Wacom’s cheapest drawing tablet, the 13-inch Wacom One, will still set you back $400. So instead of upgrading, Akaki Kuumeri built their own by creating a strap-on screen for an older Wacom tablet using $80 worth of purchased and 3D-printed parts.
The key to the affordability of this particular hack is that Kuumeri already had a screen-less Wacom Intuos 4 tablet on hand. When new, the smallest version of those cost several hundred dollars, and even now, a medium-sized version of a basic Wacom Intuos Pro tablet costs $380. So if you’re completely lacking in drawing tablets, and can’t find a used Wacom on eBay for cheap to start with, you’re probably better off getting a Wacom One, or Apple’s 10.2-inch iPad with an Apple Pencil.
Kuumeri, however, had everything he needed to build an upgrade himself, but given the cost of Wacom’s hardware, he didn’t want to damage his existing tablet in any way. His clever solution was to buy a $40 replacement LCD screen for a third-generation iPad, connect it to a $25 HDMI display driver, and then incorporate it all into a 3D-printed frame, with a $10 iPad glass surface panel providing a sturdy place for the Wacom stylus to scribble on.
The hardest part of building the custom screen, which simply sits atop the Wacom tablet and is held in place with a pair of velcro straps, was peeling off a thin layer of aluminum on the back of the LCD panel which would have hindered wireless communication between the stylus and the tablet underneath. But with the 3D models for the screen’s frame available for download on Thingiverse, this seems like a very doable hack, even for those who’ve never wielded a soldering iron. The screen doesn’t even have to be perfectly aligned on the tablet because Wacom’s software lets you easily recalibrate and redefine the usable pen area. I’d go so far as to wonder why Wacom itself hasn’t offered an affordable strap-on screen accessory for its older tablets, but then I’m reminded about capitalism.
If you decide you’re game enough to use Twitter’s new feature to send strangers on the internet money, do your best not to accidentally send them your residential address, too.
To explain, you may have heard something about “Tip Jar,” which the company soft launched Thursday, heralding it as a way “for people to send and receive tips.” The new feature, which is available via the mobile app on Android and iOS, allows users to send money to other accounts using a variety of third-parties. It’s very easy to operate: By clicking on a dollar bill icon next to a person’s username, you will be presented with a list of options for how to donate: Venmo, Cash App, Bandcamp, Patreon, PayPal, and so on. Choosing a payment option redirects you to the selected third-party’s platform to allow a transaction to occur. You’ll want to rush to do this as a way to…uh, reward good tweets? Yes, the point of the whole enterprise isn’t entirely clear, but do people really need a reason to throw more money around on the internet? Ostensibly Twitter is trying to become a bigger playground for creators and this will help with that.
Anyway, the Twit-Tips are currently undergoing a trial run, with a number of creators, journalists, and non-profits acting as guinea pigs that Twitter users can send money to, though allegedly the feature will soon have a wider release. Currently, it’s only available for people using Twitter in English.
As is usually the case with new things, users were quick to point out some stuff that wasn’t totally hunky dory. Rachel Tobac, a security professional, was playing around with the app when she noticed what initially seemed like a glaring security risk. Tobac discovered that if you specifically used PayPal to send someone a tip, you will also be sending them a fairly intimate detail: your home address. This doesn’t appear to be an issue for any of the other pay applications set up through Tip Jar.
In a Tweet shared by Tobac, an image of a receipt for the PayPal donation clearly shows the sender’s residential address.
G/O Media may get a commission
“This is EXACTLY what I was concerned to test when Twitter announced Tip Jar. PayPal needs to make it crystal clear which data is given to money receivers and stop sharing that data, & Twitter needs to educate users who don’t realize what info tip receivers get when using PayPal,” Tobac tweeted.
Kayvon Beykpour, product lead at Twitter, quickly replied to her comments: “this is a good catch, thank you. we can’t control the revealing of the address on Paypal’s side but we will add a warning for people giving tips via Paypal so that they are aware of this.”
However, it turns out this is not some sort of weird bug, it’s just a feature of how PayPal payments work. Specifically, there are two different modes by which payments can be made and received on PayPal accounts—one of which requires the disclosure of your address because it is pegged to “Goods and Services,” i.e., deliveries. So, we can surmise, Tobac was using this mode to send her tip. It is certainly something that customers should be aware of, said Tom Hunter, Senior Manager of Global Communications with PayPal, in an email. Hunter said:
When using PayPal to send and receive money, there are two options a customer can select before processing the payment on how that money is sent. “Goods and Services” is used to buy or pay for an item or service from someone and will automatically share the customer’s address with the recipient for the delivery of those goods and services. Customers can toggle within the payment flow to select “Friends and Family” which does not share the address with the recipient. This is the standard functionality of the PayPal app and we will work with Twitter closely to ensure user awareness.
