Monthly Archives: November 2013


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Awesome Stuff: Stuff You Didn’t Know You Need

We’ve been doing the Techdirt awesome stuff posts for a while now: highlighting between two and four crowdfunding projects each week that are demonstrating interesting, unique and (yes, sometimes) awesome new products that people are trying to get made. This week’s list might be slightly less awesome. Given that it’s Thanksgiving weekend, and there’s a lot of unbridled consumerism going on, I figured I’d highlight a few projects that fall into “stuff you didn’t know you need… probably because you don’t” category. These are more projects that made me go: “huh? someone actually needs that?” Perhaps they do for some people, but these didn’t seem to solve any particular need that I, or pretty much anyone I know, actually has.

  • I know that some people like to listen to music in the shower. Hell, it appears some people would like practically all of their electronics in their shower. A few years ago, I came across this shower for sale, which includes built in (among other things) an LCD TV, an MP3 player, a foot massager, a touch control panel and a variety of other things. Add in a waterproof keyboard and someone could make it their office as well as a shower. That seems like overkill. Frankly, any music in the shower seems like overkill, but someone’s set up a Kickstarter project for the S.A.S.S. – Smartphone Acoustic Shower Speaker, which appears to be a plastic case for your mobile phone, so you can take it into the shower to play music while you rinse (and sing) away the dirt. If you really want to listen to music, though, is it that difficult to just leave your phone outside of where the water is? It looks like this project just launched recently, as there’s still about a month and a half to go, but so far it still has a ways to go to reach its $7,000 target. Perhaps I’m not the only one who is left wondering why people need such a thing.
  • Then we’ve got the Loo Hook. I agree that sometimes it’s nice to have a hook in a bathroom stall to hang up a backpack or jacket. But… I’ve also found that a very large percentage of the time when I need such a thing, there already is a hook there. Even when it’s not, I’ve found that the latch usually does a perfectly fine job as a substitute. Thus, I’m scratching my head over how often you’d need such a random extra hook that you’d want to carry it around all the time with you. Oh, and then there’s the bit I left out: it’ll run you $45. I could maybe see this as a $5 gag gift. $45? Wow. This project has a long way to go to reach its $5,000 goal, and I’m doubtful it’ll make it.
  • Finally, we’ve got the Sleep Easy, a sleep mask that wraps around the back of whatever car/airplane/etc. chair you’re sitting in to not just cover your eyes, but also to keep your head upright. Of course, if you’re going to wear this on a plane (which seems like the most reasonable place to use it), I imagine the person sitting behind you might not be so appreciative. In the FAQ they claim that they’ve tried to design it to not be a problem for the person behind you, but it definitely would depend pretty heavily on the plane in question. There are at least some people who seem interested in this project, but it’s still only about a third of the way to its £5,000 goal with a week and a half to go. Chances are this one won’t hit the threshold either.

I’m somewhat amazed at the kind of human creativity that comes up with these kinds of things. Even if I find them a bit wacky and (to me) unnecessary, there’s something kind of cool about living in a world where someone finds a unique problem that they themselves have, and decide to solve it. This is actually where Kickstarter is pretty incredible as a market research platform. As we’ve noted in the past, not hitting your target shouldn’t be seen as a “failure” on Kickstarter, as it can help someone avoid throwing a ton of money into manufacturing a product when there really isn’t that much demand. Making tens of thousands of something only to later find out there’s no demand would be a much bigger “failure.”

Separately, we won’t have a “Techdirt favorites of the week” post this week. Since it was a short week with the holiday, we figured we might as well skip the feature this week. We’ll still be back tomorrow with the best comments of the week though.

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News From The Techdirt Insider Shop: Bitcoins, Black Friday & The 2013 Holiday Bundle

It’s that time of year again — we’ve got a bunch of treats for readers who want to support Techdirt while getting some new gear and perks for the holidays. Today we’re happy to make three big announcements about the Techdirt Insider Shop.

