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Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

When a Pennsylvania student recorded an incident of bullying and brought it to his school’s administration, it kicked off a darkly farcical series of escalations, with the school calling the cops, the cops calling the attorney general, and nobody calling perspective or common sense. An anonymous commenter won most insightful comment of the week by summing it all up in a sentence:

Kid gets bullied, goes to bigger bullies who then refer him to even bigger bullies.

In last week’s comments post, I had mentioned how infuriating it is that the rightsholder’s word is so often taken as law when it comes to DMCA takedowns. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though, and Loki won second place for insightful by delving below the surface:

My issue with this is that in a lot of cases these claims aren’t from actual rightsholder’s and that these people can potentially violate MY rights whenever they feel like it without facing any of the penalties they insist I should face for doing the same.

On top of that, even when they are the legal rightsholders, they like to ignore or pretend other rights I have, like fair use, simply don’t exist (when they aren’t trying to pay or cajole governments into actually voiding those rights) and then get upset when other people do the same to their rights.

All from an industry that moved thousands of miles away so as to avoid what they felt was a totally unfair and restrictive patent system, so they could turn around and impose an equally unfair and restrictive copyright system.

That sort of hubris, hyprocrisy, and arrogance is not even close to deserving of respect, but merely both of my middle fingers raised high in salute.

For editor’s choice on the insightful side, we head to our post about the RIAA trying to have its pre-1972 recording cake and eat it too. There were two comments on that post expanding on key related issues and exposing the broken thinking behind so much of copyright law. First up, PaulT on the fact that retroactive copyright changes make no sense:

It’s my opinion that copyright changes should never be applied retroactively. If the argument is that copyright encourages or even enables work to be created in the first place, then clearly the copyright terms in force at the time of creation were sufficient. The work wouldn’t exist to argue over in the first place if the artist required today’s copyright laws to create it.perhaps decades after his death – is just wrong.

This is, of course, not the RIAA’s argument, but they can’t just come out and admit that they want to be able to collect huge sums of money for decades after an artist’s death no matter when the recording took place. They have to play word games to pretend they have the moral high ground.

As ever, “fairness” means “letting corporations make as much as possible” rather than anything that actually benefits a living human being not on the RIAA’s board.

Next, it’s Ninja making the related point that paying people for decades-old work at all doesn’t make much sense to begin with:

So we are talking about songs that are at least 45 years old, right?

Funny they talk about fairness. I don’t see old engineers being paid continuously because structures were made based on their projects. In fact, I have yet to see a dead engineer whose estate still receives money for his/her work. You can replace engineer with any profession.

Professionals usually earn money because they put their work, effort, sweat into it. Constantly.

There’s no reason for a 45+ yr-old song not to be in the Public Domain.

Over on the funny side, we start out with our challenge to “find the fib” in some NSA statements. DannyB won first place for funny with a highly appropriate reaction to this scavenger hunt:

That’s like searching for a needle in a needlestack. Therefore, we need to collect all metadata.

Meanwhile, the internet was abuzz this week after a bizarre discovery about Kate Mulgrew aka Captain Janeway aka that terrifying prison cook (just one more thing — aka Mrs. Columbo). She had (accidentally) lent her voice to a trailer for a documentary promoting geocentrism aka stupidity, leading G Thompson to question how such a thing was possible for anyone with a little fame:

What celebrity would ever accept this stupid theory? Of course they all know that THEY are the absolute center of the universe.

For editor’s choice on the funny side, we start with Digger, who responded to General Mills’ attempts to rope customers into bizarre legal agreements just for buying their product by drafting his own license agreement:



States the following, and I tape it to every box of cereal that I eat.

By allowing my CELA to stick to your box, you, the cereal provider, agree to the following terms.

My agreement supersedes any and all previous agreements. My agreement can never be superseded, ever, even if forced to sign a new contract while someone holds a nuke over my head, my agreement will still be valid and enforceable over yours.
My agreement allows me to sue you for over 1 quadrillion dollars if I so much as bite my cheek while chewing on your cereal, or burn my tongue if I overheat my coffee that I drink while eating your cereal.
My agreement holds your corporate officers and board members fiscally and legally responsible for any and all effects of using your cereal and any activities taken while eating said cereal, no limitations apply.
My agreement says that you owe me $1000.00 per bite of your cereal that I eat just to suffer through the crap you put in it.