While this isn’t a glaring security risk, it is certainly a good thing for users to know about. Sending your address out willy nilly on the internet is generally frowned upon, but it seems fairly easy to avoid if you have a good understanding of PayPal’s functionality. Granted, if you’re willing to send someone you don’t really know a bunch of money, maybe you’re also willing to let them know where you live? I don’t know.
When reached by email, a Twitter spokesperson reiterated that they have no control over how PayPal works or whether or not users know how to use third-party accounts, but said that they were going to try to get the word out to users:
Tipping through Tip Jar takes place on the selected payment service app or website and as a result relies on the third-party service’s functionality. When tipping with Tip Jar, people are notified that they’re going to a separate app or website to send their tip, and that tipping on that third-party platform is subject to the platform’s terms. We’re updating our in-app notification and Help Center article to make it clearer that other platforms, per their terms, may share information about people sending tips to one another.
Duly noted. Ultimately, it’s probably good that this whole little episode happened because it highlights some potential privacy hiccups for consumers when it comes to the new feature—something Twitter was likely testing for in the first place. Slow rollouts allow companies to discover stuff like this. Twitter said in its announcement that it is “always looking for feedback and ways to improve updates like Tip Jar – let us know what you think.” Looks like it got some.
The benefits of two-factor authentication (2FA) are clear: A person trying to get into your accounts will need something else besides your username and password, which makes it more difficult to hack you. That something else is often a code sent via SMS or through an app, but there’s another option: a physical security key.
These keys take the form of USB dongles that you can plug into your computer or just bring close to your phone (with NFC replacing USB to make the connection), which then verify your identity and allow you into your accounts. And while using an authenticator app for 2FA is a lot more secure than using SMS, using a physical security key is even better from a security standpoint.
That’s primarily because you’re using a physical object rather than a code: There’s no chance of you typing the code into a fraudulent website, or having it stolen by another app or by someone reading your screen. Authenticator apps are very secure, but they can be compromised remotely. With a security key, someone needs physical access to you.
It’s more convenient, too: Just plug it in and your identity is confirmed. There’s no need to unlock your phone, open an app, or type out a code. If you’re upgrading your phone or laptop, no problem—the security key stays the same.
G/O Media may get a commission
You can assign multiple keys to your accounts too: Maybe keep one on your keyring and keep another in a safe place (like… inside a safe). There is, of course, the danger that you’ll lose your key or have it stolen, but it’s the same as a set of keys or with your smartphone. Backup options will be available if you lose access to your USB dongle.
There are a few specs and standards to know about, with FIDO2 the most recent and the most secure to date. It builds on earlier technology, like Universal 2nd Factor (U2F), and it’s encrypted, private, and anonymous (as far as the USB dongle itself is concerned). As for the keys themselves, they work offline and don’t need to be charged up.
You can buy keys from the likes of Yubico, Google, SoloKeys, Thetis and others—just look for FIDO2 compatibility to make sure they’ll work with services and accounts that support the standard. Obviously you need a key that’s the right sort of USB for whatever your laptop or desktop computer uses as well, which is probably the main consideration when you’re weighing which key to buy.
While you’re not going to be able to use these unlocking devices for all of your accounts on all of your devices, quite a few of the major apps and services will now accept hardware as a form of authentication. They include Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, Twitter, Nintendo, Twitch, ProtonMail, eBay, Trello, Instagram, Facebook, and Kickstarter, for example. Password managers like LastPass, Dashlane, Bitwarden and 1Password support these keys too.
Here’s how it’s done on Dropbox, for example, with a YubiKey 5C NFC sent to us by Yubico: Open your account security page and enable two-factor authentication, if you haven’t done so already. You get a choice of how to get your 2FA codes, either via SMS or through an authenticator app.
One of these options must be enabled, so they can be used on devices where physical security keys aren’t supported, or as a backup method if your physical security key isn’t available for whatever reason. At the moment, Dropbox supports the tech for logging into the website through either Chrome or Firefox.
To add your physical key, click Add next to Security keys, then Begin setup. You’ll need to enter your account password, then when prompted, plug the key into a spare USB port and click Key inserted. You then need to tap the key itself to confirm the connection, and you’re done. You also have the option to give the key a unique name so you can recognize it again in the future.
The next time you’re signing in on a new device, all you need to do is plug the key in when prompted and then touch the button on top: The account in question will recognize the USB dongle as the one you’ve previously verified. Your other 2FA option (either SMS or an authenticator app) will still be available if needed.
Adding a physical security key to other accounts is just as straightforward. In the case of Google accounts, you need to go to the security page for your account and click 2-Step Verification—there are a host of options to pick from for 2FA, from prompts on your trusted devices to codes generated by an authenticator app. As with Dropbox, a physical key doesn’t remove these options, but adds another alternative.
