can Friedrich no longer sell his own Ghost Rider merchandise, he can’t even represent himself as its co-creator, thereby robbing him of any potential financial gain he might accrue from convention appearances and the like. (He will, however, still be able to sign officially licensed Marvel merchandise, either with ink or bitter tear stains.) In addition, Marvel is also demanding $17,000 from the unemployed, financially destitute 68-year-old, which Comic Book Resources surmises will serve as a warning to all others who currently enjoy the privilege of selling their own unlicensed merchandise, and should maybe just keep their mouths shut then.

Marvel forces Ghost Rider creator to stop saying he's Ghost Rider creator

Top RBS bankster's compensation in visual context


Dunchead of amazingstuff.co.uk sez, "RBS boss Stephen Hester has accepted his bonus of £963,000 on top of his annual salary of £1.2 million. RBS is 80% owned by the UK taxpayer. This image represents his annual income as 2.2 million pixels, comparing it in 'income parade' style with other taxpayer-employed workers."

RBS boss Stephen Hester's annual salary and bonus represented in pixels (Thanks, Dunchead!)