And finally, we’ve got a simple answer to a simple question. We asked if you’d trust the NSA’s advice on fixing Heartbleed; an anonymous commenter replied:

Short answer: No
Long answer : Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Indeed. That’s all for this week foooooooolks!

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A Look Back In Techdirt History

Here we are again with another look back in Techdirt history.

Five Years Ago:

As we’ve noted, sometimes these look backs show that nothing ever changes. For example, one of our big stories five years ago was… the NSA abusing its surveillance powers. The NY Times revealed at the time that the NSA was collecting much more information on Americans than was allowed by law. And… basically no one paid attention. Similarly, we had a story about Swedish ISP Bahnhof deleting its log files to protect the privacy of its users. And — just a week ago, we had nearly an identical story, as Bahnhof did it again, in response to a court ruling against the EU’s data retention directive (which was put in place to stop ISPs like Bahnhof from protecting users privacy like that).

This was also the week five years ago that the Pirate Bay lost its big case in Sweden and Nicolas Sarkozy ramped up his efforts to pass a three strikes law. Of course, today the Pirate Bay is still going strong, and France’s three strikes law has basically been killed off. Funny how these things work out.

We also had stories of people trying to use the DMCA for blatant censorship, including a news station trying to hide its own mistake and activist group trying to hide its fake political campaign (using actors instead of real people). Copyright as censorship is one of those issues that never changes. Also never changing: media dinosaurs acting like dinosaurs. Five years ago was when some big names in old media announced they were going to set up an “iTunes for news.” That eventually turned into Journalism Online — a paywall company that a bunch of newspapers now use (despite paywalls still failing to do much useful). Similarly, NBC was hard at work making it difficult to watch the Olympics online. Because NBC hates the internet.

Finally, we had a story of a patent troll claiming patents on basically every technology product ever and sneaky lobbyists who were hired to fight against patent reform using underhanded tricks to get “groups” that have nothing to do with patent reform (an anti-communist Hungarian group, the Minutemen (vigilante border guards), and various religious groups) to come out against patent reform. Basically, people in those groups then admitted that the lobbyists more or less tricked them into allowing their names to be used. My favorite was the 87-year old “honorary chairman” of the National Federation of American Hungarians, who had agreed to let the group’s name be used but had no idea why he was against patent reform: “It was in Chicago or Detroit, I can’t remember. Somebody brought this up, I don’t know for what reason… So I gave them permission to use my name.” And then he admitted his group was being disbanded anyway, because they were all dying, though he promised to get more information by “trying to reach the still living members of the board.”

Ten Years Ago:

Back before there were copyright trolls like Prenda and Malibu Media shaking down people via legal threats, there was DirecTV’s infamous program shaking down anyone who bought a smart card reader (even if for perfectly legal purposes). Ten years ago, we wrote about a former employee of their “anti-piracy” division speaking out about how it was all “an elaborate extortion scheme” and that he was suing the company because they forced him to do illegal and unethical things in shaking people down. Down in Australia, they were talking about making ISPs liable for copyright infringement. Yeah, some things never, ever change.

Also, ten years ago was the first we wrote about California state senator Leland Yee’s quixotic attempt to ban violent video games. That, of course, eventually went to the Supreme Court and got completely shot down (just like about a dozen states before it). Yee wasted a ton of taxpayer money on this moralistic campaign and — of course — is now facing criminal charges for arms trafficking.

Then there are the more dated items that show how the world was different ten years ago. Amazon launched its A9 search engine to take down Google. We were all excited about the idea of navigation systems on phones! And they only cost $6 month! Also, people were freaking out about phones on airplanes, and a few phone makers had started testing out this ingenuous concept known as “airplane mode” to let flight attendants know the phone part wasn’t on. Oh, and it was exciting to see that one-in-six Americans had used wireless internet technology.

