• A look back at the Yoda Stories video game from the 90s

    FanByte recently published a delightful retrospective on Yoda Stories, the 90s Star Wars video game that even I had completely forgotten about. But looking back, there's something oddly refreshing about this small, contained, casual game:

    The loop of Yoda Stories is simple. Luke Skywalker lands on Dagobah and asks his titular swamp-dwelling mentor for a mission. Then, he flies off to another planet to try to rescue a friend, collect an obtain, destroy a facility, or warn the Rebels of an attack. The game's locations and objectives are randomly-generated, with each mission taking about an hour to complete. Luke can push and pull objects, fire a blaster or swing his lightsaber, and collect items to use in different situations. It isn't a complex or particularly attractive game, but something about its tiny little worlds had a hold on me back in 1997.

    Throwback Thursday: Yoda Stories Was Star Wars But Chill [merritt k / fanbyte]

  • WRITE 'N' FIGHT is a new video game where famous authors punch each other

    From the official synopsis on Steam:

    The greatest writers of all time are fighting each other in the arenas that were inspired by their work. Each character can summon his own "magic" arena where he becomes the boss of the level for a short amount of time. Each character can be knocked out with one hit in standing in "danger" zone. Once the "magic" arena is summoned by one of the 15 combatants – the fighting game becomes an arcade while the "boss" player is trying to defeat the opponent before the magic arena time runs out.

    On one hand, Write N'Fight only has a 36% rating on Steam. On the other hand, where else can you see Ernest Hemingway punch Lovecraft in the face?

    Write 'N' Fight

  • This Silicon Valley startup wants to help call centers sound more white

    SFGate recently published an in-depth feature on Sanas, a Bay Area-startup in the burgeoning field of what they call "accent translation" — which is to say, make the people working in call centers sound more like a standard white person.

    You might be thinking, "Well, what does the 'standard' white person sound like, exactly?" or perhaps "This sounds racist" or maybe even "Wait isn't this literally the plot of Sorry To Bother You?" In which case … congratulations, you've got it.

    "We don't want to say that accents are a problem because you have one," Sanas president Marty Sarim told SFGATE. "They're only a problem because they cause bias and they cause misunderstandings."

    The tacit promise of Sanas seems to be that callers will be more polite — and more amenable to being helped — if they think the person on the other end is more like them. (This isn't a new concept; call center workers in India, the Philippines and elsewhere already adopt American names, and are pressured to develop accents that will sound more "neutral" to  Americans.) 

    To be fair, the ultimate goal of Sanas is not to make everyone sound Neutral Standard White Default, but rather, to "translate" accents to serve different needs. Not everyone is comforted by the sound of a Neutral Standard White Default … unless your data is biased because of the junk that you put into it from the start.

    Or, as SFGate put it:

    To buy what Sanas is selling, you have to believe that the solution to harassment for people with accents — international call center workers or otherwise — is making yourself better understood to Americans. Experts who spoke to SFGATE were troubled by Sanas' emphasis on people in the Global South making themselves understood to Americans, as opposed to Americans accepting other accented voices.

    As the article rightly points out, accents themselves aren't not a cause of any bias, but rather, they can trigger pre-existing biases. People make assumptions when they hear a Southern accent, or an Indian accent, or a Black Vernacular English accent, and so on. In this case, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy: establish Neutral American White as the Default voice, translate everything into that voice, and then everyone will desire Neutral American White Default regardless of where they live because they've been socialized to associate that accent with authority and compassion, while learning to dismiss other accents as indescribably undesirable.

    Fortunately, Sanas President Marty Sarim assured SFGate that, "We don't foresee anything bad coming out of this."

    Clearly he didn't sit through to the end of Sorry To Bother You.

    Sanas, the buzzy Bay Area startup that wants to make the world sound whiter [Joshua Bote / SF Gate]

    Image: Public Domain via DepositPhotos

  • Four high schoolers pulled a county-wide Rickroll across 500 screens in 6 different schools

    Wired has a great new piece looking at one of the largest Rickrolls in history — an absolutely epic senior graduation prank in Cook County, Illinois.