Click Add security key and follow the prompts on screen. You might see one or more of your phones or tablets listed, as they can be used as security keys too. If you’re using a USB key like our YubiKey 5C NFC, click USB or Bluetooth. You’ll be told when to insert your USB key, and when it’s been recognized you can give it a specific name.
The next time you log into your Google account on a new device, a security key will appear as the default option (where supported by the hardware and software). Plug it in, tap the button on the key, and you’re into your account, with the other 2FA measures you’ve configured there as a safety net if needed.
Facebook hopes to launch a trial of its long-stalled digital currency project by the end of this year, according to a new report from CNBC. The currency, first announced in 2019 as Libra and then renamed Diem after some bad publicity, will now be pegged to the U.S. dollar, provided the tech giant can actually get it off the ground this time.
Facebook first announced plans for the digital currency in June of 2019 and was hit with immediate backlash from governments and consumer groups around the world that worried what would happen if a huge tech monopoly like Facebook competed with the world’s largest currencies. Facebook has roughly 2.8 billion active users on a planet of 7.9 billion people.
Facebook’s plan in 2019 was to launch the “blockchain” currency by early 2020, something that obviously didn’t happen after the tech company’s partner organizations like PayPal and eBay started to pull out after the wave of negative press.
But CNBC, and whoever leaked this Facebook news to the financial outlet, seem to hint that Facebook is taking a much more cautious approach this time, even if details are still extremely scarce.
The Diem Association, the Switzerland-based nonprofit which oversees diem’s development, is aiming to launch a pilot with a single stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar in 2021, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The person, who preferred to remain anonymous as the details haven’t yet been made public, said this pilot will be small in scale, focusing largely on transactions between individual consumers. There may also be an option for users to buy goods and purchases, the person added. However, there is no confirmed date for the launch and timing could therefore change.
G/O Media may get a commission
What the hell is the Diem Association? It appears to be the next iteration of the Calibra Association, the supposedly independent organization set up by Facebook to oversee the currency back when it was called Libra.
When reached for comment about the CNBC story, Facebook’s Head of Communications for Australia, Antonia Sanda told Gizmodo by email, “looks like this could be a leak as there are no official announcements from the Diem site, but I’ll leave that for the Diem team to confirm.”
Sanda provided Diem’s email address and wrote, “We now send all media queries direct to the Diem organisation, as it is separate from FB […] if you’d like to contact their team direct.” Gizmodo has not yet heard back from Diem but will update this post if we do.
Governments around the world are setting up committees and task forces to examine the pros and cons of creating their own digital currencies, with China, Japan, and the UK announcing their own explorations in recent months. And it’s no secret that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether have gained traction in recent years, with large companies like PayPal starting to get in on the action. PayPal announced last month it was launching a way for consumers to pay using cryptocurrencies at millions of retailers, handing the merchant fiat during the transaction.
But will Facebook’s digital currency flourish after already experiencing one very embarrassing false start? Only time will tell. But you can bet that government regulators will be keeping a close eye on Facebook’s plans for the future of money, especially since most world leaders think CEO Mark Zuckerberg already has too much power.
Congressman Brad Sherman even told Zuck in a July 2019 hearing that his new digital currency—which Sherman mockingly called “Zuck Bucks”—could cause the next 9/11, apparently referring to the possibility that criminals would use Facebook’s new currency for illegal activities. And when that’s your starting point of conversation with politicians who could help decide the fate of your new business idea, it’s tough to see it getting very far.
We all have our coping mechanisms. Last summer, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, mine was reliving my childhood by purchasing old models from Nintendo’s long-retired Game Boy lineup. While I’m not a particularly nostalgic person—hell, I didn’t even grow up with half the consoles I’ve collected over the years—there are some things I missed out on as a kid that are still worth revisiting today. Above all else, the Game Boy Micro was one of those for me.
I always wanted a Game Boy Micro, from the moment I watched a rat do unspeakable things to one in what is probably the weirdest official gaming adverts I’ve ever seen. Launched in 2005, there was something so quirky about Nintendo coming out with a palm-sized version of the Game Boy Advance almost a year after the release of its successor, the Nintendo DS. The fact that it required a proprietary charging cable, separate from that of the GBA and DS, and ditched the backward compatibility of its predecessor was icing on the weirdly delicious cake. (That said, its greatest sin was dropping support for WarioWare Twisted. Don’t think I didn’t notice, Nintendo.) For what it’s worth, though, it still managed to bring back the 3.5mm headphone jack.
In all honesty, the Game Boy Micro wasn’t all that spectacular from a practicality standpoint. But its unique form factor paired with my inexplicable adoration for the thing made it the perfect gift when my mom bought me one for the holidays in 2019—almost 15 years after I first asked for one. Eventually, she came through. For a while there, I was carrying it around in my pocket wherever I went, as I’d always dreamed of doing in middle school. The world was my oyster, and I was a person who really enjoyed oysters.
