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Use Jonathan's card to buy yourself an iPad (odio.com)
234 points by Sam_Odio on Aug 12, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 234 comments

So essentially you're proud of stealing huge amounts of money from a fund set up by people for a specific purpose, and then you channel this money to suit your own needs while claiming moral superiority?

You know, even if the money you stole for "the little children OMG think of the children" really reaches the intended recipients, which it probably won't if this is a typical 3rd world development fund, you still betrayed everybody's trust and you're actually proud of it.

Sam Odio is either the worst kind of stealing hypocrite out there, or he's genuinely living in a cardboard box under a bridge giving all his money away to charity. I think I can guess which one is the case.

I apologize for the tone of this post, but the sheer amount of arrogant jerkiness on display here actually makes me angry; and that's saying something.

On the plus side, I suppose now we know who kept on abusing the card (people were wondering in other threads).

Jonathan said it was a social experiment. This, and people's reaction to it, is part of that.

The social experiment revealed that there are in fact people miserable enough in this world to senselessly steal from such a good will fund. In fact, so miserable that they see fit to even brag about it and pretend to themselves their actions were noble. The experiment revealed that the name of one such miserable person is Sam Odio.

You're equivocating. If it is a social experiment, then it is not a good will fund. It cannot be both. Social experiments (like, say, Chain World: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/03/15/the-cult-of-minec...) are morally neutral; good will funds have an expectation of moral imperative by those involved. It's the difference between, say, a PvP and PvE server—both allow you to play a game, but what in one is called "bad behavior" is in the other called "emergent gameplay."

Of fucking course it can be both a social experiment and a good will fund. It's a fucking social experiment about a good will fund for crying out loud.

You people are really starting to stretch, what is really going on here? Do you hate coffee? Starbucks? People who drink at starbucks? People with money? People who aim to show that most people are basically good? What is it?

> You people

Are you trying to speak to the reference class that includes me? I don't drink coffee (I dislike the taste, but I wouldn't say I hate it), but I also don't have a Starbucks anywhere close enough to me that I would bother to visit it. The only thing I've done with this card is read about it.

Now, what I am is a game designer. What I'm trying to say by calling this a "social experiment," is that a system has been created here with technical restrictions, but no social restrictions—rules, but not norms. Just because, at first glance, it shares some attributes in common with systems that do have norms, such as good will funds, does not mean that that is what it is. Basically, what we're talking about here is a game.

Note that what something is and what something was designed to be are entirely different facts about that thing. The game I mentioned above, Chain World, was designed to be a semi-religious experience in the passing of a unique gameworld from one person to another. However, the system, as expressed through its rules, does not hold to that experience; instead, it is largely a game of keep-away and fundraising where whoever has the game, makes the rules, and the aspect of the playing of the "inner game" (the one on the USB stick) has fallen away almost entirely.

Similarly, although the intention behind this social experiment might have been to create a charity, the system as expressed through its rules does not make for a charity. It makes for something between gambling and leaving money laying on the street. It would be very simple, technically, to enforce socially-normative usage of the card such that it would be a charity—but that was not done, which means that a charity was not the strict intent, leaving people free to interpret the intent of the game as they please.

Also, if you think an experiment like this could possibly demonstrate "that most people are basically good," you're quite far off—the fact that the system is voluntary to join, and that consequences from inside the system do not leak outside, creates what in game design is called a Magic Circle[1]: a division between the social norms of the outer and inner "realities." When such a division is created, a new set of norms (a "social contract") is established between the players of the game, usually reflecting game-theoretically-optimal behavior considering the technical restrictions of the game world. For example, in the social contract of the players of a fighting game, the exploitation of bugs in the game to win is both allowed and encouraged.

Those who try to apply the social norms of the outer reality (such as fairness, generosity, etc.) to the reality within the magic circle, are usually considered to be wrong-headed by those who form the community of players of a game. They are called "scrubs"[2], and they call the tactics of the game's community "cheap." Basically, this is what you seem to be doing.

Now, of course, if you really see the card as a charity, and not a game, then you'll tend to be angry at the people who do see it as a game—just like people are angry at the financial industry for seeing US debt as a game instead of some moral imperative to fix, or like people are angry at pharmaceutical companies for seeing drug creation as a game instead of a moral imperative, or like people are angry at spammers for seeing selling viagra as a game instead of a moral imperative (to not do, in that case.) But none of these people will change, because the systems they're participating in create incentives for their (game-theoretically-optimal) behavior, rather than for what, outside the magic circle, would be "moral" behavior. To change the behavior, you either redesign the game to have different incentives—or you destroy the magic circle by allowing the consequences to leak, such as by making certain in-game actions have out-of-game legal consequences, and thus make the game into whatever sort of moral system it would be in regular, polite society.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Circle_(synthetic_worlds)

[2] http://www.sirlin.net/ptw-book/intermediates-guide.html

"> You people"

I am referencing the distinct group of people who appear to be defending Sam Odio. What seems to be going on is there are a few members of society, Sam Odio seemingly included, who believe that since Sam Odio was "participating" in the experiment that we should not criticise his actions. This shows an aborted understanding of right and wrong, for it is very possible for Sam Odio to both have participated in the experiment (I object to the suggestion that he did, but lets ignore my objection for now) and for Sam Odio to have acted in a morally reprehensible fashion deserving of a great deal of criticism. The more I think about it now this morning, the more I realize that this sounds like a case of aspergers.

yuppies buying each other coffee: a goodwill fund.

Goodwill: something that can only happen when a poor person is involved

(I take it that's what you mean to say?)

Why not?

Care to give your definition of goodwill? Or are you just going to repeat things and not justify your apparent condescension?

Sure, it's goodwill... just the really empty kind of goodwill that makes everyone feel good but nobody actually better off.

Sorry, I probably came off more condescending than I intended. I'm only trying to inject a measure of perspective. People (yourself included) are acting like this was a "miserable" and "disgusting" thing to do. He could have stolen the money and never said a word (which would have been lame), but he played within the bounds of the experiment by reporting his contribution.

"People (yourself included) are acting like this was a "miserable" and "disgusting" thing to do."

I am not acting like it is, I am saying that it is.

And yes, I know that I am doing that... since I am doing it. Regardless of wither or not it was within the bounds of the experiment it was an asshat thing to do.

How is this worse than someone who buys coffee with the card, and never contributes any money?

Such a person is acting within the anticipated and accepted guidelines of the experiment. People put in money knowing and expecting people to do exactly that. When Sam Odio took money from the card he was taking it for reasons not intended by the people who put it in. Therefore, unlike proposed but actually non-existent person that drinks $600 worth of coffee in a week (give me a fucking break), he is stealing.

I guess it's about as bad as someone who buys $600 worth of coffee and never contributes any money. That's 200 $3 coffees, or almost 3/4's of a years worth assuming one a day. Of course, this is also in the span of weeks.

A total aside: I could definitely spend $600 at starbucks in a week.

Experimentation isn't sufficient justification. The boundaries of Jonathan's experiment were already set, and this doesn't honor those boundaries.

I think the observable result is a confirmation of the well known rule: "people, in their vast majority, are good."

And sadly, the bad ruin it for everyone.

Communism, Nazism and any other 'isms are all considered social experiments. I am not comparing your actions to those, but you cannot hide behind a statement like that.

Godwin's Law isn't a value judgement; it's merely an observation. It's neither good nor bad that a comparison to Nazis or Hitler is likely to occur in any sufficiently-lengthy online discussion.

(Though people may use it as a sign a conversation has jumped the shark, it need not be.)

The rule of thumb is that unless you are discussing 1930s international politics, if you need to refer to Hitler in order to make your point, then you have already lost the argument. Any point worth making has more appropriate ways of making it.

No, you've lost the argument when you've failed to make your point. I don't believe that to be the case here. "Reductio ad Hitlerium" isn't a real logical fallacy, it's just a joke someone made up and we've allowed to perpetuate.