    AT 10:55 AM on April 30, 2021, all the TV screens and classroom projectors at six schools in Cook County, Illinois, started controlling themselves. Screens that were turned off powered up. Projectors that were already on automatically switched to the HDMI input. "Please standby for an important announcement," read a message that flashed up on the displays. A five-minute timer, counting down to zero, sat under the ominous message.

    Wired speaks with the students behind the prank about how they organized their mass-scale Rickroll. It's some truly impressive work, starting with some accidental multi-year planning. Good work!

    Inside the World's Biggest Hacker Rickroll [Matt Burges / Wired]

  • Erik Prince's new "secure" smartphone is an even bigger joke than it sounds

    In July 2021, I posted here about the new smartphone company bankrolled by Blackwater brutalizer Erik Prince.

    That post focused less on the phone itself and more on the absurdity of Greenwald either schilling for a war criminal, and/or getting duped into being a convenient patsy for a war criminal's PR campaign. All I knew at the time was that the company is called Unplugged, and the phone is the UP phone, and it supposedly runs on an Android fork called LibertOS. "Get a Government-grade secure phone with an Operating System developed for data privacy and security," the company boasts in its marketing. "Independent from Google and Apple."

    Yes, sure, there's an obvious appeal in a Google- and Apple-free phone. And while I personally would not trust any product that Erik Prince had has hands on, I suppose he is good at things like ignoring government subpoenas after butchering innocent civilians wholesale. So I mean, if that's your plan, and you really understand how to otherwise keep the data on our iPhone contained, then sure, go buy the $850 UP phone when it's out this fall.

    But not before you read this recent piece by the MIT Technology Review that actually goes into much more detail about just how much of a PR buzzword scam for right-wing militia cosplayers Unplugged really is:

    Unplugged's day-to-day technology operations are run by Eran Karpen, a former employee of CommuniTake, the Israeli startup that gave rise to the now infamous hacker-for-hire firm NSO Group. There, Karpen built the IntactPhone, which the company called a "military-grade mobile device." He's also a veteran of Israel's Unit 8200, an agency that conducts cyber espionage and is the country's equivalent of the NSA. 

    But anyone with that experience should be able to see through Prince's claim that the UP Phone is impossible to surveil.

    […]

    "This is a phone, and the way that phones work is they triangulate to cell towers, and there is always latitude and longitude for exactly where you're sitting," [said Allan Liska, a cyberintelligence analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future]. "Nothing you do to the phone is going to change that."

    The UP Phone's operating system, called LibertOS, is a proprietary version of Google's Android, according to an Unplugged spokesperson. It's running on an unclear mix of hardware that a company spokesperson says they've designed on their own. Even just maintaining a unique Android "fork"—a version of the operating system that departs from the original, like a fork in the road—is a difficult endeavor that can cost massive money and resources, experts warn. For a small startup, that can be an insurmountable challenge.

    The Tech Review also shared this slide from an Unplugged investor pitch deck which is just *chef's kiss*

    Later in the piece, writer Patrick Howell O'Neill explores other similar "privacy phone" scams that have all made pretty much the same promises as Prince does, with all the same stupid oversights and buzzwords.

    Erik Prince wants to sell you a "secure" smartphone that's too good to be true [Patrick Howell O'Neill / MIT Technology Review]

  • Evangelical Christian Furries are scared of being outed as homophobes

    Religion News recently published a, uhhh, interesting article about Evangelical Christians within the Furry movement, such as those who belong to the Christian Furry Fellowship. Furrydom is a notoriously accepting and tolerant community … but given the associations between white American Evangelical Christians and homophobia, some of these Christian Furries are reportedly concerned that even their fur community has its limits:

    Christians in the furry community are cautious about who knows about both their furry and faithful selves. Christian furries interviewed for this story, including leaders of the group that calls itself the Christian Furry Fellowship, asked to be anonymous, fearing "doxxing" from within the largely secular furry community for their Christian identity and ostracization from their professional lives for their furry hobby. 

    "My furry friendships are a blessing," said one CFF organizer with a red fox fursona who asked to be called "F." "And for that reason, I am sad to see so much grief within the fandom that could be helped by the knowledge of the Lord."