Of course, seeing how expensive they can be for a mint condition unit, mine came with deep chicken scratches on the rear side, as if someone tried to write their initials and a second person crossed it out. Bummer. From that moment on, I vowed to fix it up myself, even if it literally killed me.
A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic took America by storm. Thanks to our country’s religious devotion to prioritizing money—which we can simply print more of—over human life, our government decided it was in their best interest to keep us feeling afraid to go outside for over a year instead of mandating stay-at-home orders for a few short months. And it worked! After the first 4-5 months in lockdown, I was so bored and exhausted that I made myself a cocktail and, finally, sat down to breathe new life into my beloved miniature novelty.
G/O Media may get a commission
I started working at G/O Media in February 2020. Hired to manage its commerce team and affiliate partnerships, that started off meaning little more than running The Inventory dot com. Although none of its original founding members are still here, I loved watching this site grow. Whether full-time editors or freelance writers, everyone I work with knows their strengths and leans into them without hesitation. It’s because of this place that my resume is now a mile and a half long. Initially brought on to do two jobs, in the end, my responsibilities matched that of at least three heads. In a former colleagues’ words, I was “burning the midnight oil,” putting in countless hours of overtime to keep the lights on. It was worth every second, until it wasn’t.
The Game Boy Micro was an experiment in resurrecting an outdated platform for an audience that had already moved on. Nintendo took an iconic product, reduced its size, and altered the design until it was no longer recognizable. Mine in particular was worn down, the shell grazed with scratches and scuffs and the battery depleted. At first blush, a layman might call it irreparable. Not I.
Scouring eBay, I found a replacement shell, including front and back plates, along with a new rechargeable battery to swap in for my old one. I dusted off my computer repair kit, unscrewed the battery cover, then after some fidgeting, plugged it right into the jack. The next step, however, put me in a tough spot. To replace the rest of the shell, I would need to take out a pair of screws on the opposite side of the battery compartment, adjacent to the volume buttons, as well as those located under the battery. Only I didn’t have the right screwdriver for the job because it wasn’t provided for me in the kit, nor did I know the type of screwdriver for the job I would need. How was I supposed to pull this off without the resources needed to successfully get the job done? So instead of screwing the old cover back on, I secured the one from my housing kit into place. I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d failed.
Over the subsequent months that passed, I tried as many screwdrivers as I could get my hands on. I even spotted the type of screwdriver I needed—a triwing Y0—in a YouTube teardown. Nothing worked. It wasn’t until I realized the screws themselves were stripped beyond repair that I was able to face the facts. It was time to move on.
A few weeks back, during a particularly unremarkable late night of insomnia-fueled doomscrolling, a notification slid its way onto my phone’s screen that quickened my pulse and dilated my pupils. For the next few minutes or so—there was no way to be sure for how long—the long out-of-stock Pokémoncards that I, and other collectors around the world, had been hunting for were just a few taps away and available for free shipping.
At the time, I thought I’d struck gold, but as I attempted to check out, I ran into a soul-crushing roadblock. It was the same one many collectors have encountered in the months since Pokémon cards became hot-ticket, pandemic-era items ahead of the franchise’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration. Though there’d been a box of cards in my online cart mere moments before, I wasn’t the only one eyeing them, and in my brief moment of hesitation, the pocketable monsters I’d found were apparently gone again. Try as I might, there was no way of denying the truth of the renewed “Out of Stock” button that was staring back at me.
Over the course of the past few months, Pokémon cards and the community around them have gone through a peculiar evolution that’s been driven, in part, by people’s continued fascination with the idea of children making their magic pets fight, but also by how covid-19’s lockdown measures inspired many people to either pick up or get back into collecting habits. As anyone who lived through the ‘90s can attest, Pokémon card crazes are anything but new, but what’s happening in the collecting space right now feels distinct and like the convergence of multiple cultural phenomena that goes way beyond Pikachu and his buddies.
To celebrate Pokémon’s 25th anniversary, the Pokémon Company—the outfit consisting of developers Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creature who oversee the intellectual property—has been releasing special commemorative merchandise along with regular drops of new sets and cards every few months, as has been the case since the mid-‘90s. As one of the Pokémon Company’s longstanding promotional tie-in partners, it made sense when McDonald’s was announced as one of the first places fans would be able to snag some special merch. Specifically: packs of limited edition cards packaged with Happy Meals. What caught many people’s attention and made headlines about the McDonald’s promotion wasn’t the value or rarity of the cards themselves, but how difficult actually getting ones’ hands on them became.