You misunderstand the purpose of logical fallacies. They do not indicate when someone has lost the argument. In fact, the belief that this is the case is itself a logical fallacy.

So? What does that have to do with what we're actually talking about?

We need a new law that predicts how long it will take for someone to invoke Godwin's law after anyone mentions anything related to Nazis.

>On the plus side, I suppose now we know who kept on abusing the card (people were wondering in other threads).

I'm betting most of the people abusing the card aren't sending the proceeds to charity...

Well, if he stole enough to buy an iPad, that's a large chunk of the missing money from the card right there.

I'm willing to bet most of the other people stealing from the card aren't rich and successful YC graduate entrepreneurs either but somehow that makes what he did much worse in my opinion. He's also a rich guy lecturing people on how they should be donating every little bit of their excess money to charity. I'm sorry but something about this whole constellation is making my blood boil.

You aren't the only one. Stomping on other people's fun because you'd prefer they donate is deeply irritating. I haven't been able to read the article, yet, due to a 500 error, but whatever charity is receiving this should be upset that they're being associated with this asininity.

Now the community should do a social experiment of encouraging Sam to return the same amount of money onto the card as he stole and see if it works.

Or a social experiment of avoiding his new YC startup Freshplum


That'd be way disproportional. And there could be a totally unrelated people who might suffer from the result of that experiment. Just get the money back on the card.

As a side effect he can claim the karma points for the entire good deed he described, on his own account. Then his experiment would get a much nicer feel.

No, I really don't think that it is disproportional. Sam Odio hasn't apologized let alone returned the money. In fact, he just tries to justify his actions. I would say it is likely that this is symptomatic of his ethical and moral attitude in general.

I say we hang 'im... then we kill 'im! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVKsd8z6scw#t=102

Seriously tho, it seems like this backlash is getting a bit out of hand. There was a silly, whimsical social experiment, and this guy had a silly, whimsical hack on it, now people are calling to destroy his business and run him out of town on a rail. So it wasn't the best decision, so what? Let's keep things in perspective here, friends.

Excuse me if I don't find statement made after the fact by him such as "is pursuing art (or whatsver) admitting to yourself that you value art more than world hunger? After all, that's how you're allocating your resources." to be "silly" or "whimsical", but rather condescending and pretentious.

Nobody is saying that we should destroy his business. People are saying that we should avoid supporting it.

As for running him out of town on a rail? Well actions like this are not exactly acts of good community building...

Even though I don't agree with what this guy is saying I don't think this comment should have been downvoted, if you don't agree say so, downvoting is not for that!

I did both. What is your issue?

Downvotes are "supposed to" be for comments that don't contribute to the conversation, not for a view that you disagree with. The only problem with this rule is that it is universally ignored. :p I got a billion upvotes on my original comment because people agreed with me more than because I was particularly insightful. I reflected upon this phenomenon here: http://twitter.com/#!/_sequoia/status/102066922274832384

It was stated that this was a social experiment. Given the fact that everyone knew what would happen, I hardly think this constitutes abuse. Diverting the money to a more worthy (in his view) cause, as some people were using it to buy food for the homeless, should have been an expected outcome.

As a social experiment, if I leave my bike on my front lawn over night for weeks, eventually it will be stolen. Everybody expects this to happen eventually. Does this excuse the thief?

Nope, but if you say "here is my bike, anyone can use it for whatever they want. Really, whatever. Go nuts." and then having someone say "I know, I'll send this bike to kids in Africa who don't have a bike!" doesn't count as theft.

We’re speaking to different arguments. Your point appears to be that Jonathan setting up the experiment and the people paying into the experiment did so with the understanding that other people could do whatever they wanted with the money, and the OP has done whatever he wanted with the money.

My point was simply that given any situation, the fact that we expect something to happen doesn’t automatically excuse any of the participants of responsibility for their choice. I am not judging the OP, merely pointing out that “everyone’s expectation of outcome” is not a valid defence if he has done something wrong. If you believe he hasn’t done anything wrong for other reasons, that’s fine, carry on.

As you say, this doesn't excuse any of the participants. I find it disappointing, however, that this experiment failed to account for a very probable outcome.

Please don't get me wrong. I love the spirit in which this experiment was conceived. At the same time, it's a shame that such an obvious miscalculation scuttled the whole thing so soon. It isn't easy to keep a good thing going.

What if the thief donated the bike to charity?

What if the thief was poorer than me?

>It was stated that this was a social experiment.

the phenomena of golden calf has been known for millennia. Condense enough value into one spot/artefact, and you'll get some people attracted to and mesmerized by it, the people who can't control themselves around it, coming close and touching it, not necessarily to privatize, just to feel and be around it and be associated/connected with it exactly like it happened with Odio. It is strange though that the triggering threshold for such behavior happened to be that low (ie. for anybody working in hi-tech and living in Bay Area) - iPad/$600 - that is surprising result of the experiment.

>Diverting the money to a more worthy (in his view) cause

there is big difference between diverting your own money from buying coffee/movies/etc to a supposedly more worthy cause (ie. act of charity) and diverting somebody else's money (such an act has different names and none of which is charity). How much of his own money he diverted to such a worthy cause?

Yes, this is a social experiment. And as such I find this guy's moral code - as revealed by the experiment - severely lacking.

I'm also appalled at Sam Odio's behavior - the fact that the money is going to charity (albeit indirectly) doesn't make this ok.

"Or am I alone in thinking that helping a stranger find their next caffeine fix is not what we should be worried about in today's world?"

sigh This is such a silly, stupid point to make:

Buying an iPad? What about world hunger!? Going to the movies? What about the modern slave trade!? Painting a picture? Women in Sudanese refugee camps can't go to the bathroom at night without fear of rape, and here you painting a picture. The way you take your privilege for granted makes me sick, you selfish bastard!!!!

Yes there are problems in the world. Does this mean no one is allowed to do anything frivolous until they are all solved? In my opinion, no.

Get off your high horse, OP.

EDIT: Neat project tho! Took the originator's project in a new, unexpected direction, which makes it even more interesting. Kudos!

Think of all the fresh water the author could have pumped from a well in an impoverished village in the time it took him to write that blog post.

Perhaps he is admitting to us that "he thinks self-righteous blogging is more important than starvation and a lack of clean water".

Eh, I found Jonathan's "Buying yuppies coffee will improve the world!" naivete far more offensive.

I didn't see OP as criticizing frivolity, I saw him more criticizing Jonathan's suggestion that this game was meaningfully altruistic.

Eye of the beholder I guess.

He's free to criticize the initial experiment all he wants, but to hijack it and abuse it as he sees fit can't be objectively interpreted as anything but pure douchebaggery.

The whole "Buying yuppies coffee will improve the world!" was obviously tongue in cheek. It's hard to believe some people don't see that.

>>Eh, I found Jonathan's "Buying yuppies coffee will improve the world!" naivete far more offensive.

heh... fair enough! In fact, I totally agree. I don't actually know much about the original project, besides the mechanics of it. Perhaps Sam could explain this in the post? as it is he just comes off as condescending for no clear reason.

Not forgetting, of course, that it was all an elaborate (or not) marketing campaign by somebody connected to Starbucks.

It wasn't. Jonathan denied it, Starbucks denied it. The "proof" was flimsy at best.

As the man in orthopaedic shoes said ... I stand corrected

Read this: http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/199704--.htm

It's about utilitarianism, I think you'll like it, it's making the same point you are.

(It's called "The Shallow Pond and The Drowing Child - By Peter Singer")

edit: (If you read the paper, it's discussing exactly what parent was describing, and is completely relevant to the discussion)

Seems pretty silly. A child, when rescued from a university pond, returns to a safe stable situation.