    Founded in the late 1990s on internet chat forums, CFF is a ministry that views furry fandom as a mission field. 

    […]

    CFF, for its part, does not enforce any worldview related to sex for its casual members. Like many conservative Christians, its members believe that engaging in same-sex sexual relationships is wrong; having homosexual feelings alone is not. Furries who disagree with this stance can still join, S said, as long as they abide by the group's rules.

    To be fair, the article ends with a focus on a non-binary Furry who was raised in — and later rejected — Christian purity culture, as well as a quote from Hund the Hound, saying:

    Hund said Christian furries need to understand why the LGBT furry community doesn't like Christianity. "It's been centuries of hate and hurt," Hund said.

    Christian furries, he said, have a chance to present a different face of their faith to their fellow furries. 

    "I have my relationship with God, but that's between me and God," said Hund. "When others think of a relationship with God, they think of persecution from that church. That's not God. That's God's people doing a bad job."

    When mixing faith with furries, things can get hairy: A Christian movement has established itself inside the mostly religion resistant world of furry fandom. [Riley Farrel / Religion News]

    Thumbnail Image: Torsten Maue / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • Predatory landlords are buying up trailer parks en masse

    From Cape Cod to West Palm Beach to Houston to San Diego, real estate developers have been going all-in on mobile home properties. It might sound like a strange investment to some, but it's also one of the most reliable and low-lift ways to make a passive (read: predatory) profit off of rent-seeking.

    This is a phenomenon that has unfortunately for quite a while now — property managers at trailer parks milking their residents for everything they're worth. In many cases, the residents of those trailer parks already rely on various welfare subsidies, whether they're seniors or living on housing or disability assistance, so their income is already typically limited. Some of these residents may have also been formerly incarcerated, or registered sex offenders, which further limits where and how they can live.

    And these greedy landlords have figured out a way to take every last cent they can, knowing full well that they've cornered the only market that's available to these residents.

    The video above looks at this phenomenon through the specific lens of the Trails End mobile home community in Fresno, California. I think The Housing Newsletter summed the 15-minute documentary up quite sufficiently:

    Its dirtbag owners having lost the property due to mismanagement, the park has been put into receivership by the State of California. The guy appointed as receiver by the state is a real anti-worker (and probably extremely corrupt) authoritarian who wants to "fix" the park up (by terrorizing its inhabitants with armed private guards while work crews go trailer to trailer destroying all the personal touches people have added over the years) and hand it over to one of the growing number of specialist corporations that like to squeeze basically helpless trailer park residents for profit. The residents organize with a local lefty activist group and protest this course of action, hoping the judge overseeing the receivership will agree to let a nonprofit housing trust buy the park. But the judge, like the receiver, ignores community protests and sells it to a corporation—despite the fact that it has a history of suing cities that, like Fresno, have rent control for trailer park lots to force an end to such ordinances.  

  • How to destroy a computer hard drive with a Janet Jackson song

    In a recent blog, Raymond Chen, a software engineer Microsoft, discussed the surprising discovery that Janet Jackson's song "Rhythm Nation" is powerful enough to physically destroy some computer hard drives.

    Or, well, at least it resonates at the right frequency to destabilize and crash the hard drive:

    One discovery during the investigation is that playing the music video [for "Rhythm Nation"] also crashed some of their competitors' laptops. And then they discovered something extremely weird: Playing the music video on one laptop caused a laptop sitting nearby to crash, even though that other laptop wasn't playing the video!

    What's going on?

    Fortunately, this problem only affected some older, Windows XP-era laptops (circa 2005, according to the official CVE-ID vulnerability listing from the Mitre Corporation), so you probably don't have anything to worry about. For now.