Fifteen Years Ago:

People were trying to make a bundle of money by trademarking Y2K. The big trend in the computer world was ISPs giving away cheap free computers if you signed a long-term contract for internet service (such offerings were everywhere). In the era before smartphones, we were excited about the idea of “web phones.” Also, people were writing off Mozilla for dead because Microsoft IE had won the browser wars. Okay, sometimes things do change.

One thing that never changes though, are sketchy activity online. Fifteen years ago this week, we wrote about the domain name being stolen — a saga that went on for many years, and an entire book was eventually written about it. Also typosquatters were hitting the scene, and people were wondering if it was trademark infringement. Also, in one of the earliest “stock scams” online, an employee of the company PairGain, created a fake webpage that looked like a story from Bloomberg news about a buyout attempt, posted it on a free Angelfire account (remember those guys?) — and watched the stock shoot up. The employee was quickly arrested.

49 Years Ago:

We weren’t publishing, but that’s about when Moore’s Law was coined following his prediction that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 to 24 months. The details of the “law” have shifted somewhat over time, but the basics have held true. Of course, it was also probably 48 years ago that people started fighting over when Moore’s Law was obsolete.

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Awesome Stuff: Stand While You Work

As some folks know, I’m a pretty big believer in standing while you work rather than sitting. It takes a little while to get used to, but these days I greatly prefer standing. While the first few weeks are a bit difficult on your legs and (especially) feet, once you get used to it, it’s pretty easy. There’s definitely been a trend in sit-stand setups lately, so for this week’s awesome stuff post, I thought we’d look at three new crowdfunding projects concerning standing desks.

  • First up, is a the StandDesk — which is a standard sit/stand alternating desk. There are lots of these on the market, though they can get a bit pricey. StandDesk’s sole claim to fame seems to be that it’s a lot cheaper than the competition — which is true. It’s an automated sit-stand desk going for about $400 (not including shipping). Standard automated sit-stand desks tend to be closer to $1,000 or more. When I switched to a sit-stand setup a couple years ago, I deliberately didn’t buy such a desk, because it seemed too expensive. Instead, I retrofitted an existing desk with one of these. But the StandDesk definitely brings the price down.
    It appears people are pretty excited about this cheaper sit-stand desk as it’s already raised over $350,000 (much more than its $50,000 target) with nearly a month left to go.
  • I’m always intrigued by people trying something new and different, so the ChairBot certainly caught my eye. It’s an attempt to still let people get the best of both sitting and standing, while minimizing the harms. I have no idea if there’s any real science behind it, but the idea appears to be to have the chair set at your standing height, and the chair splits in two, with either side going down to remove support from one leg or the other. The end result is that you end up “standing” with one leg while “sitting” with the other. And the ChairBot has a timer, so that every so often, you’re prompted to switch. The theory is that you get the better posture associated with standing, but not the fatigue that often comes with it (though, again, I’ve found that goes away after a short adjustment period). You kind of have to watch the video to understand how this works:
    While new and different ideas may be interesting, that doesn’t mean they’re compelling. And this one definitely falls into the not-very-compelling camp. Especially at the insane price of $2,700 (which is apparently the “early bird” price before it goes to $3,700!). You’d have to (1) really, really believe that this is a better system (2) have extra money to throw away and (3) trust that this device that you haven’t tested would really work for you in order to plunk down that kind of money. So, it’s little surprise that almost no one has actually done so. As I write this, only 1 person has signed up, so it seems unlikely that this project will come anywhere near the $100,000 it seeks by the project completion in two weeks.
  • Finally, many people point out that you don’t need a fancy contraption to have a standing desk. You can just pile some boxes or a shelf on an existing desk and get basically the same thing. So it’s interesting to see someone trying to offer a collapsible desktop riser for exactly that purpose. Of course, I’m confused why this is a Kickstarter project, as there are tons of similar desktop risers on the market, and this doesn’t appear to be new or unique in any significant way. Nor does it appear the creator put much effort at all into the campaign. It’s one of the rare Kickstarter campaigns that doesn’t even have a video. Given that, it’s not too surprising that so almost no one seems to be interested in buying one (there’s just one backer).

That’s it for this week. Stand up and stretch.