I guess it is just hard for some people to not force their particular values on other people

I know what you mean, but the original Jonathan's Card thing made it seem like buying someone Starbucks was the height of charity when it's actually quite frivolous. At least this idea is real charity. It's still in the spirit of Jonathan's Card, but actually does some small amount of good for the world.

We do have to remember that this was a social experiment that was not just about giving and receiving sbux coffee, but how a society reacts to a open public commons.

As I said before if the experiment was really only about the coffee and not about the money on the card then Jonathan should have his tweets update with units of coffee, not quantity of money.

The experiment was set up in a way where money was front and center and coffee was only secondary.Also, if it was just about coffee why have an API?

With this twist Jonathan's experiment is even more brilliant.

I expect there's still at least one twist left. rjett [0] and I [1] noticed two more interesting things:

1) Sam commented in the previous thread about buying food for homeless people from the card [2]

2) Sam's brother Daniel was one of the first to mention the possibility of the card being hacked [3]. His startup also funneled close to $600 into the card [4].

The whole thing started as a social experiment. Sam clearly considers what he's doing a part of the social experiment. I think it's still ongoing -- I fully expect another post, possibly later today or tomorrow morning, detailing the different reactions to his "I bought $25 of food for the homeless" comment and his "I bought $675 worth of food for starving kids in Africa" comment. Couple that with "me and my brother actually paid in what we took out" and we've got the makings of quite the experiment!

[0] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2878622 [1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2878196 [2] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2857712 [3] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2858120 [4] http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=danielodio -- $100, $49, $300, and mentions of a total of $85 on twitter

Indeed: @Socialize has paid $625 to @Jonathanscard to promote our SDK Speed Challenge. That's enough for an iPad, @sodio! http://besoci.al/q2I0QE http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2878875

That genuinely is great, but whose brothers are going to pay into @Jonathanscard to cover the results of posting the exploitative code used to fund iPads that enables laypeople to do so on their own?

That script isn't any more exploitative than one that `curl`s weather.com to make sure it isn't raining outside.

I think a lot of people read into Jonathan's Card as a charity thing, and reading the HN comments that always struck me as a gross misinterpretation of Jonathan's initial sentiment.

There is a difference between Random Acts of Kindness (Jonathan's card) vs charity.

I'm not sure why the difference is necessary in this case.

I think making someones day a brighter place can have a tremendous knock-on effect. If an anon gave me a cup of coffee, I might be more willing to donate to charity for anons benefit. To "pay it forward"( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pay_it_forward)

I don't find it convincing the suggestion that it would have been more effective to donate that coffee as charity, as opposed to promoting a society more amiable to giving.

No it didn’t. Where did you get a crazy idea like that?

My thought is, what if instead of a starbucks card, Jonathan gave out a card for a little family owned coffee shop somewhere accessible? Then it's helping specific people make a living rather than 'the man' making more money. Maybe starbucks is good, maybe bad. But his objection was yuppies buying yuppies coffee, not against starbucks itself, or the coffee industry.

I'm definitely not a yuppie, I like starbucks coffee. Maybe I want to get a coffee every now and then. I would be interested in participating in Jonathan's experiment. But somebody like Sam would ruin it for me. It just doesn't add up to me.

What makes the experiment so interesting is the anonymity factor. Since there are a functionally-unlimited number of Starbucks locations, you have absolutely no way of knowing who else is using the card and on what.

If it was for a small locally-owned coffee shop, it's a given that the folks charging/refilling the card are the same people frequenting the shop with you every day. I can't imagine this wouldn't drastically affect the way the experiment turned out; the social obligation is much stronger when you can connect anonymous people to faces or names, even if you don't know exactly who is participating.

Did you read the article? He is donating to a charity focused on world hunger...

Yeah I think that's great. Honestly I think it's awesome how he's redirecting this money from Starbucks to a worthwhile cause. BUT he can do that without the holier-than-thou attitude; the latter is not a requirement for the former. :)

Basically I've heard that line before ("how can you X when Y is going on in the world??") and it's basically just a way to feel morally superior and boost your ego, it doesn't actually achieve a useful end. You can use this line on basically anything people are doing that can be considered art, and unless you're suggesting that all artful pursuits be indefinitely suspended until the world is free of problems, it's an inconsistent, nonsensical argument.

tl;dr: I like the project, I dislike the attitude.

That's a valid point. But is pursuing art (or whatsver) admitting to yourself that you value art more than world hunger? After all, that's how you're allocating your resources.

Fwiw, anyone who knows me know I don't have a holier-than-thou attitude (though I took one for this post). This was mostly meant as an edgy/controversial twist to the social experiment: how do peoople react when someone takes the money (which is a public good) and imposes their own morals on it (even if it's for good)?

I don't know you, but you come off as quite pretentious.

I work for a charity/non-profit but that doesn't prevent me from seeing the value in a shared good experiment.

Asides from the myriad of other issues in your post, the most important one is that you completely ignore the fact that many people may donate quite a bit to charity, but also may wish to involve themselves in a thing like Jonathan's card. The two are not mutually exclusive, and deriving value from the latter may encourage someone to do more of the former. It looks like you were too short-sighted to actually think any of this through though in your attempt to make a selfish point.

short-sighted is the perfect word here. Its possible that without his deliberate abuse this small project would have encouraged people to be more charitable to causes like the one he wants to donate to. The value of those donations over a lifetime could well have exceeded his little cash grab several times. Instead this has just made people distrust the idea of giving money away a little bit more.

And you come off as a person with a holier-than-thou attitude.

What's wrong with thinking about an experiment that hacks the original experiment? I thought this was Hacker News.

There is nothing wrong with thinking about an experiment that hacks the original experiment. There is however something wrong with the statement "is pursuing art (or whatsver) admitting to yourself that you value art more than world hunger? After all, that's how you're allocating your resources."

That something is that it is pretentious as fuck.

You know nothing about the people you judged except that they threw a coffee into a virtual 'give a coffee / take a coffee' tray. And from that, you've extrapolated that they care more about art than world hunger.

That's as illogical as it is self-righteous.

> "how do people react when someone takes the money (which is a public good) and imposes their own morals on it (even if it's for good)?"

Not well?

Do you consider Hacker News threads more important that working to end world hunger? ;)

Wether or not I consciously consider it the case, at this time my actions betray my true belief.

Did you read his comment? His point was that the OP seems to think we can't indulge ourselves occasionally and must always work towards solving those big problems. We're human. We should allow ourselves to have some fun once in a while.

That's not the context of the quote. He's wondering if people will bid over the face value of the card, or if no one thinks that charity is more important than caffeine. He's not dissing on Jonathan's Card, he's wondering about his auction.

He should do that with his own money. Not stolen funds.

If people don't bid it up, I'd say the appropriate conclusion to reach is not that people don't think charity is more important that coffee, but that people don't trust a thief.

I'm probably going to get down-voted to hell, but I'm not sure what this counter experiment is trying to prove... we all already knew it is easy to take from Jonathan's card.

When people noticed that money was disappearing off Jonathan's card $100 at a time, most people thought it was an uninformed, karma-less nobody stealing from the card. It is incredible that the transactions are due to some educated do-gooder imposing his beliefs onto the donors of Jonathan's card.

I've read many of Sam's comments before, and respect them as thoughtful and intelligent. However, just because you don't like the idea of "yuppies buying yuppies coffee", doesn't mean that you should try to destroy Jonathan's card. Some people feel good and more connected with others by adding to and taking from Jonathan's card.

By taking money out of the system, you are in effect going against donors wishes and imposing your own beliefs on them. It is almost like taking from the vault of a charity that you dislike and giving the proceeds to your charity of choice. Its less atrocious than pocketing the money and buying an iPad, but obviously still bad.

EDIT: I feel sorry for Jonathan and his good intentions.