    Janet Jackson had the power to crash laptop computers [Raymond Chen / Microsoft]

  • New study reveals that humans are not related to these spikey, wrinkly anus-less sacks

    According to a new study published in the journal Nature, the spikey, wrinkly, anus-less, microscopic organism known as Saccorhytus coronarius is not, in fact, an evolutionary precursor to homo sapiens. "The early Cambrian microscopic animal Saccorhytus coronarius was interpreted as an early deuterostome on the basis of purported pharyngeal openings, providing evidence for a meiofaunal ancestry and an explanation for the temporal mismatch between palaeontological and molecular clock timescales of animal evolution," the researchers explained. "Phylogenetic analyses indicate that S. coronarius belongs to total-group Ecdysozoa, expanding the morphological disparity and ecological diversity of early Cambrian ecdysozoans."

    Translation: they analyzed some 500 million-year-old fossils of the spikey, wrinkly, Sac, taking hundreds of microscopic x-rays from all different angles, and reconstructed a 3D model of the creature. Upon closer examination, they realized that the tiny little pores around the mouth of the Saccorhytus coronarius were not, in fact, tiny butt holes, but were actually the remnants of tiny spikes, which the creature used to help feed itself.

    As explained on Phys.org:

    The researchers believe that Saccorhytus is in fact an ecdysozoan: a group that contains arthropods and nematodes. "We considered lots of alternative groups that Saccorhytus might be related to, including the corals, anemones and jellyfish which also have a mouth but no anus," said Prof Philip Donoghue of University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, who co-led the study. "To resolve the problem our computational analysis compared the anatomy of Saccorhytus with all other living groups of animals, concluding a relationship with the arthropods and their kin, the group to which insects, crabs and roundworms belong."

    Saccorhytus' lack of anus is an intriguing feature of this microscopic, ancient organism. Although the question that springs to mind is the alternative route of digestive waste (out of the mouth, rather undesirably), this feature is important for a fundamental reason of evolutionary biology. How the anus arose—and sometimes subsequently disappeared—contributes to the understanding of how animal bodyplans evolved.

    This lack of asshole made it clear that the Saccorhytus coronarius was not, in fact, related to assholes. I mean humans.

    Scientists relieved to discover 'curious' creature with no anus is not earliest human ancestor [University of Bristol / Phys.org]

    Saccorhytus is an early ecdysozoan and not the earliest deuterostome [Yunhuan Liu, Emily Carlisle, Huaqiao Zhang, Ben Yang, Michael Steiner, Tiequan Shao, Baichuan Duan, Federica Marone, Shuhai Xiao & Philip C. J. Donoghue / Nature]

  • This Canon replica Transformer camera is more than meets the eye

    Takara Tomy, the Japanese company behind the original Transformers action figures, has teamed up with a Canon to make a new toy replica of the popular Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera. While you can't shoot any pictures with this, you can shoot your alien robot enemy, because they transform into the Autobot Optimus Prime and the Decepticon Refraktor, respectively. And that's almost as cool as photography, right?

    As far as I can tell, these are currently only available in Japan. But they're still pretty neat! The 80% size camera replica looks impressively detailed, too.

  • No one was injured by the pole dancers at this gender reveal party

    Though I suppose that I could joke about a little death here.

    (The live keyboard player in the background is a strangely nice touch though)

    Don't worry, there's a follow-up video where the dad-to-be gets so excited by the revelation that his child has a phallus that he jumps into the pool with his clothes on:

    @mariap_poledance

    а вот и результат 😍 хейтерам пройти мимо #рек #реки #genderparty

    ♬ ily (i love you baby) – 2020 Remix – We Rabbitz
  • Russian Gun Show debuts a new robot dog with a missile launcher backpack

    From Vice:

    The video was taken at "Army-2022," an ongoing arms fair in Moscow. The conference is taking place from Monday until Sunday, has around 1,500 participants, and over 28,000 exhibits, according to its website. One exhibitor also showed off an unmanned military truck which has no cockpit.

    And here's the Google-Translated text of the Telegram post where the video originated (which, to be fair, comes from a state-owned news agency in Russia):

    At "Army-2022" they noticed a robot dog with a grenade launcher. The developers told RIA Novosti what she was doing there.

    According to them, this is a sample of the M-81 robotic system, capable of conducting aimed shooting and transporting weapons, and for civilian purposes it can be used in the emergency zone for reconnaissance, passage through rubble and delivery of medicines.