First, the shop is accepting Bitcoins! You can now use the internet’s native currency for any purchase — just fill your cart as usual and select the Bitpay option at checkout.

Second, in celebration of that upgrade and as part of the Bitcoin Black Friday event happening today, we’ve put a bunch of items on sale. There are savings on a bunch of Insider gear, plus big discounts on our offerings for serious fans: Lunch with Mike and an awesome day with Techdirt.

Last but not least, it’s time for the return of the Holiday Bundle!

This year’s bundle includes a pullover hoodie, your choice of a coffee mug or water bottle, and the classic logo tee in your choice of light or dark gray. On top of that, the bundle includes a Watercooler Special: one full year of access to the Crystal Ball and the Insider Chat, plus a monthly cache of First Word/Last Word credits and an exclusive group video chat with Mike. All together this package would normally cost up to $152, but for a limited time it’s available at $99!

If you’re ordering gear from the Insider Shop to give as a gift, please do it soon to ensure it ships in time! Unfortunately we are unable to guarantee Christmas shipping, but orders placed by December 14th (in the US) or December 9th (internationally) should arrive on time with all shipping options. Depending on your location, there may be express shipping options available as well.

Happy holidays and happy shopping!

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A Blue Box

A little meme went around CodePen the other night. A Blue Box. I’m not sure how it started, but lots of people started posting code of different ways to draw a blue box. It’s weird, it’s funny, but it’s also rather amazing there is as many ways as there are for doing something so simple.

Let us count the ways:

  • You can create a <div> and style it with CSS. Immortalized here by Tim Holman.
  • But CSS is old school

A Blue Box is a post from CSS-Tricks

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Turn Off Hovers on Scroll

Sometimes hover effects can cause redraws and repaints and whatnot that take time and reduce performance. As you scroll down a page, you’re likely inadvertently triggering hover events that have no meaning while you scroll. Turning them off (via CSS’s pointer-events) is a clever way to reclaim some scrolling performance.

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Turn Off Hovers on Scroll is a post from CSS-Tricks

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Dom Monster

A bookmarklet you can click to give you performance information specifically related to the DOM. E.g. duplicate IDs, excessive stylesheets, excessive nesting, empty nodes, HTML comments, etc.

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Dom Monster is a post from CSS-Tricks

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Responsive Comments

Meaning like <!-- these kind of comments -->. You put a media query in a data-* attribute of a parent element and it will determine if that block of commented HTML should be un-commented or not. A form of conditional loading. If the HTML bloat bothers you, I suspect it could be easily adapted to load the comment from a URL at another data-* attribute instead.

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Uncompressing 7-Zip Files with Groovy and 7-Zip-JBinding

This post demonstrates a Groovy script for uncompressing files with the 7-Zip archive format. The two primary objectives of this post are to demonstrate uncompressing 7-Zip files with Groovy and the handy 7-Zip-JBinding and to call out and demonstrate … Continue reading

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United Airlines Nearly Kills Pet, Aims For Streisand Glory Instead Of Paying Vet Bill

As the saying goes, there are many ways to skin a Streisand effect. Wait, no, that’s not right, but the point is that attempts at silencing speech resulting in an explosion of that speech are quite varied. From railing against parody Twitter accounts, to attempts to silence negative online reviews, to professional sports leagues trying to keep documentaries from going live, it seems we all have something to learn from Senorita Streisand and her icy wrath.

But few such lessons include puppies, such as this one that reader IAsimov alerts us to, in which United Airlines nearly killed an owner’s beloved dog and agreed to pay her vet bills, but only if she signed a non-disclosure agreement. Janet Sinclair brought her pets, Sedona the greyhound and Alika the cat, on a cross-country trip using UA’s “PetSafe” program, which makes several promises about how the animals will be treated and what type of conditions they’ll be exposed to. It would appear, to put it mildly, that the airline failed to keep their promises.