I agree with you except on one point. Sam is exactly the kind of person I thought was taking the money and I think most people probably suspected the same thing. I thought it was someone sitting around watching the twitter feed stealing money 150$ at a go. Someone who looked at this, possibly silly probably naive, social project and said 'This is stupid and I'm gonna show them how stupid it is.' I also knew that this person would eventually write a blog post about how smart they were for figuring out how to steal from people giving away money and how the project wasn't just foolish it was immoral.

God I hate this mentality.

Yeah, you can exploit this, but are you doing anything fun or interesting by it?

I live in a community that has a lot of cyclists in it. If I'm at home, I tend to spend a lot of time on my front porch working on my bikes with my friends. Most of them know that I keep some tools slightly "hidden" there, and I've told all of my friends that they're welcome to come over and use them if I'm ever not there.

Could they steal these tools?


Would they would demonstrating some OMG SECURITY HOLE in my "Ryan's Porch" scheme?

No. They'd be acting like assholes, which is exactly what this guy is doing.

I'm an amateur locksmith. I usually keep a half diamond pick and a torsion wrench in my car, and sometimes I even carry it in my pocket. Could I steal half of the bikes locked up across the street from my house?

Could I break into buildings and steal things from them?

What if I donated the money to poor people?!

Sam Odio, you're being a jerk here. Knock it off.

>but are you doing anything fun or interesting by it?//

140 comments here would imply that it is at least interesting.

Most of the comments here are scolding the person for it. Similarly, if a prominent YC alum broke into our local hackerspace and stole some of our tools, there would probably be a lot of comments scolding them for it.

That doesn't mean the breakin itself is interesting.

(What I meant was that the "hack" wasn't interesting)

Certainly not all. Several address the morality and question it further. I'm sure you'll agree there is a lot of noise from people saying the same thing (aside: this wouldn't be the case under if votes were visibly I think, me toos aren't needed then).

Since I don't find the idea of yuppies buying yuppies coffees very interesting I decided to mix things up a bit.

OP/Sam, I understand that you believe there are worse problems in the world. I have no doubt that you are correct. However, this does not change the fact that your own social experiment amounts to you taking advantage of the good will of those who contributed to the Starbucks card by stealing from them. Contributing the money to a charity afterwards does not change this fact.

You are not Robin Hood stealing from a corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. So please don't act like it.

Robin Hood is all about stealing to the rich to give to the poor and in that respect, I think Sam is right on.

Robin Hood is actually all about robbing from corrupt oppressors and protecting the oppressed. There are tales where the people he protects are fairly well off, and he regularly interacts with people of medium to high status without any intent of robbing them.

Nothing in the tales of Robin Hood suggests he would rob an honest rich man.

Okay, but I'm not rich and Sam stole from me.

No, you donated to a commons. You expected it to be used in a specific way, but it was used in a different way.

He donated to a fund that was intended to be used in a very particular way. Sam Odio took money from that fund, used it otherwise, and insulted everyone who placed money into it.

Sam Odio stole from the fund, Sam Odio stole from zacharycohn.

What I find most interesting about this is Sam's comments in the previous thread:

1) Claimed that a large purchase was him buying food for two homeless guys: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2857712

Sam, is this true? Did you actually buy food for some homeless guys (and then later decide on this strategy), or was this cover for your experiment?

2) in response to a comment about the card being ripe for abuse, he said the balance seemed to be holding at a low and steady value, and "That would imply that the card is currently being used as intended." http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2858511

Interesting, then, that he's most definitely not using the card as intended. An "edgy/controversial twist" for sure.

Congratulations. You broke Johnathan's Card. But more than that— I think you made a valuable point.

Lots of people who were exposed, maybe for the first time, to the idea of a stranger doing something nice for them for no reason, and then to the idea that they might then do something nice for a stranger in return, have had that illusion shattered. There is no act so charitable that somebody won't steal from it.

You take money from yuppies to give to charity. The people who run the charity take 10% off the top to pay the bills— they have children too, you know. When the food actually gets on the ground, local warlords come and take half for themselves.

The yuppies still drink coffee, the charity still pays its salaries, the warlords still try to kill each other, and children are still starving to death. The experiment has changed nothing— except that a few of those yuppies maybe believe in the idea of random acts of kindness just a little bit less.

Point well made.

I personnally never donated anything significant to charity. I haven't tried Jonathan's card either (for lack of time), but if I had, I can picture how I would have felt, and how it would have changed my views on human nature and altruism.

Jonathan's experiment was letting people experience other people's generosity and let that change their minds.

And then Sam comes and ruins everyhting. And he's totally convinced that he's doing the Good Thing.

You're not, Sam. You are destroying an opportunity for people like me to become less individualistic assholes.

Strip away all the fluff that Sam put in his blog post and what do you have? You have Jonathan's 'take a penny, leave a penny' project. You have Sam who thinks he's very clever by showing how someone can come in and siphon off the pennies and whoa ... spend it on other things.

The amusing thing is Sam thinks he's done something really amazing or insightful. The whole 'donate to charity angle' is just Sam trying to justify his actions and put a veneer of credibility on his uninspiring actions.

Agree ... There is no honor in his acts, just shame ... Please never say to your kids about u doind this.

Great, you donated $600 to kids who really needed it. Next time you get the desire to do so, I suggest you build your own crowd-sourced donation scheme, or donate your own money. Either way, you won't be leeching off of other peoples' hard work.

If I were that charity, I would immediately stand up, return the money, and chastise him for his illegal and unethical actions.

Donating money to starving children in Africa well-meaning, but cruel. Life in Africa sucks, and making people live there longer is not a good deed. The West has invested incredible sums of money into Africa, and the result is corruption, violence, and stagnation. They are begging us to stop:


I believe that about as strongly as Sam believes that donating to Africa will help (this time is different!). Buuut I wouldn't feel justified in stealing from a charity in order to act on that belief.

Used to work for Starbucks. We once had a day where all of our customers decided to 'pay it forward', and buy the next person's drinks.

It led to a lot of accounting for me, but the final tally was something in the vein of 800 transactions in an unbroken chain.

The high points involved folks buying $50 or more worth of transactions, down the line. The low points involved people trying to put down $20 and the next person using all of it up on silly frappucinos.

To answer another topic, I think that the assertion here that buying Starbucks coffee for someone else as intrinsically frivolous, when we could be doing something valuable, like perhaps Saving the Children, or Helping Starvation, is itself frivolous.

Helping one another is helping one another, and criticizing how it's done is missing the point altogether. I have to wonder where the utility is in comparing the weight of one charity versus another. It seems pointless.

The original post about Jonathan's card Stated that the experiment is inspired by "'take a penny, leave a penny' trays at convenience stores in the US".

Then here is what happened:

People started using the tray, taking them as well as leaving them. Then one day a guy started showing up at the store. He would intermittently dump the tray into his knapsack whenever there were enough pennies. Not only he did this for many days, but later he also proudly publicly announced that how he did it. Since all the people who show up at the store are rich and wealthy, it makes more sense to give that money to poor in some other parts of the world.

If this logic is acceptable then I should be allowed to break apart any petty charity collection box and use the money for the purpose I deem more noble.

> If this logic is acceptable then I should be allowed to break apart any petty charity collection box and use the money for the purpose I deem more noble.

Not really. Jonathan's Card is not charity. It's like saying you should be able to take change from the give a penny, take a penny tray at the supermarket and drop it into the breast cancer awareness tin instead.

I feel sorry for the moron who thinks he's making a statement with this. The card was a brilliant social experiment regardless of critics claiming it a stealth marketing campaign. People who participated felt good giving whether someone was free-riding. However, this just leaves a bad aftertaste. You ruin it for everyone then pretend it's okay by "donating" money that isn't even yours and killing the experiment then brag about the ordeal. Kudos to you. Bravo indeed.

Having said that I'm not at all surprised by the outcome just didn't expect something like this. Now I'm sure some yuppie wannabe is going to try and score an iPad for themselves.