    When used in combat, the robotic dog can also be engaged in target designation, patrolling and security.

    Why does the robot look like a dog? The developers say that the machines are made using bionics – the principles, structures and mechanics characteristic of the animal world, so they resemble dogs, especially in dynamics.

    Neat!!1

    Robot Dog With RPG Strapped to Its Back Demoed at Russian Arms Fair [Joseph Cox / Vice]

  • Substack fires editor in "retaliation" for working with high-profile writer who switched to rival Ghost

    Substack recently fired one of their freelance editors, Sam Thielman, in an explicit retaliation for the fact that one of the writers with whom Thielman had been working had chosen not to renew his contract with the popular email newsletter platform.

    This is not only petty, but a horrifying omen from a company that claims to stand for "free speech."

    Of course, it's impossible to talk about Substack without talking about the controversies around the company — which are the true root cause of the problem here. By most metrics, the popular email newsletter platform has been a phenomenal success in the realm of "content creation," and the company has certainly enabled plenty of writers to make a decent living off their work without signing away the rights or making too many moral compromises.

    That "too many" part is key, however. The founders of the company have been known to make lofty claims about free speech — the kind of generic platitudes that are hard to disagree with on the surface, but are also incredible hollow, and willfully ignore the roles of capital and platforms, which are conveniently the very things that Substack provides and works with. This inherent conflict became particular apparent when Substack began offering special grants to a high-profile writers to encourage them to use the platform. The company put up the initial cash to lure these writers away from their other jobs, with the agreement that Substack would take 85% of the income from subscriptions in the first year in order to recoup their up-front investment, and the writers would retain all the rights to everything they wrote. After one year, the cuts would flip, with the writer taking all of their subscription income, less a 10% cut for Substack.

    To hear Substack co-founder Hamisk McKenzie tell it, the company wanted this "Substack Pro" program to present a diverse range of voices. So, despite the company's claims to free speech and editorial independence, it made a conscious editorial choice to court "other perspectives," so it could be a "home" for "leftists" as well as Glenn Greenwalds and Bari Weisses and all the antivaxxers and transphobes who followed.

    This, understandably, pissed some people off. Writers like Luke O'Neil were no longer comfortable taking that blood money from Substack. And so, when their one-year pro contracts with the company expired, they left … pursuant to the terms of the contract. 'Cause, ya know, that's how contracts work.

    And this, in turn, made Substack very mad. They insisted that they had made an editorial decision based on business in the name of free speech, dammit! Co-founder McKenzie even wrote a novella-length rant about how sad and betrayed he felt by O'Neil's departure. He thought they were friends, why would his friends who love free speech diss his editorial business decisions like that?

    It should be noted that a blog rant about someone who honored the terms of their contract and then moved on is not a good look professionally. Nor is it a good look for free speech, as it very clearly implies that financial relationships are personal relationships, and that anyone who profited from Substack owes Substack beyond the scope of their contract. Which is an absolutely horrifying power position to stake out.

    But instead of stepping back from this, Substack made it worse.

    After Reign of Terror author Spencer Ackerman completed the terms of his own Substack Pro contract, he, too, left the platform and moved his newsletter elsewhere. In the move, Ackerman hoped to retain the freelance editing of Sam Thielman — who Substack had brought in as a freelance editor to work with a number of popular newsletters, in addition to Ackerman's. Since Thielman was a freelancer, and thus needs income, he agreed to keep working with Ackerman, even as he continued his other freelance work through Substack. Because that's how freelancing and contracts both work.

    Here's what happened next, in Thielman's words:

    Separately, I edit other newsletters published on Substack, including Jonathan Katz's and Aaron Rupar's. Substack paid me directly for those two, and for a short stint editing Indian dissident Rana Ayyub, and other Substackers hired me directly.  On July 23, a Saturday, I noticed I had been locked out of the shared accounts Substack uses, and wrote [Dan] Stone [Substack's head of Writer Partnerships] asking what was up, since as far as I knew I was still working for two of their writers. Stone replied saying he would tell me on Monday.