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Study Shows How Notice-And-Takedown Reduces Transaction Costs In Making Works Legally Available

We’ve written a few times in the past about research done by Paul Heald on copyright and its impact on the availability of certain content. He’s recently published an interesting new study on how the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown regime facilitates making content available by decreasing transaction costs among parties. As we’ve discussed at length, the entertainment industry’s main focus in the next round of copyright reform is to wipe out the notice-and-takedown provisions of the DMCA. The legacy recording and movie industries want everyone else to act as copyright cops, and hate the idea that notice-and-takedown puts the initial burden on themselves as copyright holders.

However, Heald’s research looks at music on YouTube and concludes that the notice-and-takedown system has actually enabled much greater authorized availability of music, by reducing transaction costs. The idea is pretty straightforward. Without a notice-and-takedown provision, someone who wants to post music to YouTube needs to go out and seek a license. Of course, getting permission from all the various rightsholders is frequently impossible. The transaction costs of getting permission make it such that it’s way too high. Yet, with notice-and-takedown, the person can upload the content without permission, and then the copyright holder is given the option of what to do with it. On YouTube, that includes the option of monetizing it, thus “authorizing” the use. That creates a natural experiment for Heald to explore, in which he can see how much content is “authorized” thanks to such a setup. And the result, not surprisingly, is that this system has enabled much greater authorized (and monetized) access to music than an alternative, high transaction cost system, under which uploaders must first seek out permission to upload everything.

In fact, the analysis shows a tremendous number of popular music hits from the US from 1930 to 1960 are available in what’s likely an authorized (i.e., monetized) fashion, even thought nearly all of it was almost certainly uploaded by those without permission. Under the system that the RIAA and MPAA would like, this would be next to impossible. Instead, they’d want to negotiate deals first, making it nearly impossible for such works to be available, and meaning that both the availability and monetization of those works wouldn’t be happening. As Heald concludes:

Congress should resist calls to dismantle platforms like YouTube which take advantage of current limits on secondary liability to create a marketplace that radically reduces the high cost of negotiating over rights to music and visual content. The access YouTube provides to valuable cultural products is far from perfect, but it provides a partial solution to the problem of disappearing works, at least in the music context. In any event, no new legislative initiative should proceed in the absence of concrete data testing the claim of copyright owners that their proposals make works more, rather than less, available to the public.

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The Logical Conclusion Of Zero Tolerance: College Prof Suspended Because Daughter Wore A GoT Tshirt

When we talk about the stupidity that are school-affiliated zero-tolerance policies, those stories usually revolve around an administration’s inability to marry common sense with their reactions to non-issues. This can produce somewhat varied results, from really dumb stories about children being children and ending up in serious trouble, to a far more angering practice of victim-blaming. What it all boils down to, though, is an overreaction to certain tragic situations that results in bureaucratic lunacy on a level I never would have thought possible. School shootings and violence are the impetus in these cases, but we see this elsewhere as well. 9/11 resulted in the s#!*-show we know as airport security and NSA surveillance. The Boston Marathon bombing has resulted in the kind of militarized protection and media-blitzkrieg that would likely have other world nations that deal with far more terrorism shaking their heads. And, in each of these cases, we learn a simple truth that we should have seen coming all along: reactionary policies breed stupidity, corruption, and trouble.

So let’s get back to zero-tolerance policies in schools and witness the logical conclusion they offer: a college professor who had recently been at odds with his school’s administration was just suspended for posting a picture of his child wearing a Game Of Thrones t-shirt.

A popular community college professor was suspended after posting a photo of his daughter wearing an oversized T-shirt bearing a tagline from this season of Game of Thrones—Daenerys Targaryen’s “I will take what is mine with fire and blood.” Francis Schmidt, who teaches art and animation at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, shared the photo on Google+, where it was seen by several of his work contacts. One of them, a dean, decided the shirt was a veiled threat of some kind.

In case you can’t see the image, it’s of Schmidt’s daughter doing a handstand while wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt that includes the tagline: “I will take what is mine with fire & blood.” In case you think it’s reasonable that such a picture being shared on social media could be interpreted as a threat to commit violence at a local community college, stop thinking that because that’s a stupid thought. I imagine Schmidt said as much when he was called in to meet with the administration to explain why he’d sent a “threatening email”, despite the fact that no email had been sent.