Sam has posted on Google+ (https://plus.google.com/113956160418597123621/posts/MAqht3NB...) ... however be aware that I suspect he is deleting posts and blocking people (^) that are critical of him as I posted the following:

"It's not much different to taking money out of the church collection plate and donating it to a charity that you prefer over the churches. Whilst I acknowledge this could be considered an extension of Jonathon's social experiment - it's hardly insightful or clever - you took money from an open fund and spent it. Hardly mind shattering stuff. The whole 'charity versus coffee' justification is little better than the 'think of the children' arguments that are used in similar ways. For the record, I don't think what you did is theft or immoral (it was a social experiment after all), but it was just a lame move that served no purpose and made no point."

... and now it doesn't appear in my stream and i can no longer post on the comment thread.

(^) There is a chance I'm just not understanding how to use G+ and Sam has done nothing of the sort - I only started using it recently.

He has disabled commenting on the post. And, as such, now no one can even view the comments. He puts himself up on a pedestal only to be a fascist when criticized.

> "Since _I_ don't find the idea of yuppies buying yuppies coffees very interesting"

Wow, This is some serious sense of entitlement of someone else's money/experiment.

I don't believe in many of people's belief. However its their beliefs and it is Jonathan's (and other donors') social experiment. If you do not agree with its philosophy, don't participate in it, but ruining it would be as senseless as me trying to make a personal mission to harass people on having belief's other than mine.

This is clearly theft. What he used the money for is not relevant. The card was put out for a specific use, and this use case was not the intended one. Had he actually bought an iPad, everyone would agree that it's theft. Transferring money between someones else's card and your own with out permission is theft.

I find it ironic that the OP, who hacked the experiment to divert funds onto his own card (which are now going to a just cause), is the brother of the person in the original comments thread who was posturing about whether or not the card had been hacked.

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2858120 http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2858226

Perhaps Sam made this script well after there was a question as to whether or not the card had been hacked, but if not, this is just funny.

Good find.

Also note that danielodio put some of his startup's money on the card ($100, $49, $300 mentioned in HN comments, and a total of $85 mentioned on twitter). So he almost paid for Sam's withdrawals.

EDIT: I find myself wondering if, in a few hours, Sam and Daniel will give this as a further explanation, and reveal that they'd actually donated the full amount to the card that was taken out. The whole thing is a social experiment; it may not be over.

Even if Daniel has given as much money as Sam Odio took from it, a net damage has still been dealt to the card. People (for instance, myself) will be less likely to give money as a result of the publicity Sam Odio has generated for himself.

To say nothing of the condescension and insults Sam Odio has heaped upon people who thought it was a pretty neat idea. He would still have a large amount of apologizing to do, assuming added what he took.

Indeed: @Socialize has paid $625 to @Jonathanscard to promote our SDK Speed Challenge. That's enough for an iPad, @sodio! http://besoci.al/q2I0QE http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2878875

If you and Sam are related, then I suspect you are only 'donating' money into the card because Sam can get it straight out again, free publicity?

I think I've changed my mind about the project, reading everyone's opinions here. At least sort of.

An analogy: You have some clothes, and you build a little covered rack outside your house on the street and put a sign up that says "clothing swap, takes some for yourself or leave some for someone else." Some people take some clothes and drop some off. THEN some guy comes along and says "this is BS, it's just a bunch of yuppies trading clothes" and proceeds to take all the clothes and bring them to the goodwill, where he believes they'll be put to better use. He does this a few times.

Now, if I were the project founder or a clothing donor (or taker), I would be pretty pissed if someone decided to take all the clothes and give them to Goodwill because s/he thinks "they'll be put to better use" there.

1. There's an ulterior goal here (community building) that is scuttled by you taking all the clothes 2. How do you know I don't give to poverty related charities already 3. I have my reasons for not giving to Goodwill 4. Even if you think it's stupid it's not your decision.

On the other hand, if I leave a pile of dollar bills in a bowl on the street with a sign that says "please take only one," would it be reasonable of me to get upset when someone takes more than one? In my opinion it would not be reasonable. Someone abusing the system was the inevitable conclusion of this experiment. That doesn't make what he's doing "right," per se, but it seems silly to rage about something that was predictable with 100% certainty.

EDIT: downvoter: which part didn't you like? I put a couple of different points in one post (I know, my fault) so I can't tell what you're objecting to. :P Just curious.

Your argument with the dollars fails on two accounts. First, the "take a penny/leave a penny" concept has one MAJOR security guard that this experiment doesn't have ... a monitor. That monitor being a sales clerk. The second a MAJOR security breach, the anonymity factor.

All arguments to make this experiment analogous to any "Take/Leave" scheme is flawed on these accounts. (Not that I don't appreciate the analogies, I do.) Would Sam (or anyone) have acted the same had they been in the same position with any of the "Take/Leave" assumptions. My guess, no. Sam like the anonymity of being able to take without consequence. Now that he has revealed his duplicity he's not liking the consequences.

The rich steal stealing from the rich to eventually pass a percentage on to the poor. I'm sure it seemed much more Robin Hood-y at the time.

There are far less scummy ways to do something like this. Game a Bing promotion, take advantage of lax security in some other MegaCorp rewards programme - or gasp use your own money. Mind you, those guys are more likely to sue than a disparate bunch of well-meaning folks.

In my blinding e-rage I do seem to have forgotten about the 'social experiment' aspect of the card. I guess this could be interpreted as being fair game. I think the attitude that came across in the post makes it seem worse too. So I revise my pointless internet opinion to: hmmm ok, but still feels rotten.

Another lesson here is to be careful with @font-face styling - http://i55.tinypic.com/1z342ee.png - the whole thing is barely readable on Windows.

It's not even that readable on my box.

Agreed, I had to zoom in to read it.

This is the same Sam Odio that had a scam Iraqi Dinar exchange...


The service received a cease and desist letter from the government...


Sam Odio seems to exhibit the traits of a sociopath,defined by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.

Why YC supports people like this is beyond me.

I am claiming responsibility for the above comment. It was wrong of me to leave such a snarky comment from a sock puppet account. Someone pointed this out to me so I am trying to do the right thing by taking responsibility for it.

The reason I left the comment is that I myself am a YC alum and it makes my quite upset when I see members of the YC community behaving in ethically questionable ways. It reflects poorly on the YC community and threatens the reputation of the entire program.

I can't help but feel that this just isn't the right way to go about helping the less fortunate. It's just too underhanded.

Just build something similar that doesn't involve taking advantage of J's Card. Man up.

No wonder the card's been empty every time I try to use it (I'm on vacation in the States). People like you steal the money. Fuck you, and fuck your script.

Cached copy of the page: http://bit.ly/pKIoGi

Whoa, a bit.ly link? Was that really necessary?

Excuse my ignorance, but what's wrong with bit.ly? Or are you simply objecting to the need to shorten the URL?

A bit.ly link prevents a HN reader from figuring out where the link is going to send him/her. When there is a limitation of 144 characters, URL shortners make a lot of sense. I got the feeling that people generally don't prefer them on HN.

With shortened links you have no idea where the link leads, and you can also be tracked (to varying extents—at least my following the link is registered). They also act as an additional potential point of failure.

link shorteners are generally frowned upon here on HN. They're unnecessary (if there is a character limit on posts, I've never reached it) and they have some downsides. So just post the whole link.

Makes it hard to combat spam, because you don't know where the link goes.

Sam is such a great guy. I'm sure he donates all of his earnings to charity and doesn't own a single luxury, so he's definitely qualified to judge how "yuppies" spend their money.

On a slightly darker note: He sure seems proud of himself for donating to a charity that keeps children barely alive, just long enough for them to have more children that no one can provide for. It seems slightly counter-productive to me.