    Substack's brass had evidently taken Spencer's voluntary departure as a personal betrayal, even though as of July 21, he was free to take this newsletter elsewhere. On Monday the 25th, Stone cc'ed the company lawyer on a notice of termination saying that "[c]onsidering your and Spencer's post about the move off the platform, we are glad to release you from future commitments to work with Substack. I'm sure you'll agree it makes sense for both sides. As such, we'll be winding down your other Substack-funded editing relationships."

    In other words: Substack, the self-proclaimed bastion of free speech, demands extra-contractual loyalty from its workers, and retaliates through linguistic and financial censorship when they don't get their way. I guess it's a good thing for Substack that they employ so may contractors, because if they kept people on as staff, they'd be deep into all kinds of union-busting nonsense. But still: who could imagine that a so-called "neutral" platform would have trouble being neutral after money and editorial decision-making got involved?

    Substack Retaliates Against FOREVER WARS Editor [Sam Thielman / Forever Wars]

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere

  • Irish customs accepts Native American passports, 12 years after UK rejection

    Last week, the Haudenosaunee Nationals traveled to Ireland for the lacrosse world championships … and in a tender moment of international solidarity, the Irish government accepted the passports that identified the players not as US citizens, but as members of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee. As Buffalo New reported:

    Irish customs officials formally acknowledged and accepted Haudenosaunee passports that represent the people of the Six Nations, providing an international courtesy that Nationals board member Rex Lyons said has not been offered with such grace and respect at other destinations in the past. In 2010, in the most prominent example, a team consisting of players from the Six Nations was unable to compete in the lacrosse world championships in Great Britain because those passports were not accepted.

    "They treated us the way anyone would hope to be treated," Lyons said of officials from the Republic of Ireland.

    This is notable for two reasons:

    First, there's a long history of solidarity between the Irish and various Native peoples of North America, inspired in no small part by the shared experience of British forces showing up on their respective shores and fucking up their shit for centuries at a time. As mentioned above, the British government had refused to accept the Haudenosaunee passports when the team attempted to travel to the England for a lacrosse tournament in 2010. The Canadian government, too, has been known to confiscate Haudenosaunee passports, dismissing them as "fantasy documents" — despite the fact that the passport was created in 1977 through negotiations with governments including Canada and the UK. (And despite the fact that the Jay Treaty of 1794 clearly secures a right for "Indians dwelling on either side of the said Boundary Line freely to pass and repass by Land, or Inland Navigation, into the respective Territories and Countries of the Two Parties on the Continent of America.")

    Even when then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intervened in the 2010 lacrosse tournament, securing a temporary clearance for the team with the British government, she still did so under the insistence that they were US citizens. That's because, to acknowledge the validity of their Haudenosaunee passports would mean acknowledging the sovereignty of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy … which would in turn mean the US would have to acknowledge all of the other laws and treaties they have broken with Native American nations. As the Onondaga Nation explains:

    These treaties are between sovereigns: the United States as one party and the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee as the other party.   These treaties are clear evidence that we are a separate sovereign and that our citizens are not US citizens, despite the unilateral attempt by the US in 1924 with its Citizenship Act.   The Haudenosaunee sent a clear letter to the President of the US in 1924 stating that we were not willing to relinquish our citizenship.

    […]

    For many years, Haudenosaunee citizens have traveled using our own passports and identification cards.  In our view, the term "freely" in the Jay Treaty means that burdensome documentation requirements cannot be lawfully imposed without our consent. Our right to carry our own documentation is a part of our right to self determination. In recent years, we have worked hard to ensure that the federal government continues to respect our right to carry our own documentation.

    Or, as Sid Hill wrote in The Guardian in 2015:

    Maintaining our sovereignty demands that we use our own passport. This is why we stamped the passports of visiting nations – including US Americans and the British – in September when the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships was held for the first time on Haudenosaunee land: to underscore that this has always been and remains our land. 

    We do not have the option of simply accepting American or Canadian passports. We are citizens of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, as we have been for millennia before the Europeans' arrival.

    That is not negotiable.

