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Download sites and Copyright, sort of...

November 18, 2014, 12:44:56 PM by kat
One of the most annoying and frustrating aspects of running a site like KatsBits is the time it takes to deal with other websites that scrape content and offer it to their own visitors for download - note that there is a distinction between a site providing content that's scraped from other sites and one doing so based on content uploaded by users (either the content authors themselves or others uploading files with or without permission). Except there not even doing that, providing a service to users (which is what the originating site would likely have been doing).

Unfortunately what these types of file download sites do in fact is scrape content and offer it as a means to divert or hijack website traffic, visitors and potential users/subscribers from the original content authors site to theirs. Multiply that across thousands of other sites whose content has been scraped and these file download sites end up hijacking a significant amount of traffic from a lot of people.

Even worse is the fact that this diverted traffic is nearly always heavily monetised though on page advertising and paid access subscription services (that typically bypass adverts), not just one or two, but dozens that flood the page making it difficult to see where the actual download link is to the content a visitor might be after such that they induce 'fake' clicks - clicks that occur when a person thinks they're clicking a download link when they're actually clicking an advert designed to look like a link.

It's a pretty despicable practice, and very few of the people using such sites seem to really care, at least when it's not drawn to their attention - out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

For content authors this is a problem because it means indirect revenue streams, the very income that enables content to remain free, dries up. This leaves sites very few options, including the use of pay-walls or other means to charge for access. This is difficult to pull off though, especially when a site might have been providing free content for some time, and it often goes against the principles many site owners may have originally had in mind when content was originally made available for use.

So what's the answer?. Consider...;
  • if you need to download something take a moment to check, as best as possible, you're accessing the file(s) or material from the original source.
  • if you see content on another site you think shouldn't be there, drop the content author a note (if available) to let them know - they'll take it from there (don't contact the site hosting the iffy content because only the Copyright owner can sort these sorts of issues out).
  • inform other people you know that you suspect a site might be distributing materials without permission so they should check they have the correct permissions to be using those files (a file being freely available doesn't necessarily mean it's free, as in no cost/restrictions, to use).

Donations to KatsBits (and other websites)

November 12, 2014, 10:49:46 PM by kat
(image courtesy PayPal)

Over the years visitors to KatsBits and other websites have wanted to show their support by 'donating' or 'gifting' funds directly to a site rather than making Store purchases. Previously this wasn't an issue, site visitors could gift/donate to their hearts content. In recent years however, changes to Tax law & regulations, the US and UK in particular, have complicated the matter so that now most eMoney or ePayment gateways, PayPal included (see here US and here UK), can only accept 'donations' or 'gifts' on behalf of registered, authorised or properly recognised Charities or other non-profit entities and organisations.

In essence, to accept donations individuals and entities now have to be appropriately registered and recognised specifically as not-for-profit concerns by the eMoney provider through which payments are to be accepted - note this doesn't necessarily mean individuals or entities having to be Officially Registered Charities with a Charity Number (UK) or 501(c)3 Exemption status (US), it may simply require persons involved making legal/contractual declarations they are not collecting funds for profit.

Furthermore, whilst it may not be specifically against the law to accept donations without being duly acknowledged, doing so is a terms of service violation, one that often result in permanent account suspension or banning (blacklisting) - this is in fact one of the main reasons PayPal will shut down accounts without warning, something it is well within its 'rights' to do*.

So just how are KatsBits and other websites supposed to accept 'donations' or 'gifts' these days?

Well aside from their not being referred to as 'donations', 'gifts' etc. because of the above (the Tax man doesn't understand or care about semantics and word play, a 'donation' is a 'donation', a 'gift' is a 'gift', all of which have particular tax liabilities and burdens), visitors can show their support using PayPal's "Send Money Online" feature; all that's needed is a valid email address, "sales@katsbits.com" for example, or mobile number and an amount - if the recipient already has an account the transfer is immediate, if they don't an email notification will be sent requesting they create an account to access the waiting funds.

As a final note it's worth dropping site owners a note about this if they appear to be accepting 'donations/gifts' not attached to any immediately obvious charitable/non-profit activity if anything just to make them aware of the issue should they not be (and their running the risk of account closure and fund confiscation/return).

* one of the primary reasons for the distinction between "donations" and standard "money transfers" is that the former, donations, don't incur transaction fees whereas normal money transfers do. For the recipient (account to which money is sent), fees are reduced for the former but not the latter. This means that eMoney and ePayment Gateway providers take a dim view of accounts using a faux charitable or non-profit status in an attempt to falsely reduce or avoid transaction fees. Essentially another terms of service violation that will get an account suspended or permanently banned.


