General

H&R Block Cosplay

It’s getting close to tax time, and the H&R Block down the street from my house has one of those crazy-wavy-tube-guy things out front. It always reminds me of this video, which makes me crack up:

Speaking of tax preparers, you might be tempted to get your “refund” early by getting a refund anticipation loan. Don’t. As I have written before, refund anticipation loans are basically a payday loan in disguise (i.e., a really bad deal). Skip it, and file your tax return earlier next year if you want to get your refund faster.

Thanks to Tim Hwang for reminding me of the video.

The Growth of Walmart

Watch Walmart take the United States by swarm.

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Created by Daniel Ferry.

Prince Sues His Fans for $1 Million Each [UPDATED]

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Update: TMZ says Prince has withdrawn the lawsuit. According to his lawyer, “Because of the recent pressure, the bootleggers have now taken down the illegal downloads and are no longer engaging in piracy.” So all he wanted was the injunction, not the damages, apparently.

Prince is well-known for aggressively enforcing his copyright, so this is no surprise. This time, the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Know As Prince has sued 22 Facebook users for posting links to bootlegs of his concerts on Facebook, blogs, and elsewhere. (Here is the complaint.) The defendants have usernames like PurpleHouse2, PurpleKissTwo, and FunkyExperienceFour, making it look like Prince is suing some of his biggest fans.

Keep reading

Wealth Redistribution is for the Rich

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All this time you though the poor were the ones benefiting from wealth redistribution. Suckers!

(Via Jay Fleischman, who got it from Sabeena LoBello.)

Honest Slogans

From Lisa Hanawalt’s sketchbook: honest slogans for familiar brands.

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More on her blog.

Why the Rich Have Too Much of The Economic Pie

How much of the pie do the rich have? The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explains with real pies.

How Free-to-Play Games “Persuade” You to Pay

At Gamasutra, app developer Ramin Shokrizade outlines some of the ways free-to-play game developers persuade, coerce, and trick users out of their money. There is a reason why 9 of the 10 top-grossing apps are “free” to download and play, after all.

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The same goes for Facebook, where nearly all games are free-to-play.

According to Shokrizade, people aren’t paying more for these games because they are amazing; the game-makers are using some devious tricks to trick them out of their cash. Especially those who are biologically more vulnerable to their tricks, as it turns out. Children, in other words, and young adults whose ability to make smart financial decisions remains undeveloped.

Note that while monetizing those under 18 runs the risk of charge backs, those between the age of 18 and 25 are still in the process of brain development and are considered legal adults. It seems unlikely that anyone in this age range, having been anointed with adulthood, is going to appeal to a credit card company for relief by saying they are still developmentally immature. Thus this group is a vulnerable population with no legal protection, making them the ideal target audience for these methods. Not coincidentally, this age range of consumer is also highly desired by credit card companies.

The tricks aren’t illegal, just … tricky. They all use a “premium currency” instead of dollars and cents, so you don’t realize how much money you are spending. They extort you by giving you powerful items, then threatening to take them away if you don’t pay up. They start out as skill games, then convert to money games, where your ability to advance is primarily determined by your willingness to spend money:

King.com’s Candy Crush Saga is designed masterfully in this regard. Early game play maps can be completed by almost anyone without spending money, and they slowly increase in difficulty. This presents a challenge to the skills of the player, making them feel good when they advance due to their abilities. Once the consumer has been marked as a spender (more on this later) the game difficulty ramps up massively, shifting the game from a skill game to a money game as progression becomes more dependent on the use of premium boosts than on player skills.

If the shift from skill game to money game is done in a subtle enough manner, the brain of the consumer has a hard time realizing that the rules of the game have changed. If done artfully, the consumer will increasingly spend under the assumption that they are still playing a skill game and “just need a bit of help”. This ends up also being a form of discriminatory pricing as the costs just keep going up until the consumer realizes they are playing a money game.

There is a lot more in the article, which you should definitely read so you know what to look out for.

(via Daring Fireball)

MERS Has Infected 77 People in the Middle East

The coronavirus, I mean, not the huge mortgage clearinghouse that “owns” half the mortgages in the United States and basically invented robo-signing.

cf “Santorum”

New Phone Book!

Nobody cares.

(via BoingBoing)

When You Call a Lawyer, Have a Pen and Paper Handy

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Never call a lawyer without a pen and paper in front of you. During at least 90% of the calls I receive from people looking for a lawyer, I tell them something they need to write down. These days, it is often the name of a lawyer who can actually help them, since I no longer take consumer cases; formerly it was a list of documents I needed, directions to my office, or things I needed them to do before I could consider taking their case.

There are few things more frustrating than waiting while the person on the other end of the phone apologizes for not having a pen and paper and fumbles around in their purse, asks a waiter for them, or, worst of all, asks me to call them back later in the day. All these happen to me, with regularity, despite the fact that most of the time I am only trying to give a referral to another lawyer.

So when you call a lawyer, be prepared. This is especially true if you are going to ask the lawyer to represent you on contingency, because lawyers who do contingent-fee work want to know that they can rely on their clients. Whether you have a pen and paper handy won’t make up their mind, but it can’t hurt, and it might help.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/simplerich/5462330040/)