Gift cards held by a group are an interesting way to move money around with a little deniability.

If there was an easier way to cash in Starbucks gift cards, Starbucks could take over Western Union.

Coffee-laundering. Interesting thought.

Yeah, it's cool, but also nefarious, charity or not.

Not really... I don't think that the people who put money on the card have any claim to determine how the money is used. It's like giving a gift, once you give it you don't get to control it anymore, and they are giving a gift to an anonymous recipient. If they want to control how the money is spent... perhaps don't put it on a publicly accessible debit card? ;)

No, I think it is stealing/nefarious. They gave money to the Card so it could be used at Starbucks. If someone else uses that money NOT at Starbucks, it's against the intention of the project and not what the money was given for.

I understand that it's not necessarily an unexpected consequence, but that doesn't make it okay.

It's not like giving a gift. It's making a donation for a specific cause and then having the funds misspent on something different. The publicly accessible debit card was part of the 'social experiment' which seems to result in what we already knew a long time ago. People are happy to abuse the system for what they believe to be the greater good.

How is what he's doing not "part of the social experiment?"

Q: What happens if you let everyone contribute to and take from a Starbucks card? A: We are in the process of finding out, and the answer wasn't what we expected!

Why isn't this just an interesting, unexpected result? Furthermore, condemning this guy is like condemning Lulzsec for exposing security vulnerabilities. Do you think that no one would have figured this out if OP hadn't? He's exposing the vulnerability and sending the proceeds to charity, would you prefer that Mr. Unscrupulous just silently steals it all?

This isn't anything like "exposing a security vulnerability." Everyone understood that the card COULD be misused.

That doesn't make the misuse of it okay.

But at the same time, if Jonathan knew that the card could be misused, he either should have attempted to provide some security or disclosed that problem up front to the community, to let them make an informed choice.

No one is surprised that someone was able to take advantage of it. Everyone immediately recognized it was possible and easy to take advantage of. People made an informed choice.

Just because it's easy doesn't mean it's okay. I can reach in and grab $50 from the tip jar at a restaurant while the cashier's back is turned. I can walk into most stores, stuff something under my jacket, and walk out.

Just because it's easy doesn't make stealing okay.

I never said that stealing was O.K. Read my post again.

Both of your examples of ignore that there is an "appropriate" level security for those contexts. The tip jar is in the plain view of other diners and staff; the store has staff and video surveillance. I'll leave it to others to decide whether an unsecured cash account accessible to millions of anonymous users has appropriate security in place.

Yes, it's part of the social experiment and it was a pretty cool hack.

I think a more accurate scenario is: Q: What happens if you let everyone contribute to and buy coffees from a Starbucks card? A: We are in the process of finding out but some very smart but unethical folks are pulling funds outside of coffee purchases and ruining the pot for everyone else.

So you would argue that if money given to a charity for 3rd world hunger makes a beeline for the operator's pockets, that's perfectly O.K.? Because it's practically the same thing, this just isn't official.

It's like a homeless guy taking a gift of food and selling it to buy drugs rather than eating because to him "drugs are more worthy"

Which is a totally valid thing for him to do!!!

You gave them food to reduce their suffering. They bought drugs to reduce their suffering.

You should only give if you can detach yourself from what people will do with it. A gift with strings attached is not a gift.

<I don't think that the people who put money on the card have any claim to determine how the money is used.>

Yes, they do. When any funds were contributed the presumptive use was that the funds were to help someone down the line get a cup of coffee if they really couldn't afford one. To say they don't have can't claim determination is like say anyone who contributes to aid projects sent to Africa can't be upset when it is siphoned off by corrupt politicians.

Mr. Odio lives up to his name. This is a truly odious act.

meh. don't care who you are donating too, its still shitty. get down of your high horse.

Meh. I don't care who you are donating too, it's still shitty. Get down off your high horse.


I'm Starbucks illiterate. How did they transfer the value from Jonathan's card to theirs?

My guess would be that someone wrote a script to figure out the pin number. Starbucks pin is just 8 random digits. There is no captcha if you put an incorrect pin. One should be able to figure out the pin pretty quickly like this. Once you have the pin you can transfer the money onto your own account or write a script to automate the process.

"to transfer the money off the card I had to do it IRL, at a Starbucks location"


I assume they bought physical gift cards in store.

Close - they bought one gift card, and then used Starbucks' website to transfer the money from Jonathan's card to their own.

So they hacked his account and stole money. I guess that's illegal... and will put you in front of a judge.

And how did he get the Card Security Code (PIN)?

As he states here in the google plus comment thread: https://plus.google.com/u/0/113956160418597123621/posts/MAqh...

"to transfer the money off the card I had to do it IRL, at a Starbucks location"

They either guessed or brute forced it. Both of which are essentially illegal computer hacking.

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to do business with someone (here the Founder of Freshplum) if they enjoy hacking credit accounts in their free time.

His reason for doing so is so poor that I worry about his ethics in other affairs.

But he specifically mentioned having to physically be at the Starbucks. Why would he do that if he had cracked the PIN? I think there's a way for them to transfer from one card to another, physically at the stores POS system. Can't think of anything else.

He went to the starbucks, first, to buy another gift card. Then he used the website to transfer funds.

I don'5 know who is OP but I believe what he did is wrong, both in legal ground and moral ground. Obviously Jonathan didn't allow him and his friends to transfer money off the card, is that enough to sue him? I'm no lawyer but I can't believe that's acceptable. Also, he misused the card + donate other people's money -- what did he think? And one last point, he said they did that many time but he only intended to donate that $600, what about the other attempts? Can we do something, please?

I've seen a lot of hostility in this thread to the perceived egotism of this act. I've also seen some people who dislike that the donations were used for something other than their intended purpose. Since my initial reaction was that he's in the right here (accusations of high horse and such aside, I'd rather not go into that), I'm curious to hear people's reasoning on why they dislike this so much. So, some hypotheticals and questions...

1) What if it had been anonymous and "Ego free". Would you feel better about it if it were disconnected from status?

2) Most people would agree that giving to charity is better than giving a coffee (note I said charity, not Africa specifically. There can be some debate over whether aid helps or harms Africa, but I'm less interested in that now). If charity > coffee, why is this such a bad thing?

3) I understand the hostility to statements about "You should be doing charity instead" because there's always an element of hypocrisy to them, but if the statement is divorced from the person, isn't it correct? So why should there be so much hostility when it's put into practice in this case?

I'm not trying to judge anyone for their opinion here, I'm just curious about their reasoning since it differs from my own.

1) No, I would not feel better. I have an intense hatred of people who anonymously abuse TOR to torrent movies for their own personal use. Not knowing who did it doesn't make it better.

2) It was not his to give. The money was put forth by other people for the express purpose of being used by others for coffee.

3) No, the statement is not correct. "You should be doing charity instead" is a poor philosophy because it does not recognize the needs of individuals that need to be fulfilled by themselves. This philosophy cannot be universalized because it expects too much of people.

reasonable statement:

  "*I* should be doing charity instead"
unreasonable statement:

  "*You* should be doing charity instead"

I think Sam/OP should transfer all the money he took back onto Jonathan's card. In small increments of course in order to curb further abuse like what he committed.

cache http://google.com/search?strip=1&q=cache:http%3A%2F%2Fsa...

why he's installing memcache for a single-server wordpress I have no clue - just install wp-super-cache and use .htaccess to do rewrites to static files - only way to bypass the (lack of) performance nightmare that is wordpress

I'm surprised at the outraged expressed in this thread.

Everybody expects participants in this experiment to be divided into givers and takers, right? Why would anybody donate and then claim if they could just buy their own cup? The very nature of the thing is that both party's are anonymous, so the givers have no right or expectation to the "worthiness" of the taker or the purpose it is put to (on-selling included). However, it is clear that the hope and intention is to spread good will and kindness.