November 07, 2014, 08:04:37 PM by kat

[image courtesy KOMO news]

So yet another high-profile game development fell victim to "swatting", the [sarcasm]hilarious pranking[/sarcasm] of calling the police on an individual usually with fake bomb, gun or other immediate-danger threats to initiate an emergency response, usually armed - "cops surround home of video game exec after high-tech hoax". Thankfully police are generally level-headed when dealing with these calls so no-one has as yet been hurt or worse, killed - the police don't know the threat call is a prank so anyone at the receiving end is in real and immediate danger depending on their reaction to the sudden and unexpected arrival of armed individuals on their door-step (sadly there are far too many examples of accidental deaths resulting from the armed response of the police).

The perpetrators are rarely caught because calls are typically made anonymously, usually from a payphone, so whilst the phone number can be traced to a general location (and the actual box used) because they are public locations, unless each has a camera recording 24/7, it's unlikely to go any further than that (although depending on the location, call times can be cross-referenced with CCTV in the area, assuming it exists).

And this highlights a broader problem. Just how does society go about catching these people without infringing some pretty basic freedoms. Would it be OK to place (hidden) cameras on all payphones. Or cameras on-top of lamp-posts/light-poles to monitor daily life 24/7. Tying these types of indecent to general issues of high-profile online and/or game related harassment, would having Internet ID (SOPA, PIPA, CISPA, or other legislation to which 'terrorism', 'harassment, laws can be attached, et-al) be a means to make people feel safe ("feel" as in 'seem', 'appear'). Probably not. But that won't stop some very loud voices making that call based on the actions of a few; the idiots pulling these pranks for the lolz are basically giving them the rationale to do just that, so if we want to keep the Internet freely available for everyone, maybe it time its users step up to the plate.

Anker Vertical Mouse

October 17, 2014, 06:02:44 PM by kat
Had one of these arrive in the post today (shown right), an Anker Vertical Mouse (wired version). Its a curious device and looks bigger than it actually is (its about the same size as a full-sized mouse tilted 45 degrees). The idea is that it positions then hand in a more vertical position to relieve some or all of the rotational stresses placed on the hand/wrist/arm often associated with traditional mice that can lead to some experiencing all sorts of muscular/physiological issues (carpel-tunnel being a particularly nasty one). Although yours-truly doesn't suffer any such issues anything that helps reduce the potential for problems in the long term is a good idea to investigate.

Anywho... the mouse is essentially shaped like a wedge of cheese ("I do like a lovely bit of Wensleydale Gromit") so it's pointy towards the front and wider at the back (basically to encourage the hand into a more natural and relaxed position when used). Although it has six buttons, the standard left, middle and right plus three extras, the extras don't do anything outside of a web browser (according to the product page). And as the device is seen by Windows as a standard "HID-compliant mouse" it doesn't appear the buttons are customisable. Aside from that, the upper body has a rubberised anti-slip coating which lends it a nice 'soft-touch' feel, which for general computer use, works well.

A Vertical Mouse for Blender?
For use specifically with Blender though these types of vertical mice can be a little problematic depending on their general design (not all of them are wedge shaped) because the downward (now sideways) force needed to click-hold one of the main mouse buttons tends to want the mouse to tip forward, an action that's compensated for pushing back with the thumb. This results in a 'lobster claw' that actually increases the amount of pressure exerted by the hand across the mouse which, over prolonged periods, can be just as problematic for some users as the pressures associated with using a normal mouse. The solution would be to better stabilise the front end by making the base wider and ensuring it extended under the buttons and to adjust the size of the middle-mouse button - some interpretations of the vertical mouse do in fact do both of these, sadly not the Anker.

Having said all of that though, it's still an interesting device for general computer use so for anyone looking for an alternative it may be worth picking up, especially for those wanting to relieve some of the stresses attributed to using standard mice (as an aside, being a USB 2 device it's possible to have more than one mouse attached to a computer so a standard mouse could be used for Blender, with an Anker or other vertical mouse for general work/use).

#StopGamerGate2014, #GamerGate (and more...)

October 16, 2014, 04:01:50 PM by kat
It isn't without a dash of irony/hypocrisy that #StopGamerGate2014 is being used by those opposed to #GameGate, including the games press, and now main-stream media, to completely shut down (bully into submission) any discussion about the merits, concerns or ideas raised by the broader discussion.

And since when does some anonymous troll adding a particular hashtag to their vomitus spew equate to proof of anything? When did posting nonsence purporting to that become journalism?

This stuff is getting out of hand and has now made any discussion of deeper aspects of games impossible (especially where opposing views are expressed). Thanks #GamerGate, #StopGamerGate2014, #GamesPress and #MainStreamMedia et-al. Thanks a lot. For nothing.
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