But, according to Sinclair, her pets were not safe. In fact, she says, the comfort stop nearly killed them. As she sat in her window seat looking out onto the tarmac of George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Sinclair says she saw a cargo employee kick Sedona’s crate six times to shove it under the shade of the plane’s wing instead of gently moving it there.

Urged by a fellow passenger, Sinclair began documenting what was happening to her animals. The video she recorded periodically shows her pets left outside, not in a temperature-controlled vehicle. According to the National Weather Service, the high in Houston that day was 94 degrees. When they touched down in Boston, Sinclair said her dog was barely alive.

“Sedona’s entire crate was filled with blood, feces, urine,” Sinclair said. “Sedona was in full heat stroke. All of the blankets were filled with blood. She was urinating and defecating blood. She was dying, literally, right in front of me.”

Sedona, fortunately, did not die, and the dog was taken to a vet, who was able to bring the dog back to health. The bill for the vet’s work was $2,700, for three days in intensive care to treat heat stroke. Her vet was quite clear in stating that the condition of the dog was not due to any preexisting conditions, despite what United Airlines originally claimed, and was solely the result of the dog’s treatment during the flight. The airline offered to pay the bill…but only if Sinclair agreed not to tell anyone what good dog-killers they are. Sinclair declined.

“The only reason I’m doing this interview is because I didn’t sign that, and I won’t sign it,” she said, referring to the nondisclosure agreement. “I still want to be reimbursed,” she said. “But I’m not going to be quiet.”

And now the story is going viral, because the combination of a massive company behaving this way and the inclusion of a dog suffering horrible conditions is the kind of thing internet outrage was made for. My guess? You will still have turkey leftovers in your fridge when UA agrees to pay the vet bill without an NDA. Too bad the damage will have already been done.

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Obama’s Response To Too Much Secrecy About Surveillance… Is More Secrecy

Anita Kumar, a reporter at McClatchy, has a good article highlighting how, for all the talk by the Obama administration about how it needs to be more open and transparent about what the NSA is doing, in actuality, the administration has built up the walls even higher, increasing the levels of secrecy… including secrecy about how he’s responded to everything:

Obama has been gradually tweaking his vast government surveillance policies. But he is not disclosing those changes to the public. Has he stopped spying on friendly world leaders? He won’t say. Has he stopped eavesdropping on the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? He won’t say.

Even the report by the group Obama created to review and recommend changes to his surveillance programs has been kept secret.

As is noted in the article, the administration, which likes to pretend it’s the most transparent in history, is actually one of the most secretive. Its attempts at transparency have almost exclusively been focused on where it can get the most political bang, not for what areas people expect the government to be transparent about — such as how it interprets the laws that allow the government to spy on everyone…

What’s incredible is that it appears that no one high up in the administration seems to recognize how this is a strategy that will almost certainly make things worse, not better. It may be how the administration is used to functioning, but it makes it much more difficult to believe anything that is said about a supposed “vigorous public debate” being held on the surveillance activities. It also means that as more leaks come out revealing more questionable practices, the constant backtracking and excuses will just destroy whatever credibility the administration has left on this issue. If, instead, it were to actually be transparent and simply reveal things like how it interprets the law, and allows for a real public discussion on these matters, that would actually result in some frank discussions that the administration seems terrified of actually having.

Extreme secrecy may seem like the easier short-term strategy, but it’s just digging an ever deeper hole that the administration is going to have to try to climb out of in the long-term. Hiding reality from a public that’s going to find out eventually is just making the problem worse.

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Cops And Schools Collide Again: School Fight Ends With Tased Teen In Medically-Induced Coma

Another incident that highlights the troubling aspects of placing cops in schools has surfaced. The sheriff’s office’s (which supplies the deputies to the school) story has changed several times in the space of few days, but the end result is inarguable: a 17-year-old student is in a medically-induced coma as the result of its officer’s actions.

