Bureau of Programming


Your Pizza Can Jump the Queue for $3

The Associate Press writes:

Papa John’s is taking a page from the airline industry and testing a fee that lets people bump their pizza orders to the front of the line.

Customers agreed that pizza-buying was missing a degree of class warfare.


How to Dust Off an Old Raspberry Pi

With the release of the Raspberry Pi Zero W, you might be inspired to find a new use for your old Raspberry Pi. Luckily, the hardest part is locating your Pi and all its necessary peripherals. Once you’ve done that, follow these steps to get your Pi up and running.

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“Is Obama Planning a Coup?”

Adrianne Jeffries, writing for The Outline:

In 2015, users discovered that the query “What happened to the dinosaurs?” produced the quick answer “Dinosaurs are used more than anything else to indoctrinate children and adults in the idea of millions of years of earth history,” pulled from a fundamentalist Christian page titled “What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?”

Also: See the source video.


Best Buy’s Geek Squad Is in Cahoots with the FBI

R. Scott Moxley, reporting for OC Weekly:

In 2016, the defense lawyer claimed the FBI made Best Buy an unofficial wing of the agency by incentivizing Geek Squad employees to dig through customers’ computers, paying $500 each time they found evidence that could launch criminal cases.


America’s Television Graveyards

Jason Koebler, writing for The Motherboard:

Years after most Americans switched to flat-screens, we’re just now beginning to deal with the long-term ramifications of sustainably disposing of old cathode-ray televisions and computer monitors. This dangerous, labor-intensive, and costly undertaking will have to be done for each of the estimated 705 million CRT TVs sold in the United States since 1980. […] In many cases, your old TV isn’t recycled at all and is instead abandoned in a warehouse somewhere, left for society to deal with sometime in the future.


Grandfathered Unlimited Data Plans Sell for $3k

Adam Elder, writing for The Motherboard:

But there are black markets for everything these days—including a market for data plans that are truly unlimited.


Ushuaia, Argentina

Emanuele Camerini and Nola Minolfi, writing for The Outline, catalog life in the southernmost city in the world. While the city attracts with its geographical distinction and haunting beauty, Ushuaia suffers from common problem: a lopsided economy that’s overdependent on tourism.


YouTube’s “Restricted Mode” Protects Your Family from Gays

YouTube’s Restricted Mode filters “potentially objectionable content that you may prefer not to see or don’t want others in your family to see on YouTube,” such as homosexuals.

While the feature has been available in one form or another since 2010, viewers have recently discovered that benign LGBTQ videos are hidden when it’s enabled. Google has apologized, but claims the filter only targets videos “that discussed sensitive topics such as politics, health and sexuality.” In all fairness, their concept of cultural sensitivity may be more ideologically aligned with this movie theater operator who’s opting not to show the new Beauty and the Beast because two men can be seen dancing in one scene.

YouTube has also been in algorithm-induced hot water recently for selling public-service advertisements before terrorist videos.


No, I Don’t Want to Subscribe to Your Newsletter

No, I don’t want to subscribe to your newsletter. No, I don’t want to complete a short survey. And no, I don’t want to become a member. … Is that text in the background? There is content on this page, right? Does the escape key work? Why doesn’t the escape key work? Where’s the close icon? If this is it, why isn’t my cursor changing? (Click.) Am I being redirected? Why am I being redirected?

This is my thought process every time I encounter an unprompted modal window, which is all the time.

The unprompted inline modal window is the biggest setback in Web usability since the pop-up window ad. If you remember, pop-up windows used to be everywhere. The company X10 alone once reached 32% of web users hawking their junk surveillance cameras. But browser vendors saved us from unwanted windows years ago. It’s easy to look back at those years almost fondly. And today, if you disable your browser’s pop-up blocking, you’ll remain relatively unscathed as you traverse the “mainstream” Web. (Just don’t go looking for porn.) Websites simply gave up trying to outmaneuver pop-up blocking tech or reevaluated the blowback of aggravating too many users.

But browsers have yet to redeem us from their annoying inline equivalent, modal windows, and they seem to be multiplying by the day. In some ways, they’re worse. There’s no keyboard shortcut you can use to get rid of them. Users’ frustration is so ubiquitous and intense that it has even inspired its own single-purpose Tumblr, i hate popup modals.