Larger-than-expected crowds flocked to participating locations to buy the shiny pieces of cardboard up in masse. People turning up in droves to buy kids meals for the toys also isn’t a new thing, or unique to Pokémon cards—McDonald’s went through a similar situation back in the ‘90s when it was briefly in the business of selling Beanie Babies at the height of their popularity. But unlike the thousands of miniature Princess Diana-inspired bears that people hoarded for years in hopes that they would one day be valuable enough to flip for a massive profit, the 25th-anniversary Pokémon cards began to resurface in the wild rather quickly, albeit on eBay, where literal boxes of them were being sold for exorbitant prices. Aftermarket prices for the cards have leveled out considerably since they first started showing up in online shops, but the fact that entire cases of them went unopened before many people even had a chance to buy them using the regular route is illustrative of the issue at hand.
In a time when countless people became generally homebound in a way that pushed them to find new ways of entertaining themselves, it was easy to imagine that boredom and novelty alone were the underlying causes of McDonald’s across the United States being sold out entirely of the special cards just days after the Pokémon Company officially announced the promotion. To fully understand what was (and still is, for the most part) going on, you have to look a little further back to appreciate certain things about how the different communities that exist around Pokémon as a franchise have changed over time.
Even though the public’s initial bloodthirsty obsession with collecting Pokémon cards back in the day gradually mellowed as people traded in their Gameboys Color for Gameboys Advanced and Nintendo’s subsequent handheld systems, the community of competitive Pokémon Trading Card Game (PTCG) players has been something of a constant for decades. While the Pokémon franchise has continued to expand far past cards, competitive leagues of card players have been a part of the fandom since the late ‘90s when people were first able to start their own local groups for enthusiasts styled after the leagues featured in Pokémon games.
Like the game leagues, trading card game leagues brought players together to battle and trade in friendly events (usually hosted in mall game shops) where participants could collect prizes and badges reflecting their battling skill. In addition to local Leagues, players have been able to participate in City, Regional, and World Championships, all of which have been overseen by Play! Pokémon, a subsidiary company created in 2003 to handle organized card events following Wizards of the Coast losing its Pokémon license that same year. Even in times when Pokémon cards weren’t in the spotlight, the competitions (and sizable prizes that come along with winning them) were very much still a thing. They’ve continued to be, with annual tournaments for the game becoming increasingly high-profile events.
Because the competitive community around the Pokémon video games and card games are closely linked together,it makes a certain amount of sense when you consider how the collection of cards has become a large part of the present-day YouTube/Twitch streaming space. There are hundreds (if not more) content creators who’ve churned out thousands of hours of themselves tearing into individual packs and ripping into boxes full of Pokémon cards in a way that’s very much a part of the streaming age’s obsession with parasocial relationship-inducing unboxing videos.
Most everyone has a story about a “friend” they “know” who ended up selling their old Pokémon cards for a pretty penny (those words are in quotes because these stories always tend to have an urban mythic quality to them). But what’s become increasingly common in recent years are instances of people being in the news just for that and showing how, in some instances, holding onto rare cards can pay off both financially and in terms of a person’s notoriety.
Streaming is a part of what brought Yussef Abdala, a New York City-based Pokémon card collector and streamer, to a local Target where he and I met in line recently. Like almost everyone else waiting that day, Abdala had shown up hours earlier with a group of friends to put their names and phone numbers down on a list in order to be contacted after the store’s new stock of cards was dropped off that same day.
I happened upon the Target queue purely by chance and assumed there must have been some sort of announcement directing people to line up in front of the customer service counter, where a harried Target team member (their term for employees) stood guarding a small horde of assorted Pokémon products. Abdala explained, though, that the new queueing system had been put in place quite suddenly with no apparent warning.
“We learned about the queueing system because we literally come every week to buy to collect,” Abdala told me after taking a moment to step out of line to gauge how many people were ahead of us both. “I guess it makes it easier. If you’re in it to collect, if you’re just here to buy—like if I was a mom, I would prefer this, because it gives my son a shot, you know?”
In response to the current spike in Pokémon card salesand subsequent shortages in many locations, Target stores across the country began taking different measures like the queueing system in order to give more people the opportunity to buy the products in stores. Much of the current card drought for both regular products and promotional events like the McDonald’s tie-ins link back directly to the cards’ popularity online and the countless scalpers looking to capitalize on the moment.
There are obvious parallels between the Pokémon card shortage and the scarcity that drives much of the sneaker aftermarket that pops up in the wake of new releases of highly-anticipated shoes. From Abdala’s perspective, though, the dynamic with the cards is further complicated by how much more relatively accessible they are to scalpers, who are often also collectors themselves. At times, he explained, the online Pokémon card collecting community can feel like an ouroboros.
“Because the scalpers, they themselves go onto Twitch to see what everybody’s spending their money on, so then it becomes even harder for us to collect the merchandise,” he explained. “They kind of mess with the market with all of this buying and selling. It’s gotten to the point where people I know who collect Pokémon now collect sports cards.They’re opening up packs, not pronouncing people’s names correctly, don’t know what teams they’re on, and it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re not collecting this because you’re into it.’”