Originally, Jonathan provided a means to distribute these gifts to random strangers. The demographic was somewhat limited by technical and geographic constraints but Sam figured out a way to broaden (a small portion of) the benefits to a wider audience. To my mind that is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the original experiment (i.e. spreading goodwill and kindness).

Also, it's worth noting that Sam did not explicitly moralize about this - other than to say that he didn't "find the idea of yuppies buying yuppies coffees very interesting".

Can anyone explain why it has provoked such an aggressive response?

EDIT: I've no connection with Jonathan or Sam or Starbucks (really).

Jonathan's card strikes a good point beyond giving to Yuppies and not those seriously in need. The social implications of this experiment I think shows that people are willing to help others if its relatable and also accessible for them to do so. Besides, I am sure somewhere someone bought a coffee with Jonathons card and then gave it to a hobo

This Sam Odio guy sounds like an absolute douche.

Jonathan's card, at worst a marketing experiment, at best a means of charity for those who are privileged enough to learn about it and who like to frequent Starbucks, has been subverted to give to the truly poor and needy. Does it leave a bad taste? It might. Truly, a shame. This toy for the well off might now be broken for good. I might have used it, I might have even given to it (in the spirit intended by the creator), and in either case this exploit would not upset me. I don't see why there is so much umbrage present in these comments.

Very interesting experiment on an already interesting experiment.

Would everyone be up in arms if he didn't publish how he did it on his blog and publicly post the code on github and instead used it to buy himself coffee for life?

He saw a "flaw" in the system and is publicizing it. Sounds pretty holy to me. Certainly holier than buying yourself a luxury item from an exploiting corporation, meanwhile deluding yourself into thinking you're doing something good for society by donating 5 bucks to said cause.

He saw a flaw and abused it and publicized it for others to abuse for a while BEFORE he announced it to the world. Had he announced he had found a flaw (or better, contacted Jonathan that there was a flaw) his altruism would be real.

And, they (we/I) are not deluding themselves into thinking they are doing something good for society. They/We are showing goodwill to others.

But I thought everybody giving according to their ability, and taking according to their need would work out just great?

Actually I have an idea which I will implement soon hopefully. It involves a vending machine for the homeless and money donated by people. If you're interested in participating, and have some kind of experience, contact me. http://magarshak.com/contact

Would someone care to explain how is this fundamentally different from the Firesheep experiment a few months back, which was heavily applauded by the community here?

It was never meant to be an experiment about charity. It was meant to be an experiment about yuppies buying other yuppies coffee. That is it.

Jonathan's Card claimed to be a social experiment, but it was never clear to me exactly what the experiment was supposed to test. As an outsider looking at this experiment, the first question I has was: How would he prevent unintended use of the card's funds?

Sam is just part of the experiment. Yes, he's spoiling the good fun of buying coffees for each other, but if it weren't him taking the money, it'd be someone else. At least we still have data on the where most of the money went.

> the first question I has was: How would he prevent unintended use of the card's funds?

The fact that most people aren't assholes was sufficient to let the system work for a while. A few people being assholes occasionally is survivable but somebody who makes a system out of it and publicizes it probably isn't. In short: "this is why we can't have nice things."

Think about it another way: right now, McDonalds doesn't charge you for napkins, straws, ketchup packets, salt packets, or toilet paper. All that stuff is just FREE - anybody could take however much they want!

A sufficiently motivated asshole could figure out a way to break that convenient social phenomenon too and it wouldn't take any more cleverness than this did. It's not a cool hack, it's taking something other people find useful and ruining it for everyone. Suppose you systematically stole all the toilet paper and paper towels from Starbucks bathrooms. To sell on eBay or whatever. Eventually they'd have to install pay toilets, hire washroom attendants, or just remove access entirely. One motivated jerk can easily make life a little less convenient for everybody in a great many ways, but that doesn't mean he should.

I equate the downvotes as "disliking" this argument, however I still think my question is valid: What exactly was Jonathan setting out to learn (other than that the world is full of untrustworthy people.)

Why don't you ask him?

He was responding to posts on the original thread. I asked this same question there.

So what happens if you steal from a charity and donate it to another charity? Is this cool? Hey it's all for good purpose :)

I like the message that replaced 500: "too. much. traffic. Please wait while I install memcache."

I don't get it. Why not serve the original content statically instead of that message? That's bound to be faster than memcache.

Maybe he wants to preserve commenting, or maybe getting memcached up and running is faster than generating a static copy. /me shrugs

Hacking the hack of the hack: @Socialize has paid $625 to @Jonathanscard to promote our SDK Speed Challenge. That's enough for an iPad, @sodio! besoci.al/q2I0QE http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2878875

An alarmingly high number of comments are saying pretty much the same thing, would be great if people writing had something new to say, if not just upvote a well written comment that states your view!

how does this work? is he using stark's card balance to buy a new starbucks card?


Rich people toying with the emotions of the proletariat? I am truly shocked that such a thing happens in America!

This seems like an unauthorized use of the card and could be criminal theft. If I give you my stored value card to buy coffee and you instead steal all the money, it doesn't matter whether you're donating to charity or disagree with my cause - it's stealing.

Regardless, it's certainly a shitty thing to do.

You no longer control the money once you donate it to an anonymous recipient! You don't get to choose how the money is spent. If you're not comfortable with that, don't put money on a publicly accessible debit card!!

That may be your opinion. I suspect in the UK you might well fall foul of the Computer Misuse act:


I'm not sure that's the case here. It's not an anonymous recipient, it's Jonathan's stored value card and therefore Jonathan. Jonathan authorized anyone to use his card to buy coffee. He did not authorize anyone to steal his money.

Another way to look at it is as a common fund dedicated to the purpose of buying coffee. Using it for anything else seems like embezzlement.

agreed and sharing the code ensures that others with more devious ambitions will pretty much ruin this experiment.

"I was doing an experiment to find out what would happen if I had a leave a dollar take a dollar jar in an alley, but then some jerk took all the money and ruined the experiment."

1. If the experiment initiator here didn't see something like this coming (someone taking advantage of a free pot of money), he is naive beyond belief.

2. An experiment not turning out how you DESIRE it to does not mean it's "ruined;" to the contrary, it's how learning happens. "Oh, I didn't know that would happen!" takes notes <- Science

Legally, I think the only issue this runs afoul of is his auctioning of a giftcard. Most giftcards do not allow this; however, most gift cards don't allow you to purchase other giftcards with them either, so Starbucks might not have as strict rules about their cards.

Morally, though, I agree this is all kinds of wrong.

Actually, the legality covering this issue is WIRE FRAUD.

Why does a project that's about a minor form of good will always need to be trumped by something else? Like we need to be incessantly reminded that there are starving people for every decision we make in our day to day lives?

It's nice that he's trying to increase the awareness of starving children. But I don't see why he feels he needs to basically destroy the system Jonathan has come up with.

Yes, apparently the one second you were thinking about your own needs, or anyone OTHER than a very poor person, was selfish and horrible. We should all stop buying things, walk out into the street and start screaming at the futility since there are people in the world who are worse off than us.

Guess Sam couldn't handle the heat. He cutoff commenting on his G+ thread. Hmmm, could he finally be realizing that he messed up and actually did wire fraud and stole money?

No, because a bunch of assholes were threatening him with bodily harm

So his social experiment didn't work out they great? Bummer...


Awesome. What a hack. Can everyone please shutup with their dumb subjective value judgements already? Grow up, these were both fun, benign, experiments.

I love how his site is now down... I'm sure some one in the HN community is responsible... thank you.

Hi Sam. I know a lot of people are going to talk shit to you about this, but I think what you did was right. You shouldn't have published though. Next time just take the money and run.

I think some people on here took too much offense to his 'holier than thou' attitude. the kid showed off a neat little hack (we're all nerds here) showed it to the world, put the money towards a good cause, and hopefully educated some people about security issues. i think is hilarious, I give sam some props, and I can live another day without free coffee...