At the meeting, Schmidt explained the shirt in the context of Game of Thrones and showed Miller that the “fire and blood” tagline has 4 million results on Google. The professor asked why his photo had caused such a reaction, and was told that “fire” could be a metaphor for “AK-47s.” Schmidt was placed on administrative leave without pay later that week, and told he would have to pass a psychiatric evaluation before he could return.

Now, like me, you should be even more confused. There’s no way you could somehow interpret “fire” to mean “AK-47″ any more than you could interpret “fire” to mean “Easter ham.” They aren’t related. And if you’re thinking that there’s so little sense being made here that there must be something more to this story, there sure as hell is. The head of the school’s administration had just been delivered a vote of no confidence by the staff, including Schmidt, who had also filed a grievance recently for being denied a request for a sabbatical. You don’t need to read between the lines much to understand that this is probably a trumped-up charge serving to punish a member of the teacher’s union.

Which brings us nicely back to my original point: it isn’t just the stupid you have to worry about when it comes to zero-tolerance policies, it’s also the corrupt. When we overreact to admittedly tragic occurrences, we almost invariably open up the possibility for abuse through that overreaction.

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Finally, Someone Acts Like An Adult: District Attorney Drops Charges Against Bullied Teen Who Recorded His Tormentors

South Fayette School in Pennsylvania, along with a complicit criminal justice system, recently made headlines with its groundbreaking anti-bullying program, which apparently deters bullying by punishing bullied students.

Here’s a short recap:

A bullied student used an iPad to make an audio recording of other students abusing him. He brought this to school administration who a) called in a police officer (after being advised by its legal team that this might be a violation of the state’s wiretapping law) and b) deleted the recording.

The police officer, unable to actually bring a felony charge against the minor, settled for disorderly conduct. This charge brought him before a judge, who first stated her firm belief in the school’s inability to do wrong before finding him guilty.

Throughout the entire debacle, not a single person involved even considered the possibility that the student had committed no crime or the fact that he had followed all of the school’s prescribed steps for reporting bullying incidents. Instead, the desire to punish someone was obliged every step of the way.

Finally, someone within the justice system has chosen to act like an adult, rather than a bunch of clique-y, vindictive children.

Stanfield (the student) had announced that he and his attorney would file an appeal to that ruling but his fight may already be coming to an end. Today, has been told by Stanfield’s attorney that the District Attorney will allow the appeal to go forward but will no longer pursue this case.

More specifically, both the wiretapping charge (which was apparently still brought despite the involved officer’s statement otherwise) and the disorderly conduct charge (which the judge found the student guilty of) were dropped.

A wiretapping charge against a South Fayette High School student who recorded two classmates bullying him has been dropped by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala, said Judge Robert Gallo signed an order Thursday to withdraw the citation against 15-year-old Christian Stanfield.

“No one in our office who is authorized to give advice on wiretap issues or school conduct issues was ever contacted in this matter. We have made multiple attempts to contact the officer who wrote the citation and (the) results have been unsuccessful,” Manko said in a written statement. “We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation.”

Odd that a police officer wouldn’t talk to a district attorney. Unless, of course, a little bit of hindsight made him realize his every move fell between vindictive and buffoonish. Lt. Murka, who apparently considered both wiretapping and disorderly conduct to be appropriate “remedies” for a bullied student recording his tormentors, seems to have recused himself from the public eye. Manko, speaking for the DA, hits the heart of the issue — one simple sentence that any of those involved could have deployed to call an end to this ridiculous situation before it ended up in front of a judge: “We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation.”

The school has now gone on record to declare it’s everyone else who’s wrong:

The South Fayette Township School District wishes to address recent reports in the local and national media concerning a student of the South Fayette Township School District. It is to be noted that certain information being disseminated by the media is inaccurate and/or incomplete.

Rather than clear up what exactly was “inaccurate and/or incomplete” about the reporting, it instead has chosen to hide behind “confidentiality.”

The School District is legally precluded from commenting specifically in regard to these reports as the issue involves a confidential student matter.