    To be fair, Haudenosaunee passports have been accepted by the government of Japan, although even that process took about a year of planning. And the Swedish government has acknowledged the passports of the Cree nation from Northern Ontario. But the Irish acceptance of these passports was still a rare enough occurrence to still be sadly newsworthy.

    Between Haudenosaunee and Ireland, lacrosse builds deep bond of respect [Sean Kirst / Buffalo News]

    My six nation Haudenosaunee passport is not a 'fantasy document' [Sid Hill / The Guardian]

    The Haudenosaunee Confederacy: Sovereignty, Citizenship And Passports [Onondaga Nation]

    Divided We Stand: The Haudenosaunee, Their Passport and Legal Implications of Their Recognition in Canada and the United States [University of San Diego]

  • Listen to NPR's new public domain superhero musical, Micro-Face

    Over the last year or so, NPR's Planet Money has been running a recurring series on the economics of superhero intellectual property. What began as an attempt to valuate and purchase an obscure Marvel Comics property turned into a journey down into the depths of the public domain, with NPR resurrecting an obscure superhero called Micro-Face (Get it? Because he has a microphone for a face? Ugh no wonder no one wants to own this guy). The Planet Money folks licensed Micro-Face merchandise, as well as a new comic book reboot of Micro-Face, written by Alex Segura (whose own most recent novel is also an exploration of IP).

    And now, for the final act in Micro-Face Cinematic Universe, Planet Money licensed the rights of their Micro-Face reboot out to a musical theatre composer named  Kit Goldstein Grant, who turned the podcasting superhero into the star of his own Broadway-hopeful musical — and you can listen to a staged reading of the show below. It's no Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark … but that might be a good idea. It's a delightful hokey love-letter to NPR, with some interesting eeeeeevil complications around certain other public institutions, and I look forward to seeing the next stage in the show's evolution:

  • Publishing startups want to use web3 and NFTs to sell shares in books

    Esquire recently published a, umm, interesting piece about the crypto "revolution" that is allegedly coming to the book industry. It's a frustrating albeit strangely fascinating read, in that it presents these ideas with completely earnest cheerleading:

    What if you could own a stake in Harry Potter? 

    What if the book series functioned like a publicly traded company where individuals could "buy stock" in it, and as the franchise grows, those "stocks" become more valuable? If this were the case, someone who purchased just three percent of Harry Potter back when there was only one book would be a billionaire now. 

    Just imagine how that would affect the reading experience. Suddenly a trip to Barnes & Noble becomes an investment opportunity. Early readers could spot "the next big thing" and make a $100 contribution that becomes $10,000 or even $100,000 if the book's popularity grows. If readers could own a percentage of the franchise, they might then be incentivized to help that book succeed. They could start a TikTok account to promote the book via BookTok, or use their talents as filmmakers to adapt it to the screen. All of this stands to increase the value of their original investment.

    At some points, the author compares this scenario to Kickstarter rewards — essentially, owning a stake in the book because you're an early investor. Fine. I hate it, but fine. Granted, there is plenty I also hate about the publishing industry as it currently is, but also, okay, fine.

    There is some interesting implication here about the kind of monetized gamification of fandom — using NFT ownership to "lend out" IP for fan-fiction, and encourage fans to engage with a franchise with the promise of an eventual financial payout. But this still sounds like a house of cards with a payout that depends on everyone else treating houses of cards like a viable and desirable currency. Maybe that's the trick. Maybe best case scenario is … this just replicates the existing problems of IP ownership, but with different owners, and different tools. Neat.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's not a lot of firm plans in place for any of this, just a bunch of people smooth-talking investors with promises of leveraging fandom into assets. Still, I found myself fascinated by the article, if for no other reason than because the author really, really tries to present these ideas without any sense of cynicism.

    The Crypto Revolution Wants to Reimagine Books [Elle Griffin]

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere

  • How Margaret Thatcher changed the Ninja Turtles

    The Blindboy Podcast is always a great listen for ridiculously entertaining counter-cultural explorations. Take the June 28, 2022 episode "Teenage Margaret Thatcher Turtles," in which host Blindboy Boatclub examines how the two-headed monster of Reaganism and Thatcherism transformed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from a subversive post-modern indie comic into a cheesy tool of capitalist propaganda.