To all who want to slam on Sam Odio's moral code:

You're seriously arguing that a hack that converts money into fat, caffeinated Americans and corporate profit is better than a hack that hacks that hack to feed the poor? We should be finding more ways to prevent the conversion of money into American fat. In fact: as a doctor, there's my challenge to you: please find ways to catch calories before they land in middle-class American bellies and convert them to some better good.

I know the HN crowd is pretty libertarian, but Sam's behavior is, by definition, thoroughly with the scope of acceptable behavior in a libertarian polity. By the way, Sam's fairly successful startup guy. If you're on HN and not your text editor, you should probably be noting this is how successful entrepreneurs behave, and emulate Sam.

He's not feeding the poor, he's feeding his ego and acting holier than thou. If he wanted to make a donation to charity, he could do that without subverting an experiment under the guise of "helping people who really matter."

I find this entire episode disgusting and if being a "successful entrepreneur" means acting like a douchebag like Sam, may I never be successful. Incidentally, MOST successful entreprenurs I know (and many are far more successful than Sam could ever hope to be) don't act like this. They have better things to do than jack money off a community Starbucks card so that they can create Internet drama.

>They have better things to do than //

Better things to do than steal coffees from wealthy Americans in order to feed starving people ...

The internet drama is being created by others.

I see this as a really interesting, surprising outcome of the experiment, not a "subversion" of it. FWIW people in his sphere of influence appear to have added more money on than the worth he subtracted.

Edit: that->than

"Better things to do that steal coffees from wealthy Americans in order to feed starving people ..."

Why stop at coffee? Steal their cars too. Evict them from their homes and set up shelters in them. Kidnap their children and hold them for ransom.

"see this as a really interesting, surprising outcome of the experiment, not a "subversion" of it."

The Stanford Prison Experiment was invalidated by people acting grossly out of what is reasonably expected from people. As a result, the scientific value of the experiment was completely lost. That is what Sam Odio appears to have attempted to cause here. He didn't want to participate, he wanted to destroy the experiment because he found the very notion of such an experiment to be offensive.

>Why stop at coffee? //

Because missing out on a cup of coffee is not going to really affect anyone involved in this experiment in any significant way. They probably drink too much of it anyway.

>The Stanford Prison Experiment was invalidated //

Excuse me? It was a highly successful experiment it demonstrating how moral judgement can be manipulated, how people react to roles and outward signs of authority.

To say an experiment was invalidated suggests that it didn't have the right outcome, experiments don't have right outcomes they have results. Sure results can show that you should have used a different methodology or that more experimentation is needed but results aren't wrong unless they fail to show what happened in the experiment.


Contrary to popular believe, the scientific value of the experiment was lost. It's only real value today in the field is as an example of how not to run an experiment.

>the scientific value of the [Standford Prison] experiment was lost //

I strongly disagree. It has informed psychological experiment strongly since, yes partly by being an example of how not to conduct experiments but not wholly. It has also strongly informed understanding of human nature and the conditions in which minimal pressure can modify moral action.

Under test was how "assignment of a label" would affect the development of "norms, rules and expectations". The results showed how such assignment could affect a persons character dramatically even to the point of drawing in Zimbardo to the point that he had to be corrected by his partner to stop the experiment.

http://www.prisonexp.org/links.htm is a good source.

The agreement was that you're allowed to use the gift card at starbucks.

The agreement wasn't that you can hack the pin of the giftcard, then transfer over all of the money to your own account.

That's essentially stealing from the 'coffee and sandwiches' charity for your own personal reasons.

Its a violation of the trust given to him by the community, and rightly puts a sour taste into many peoples mouths.

There was no agreement. Jonathan placed information in the public commons.

To those who want to slam on those "slamming" on Sam Odio's (reprehensible) moral code:

You're seriously arguing that that we should re-evaluate our outlook by slinging around childish insults?

Could you please cite the childish insult?

You have got to be fucking kidding me. Grow up.

Indeed, I should emulate Sam. Not in every aspect though. In the same way that I do not believe that astrology works and won't start believing because a successful person told me to. That person would have been successful not matter what, the same way the loser who got predicted success lost because of his own behavior.

Now, I don't like you too, Mr Doctor (don't you like that deference doc?) The same way I dislike Sam. The same way I dislike condescending people. Don't hit me to show me I am weak unless you are about to create a meaningful relationship or we already have one. If I know my weakness and you are a martial artist I will bow to you. If I don't know it then perhaps I don't need to know my physical weakness in the first place. Maybe I live in a respectful city and physical strength is irrelevant and will always be for me.

It wasn't a cool hack at all. Proof: most people (at least here) dislike it. The guy that did GoDaddy said something along these lines «Expect the only fare you will encounter is the one you will pay to take the bus». So it is expected that someone would do that. And he finds himself cool. And he's wrong (in the absolute) because he is outside his field of expertise doc.(Mark Cuban, billionaire, missed a great shot on the show Shark Tank. My friend, millionaire, an expert in direct selling told me.) He is the pretty pictures guy. I won't deny him the ability to be a well rounded person, but he didn't show it.(Plus he in YC so he got something good, like anybody. I'll just hack my way to his valuable side and steal it from him for a greater purpose of course)

The most stupid person here is perhaps me. I am taking my time to reply to you and expect a decent number of people to read. While Sammy O' is doing things. Like impeaching young Africans to learn the lesson he taught us. There are jackasses in this world who will take away something from you(like responsibility of yourself). And they'll call it justice, I mean "you don't know how to hack? You must take hacking classes with my pristine prestijuicy school. Or you'll be unhappy and a bad bad hacker. I mean how can you be happy fending for yourself? Owing all you have to yourself? Nevermind all those people who say that fending/the travelling toward the end is source of happiness like Lionel Richie." The guy of this article http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363663,00... (thanks for the link byrneseyeview) says it all. Adolescent everywhere in the Western world express it. (Yes, more on the artificiality of adolescence in Teen 2.0 by Dr Epstein http://drrobertepstein.com/index.php?option=content&task... . I read the first version so I am not sure about this one. Newer version of books tend to be... "politically dorrect"/condescending. I hate that.)

(If my parents said to me at 12: You can't take responsibility for yourself! Do as I say! Eat my food!. I would have ran away (or become a contented and dependent fool). I am lucky they are cool.)

Thought this was already revealed as a viral marketing campaign by starbucks:


Not sure if that means there's more of a reason to exploit it or not, at least Sam's doing it for good =)

There are people who may or may not wear tinfoil hats who have shared circumstantial evidence suggesting this. Jonathan, his friends, and Starbucks have all denied this is the case.

My experience is that when confronted with the evidence, the people behind “viral marketing campaigns" have no trouble ‘fessing up, they usually boast of it and use it to drum up more business for their “social media agencies.” A company like Starbucks as zero incentive to lie about it and a huge disincentive. If even one employee spills the beans that it was a marketing stunt and that Starbucks is lying, their brand equity takes a huge hit.

It is difficult to “prove” things one way or another to the standards of science or law, but I’m personally satisfied that it was not a marketing stunt.

I kind of agree with your point, but saying that the Starbucks brand takes a "huge" hit is a bit of an overstatement.

If Starbucks does a viral marketing campaign, gets outed, and says “Yes, we did a viral marketing campaign,” there’s no hit to speak of. But I do think that if they deny in writing that there is a viral marketing campaign and then are busted for lying about conducting a viral marketing campaign, this is a scandal that would end up on the evening news.

I suppose there’s room for conflicting views over how much damage that might be, but I can’t see any marketing person thinking that it is worth the risk.

Did you read the article? It mentions that.

Mobiquity's reply: http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/10/the-vast-starbucks-conspira...

"Mobiquity has no professional affiliation with Starbucks."

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