Considering the story has been all over the news, it seems a bit weak to claim the matter is still “confidential.” It would seem it could comment on any of the specifics already in the public domain. The story has gone nationwide, so it’s disingenuous to pretend it’s still a “confidential” matter.

While it’s nice that the DA has dropped the charges and allowed the student to proceed through school without criminal charges hanging over his head, one wonders if this same outcome would have forthcoming without the attendant public outcry. Any adult can start acting like one with enough public shaming. But the application of a little common sense would have averted this incident completely.

A bit more troubling is one of the suggestions that escaped the lips of a local politician who showed up to the teen’s “not a criminal” celebration.

State lawmaker Jesse White joined the rally, telling Stanfield he wants to name a law after him. He said it would close the loophole in the wiretapping law and allow victims of bullying to record it as proof for police and school officials.

His opportunistic heart’s in the right place, but naming laws after people often indicates the new law is a bad one. This isn’t an issue where a new law will fix things. This is an issue where no one in this chain of events showing the courage (and common sense) to stand up and ask why they were punishing a bullied kid for recording bullies.

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DailyDirt: Believable Dieting

Maybe you’re not eating meat today or perhaps planning to avoid various foods that aren’t kosher for Passover. (Or you’re blissfully eating whatever you want…) People follow a lot of eating guidelines based on all sorts of issues — religious, ethical or other. There are all kinds of diets: to lose weight, to prevent high blood pressure, to save animals’ lives, to kill fruits. Whatever diet suits your fancy, you might want to check out some of these stories on dietary restrictions and food beliefs.

If you’d like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.

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12 Little-Known CSS Facts

Sometimes these types of articles are cheezy and filled with fairly obvious stuff, but not when Louis Lazaris does them. All of these are pretty non-obvious.

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University Hires Sports Info Director, Fires Him Two Hours Later After Local Paper Googles His Name

It’s sometimes amazing to me how many organizations have so much trouble with background checks. Granted, there’s a lot to look through, and you don’t want to inadvertently overstep the bounds of reasonableness. That said, it seems to me it’s common practice these days to at least run a name through a Google search and make sure nothing horribly damning comes up as a result. I plan on doing this with my future children, in fact, shortly after I name them, just to make sure they weren’t up to any gangster crap while in the womb.

Actually, given this recent story about the University of Great Falls in Montana involving their hiring of a Sports Information Director and then firing him after a local paper Googled his name, perhaps there’s a business opportunity in all this.

UGF, whose athletic programs compete in the NAIA, introduced [Todd] Brittingham as the school’s new SID and marketing director in a news release. The Great Falls Tribune set out to learn more about him. Presumably they first searched his name. Presumably they found what anyone can find, on the first page of the search results—stories from 2012 about Brittingham pleading guilty to charges stemming from a relationship with a 16-year-old student at the Kansas high school where he was teaching and coaching.

In the end, Brittingham copped a plea to endangering a child and giving alcohol to a minor in exchange for the drop of felony diddling a child charges. Justice! In any case, as you can imagine, the university wasn’t terribly pleased at learning about this and fired Brittingham post-haste.

Gary Ehnes, athletic director at UGF, said he was stunned by the news. He said he was the one responsible for the hire.

“I’m devastated. You do a background check on a guy and figure that’s going to do it. But I guess we have to go further than that,” Ehnes said.

Go further? No, a Google search isn’t going further than a background check, a background check is going further than a Google search. You probably shouldn’t move to step two until you complete step one, especially when step one is the first thing we all do before going on a first date. That’s why I’m thinking of opening Timothy Geigner’s Step One Background Checks. Think of the money! I can contract with unwitting public institutions to perform simple Google searches for prospective employees. Sounds ridiculous, but there’s obviously a need for this service, and for once it’s a business need I can actually fulfill. Capitalism, people!

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Improve the payment experience with animations

Nice stuff by Michaël Villar. Tasteful, subtle, informative animations is a trend I can be behind.

Reminds me of the nice stuff Val Head has been teaching, Hakim El Hattab’s experiments, Codrops examples, Pasquale D’Silva’s thinking, Effeckt.css

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