You don’t have to look hard to see how Pokémon card collecting for the express purpose of building one’s professional social media presence has become part of how some people engage with the franchise online. But what’s been interesting to see during the current covid-era shortage are the handful of communities that have popped up seeking to help normal people get their hands on the items, and how these communities feel like part of a larger, somewhat altruistic energy present in the Pokémon fandom.
Because there’s a pandemic still on and this is the 21st century, online shopping has been the other popular route people have taken in their hunt to buy cards on top of a variety of different retailers, like the Pokémon Center, big-box stores, independent gaming shops, and open online markets. Throughout the shortage, it’s actually been quite easy to find packs and Elite Trainer Boxes from recently released sets, like the Galar Region-focused Vivid Voltage, shiny Pokémon-centric Shining Fates, and Battle Styles, the newest set that introduced The Isle of Armor’s bear Pokémon, Urshifu, on online open marketplaces.
The catch, though, is that most independent sellers are selling their stock of new sets at drastically inflated prices in response to the high demand. What many people, including myself, have been aiming for was just to buy some cards at the price they were meant to be sold, which has meant either choosing to rely on stores’ in-stock notifications (which seldom seem to work) or, in some cases, looking to places like the @CharmenderHelps Twitter account.
When I spoke to Daniel—a 29-year-old Florida man who runs the “CharmanderHelps” account when he isn’t running his own online retro gaming company—he had his own memories of journeying to Toys ‘R’ Us with his father on the weekends to participate in local Pokémon Leagues. While getting back into the Pokémon scene in 2020, Daniel could feel how much more effort it took to buy cards when, just months before, they were easy enough to come by just by walking into stores.
“One day I thought hey, maybe I can help and so I made a Twitter account,” he told me over Twitter DM. “I have over 10 years of experience deal-hunting so I thought I could put that into better use by helping others, and so here I am.”
CharmanderHelps lives up to its name in a rather straightforward way. As stock at various online stores Daniel monitors become available, a tweet with a link goes out from the account, and within seconds, dozens of followers swarm in the hopes of securing their grails. Though there are certain rules of thumb people have developed to expedite the checkout processes at places where roadblocks like PIN codes are common, the entire process is essentially a free-for-all in which one’s timing, speed, and attentiveness all play key factors.
If the entire idea of following a Twitter account in order to breathlessly buy Pokémon cards the minute you see them seems a bit exhausting, that’s because it is. But accounts like CharmanderHelps have become one of the few bulwarks against scalpers, who in some instances deploy bots in order to rapidly buy up large sums of online inventory at stores like Best Buy, Walmart, and Target. Chaotic as the process may seem from the outside, Daniel explained that because hunting for deals is something he was already familiar with, it isn’t actually where he focuses the bulk of his CharmanderHelps energies. More often than links to where to buy cards (again, there’s a shortage), CharmanderHelps is usually filled with retweets of people sharing details about where they’ve recently seen merchandise out in the wild. The idea is that they pay their good luck forward to people nearby who also follow the account.
It’s that energy, Daniel said, that some people new to Pokémon and who only just now started to pay attention to the collecting spree usually fail to see, particularly when they’re focused on making money. “I see comments often on my tweets asking ‘Is there a Charizard in the set?,’” Daniel said. “‘Is there something expensive?,’ ‘What booster packs do people want most?’ It’s pretty much a gamble to them. They’re not actually in it to collect and it seems like they think everyone else is there for the same reason.”
Annoying as the questions may be, there is a ‘Charizard-like’ card in almost every set—meaning the rare, coveted items that carry a disproportionate amount of value because they typically have legendary Pokémon featured on the box art—in reference to the ultra-rare, shiny Charizard from the TCG’s 1999 base set, which can fetch thousands of dollars on the aftermarket today. It can’t be ignored that CharmanderHelps is a hunting resource from which Daniel sometimes profits from himself as much as it is a place where fans interact. But Daniel’s followers do seem to have a rapport with one another. In truth, it can read a lot like the kind of camaraderie you often see develop between fans at in-person conventions that became impossible to attend last year.
Aside from the masks, social distancing, and distinct lack of people in costumes, the buzz running through that Target where I stood waiting for cards was indistinguishable from the slightly sheepish excitement you can feel radiating off people at any comic con. The uncertainty of whether fans would actually be able to get what they came for was an obvious point of stress, but mixed in with people’s slightly-too-loud proclamations of how unbothered they would be if they went home empty-handed was a resolute hope grounded in some basic logic.
Collecting Pokémon cards has always been a game of probability, but things like Target’s queuing system and knowing when the store was scheduled to receive new stock gave everyone waiting a solid idea of when and where to look. Beyond that, though, everyone waiting in line that day was well aware of the Pokémon Company’s recent move to ramp up production in order to specifically address shortage issues.