The dilemma is that they exist because they work. Websites get fresh meat for their email campaigns, they collect more user feedback, and they encourage—in the gun-pointed-at-head sense—new user sign-ups. Their unambiguous short-term effects are simply too good to secondguess, and to most digital agencies, a billable hour is a billable hour (first question: “just how dark do you want the background behind the modal to be?”).

The solution seems obvious enough—a browser extension that hides modal windows—but it’s tough. It’s so tough that there are no extensions that solve the problem. This is because there is no single implementation of modal windows. Many are custom-built. To build an effective extension, you’d need a list of all the offending sites, each with their own configuration that specifies how to neuter them. At its most basic, each configuration would specify the query selectors or XPaths that enclose the modals, which would then be hidden. This technique would be similar to how one kind of ad blocking works.

But even this labor-intensive approach wouldn’t be enough. For instance, how do you systematically identify functions that are manipulating default event handlers, such as those that prevent users from clicking “past” the modal? And how do you proactively differentiate between necessary modals, such as those that ask you to confirm an action, and superfluous ones?

The only solution is to unite in changing our behavior. We need to give website operators an ultimatum: Remove the modals, or we leave. And we need to make good on that promise. By closing the browser tab, we can let the bounce rate demand what we as users cannot.


U.S. Drone War? Not in the App Store

Metadata+, an iOS app that tracks the overseas U.S. drone war, has been rejected from the App Store twelve times. The news app was developed by journalist Josh Begley to track the CIA’s ongoing, not-so-covert drone operations in the Middle East and Horn of Africa. Today, three years after the Begley’s initial submission, the app was finally approved. But hours after it was published, Apple removed it.

Apple’s rationale? The app’s content is “excessively objectionable or crude.” Judge for yourself: Here’s Metadata+’s news feed and its map (That’s everything. Metadata+ has just two screens.)

Apple clearly doesn’t find the military operations themselves objectionable. The company profits from games like Reliance Big Entertainment’s Drone: Shadow Strike and the dozens of other drone-bomber games in the App Store. One game’s description reads:

Your Mission: Protect the world from international terrorists—the survival of the free world is at stake!

These games demonstrate none of the moral nuance involved in a military campaign that, most conservatively, kills innocent civilians in a one-to-one ratio with combatants. Whereas Metadata’s most recent news item reads:

Mon., Mar. 6, 2017 (Yemen): Two brothers—Ahmed and Mohammed—were walking down the road. A missile whistled in. They never made 15.

Apple’s walled garden silences not only the voices of journalists but also the thousands of victims, the “collateral damage,” of the global war on terror.

Of course, Apple’s suppression of a news app is chilling but not altogether unsurprising behavior. We may not be living in George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 precisely, but, then again, Amazon did erase 1984 from Kindle owners’ ereaders.

The App Store’s censorship is in keeping with the tech oligopolies’ increasing reluctance to become politically engaged, at least on the side of their users. Do you remember when Tumblr fought back against SOPA? Or when Netflix helped publicize network neutrality? Those times are long gone. Now that these start-ups have become dominant players, they’ve lost their interest in fighting for an open Internet. Today, they sit on the sidelines as net neutrality rules get eviscerated by FCC Chairman and telecom shill Ajit Pai, and the GOP gives ISPs the thumbs-up to sell people’s Web browsing histories.

While enough shaming may pressure Apple to reverse course and return Metadata+ to the App Store, what does it say about a society that lets one company play gatekeeper to an independent press?


When You Can’t Vote with Your Wallet

Jason Koebler, writing for The Motherboard:

The argument boils down to this: If a corporation is using business practices that are unfair to its customers, its customers should simply spend their money elsewhere. If you don’t like that you can’t repair your John Deere tractor, or your iPhone, or your Playstation 4, just buy from another company. Eventually, big companies will have to treat their customers better or they will lose money.

It’s an argument I’ve heard often enough that I started researching whether voting with your wallet is actually a plausible strategy. What I found is that even the staunchest free market supporters don’t believe that an “informed minority” can change corporate behavior that screws over consumers.