At one Texas high school, the use of a Taser by Randy McMillan, a sheriff’s deputy/school resource officer, on 17-year-old Noe Niño de Rivera has resulted in the student being put in a medically induced coma. The family has filed a lawsuit against McMillan, the school district, and the county, and alleges Rivera was tased after trying to break up a fight.

According to the court documents, the teen was walking backwards from school officers who were trying to break up a fight when he was tased, falling backwards and suffering a brain hemorrhage. The sheriff’s office maintains that the student acted aggressively and refused to back off when ordered to by officer Randy McMillan.

The narrative is cloudy, even when restricted to just the sheriff’s office’s statements. The original report of the incident on Nov. 20th said this:

A Bastrop County sheriff deputy assigned to Cedar Creek High School as a resource officer used a Taser on a 17-year-old student during a fight on Wednesday, according to officials.

The student and two other boys were involved in a fight in the hallway when the deputy used the stun gun on him, according to the Bastrop school district and Sissy Jones, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

The next day, the office’s statement added this:

A 17-year-old Cedar Creek High School student was acting aggressively before a Bastrop County sheriff’s deputy Tased the teen Wednesday, officials said Thursday.

Thus making the deployment of the Taser more justifiable. But it also added this:

Sissy Jones, a spokeswoman for the Bastrop County sheriff’s office, said that two deputies who work at the Bastrop school district as resource officers were trying to stop a fight Wednesday between two female students in the high school’s hallway when the 17-year-old male student approached.

The original report stated the tased student was involved in a fight with two other boys and the deputy. This new statement shows the student wasn’t even involved in the fight and had only “approached” the scene.

The student tried to interfere with the deputies and didn’t listen to their commands, Jones said. “He looked as though he was ready to fight.”

“Looked.” This still doesn’t explain the office’s statement that the student was “aggressive” or the implication that he posed a threat to the officers.

The family’s lawyer claims to have cell phone footage of the incident that contradicts the statements made by the officers.

“They’re completely lying, they’re completely lying because they’re very worried about this officer being indicted for a criminal charge, which he should be,” said attorney Adam Loewy, who is representing the family…

“Noe was being a good Samaritan, a good citizen, he broke up the fight. Then there was some stoppage to everything, and he was standing there. You see these police officers go up to him and tase him,” Loewy said.

Whatever this footage shows likely won’t make an appearance until the case goes to trial, but it would seem the school itself should have footage of the incident. According to its parent’s handbook, the school has cameras in use (p. 70).

For safety purposes, video and audio recording equipment is used to monitor student behavior, including on buses and in common areas on campus. Students will not be told when the equipment is being used.

A “high school hallway” would presumably be a “common area.” If there is footage, no one has made any mention of it. Even stranger, no one has even offered to review the recordings or even deny such footage exists.

The lawsuit would obviously limit the school from talking about the incident (as would the student’s age), but the school issued nearly no statements in the days preceding the filing, other than its original joint statement with the sheriff’s office (above) and this boilerplate isued on the day of the incident.

“The safety and security of all students is the number one priority at Cedar Creek High School and Bastrop ISD,” the district said in a statement. “When law enforcement officers intervene and take action, they do so based on their training and protocol, as they deem warranted.”

The sheriff’s office has gone on record as stating the student wasn’t involved in the fight, but yet somehow, the uninvolved student is the one who was tased and hospitalized for nothing more than appearing “aggressive.” Fights have occurred in schools as long as there have been schools, but only in recent years has it been assumed that only law enforcement officers are capable of handling combative students. When you use law enforcement officers to handle routine disciplinary problems, you greatly increase the odds of severe injuries. Officers have certain training and tools and applying them to situations that don’t require severe responses puts LEOs in the awkward place of either doing nothing or approaching students as though they were dangerous, hardened criminals.

If this school had no “resource officers,” it’s nearly guaranteed that this situation would have ended with nothing more than routine disciplinary action, rather than with a 17-year-old in a coma and the filing of a federal lawsuit.

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