Of course, being in line on that day meant not being patient enough for things to calm down, but that’s the nature of hype that you allow yourself to get into. Ultimately, the hype’s likely to die down, especially here in the U.S. as vaccinations continue to roll out and people are able to wander outside to do things that don’t involve buying collectibles in bulk. For the collectors who hopped onto this bubble because the whole point was to find enjoyment buying shiny pieces of paper, the inevitable bust is part of the fun, as is waiting out the scalpers.
Personally, getting back into another Pokémon craze similar to the original one that first pulled me into the fandom has been a fascinating, if at times frustrating, experience, because of what it’s highlighted about what happens when lifelong fans of a franchise grow up to become adults with some disposable cash on hand. In the Pokémon games, anime, and books, doggedly trying to hunt down Pokémonfor one’s personal satisfaction is something that drives both the heroic protagonists and the villainous gangs like Team Rocket whose plans for global domination have only increased in scale over the years.
At times, hunting for and securing the cards in batches meant knowing that other people out there wouldn’t be so lucky in their searches, and in moments like that, the larger “game” could feel a bit Team Rocket-ish. But at the same time, competition, scarcity, and chance have always been core parts of the Pokémon experience, something Abdala reminded me about before we parted ways.
Regardless of how things feel as new drops are still being gobbled up by scalpers and bots at a rate that makes casual collecting more difficult, Abdala pointed out that eventually, things are almost certain to cool off and settle down, because that’s what always happens when hype and hustles intersect.
“There’s going to be more sellers than buyers and the market’s going to plunge at the end of the day because the people who are buying all these products, they’re going to hold on to it to try to make as much money as they can,” Abdala predicted. “But then they’re going to realize that the people who collect are not going to end up paying those prices. Then when they start bringing down their prices, there’s going to be that medium line where, ‘You know what? I’m just getting out of this.’ Like it’s not even worth it to wake up at two in the morning to make $20 at the end of the day.”
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.
The UK government launched a new watchdog agency on Wednesday that will be tasked with keeping an eye on Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook, according to an announcement published online. The stated goal of the new watchdog is to police the “concentration of power among a small number of firms” in the world of tech—a concentration of power that’s harming consumers and small businesses alike.
The new tech-specific sub-agency, dubbed the Digital Markets Unit (DMU), will be housed inside the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the existing agency that regulates anti-competitive behavior in the marketplace more broadly.
The first task of the Digital Markets Unit will be to examine Big Tech’s relationship to online advertising, including the roughly £14 billion ($19.2 billion) spent on digital advertisement in the UK in 2019, according to the British government. About 80% of that money went to just two companies, Facebook and Google.
“The Digital Markets Unit has launched and I’ve asked it to begin by looking at the relationships between platforms and content providers, and platforms and digital advertisers,” the UK Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement.
While the term “content providers,” could conceivably include a category like Facebook users and their posts, Dowden presumably means more traditional media outlets like TV stations, news websites, and newspapers.
G/O Media may get a commission
“This will pave the way for the development of new digital services and lower prices, give consumers more choice and control over their data, and support our news industry, which is vital to freedom of expression and our democratic values,” Dowden continued.
Companies like Google and Facebook have infamously gobbled up the online ad market, leaving traditional media companies without much ad revenue, even after they firmly establish their businesses online. Why advertise with the local newspaper, the thinking goes, if you can just give that money to a bigger company like Google, which is aggregating the same content along with the content of thousands more newspapers?
The UK’s Business Secretary called the new organization “unashamedly pro-competition” and said it will “help to curb the dominance of tech giants” by letting smaller tech companies thrive. Both Apple and eBay are also mentioned explicitly in the announcement, though neither sell ads that compete with traditional news companies.
While the European Union is able to throw its weight around and levy large financial penalties against tech companies for anti-competitive behavior, the UK is playing a bit of catch-up since it left the EU and may have to create new oversight agencies.
Some smaller companies have ventured to push back against Big Tech’s destruction of the local journalism market, like when Australia created a so-called “media code” that proposed profit-sharing between tech companies like Facebook and news companies like News Corp. But Facebook wasn’t too happy with that plan, banning news entirely for a few days. Google got so angry it threatened to cut off its search product down under.
Eventually, Big Tech and the Australian government came to a negotiated agreement about giving news outlets a small cut of the profits, but this is likely the beginning rather than the end of these stand-offs internationally. And the UK will likely try something similar to Australia’s plan in the very near future, if we read between the lines.
The question, of course, is whether this new British watchdog will be able to create real change in an global industry that’s already too large to manage in any meaningful sense. British regulators seems optimistic that they can.
“Today is another step towards creating a level playing field in digital markets,” Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, said on Wednesday. “The DMU will be a world-leading hub of expertise in this area and when given the powers it needs, I am confident it will play a key role in helping innovation thrive and securing better outcomes for customers.”
Who’d have thought that over 150 years after the first baseball cards were printed in the late 1860s that trading cards would still be a hot commodity? Every minute, almost 100 of them are sold on eBay, according to the company. So, to make the process smoother, it’s updating its app with image recognition capabilities that can expedite the creation of a trading card listing.