    While I can't do justice to Blindboy's full hot take — you'll have to listen to that yourself, though trust me, it's worth it — that was one detail in particular that stuck out with me. As I learned on the podcast, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were actually known as Hero Turtles in Ireland andthe UK, thanks to a very British ban on ninjas and nunchuks. Fearing a violent uprising by the working class they so eloquently oppressed, British authorities wanted to discourage any kind of violent melee combat that might inspire the masses to revolt. Laser guns and spaceships were one thing; karate kicks and nunchuks, however, could arguably be fashioned by any ol' uppity Brit who allegedly wanted to start a riot. Hence: Ninja Turtles became Hero Turtles.

    But that's not all! The infamous orange-masked nunchaku-wielding Hero Turtle known as Michelangelo also lost his weapon-of-choice, with censorious animators at the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) drawing grappling hooks over the nunchuks in every illustrated cartoon cell. (Because apparently grappling hooks were not an easily-fashioned melee weapon? Unclear.) This all came to a head with the 1991 release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, which features a scene in which Michelangelo trades his nuchuks for a pair of sausages.

    Here's the the BBFC describes their own decision making in hindsight:

    "In the credits sequence in Reel 1, chainsticks are wielded (or seem to be) after a shot of sausages hanging from the butcher's rail. Since there is real confusion between chainsticks and sausages this sequence needs to be carefully checked before cuts (if any) are listed. Ditto a sequence in Reel 2, where April tries out a pair of chainsticks; could they be sausages? If so, we would look pretty foolish (right Charlies, in fact) if we cut them!"

    Another report states the then BBFC policy to remove these weapons, but warned that pragmatically it might be unwise to remove sausages used to resemble the weapon.

    After contacting the distributor, the BBFC was reassured that all the sequences 'involved sausages not sticks'.

    However, BBFC Director James Ferman thought there was still potential for the sequence to showcase chainsticks-type weapons, and the sausages would look like these weapons 'to any streetwise 8 year old'. The cuts list therefore included the following request to minimise any glamorisation of easily accessible weapons:

    "After turtle takes down sausages and uses them as a flail. Reduce to minimum dazzling display of swinging sausages indistinguishable from chainsticks"

    The Examiner reports for the video release include some criticism of the decision, with one report noting that "the sausage/chainstick confusion makes his [Ferman's] cuts list a tiny bit ludicrous to read".

    So thank you, Margaret Thatcher, for protecting the youth from the violence of sausages. There's no such thing as society indeed.

    British Board of Film Classification Case Studies — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II

    Teenage Margaret Thatcher Turtles [The Blindboy Podcast]

  • Amazon is making a Ring Camera TV show

    From Deadline:

    Wanda Sykes is knocking on the door of syndication with a new series that features videos taken from Ring doorbells.

    The comedian is to host Ring Nation, a new twist on the popular clip show genre, from MGM Television, Live PD producer Big Fish Entertainment and Ring.

    The series, which will launch on September 26, will feature viral videos shared by people from their video doorbells and smart home cameras.

    Not sure why they're not just calling it America's Funniest Home Surveillance Capitalism.

    To be fair, Ring has made some improvements to their privacy policies in recent years; I suppose it's also worth noting that many other home security cameras have similar policies (even if they don't have as cozy relationships with law enforcement).

    All that being said: I hate this.

    But here's the real kicker, courtesy of Kevin Purdy at Ars Technica:

    Ring Nation producer Big Fish is also, incidentally, the producer of Live PD, the police ride-along series canceled after the George Floyd killing and resulting protests, but the show was recently revived.

    Wanda Sykes To Host Syndicated Viral Video Show Featuring Ring Doorbell Technology From MGM [Peter White / Deadline]

    Amazon studio plans lighthearted show of Ring surveillance footage [Kevin Purdy / Ars Technica]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

    (Full disclosure: I've linked above to a few different Wirecutter articles, written by Rachel Cericola; I also write for Wirecutter, which is part of the New York Times Company.)