This is Kristal’s latest model, a Chronicles of Narnia themed LEGO bookend, or book nook as we like to call it, since it’s meant to be displayed between the books rather than on the end.
It has a set of doors on the front representing the famous wardrobe from the Narnia books. When you open the doors, you are rewarded with a glimpse into the world of Naria itself, with some trees, the iconic lampost, and the white witch’s castle in the distance.
Since the model is essentially an enclosed box, it’s quite dark on the inside, so we added a few lights to brighten it up. Details of the build and the lighting can be seen in the video.
This model was inspired by a Japanese artist by the name of Monde, who designs some wonderful ‘back alley bookends’, which can act as traditional bookends or be displayed in between the books as an alleyway (photos can be seen on his Twitter page).
I stumbled across his creations about a year ago, and fully intended to build my own LEGO ‘book alleys’ based on this idea. I’ve had some prototypes sitting unfinished on my build table for months, and when Kristal finally saw them, she was inspired to build this model.
Yesterday, an artist on Twitter named Nana ran an experiment to test a theory.
Their suspicion was that bots were actively looking on Twitter for phrases like “I want this on a shirt” or “This needs to be a t-shirt,” automatically scraping the quoted images, and instantly selling them without permission as print-on-demand t-shirts.
Dozens of Nana’s followers replied, and a few hours later, a Twitter bot replied with a link to the newly-created t-shirt listing on Moteefe, a print-on-demand t-shirt service.
Spinning up a print-on-demand stores is dead simple with platforms like GearBubble, Printly, Printful, GearLaunch (who power Toucan Style), and many more — creating a storefront with thousands of theoretical product listings, but with merchandise only manufactured on demand through third-party printers who handles shipping and fulfillment with no inventory.
Many of them integrate with other providers, allowing these non-existent products to immediately appear on eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and other stores, but only manufactured when someone actually buys them.
The ease of listing products without manufacturing them is how we end up with bizarre algorithmic t-shirts and entire stock photo libraries on phone cases. Even if they only generate one sale daily per 1,000 listings, that can still be a profitable business if you’re listing hundreds of thousands of items.
But whoever’s running these art theft bots found a much more profitable way of generating leads: by scanning Twitter for people specifically telling artists they’d buy a shirt with an illustration on it. The t-shirt scammers don’t have the rights to sell other people’s artwork, but they clearly don’t care.
Once Nana proved that this was the methodology these t-shirt sellers were using, others jumped in to subvert them.
Of course, it worked. Bots will be bots.
For me, this all raises two questions:
Who’s responsible for this infringement?
What responsibility do print-on-demand providers have to prevent infringement on their platforms?
The first question is the hardest: we don’t know. These scammers are happy to continue printing shirts because their identities are well-protected, shielded by the platforms they’re working with.
I reached out to Moteefe, who seems to be the worst offender for this particular strain of art theft. Countless Twitter bots are continually spamming users with newly-created Moteefe listings, as you can see in this search.
Unlike most print-on-demand platforms like RedBubble, Moteefe doesn’t reveal any information about the user who created the shirt listings. They’re a well-funded startup in London, and have an obligation not to allow their platform to be exploited in this way. I’ll update if I hear back from them.
Until then, be careful telling artists that you want to see their work on a shirt, unless you want dozens of scammers to use it without permission.
Or feel free to use this image, courtesy of Nakanoart.
So since these art-stealing bots are tracking your text and not reply images, I made this for you guys!
If you want something from ANY creative made into a shirt, you can use this image to tell the artist you want to buy it. So you don’t need to type it out pic.twitter.com/E9Mn2GILcb
I first wrote about the fake data menace here (that was 2017) and again (2018). Earlier this year, I discussed an article in the Hustle about fake Amazon reviews, and made a video about it.
This holiday season, Buzzfeed finally noticed. Here's a nice article detailing the scams that abuse online review platforms. Amazon (and other online retailers) prefer to look sideways for obvious reasons.
The reviewer featured in the Buzzfeed article has spent over $15,000 on "verified purchases" on Amazon - all of which were stuff that she bought in order to earn commissions after posting 5-star reviews. She wrote hundreds of reviews, not a single one true. She actually doesn't think she did anything wrong: "I'm just a pawn in their marketing scheme."
It's unfair to say Amazon and other retailers have no protections against fake reviews. The typical response to this problem is to set up community rules, and look sideways. If a case is raised to their attention, they will enforce the rule - but only on that case. For example, Amazon bans sellers from giving away free products in exchange for reviews but the ecommerce giant is not proactively seeking out offenders. (For example, there are many Facebook groups in which sellers and fake reviewers find each other. The article even mentions a rebate website where people can buy stuff from Amazon, wait for the return period to expire, and then get a full "rebate".) With a platform which is so vast, this mechanism allows the vast majority of fake reviews to persist.