The new feature won’t be available in the app until late April, but when it arrives, it will only support Magic the Gathering cards at first, with support for Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards being added in May, and then other trading card games and sports cards being supported later this year. By automatically recognizing a card using a mobile device’s camera, eBay promises the app will allow a seller to create a listing in half the time, reducing the amount of information that has to be entered manually.
Using the new feature sounds easy enough and starts with a seller searching for the name of the game until a tappable prompt appears that allows a user to “Tap to search with your camera.” Pointing a device’s camera at the card will bring up a list of potential matches in eBay’s database that includes details like the card’s title, its type, its power, and its rarity. If the search returns several options, the user simply selects the closest match and a listing will be auto-populated with all of the card’s details.
Once the listing is started, it’s up to the user to then add details about the condition of the card, the price they’re asking for it (including shipping costs and logistics), and their own photos of it so potential buyers can see what shape it’s in for themselves. It’s a clever approach, and while it won’t work for everything people list on eBay (maybe one day it will function as an AI-powered version of Antiques Roadshow when it’s time to list grandma’s spoon collection), there are lots of other items it could immediately assist with including video games, records, and other types of collectible media with distinct labels or packaging.
Let me start right off the bat with the disclaimer that this is not an April Fool’s joke. Atari, or rather, the corporate entity that now runs the shell of the beleaguered video game company, has jumped on the non-fungible token hype train to shamelessly cash in on that arcade nostalgia.
The NFTs, “limited edition” digital collectibles based on the company’s slew of retro video game titles, are being sold in a series of auctions as part of the Atari Capsule Collection. This week, the first lot—110 tokens representing 3D models of the Atari 2600 game cartridge for Centipede—collectively sold for roughly $110,00o worth of the cryptocurrency Ether, according to Ars Technica.
Atari said future auctions will include renditions of in-game scenes from several of its titles, 3D collectibles based on Pong, and “the first quarter inserted into the first Pong arcade game at Andy Capp’s Bar in 1972, based on the actual physical quarter owned by Al Alcorn.” (It just looks like a regular old quarter, but that’s sadly still far from the dumbest thing people have made into NFTs to date). The company also plans to auction off a 3D model of a Centipede arcade cabinet digitally signed by the game’s co-creator Dona Bailey that will come bundled with a real-life, restored Centipede arcade cabinet.
In case you haven’t been following this NFT mania, each token is an ostensibly one-of-a-kind digital item that the blockchain keeps track of who owns the file. Fans shelled out between $180.78 to more than $18,000 for these Centipede NFTs, which is particularly baffling when you consider that you can get a working physical copy on eBay right now for around $5. It just goes to show that we’ve yet to reach peak NFT saturation—you can own a fart, you can own a tweet, and now you can own a 3D model of an antiquated piece of ‘80s tech that’s hundreds of times more expensive than the real deal.
My nomination is going to be the one-of-a-kind Hitman Briefcase PS4 console. Square Enix made exactly one of these and gave it away in a raffle through the Square Enix Members Program. The console obviously appears to be a briefcase at first glance but opens approximately a few inches to allow you to actually use it. Consoles with neat art are nice, but nothing beats a console disguised as something else. Fitting for its namesake. – GenMan
As you can see, our readers know what’s up. We asked you to tell us your favorite special edition consoles and your responses did not disappoint. We got some truly incredible responses that looked like shitposts, but weren’t (Okay, except the Steamed Hams SNES). It was both a nostalgic trip down memory lane and a completely wonderful reminder that video games are bizarre. We’ve highlighted a range of answers below and even tracked down some eBay listings for them in case you’re feeling inspired. Unfortunately, you will never get to own the Hitman PS4. RIP.
Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP NES Edition
I’ll start with the best Game Boy ever, thanks. – Burgi
G/O Media may get a commission
Star Wars Xbox 360 Slim
The special edition Star Wars Xbox 360 Slim was and is a thing of beauty! It came with a matching white Kinect and that hilariously terrible Kinect Star Wars game, but it has some great touches on it. The blue light ring, the way they replaced the standard Xbox powerup chime with R2’s cheerful beeps, and that they even hid an “Industrial Automaton” logo on it (which is the in-universe manufacturer of R-series astromech droids). Even though I’m unlikely to ever use it again, it continues to live in a place of prominence in my home and will for a long time. – ILikeTheShiny
Halo Special Edition Xbox
My nomination is the original Xbox’s Halo edition, which came bundled with the first Halo as well as the smaller Xbox controller S. The transparent green hardware on the controller and console is a great color that fits Xbox’s branding, and really harkens back to the days of Atomic Purple nintendo hardware. Even if you didnt like Halo this was so much nicer to look at than the regular stock black Xbox. – Vw7869