Now that the reviewer has seen the sausage factory, her attitude towards the data is different. She confessed that she does not look at reviews when buying for herself: "When I see an off-brand product that’s Amazon’s Choice, [that label] doesn’t mean anything to me anymore."
There is zero financial incentive to fight fake reviews, for the simple reason that they work. These sham reviews are amplified by data science products - such as recommendation engines, which consider reviews as "data", the heralded unstructured "big data" - which push products that have large number of positive reviews (dubbed "relevant") to the top of search results, which inevitably are displayed in order of "relevance" by default. The top search results get clicked on the most, which creates a positive feedback loop keeping those products at the top. This is the "marketing scheme" mentioned above.
It's hard to come up with a solution to this fake data menace. For ecommerce, the harm done by the fake reviews is that other shoppers are duped into buying things that don't need, or things that are not what they appear to be. Also, honest merchants and brands lose market share. So you have this "little white lies" justification. Now, if these reviews are for medical services, then someone could get truly harmed by poor quality of care.
On the other side, lots of people benefit from the scams: the online retailers and the sellers all earn more revenues; the people who write fake reviews get free products and side gigs; friends of the fake-review writers get free handouts; suppliers of the sellers and retailers get more business; etc. Even data scientists arguably benefit as they have "more data" to work with.
A white oak at Mount Vernon that was a witness to history from the time of George Washington has fallen. The oak was 115 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter and was at least 240 years old when it fell down across a road through the woods on the night of November 4th. There was no storm, not even any wind. The tree wasn’t rotten, damaged or diseased. It was the oak equivalent of dying peacefully in its sleep.
Dean Norton, Mount Vernon’s director of horticulture, counted the rings from the cut trunk and conservatively dated the oak to at least 1780. It might be even older. (Some of the rings blend into each other and can’t be precisely counted.)
Norton said there is also a possibility that Washington had purposely transplanted the tree from the local woods. It had stood in what looked like a man-made triangle of three trees, all the same age, all the same kind, and never cut down.
“To me, they were intentionally, not only planted, but saved,” he said.
The other two are already gone. The first fell about 40 years ago; the second in August of last year. The three were near a road about a half-mile west of the mansion, Norton said.
Mount Vernon was treated as neutral ground during the Civil War, but all three of these oaks were informally enlisted on the Union side. A star and a cross, insignia of two Union Army corps, were carved into the bark of the three oaks in 1865. The five-pointed star and Latin cross can still be seen on the fallen trunk, albeit less distinctly. An archival photograph from 1932 shows them more distinctly, and a curatorial note attributes them to a New York regiment that visited Mount Vernon while it was in Washington, D.C. for the Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865. This was the last tree still standing at Mount Vernon with Civil War carvings in its bark.
Mount Vernon was a mecca for soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. George Washington was a revered native son of Virginia as well as the first President of the United States, so Union and Confederate soldiers alike had reason to pay their respects. It was an immensely popular attraction for Union troops in particular. An estimated 200 Federal regiments visited Mount Vernon from 1861 to 1865.
The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which had acquired the dangerously dilapidated mansion and 200 acres of the property from John Augustine Washington III in 1858 and taken possession in 1860, had members from north and south and consciously eschewed all partisanship. Their sole goal was to repair the estate, which was literally falling apart and propped up by repurposed ships’ masts, and honor Washington’s legacy. When Civil War broke out and Virginia seceded from the Union in the spring of 1861, MVLA regent Ann Pamela Cunningham declared that Mount Vernon should be neutral territory, that any troops, Union or Confederate, who visited should not be armed or uniformed.
Her wishes were conveyed to all soldiers in the area and respected to the best of their abilities. In a May 2nd, 1861 letter to Cunningham, her secretary Sarah Tracy reported:
[The troops] have behaved very well about it. Many of them come from a great distance and have never been here, and have no clothes but their uniforms. They borrow shawls and cover up their buttons and leave their arms outside the enclosures, and never come but two or three at a time. That is as much as can be asked of them.”
Union General Winfield Scott made it a formal policy that Mount Vernon was to be left alone in General Order 13, issued on July 31, 1861:
Should the operations of our war take the United States troops in that direction, the General Officer does not doubt that every man will approach with due reverence, and leave undisturbed, not only the Tomb, but also the house, groves and walks which were so loved by the best and greatest of men.
The fallen oak will remain at Mount Vernon, indeed will become even more a part of it as it will be used by the preservation department to make necessary repairs.